And So It Goes (again)…

Summer B is near the end and once again I have the time (sort of) and the space to reflect on my coursework. Summer A’s reflection post was about literacy in the scientific classroom, and for EDU 486, it is about technology’s role, which works out because I am writing this on a blog.

One thing worth noting as I think about my learning trajectory was that we re-read some of the articles from 487. In particular the Chinn and Malhotra (2001) article was interesting to re-read because I caught some new things I missed the first time around. In both courses, I quoted from them, “simple inquiry task may not only fail to help students… they may also foster a nonscientific epistemology in which scientific reason is viewed as simple… (Chinn and Malhotra, 2001).” In light of camp this quote took on a whole new meaning. After seeing the campers present their studies, I saw scholars become experts in five days due to the fact that they were allowed to engage in real science where everything from the question to what variable to study to who they were going to present their findings were all their own choices. As one of the campers interview by the press said, “the science we do at school isn’t as helpful.” The science is as helpful because we do not give students the choice to explore what they find relevant. Sure we did not cover every aspect of bacteria, ecosystems, and waterways but in five days the campers learned lab skills, science thinking skills, and useful vocabulary all generated from what the students wanted to learn. While they may not know what the word “coliform” exactly means a few years from now, they are more likely to remember the work they did with the identity of scientist and how that can make them informed members of the community.

To see where my learning trajectory goes from here I will take one step back to Summer A. In Summer A I learned what authentic scientific inquiry was and what it looked like. In Summer B I learned what doing authentic inquiry was like with students, but in an informal setting. I feel the next step is when STARS rolls around, it will be how to do authentic inquiry in a classroom setting. In addition, we have a bit less support to lean on and much more accountability on our part.

Slowly moving down that line

Slowly moving down that line

Having said that, I think I am prepared to take that step. I’ve thought about authentic scientific inquiry, I’ve taught with that mindset, so I’m ready for the challenge of STARS. Full geekdom, here I come!

As far as the technology aspect goes, I feel most comfortable presenting it in a fashion that we have been using for a long time: pluses and arrows. (C’mon, we all saw that coming…)

My big plus from this semester is my understanding in technology’s role in the classroom. Technology “should be a introduced as a means, not an end” (Flick and Bell, 2000). It also “…can be employed to do in new ways the same kinds of things we’ve previously known” (Lankshear and Knobel, 2006). At one point in time, the whiteboard and marker were new technologies, and they were employed as a means to teach in brand new ways. This mindset is a huge advantage when thinking about integrating technology into learning. It is a tool, just like paper and pencil, that enhances student learning and understanding. This is a huge cognitive step because one day, I will be the old teacher and technology will have advanced in ways I cannot even fathom. When that moment comes, I have to take a step back and remember what I am writing right now. Technology is a tool, and I now have that knowledge and the desire to not shy away form the new technology. This is vital; while it is useful to learn about the technologies of today, it is even more useful to gain the understanding of technology as a whole that will transcend time.

My big arrow is still using technology as a means to reflect and communicate (read: blogging). I am getting better, I am developing my voice to be more of a professional while still retaining my own voice, but I am still struggling with incorporating everything that blogging can do. Part of it is my creative writing background. I am a journal-keeper and I am a storyteller through words. I am getting better with hyperlinks and images, but it is not consistently in the forefront of my mind enough when I am writing these blog spots. I think the main issue is that I treat this more like a public journal more than anything else. This will come with experience and when the fall rolls around, a more deliberate look at my blog posts and setting individual blogging goals for myself, which I did not do this summer.

This summer has been one wild, busy and never-ending ride, and sometimes it feels that there more daunting days than not. But Michael recognized my inner geek, and I remember why I’m doing all of this. Here’s a comic courtesy of that reminds me why I want to teach, and more specifically teach science.

We all have to have our passions, and if passion makes you a geek, then so be it. If I can spread that message as a teacher, then I’m in the right place.

Sources Cited

 Chinn, C. & Malhotra B. (2002). Epistemologically Authentic Inquiry in Schools: A Theoretical Framework for Evaluating Inquiry Tasks. Science Education  86:175 – 218.

