I is for Investigations

Do you ever think about what goes into an investigation? What does it even mean to be investigating something? Is there a proper way to do an investigation? What even is an investigation?

If you ask me, when you do an investigation, you take an authentic question, problem, or phenomenon and try to understand why or how it is happening.

Investigations can be as formal or as informal as you want. Let’s start with the informal.

Have you seen that meme of Obama with the FBI hat? You know the one I’m talking about. 

Believe it or not, when you creep on people’s social media pages looking for some kind of information, you are actually performing an investigation. You are actively seeking out information or an answer to a question that you did not have before. Maybe this investigation will leave you with more questions, but the time that you spend exploring this topic, or this new person’s social media, are all parts of an investigation!

To give a more formal example, years ago, STARS made a film that explored depression.

Their investigation included interviews, research, and the ability to explore their own interests in this film. They found out more information about animals helping as a support system in your depression. What I think is the best part of this film is the fact that the girls involved were clearly the experts, and the interviewees were simply providing evidence for the claims they were making.

I think that’s the best part of investigations, right? You’re the expert. You’re exploring something that matters to you and for reasons that only need to matter to you. The girls that created this Stars film are all in their early 20’s now, but the work that they did on this film still impacts them today. This film helped to erase the stigma that is commonly associated with depression.

Investigate something that matters to you. Champion a cause. Who knows, years from now, it might still matter.

H is for Hematology

This post is going to be a little bit selfish. I mentioned a while ago that I was in the hospital because I lost a lot of blood. I’ve spent the last two months crying, confused, and with a ton of questions (not to mention self-diagnosing myself with sure death with the help of webmd!). Finally today I got a confirmed diagnosis of von Willebrand disease.

Let’s start from the beginning. In October my hemoglobin fell around 4. The lower end of the normal range of hemoglobin puts you at around 12. My hematologist told me that they typically give blood transfusions when hemoglobin falls below 7. I laughed. (T is for Trauma, am I right?!)

With all of this going on with my body, it’s pretty easy to understand why I’ve been so fixated by hematology lately. For those of us that don’t know, hematology is the study of blood, so my hematologist is my blood doctor. Makes sense, right?

Now that I’ve been diagnosed with von Willebrand, things feel a little easier. Von Willebrand is basically a bleeding disorder caused when there’s a shortage of the von Willebrand protein in your blood which makes it difficult for your platelets to come together and form a clot in order to stop the bleeding. Apparently it’s super manageable and I will be able to “live an active life.” Whatever that means.

Do you ever think about how cool it is that our bodies do several different things all at the same time? All of these different systems work together to ensure that we stay alive and that we are functioning every day. It’s so interesting to think about the impact of just a single system being off, and how that impacts everything else. For example, when my hemoglobin fell, my body was trying to retain as much fluid as possible so my face was so swollen when I showed my mom a picture I took during that time, she cried.

Suffice it to say, I am fascinated by the human body. Biology was one of my favorite subjects in school. I remember watching Osmosis Jones in class so we could understand the various phases of the cells. When we remember to include the science behind the things that are happening to us personally, or even to someone close to us, I think it’s possible to learn science in a way that we didn’t necessarily expect! This new expansive science makes it new and exciting. Plus, who doesn’t want to learn more about something in a way that is directly related to them?

G is for Gift Giving

On this special holiday edition of The ABC’s of Sherin’s Science we will be focusing on gift giving! Christmas is exactly a week away and I couldn’t be more excited!

I bet you’re wondering what exactly gift giving has to do with science. Well, I mentioned weeks ago that science is in everything we do, right? So why can’t science be in gift giving?!

If you think about the actual process of giving a gift as an investigation, it makes sense. We start with our research question, move onto some hypotheses, collect your data, do some analysis, reach your findings, and come to a conclusion. Still confused? Let’s break this down with a practical example of my own.

Research Question: What should I get Blake for Christmas?

Hypothesis: Blake and I haven’t seen each other since September, and won’t see each other again until January with no immediate plans to see each other after that. Maybe I should get him plane tickets.

Data Collection: In order to find out if this would work as a gift for Blake, I had to consider his work schedule. It’s necessary to ask what day would be best for him to come. I follow up with several questions to figure out what weekends work for both of us, and when we will both be the least stressed during our time together. (Normally, this would also be a good time to ask the person if they’d be interested in the gift but when you’ve been dating four years and hardly even see each other, plane tickets are typically a good idea.)

