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Sometimes, the sky is falling. Sometimes, we’re drowning in this program, and I mean really drowning in all of the papers. This feeling is amplified in summer classes — normally having fourteen weeks in a semester, a summer class is a whirlwind of fourteen weeks condensed into a mere six — it’s a student’s nightmare, it’s a professor’s nightmare, and it’s a hard spot to come up for air in.

I remember feeling overwhelmed when I first joined the program. I didn’t understand all the buzzwords, I didn’t know what was acceptable in writing and what wasn’t, heck, I didn’t even know APA format well enough to get by without having to have a program help me do it. But here I am — almost a year later — and I finally feel like I’ve got my head on straight in this program. Do not misunderstand: I still feel like everything is on fire, but I’m wise enough now to know that the incendiary will cease, and the world will calm down. A lot of weight is consistently placed on our shoulders, waiting to fracture our beings, but you will get through it. It doesn’t feel like it now, with everything weighing down on you and attempting to put out small fires as you go, or attempting to catch small air bubbles as you trek along in your journey (whichever analogy you’ve preferred the most here), but I guarantee you that you will gain your footing. You will find your way, and you will not drown: remember that no one will let you. Remember the importance of collaboration; that’s not just about lesson planning and getting ideas, that also encompasses moral and emotional support. Remember you have people that are going through the same trials, or you have been who have endured them who are more than willing to be your supports in your times of trouble. Utilize every resource you have to keep yourself afloat. Use all of the anti-firepower you have to stop the fires from burning and spreading so swiftly. It will take time to get used to this, and it certainly won’t happen overnight, but for now, remain calm, keep learning, and enjoy the ride.

At the end of it all, reflect. Reflect on what you’ve done, because you sure don’t have the time right now, but it’s so important to understand why you did the little things, the assignments, the critical claims, what have you. It doesn’t matter which assignment you start with in your reflection: just start. Understand your thought processes as you go back and revisit them: they tell you so much about yourself. Above all, have fun in this program — do not let the pressure change you as a person. You will do great things; you’ve just got to get through this one little mountain in your education.

To my classmates: one day, you will become amazing science teachers. I really mean that, even though a lot of people will say it to you. Being most of the way through this program, I knew I was a good teacher when I first came into the program, but I’ve also learned how much I understand social justice issues, and that’s not a skill everyone has.

I want to remind you what an important word the word “rapport” is in the fields we will be entering. I want to remind you that you have the power to be somebody’s hero, somebody’s role model, somebody’s only bright spot for their day. I want to remind you of the world we live in, and that the research being done in fields of education and sociology and psychology are highly funded because they are real issues. I want to remind you that there is rarely anything equal in society, and that the polarizing binaries that have been created amongst race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and disability have hindered our ability to reach equality – mindsets that should’ve died with the Victorian Era are still prevalent.

In light of recent events regarding a painfully mitigating decision with the Stanford Swimmer/Rapist, I want to remind you that unless you are a white, cis, at minimum moderately wealthy male, things are rarely equal or fair. I want to understand the social justice issues in whatever setting you end up teaching in, and I want you to be the voice of students who feel they have none. Remember that students learn science from mediocre teachers all day – it takes a special person, one both well reversed in content as well as social justice issues, to truly make an impact. I want you to remember — the next time you think that affirmative action is unfair to you, or the next time you think an unconscious female has no rights, or that people from urban backgrounds have less of a voice than those who supposedly are more cultured — people at highest risk for these crimes are your urban students. I want you to be a voice for them, so that they never have to feel alone. I want you to fight for their equality in representing their ideas. I want you never stop encouraging them to take charge of their voice – they are the future and the world is waiting for them to conquer.

I want you to make a safe space for your suburban students to talk about sexual assault, rape, and risks they will face in college. Your suburban students get minimal information for reasons different than your urban ones: the urban ones are carelessly warned about these topics with no real basis, while your suburban students are brainwashed to believe that sort of thing could never happen to them. 1 in 5 women in college are sexually assaulted, while 1 in 16 men are sexually assaulted in college. Over 90% of cases of sexual assault go unreported. Tell your students this — both urban and suburban. Prepare your students for the unequal, unfair reality. Tell them that if this were a black male that had committed this crime, Stanford student or not, that that 20 year old would be behind bars significantly longer than 6 months.

I encourage you to read the letter of the victim of the Stanford rapist. It is a painful read as well as a lengthy one, but well worth the time. At the end of the reading, I’d really like you to reflect about how unequal of a society we live in.