 Flick, L., & Bell, R. (2000). Preparing tomorrow’s science teachers to use technology: Guidelines for science educators. Contemporary Issues in Technology & Teacher Education , 1(1), 39-60.

 Windschitl, M. (2008). What is inquiry? A framework for thinking about scientific practice in the classroom. National Science Foundation.

GRS Summer Camp Day 6: Presentations Accounted For

Today was presentation day where our hard-working Level 3 campers presented their project and their work throughout the past week to the level1 and level 2 freedom scholars. At this juncture, I’d normally have something mildly funny to say, but now hardly seems the time or place or state of mind. I am so proud of Team Orange. They endured biblical rain, brand-new scientific terms, and one of their first experiences in authentic scientific inquiry and perhaps one of their first times being asked “what question do you want to create and study?”

While the dry run of the presentation was a bit clunky, you wouldn’t know it when you saw the campers presenting to the level 1’s and 2’s. They were sharp, authoritative, used the vocabulary and really took on the role of scientific experts and teachers. We had attendance issues (only four of our members were in attendance), a change in timing (six minutes instead of the anticipated 10 per group), and a loud environment but they did it.  Team Orange took the adjustments in stride and produced an excellent presentation. What I was most impressed with was the campers’ ability to answer questions from the young audience. Their answers showed their expertise because not only could they explain the scientific content , but they internalized it enough to explain to the level 1’s and 2’s at a level that even they could understand the answers to their questions.


For my last set of pluses and arrows, I will try to take what I have learned about my teaching skills and style from camp and place them in the context of the classroom and therefore a more formal learning environment:

One of my pluses was my ability to find common interests with the campers. In a short period of time, I was able to learn more about the campers as people. I learned not only about their interests, but also their learning styles. The knowledge regarding their interests helped me make a better personal connection with the campers and create a better relationship which led to a smoother and more productive learning environment. In addition, learning about in what situation/environment each student shines the most in gives me insight regarding both their strengths and weaknesses. In a classroom, this means I know which students to lean on when discussion or activity hits a lull and which students need more support in certain situations.

Another one of my pluses was my newfound knowledge in discussion facilitation. I am much better with wait time and giving the campers the time and space to do some good thinking. I am much more comfortable with silence in a classroom and giving enough wait time before asking the facilitating questions. These skills translate directly into a classroom and I will build off these new skills.

One of my consistent arrows was my decisiveness. While I could make quick decisions before the campers arrived, I found them difficult in the heat of the moment. I was better, but not enough to prevent my overthinking of the possible repercussions of my decisions from getting in the way of actually making a decision. This often led to dead time and an inefficient use of the time. In the context of the classroom, I need to think less about those repercussions; no mistake will ever be irreversible and quite frankly, every decision will have some fallout. Therefore, I need to trust my instinct, and I mean really trust it, and know that I have the capability to undo any cons of my decision the following class period.

Camp has been a truly eye-opening, humbling, and sometimes discouraging experience. However, I have learned so much about my ability as a teacher and how some of my positive teaching instincts manifest themselves in my lessons. Not only that, but I actually made it through! Yay me!

Life never gives us anything we cannot handle, and despite the immense amount of work that went into camp, it was done and executed well. Thanks to everyone in the cohort for their support and company! One big final push until some well-earned R&R.

GRS Summer Cap Day 5: Camp Another Day 

Friday, Friday, Friday. Everything came together and after a day 4 filled with hard and grinding thinking, it set a great platform for day 5 and it showed. Boy was today free-flowing, fast and full of energy.

Today was making our claims and setting up our presentation. And for the first time all week, we actually got through our agenda! Yay! I am so proud of all our campers and the strides they made and I am also proud of the team leaders for making the adjustment for the campers individually and in a group. While our conclusion may not be as ironclad as we may have liked it to be, I think we are in a pretty good place to go and present, as our campers have taken their specific roles in the presentation and scripted and tailored their understanding in a way that the level 1 and level 2 Freedom Schoolers will understand it.

Some personal pluses and arrows: For this post, I’ll try to make my pluses things I improved on over the week and my arrows the stuff I want to improve looking ahead past camp.