Data Analysis: After doing the interview, asking questions of what time works best for him and trying to find a weekend when we both won’t be stressed, it’s safe to say that meeting all of these qualifications will not necessarily be possible. There are a lot of outside forces that influence our stress levels and the way that either of us feel at any given time, so it’s important that we just take this by the moment. Although I would prefer if he left Thursday night and worked from home on Friday, and suggested that to him several times, he is much too dedicated of a worker for this to work to my advantage.

Conclusion: Because Blake is awful with surprises and I get too excited to keep them to myself, it might be best if we share this gift, decide on a weekend together, and just split the cost. That’ll make the price of the ticket much easier on this poor graduate student’s wallet, and put a bit of extra money towards that weekend.

Told you science was in everything 😉

F is for Findings

Did anyone else watch SpongeBob growing up? As I typed “F is for…” my mind automatically went to “F is for friends who do stuff together.”

There might be an argument to be made that findings are your friend. You’re at the end of your research and you’re doing your analysis, and there they are, your findings, waiting for you like a long lost friend!

In thinking about some research I’m working on right now with the Get Real! Science Research Group, I think the findings are my favorite part. It’s really cool to see something happening in this authentic environment and spend time analyzing it to put into words what exactly it is that you are seeing.

If you ask me what I think about findings, I’d say they’re pretty abstract. I think when we ask learners a question and they come to a conclusion about it after doing research, they’ve got findings! I don’t think it’s necessary to confine the process of coming to conclusions in a single box or cookie cutter process.

For me, discovery/answering a question is one of the most exciting parts of science. Shouldn’t we allow learners the opportunity to engage with their own discoveries and findings in whatever method they think is best for them? In classrooms I understand this can get complicated, but with the right set-up, anything is possible.

E is for Extinction

Last summer when I was hanging out with my nephew and nieces, my nephew ran away from a bee. When I laughed he told me that he wished all bees should just die. I asked him what we should do about pollination and all the good things bees do. He told me that butterflies can do the same kind of work we expect out of bees (I’m guessing he’s not a fan of honey?). I got really uncomfortable because I didn’t know what to say.

I feel like I spend too much time lately finding out about different species that have become extinct in the wild. It’s caused me to realize more and more the impact that I personally have on the world around me.

When I think about extinction, the first thing I think about is dinosaurs. With the way that Hollywood has glamorized dinosaurs, I don’t think it’s a surprise that there are kids that love them, and that tons of people study them even years and years after their extinction. However, dinosaurs didn’t die off because of us (SPOILER ALERT: except in Jurassic World!).

Our behavior has a direct impact on the world around us. This includes what we eat, how we live, and how we treat the environment. The Earth is not something that is specifically reserved for humans. It is something that we share with every single living creature, from the teeny tiny cells we can’t see, to the elephants and whales we travel to zoos and sanctuaries to see.

Every living thing has a function in this world. Every living thing is connected. It is our responsibility to ensure that future generations continue to have access to the living things that we so often take for granted. Maybe if we stopped treating the Earth as disposable, we wouldn’t have to see entire species going extinct, or the last of a nearly dead species being under 24/7 surveillance. There has to come a time when we no longer act selfishly towards our planet and instead give back to it.

Recycle more (I’d say reduce and reuse when possible, but recycling is a good first step!). Ride with your friend to work, or bike! Shop local; eat food that is locally sourced to support local businesses and reduce carbon emissions. Take shorter showers. Don’t litter. Reduce your carbon footprint. The list of things we can do to give back to the Earth and preserve the environment and animals are endless. You just have to start.

D is for Diversity

My best friend’s daughter is a genius. You know that age when kids are really young and you have to listen really hard to what they’re saying to understand them, or look to their parents for a translation? I don’t think I ever experienced that with her. She never held a book upside down and even now she’s testing way above average for a kindergartener. I always joke with my best friend that she’s going to grow up and find the cure for cancer or discover a new galaxy or something. Recently she said that when she grows up she wants to be a scientist. My best friend’s daughter is biracial.

My oldest niece is obsessed with slime. Our last Christmas gift to her was Nickelodeon’s Slime Making Kit. She was obsessed with it. I went over to make slime and literally did it for hours. She loves to talk about science and is genuinely interested in the STEM fields. My niece is Indian.

