Science, Education, and Science Education

classroom applications
November 1st, 2014 by Luann

The Dollar Tree and The Scientific Method Poster

You log into Facebook, and there’s THAT friend, the grammar expert.  The well-meaning grammar cop who is on a personal mission to correct every grammar or spelling error, ever.  The friend who would bring together the programmers who created Autocorrect for a workshop.  We accept that person. We love that person, and sometimes we learn from that person.  Some of us may or may not recognize ourselves in that person. I am not that person. Oh, no. I have a far more nerdy mission.

I went to Dollar Tree last summer. I was doing some classroom redecorating, and wanted some of those huge cutout letters that elementary teachers always have. I found the letters (I’ll post about that when it’s done, but I’m waiting for my school supply order to be filled to finish decorating). And I found this, on an endcap.  (Apologies for the lousy photo. The aisle was kind of busy.)

I may have cringed a little. While I am eternally grateful to the Dollar Tree for providing great stuff for my classroom (more about my other great purchase of the day later) Local children might be exposed to this, and later end up in my classroom, where I’ll have to spend hours of time we could otherwise spend doing cool things to erase this idea from their minds.  I posted it on Instagram and Facebook, where a few former students and science teacher colleagues offered up critiques, such as, “That’s an old, incorrect model of the atom.”   “Where is the data that will be interpreted?” and, simply. “Ugh.”  Can you spot the misconceptions?

Then, I posted on Twitter:  

And I got a reply.

I was quite impressed that someone monitoring their twitter account was interested in updating their products.  An interesting conversation took place, ending with my agreeing to suggest updates to the poster.  The science community has begun to refute any one single “scientific method.” Rhett Allain, in Wired, explains how some scientists work – and how they do not.

The new Next Generation Science Standards offer up a set of  Science and Engineering Practices outlining what students should know and be able to do when learning science, listed below.

  1. Asking questions (for science) and defining problems (for engineering)
  2. Developing and using models
  3. Planning and carrying out investigations
  4. Analyzing and interpreting data
  5. Using mathematics and computational thinking
  6. Constructing explanations (for science) and designing solutions (for engineering)
  7. Engaging in argument from evidence
  8. Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Note the lack of a set process with the terms hypothesis, conclusion, and surprisingly, inquiry. Not all investigative work students do in science is hypothesis-testing; in fact, very little inquiry involves writing an hypothesis.

The “old,” traditional, textbook version of the scientific method lacks at least two major components: flexibility, and the formation of a model.  A model is, simply, a proposed description of explanation of a phenomenon or why or how it works. Once the model is proposed, it is tested with a great many scenarios or situations and modified as needed to explain. The limitations of the model, or aspects that can’t readily be changed, are listed, described, and their impact on understanding are explained. The model can then be a useful learning tool.

A familiar example of a model is our idea of the atom. Dalton proposed an atomic theory, but did not describe the atom itself. Thomson found electrons and proposed the addition of negative charge to the atom. Where was the mass?  The positive charge?  Rutherford et. al. located a massive, positively charged nucleus, and James Chadwick proposed the existence of a particle having mass but no charge – the neutron.  Many other iterations of the structure of an atom were proposed, questioned, investigated, and documented until the currently-held quantum mechanical model of the atom was developed.

The scientific method, then, is officially dead in states who have adopted the Next Generation Science Standards. I know I’m not the only one happy about that. You?

 

 

 

September 10th, 2014 by Luann

Thirteen years ago today

Thirteen years ago, I was in Ohio, teaching a class of Chemistry students to set up their lab books for our first lab.

NYC Skyline *

(Some of my current FB friends were in that class…) when our principal, Dan Griffin, announced that a plane had struck one of the World Trade Center towers. Then, in disbelief, we listened as he announced that the second tower had been hit. I had only one old, slow computer in my room, but all the news sites were too jammed for us to get any information. As I struggled to find words to calm my frightened, confused students, Mr. Griffin announced that a third plane had hit the Pentagon, and that all three flights had originated in DC. A student, white-faced (you know who you are) stood up and said, “My mom was flying out of DC this morning. I need to go to the counselor’s office.”

Mike was having his hip joint scoped a few blocks away at the local hospital. When I went to see him during lunch/prep, I caught a bit more news. As he awoke and saw the TV in his room, he thought he was watching a horror movie. We kept hearing about terrorist involvement.

Our thoughts then turned to our younger son, Geoff, who was in basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood. Although we didn’t get to speak to him for the next few weeks, somehow, we knew there would be a consequence for him. We were right.

A hundred-plus lab books bear the start date of 9/11/01. Thousands of families, and our entire world, were never the same again.

*I stole this photo from a friend’s Facebook page. If it’s yours and I’m using it wrongly, please let me know and I’ll take it down.

June 24th, 2014 by Luann

Skillz for the Future

 

Framework for 21st Century Learning, Charles Fadel, Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported

We are asked to teach 21st Century Skills – Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Creativity, Communication and Citizenship, to name a few. The last two schools in which I’ve worked have advisory classes. The point is career education and the relationship-building that increases chances for student success. We do prescribed career activities. We do grade checks and students reflect on their progress. I’ve been through many iterations of advisory during my tenure in 2 schools in 2 states over the past 10 years; and we are not yet sure what shape  I’ll be getting a brand-new batch of grade 9 lambs this year, and I intend to help them become as successful as possible.

To support these skills, and  state/district/building career-related activities and relationship-building activities, I’d like to suggest we consider the following possibilities for valuable use of advisory time:



Digital Literacy, Part 1

I see two components to Digital literacy. The first, easy component is establishing some accounts and learning to use current tools. At our school and in my classroom, as a minimum, these would currently be

  • Google apps including Blogger,
  • Prezi, and
  • Evernote
  • Pistach.io
  • Disqus

Why?

