Riding a Bicycle

So for the last week and a half I have been experiencing the last week of school with the same anticipation and excitement that many of my students have; notably the seniors I have taught over the last year. June 5th was the graduation ceremony for the Barrie Prep, the education community I have been a part of for the last four years. It has been a very bittersweet ten days. I am very excited to make my transition to Warner and Rochester full time; I am returning back to my hometown, back to my family, and to another community of educators that I am search will be an incredibly enriching experience. I am also melancholy, as I move on from a place that has impacted me in a spectacular fashion. I cannot say with certainty, but I highly doubt I would have found myself as a teacher had I not spent the last four years at Barrie.

It is a quote that is most often attributed to Albert Einstein, but has been said by many people in different fashions. Einstein said, in a note to his son, “Beim Menschen ist es wie beim Velo. Nur wenn er faehrt, kann er bequem die Balance halten.” Translated as, “It is the same with people as it is with riding a bike. Only when moving can one comfortably maintain one’s balance.”¹ So here I am, moving forward along with those students I saw graduate two Saturdays ago.

Some readers have asked for me to share some more from the teaching experiences I have had so far, and I will certainly start posting some of what I have been apart of while at Barrie. To begin though, check out the graduation ceremony for the Class of 2016. I think it is a great example of what the Barrie community develops in their students and what a progressive education can accomplish.

I will be moving this week, and cannot wait to get started at Warner! Have a great week.

HeaderBigTruck

Notes:

  1. 2007, Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson, Section: Notes, Epigraph: 1, Quote Page 565, Location 10155, Simon & Schuster, New York. (Kindle Edition)

Throwing a Ball Off a Merry-Go-Round

The Coriolis Effect causes anything travelling between latitudes to veer off from the straight line of travel; we call this deflection. It is a result of the Earth’s spherical shape and the direction of deflection changes depending on which hemisphere we are in. In the northern hemisphere objects are deflected to the right of the line of travel and in the southern hemisphere they are deflected to the left. This is why cyclones in the northern hemisphere spin counterclockwise and in the southern they spin clockwise. Analogy is incredibly important in education and explicitly so in science. For the Coriolis Effect most earth and environmental science educators are familiar with describing is as like standing in the middle of a merry-go-round and throwing a ball to someone riding at the edge. It is an apt analogy, one I have used many times and even demonstrated on playground equipment.

  Corioliskraftanimation

Illustration of the coriolis force (sphere on rotated plate), animation
Self-made animation for Wikipedia, hereby GFDL Hubi 12:03, 23. Nov 2003

Depending on where the person is standing, their speed will be different, with the person on the outer edge of the merry-go-round travelling faster than the person in the middle. Just as points along the equator are travelling more quickly than those at higher latitudes. So when the person in the middle throws their ball to the person at the edge the ball will have no lateral velocity and it will travel in a straight path. The person on the edge however does have lateral velocity, and from their perspective the ball will curve away; to the person on the edge the path of the ball is deflected.

merrygoround

I bring this all up not because I love the atmosphere and climate science, which I do, but because I am about to experience my own deflection. Physically of course I will be travelling between latitudes as I make my way back up north. However, for the most part my lateral velocity should remain congruent with the Earth’s since I will be driving a moving van. The path my career has been on is about to shift though and it is something I am very excited about but also nervous for. I am excited because of the changes I anticipate, and because of the things I know will stay the same. For instance, my commitment to my students and to developing relationships with them, my commitment to excellence and rigor; I do not think these will be changed and if anything they may be strengthened.  This deflection is going to make me a better educator. I am nervous though because, just like the person on the edge of the merry-go-round trying to follow the path of the ball, I do not really know where this deflection is going to set me down.

moving truck

There is a great deal about the community I recently left that I love, and I want parts of it to remain in my practice. I will even go as far as to recommend these to other teachers as well.  I have been able to incorporate a number of progressive pedagogical practices that I believe have been beneficial to my students, their training as scientists, and progress as students. I do not think these aspects to education are unique to the independent school community, in fact I imagine there are a number of public institutions where similar values and practices are rescripted as well. My deflection worries me not because I believe I will have to leave these practices behind but because I anticipate the challenges inherent with bringing these kinds of constructivist learning practices to more traditional settings.

