Incorporating Scientific Misconceptions Through YouTube Videos

In Regents Chemistry, we are currently learning about the difference between heat versus temperature. (In case you need a refresher: heat is the total amount of energy in a system, whereas temperature is the average kinetic energy (or energy of particle motion) in a system.)

Why Address “Mis” Conceptions in Science At All?

Our students come into science class with varying degrees of background knowledge. Some students have thought about why the steam in their morning shower rises to the ceiling in their bathrooms. Some students can explain that dispersion in a warm liquid occurs faster than dispersion in a cold liquid because the particles have a higher kinetic energy (are moving faster) in the warmer liquid. Some students have never heard of the Kelvin unit of measuring temperature. And each of those amounts of prior knowledge is 100% okay!

Along with prior knowledge comes misconceptions, or knowledge that students believe to be true that are actually incorrect based on current scientific conventions. One misconception that I have encountered in this unit is the statement that “heat rises”. This statement is untrue; heat increases the motion of particles and makes them less dense. Less dense particles rise above particles that have a greater density – this explains why warmer air rises above cooler air. But to say that “heat” itself rises is incorrect.

Addressing these kinds of misconceptions helps students to gain a deeper understanding of content in uniquely engaging ways. Starting with students’ prior knowledge pulls them into the lesson, as their thoughts are guiding the class discussions (which can be an engaging and empowering experience for a student). Specifically in addressing a misconception, students lead the lesson discussion while students and we [teachers] deconstruct the misconception to correct any incomplete or misinformation it might contain.

If you are interested in learning about general misconceptions about temperature and heat flow, there are two videos posted below by the YouTube channel Veritasium.

When To Use These Videos in Science Classrooms

These videos serve an excellent resource for students to feel validated in their opinions, misconceptions, and prior knowledge. There is camaraderie in knowing that their misinformation is a widely dispersed way of thinking about these topics, and as novice scientists, this can provide a validating means of engagement for students to learn about how to correct their misconceptions. Plus, it’s good practice to show videos in class because it provides multimodal access into the lesson content beyond simply lecturing about heat and temperature.

Most importantly, however, is that videos should be used only when the science is TOO DANGEROUS or TOO COSTLY (time, resources, materials management, etc.) to feasibly have your students do as a class. Particularly in the case of the “Misconceptions About Temperature” video, the content of this video can be easily demonstrated and discussed in the classroom setting. An example procedure for this is as follows:

  1. Students feel the surface of their desks. They “feel” relatively room temperature.
  2. Students feel the metal of their chairs. They “feel” much colder.
  3. Have a discussion – which one do students think is colder? Tally responses for “chair is warmer”, “desk is warmer”, and “they are the same temperature”.
  4. Students take the temperature of the backs of “school chairs” (the ones with metal bars holding the chair together) as well as the surfaces of wooden desks. This can be accomplished using an infrared thermometer.
  5. Students compare their temperatures – they should be equal, if not relatively the same, from sitting in the same classroom temperature for a while.
  6. Have a discussion that addresses the misconceptions of students who thought the metal was colder – why did it feel colder? Have students provide possible explanations.
  7. The teacher should explain the difference between “heat” and “temperature” – metal is a conductor of heat, which means it absorbs heat from the body at a much faster rate than the desk. We perceive this faster rate of heat loss from our hands as a “colder surface” even though they are the same temperature.
  8. (Optional): Have students consider why they use a bath mat when they step out of the shower. Why do the tiles “feel” colder, even though they have been sitting in the same bathroom temperature as everything else (including the bath mat)?

Videos:

https://www.youtube.com/user/1veritasium

But Wait…There’s More!

The creator of this YouTube channel (Derek Muller) has some insightful points about the “how to”s of teaching science; if you are curious, check this video out!

The Wikipedia Wiki Game: A Model for NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas

As a high school student, my friends would play a game known as the Wikipedia Wiki Game. This game came up in a conversation I had recently, and in the lenses I have adapted at the Warner School, I now view this game in a completely different light. If unpacked, this game represents the fundamentals of the Disciplinary Core Ideas that the Next Generation Science Standards identifies in their three main theoretical frameworks for science learning.

What is the Wikipedia Wiki Game?

This game challenges players to get from an initial Wikipedia page, called the “Start Article”, to the same final page, known as the “Win Article”. The charge is different for different types of games; for example, the challenge is often to complete this investigation in “the fewest amount of clicks” or “the shortest amount of time”.

Pictured to the right is an example of the challenge. In this image, the challenge is to get from the Wikipedia page on the “Giant Panda” to the Wikipedia page on “Thailand” in the fewest amount of clicks. Players must click on the hyperlinks embedded in the Wikipedia page to get from the Start Article to the Win Article. In this example, players must start with the article on the Giant Panda and, through clicking on the linked pages, must ultimately arrive at the Thailand Wikipedia page, aka the Win Article.

I completed this challenge by starting on the Giant Panda page, then clicking on the hyperlink embedded in the national symbol text, then to the list of national symbols, then to the list of national flags, and finally clicking on the hyperlink under the flag of Thailand.

How Does The Wiki Game Connect to NGSS?

Playing games that invite students to draw connections between ideas is important because it highlights the interconnectedness of knowledge. It demonstrates that there are central themes, “core ideas”, that serve as the fundamentals on which more specific ideas build their foundation.

