Almost Normal

Another week gone and I finally sort of almost feel like I got a routine going… for now. But I’ll take it. It’s nice to have the madness tempered out. Even though there’s routine, between my placement and STARS, there’s never a dull moment.

In this week’s blog, I want to focus on “laboratory science.” Basically, what makes for a lab that is both geared towards a learning objective and at the same time, is interesting and allows some freedom in expressing their own thoughts.

At my placement, the students did a two part lab with a mystery substance. By observing the mystery substance in different environments, the students had to determine if it was living or non-living by scientific standards (which we had discussed previously. In watching my CT prepare and facilitate the lab, I learned a checklist’s worth of things to hopefully integrate into my own future practice.

1. Mystery is a big motivator for students: The concept of a mystery substance was enough for students to exclaim all types of observations. We let the students make their exclamations, and said that everything they were shouting out made for excellent observations to write down. Not knowing what it was made the initial observation much more fun and productive. Knowing what it was beforehand would have kept the students from making observations that they might feel were ludicrous. Not knowing what they were observing made every observation legitimate.

2. You can never give too much instruction: The way the protocol was presented to the students was both in video form, and a checklist. The video is an excellent idea because one does not have to fumble with materials in real time. Also, it keeps the instruction consistent so you are ensured you don’t miss something from one period to another. Lastly, it also presents the instructions in a different medium, and the change of medium also helps students retain more. However, despite all that there were still some problems with directions. Students were still not as careful as they should have been and some had to stop and start all over because of an error in the protocol. It helps to have multiple mediums, but you still gotta facilitate well. That means organizing lab kits so no one hunts around for materials and prompting students to read the right portion of the directions carefully and slowly.

3. Give the students space in which to express themselves: Have observations be either in diagram or written form, leave things to the student’s discretion, and let them have fun with it. Labs are the cool part of science where genuine learning happens through an experience, so give the students space to do the learning in the way they see best. We had one student, who is normally quiet and indifferent, film the entire 25-minute process of the experiment happening, just so he could make a time-lapse video. And it came out great.

Throughout my coursework at Warner, lab and similar experiences have been hotly debated issue. They nee structure, but they cannot be too rigid and be a cookbook lab. A bit of scaffolding of the terms and ideas combined with a lab that gives students the space to synthesize their own meaning is the best way I can think of going about it… for now.

In other news, I just took my content exam today… There was more cheer in a graveyard than that testing site. *shudders*

Bye for now!

P.S. The mystery substance: Yeast.

Science Another Day

One more week, and another Bond Title Turned Into an Easy Pun. Bear with me here, but I think the two (teaching and MI6) have some common ground. When I describe a day at my placement and all of the things that go into a lesson going well and a good class period, it seems surreal and extraordinary. However, much like Bond, the things he does, while spectacular to everyone else, are the everyday to him. It doesn’t diminish the level of awesomeness, though.

A potential theme for a Cohort Photo? Maybe? Just me?

A potential theme for a Cohort Photo? Maybe? Just me?

Okay. I’m now off my soapbox. Back to the show.

This week I’m focusing on “student needs” as the focus for my blog. At my placement, there were a few distinct moments that I’d like to share. This is what I really wanted to get out of my placement: what does a good teacher do to shake things up to help his/her student’s learning? With that in mind, I asked my CT after specific periods to go through her rationale of certain decisions she made.

1. During an 8/9 double period class, my CT decided the capture sheet was t be done in two separate groups. She separated the guys and the girls and I took the guys. There are twice as many girls as guys, so the groups weren’t just split to thin our the numbers, it was deliberately guys and girls. When the guys and I went into the other room to work, the energy was a lot more focused. Of course, there was the usual side conversations that come with a freshman science class, but more was getting done, and I was able to help more of the students, in particular the quiet ones that still needed help, but that I could not spend enough time with because my attention was needed towards the more disruptive students. I asked my CT afterwards and she just said that she did it so that it could just be a nice change of pace. The next day, one of our more reluctant to work students actually asked if we could split up again. There was no objection, so we did and the same positive experiences happened again: everyone got more done, asked more questions, and I could reach more people to help them out. For the first time in the school year, I felt that I could be of help to the 9th period class as a whole and really got to know their dynamic.