The letter: https://www.buzzfeed.com/katiejmbaker/heres-the-powerful-letter-the-stanford-victim-read-to-her-ra?utm_term=.td2qQ0lQv#.odDmKX4KM

 

Scientists are wild people: they seek to explore and understand a thing that is constantly changing, that thing being the universe. The models we have today may not hold 100 years from now, but we seek to develop models anyway in an effort to explain wherein our thinking lies. We do not explore the world by looking at textbooks, or reading flashcards.

We explore the world by actually doing science. Being able to do science requires scientific literacy, a skill rarely seen in the general community. Professor Andrew Zwicker, a professor of plasma physics at Princeton and head of their science education department, does a TEDtalk on scientific literacy, one in which strongly resonated with me. I encourage you to watch the entire thing, despite it being about 10 minutes long. It is something we constantly talk about at Warner, and to have examples and explanations by Prof. Zwicker has been really helpful to solidify and pull together my understanding of scientific literacy.

Scientific literacy is also defined, according to the National Academies:

Scientific literacy is the knowledge and understanding of scientific concepts and processes required for personal decision making, participation in civic and cultural affairs, and economic productivity. It also includes specific types of abilities. In the National Science Education Standards, the content standards define scientific literacy.

Scientific literacy means that a person can ask, find, or determine answers to questions derived from curiosity about everyday experiences. It means that a person has the ability to describe, explain, and predict natural phenomena. Scientific literacy entails being able to read, with understanding, articles about science in the popular press and to engage in social conversation about the validity of the conclusions. Scientific literacy implies that a person can identify scientific issues underlying national and local decisions and express positions that are scientifically and technologically informed. A literate citizen should be able to evaluate the quality of scientific information on the basis of its source and the methods used to generate it. Scientific literacy also implies the capacity to pose and evaluate arguments based on evidence and to apply conclusions from such arguments appropriately.

The skills we want to instill in students come from doing explorations in science, not memorizing facts. Always listen to Prof. Sagan on this one (if you don’t have 4 minutes, jump ahead to minute 3 — that’s where the most important piece is):

This scientific literacy allows us to pursue knowledge. We must understand the language of what we seek to understand. We do not understand science by staring at the words on the page, but rather, by becoming adept in asking questions and discerning the information necessary to assist in our understanding of the answers to our questions. As scientists, we also must prepare for failure: not every experiment or investigation goes accordingly to plan. As science educators, it is important to encourage students to have positive experiences with failure, to see them as beneficial rather than as hindering.

In science, failures are bound to happen, and this is sometimes how discoveries are made. Some of the major discoveries that were made in science by accident were the discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background (won a Nobel Prize in Physics), the invention of the microwave, the discovery of X-Rays (won the first Nobel Prize in Physics), the discovery of the pacemaker (Greatbath pulled the wrong resistor out of his box of circuitry parts, and voila), and the discovery of insulin. Failing in science gives as much information as succeeding: by failing, you’ve proved that your original hypothesis isn’t sound. Say you thought that Coulomb force was proportional to 1/r instead of 1/r^2. You perform a bunch of experiments and realize your original hypothesis was wrong, but you’ve figured out something else instead. This could be considered a failure, but should be considered a discovery. Providing concrete examples for students to understand how failure can lead to something great is essential to avoid discouragement.

But how do we encourage students to be wild about science in the first place? I’ve recently began reading Most Likely to Succeed by Tony Wagner and Ted Dintersmith (a truly phenomenal piece of work, one I highly recommend picking up). Obviously in teaching science, there are some skills that students need to understand. In physics, these skills include being able to rearrange equations, take ratios, set up wordy problems, understand relationships between particular variables, and graph solutions. In the fourth chapter of the book, Wagner and Dintersmith extensively discuss 20th century science educator skills — forcing students into memorizing equations and constants, doing worksheets, and performing and answering irrelevant lab questions that do not contribute to their every day understanding.

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The transition to scientific learning skills that need to be employed in a STEM-driven 21st century differ wildly from the basic, rote skills students were forced into years ago. Some of these skills are still necessary: I know that I definitely require students to understand the equations we are using, the units of each of the variables, and performing different laboratory activities that are not entirely relevant to their every day lives. But I always try to ask questions that relate the lab back to their life. I try to explain units with something they are familiar with, such as if you go “65 miles per hour,” that’s how fast you’re going, and that’s distance over time.

