486 Final Reflection (Science and Technology)

So, now that the semester is coming to an end, it’s time to, as with all Warner things, think back on what we’ve learned, how we’ve grown, and what the implications are for going forward.

I suppose I should start by saying that prior to taking this class, I thought its title was a little redundant. Integrating science and technology? If there is a class on how to do that, then the implication seems to be that you could make a choice to not use technology in your science classroom. But, why? Why would you not use technology? Can you even separate technology from the study of science? In my mind those two things seem to be one and the same, so the subject of this course seemed a little strange. Maybe it was a holdover from when technology was just starting to make its way into classrooms. Maybe it was created to explicitly instruct us in the technology tools (probes, etc.) we would need in the classroom. Or maybe it was something else? Either way, to a millennial who has grown up with technology woven through her life, it seemed a little like an odd topic for a class.

But, as with all things, I think I understand better now. In my mind, science and technology are still intimately intertwined, but I have a better understanding of how that works, and how to consider its use in the classroom. Almost all of my experiences of science have included technology in some way (after all, I used to work at a particle accelerator, in a room with floor to ceiling screens and computers), but I don’t think I had ever really stopped to consider how or in what ways they were related. After all, science doesn’t inherently need technology. The first scientists in ancient times had very limited means of technological tools, relying primarily on the observations they could make using their own five senses. Over time, technology was developed that allowed later scientists to extend their senses, performing more intricate experiments (ex: telescopes and microscopes); but it’s only been relatively recently that scientists have needed to use cutting edge technology to make advances. And in some ways, the science we are teaching school children is “basic” enough, that it would have been discovered by people using much more limited technological means than we have today. In theory we wouldn’t need to use, for example particle accelerators, with our middle or high school level children, because they do not have the background knowledge to properly understand how it works or what it is even telling them.

But just because it is possible to understand high school level science for the most part without making use of advanced technology, does not mean we should. I know from my own experiences that there is most definitely a different feeling to learning in a space using nothing more advanced than paper, pencil, and a chalkboard, vs. learning in a space with a more modern setup, computers, outlet plugs, projectors, smartboards, etc. I had a few classrooms that taught in the “old way” when I was in high school, and while there was nothing inherently lesser about those classes, thinking back on it I can identify a certain disconnect between what we were doing and the “real world.” The lack of technology, which otherwise pervades our modern world, made it seem like the space we were in, and the learning we were doing, was completely unrelated to the real world, and I think it made it harder to extend my experiences outside of that classroom. On the other hand, when I’ve worked in classrooms that were much more state of the art, I’ve found that they sort of give off a vibe of importance and of “the future.” Almost like anything I learn or do in them will be important for later, so I should store it away so that I can draw on it elsewhere.

Maybe I’m creating things that aren’t there. And maybe those feelings are silly. But there is something to be said for making sure that the “school” experiences of students aren’t completely decontextualized from students’ “other” lives. Its hard enough getting kids to avoid compartmentalizing their school and home experiences–we don’t need to make it harder!

However, that doesn’t mean that we should just be throwing kids into “modern” spaces, either. It is so easy for technology to become a distraction or to take away from the content being taught. Heck, on Friday when I was working with my campers to create a powerpoint for their presentation, it was hard to keep them focused on the actual content they were working on because they kept wanting to get distracted by the aesthetics and cool special effects. Even with my prodding to move along, they spent far more time on that than they really should have, and as a result they only had three slides including a title slide (although admittedly too many more than that would have been excessive). I think that’s the danger in not thinking critically about how, when, and why we are using technology in our classrooms–its so easy to get wrapped up in the “flashy” and the “fun,” that we forget what our end goal really is: learning.

What was really intriguing about some of the work we did this semester was that it was actually the exact same as what we did last semester. Some of the readings we did were new and directly addressed technology, but I want to say almost half of the readings we did were ones we had read just a few weeks earlier. It seemed like a strange teaching choice, but afterward I could see that it was deliberate. Not only did we get the benefit of peeling back more layers on those readings during the second time through, but we also had a chance to look at them through a different lens. Last session we were mostly interested in them as commentaries of literacy and science education, but now we had the chance read between the lines and consider their implications for other teaching practices that might take place in a science classroom.

For example, as I was rereading through the Windschitl (2008) article, I found myself a little perplexed, because he didn’t seem to mention technology at all, instead talking about how to create effective inquiry experiences in the classroom. However, I soon started to notice parallels between how to choose good inquiry activities (what sorts of things to consider, how to analyze their contribution to the end goal, considerations of what affordances and limitations they offered) and how to make effective use of technology. If we’re going to analyze every activity we do in the classroom through a lens of “how does this support inquiry learning” and “in what ways does this enable or inhibit students from taking leadership in their own learning,” then so too should we analyze all pieces of technology or instances of technology use in our classrooms.

I’d like to say that our camp experience was perfect and we considered each and every piece of technology we made use of, but that would of course be a lie. There were times when it worked out well, and times when we probably could have done it better.  In the end we did the best we could, and can only use what we experienced to inform our decisions moving forward. And I think it is as crucial, when considering the consequences of using technology, to consider the consequences of not using technology.

For example, the day we were out on the beach, taking data, we only had two datahubs but wanted to divide up into three groups. This meant that two of the groups would get to use the really cool datahubs to take their data and would get a chance to experience the usefulness of technology, while the other group would be denied that experience. However, as it turned out, the datahubs had some issues and didn’t work as well as they could have. In addition, they were unable to use the turbidity function because we didn’t have enough pipettes, and it also took much longer at each station to get all the measurements recorded. My group, which was only using a secchi disk, an infrared temperature probe (which ended up breaking, something that could just as easily have happened to any of the datahubs), and a set of whirl-pak bags. Even though the water looked really muddy, if it weren’t for our “simple” secchi disk data, we would not have been able to get any measure of how dirty the water was, an element that ended up being very important in our future work. Even though we didn’t get to make use of the electronic “technology” probes, our “simpler technology” (a colored disk on a string and a set of basically plastic bags) were as important in the end. Each group got to experience “hands on” in different ways, and in the end all the campers learned something new.