Thankfully my best friend and her husband as well as my cousin and his wife are extremely encouraging of their daughters’ passions in science, and are extremely supportive in allowing them as many chances as possible to genuinely experience science in whatever authentic way they can. They help to nurture their identities as scientists, and cater activities to serve that identity and its development.

When we think of scientists, who do we generally think of? Old White men crowded around discovering something?

When did we become a society that reinforces this stereotype of science?

There are plenty of scientists of color: George Washington Carver, Mae Jemison, Marie Maynard Daly, and Ernest Everett Just, to name a few. These scientists deserve to be spoken about more than just as a passing thought in February. Their legacies deserve to be preserved by more than parents that are reminding their children they can be anything they dream of.

Instead of projecting a negative identity on learners, it’s time to encourage them to pursue their dreams, including their dreams in the STEM fields. We need to move past this idea that students of color are stuck in certain boxes for their future, and instead support them in any way possible. Diversity is present in science. It’s our responsibility to present the diverse side of science rather than buying into the ways it has been stereotyped, and allowing our students to buy into those stereotypes as well.

C is for Consequential Learning

It’s been a rough few weeks for me, friends. I was admitted in the hospital for two days and after three blood transfusions am slowly on the up and up!

Having spent a lot of time sitting and willing my hemoglobin count to go back up while I essentially binge eat iron rich foods, I’ve come to reconsider what I think is important. I am pursuing a doctorate with the goal of minoritized/marginalized students getting equitable access to education. I am a firm believer that the relationships that students and their families have with the school, and the school with the greater community, can really have a positive and lasting impact on student academic success. But what does this mean?

Insert consequential learning.

Consequential learning is essentially what it sounds like. It’s learning that is of consequence, learning that actually mattered to the learner. I was asked recently if all learning was actually of consequence. At the time I wasn’t doing too well, but now that I’m doing better, I’d actually have to say no.

I was a good student when I was a kid. I tested well. I was on “the college track.” I was recently asked what the capital of New York is. I made a joke about only knowing Illinois’ capital. If all learning is of consequence, shouldn’t I have remembered the capital of New York (Albany, guys. I know now! :))  from when I passed that one Social Studies exam as a kid?

I think what really makes learning consequential, something that lasts over time and setting, is the impact that it has on the learner’s identity. This is how we get back to relationships. By building relationships with our students and empowering through their involvement in the learning process, we give them access to having a say in their learning.

It isn’t only important to build on a student’s background and culture, but to understand them as a whole person. Find out what interests them and the ways you can take those interests and teach them in a way that’ll last beyond your time spent with them in the classroom. We don’t empower our students. We give them the opportunities to empower themselves. Through that self empowerment and genuinely showing you care, you’ll begin to see consequential learning take place.

B is for Bill Nye!

Where are all of my 90’s babies at?!

The 90’s were a simpler time, weren’t they? We had the Rachel haircut, scrunchies, bubble tape, Michael Jordan and so much more! You know what else we had in the 90’s? Bill Nye the Science Guy!

Bill Nye was my first introduction to science. I can still hear the theme song in my head (Bill! Bill! Bill!). I’ve never not thought of Bill Nye as a scientist. He made science fun, and he made it exciting. It was different than what we were learning in school. The appearance of experts on the show, and the way they engaged viewers with what was happening was such a great way for kids to learn science.

So why can’t science in schools be like Bill Nye’s science? 

I think it can! What Bill Nye did was he took concepts that weren’t always exciting from a textbook, and brought them to life by allowing experts to talk about what they knew best. The show featured a “try this” portion that demonstrated how concepts they were arguing in the science can be demonstrated by the students as well. In one episode with dinosaurs, the “try this” portion had two kids painting their hands and feet and demonstrating how when they walked differently, their tracks would also be different. They went on to explain how this demonstrated how we can understand how dinosaurs moved and their sizes based off of fossils of their footprints.

Although it may not exactly be feasible for teachers to bring an expert into the classroom for every lesson, that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to engage students in learning science beyond a textbook and memorization.

Do what Bill Nye did! His “try this” portions were not super challenging. It’s possible to get learners to engage with the material in an unexpected way, just by simply getting them out of their seats. If Bill taught us anything, it was the importance of being creative when doing science.

Learning science shouldn’t have to be boring.

Science can be a way for students to explore their sense of agency and the things that they care about. Even though his show hasn’t been on television in years, Bill Nye is currently traveling, ensuring that people do not forget why science is important.