In terms of the Wiki Game, players benefit from “zooming out” in terms of the specificity of the articles they select. This is because, in zooming out the scope of one’s ideas, players find less specific, “umbrella” ideas that can relate the start and win articles. For example, I chose to select “national symbol” from the giant panda page because it provided a more encompassing concept/idea of both the start and win articles (as the giant panda is an internationally recognized national symbol of China, and Thailand is itself a nation).

In NGSS, a similar idea takes effect. DCIs, also known as disciplinary core ideas, are defined as “the key ideas in science that have broad importance within or across multiple science or engineering disciplines. These core ideas build on each other as students progress through grade levels” (NGSS, 2017). According to this framework, science educators should emphasize these central themes of science explicitly to students – this will help students draw connections between prior knowledge and incoming knowledge through the practices of assimilation (new ideas into existing schemes) as well as accommodation (revamping schemes to incorporate incoming information). These practices elicit constructivist pedagogy in ways that bolster student-centered learning, as students are the ones charged with drawing out the connections between individual lessons through utilizing these core ideas.

Why Might We Play The Wiki Game in a Classroom?

The Wiki Game offers a direct model for NGSS core ideas through drawing the “arrows”, the connections, between seemingly unrelated ideas/concepts.

In explicitly discussing the process that students use to reach the win article, they state things like, “It helps to pick a broad topic” or “I started by clicking a link that both pages had in common”. This gets students talking about drawing connections between specific ideas through common ground (i.e. core themes) between the two. In exploring these connections, students utilize broad connections between concepts as a problem-solving technique that allows them to piece together a “puzzle” of how seemingly unrelated concepts can (and do) connect to each other.

Once establishing these connections as an effective problem-solving practice, educators can highlight that the same should be done for disciplinary content areas. In drawing links between electrons and redox reactions, for example, I would cite PS1 (Matter and Its Interactions) as a disciplinary core idea that relates the two. In explaining redox reactions, students must first understand that electrons are subatomic particles that can rearrange to create ions from atoms. In highlighting this connection, students understand that electrons are the cause for a redox reaction, rather than having the concept of “electrons as subatomic particles” and “redox reactions as a different type of chemical reaction” as two isolated facts. This type of education bolsters learning for understanding rather than learning for memorization, which is ultimately what the NGSS standards strive to achieve.

Putting the Wiki Game Into Practice

Try it out for yourself! Start with the Wikipedia page on the Four-leaf clover. Your challenge is to arrive at the Wikipedia page on Bob Marley. (I got there in 2 clicks – can you?)

As you play, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are common themes between the clover and the singer?
  • How can I elicit those themes through clicking on embedded links?
  • Why might I click on one embedded link over another? What purpose does it serve?

The Value in “Flopping”: Day 1 Jitters, Stumbles, and Learning on the Spot!

Picture this: You’re standing in front of your class. It’s the first time you’re teaching as a student teacher in a real classroom. Students are somewhat paying attention, but they are distracted by other classmates. You’re trying to refocus them on the lesson, but you don’t want to yell at them. You’re getting frustrated, but you don’t want your first day to involve snapping at students. What do you do?

From Rush Henrietta Senior High School, it’s Mr. Kostka reporting this week for GR!S. I wanted to report about the demos upon demos my student teacher has let me conduct in class. I wanted to talk about how brilliant (and fun, of course) my cooperating teacher, Chris Young, is at teaching. I wanted to talk about how much I love the culture of the school at which I have started teaching. And I’m sure I will. But I will never again have the opportunity to talk about something as formative and important as what I experienced this week:

A student teacher’s first day “on the job”.

Within the next few weeks, GR!S is implementing a mini-unit, a series of three to five lessons, embedded within one of the units at our student teaching placements. We’ll be in charge. At the helm. Steering the boat.

These classrooms will be “ours” for the duration of this series of lessons.

We are, in essence, being thrown into the deep end wearing floaties; we are “jumping” right in to the culture, politics, and classroom environment, but we still have the necessary supports in place to ensure we don’t drown. That’s the core of student teaching – showing future teachers how to ditch the floaties and swim on our own!

Chris, my student teacher, has been instrumental in making sure I learn to swim. I taught my very first lesson on Friday, and I will be the first to admit that my first time teaching was a bit of a “belly flop”. I wasn’t confident in myself, I didn’t know how to address class “clowns” that were off task, and I stumbled over my words despite my immense content preparation.

Here are a few of the “Chris”isms that helped me to get over my lack of assurance in myself:

  • Take a deep breath before approaching students who are clowning around. It can be nerve-racking to be a new student teacher; students treat you like the “substitute teacher”. This can be incredibly frustrating; taking a deep breath before engaging with students to get them back on task is immensely helpful so you don’t lose your cool.
  • Asking “why?” without enough information can be intimidating. As science educators, we strive to get our students thinking beyond the scope of the classroom. However, without a solid foundation of the content, we cannot expect our students to think abstractly about the subject material. They can’t think about how potential energy changes as atoms separate if they don’t understand what potential energy is more generally. Providing access into the content before asking these kinds of questions builds the foundational knowledge students need to develop the inquiry practices we strive to include in our lessons.
  • Walking through examples empowers students to solve other problems. Modeling how to solve problems helps build confidence. I have been struggling with this; I have wanted students to understand content and develop the problem-solving strategies themselves. However, without proper modeling of how to solve problems, students can often feel confused. Giving examples and talking through how to solve problems (while inviting student input) develops the sense of empowerment to bridge those strategies into other contexts.
  • It’s okay to give orders! Don’t be afraid to be firm with students. While yelling is not always a good idea, it is important to remain firm with students so they know they have to respect you, especially when you ask them to do something.
  • Find specific opportunities to connect with students. Of course, it is important to develop rapport with students. However, we must find the correct times and places to do this. Talking with students during individual work time can model that off-task conversations are okay, which is the opposite message we want to send. Perfectly on-task engagement is not always necessary; however, we must be cognizant that even unintentional actions can model behaviors for our students, whether that message is positively or negatively in our favor.