So, to sum up, what is my new philosophy on technology and its role in science education? Well, to start, it definitely has a role in science education. I continue to think it would be an oversight to try to run a science classroom without technology (Unless, of course, there simply are no materials available. In that case the teacher would have to do their best while writing all the grants in the world to remedy the situation asap.) However, there are definite situations where technology use needs to be questioned and analyzed. What does this add to the experience? What will it take away? What will happen if it malfunctions? Will students be able to stay focused on the content, and not the side attractions? Is this technology empowering my students, or stifling them? Am I emphasizing technology for the sake of technology, or will this actually add something important to the experience?

As technology continues to play an important role in the future, students will need to learn how to make use of the technology that is in their lives. They need to learn how to discern what tools to use when, as well as how to make that decision. They need to learn when to take out their devices, as well as when to put them away. They need to learn how to make use of the many benefits technology can allow, while also realizing that all technology comes with limitations as well. As teachers, these skills are skills we can teach in parallel to science content, modelling these thought processes and decisions just the same way we model other adult life skills. But we also need to remember that the science comes first, and that everything in our classrooms–technology, activities, supplies, questions, objectives, etc.–need to be in the service of student learning.




Windschitl, M. (2008). What is inquiry? A framework for thinking about scientific practice in the classroom. In J. Luft, R.L. Bell, & J. Gess-Newsome (Eds.), Science as inquiry in the secondary setting (pp. 1-20). Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.


Camp Day 6: Presentations and Goodbyes

This post has been backdated to Monday, August 4th for clarity, despite its true publication date of August 6. Thoughts were recorded on the 4th, but pictures and editing did not take place until after camp. Thanks for the understanding.


It’s Monday, and camp is finally over. I’m not sure whether to breathe a sigh of relief, or to be sad. Maybe both?

In order to prepare for today Eric, Jess, and I had to do a good deal of prep work on our campers’ presentation. In addition to writing the lesson plan, we also had to put together all the scattered pieces of our campers’ ideas. I learned some new things about my teammates though! Apparently Jess took art all throughout high school, so she took point on getting the trifold layout designed. I brought some colored cardstock, so she cut the pictures to fit and glued everything down, and it looked really well put together. I also learned that Eric took creative writing all throughout college, which came up when we were talking about the blogs and I realized that possibly part of the reason I’ve been having trouble getting my camp reflection posts up on time is that I’m writing WAYYY more than everyone else. I’m pretty sure all of them have been over a thousand words (compared to a few hundred on others’), and have each taken me at least an hour each night. Finishing, editing, and posting had taken another hour for the ones I’ve done, and I image that will hold true with the remaining ones I have to write. This is the same problem I have any time I’ve ever tried to keep a journal– I just have so much to put down that I get behind. On the one hand I don’t want to lose too many points for having my posts late, but on the other hand I don’t want to just delete what I have put effort into writing. After all, it’s good reflective work for me and helps me think through what happened for the day. Going forward I may have to institute a word or page limit on my writing to help me get things in on time. As my Dad says, “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” Definitely something I struggle with.

Anyway, so we got the trifold made, and I touched up the powerpoint. We each had campers doing different things, so we had a bit of a discussion about what each kid wanted to talk about, and then created a rough “order” for them to go in that made some sense and let things flow. We also had to talk about what would happen as far as attendance, since we have several kids who have been showing up spottily all week, and we have also been told that football camp starts this week so several of our boys may miss due to that. Our plan was just to put each “role” on a note card, and then when we got to the Freedom School divvy them out according to who was actually present.

The finished trifold presentation poster. Doesn't it look nice?

The finished trifold presentation poster. Doesn’t it look nice?

It was a good thing we planned it that way, because in the end we had only four students, instead of the seven we had used to plan on Friday. And of those four, two of them were the kids who had only showed up for two days last week! Slightly hilariously, the one girl from our group that ended up getting interviewed for the paper was one of those two kids who hadn’t been there, so while she was able to speak well about what we did (she had been briefed well by her teammates), there were a few factual errors in her statements, all about things we discussed on days she wasn’t there. But what can you do.

So we arrived and got the station set up, complete with our data collection materials, as well as sample colored test tubes (from my aquarium :P) and bacteria plates, all safely contained in plastic bags. And actually even though they were in plastic bags for safety reasons, the kids decided that they should still only be handled by someone in gloves, which was great to see. The kids all really liked our trifold and the powerpoint, so that was good. It would have sucked if the kids ended up displeased with our work!

Notecards were handed out, and we reviewed with the kids what they were going to talk about, although it was chaotic in the Harambee room with so many people. I think they all sort of wanted to socialize with each other and see each other’s work, which would have been great except we really needed to get in a dry run! We were constantly having to “herd” our students back over to our table, and even while they were in the process of doing their dry run they were getting distracted. It wasn’t boding super well, but regardless, at a little after one the level 1 and 2 girls came down and it was go time.

I have to say, I was so proud of our campers. The younger kids all crowded around the station, making it hard for our presenting campers to determine where to face or who to speak to, and it was hard to have everyone from one end of the table to the other focusing on the speaker. In addition, the time for presenting each time was dropped from 10 minutes to 6, so our kids had to adapt on the fly, although I think the fact that our presentation wasn’t completely “set” meant that it was easier for our kids to just roll with it (I felt a little bad for the groups who had done more practicing and had been preparing for a full 10 minutes).  But our campers spoke loudly, clearly, and with confidence. They used their newfound vocab words. They were enthusiastic. And they were awesome.

Even during the first rotation round I found myself just standing around with nothing to do. The campers were leading their own presentation, working the powerpoint, demonstrating the safety gear, and answering questions (!!!) all by themselves. And the level 1 & 2 scholars asked some really great questions! I think by the end Jess had to step in maybe once to help with a question? Only one question I think went unanswered, and one other was given an “I couldn’t say because we didn’t study that” (which is actually a very astute answer–they could have just guessed, but instead they stuck to what they actually knew). All the rest of the questions were given answers using accurate vocabulary and responses.

Here you can see me, standing around looking slightly useless and not really sure where I'm needed.

Here you can see me, standing around looking slightly useless and not really sure where I’m needed.

After the three rotations of girls, the boys came down for their three rotations. They had a very different energy, which was interesting to see, and I think our campers (three girls and one boy, for today) had a little bit of trouble handling it. We kept having to ask the audience to “look with their eyes,” and at the end one of the girls expressed frustration at the number of times she had to tell the boys to stop touching.