I see myself employing a lot more of the 21st century skills that Wagner and Dintersmith talk about. They discuss a slew of skills in the last part of the chapter (pages 140-143), which I will discuss a few of individually. The first one that they mention is learning how to learn. I don’t think I truly understood how to study until I got to college, and it would’ve been a formidable skill in my younger years, but that just wasn’t the case. However, it is definitely something now that I instill in my students: I do not want them to memorize equations; such a skill is something I could teach a parrot to mimick, but rather, I want them to be able to connect the content and equations with laboratory activities to see how the science works in action. This is a much better representation of how students learn things — being able to make these kinds of connections.

The next two skills — communicating effectively and collaborating productively and effectively — are very related to each other. Students are always required to either (or both) collaborate with each other on laboratory experiences or present their findings to the class. I usually engage students in this activity by making it relevant to them. I bring up something well known in the recent news, and I could ask them how they developed that knowledge. They’d explain that they’d seen it on the Internet, and I would ask, “If it weren’t on the Internet/TV, would you have ever found out about this?” The answer is no, and I am then able to make a parallel between this and the importance of communication and collaboration in science. The collaboration piece I usually emphasize by some kind of team building technique that would be next to impossible (or at least significantly more challenging) if done individually. Students are able to see the importance that teamwork and utilizing each other has in science.

The next skill is creative problem solving, which students are always encouraged to do in my class, and it’s really where the wild part of science comes in. Rather than do a bunch of practice problems on the topic of conservation of energy on a worksheet, which never happens in the real world, students construct roller coasters (which have requirements of more than 3 elevation changes, a loop, and a corkscrew) and write stories about the different transfers in energy within their roller coaster. While this doesn’t necessarily emphasize the mathematics behind calculating the speed of the roller coaster at a given height, it much better emphasizes the relationships between kinetic and potential energy than some numerical answer ever could. Building roller coasters gets students wild about science. Worksheets do not.

I don’t know anybody who said, ‘I love that teacher, he or she gave a really good homework set,’ or ‘Boy, that was the best class I ever took because those exams were awesome.’ That’s not what people want to talk about. It’s not what influences people in one profession or another.
–Neil deGrasse Tyson

Remember always that science can be messy. We learn just as much from our failures as we do from our successes. We do what we can to control the wild: we learn as much as we can about what it is we seek to understand, and we do what we can to be wild about it.

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What does it mean to do real science? More importantly, what are the building blocks needed to do real science? How do we communicate our ideas? How do we tell people about what we’re doing?

A powerful quote from the readings this week:

“Exposing students to situations where they use scientific evidence to make informed personal decisions and grapple with societal and global issues helps them develop the critical thinking skills needed for success in the 21st century” (Wilmes and Howarth 26)

The usage of scientific evidence comes from being scientifically literate, but what does this actually mean? How do we become literate members in a scientific community? Students need skills to be able to discern fact from fiction, conduct their own experiments and represent and interpret models, and be inspired by the world around them. Neil deGrasse Tyson consistently puts it best:

Part of what it is to be scientifically-literate, it’s not simply, ‘Do you know what DNA is? Or what the Big Bang is?’ That’s an aspect of science literacy. The biggest part of it is do you think you know how to think about information that’s presented in front of you?

To be scientifically literate is not about memorizing facts, but rather, the ability to think and connect facts, as well as challenge facts that are presented to oneself.

(If you love Neil as much as I do, here is a link to his video on scientific literacy.)

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A big part of scientific literacy is the ability to communicate ideas. Sometimes, this is done through research and publications, other times it can be through forms of media such as podcasts or YouTube videos, other times it is about blogging. Whoa, blogging, we really love that at GRS! To put it technically,

A blog is a personalized website that is a collection of entries. The entries may be commentaries, videos, pictures, or similar to journal entries. Readers can stay updated on new entries by subscribing to the blog. Blogs allow individuals to share writing samples, pictures, and videos with friends, family, and strangers. Other people may leave comments on a blog, allowing for collaboration (Sawmiller 44).

Sawmiller additionally goes on to discuss the importance of being able to communicate in society:

Being able to communicate is indispensable for participation in today’s society. Critical thinking will not just magically occur if writing assignments are given… by blogging, students are required to read information, filter through the relevant pieces, restructure the information, organize it, and determine a meaningful way to write about it. All of these activities fast critical thinking (Sawmiller 45).