My big plus for the week was my decision making. I found a bit more confidence in myself and even though some of my decisions had some repercussion on the spot, I am confident and therefore a bit less indecisive and do not shut down when I have to make an adjustment. Another big plus was making the significant connection with the students. I stepped off my pedestal as a science person and made the connectionsI thought would be a distraction. I talked sports, rap, and everything else. Those little 20-second breaks, even during our work time were enough to re-energize the group for more work and surprisingly, was not too much of a distraction.

My big arrow still is my ability to judge when my class or group is getting nowhere. Wait time is critical, but sometimes it does nothing and need to scaffold the prompt better. Sometimes it is in planning, sometimes it is the snap decisions. Honestly, while I may be a better snap decision maker, I still have a ways to go. My hope is that with STARS, that skill will be developed further.

GRS Summer Camp Day 4: On that question-making grind

Ah, day 4. In my opinion, the day that had the most good and the most bad, both in planning and execution. It was a day of grinding out thinking for both us and the campers. We got a lot, and I mean a lot done, but still not as much as we’d like. In addition, we missed the tail end of our plan, but I think to a degree, the thinking that we accomplished makes up for that.

The morning icebreaker was a success. We asked the campers to teach us easy and hard chants. We learned the Freedom School way, and the campers saw us more as people as we stumbled in learning the chants. We then gave every camper a marker and asked them to recap their first three days. Since everyone had a different color, they could each own what they had wrote. This bridged into refining that investigable question, which is when the grind truly presented itself.

It took much longer than expected, more than double the allotted time. Part of it was that it was not scaffoled as well as it could have, part of it was that there was still a lot of thinking it had to get done.

We used whiteboards, a word bank, our own questions, scientific language and laymen’s terms, and a lot of wait time in between… But we did it. Three days of hard work distilled down into a solid question that is presentable that took everyone’s effort to get there. This did not leave us much time for examining the graphs, but I firmly believe that it was a vital hurdle to leap over, although it could have been handled a bit better.

Which brings me to my pluses and arrows, most (but not all) of which reflect on this dilemma of the refinement of the investigable question.

One plus was my connection to the campers. Today I had the chance to open up a lot more and share more of myself that the campers could relate to. This carried over into our science work because I could use those connections to motivate and give the science an intermediate context which made it more attainable. Another plus was that everyone in the group contributed to our thinking. Each student took a role in the discussion that they were most comfortable in and contributed that way. I was not great at identifying the roles of each camper and their comfort zones at the very beginning, but over the course of the day I was better at managing the campers’ strengths and weaknesses.

As proud as I am with the capers’ work today, this was even more of a humbling day in terms of learning from my mistakes and how the lesson unfolded. On day 1, the rain was an uncontrollable factor that drove my pluses and arrows; today was all me.

While I did give appropriate wait time for the students to think, when I did interject with facilitating questions, I did not give enough time for the campers to absorb those questions before moving into the next facilitating questions. The three second wait time rule (while effective) is not universal. So I need to give more time when I ask an additional question because when I ask an additional question, the campers are processing the initial question on top of that. So when I give an additional facilitating question, I need to give way more time or I need to ask a camper “does anyone want to add to what I said?” or “Who wants to build off of that?” Another arrow was that I was too much of an instructor. I was not as much participant as I should have been; in navigating that line between student leader and instructor, I erred a bit too far in the role of instructor. While it got stuff done, camp had less of a camp feel. I still need to work on that balance, but I was able to see the affordances that having the role of instructor gave me. Knowing that being an instructor gives some urgency to what we are doing and that being the role of team leader gave more of a collaborative feel and allowed the campers more room to create their own thoughts and ideas. I need to better scaffold and give the right springboards for the campers to make their own strong connections but within a stable framework that concretely builds upon each day. Authentic inquiry is still a challenge and I still have some old habits that I picked up from other teaching internships to kick; today was a great opportunity for me to take some of my old tools that agree with authentic inquiry and integrate them with the new stuff I’ve learned. I still have to swallow some of the bitter pills of stumbling through and feeling inadequate, but if anything, I am learning and I have a better idea of how to do it the next time. I can live with that.