The Digital Fishbowl and the Active Learner


This week, I’ve done a lot of thinking on how digital spaces impact how we learn, express ourselves, and access the world.  Technology is integral to modern life, and is integral to the modern classroom.  Most of our students have never lived in a world in which information is not readily accessible, and use devices to learn everyday, both inside and outside of school.

Here’s a great video that makes the case for harnessing the ‘active learner’ in the modern, digital student:

Even I, at 25, am definitely a digital native.  I grew up with dial-up, and my laptop and smartphone are tools that I use extensively to access information and network every single day.  However, I have always been worried about the potential for technology to take away from experiencing the real world.  I found that it was hard to picture what my tech use in the classroom would look like.  However, I have to say… I am having a blast figuring it out.

This week in EDU498–  “Literacy and Learning as a Social Practice” with Dr. Lammers , the topic was ‘Produsage and the Digital Turn’.  No, that is not a typo. defines produsage as,”The collaborative and continuous building and extending of existing content in pursuit of further improvement”.  This is meant to describe the constant cycle in the digital world that blurs the line between producers and consumers as described in traditional economic models.  Produsage can be anything from Microblogging (i.e. Twitter, Facebook) to blogging with integrated multi-media (i.e. this post), to fan fiction, and far beyond.  The active learner and digital native described above is consistently engaging in this cycle, whether scholastically or not.

A classmate and myself were tasked with orchestrating a class discussion about the readings this week, a task that falls on a different set of shoulders every week. We had 24 graduate students to organize into any discussion protocol we wanted.  My partner had the idea to have a ‘fishbowl’ discussion, also known as a socratic circle.   Here’s a little graphic of what a fishbowl normally looks like:


Usually, only the inner circle are actively discussing and sharing ideas.  The outer ring is engaged in active listening, note-taking, and general sense-making.  At the end of a round the observers have the chance to bring their ideas to the inner circle, and participants can be switched out.   I like the fishbowl concept, but sometimes it can mean that the observers don’t have very many opportunities to participate, and it is hard to actually include every voice.

I was inspired by this week’s readings, and wondered what would happen if we had the outer ring keep their laptops open to a shared space on (if you have not played with, and you are an educator, you should really check it out!).  This provided a space for an online chat of sorts to happen between the members of the outer ring.  Members could draw connections between their comments, “like” and respond to each others content, and easily share multi-media within the discussion, all while still being able to hear the out-loud conversation happening in the middle.

Honestly, I was not sure if this was going to work.  I thought there might grow to be a disconnect between the inner and outer circles, or that the online space might get too chaotic to follow.   It definitely was an intense space, but an incredible amount of thoughts were shared, and the combination of the inner and outer circle spaces ended up yielding some really rich discussions.  If I could go back and do it again, I would have a few participants switch in the middle of one question, so that the perspectives from the Padlet could be brought into the middle for longer than the two minutes we allotted between topics, when we switched the middle out completely.   One thing is for sure: this discussion flew by and the engagement in the room was extremely high.  I would absolutely use this format again, if the occasion called for it.  I am calling it the “Digital Fishbowl”.

I bring this all up to make the point that if our students learn and express themselves on digital spaces, and are consistently engaged in the cycle of produsage, that we as educators should find novel ways to leverage that kind of expression in a way that enhances understanding and increases collaboration, both within the classroom and with the rest of the world.

Teachers: What are some ways that YOU leverage technology to increase engagement in your classroom?

-Ms. Coonce



Bruns, A. (2008). Blogs, wikipedia, second life, and beyond: From production to produsage, pp. 9-36. New York: Lang.

Mills, K. A. (2016). Literacy theories for the digital age: Social, critical, multimodal, spatial, material, and sensory lenses, pp. 17-40. Tonawanda, NY: Multilingual Matters. Chapter 2


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Sustainability Gets Personal

Hello World!

For a word with such a simple dictionary definition, “the ability to be maintained at a certain rate or level”, this concept when applied to the sustainability of the lifestyle and society of Homo sapiens is extremely complex and context-dependent.

This week, in my placement in a High School SUNY-ESF Global Environment class, we really began to dive into the concept of Sustainability.  This dual-credit course combines core themes of environmental science along with critical thinking skills to look deeply at the human context within the global environment and to attain an appreciation for the Earth as a system.