Of course, as time progresses, teachers feel more comfortable in the classroom environment. It has been stated colloquially that teachers only feel confident in their teaching abilities after spending 5 years in the field. As student teachers (and as teachers), it is important to be transparent that we are not going to teach perfectly from the start, or even during our third time teaching the exact same lesson the exact same day. As long as we are eager to learn more, to try new things, and to persist with a positive attitude, there is little we cannot accomplish.

The Pre-Service Sponge: Soaking Up Teaching Practices from Multiple Classrooms

Pre-service teachers are sponges. We live, breathe, eat, sleep, and do learning. Teaching is hard-wired into us as a core aspect of our identity. Metacognition is second-nature. We are reflective. We are critical. We are eager to know more about the profession and the world around us.

Learning is in our blood.

As pre-service teachers, we soak up every learning opportunity we can. Rarely again do we have a time in our lives where we have such a plethora of connections. Guided by our CTs, we can ask to observe a multitude of teachers within our school placement to absorb everything we can about teaching styles, teacher voice, classroom management, and demo ideas (this is obviously the most important)! I know I have, and I would like to share how valuable of an experience this was for me.

I am currently placed at Rush Henrietta Senior High school in three Regents chemistry classes as well as one Forensics class. At the high school alone, aside from the classes I directly observe from my CT, I have observed three other science teachers at the school; sat in on a 1:1 with my CT and the assistant principal about his upcoming planned observation; contributed to a shared planning meeting with the principal, assistant principal, teacher representatives from every department within the school, and two representatives from student government; and engaged in an after-school PD where we learned about the ISTE standards as they relate to STEAM education (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics).

As a preservice teacher, the importance of connections, passion for the discipline (and teaching), and a good first-impression cannot be overstated. My CT pushed me from the start to take opportunities that present themselves to me, and when they do, I have not yet hesitated. I got to ask the assistant principal to do an observation of me during my placement face-to-face. I asked teachers to come observe my teaching to give me pointers and feedback on how to improve. I have saved countless other teachers’ resources on a 32GB flash drive that cost me $5 at Wal-Mart, as well as will be receiving a binder full of chem demos from yet another teacher. I got to visit Burger Middle School for half a day to observe 3 teachers and received a tour of the entire school. I met old students of my CT. I met myriad teachers. I made new friends. I was smiling, laughing, and shaking hands all day long. I felt home.

I could go on for several thousands of words about how amazing, effortful, passionate, dedicated, and motivated my CT and I are about what we do; however, I choose not to. Words are sometimes more effective when stated succinctly. In that regard, I leave you with one charge, one observation, one experience that can lead to multiple propped-open doors:

Never let an opportunity pass. As a student-teacher, you will be thankful for any and every experience to improve. Ask difficult questions. Offer to make stock solutions. Jump at the opportunity to observe other teachers. Speak passionately to administrators about the culture of learning they’ve established at their schools.

Who knows where a conversation or an opportunity will lead? The essential aspect to remember:

You’ll never know unless you take it.

Teacher Technology Resources: Maintaining a 21st Century Classroom

Recently at my student teaching placement at Rush Henrietta Senior High School, a teacher shared some of these resources with me. This prompted me to not only emphatically thank her for the resources, but through my investigations, I found these resources to be immensely helpful for myself as a starting teacher! These links are not only useful tools for teachers to use, but they also open myriad other doors for educators to foster more organized, inclusive, and engaging classrooms.

I hope you find these resources as useful as I have!

EDpuzzle

EDpuzzle is an amazing site that provides teachers a service to access videos and attach comprehension quizzes to them! The site links directly to a Google Classroom for compatibility’s sake.

The linked toolbar image highlights the resources to which this site is linked. Teachers need simply click one of the resources and they can edit the video however they see fit! Teachers can crop a video to shorten the overall time, record their own audio over a video if they dislike what is said in the video, and add comprehension questions at any point during the video to ensure students are actively paying attention.

Since the site links directly to a Google Classroom, grades are stored and can be accessed as the teacher sees fit!

4teachers.org

4teachers.org is a site that offers professional development, online educational game, and video channel resources for teachers. The site is packed with resources for teachers looking to incorporate more technology into their classrooms for purposes of multimodality and inclusivity. The site prides itself on hosting a series of tools geared toward bridging classrooms into modern literacies (e.g. technology).

The primary benefit I see in this site, beyond the organizational and grade-tracker tools, is the diversity of resources the site offers to make school a more inclusive place for all students. The site provides many of its resources in Spanish as well as in English. In addition, the site offers many resources that standardize cooperative group work as well as provides developmentally appropriate tasks that promote skill development in the traditional 3Rs of education.

RubiStar

RubiStar is a site that enables teachers to create their own professional-looking rubrics instead of spending countless hours formatting tables in word processing software to make them look nice. Teachers can create their own text for each category AND there are some categories pre-loaded in the site that you can use for your own rubrics! The image above includes a pre-loaded sample rubric for “Science – Lab Report – Drawings/Diagrams”.

Beyond its utility for teachers, it also serves a useful resources to collaboratively develop professional-looking rubrics WITH STUDENTS! After co-constructing a rubric, you can easily save and print it and have your collaborative rubric look just as fancy as one you would make yourself (if not better)!