There are a number of lessons I have learned over the last four years that I hope will assist in maintaining a constructivist education position within a more traditional school setting. I have learned through project based learning the importance of not only authenticity in a student’s work, but also the importance of public critique and revision. STEM education lends itself to this practice easily, think of the steps in the scientific method or the engineering design process. However, we as educators need to allow time for this to happen in the classroom. When I first began to implement this in my own 6th grade class I found that I needed to be sympathetic not only to the needs of my students but to also forgive myself for allowing depth within a subject rather than breadth across a unit. Granted, with a state mandated curriculum I may not believe I have the time to allow for these types of learning experiences. However, Understanding by Design does offer some suggestion in how we may save time to allow for these types of learning experiences. UbD is framework of curriculum design that focuses on teaching and assessing for understanding and learning transfer, and design curriculum “backward” from those ends.

Through Understanding by Design I have learned the importance of beginning with the ends in mind, and backwards planning. I have also learned to be more open in regards to how I treat assessment and to focus on looking for evidence of understanding from students. Do I really need to spend a period on an exam or quiz if students have demonstrated understanding of content already through a lab, group discussion, or even exit tickets? Perhaps if we allow students the opportunity to demonstrate understanding more often and in alternate ways we will find that we do not need to test every bit of content we cover.

test

A brief aside before I conclude this post. I used the book A Bee in a Cathedral by Joel Levy while writing about the merry-go-round analogy. It is certainly an analogy I have used many times myself, but I did use Joel’s book as a reference. It is an awesome book by the way and explains many (100 to be precise) analogies that science educators often use. I have been utilizing Project Based Learning in my classrooms for the last four years, and recently had formal training in PBL through the Buck Institute for Education’s PBL 101 workshop. Finally, I was introduced to Understanding by Design through some graduate coursework at Loyola Maryland. All of these are great resources and each can lend themselves easily to STEM education. While I am unsure of where, ultimately, I will end up (physically, philosophically, practically) I believe that I will continue to be able to implement many of them as I undergo my personal deflection away from an independent school environment back to a public school one.

 

E.O. Wilson and Getting Real

A smell in the air; funky and bleachy like the blossoms from Bradford Pears. There was more to it though, overwhelmingly like rotting meat.  It was mid summer, and I had just mowed my parents lawn. I investigated the entire yard until I finally discovered the smells source; a red tube like protrusion breaking up through the moist, decaying mulch my mother had laid in the early spring. There were three or four of these things, and I knocked one over. It broke in half, making clear its slimy, moist, yet distinctly vegetal nature. I was disgusted, nauseated by these things. I was also instantly, overwhelmingly curious. Fungi are awesome.

This past Wednesday I was able to see my favorite scientist speak at the National Museum of Natural History. Edward O. Wilson was there to speak about his new book, Half-Earth, discuss the influence growing up near the Smithsonian, Rock Creek Park, and the National Zoo had on him, and provide some advice to young people interested in science. The whole conversation is posted to the Smithsonian’s facebook page, and although long is definitely worth watching. One of my favorite parts of this chat was when Wilson gave advice to young people interested in the sciences, which begins around the 47 minute mark.

Wilson’s advice mirrors in many ways how I became interested in the sciences and what continued to motivate me in the field as I progressed through my own education. While some of his ideas may be somewhat controversial, “You can forget about math…,” (I look forward to responding to this idea in another blog post) for the most part I agree with his assertions. The education of a young scientist should be focused more on excitement and exploration than what Wilson describes as the, “Dreary salt mine enslavement,” that students can encounter. When I look back on my own education I can say with certainty that I do not remember whether or not I memorized the organelles of a eukaryote in middle school, or even what the content was that was supposed to be covered.

I do remember looking through microscopes at amoeba and daphnia, I remember dissecting worms, raising crayfish, and exploring Seth Green’s geologic history. I remember discovering those Mutinus elegans specimens in my parents front yard. It is these kinds experiences that engaged and encouraged me to pursue the sciences. This is what Getting Real with science is to me. It is experiential, exploratory,  learning through experimentation, and allowing students the time to find evidence which supports the lessons they are being given. If we can get students excited about science as it is practiced, that motivation can help sustain them as they dedicate themselves to the minutia of their chosen fields.

There is a tension though. Despite even our greatest efforts and best intentions not all students will choose to pursue the sciences beyond what they receive in high school. So the education that they receive should develop scientific literacy within students.  All scientific fields have basic principles which must be understood in order to achieve what can be considered a basic scientific literacy; minutia that must be taught and understood if a student is going to be considered capable of fully participating in society as it exists in the United States. It is here that we see the creation of standards, and although they are necessary I wonder if too often the minutia takes precedence over the understanding of science as something that is done and not memorized.