But what is required for a system to be sustainable?  One common model for describing sustainability is the Three Pillar Model, which identifies Environmental, Social, and Economic as the three Pillars to sustainability.  Here’s a neat infographic from the Sustainable Cities Index that describes the Three Pillars:

These ‘Pillars’ are represented in a variety of ways graphically, from a Ven Diagram to a bullseye, with Economic nestled within Social nestled within Environmental.  This week, our students learned about the Three Pillar Model and were tasked with taking this to the next level by creating their own graphic representation (poster) of the three pillars that defined each, gave an example (or counter-example) of each, and identified a fourth pillar that they felt was important for their own sustainability, and for the sustainability of the species in general. 

This directly advanced the goals of the course by having our students think critically about the concept and link their own worldview to the accepted model of sustainability, and give them the opportunity to outline pieces that they think might be missing.  The result was an array of fourth pillars, all of which had a depth of thought and consideration, and all of which directly supported the other pillars.  Here are some of the pillars our students came up with, and their definitions:

Personal Sustainability- The ability to live fully in the moment without compromising the future.

Cultural Sustainability– Being able to maintain cultural knowledge, heritage, language and customs into the future.

Spiritual Sustainability– The ability to make peace with your inner-self and to reflect.

Governmental Sustainability- Having governmental systems that support the other three pillars over war and non-renewable resources.

I agree with all of these interpretations, and I learned an immeasurable amount about my students through this activity.  The examples and discussions that came out of this activity were beautiful, and I will remember them forever.  What I heard and saw were our students thinking critically about their needs and the needs of their communities, and tying that in to a complex and highly academic topic. Honestly, after this experience, the three pillar model doesn’t quite cut it for me.

I look forward to continuing to help my students see themselves in science, even if they never plan to become scientists, and to decolonize scientific concepts so that they have the potential to actually increase the well-being of our society as a whole.

What is YOUR Fourth Pillar of Sustainability?

-Ms. Coonce


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What in the world is a Benthic Macroinvertebrate?

This was it, the week we’d all been waiting for… the GR!S Sodus Science TEAM Summer Camp!  My head is still spinning in the best way possible.   This week re-affirmed my belief in learning by doing.  I learned so much about being a teacher, by being one, just as our students learned about being scientists… by being scientists!  Here’s a picture taken by the local press, the Sun and Record/ Wayne County Mail!  The caption of the photo quotes the students as saying, “We are scientists”.  My heart is full and I can’t stop smiling.

The Ex-Stream Team had a BLAST this week, visiting three very different bodies of water; Metz Pond, Sodus Point Beach, and the drainage ditch behind the Sodus Junior-Senior High School! There is so much I could say about this experience….Check out Kristi’s post about our first day at camp and our introductory activity, and Madeleine’s post about our adventures sending up GoPros on helium balloons during day 2 for just a couple other glimpses of the week!  Since I’m writing this a bit later, I get the added benefit of being able to zoom out, and see the experience as a whole.

Here at GR!S, there is a focus on being culturally sustaining in the way we teach, and what we teach.  Looking back, I think that this possibly the most significant portion of the work that we did this week.  Across all three groups, we studied topics that were particularly significant to Sodus.  We sought to understand and celebrate Sodus, and to help our young scientists do the same. Along these lines, one of my favorite outcomes of this camp was our Benthic Macroinvertebrate exploration of Metz Pond.

What is a Benthic Macroinvertebrate, you say?  I know some rising 7-9th graders that could tell you, but since they aren’t here… Benthic Macroinvertebrates (Benthos, for short- or as we like calling them, “fish food”), are invertebrates that live on and in the substrate on the bottom of bodies of water that are big enough to see with your naked eye.  They include the larval form of many of the flying insects we know from above ground.  Here’s a neat picture of a dragonfly larvae we found at Metz Pond;

Benthos are often referred to as “indicator species”, because the presence or absence of certain species can indicate environmental factors.  Some species are sensitive to pollution, for example, so finding these species in an environment tells us that the body of water is relatively clean.  This is true of not only this Dragonfly larvae, but also of Mayfly, Stonefly, and Caddisfly larvae that we found!  Our scientists loved Metz Pond, and it turns out its immediately behind the house of one of our Ex-Stream team members!  None of them had really spent any time there, and all of them wanted to go back after our field trip.

In the context of GR!S Science TEAM Camp, TEAM stands for Teens Engaged in Actions that Matter.  We were encouraged, as facilitators of this camp, to encourage our young scientists to leave a positive mark on their community inspired by the science they engaged in.  While we were at Metz Pond, we found a diverse array of plants, and many species of benthos, including sensitive ones, as described above.  We also found those all-too-common marks of human disregard- fishing line, plastic, and even some broken glass.  The students didn’t like this, so we brain-stormed a sign that we could put at Metz Pond! We plan on getting approval from the town and actually getting this put up.  Here it is:

I was blown away by the authentic care they showed for their environment, and more than proud to facilitate them putting this care into an action that matters in their own community.  We come full circle, as this shows the power of learning science through doing science, especially in your own community.  After this week, I am more excited than ever for my career moving forward, and that’s saying something!  I feel so lucky to be where I am right now, and I can’t wait for STARS in the Fall…

Stay tuned!