Equity

One of my favorite resources that I discovered is the Equity tool in the 4teachers site. This site immediately links you to a breadth of resources in providing more equitable teaching practices within the categories of: Assessment, Assistive Technology, Disabilities, Gender, Grants, Legal Issues, Multicultural, Special Needs*, and Wexford. Within each tab are a range of categories relating to the overarching theme as well as RubiStar, TrackStar, and Web resources.

*I utilize an asterisk here because I disagree with the label of “Special Needs”, especially considering its use in the United States within social insult discourse. In recognizing the power of words and labels, I believe a more appropriate label for this tab would be “Accommodations”.

 

I encourage you to explore these resources and see how you might be able to use them in your future classrooms! I couldn’t have been more grateful for this teacher to show them to me, and I hope to pay that favor forward to all of you!

Popular Science and Our Students: Teaching Antioxidants in a Chemistry Classroom

Antioxidants. Why many superfoods are considered “super”. They’re great…right?

Side Note: The inspiration for this post cam from a podcast I started following called Science VS. The specific podcast is entitled “Chocolate, Coffee and Wine”; I have linked it below for anyone who is interested.

Chocolate, Coffee and Wine

The science of antioxidants

Retrieved from: http://www.studyvilla.com/redox.aspx

Antioxidants are molecules that protect against the oxidation of other molecules. Oxidation, which is the process by which atoms or molecules lose electron(s) to other chemicals, occurs when a reducing agent (the thing being oxidized/that “does the reducing”) donates its electrons to an oxidizing agent (the thing being reduced/that “does the oxidizing”). If you are interested in learning more about redox reactions, please watch this video made by CrashCourse on YouTube!

Retrieved from: http://haleo.co.uk/the-body/antioxidants/

Antioxidants function by preventing this donation of electrons. How do they do this? Antioxidants have a surplus of electrons that they can donate to free radicals. No, these ‘radicals’ don’t chant about political revolutionsFree radicals are extremely unstable molecules that have lone/unpaired electrons. These radicals can steal electrons from regular molecules in the body, causing unnecessary and harmful oxidation of our cells that result in cell death.

Where do these free radical invaders come from, and what do they do? In the laboratory world, radicals are often intermediates of chemical synthetic reactions. They serve as the reactive species that activates an important step in a pathway toward a desired product. In the biology world, some of these harmful free radicals come from alcohol as well as from cigarette smoke. Free radicals in the liver come from the metabolism (breakdown) of alcohol and are thought to be the primary factor in alcohol-related liver damage. Free radicals from cigarette smoke are linked with severe lung damage and are thought to, in part, initiate cancer-inducing reactions.

Are all free radicals bad? Absolutely not! Just because words like “liver damage” and “cancer” are thrown around doesn’t mean these radicals are all bad! In fact, free radicals are the reason our white blood cell macrophages can attack and destroy dangerous bacteria and cancerous cells (oh, the irony)! In addition, without radicals, certain cells wouldn’t be able to use redox reactions to signal to each other. While radicals can wreak havoc on our bodies, they also help us to stay alive.

Wait…What do antioxidants have to do with free radicals again? In summary: antioxidants are reducing agents that help to prevent free radicals from stealing electrons from our cells. Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E are all examples of antioxidants that perform this function. This sounds amazing, right? These vitamins are like the Batman of our bodies, swooping in and stopping baddies from stealing electrons from our body’s cells!

Well…While that may be how antioxidants work, they’re not as amazing as we might think.

Not just about chemistry and biology…

The structure of Resveratrol.

As evidenced in the Science VS podcast, myriad articles publish contradictory evidence supporting the health benefits of antioxidants and the foods from which they are derived. Coffee, chocolate, and wine all contain these super molecules, but research in support of the extent of their immense benefits is leery at best. In one extreme example, the findings from a scientific study at the University of Alberta in Canada were distorted by the media to state, “one glass of red wine [is] equivalent to one hour at the gym“. The researchers never stated that red wine was used in the study, nor did their findings state anything beyond speculation that the compound Resveratrol (which happens to be found in red wine) could improve the benefits that exercise can provide to patients with heart conditions. Resveratrol is thought to act similarly to antioxidants, which has created the media’s hype over this class of chemical compounds. The scientists involved in the study provided their University-issued statement in response to the media’s coverage in an attempt to dismantle the belief that red wine could replace exercise.

This entire situation provides strong evidence for the need to teach critical analysis and the importance of peer review in science! Often, the media gets swept up in bright, shiny, and new scientific evidence and feels the need to paint it in the most interesting and engaging ways to the public. Unfortunately, this brand of “popular science” means compromising the integrity and the evidentiary-supported claims the scientific study makes. You’ve heard me say it, I’ll say it again, and I will continue to say it: we need to teach the nature of science in our classrooms!

Teaching antioxidants in a chemistry classroom

Antioxidants are not only packed with nutritional benefits, but they’re also packed with the nutriments our chemistry students need to succeed – namely, redox reactions and organic chemistry. These are topics that students are expected to learn from a high-school chemistry class and to demonstrate their understanding of on state-wide examinations. This begs a question that has been burning within me from the start of this program:

Why not frame our lessons, our units, and our examinations (classroom and standardized) around contexts that students have heard of and/or that matter to students?