These are some of the questions I am most interested in digging into as my year at Warner unfolds. I am coming from a background teaching in independent schools where I was in control of my curriculum and where progressive pedagogy was not only encouraged but mandated (PBL and performance tasks for instance). I am curious as to how these ideas I currently have will be shifted, or how I may be able to fit them into the education world I am now entering. Is it even possible for every student to have their own encounter with Mutinus elegans? How can we build a science program that makes sure they all do while still learning the content the state mandates? Please let me know what your thoughts are.

Allow Me to Introduce Myself

I have a confession. This is not my first ever blog post.

In order to explain the aforementioned I must also admit that I am not new to teaching, despite this blog being written in coordination with the pre-service teacher preparation program I have recently begun. I have considered myself a science educator, in the broad sense, for the last 8 years; with the last 4 being classroom based. My education and development as a teacher thus far has been completely experiential; so far I have not learned to teach in a lecture hall, rather I have learned to teach by teaching. I value this experience and I truly do believe that direct experience is one of the best modes to acquire understanding, however it can only take me so far. Truth be told, I believe I am missing some of the knowledge base that would lead me to a greater understanding of my own profession and practice.

This is also not my first foray into the realm of graduate studies, however it is the first exposure I will have to coursework strictly oriented towards teacher preparation. I consider myself a teacher already but believe that there is a great deal still that I have to learn. GetReal! Science was attractive to me because it focuses not only on “real science” but also “real teaching”.  Like a “real-ception” where pre-service teachers are trained not only in reform-oriented, applied science education, but they also are exposed to working with students right from the beginning of the program. I am very excited to be beginning this summer with GetReal! Science, the Warner School, and to be able to take part in this blog.

As I mentioned earlier this is not my first time organizing a blog, it is however my first experience being a blog’s sole author. If you want to take a look at the first ever blog I was a part of you can find it here. It is a blog students and I put together to share gardening experiences with our sister school in Thailand. The process of starting this most current blog is very exciting to me. I am excited to be able to share my experiences as a student at Warner and the GetReal! Program. I am excited to be able to bounce my perceptions regarding science education off a larger professional community. As a young and fairly inexperienced teacher I have a number of beliefs regarding best practices in science education that live only in my mind, and having access to a sounding board for critical feedback is something I really value. What I am most excited for is to see how the shoes of a writer fit on me.  I consider myself a teacher, a student, a husband, a friend, and a number of other titles and although I write in a number of different formats, for a number of different audiences, I have never considered myself a writer. I do not think one can have a blog without at least toying with the idea of being a writer.  So I suppose it is time for this teacher to toy with writer shoes…

Dr. Luehmann asked a question in a recent blog post to the GetReal! Science blog,  “What would it mean to blog about these ideas in order to promote a more real – more accurate – understanding of what science is as a way of knowing and being in and with our world?” I will let you take a look at the ideas she is referring to. I take that question to mean how can we, as science educators, utilize blogging to further our capabilities as agents of change within education and society?

We are currently reading Science Blogging The Essential Guide and I want to highlight some points that Christie Wilcox makes in her opening essay as I believe they help answer Dr. Luehmann’s question. Christie argues that, “Now, more than ever, science is fundamentally intertwined with national and political issues.” All while, “Former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott can call his four years of science and math in high school a waste of time…” It is a precipitous time we live in –also terribly exciting. A time where effective science education is not only necessary but also fundamental to our success as a nation. How can we expect to compete internationally when so many misconceptions regarding technology, climate science, bio-medical science, and genetics make their way into national debates and are regarded equally in the eyes of the public and national media?

Christie Wilcox continues later in her introduction, stating that the point of a science blog, “Is to get people talking about science, thinking about science, caring about science,” and that, “Science blogging is truly a noble pursuit because it seeks to inform and excite others.” I believe that a science education blog should be similar in intent, but not only to excite others about science. We need to get others excited about science education as well.  We have a perception of the mad scientist making their discoveries alone in their basement laboratory. Of course no scientist works alone, and every great discovery is building on the research of others and integrates a numerous fields of inquiry. Scientists also work within the context of society. Their work is informed by the public and in turn influences how our culture changes. Educators are no different.

Just like the misconception regarding the mad scientist, schools are often regarded as closed systems, something that is simply not true. Students bring with them a number of concerns, influences, beliefs that influence their experiences in school. Parent interactions with teachers, and school leadership will shape dynamics as well. The community at large determines budgets, state and sometimes national curricula determine what is taught. The school is a wide open system and educators work within this greater context. We need to excite this greater community about how we teach science and how science is shaping our society. Blogging can be a great format through which to accomplish this.

I am really looking forward to sharing this experiment with you all. I am so excited to be gaining some effective education and perspective into my practice. I hope you all will find this blog to be informative, interesting, and something you look forward to reading.