As students in the Get Real! Science program, we are able to express our ideas through blogging in a significantly less formal way than critical syntheses/claims/reflections. Blogging makes our content accessible to other individuals who are outside of the education world – they can see the different roles we take on in our program, what we are learning about, and challenges and celebrations we face during the multiple facets of this program. Blogging, for me, is also a very important tool for self-reflection: I am able to go back and look at my posts and see what I was experiencing at any point in time in the last eleven months. This is powerful for me: I’m a very retrospective person, and so the ability to look back on what I’ve experienced and done allows me to consider possibilities for the future, such as how I would handle certain situations in the future, or being able to adapt to challenges that I may face similarly in the future.

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Blogging will be an important, constant assignment throughout the program that will prove to be more powerful looking back on it. The ability we have to express our ideas and communicate/collaborate with others in this kind of public space is an essential part of not only learning from each other, but also being able to celebrate the successes our peers are having as well as provide support when they are experiencing challenges. We may not always be able to communicate due to hectic schedules as Warner students, but we certainly all share the common thread of blogging, and through this thread, we can still be an essential support system to our peers.

 

References:

Sawmiller, AlisonClearing House: A Journal of Educational Strategies, Issues and Ideas, v83 n2 p44-48 2010.
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A lot of people ask about pros and cons of the Warner school – one thing that I think I would certainly improve is a way to see what classmates are doing in their placements, and possibly offer “student teacher swaps,” a possible one day opportunity to go to someone else’s placement and be a “guest lecturer.” This would be awesome especially in a middle school setting, where many different topics are covered and we all show strengths in different areas of our respective sciences. It is almost as if, however, our student teaching lives exist on planets that aren’t similar to each other’s, which begs the question: what’s going on in that person’s life? Is their experience significantly different than mine? To make a loose parallel that was brought up quite a bit in an opportunity I had today, it is almost like asking what life is like on another planet: is it the same as we know it from our specific perspectives?

Today, before our EXPO, I had the opportunity to go to School of the Arts to give my “famous” black hole lecture. This school was where Sharon did her middle school placement, and so the kids were able to relate to me because “I knew Ms. Dudek.” The cooperating teacher was a phenomenal individual who commended me very much on my lecture and my knowledge of the content. It was nice to be able to offer this kind of lecture to students, which I will comment on in a bit here, but I think that it’s odd that we stress collaboration so much, but these opportunities never really come about, certainly no fault of anyone, as we are just all so busy. But this opportunity to speak to seventh graders emitted from Jo Ann’s kindness is stating to Sharon’s CT that she “knew just the person” to be able to talk about black holes to students.

I started first period with my lecture and was then asked to participate in subsequent lectures, highlighting students questions about their prior knowledge regarding space through a post-it activity. The outpour of questions from both the honors groups and the general science groups was truly remarkable, and I had such an amazing experience with the students there. It would be awesome to be able to do this, almost as a requirement maybe for seminar or for the 3 credit science classes – it would not have to be a large fraction of the grade, but it was interesting to see a different group of students react to the black hole talk. I have given it so many times, and this group’s questions far exceeded the expectations I would ever have for seventh graders.

I am looking forward to the opportunity to return to SOTA again and see how their astronomy knowledge is progressing while acting as an expert in astrophysics to enhance the knowledge and research they will obtain throughout the unit.

Shoutout again to Jo Ann for setting up such an opportunity for me.

Phenomenal read for anyone, specifically targeted for those who believe all urban children need “fixing,” or that the majority are “broken” and “need saving.”

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/what-white-folks-who-teach-in-the-hood-get-wrong-about-education/

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If there’s one thing I can say I really do well, it’s build rapport with students. Many of the students when I left my middle school placement were very upset that I had to leave and mentioned how much they’d really enjoyed my being there. These are very urban middle schoolers who certainly have strong opinions about things, including me. I know how much they like me and how much they’ve appreciated me. Even some of the toughest kids in the class have done their work for me, one of them citing that “[I] just know how to talk to kids in a way that makes [him] want to do [his] work.”

These kids don’t always have the best backgrounds, but in my mind, they are all angels (perhaps not always behaviorally, but for what they’ve gone through). They’ve gone through a systematically oppressive system that I can relate to only as a city kid – not in terms of race. Some of the things they’ve made it through and survived are unfathomable circumstances to those in suburban or rural settings. They are all so particularly special in their own ways. My opinion of middle schoolers has changed so drastically and has become so much more positive than it once was. The experience to work in such an urban setting was initially daunting but has made so many of the issues clear to me, and has only bolstered my ability to build rapport with students and make them feel comfortable with me. I hope that this skill follows me throughout my career, as it seems to be certainly the most invaluable – if you can communicate with your students in a way that makes them trust you, you have the power to shape them for the future, and for the better.