But overall it went really well. The flow of one camper to the next as far as speaking roles was a little fuzzy, and during the girls’ rotations the camper who was supposed to be talking about the trifold ended up on the far end of the table away from the rest of the group. I think it partially had to do with the awkwardness of the large thing sitting on the table. But the little girls who were in front of the trifold couldn’t really see to the other end of the table, so they ended up just asking our camper questions about what was on the board, and she ended up sort of giving a “mini” presentation to those kids, separate from the rest. It didn’t end up being much of an issue, and not only did she do a great job, but she kept her mini-audience engaged and interested, and she looked like she was taking great pride in what she was doing.

Another thing that worked well was that we had campers modelling the safety gear while another camper talked about it. This allowed the camper who was talking to gesture at the “model,” who could do goofy things and hold up materials (like the bacteria plates, using their gloves) while they talked. Between the rounds of girls and boys they ended up switching up who was wearing the gear because it was hot, but they were all excited to have had an opportunity to do so.

Side view on the presentation team. In the front you can see one of our campers  and wearing a fishing vest and goggles (beach safety gear), as well as another behind the table as in a lab coat and goggles (lab safety gear).

Side view on the presentation team. In the front you can see one of our campers and wearing a fishing vest and goggles (beach safety gear), as well as another behind the table as in a lab coat and goggles (lab safety gear).

And when I asked the kids about it afterwards, they were all really enthused. One of the campers even said she felt like a teacher! We did have a bit of an issue with our one boy actually remaining at the table during the presentations, which I think may have been at least partially because he felt weird being outnumbered by girls since he hadn’t been doing that on other days when there were more boys than girls. But even he said that he’d enjoyed it, so I’m calling it a success.

One of the things though that I really would have wanted to change if we did it again, though, was our closing. We had been told that there would not be any time for a follow-up or closure with the campers afterwards, so we didn’t plan one. Of course, that ended up not being the case, and we had this sort of awkward ten minute span where we were cleaning up and the other groups were doing some form of closure and we weren’t really sure what to do with ourselves. It would have been nice to plan some form of recognition for our campers the way the other teams did, and it would have been a great time for an end-of-camp reflection or even for an evaluation of their experiences. I think if there’s one thing I really regret about today, it’s that.

All in all, though, it was an excellent way to wrap up our camp. We were all prepared, the presentation planning went over well with the kids, and we were able to prepare ourselves for anticipated issues (ie, attendance). Our campers did an excellent job of assume the roles of experts, and were able to show off all of their skills. Everyone participated in the presentation, everyone used their new vocab, and everyone participated in the question answering, so it was great to see that all of the kids, even the two who’d missed over half of the camp, were able to join in and participate. And it was so great to see the confidence boost they got as the presentations moved forward.

Honestly, there wasn’t really much for us to do, which I’m not sure if I should count as a plus or as an arrow. I felt like I was just standing around watching during the presentations, and while it was great that the kids were in charge, I really felt like I should have been doing something. We also probably could have planned out a better arrangement of the materials at the presentation (ie, the trifold) so that it was all integrated nicely and nobody got pushed aside due to the setup. And of course, the huge arrow of a lack of closure, which I already mentioned.

Camp really was a great experience. And it was mind boggling to think about how far the kids had come in just five days (or less for some of them!). I don’t know how much of the actual knowledge we “taught” them will stick, but I can only hope the confidence and joy of doing science and being scientists will stick with them, even into school.

I cannot WAIT for getting myself into a real classroom!!

Camp Day 5: We Actually Got Through Everything!

This post has been backdated to Friday, August 1st for clarity, despite its true publication date of August 5. Thoughts were recorded on the 1st, but pictures and editing did not take place until after camp. Thanks for the understanding.


Day 5 down, and we somehow made it through the week! Time for some well-deserved rest!

Ceb bought us all coffee with his about-to-expire dining dollars. Yes, we went over to the starbucks and ordered 10ish drinks.  Its been a long week.

Ceb bought us all coffee with his about-to-expire dining dollars. Yes, we went over to the starbucks and ordered 10ish drinks.
Its been a long week.

But first, the blog.

So today was Day 5, and my second chance at taking lead, which was interesting because today’s lesson was very different from day 2’s. I mean, I was still trying to fit practically a million things into a very small chunk of time, but unlike with Tuesday it seemed like micromanaging was probably not the way to go. There were really just three things we needed to get through today: data analysis/”looking at graphs,” making claims, and creating the presentation. And as we’ve learned, our group cannot be rushed when it comes to thinking aloud and making decisions.

So after the campers arrived we took them right over to Gleason to get to work. This morning Jess had this really great idea to take the kids over to Gleason since they would probably like writing all over the walls, as well as would just benefit from a change of scenery. We would lose some time in physically walking to and from Gleason, but the kids would enjoy it and since I hadn’t micromanaged all the details this time around, I was able to make it work. So before the campers came Eric and I went over and set up in one of the little study rooms (they all have a tv screen to project on, as well as walls made of whiteboard). This time around I practiced with my computer nice and early so I was sure it would work; of course it wasn’t a smartboard so there was inherently less of a compatibility question, but still, I made sure it was working. None of that missing Harambee nonsense today.

Anyway, as the kids arrived and we walked over to Gleason, I realized that once again, we had campers attend who had not attended much the past week. It wasn’t anyone’s first day, but the two campers who showed up for the first time on Wednesday, showed up again today. Not only had they missed the two days at the beach, but they also missed all the heavy lifting we did yesterday!! We were going to have to do some sort of summary/review for the kids who weren’t there, so when we got to Gleason I asked one of the kids if they wanted to list up on the board what we’d done. Silly me– of course as soon as I suggested someone write on the board all the kids jumped up and started asking if they could do it. What was I going to do, say no? So I told them sure, they could ALL write on the boards, whatever they remembered about yesterday. And for the kids who weren’t there, they could write whatever they remembered as important from the day they were there. I’m really not sure why I didn’t think that this is what they would want to do just straight from the beginning.

Notes about our graph discussion from yesterday.

Notes about our graph discussion from yesterday.