The NYS Regents Exams are full of questions about redox reactions and organic chemistry. The only problem: the questions are all boring! The chemistry of life is so much more interesting than the level to which examinations often distill the chemistry discipline. I understand why NYS has “standards”: creating a standard by which we can evaluate and compare students’ performance gives us insight into how students, teachers, administrators, districts, etc. are “performing”. But that still leaves me with the following burning question:

Why can’t (or, more appropriately, why DON’T) the “standards” of education involve these heavily-contextualized problems that students can investigate and apply to their own lives?

A final comment

Interestingly enough, a quick Google search of “what causes alcohol-induced liver damage” generates articles that mention nothing about free radicals. I feel this is part of the problem – individuals in our society feel the specific chemical information that explains the world around them is simply outside of their comprehension. But it isn’t! I hope my explanation of oxidation, free radicals, and antioxidants has evidenced that fact. If we are to create community-engaged scientific practices to dismantle the divide between “scientists” and “society”, we cannot afford to leave anyone out of the Discourse of science. Hopefully, in educating the next generation of scientists in my classroom, I can address this issue head-on.

Additional Resources

I have linked some resource pages throughout this article, as well as some resources below that I feel are appropriate to include. They are listed in order of the ease with which I believe they could be implemented into the classroom.

Disclaimer: While I am not suggesting that Wikipedia serves an appropriate source for information in the science classroom, it is nonetheless an excellent resource to gather initial information as well as to provide further articles that students can use to substantiate their claims.

Language Matters! Clarifying (Mis)Conceptions in Science Classrooms and Beyond

Words have power.

Plain and simple. Words color our perceptions of the world. What we say, how we say it, when we say it, how we mean it – these matter!

We have a name for this. Linguistic relativism (aka the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis) discusses how the words we use can actually change the way we look at the world around us. In one of myriad instances, Mayim Bialik addresses the social connection of the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis in her discussion of calling women “girls”. Please watch the video below before you continue to read.

Whether you agree or disagree with Bialik’s assertions, she hits upon this point directly – that words fundamentally change how we view the world.

The social implications of linguistic relativism

Notice how Bialik starts the video with the words, “I’m gonna be annoying right now.” We have a tendency in our society to trivialize social issues, such as through the use of dialogue that writes this kind of discussion off as “nitpicky”, rather than something that requires careful, critical analysis and discussion. This trivialization happens particularly often on behalf of those who are privileged, i.e. the people who benefit from the current sociopolitical state of the society.

Consider the point she brings up; that when we call women “girls”, we support the notion that women are inferior to men, that women are like children. While this assertion is obviously offensive and incorrect, Bialik argues that utilizing this discourse bolsters this association.

Naturally, discussions over the importance of such an issue are rampant as well as others’ general perceptions of Bialik’s argument. (Just read the YouTube comments to see for yourself.) This dissent ranges from people commenting that “men are often called boys” to “girl is the female equivalent of guy” to “this issue doesn’t even matter”.

Of course, I have my own opinions on this issue: that calling women “girls” contributes to a system of power that positions men as more powerful than women. Of course, I could dissect every argument involved in this issue. I could state that using the term “boy”, while emasculating in certain cases, lacks the capacity to marginalize men in the same ways that the term “girl” does to women. I could state that terms such as “gal” exist as the opposite of “guy” but are largely unused. I could state that linguistic determinism invalidates the argument that the issue doesn’t matter at all. I could even state that Bialik’s argument does not elaborate on alternate cultural uses and implications of the words “boy” and “girl”; as one example, in the cases of people who identify outside the reinforced gender binary.

Despite all of this, at the end of the day, I am not a woman in Bialik’s shoes! I will never know how it feels to experience the world from Bialik’s biological, social, and cultural perspective. But that doesn’t mean I am excluded from this conversation; my voice, all our voices, matter if we are to fight against systemic issues that denigrate women.

How does linguistic relativism play out in the science classroom?

Of course, as a future science educator, I have to relate linguistic relativism back to the science classroom. While these social issues bleed into our classrooms as well, the issue of linguistic relativism holds particular relevance in the culture of science.

Schwartz (2007) discusses this issue in-depth in her paper “What’s in a Word? How Word Choice Can Develop (Mis) conceptions about the Nature of Science”. When students use words such as “prove” and “truth“, they think of science as stagnant, as something that has an absolute “answer”, rather than as a discipline that is constantly evolving and adapting as new information and technologies diversify the field. In thinking that every new discovery is an absolute “truth” to the discipline, the mindset eliminates students’ participation in science as something upon which they can contribute and construct knowledge.

How do you feel about the debate of “woman” vs. “girl”? About “proof” vs. “evidence” in the science classroom? Is there another set of words, whether scientific or otherwise, with which you find similar issue(s)? Please feel free to comment on this post!

My charge for you: Point out words in everyday conversation that contribute to false beliefs and/or stigmatization, whether that be from your own or another’s perspective. We must be proactive about combating (mis)conceptions about science, about women, about humanity.

Nothing will change if we don’t act to change it.

 

References/Resources

Schwartz, R. (2007). What’s in a Word? How Word Choice Can Develop (Mis) conceptions about the Nature of Science. Science Scope, 31(2), 42-47.

Teaching Tolerance: tolerance.org

Bridging Literacy Theory Into The Science Classroom

This week, I would like to explore a theory discussed in my course EDU 498: Literacy Learning as a Social Practice. We have been discussing produsage, which is a theory that describes “the collaborative and continuous building and extending of existing content in pursuit of further improvement” (Bruns, 2008, p. 21). I think this closely parallels the idea of a “community of learners” as well as some specific theoretical models we use in science.