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pur·pose
ˈpərpəs/ : the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.

Despite our differences in content areas, our goal is common as science educators: get across science content to students in an educational setting such that they can successfully utilize the content on their own. This is, at its broadest, the minimum job requirement of a science teacher. But to make the science interesting distinguishes a great teacher from a mediocre one. The difference between making science interesting and not doing so is, in part, reliant on purpose. We must have a purpose for why we are teaching what we are teaching – if we don’t know why we care about a particular topic in any given subject, why will our students care? Why should my students care about kinematics, or DNA, or rocks, or atoms? What purpose do they have to these students?

It takes a lot of extra deep thought in planning lessons to really get to the crux of “why am I making students do this, and how will this actually help them.” The fact that it’ll be on the test is rarely enough – students need and even want real life applications for what they are doing. At the end of the day, there are reasons we all chose the subjects that we did to teach, and one of mine is to mold the minds of future physicists and astrophysicists. With this in mind, I have to ensure that I really emphasize the purpose in what we are doing, because if you can’t see it in your plan, your students certainly won’t.

The usage of technology in this day and age has certainly had a rapid effect on society. Its effect can be used for either good or bad, and either way, can reach and services thousands, millions, perhaps even billions of people. When bad, however, its effects can be like fast poison: gripping, unstoppable, potent, and lethal.

 

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For those that do not know, there will be an Earth hour in which lights and electronics will be turned off in an effort to raise awareness about global warming and the impact our electricity usage has on it. On my way home from school today, I was listening to the radio. Now let me tell you, this is something I never do, as half the nonsense they speak about on the radio is just frustrating to me. However, I had already started driving and did not want to plug my phone in to listen to my music instead. The radio announcer, on one of the most listened to radio stations for the younger society, was mocking the idea of Earth hour. He went so far as to say how perfect a time it would be to download a bunch of stuff, as many people wouldn’t be on their electronics at this point.

The radio speaker, in a position of power to do good, turned a serious issue into a mockery. Rather than taking the time to say how cool it would be for his listeners to participate in Earth hour, his remarks had the exact opposite effect. His fast poison reach certainly does not stop there, though – it trickles through to the peers of the listeners, where it continues to spread even more rapidly: more and more people see such a critical event to raise awareness as a focus of mockery rather than a real scientific issue.

The importance of using media in an advantageous manner cannot be overstated. We think about Facebook, blogging, texting, emailing, anything that involves technology – how do we use these to do good rather than bad? Rather than spread poison, why not spread euphoria?

 

At Warner, a lot of the time is spent sitting in classrooms, doing whatever it is that needs to be done. It’s often difficult to retain what we did, because I’m usually just fixated on how much I don’t want to sit in the same chair for 3-4 hours. But we are constantly being pushed to come up with active ways for our placements and what we will utilize in the future when we are employed as educators. I consider myself to be a student who has the same needs as any learner would – needs to be interesting, needs to be engaging, and needs to be relevant in order for me to get anything out of a lesson. But many classes at Warner do not employ such practicality – what’s up with that?

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Let me start with the following disclaimer: I am 110% appreciative of my Warner education. I love the University of Rochester and to be here for another year is a dream come true. But there are some things that could certainly change to employ better practicality in such a theory-intensive program. I think the hardest part of being in a theory-heavy graduate program is that sometimes, the practicality does not transfer well. Sure, utilization of standards is of the utmost importance, and necessary on all fronts to be able to work backward from in an effort to create a viable, well-thought out lesson plan. But there are so many more engaging ways to become better acclimated to using standards than simply listing them.

It is true that when we are able to experience something for ourselves, we can better employ it into practice. If we are able to get up and move and be engaged in what’s going on, we will be able to see the difference between being engaged or doing work silently in chairs – some days, this is of course fine and often necessary, but others, it is just not feasible, especially after a full day of teaching student for whom we’ve planned a slew of engaging activities.

So my question is this: how do we get Warner professors to start switching over to practicing what is preached about engagement in the classroom? Certainly this won’t be an overnight switch, but it’d certainly be helpful in coming up with more engaging ideas for our students.