So after everyone got a chance to write on the boards and then a few people were called on to explain what they’d written, we got right down to business with the graphs. Yesterday the plan had been to tape a small copy of each of the graphs into the journals over lunch, but since we hadn’t gotten a chance to get started with them before lunch, that didn’t happen. Instead we had them taped in for first thing this morning, which meant that we could do a quick Pair-Share activity where the campers, in pairs, looked at their graphs and made some notes about them, then shared out for the whole group one or two of the things we noticed and then wrote them on the boards. We ended up drawing a rough outline of the beach with its six location labels, and then noting which pollutants were higher at each point. We even had one camper correctly point out that unlike the other measures, where a higher “bar” in the bar graph meant that that location had more of the “bad” chemicals (like ammonia, nitrates, nitrites, or bacteria), the turbidity was an inverse relationship where the smaller the bar, the higher the turbidity (since it was measured in depth of visibility into the water, the further into the water you could see the clearer/less turbid it was). We also had someone correctly point out that when the bars were all approximately the same size, as with air temperature, then it wasn’t really telling us much of anything.

The first set of graphs:

The first set of graphs: Water and air temperature together, water temperature alone, air temperature alone, pH (measured with the datahub as well as with the aquarium test kit), and ammonia.

The second set of graphs:

The second set of graphs: Turbidity, nitrates, fecal coliform bacteria, and all forms of bacteria (divided by pink/purple/blue as well as combined fecal coliforms).

And then it was time to get into the claim-making phase. We had written up on a sheet of warner paper their version of the investigable question, as well as our slight re-wording of it, and asked them to answer the question using their newfound data analysis. As usual, it took a little while to get conversation going, but once it did, I didn’t really want to stop it! We had kids making excellent points about what the different variables meant, we had kids referencing their previous experiences, and we even had some really great uses of vocabulary words. One of our students even noted that if we wanted to tell people that they needed to close the beach, we couldn’t just tell them, we would need to back up our claim with scientific evidence, using experiments and data like the stuff we had done. And even our frequently-disengaged student had some great points to add. Jess, who has been working with him all week pretty closely, had this great idea to break down camp into “quarters,” just like in football, so he would need to make sure he contributed to each “quarter.” As soon as she told him that he pretty much right away contributed for his three “before-lunch” quarters, and then declared that he was done so he didn’t have to do any more. Honestly I was content to allow him to sit back then, since his points were all really good ones, but as the conversation progressed he looked like he was getting drawn back in and even made a few more points later on. Such an awesome idea, Jess!

Eventually though we did have to cut it off and write up our claim, that when the water “looks dirty”/is more turbid, it correlates with higher measures of other unhealthy water quality (in particular, bacteria and nitrates) so it is probably not safe to swim in. With time running short, we then switched gears and moved right along into our presentation. Andrea had given us the great suggestion of taking what I had allotted as “open planning time” and setting up stations for the kids to work at. That way we could channel their ideas in smaller groups and make the most efficient use of our time, as well as it would encourage the kids to do other things than just a powerpoint which would hopefully make it more interactive for their younger audience. Jess took two campers to work on the trifold board, Eric took several of the boys to work on props and explanations of our materials, and since I already had my computer out I took the two girls who wanted to work on the powerpoint.

We didn’t have much time before lunch (one of the campers even seemed surprised at how quickly the time had gone by when I had to have everyone stop and pack up), but everyone seemed to be engaged and contributing. Eric’s materials list was thorough, and the boys all had great ideas for what to bring and talk about and Jess got her pair of campers to start brainstorming ideas for the trifold and what would go on it (crucial because they definitely would not have time to make it themselves, so it would be up to us over the weekend to finish it for them). I had a little bit of trouble with my two campers because, as middle-schoolers do, they got hung up on the aesthetic details of the powerpoint (slide design, title, slide animations, etc.) instead of working on the content. I kept trying to redirect their focus (“Our deadline is 11:20, so you have five minutes to get everything done and you only have one slide–you might want to move on and come back to that…”) but they were rather determined to get the aesthetics JUST RIGHT before moving on.

Planning design ideas for the trifold.

Planning design ideas for the trifold.

For lunch we took a trip back to Warner via the tunnels, and then after lunch we moved into the all-of-our-classes-are-here-but-nobody-remembers-the-room-number science classroom to work on scripting work and to use the microscopes. Just had finished with her filter paper, and we had all wanted the kids to have a chance to use the dissecting microscopes to look at the sediments and other debris that had come out of the water onto the filter paper. Unfortunately we were low on time (go figure…), so we weren’t able to make it into its own full-blown activity. In the end, we needed to prioritize our presentation, so the filtering project got pushed out. Instead, while the kids were working on their scripts, Jess pulled some of the kids aside to let them look through the scope at a small spider she’d found on one of the filters. It must have died and been in the water, so when whatever sample it came from was filtered, the spider ended up with all the other sediment on top. We all had a chance to look at it before the campers showed up, and as neat as it was to see the spider up close, when you looked through the microscope you could actually see into the spider at what was inside its body! Having the kids look at the spider provided one focused “thing” for them to do with the scopes before returning to their scripting, while still allowing them to experience the microscopes even if only for a brief minute.

So we were in the classroom, Jess was pulling kids, and Eric and I were trying to get the rest of the kids to write out some ideas about what they wanted to say on little notecards. And, we were trying to do it in about 15 minutes. It was definitely chaotic, but on the plus side everyone got something written, which we will be able to flesh out over the weekend. On the downside though, I had some really good summary/reflection questions for them in their journals that would have tied together all the work they did throughout the week, and we didn’t have time to get to those. In the end, though, we got done all the absolutely crucial aspects of their investigation project, and while we will have to do a lot of work on their presentation ourselves, there is enough for us to more forward with while still letting them have that element of ownership over it.

In general I feel pretty good about today. I thought our discussions went really well, and everyone was really able to show off the things they’d learned over the course of the week. I was quite proud of all three of us team leaders for our question-asking skills (prompting and open-ended), as well as our improved wait times. And all of our campers were engaged, with the whiteboards, with the discussions, and in small groups. Every kid had a chance to add to the conversation, making their voices heard.

I really wish we’d had time for a dry run and for our summary/reflection, but I’m not entirely sure how that would have been workable given our time table. I think in order to make that work we would have needed to cut off the questioning discussion from yesterday, so we didn’t have as much to squeeze in today, because most of today’s discussion was pretty efficient.  And because we didn’t really have a chance to plan the presentation as a whole group, the pieces of the presentation are a little bit fragmented and will need to be ordered, tightened up, and pre-scripted before Monday. Its going to be a lot of work but I do think we can overcome that.