Produsage

The theory of produsage specifically references online space in which users create knowledge within a specific community. For example, I am engaging in produsage through this blog post – I am creating an artifact to be read, shared, and/or challenged by the “users” in the blogosphere (i.e. anyone who can do something with or to this post).

In Bruns’ theory, produsers are an important intermediate step between “passive consumption” and “active production”.

Think about why we might need an in-between step from “production” of knowledge to “consumption” of knowledge. What good is knowledge if it is simply produced and not shared/disseminated? What good is knowledge if it simply passed down with zero regard for innovative perspectives and the advent of discovery?

In attempting to answer that question, I find that produsage values the middle – the stepping stone – that invites everybody to sit at the discussion table. Production of knowledge affords autonomy and confidence in our ability to provide meaningful contributions without letting our words be “final”, without letting others sift through them. Produsage provides the critical lens with which knowledge can be co-created, critiqued, revised, and shared to a broader audience of individuals with similar goals and expectations of and for participation. In adapting this critical analysis, the theory prides itself on not only the creativity of its users, but their intercreativity as well.

Intercreativity constitutes a significant step beyond mere interactivity – a step made possible by the use of non-hierarchical, many-to-many media: in intercreative environments, users collaborate (often in large communities) on the development and extension of shared informational resources of common interest, rather than merely interacting with the material already available; they are taking into their own hands the tools to create content. As a result, such users are engaged in the development of a more participatory culture (Bruns, 2008, p. 16).

Through valuing intercreativity, produsage bolsters the idea that knowledge requires creativity, analysis, and collaboration, to simply name a few. Through this, all opinions matter – but not all opinions are created equal. It takes one to know the culture of the space in order to successfully and meaningfully contribute to its knowledge base.

For additional nuggets of knowledge straight from Axel Bruns, I would encourage you to visit produsage.org for more information on this theory!

Produsage in the Science Classroom

I believe that produsage is to literacy what project-based learning is to science, albeit moved from the “online” to the “physical”. Here’s why:

  1. Produsage values contribution over passive reception of content, something to show and contribute to the community. Magnusson et al. (2004) argue that science accomplishes similar goals through utilizing a “workbench” as well as a “professional” community. The “workbench” is where scientists perform the messy science; pushing one step further, good science must be communicated to a “professional” community of scientists for the purposes of fact-checking, debate, and the co-construction of knowledge.
  2. Produsage values a culture of participation, a specific way in which users can most effectively communicate within their community. Science classrooms do as well! We recognize that science has a particular “way of knowing”, a specific “nature” of how science is done (Settlage & Southerland, 2012). In acknowledging this, we can more effectively bridge students’ identities to see themselves not just as science learners, but as real-life scientists that ask questions and make observations and inferences (Gee, 2003).
  3. Produsage values context in that it must occur within a community of active participants that value a particular set of knowledge. Of course, as is the theme of this blog post, I find the same to be true of science. For students to gain the most out of science learning, it must be “situated” in an activity, context, and culture that provides the necessary information a community of learners requires to most effectively contribute knowledge (Brown et al., 1989). With this backdrop for the production of relevant knowledge, students can more effectively own and disseminate their knowledge into this community (Nasir et al., 2008).

Something that continues to be repeated in my program is the idea that “all teachers are teachers of literacy”, and I find that statement to ring extraordinarily true. Literacy does not simply mean the practices of reading and writing – it indicates the ways in which we understand and communicate within different domains. To be “literate” requires an understanding of the methods of communication within a particular culture (in our case, science) and an effective means of conveying one’s own contributions into that fund of knowledge. While we cannot ignore the importance of traditional literacy skills in our classrooms, we must also expand our convention of “literacy” to not only encompass non-standard means of communication, but also to cater to the fact that our definition of “standard” learning leaves out already-marginalized populations.

Literacy means embracing multimodality. Literacy means embracing diversity. Literacy means embracing perspective. Literacy means embracing sociocultural factors of knowledge acquisition. When we move beyond “traditional” models of literacy and of education, as reform-minded educators, we demonstrate that everybody can do science. Students may do science in different ways, but that’s not a bad thing – after all, diversity breeds innovation. Produsage in the science classroom fosters this innovative and participative space where every student pushes the class forward in the pursuit of knowledge.

 

References:

Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning. Educational Researcher, 32-42.

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

Gee, J. P. (2003). Learning and Identity: What Does It Mean To Be A Half-Elf? What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, 51-71.

Magnusson, S. J., Palincsar, A. S., & Templin, M. (2004). Community, Culture, and Conversation in Inquiry-Based Science Instruction. Scientific Inquiry And The Nature Of Science: Implications for Teaching, Learning, and Teacher Education, 131-155.

Nasir, N. i. S., Hand, V., & Taylor, E. V. (2008). Culture and Mathematics in School: Boundaries Between “Cultural” and “Domain” Knowledge in the Mathematics Classroom and Beyond. Review of Research in Education, 32, 187-240.

Settlage, J., & Southerland, S. (2012). Teaching science to every child: Using culture as a starting point. New York, NY: Routledge.

The Nature of Science: Fostering Student Inquiry

As science teachers, we can all agree that the nature of science (NOS, for short) is an important subject of our students’ education. But how exactly can we incorporate NOS practices in the classroom?

What is the nature of science?

First, we must wrap our heads around exactly what NOS is. While definitions vary, the nature of science in its most general form refers to a framework of ideas that outline science as a cultural way of knowing.

(a) Scientific knowledge is tentative (subject to change), 
(b) empirically based (based on and/or derived from observations of the natural world), 
(c) subjective (theory laden), 
(d) necessarily involves human interference, imagination, and creativity 
    (involves the invention of explanations), 
(e) necessarily involves a combination of observations and inferences, and 
(f) is socially and culturally embedded (Lederman, 1999, p. 917).