2. On Friday, both the 4th period and 9th period classes were double periods. To elaborate, this means that those students have two back-to-back periods of living environment… on a Friday… After they had just finished a unit test and test corrections…


It was an uphill battle, but the way the lesson was planned and timed, everything got done with time to spare, which as it turns out, was the whole point. The lesson was on living vs. non-living in the scientific sense, so we had some cool videos, taxidermy, and still managed to fit in the scaffolding of VCEEE skills. The mood of the class was much more upbeat and for the most part, the students were self-motivated. This was the case in both classes, and once again, I was able to get to students I normally would not be able to reach. I asked my CT her rationale after the end of the day again about why did she keep the workload light for a 2-period class. Her response was very similar to my logic: the kids are tired, it’s a long day, and it’s Friday. And even though it was a lighter day, we still got through all the objectives and the students were more inclined to work because we kept the atmosphere light for this day. With the last 8 or so minutes that were left at the end of each class period, my CT and I just chatted with the students and got to know them better by talking about what they wanted to talk about.

Being cognizant of student needs is something that definitely takes time and thought. The two examples would not have been as effective the first week because we did not know the individual dynamics of each class. The above two successes are a result of a few other implementation that made little to no difference. My closing thought on adjusting the classroom to accommodate student needs is that while it may seem like we do it to accommodate the more rambunctious students. In reality, we do it to reach those students who are doing what they are asked to do, but need help. Normally we are so preoccupied on getting instruction and motivation done right, that we do not spend the time to help the students who do the first two right. Just keep that in mind.

I leave you all with a very poignant venn diagram. It’s something I need to always keep in mind, keep my head up, and Science Another Day.

As Jon Stewart says, “here it is, your moment of Zen.”


Science STARS: Live and Let Science

After a month in hiatus, the blog is now making its triumphant return as fall 2014 settles in. This week was the recruitment session for Science STARS as well as the expo, so brace yourself for some reflecting. One last note regarding the title, I was challenged to make the punderful blog post titles to all reference movies, but because I’m a bit weird, I took it a step further and from now until the end of STARS, they will all be references to James Bond movie titles.

On the whole, recruitment went fairly well. Our decision was to run our pilot study to show the potential Science STARS a small sample of what we would be doing. Our mini-study involved sorting cards by suit and number while listening to two different versions of the same song, the original version and a smoother cover version. The demo went well: the students were engaged, they were curious, and they were interested in a study that looked at their music at a deeper level. We had some hiccups in the first period. It turns out we needed to give the students more time in the activity, and our directions needed to be a lot clearer and much more visual. However, we were able to take our mistakes and make all of the adjustments we needed to make. By the 3rd time we ran our recruitment demo, it was polished and we got through everything that we needed to get through without taking up too much of a teacher’s time. We got people not only excited for our study, but for Science STARS as a whole, so our job was done.

During recruitment, I also got to see an 8th grade science teacher teach. It was amazing. She was encouraging and gentle when she needed to be, and when one student was consistently being a disruption, she never got angry with him. She asked what she could do for him. She let him go on a walking break (she asked him to “deliver a paper” to another teacher, but in essence it was a walking break without him knowing), she was accommodating in her warnings, and even when she had to move him, she did it respectfully and asked “would you like to move to another seat?”  That display of kindness and patience has the power to really change a student’s life. Whereas other teachers may simply kick that student out of the classroom, she was patient and even after the class was over, she chatted with him and they made a promise to help each other out. That is the power of relationships and I now know what a benchmark of that looks like.

Next came the expo, which posed very similar issues as our recruitment demo. The first trial had a lot of kinks that had to be addressed on the spot as once again, we underestimated the time an activity would take and we underestimated the amount of stuff we had to get through and that 10 minutes is actually not a lot of time. On top of that, there was less time than we though there would be between rotations. By the end of it all, I had felt like I had marched through a hurricane, but just like the recruitment demos, the major issues were cleared up by the second session and adjustments were made and made quickly.

No lie, I am a bit nervous about planning for Science STARS. Music and its effect on our activities is a fascination of mine and I want to share it with others. However I have to remember that this is for the students and making their music work for them. I can do my best to introduce new genres, but I may have to work in a scope that is more familiar to them. Also I am sure I will have to scaffold in some concepts in experimental design. If that ends up being the majority of the science content, so be it. If I do my job then the STARS team will have set up some dynamite experiments of their own creation, and that is a big accomplishment in six weeks and something to be proud of.

Signing off for now, so until the next post, bye-bye.

P.S.: I leave you with two songs I enjoy for studying/ doing work. One is the epitome of relaxation

And the other is a bit more upbeat.