I know I personally have a few things to work on as well, going forward. Andrea was with our group for most of the day, and was able to give me some really great plusses and arrows to consider for the future. As she pointed out, I need to work on my awareness of the whole group, especially when I’m in charge. I know I have a tendency to get sucked in to working with one group, and then I forget to keep an eye on what everyone else is doing, how they’re progressing, and when they’re done. I think this probably has something to do with the fact that as a tutor I’m used to working with small groups, but either way it will need to be part of my expanding teacher-of-a-large-group skills. I need to work on picking my head up, taking a look at the big picture, and synthesizing what I see.

I also need to work on the way I call out kids for misbehavior, which was pointed out to me on another day and I’ve been trying to work on, but is still a work in progress. It’s funny, I used to work with preschoolers, and when you’re correcting little children instead of telling them what to stop doing (causing them to focus their attention on what you don’t want), you tell them what you want them to do. So for example, if a kid is jumping off a chair, instead of saying “Stop jumping off that chair!” you would say to the child “I need to you keep your feet on the ground.” This allows the child to direct their actions to the thing you want, as opposed to processing what you don’t want and then determining what they should be doing instead. It’s a little thing but it works great with little kids.

However, I don’t do this with middle schoolers, even though the psychology is still there. Sure, they’re older and capable of more complex thought, but if I want to maintain a positive atmosphere and make it as easy as possible for kids to follow directions, then yelling “No! Stop that! Get down from there!” is not particularly helping. I caught myself a few times doing it, although I was quite proud of myself for catching my words right at the end, and instead of yelling at a kid to stay out of the sprinkler (which I started to say before I stopped myself), I asked him to stay on the sidewalk, which he then did. It’s such a little thing but it’s something I need to work on.

Anyway, I’m now going to take a well deserved break and sleep in tonight. I’ll see everyone on Monday!


Camp Day 4: Doing the Heavy Lifting

This post has been backdated to Thursday, July 31st for clarity, despite its true publication date of August 4. Thoughts were recorded on the 31st, but pictures and editing did not take place until after camp. Thanks for the understanding.


Hoooo boy, today was hard. Hard thinking, hard work. But we got a lot done, and I think the campers were pretty proud of themselves.

Today was day 4 of camp, and in the grand scheme of things it ended up being a bit of a bridging day, tying together everything from the rest of the days. Day 1 we (sort of) made some observations and got some ideas, day 2 we took data, day 3 we conducted our experiments, and so today we needed to really flesh out our investigation protocol. For some reason we seem to be behind both of the other groups in getting things done over the course of camp, and as a part of that problem some of the work we needed to do got pushed out. On the first day we weren’t able to solicit enough questions from our campers to move forward with selecting even a semi-investigable question, which meant that on day 2 we had to revisit those observations to try to solicit the necessary questions. However, partly because we had a different set of campers from the first day, partly because of the time crunch, and partly because we still were struggling to get questions out of the campers, on day 2 we were still unable to properly construct an investigable question, let alone a protocol for how to proceed. We ended up taking lots of data anyway, figuring we’d determine what to do with it later, but we still hadn’t formalized our investigation. And then day 3 was spent entirely on experiment conducting to get the rest of our data, so once again there was no time for the formalization process.

I mean, that’s not to say that we weren’t doing related things the whole time. The campers had sort of narrowed their focus to runoff and pollution, so all of the data we were taking and all of the activities we were doing were related to those larger overarching themes. But within those themes we hadn’t yet narrowed down our focus to a specific question. But with our presentation quickly approaching, we will need to spend tomorrow working on our presentation, which leaves exactly today to do the heavy lifting needed to formalize our investigation, go over our data, and make our claim(s).

Today's agenda and reflection questions.

Today’s agenda and reflection questions. My camera skills were slightly lacking…

Last night Eric and I got together to go over the lesson plan and modify some of the activities, which was really informative and kind of fun. The plan was to start with creating our question, then move on to data analysis and claim-making. I am a wizard with Excel, so it was decided that I would create the graphs of our data on my computer (using the absolutely excellent data tables created by Jess) and display them on the smart board. We wanted to have the kids practice their graphing skills by having them prompt the required graph components since we decided that setting aside time to teach them how to use Excel would take far longer than we really had to work with (a shame though, since it would be a good skill to teach them). While we were working I was able to show Eric some of how Excel works for graphing, and was able to create the graphs for us to analyze ourselves (it always helps to be prepared!).

We ended up in kind of a conundrum about what to do with the graphs for the campers, though. We wanted to print out the graphs and put them in the campers’ lab notebooks so they could reference them, but we also wanted them to spontaneously come up with the components of a graph, which would obviously be ruined if we provided them with the thing we wanted them to come up with. The plan then became that we would break it up over lunch, and one of us (me) would spend at least part of lunch taping the graphs into their journals so when we came back to it we could move smoothly into data analysis and claim-making. We both felt really confident about our plans when we went home for the night.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans…

So this morning Eric and I arrived bright and early to set up the journals, once again making use of Eric’s emerging cutting skills. We were all sorts of prepared until it came time to plug in my laptop to the smartboard and work with my excel sheet–and that is where the problems started. Despite our dual work, somehow there was a miscommunication between Eric and I about what I would be doing prior to the graph work. See, in order to put the graphs in context, we wanted the kids to take a look at their “up-close” Charlotte Beach graphs (the ones in the reference section of their lab notebooks) and familiarize themselves with where each location was. This would help the kids who were not present, as well as the ones who were but needed help making the connection between the “number” of the location and actually physically where it was on the beach. I had been under the impression that this would be done in their lab notebooks, physically on the graphs in the back. Eric, on the other hand, had wanted me to make use of the smartboard and pull up an image of the map so that the students could draw the location numbers on it.

I mean Eric’s idea was a really good one, since everyone loves writing on smartboards and it would be an excellent use of technology and move smoothly into the graphing part, but the problem was, I hadn’t prepared my computer to do that. Not only did I need to create a document for that to happen on, but when we plugged my computer into the smartboard it became clear that I needed to download some software in order to make it work. So I set about frantically trying to remedy the situation while Eric finished the setup, but it took a while to find a place to download the software for free, and even longer to actually download and install the software, so I ended up missing the science Harambee, which really sucked. We both should have been more on top of what was going on, and I should have been proactive in making sure I had all the smartboard software downloaded on my computer ahead of time, just in case.