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Dr. Kimmerer- Science Superhero!

This week, my GR!S pals and I made comic strips telling the stories of “science superheros” that we interviewed.  I created a comic strip telling Dr. Kimmerer’s story! Without further ado, here it is!


I believe that this story, especially told through a fun, colorful, accessible medium such as a comic strip, has the potential to inspire many young minds.  I chose to interview Dr. Kimmerer for this project as I had the pleasure of having her as my undergraduate adviser at SUNY-ESF.  During my time there, I got to know her as a compassionate, kind, principled scientist.  Her ‘superpower’ of seeing science through the lense of indigenous ways of knowing and of recognizing the human-land connection helped shape my own views on ecosystem sciences.  For my future students, Dr. Kimmerer’s story illustrates how you can integrate your own cultural ways of knowing and worldview into the science that you do.  I think this is especially important because it stops students from feeling like they have to totally assimilate to what they think a scientist is if they decide to become a scientist.  It illustrates that “scientist” is not a one-size-fits-all job title, and encourages students to personalize their path as scientists by “doing the work that only they can do”.  In particular, it is inspiring to children from backgrounds that are typically underrepresented in science.  I believe that a greater diversity of perspectives and ways of knowing in academia would work for the betterment of society, and help scientific institutions better serve traditionally marginalized groups.

If you’re interested learning more about Dr. Kimmerer’s work, she wrote a beautiful book that I HIGHLY recommend called Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants, also available as an audio book read by Dr. Kimmerer herself!  You won’t regret it!


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The Ex-STREAM Team Gets Their Feet Wet!

The Ex-STREAM Team (Kristi, Madeleine and I) have been having a blast shaping our investigation of the water around Sodus, NY!  This week, we explored the idea of ‘storying’ our science.  Putting science into a story can be a powerful tool in communicating science to a wide audience.   We took the investigation we have done so far and turned it into a lovely little movie:

On Tuesday, we will go to Sodus Middle School to present this short film to our potential partners in this investigation, a group of rising 7th graders!  We also made this nifty infographic, to lay out our investigation simply, and in color:

We have ten minutes to introduce our investigation to our future collaborators.  Having the infographic and the movie means we can spend most of the time on active discussion with the students! We plan on starting the lesson with students brain-storming with each other in small groups about how they measure their environment, and what they can measure.  We will then present them with the infographic and movie, explaining that we want to measure the health of the water around their community, with their help!

After a quick presentation of our materials, we plan to refer to the students we are working with as our local panel of experts, asking them about the local water features.  They have spent more time in and around them than we have, after all!  We want student input on any places they are curious to test, and as they know the area they might even be able to point us in the direction of the most accessible areas!  We will then use their input to shape our camp in July.

One of the most valuable parts of ‘storying our science’ this week was simplifying the investigation to ourselves.  Putting the investigation at this level helped us to distill the ideas we had into the most concrete and important.  I think this whole process helped us gain confidence in our investigation, and has made us ready to present it to a wider, and younger, audience.

I am so excited for Tuesday!  I am curious as to how the conversation is going to go, and I am looking forward to gleaning some insights into how to best bring the science to the student.

Go Ex-STREAM Team, Go!



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On Prairie Dogs and the formation of science identities

This week we reflected on how students form their identities, and how a student’s identity shapes how they interact with the world.  I want  to tell you a story about the formation of my identity as a scientist, and explore how I can integrate the lessons embedded in this story into my classroom.



When I was a second grader in Albuquerque, NM, A teacher of mine let it slip that the school administration was going to be poisoning the small colony of Gunnison’s Prairie Dogs that lived on the vacant lot next to our playground.   This didn’t seem right to me, so I went to the library and did some research.  What I found was that prairie dogs (of which there are five species, all native to North America), are what ecologists call a ‘keystone species’.




Like the keystone in an arch, a keystone species is critical for the proper functioning of an ecosystem.  Without the keystone, the ecosystem won’t work the same. Prairie dogs dig burrows in the desert that become homes for dozens of species, from insects to birds to other mammals.   The Burrowing Owl, for example, can’t dig.  This endangered owl lives exclusively in abandoned prairie dog burrows.  North America’s most endangered mammal, the Black Footed Ferret, eats almost exclusively prairie dogs.  Both of these species, and hundreds of others, have been negatively impacted by a long history of prairie dog extermination.  According to National Geographic, it is estimated that 98% of the prairie dogs were exterminated during the 20th century.