I think it’s about time we take a page out of Bill’s book and try to make even the most mundane aspects of science engaging and exciting for all learners.

A is for Activism

When you hear the word activism, what do you think of? Is it starting some large movement that impacts masses of people Dr. King or Malala Yousafzai style?  If you ask me, activism doesn’t always have to be a grand gesture, it can be something small and still just as powerful.

Let’s consider Miss Michigan. At the Miss America Pageant, Miss Michigan used her 10 second introduction to talk about Flint.



The Flint Water Crisis happened when I was still at Michigan State. I know people with family in Flint, so I wasn’t at all removed from what was happening. Although it was a huge deal at the time, it has kind of fallen off the radar, even though it obviously is still intensely real for Michigan residents.

Emily Sioma is from a town that’s about an hour away from Flint. As a representative of the state of Michigan (that’s what being Miss Michigan means, right?), she used her platform to bring attention to a major crisis in the 10 seconds that most contestants would’ve tried to talk themselves up. She used her role as a representative of the state of Michigan, not from the city of Flint, to serve as an ally of this cause.

There are many different aspects of being an activist, but as Sioma demonstrated, sometimes being an activist just means serving the cause by being an ally. We can’t all relate to every fight out there, but there is power in being educated and serving others however we can.

When we consider teaching as an act of activism, I think it can be really daunting, especially if we didn’t experience that kind of teaching ourselves. However, I think there is a conversation to be had about being an ally. It is so important for teachers to develop relationships with their students, to have real conversations with them and understand their needs both inside and outside of their classrooms, to push them to succeed while having high expectations for them, and most importantly, to just be there for them.

Sometimes, being an advocate and an ally for an individual student, or even for a group of students can be of real consequence. There is a lot of value in believing in our students and empowering them both inside and outside of school. I think it’s high time that we as educators challenge ourselves to get outside of our comfort zones. Activism can happen in the smallest ways or the biggest ways; it starts with taking the first step.

How do you live out your role as an ally and empower your students?

As Chance the Rapper once said, “I don’t know where people think I’m from, but I’m from Chicago”

If you’ve been to Chicago, or even met someone from Chicago, you would understand that us Chicagoans have a lot of pride in our city. The food, the views, the cleanliness, the people, no city can compare. One of my favorite parts of Chicago is the view from museum campus.

Museum campus is where the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and the Adler Planetarium are located, hence the name. The Field Museum recently had a Jurassic World exhibit.


As you can see from the video, this exhibit mirrored the movie. When you first come in, you watch a welcome movie that’s similar to the one that they see in the movie, and you walk into gates with “Welcome to Jurassic World” blaring over the speakers. Literally so dope! You walk into InGen Labs and see dinosaur eggs and mosquitos fossilized in molasses. If you’re as big a fan of the movie as my brother and I, you would have totally geeked out.  The entire exhibit continues in this really authentic manner where you walk through and see different dinosaurs in various landscapes. They even have a “show” with the raptor and t-rex! What’s most interesting is that everything looks really lifelike, and it’s almost like you’re actually in the movie. Well, everything looked lifelike until my boyfriend pointed out the gym shoes underneath the raptor costume 🙂

Another cool science exhibit in the city is at the Museum of Science of Industry “The Science Behind Pixar.” I haven’t personally been to this exhibit, but I have heard and seen fantastic things about it. The exhibit is interactive, allowing adults and children alike to engage with various parts of the movie making process. The best part of this exhibit? The Pixar characters we know and love are posed around the exhibit for pictures.

I’ve spent a lot of time lately being reminded of how science is in everything we do. I am a huge Jurassic Park and Disney/Pixar fan. Both of these exhibits help people of all ages engage with science (DNA, cloning, engineering, etc.) in ways that they aren’t always expecting to. There is something to be said for the ways that science shows up in everything we interact with, including the things we love and geek out over. I remember taking the ACT in high school and being so drained by the time we got to the science portion that I could barely concentrate, and I remember blaming science, like it was its fault, rather than the fact I was sitting in a chair for hours doing a standardized test. Seeing the way that these museums have presented engaging in science to all ages is a nice reminder that science is real and active, and more exciting (read: not score-killing) than some of us have experienced!

P.S By the third time I took the ACT my science scores were really close to my reading and english scores. So I guess that means I had misplaced aggression (since it was the last portion of that harrowing exam) that should’ve been put on math?

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