On the plus side, when the kids came down to the classroom they were still energized and in high spirits, so I got to experience that. And Eric’s icebreaker idea was to have the kids teach us some of their Harambee chants, allowing them to be the experts and share their cultural knowledge with us. I will admit I was actually a little worried that they wouldn’t want to do it or would think it was stupid (which it almost looked like would happen at first), but then they all got really excited about it, asking each other for their favorites and sharing some of them with us. They were really enthusiastic about it and it was definitely contagious, which I really needed after the frustration of the computer/smartboard software issue.

Our first activity then was to be a refresher about what we’d done each day. We had one sheet of Warner paper for each day of camp, and Eric invited the campers to write their thoughts about each day on them. The activity was designed so that it would refresh the memories of the campers who had attended, as well as catch up any campers who had missed a day or were coming for the first time. Of course we ended up with all campers who’d been there since day 1 or 2, but they seemed to appreciate the activity all the same.

After that, we split the five attending campers into two small groups to brainstorm some questions they had. We’d noticed that their questioning was increasing on day 2 as we walked the beach, and it had increased further on day 3 as we used the chemicals, looked at the bacteria, and performed our experiments. It still seems like we did things a little backwards, but then again, the questions the kids were coming up with were far superior than the ones they’d had on day 1, so perhaps in the end it wasn’t so bad that we held off on formalizing their ideas. After working in small groups we had the campers write their ideas and questions up on the whiteboard, giving each camper their own color expo marker to use. Of course you know how I feel about whiteboards, but the campers really took to writing their ideas up on the board, which was great because then they could all feel like they’d contributed, and then their thoughts were visible which made it easier to draw connections between them and identify common themes. Things were moving pretty smoothly, and the campers (almost) all seemed interested.

Aaaaaaaand then things came to a grinding halt.

Eric and I had only allotted about 15-20 minutes for finalizing our question, figuring that once we had the common themes going, the questions would pretty much formulate themselves, and all we would need to do would be to guide them into a state of “investigable-ness.” However, we were very wrong. It seemed like they had a hard time synthesizing their ideas into one question/thought, and every time they started to get close to something good, they pulled back at the last second. It was SO FRUSTRATING. I kept wanting to get up and just be like NO YOU’RE SO CLOSE WHYYYY. Seriously, I think it must have taken like a half hour to get the question, and it seemed like time just dragged on.

I’m not completely sure what it was. I think it may have had to do something with our group’s ongoing difficulties with spontaneous question asking, although I’m sure we could have scaffolded it better. After class Eric mentioned that he’d talked to one of our campers about the process and she had told him that she had never done anything like that before. And actually that was not something we had really considered–we’d thought the kids would immediately take to asking their own questions, relishing the freedom we were giving them. Instead, I think they may have been a bit overwhelmed, since we were asking them to do something they’d never done before. They were used to their teachers telling them what to do, telling them what to study, asking the questions and expecting the students to answer them. Instead, we’d turned that paradigm on its head, and I think maybe we didn’t scaffold that enough or accurately determine what they would need from us. In talking about it afterwards someone mentioned (don’t remember who…) that perhaps “question forming” might have been a good APK station to determine how familiar/comfortable they were with constructing their own projects.

But the good news was, we did in the end get a question, and we did end up having a really great discussion. Kids were using vocabulary words (fecal matter, secchi disk, turbidity, ammonia [which is different from pneumonia], nitrates, runoff, etc.) We also learned a lot about our campers’ strengths, which we can use going forward. For instance, one of our girls is really good at coming up with ideas. When given the chance she jumps at going up to the board, taking up the marker, and sprouting new ideas to go forward with. And we were also surprised by our ongoing-engagement-issues camper! He spent most of the first half sliding his body under the table, slouching in his chair, and falling asleep. I tried teasing him to wake up, Eric tried directly telling him to wake up, and Jess tried one-on-one prompting him, but all of our efforts were blown off. Honestly I was starting to give up hope that he would do much of anything since we weren’t working with our hands. However, about halfway into the question forming, he suddenly perked up and started contributing. As it turns out, while he doesn’t seem to like coming up with ideas, he is very good at refining ideas. So after our girl had come up with some ideas and our other campers had bounced around a few possible comparisons, he just jumped in and basically threw out a perfectly worded investigate question. I will admit I was amazed– not only was his question well formed, but it was insightful and showed that he had really been following along all along.  Turns out that while he definitely needs some prompting to stay engaged, he is perfectly capable of jumping in on his own. In fact, the harder we push him, the more he seems to dig his heels in and refuse to cooperate. That would have been nice to know before!!!

So the question that the kids finally settled on was a variation on “When the water looks dirty (is very turbid), is it safe to swim in?” Andrea, who was observing us today, pointed out to the kids that they would need to make sure their question was understandable for their presentation audience, which would consist of the level 1 and 2 Freedom School scholars, who are in the range of roughly 5-11 years old, which is how we got our final version of the question.

We ended up squeaking the question out right before lunch, which was good because then we were able to take a break from the hard thinking before coming back for the last bit. I know I was tired and drained after all that, so I can only imagine how the campers felt. But to their credit they all pushed through.

After lunch we had to squish down the time for data analysis. We decided to (mostly) skip the part where the kids determined what their graphs would need, and we jumped from labeling the map with the location points right into looking at the graphs I’d already generated. As usual, our ideas-girl jumped right up to the board, wanting to draw the location numbers onto the smartboard, and wanting to draw all the pieces of a graph right onto the excel sheet. And actually all of the kids were more engaged than I was expecting them to be. They rolled all their chairs over to the smartboard and sat around discussing things. Unfortunately we didn’t really have time to go very much into depth with the graphs, since we wanted to end with the campers reflecting about what they wanted to do for their presentation.

It was funny–so we had thought the kids would want to answer their reflection questions individually, but it ended up being that they really just wanted to bounce ideas off each other again. It felt weird trying to shush them to write individually, so after a minute or two we pretty much just let them at it. There was talk of a powerpoint and a few ideas were thrown around, but then we were out of time so we’ll have to save those for tomorrow. The good news is, I have lead tomorrow and now I have some ideas to incorporate into my lesson plan, mwahaha.