Image result for burrowing owl burrow

Burrowing owl, looking out of his home (built by a prairie dog)


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Black footed ferret, the most endangered mammal in North America

I was furious.  I took action. 

I went to the Principle with articles about the ecology of the prairie dog.  I found a non-profit organization called the Prairie Dog Pals that is dedicated to humane rescue and relocation of prairie dogs from areas where poisoning is threatened, and circulated a petition to have the prairie dogs relocated to a wildlife refuge rather than poisoned.

 It worked. 


The administration linked up with the Prairie Dog Pals, and the prairie dogs were relocated. This experience was formative to me in two ways:


  1. I connected the study of ecology to my own life, and in doing so sparked a love of biology that has been at the core of my identity ever since.
  2. I experienced the truth that we can make a difference in our world. I developed a sense of agency, the feeling that I didn’t have to be a passive observer, and that science could help me make a difference.


The summer before I entered high school, I began working with the Prairie Dog Pals full time. I worked on a two person field crew with a trained wildlife biologist, catching, processing, caring for, and subsequently relocating prairie dogs from around Albuquerque.  This was my life all summer, every summer, until I went off to college.   I read voraciously on my own about biology, especially about ecology, and hungered to learn everything I could.  I was sure, after all, that I was going to go to school to become a full-fledged biologist.  My identity as a scientist was locked in.


Ellie Coonce's portrait.

Me, with a freshly caught prairie dog, Summer of 2010, just before my senior year of high school.


What does my experience teach me about how to help students develop their own identities? 

I have come to realize that my science classes had very little to do with the formation of my identity as a scientist.  Most of my science classes consisted of memorizing vocabulary and concepts, and recipe-style labs.  I think that this classroom model does little to encourage students to see themselves as scientists.  I formed my identity as a scientist through participating in genuine scientific experiences in my immediate environment.  I connected my own life, my community, and my local environment to science.  I was incredibly lucky to have this experience, and it is what lead me to the career I am now pursuing.


I want my classroom to allow my students to have these meaningful scientific experiences within school. 


The question then becomes, how can I as a teacher give my students genuine scientific experiences that teach the concepts they are required to know while connecting science to their world?  In other words, how can science education Get Real!? There is no simple answer, and I plan on wrestling with the intricacies of this question for the rest of my career.  However, there are two basic strategies that I want to never lose sight of that I believe will help me achieve this goal:


  1. Using my student’s observations and questions as guides for our investigations, allowing them a sense of responsibility and agency over their own learning, and
  2. Teaching the concepts of biology as they relate to my students and their communities. I want to involve my students in their own physical environment as much as possible.


I hope that with these strategies, I can allow my students the intellectual freedom to see how they and their communities fit within the broader framework of science.






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The Adventure Begins…

What a week!

Here at the Warner School of Education in the Get REAL! Science program, I find myself immersed in a group of incredibly passionate, intelligent people who share the ethic that science education can be used as a transformative and empowering tool in the lives of young people.  For too long has science class been a collection of facts, hastily memorized over night and filled in on the bubble sheet the next morning.  This in no way mimics science, and has nothing to do with engaging with the world around you.

Science is a process that starts with curiosity. 

Scientists begin their work by asking questions.  They carefully examine whatever it is peaks their curiosity, and find ways to answer their questions through experimentation, generally collaborating with other scientists to do so.  Why is it that we don’t have student’s do that in science class?  I believe that if we did, we would have more scientists, and better ones.

Our job as science educators, therefore, is to give students the agency to engage with science in the real world.  We can do that by reclaiming their own questions, a ‘resource’ that is often squandered by modern educators.  Studies have shown that students ask less and less questions as they get older.  Chin and Osborne  (2008) postulate that this is at least partially influenced by the fact that teachers do not encourage questioning, and that developing the skill of asking good questions is not a focus of the modern classroom.

I look forward to being part of the change in the culture of science education.

Over these next 15 months at Warner,  my goal is to learn how to empower my students to wonder about their world, while simultaneously teaching them the vocabulary and concepts that they are required to know.  In this small corner of the internet, I will be blogging about my experience becoming this educator.  I plan to post weekly about the science I am teaching as well as any insights or challenges I encounter along the way.

Thanks for visiting my corner, come back soon!





Chin, C., & Osborne, J. (2008). Students’ questions: A potential resource for teaching and learning science. Studies in Science Education, 44(1), 1–39.


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