In the year 2000, the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) came out with a position statement on the nature of science that outlines many of these same ideas while highlighting its own, such as the need for distinction between a law and a theory.

For many individuals, the nature of science is reduced to this set of principles – something they can “drink and be done with” – rather than applied as a process of student enculturation in the discipline. To treat the nature of science as some memorizable list (rather than implemented) invalidates its meaning within our classrooms as well as within the discipline itself. As reform-minded educators, we strive to incorporate teaching NOS by doing. In the context of our second placement, for the GR!S cohort, that meant every student’s dream for a school day – a field trip!

How do we teach the nature of science?

Students taking samples of the hematite.

The students collected samples of the rock layers at the Rochester Lower Falls Gorge just off of Seth Green Drive. Throughout the investigations, we let student observations and inquiries drive their learning. At the very first stop on our trip, students were drawn to a layer of hematite, which has a red color (see image).

What do you notice? Does this color remind you of anything? What do you think caused this rock to turn red? How did it happen?

Some examples of observations and questions from students included: “Is that red rust?”, “It’s the color of rust”, “Why is this rock red?”, and “The red rocks were rusty, old, and easier to break”. Through students’ questions, we did not have to teach them about hematite beforehand – we let their natural curiosity highlight the hematite layer when they were exposed to its noticeable hue in the context of the geologic world.

Through their demonstrated interest in this rock layer, we led into a description of how hematite is an oxidized form of iron (Fe2O3). That led into questions such as “What does ‘oxidize’ mean?” and “How does iron oxidize?” This was a particularly exciting inquiry for me to answer as a chemistry major and future chemistry teacher. I never anticipated I would be able to explain the process of oxidation/reduction in terms of rocks on an environmental science field trip. This solidified something I knew but continue to struggle with in terms of classroom application – that science happens all around us. We can easily bridge natural phenomena into our classrooms through letting students’ curiosity drive the lesson.

More broadly speaking, these kinds of questions demonstrate a much deeper appreciation and engagement with geology (and with science). In valuing students’ interests, they demonstrate a deeper respect for how the fundamental principles of science cause observable phenomena. With “just-in-time” explanations, students gain an understanding of science as it reveals itself through their interests.

Why is teaching the nature of science important?

We know that students can bridge the classroom into the environment to situate their learning. Brown, Collins, and Duguid (1989) would argue this is the best way to learn content knowledge because it provides a context for student learning. We can stop here now, right? Students have learned what they need to about hematite. What more could they want?

I believe the lesson does not stop there. In my opinion, the most fundamental part of this entire experience, the thing that motivates scientific learning, comes with the discussion of the nature of science. So why do we care at all?

When we discuss these fundamental truths in contextualized spaces (e.g. when student inquiry drives their learning), they demonstrate how science is done! Bridging students’ identities into the classroom, utilizing their perspectives and observations to drive the classroom learning – these are ways that students learn, but they are also ways that actual scientists conduct their investigations! As we bring diverse perspectives to the table, they discover new evidence because different people deem different things “important to study”. As this new evidence is discovered, it can support or reject what is currently known within the field! But we can’t let this go unnoticed! Students need to know they are scientists in these cases and not just science learners.

Of course, this realization came to me much too late. I missed this vital opportunity to engage in a NOS discussion with the students asking these questions. In striving to be a reflective practitioner, it is important to explore how I could have incorporated a discussion of the nature of science into this impromptu lesson on iron oxidation. As an example, I could have asked the student what he knew about iron and about rust, and how they are different. After establishing that rust incorporates oxygen into its structure (hence “oxidized”), I could discuss how this is entirely based upon our observations. We see that iron turns red when it rusts because we infer that iron incorporates oxygen into its structure. We can test this theory by performing reactions to more accurately represent that claim, but we can’t simply ask rust if it now has oxygen in it or how it does this exactly.

This is a perfect exploration into the nature of science – that science is based on our observations and inferences. In science, we can’t know everything for certain. What we knew yesterday changes with the advent of new, more accurate technology. But that doesn’t mean we can’t trust our inferences based on the most accurate representations of phenomena through rigorous investigations and research. To ignore that fact would be to ignore logic entirely.

Whether or not they continue a career in science, to succeed in our classrooms, students need to know they are effectively participating in a community that values their individual creativity, observations, inquiry, and collaboration. They are not just individuals who can memorize and spit out answers on a multiple choice test. They are the new perspectives that will guide us to new scientific discoveries.

On a merely semi-related tangent, here are some fun nature of science posters with which you can decorate your classroom!

 

References

Brown, J. S., Collins, A., & Duguid, P. (1989). Situated Cognition and the Culture of Learning. Educational Researcher, 32-42.

Lederman, N.G. (1999). Teachers’ understanding of the nature of science and classroom practice: Factors that facilitate or impede the relationship. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 36(8), 916-927.

Kicking Off a New School Year at East

Hello and Welcome to the 2017-2018 GR!S class blog! Our cohort is very excited to share our experiences this semester: and that begins with our journey at East. Join us (James and Olivia) as we explore pedagogy, advocate for change and work toward becoming reform-minded science educators who employ culturally responsive teaching and inclusive education practices.