So, how did today go? Well, we definitely hit some snags that we hadn’t properly planned for. We really should have been more prepared for the smartboard/computer interfacing, and I absolutely should. not. have missed Harambee. We also probably could have handled the question discussion better, and there were a number of ways we could have done that. As Eric (? I think?) pointed out, five campers with three leaders is a little bit overwhelming, and when the three of us tried to jump in to help them in their discussion, we may have ended up slightly overwhelming them all at once. Instead, we should probably consider adding wait time, not just for ourselves but between each other as well. Ten seconds was suggested by I believe Michael, and that actually sounds like a good idea to me.  Another idea was that we probably could have just cut off the conversation after a certain point, and taken the ideas to synthesize a question ourselves. This would have saved time, prevented some frustration, and meant that it would have been truly investigable. And of course, we need to work on our questioning, prompting, and scaffolding skills.

However, the kids did seem really proud of their work today, and one of them commented that she was proud of herself for the work they’d put in, which was great. They also all contributed to the discussion in some way or another, and they all had ideas work their way into the final question. And everyone got a chance to put their ideas up on the whiteboard for all to see, which was awesome.

Our "scientific" question, and some other thoughts written up on the board.

Our “scientific” question, and some other thoughts written up on the board.

More student thoughts, with our "word cloud" of recurring words/thoughts from all the written ideas, on the far right.

More student thoughts, with our “word cloud” of recurring words/thoughts from all the written ideas, on the far right.

So, now that we’ve done the hard work–defining our question and as a side-effect also identifying our important variables–tomorrow we will have to make up for lost time (where have I heard that before…) and finish our data analysis, make our claims, and then create our presentation. I really wanted the kids to have a chance to do a dry run as well, but I’d be kidding myself if I actually thought that would happen.  Once again we’re going to need to be as efficient as possible, because after tomorrow we’re out of time.

And speaking of which, I’m going to get started on that now. Over and out!

Camp Day 3: Kids and Chemicals

This post has been backdated to Wednesday, July 30th for clarity, despite its true publication date of August 3. Thoughts were recorded on the 30th, but pictures and editing did not take place until after camp. Thanks for the understanding.


Day 3 is over. We made it over the hump!

Last night after I went home I ended up passing out. Really. Apparently I’d left my computer on campus where Joann and Ryan found it. And despite having my phone under my pillow and on LOUD, I managed to sleep through two texts, two phone calls, and the beeping of my voicemail. Oops. I do feel very well rested though?

Today was kind of fun though because we got to use my aquarium test kit and use the chemicals to take measurements. I greatly enjoyed the chance to share my “toys” with kids, so for once I might actually feel like we had a good day!

So after waking up at 6am slightly confused about having passed out so early, I got dressed and headed up to campus to grab my computer and begin the daily ritual of printing, cutting, and taping for the journals. I was supposed to be on the bus this morning, so I parked in the metered spots across from Warner and figured I could finish the journals in time to roll out and catch the bus. As usual, I underestimated the required amount of time (although not the required amount of tape, finally brought enough!), so I ended up making use of Eric for his cutting skills (which is… improving… with practice :P) and I just sat and taped like a machine. I’m getting seriously good at taping (there’s a whole trick to it–you lay out what you want to go where on the page, then you stretch out the piece of tape roughly above and cut it off so its the right size, then when you put the tape down you have to do it quickly in one motion so that the static cling will suck the paper up to the tape, but not have time to jump out of position before the tape hits the page). Luckily enough for me Alanna was okay with riding the bus herself so we could finish things up.

Today's agenda and reflection questions!

Today’s agenda and reflection questions!

When the campers arrived, it was their first time at the U of R, so we got to greet them to our “second home” in our lab coats and then do our Science Harambee on the quad in front of LeChase. For our icebreaker, Jess designed this really cool activity that was sort of a science-themed cross between “who am I” and 20 questions. Basically, one person would leave the group and walk away out of earshot, and while they were gone the group would decide “what” the person “was.” When the person came back, they had to guess what they were, only asking yes or no questions. So for example, our first camper was I think a test tube. So she would ask questions like, “Am I alive?” (no), “Am I made of glass?” (yes), “Am I a beaker?” (no, but close). Each time when the one camper walked away I went out and joined them, which was a great opportunity for me to chat with them and get to know them better.

Afterwards we picked up our gear and ventured off to Hutchinson labs where we would do our water testing. I had actually not been to the room yet (I missed that part of class due to unforeseen circumstances), so it was really cool for me to experience it for the first time just like the campers. If you’ve never been, the building is on what I believe is the “engineering quad” (I really need to take a campus tour. I know nothing about the campus except where to get food, the main library, and LeChase.), and is home to chemistry and biology labs. Inside they have very cool displays with skeletons of birds and monkeys as well as taxidermies of several small (cute) rodent animals. The campers were very taken with those.

The lab room itself was a very official space with the long black lab tables, industrial sinks, and bright lighting. Jess and Eric got the campers into their lab safety gear while I set up the four stations. I will say, as much of a mess as it was yesterday with “too many” samples, it was nice to have four sample bags for each location, so we could pair one of each with each of the chemical tests. My aquarium kit tests ammonia, nitrates, nitrites, and pH (using two different indicators) using chemicals that change the color of the water based on the concentration of each of those things in the water. Then to get a rough estimate of the concentration you compare the color to a provided scale. It’s not the most precise method, but for our purposes it was good enough, and it gave the campers an experience of using chemicals. Plus, the “color changing” effect meant that they got to see real chemical reactions right before their eyes and engage with the measurements in a way that just using a probe doesn’t really allow. I had actually written my mini-grant on doing exactly these things (using fish and testing these to see how they chance over time and with different types of fish), so it was really neat to see how it would work in action outside of my imagined planning.

The aquarium test kit itself. It has four 5 mL (marked) test tubes with lids [Upper right corner], a book of directions, a card with the test color comparisons, and four sets of chemical bottles. Two of the tests only requiret one chemical, one requires two different ones, and there are two different measures of pH ("low" and "high"). To do the test you just have to fill up the test tubes to the 5 mL line, take the corresponding chemical bottle for the test you want (labelled), put in the appropriate number of drops (varies from test to test but is indicated on the bottle), shake it up, wait five minutes, and then compare it to the color card. Its a reasonably straight forward process.

The aquarium test kit itself. It has four 5 mL (marked) test tubes with lids [Upper right corner], a book of directions, a card with the test color comparisons, and four sets of chemical bottles. Two of the tests only requiret one chemical, one requires two different ones, and there are two different measures of pH (“low” and “high”). To do the test you just have to fill up the test tubes to the 5 mL line, take the corresponding chemical bottle for the test you want (labelled), put in the appropriate number of drops (varies from test to test but is indicated on the bottle), shake it up, wait five minutes, and then compare it to the color card. Its a reasonably straight forward process.

Once the chemicals have been added, the water changes color to indicate the measure. In this picture I've added the "low pH" chemical to the water which turned it blue-ish, and I'm holding it up to the comparison chart to determine the approximate measurement (in this picture, I'm comparing it to the far left column of colors).

Once the chemicals have been added, the water changes color to indicate the measure. In this picture I’ve added the “low pH” chemical to the water which turned it blue-ish, and I’m holding it up to the comparison chart to determine the approximate measurement (in this picture, I’m comparing it to the far left column of colors). Looks like its between 7.2 and 7.6 although probably on the high end of that, at least to me?

So Eric, Jess, and I each took a pair of campers and showed them how to do the tests (pretty much the same ones we had yesterday but with two extra campers that were there for the first time). The nice thing about the tests is that they are pretty straightforward, although the explanations during the first round took a little bit of time so we only ended up getting to do two stations each. In the end it wasn’t a huge deal since really all that was happening was the kids would put a few drops from the test kit into their test tubes, shake it up, wait, and then compare the colors, with just minor variations each time. When I use it to test my own aquarium it usually takes no more than ten minutes, and that is including writing down my observations of the tank, combining the chemicals, waiting five minutes, then recording the results.

With my group I encouraged the boys to think about what we were testing and why it might be important. I really wanted to drive home those connections we’d tried to initiate yesterday (and maybe hadn’t done as great of a job as I’d wanted to). Of course neither boy could recall what we were testing or why it was important (in our case, ammonia and then nitrates), so I followed up with the “well, where might we find that if we aren’t sure?” It took a few seconds, but just as I was about to jump in with a prompt (after a much longer, counted out, wait time), the younger boy lit up and immediately began to flip to the glossary in the back! I was so proud! The older boy followed his lead and they were able to find what they needed. It was a really great moment, brought to you by a simple extended wait time. Lesson definitely learned for me!

As we worked with the samples, carefully (or slightly less carefully in the case of the younger boy, oh well) measuring out 5 mL of water into each test tube and then dropping the chemicals in, I demonstrated for the boys proper aseptic technique. While I was demonstrating we each did one of the samples of water, so when we did the second set of three I was able to let the boys lead and tell me what to do. It was great to see them catching each other almost breaking aseptic technique and calling each other on it. I’m so pleased with the way these two boys have been working together and with the leadership skills the older one is displaying. He’s quiet, but leads by example, stepping in with few words to correct/guide as necessary.

For the second station we had run out of pipettes with 1mL marks on them, so we ended up having to use my marked test tubes (the ones that came with the kit itself were marked at 5mL, but there were only four so we hadn’t been using them the first round) to measure out 5 mL and then pour it into the unmarked test tubes. It was a little bit of a shame we couldn’t continue with aseptic technique, but the younger boy immediately made the connection that if we broke aseptic technique with the test tubes, that we could pretty much reuse the pipette because the “broken technique” would contaminate all of our supplies. I will admit I wasn’t expecting him to make that connection since it was a little more subtle, but it was so great that he did.

And both of my boys absolutely loved working with the chemicals. I may have played up the safety concerns a bit (although both of our rounds we had the test chemicals with the red “don’t get this on your skin, its abrasive” warnings), but it meant they were both careful, treated it with respect, and I think were even a little bit in awe of what they were doing.  I think the campers working with Jess and Eric felt the same. Plus, when I told them at lunch that those were “my” chemicals and that I use them regularly they all were impressed (or thought I was weird, either one :P) so I’m calling that a win.

Unfortunately the aquarium chemical tests took much longer than we expected, so we were a bit rushed after lunch to do our bacteria plate counting. We tried to prep the kids at lunch for what we were going to be doing (which meant we got to talk about fecal matter/poop and E. coli/diarrhea at lunch), but we were still very pressed for time. We got all the bacteria plates counted, but Jess had also had this really great idea to filter the water for sediments and mass them since the samples were so full of dirt and other particles, so that part sort of got rushed and turned into a quick demonstration rather than a hands on activity for the campers themselves. We also didn’t have time for our reflection. 🙁

Overall, though, I think the day went really well. The campers were all excited and engaged in the lab (even our ongoing disengagement-problem camper), and I think they really felt like “real” scientists. It was a shame that the two kids who were coming for the first time today didn’t get to experience data collection at the beach, but it was a good day to jump in and join the group, as far as “I’m a scientist” identity work goes.

For our work as team leaders, I felt much more confident in my science, having gone out of my way to correct/double-check my knowledge about the Coliscan plates as well as getting to use my own person science testing equipment. I was also really excited to see the almost immediate results of improving my wait times–you can’t get much better feedback than that! And I was even able to solicit spontaneous, unprompted questions from my younger boy, as well as other astute observations and thoughts that I might otherwise have thought to be above his grade level’s understandings.

For group notes, we definitely had an arrow in communication. I think part of why we ran over in using the chemicals was that Jess and I didn’t really communicate very well about how long the tests would take to complete, although neither of us probably would have realized how long it would take to do with the campers (demonstrations, explanations, clean-up, etc.). We probably should have practiced that out using each other as “campers,” but now we know for next time. Additionally, we all felt that there was much more “one-way” instruction in today’s work, since we had to demonstrate for the kids how to conduct the experiments, explaining what everything meant. On the other hand, the kids all seemed really into it, and I’m not really sure how we would have gotten around that. So maybe thats a half plus, half arrow? But we were all really excited that the kids were engaged, excited, and learning! They all were meticulous about safety (my younger boy even insisted on changing his gloves right away when he spilled a drop or two of chemicals on them, worried he might spread it around) and made great use of their journals. And we all noticed that the campers were starting to produce their own spontaneous questions, which we’ve been having trouble getting out of them since day 1. Even though we don’t have a formalized investigable question yet and it seems a bit like we’re working backwards, having them do some of this work and think about it in context seems to be allowing them to naturally develop their own curiosities and questions which is exactly what we want. Tomorrow we’ll have to see if we can build on that at all.

I’m feeling much more rested tonight, so in a bit I’m going to leave and head back to campus to work with Eric on tomorrow’s lesson plan. See everyone tomorrow!