East EPO Partnership with The University of Rochester

To provide a little background: The University of Rochester shares an Educational Partnership Organization (EPO) with East School in Rochester, NY. The mission of the EPO states:

“Our mission is to prepare all students for a successful transition into adulthood. We will accomplish this mission by incorporating best practices in school and district leadership, curriculum design and implementation, teaching, social-emotional support and school and community partnerships. At East High, we will create a school culture where all members of the East High School community are valued as assets to learning and development and in which high expectations are the norm” (East EPO).

Through this partnership, we are able to collectively pool our resources and simultaneously implement and research reform-minded educational practices. If you are interested in reading about this partnership and the unique opportunities it offers, you can read about it here. You can also watch “The First Day at the New East” to get an idea of what this partnership looks like in practice!

Get Real! Science at East

As part of the Get Real! Science program, our cohort spends 2-3 days per week in 7th grade environmental science classes in the East Lower School (Grades 6-8). Our cohort collectively splits observations between two 7th grade science teachers at East. Our role in the class is to critically analyze and reflect on the practices of our cooperating teachers as well as to envision how we will develop our own strategies for observing and commenting on student work, establishing classroom culture, conflict management, etc.

From a theoretical standpoint, we are “practicing what we preach”. These classroom observation experiences are invaluable to us as we establish the “what”, “how”, and “why” of our future teaching practices (Thompson et al., 2009). We do this through observing teaching practices that are situated within the classroom culture and context (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989). In this situated environment, we embrace our identities as “teachers”, not just “learning about teachers” (Gee, 2003). Finally, in embracing our learning at East, we are applying “culturally responsive teaching” practices through situating our scholars’ education within their individual, highly contextualized, and diverse cultures and experiences (Gay, 2002).

First Day Noticings

Welcome to the first day of seventh grade! Take a moment to imagine how you might feel: It’s the first day of school! This year you are in 7th grade, middle school! You are given your daily class schedule and now it is your job to navigate a new school; find your new classrooms (and get there on time!); and establish new relationships, with new teachers and peers! How do you feel?

As seventh grade scholars (students) entered their science classroom, each individually met their science teacher for the first time and were handed a jolly rancher. Scholars then found their way to one of the tables in the classroom marked with the color/flavor of the jolly rancher they received. Each table had seating options for 3-4 scholars.

At each table in the classroom was a bin with all of the materials scholars would need for the class period: paper, markers and pencils. Next, scholars were asked to take a piece of paper and create a name tent; the directions were posted on the SMART Board and accompanied by a completed example by the teacher, which included her name, favorite color, favorite ice cream flavor, favorite subject in school and favorite kind of music.

Think about how you imagined feeling on your first day of school. You now are seated at a table surrounded by age-related peers, engaged in a conversation discussing your favorite ice cream flavor. Chances are you are feeling a bit less nervous, and a bit more ready to take on the world- at least in science class!

When asking scholars to introduce themselves to a new group of peers, a new teacher and other adults they have never met we ask scholars to take a risk. By electing to first engage scholars in a low-risk name tag activity, we scaffold the risk we are asking them to take: first, write or draw a few of your favorite things, next share a few facts with your peer sitting next to you, then introduce your peer to the class. Not only are we scaffolding risk, but we are encouraging positive relationships in a safe space, building an inclusive community of learners from the very start!

Predict-Observe-Explain

The following activities for the first day included: Establishing classroom community norms and expectations guided by the schoolwide norms of East and participating in two Predict-Observe-Explain activities.

Check out the first demonstration here:

Over the course of the demonstration scholars were asked to complete the following by writing or drawing their response.

  1. Predict what would happen when the soda can was placed in the ice water.
  2. Observe what happens to the soda can when it was placed in the ice water.
  3. Explain why you think that happened.

While at first one might predict that demonstrations such as this solely aim to contextualize a scientific phenomena, after observing it is clear that the purpose is much greater! Science demonstrations offer educators and scholars the opportunity to engage in conversations beyond the content, including those pertaining to the nature of science: Who is a scientist? What kind of work does a scientist do?

By choosing to embed conversations grounded in the nature of science we facilitate a learning environment where scholars explain the goal; today the goals included establishing a collaborative learning environment (“Our vision of the East graduate”) and roles of a scholar in the science classroom. While we introduce this activity in the context of the science classroom, Predict-Observe-Explain demonstrations can (and should) be implemented across content areas. When planning such activities it is important for educators to consider each of the three Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles, ensuring that all learners have access to both the explicit and implicit conversations reflected in the learning target. To learn more about UDL, visit this link!

The Anchoring Experience

In the GR!S program, we are passionate about experiential learning – learning in multisensory, multimodal, and context-rich spaces. This type of learning is often used as an “anchoring experience” for units, defined as a “specific instance of a phenomenon that requires students to pull together a number of science ideas in order to explain” (Ambitious Science Teaching, 2014). Thanks to the work of one of East High’s environmental science teachers and curriculum coaches, the first geology unit contextualizes scientific learning in our home community of Rochester. The anchoring experience for this unit will introduce students to the Rochester Lower Gorge where they will observe different types of rocks. By taking careful observations and samples from rocks at the Gorge, students will be able to construct the history of Rochester’s land and answer the following overarching question:

How has Rochester’s lithosphere changed over time?

This anchoring experience is intended to provide scholars the opportunity to learn about rock layers, rock formations, different types of rocks, and the “stories” those rocks tell about Rochester’s history. Check back in next week to see how this experience went! In the meantime, check out Victor, Kaitlin, and Sydney‘s reflections on their first week at East!

If you are interested in becoming a part of the learning community at East, you can register to volunteer here: https://www.rcsdk12.org/Page/42955

– Olivia and James