My building has dabbled in Project-Based Learning. A part of our work, an authentic audience is important. It’s amazing how the quality of students’ work becomes a big deal to them when they know it will be seen by others.

As digital portfolios become important, students could maintain their portfolios easily in Google sites, and later transfer them to a personally owned account. The advantage to Evernote is its portability and flexibility with media. Evernote could be used for quickly storing info from recordings, links, photos and clipped images such as those students take of their lab work and whiteboarding adventures (see Plagiarism, below) and drafts of projects and work. Many teachers ask students to use Prezi, and class/project time is used just setting up an account and learning the app. Prezi could also be a platform for the digital portfolio. Many classes, particularly art, also use Blogger for photoblogs.

Digital Literacy, Part 2

Safety and etiquette.  That is all. No student may publish anything in my class to a public account with his/her name on it without parent permission, signed, and in my file.

Plagiarism: It’s not just for English class anymore.

Students must learn to vet every source they use for licensing. Creative Commons wasn’t around when most of us were in college, so we first need to learn the ropes.  Wikimedia Commons is a great starting place for images. Google Search now offers the capability to find usage rights (in search, select images > search tools > usage rights and then follow the rights granted for your intended use.)

Financial literacy:

As 9th graders, perhaps a look at the cost of a cell phone contract, fast food, and driving a car, including a look at the good driver discount they get on auto insurance for keeping a B average. By 10th grade, looking at how to budget money from a part-time job, including savings, and the cost of college. By 11th grade, a look at taxes and more college costs. As seniors, they need to be looking at their actual expenses vs income after graduation. And then, there’s my personal beef that we’re teaching kids there’s actually such a thing as “good debt.”  Hello.

There are others, of course.  What are yours?

 

March 28th, 2014 by Luann

One More Request, Mr. Gates and Mr. Duncan

I want this:

Library of Congress

Library of Congress, via Wikimedia Commons

Okay, maybe not this particular library. I want access to my Ball State University Library account; the account that went away a year or so after I was awarded my EdD.

These accounts cost money. All the while I was a student, I paid $50 per semester for this access. It was heaven. I could read almost anything anyone wrote about science, education, or science education, whenever I wanted. After I moved across the country while writing my dissertation, I could still use this access.  I loved this privilege.  My students and colleagues benefitted from my learning. But now, access is gone. It’s expensive; I understand that. Certainly, Mr. Gates, there must be a way for you to fund this.  Mr. Duncan, your pledge to support quality teaching and learning at this conference in March certainly includes supporting educators as we search for and share best practices.

I can get this, from Ball State;  this, from The Ohio State University, and this, from Wright State University. The best any can do is access to ONSITE services. I now live 2400 miles away from these universities. In the digital age, this shouldn’t be an issue.

What might you be willing to do to support this request? How could you work together with universities to allow teaching alumni to access their resources?

March 22nd, 2014 by Luann

STEM ?

STEM?

STEM?

I’ve been pretty amused by the mania to turn our science and math curricula into “STEM.”

My path to the science classroom was unconventional. I took my Bachelor’s degree in Animal Science from The Ohio State University straight to a chemistry lab. I used atomic absorption spectroscopy, gas chromatography, and Kjeldahl digestions to analyze everything from the protein content in alfalfa to pesticide residues in soil. I had to be creative. I had to invent things. I had to mess things up, to do things that didn’t work, and then I had to make them work. Then, I ran the quality control department in a food production facility (human, this time.) If someone had gotten sick or died from consuming our product, I would have been responsible. I got pretty good at creative troubleshooting. I left that job when our first son was born. A bit bored, I joined up with 3 other scientists and a salesman to start a company. We collected soil and crop samples from dairy and hog farmers, analyzed the samples for nutrients, and then manufactured custom fertilizer for the soils and nutritional supplements for the animals based on the feeds they grew. I remained a partner until our last child was ready for preschool. I was at work until about 4 hours before his birth. I returned to work with baby in tow when he was 5 days old. But I digress. And, by the way, was any of this STEM?

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March 1st, 2014 by Luann

Instead of an instructional coach…

Here’s what I’d like to have instead of an instructional coach:

instead

Instead of a coach…. an assistant*.

Yup.  That’s right.

I want an assistant. Not actually an assistant for demos and teaching, although that could work. I want more of a, well,  lab manager.

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February 17th, 2014 by Luann

A Teacher’s Letter to Bill Gates

Background:

I worked every possible angle to attend the T&L conference, but it’s not in the cards this year. I was very disappointed that I could not attend,

Dear Mr. Gates

Dear Mr. Gates

and then I saw the email about Bill Gates as a speaker. I’ve been a long time supporter of NBPTS, having certified in AYA/Science in 1998 when the certificate was first available and renewing in the 2006-2007 cycle. I’ve supported initial cert candidates and renewal candidates, having written the renewal workshop materials for Washington State (WEA). I am working hard to promote certification to potential candidates in Oregon. I was watching the revisions as carefully as an outsider to the process can watch, and was very much hoping that the process would maintain the rigor and standards I’ve known since 1997 when I began the process. Associating Bill Gates with our profession, no matter how much money he might give, has alienated a good many potential candidates and has many of my NBCT colleagues across the nation questioning whether they will bother to renew. We do not want anyone who is not an educator in the position to offer financial incentives for following their decisions about what they believe is best for our profession and our students. I don’t remember a time I’ve been so disappointed in the direction my profession is taking, and it’s not my nature to watch in silence as it’s destroyed.

With that in mind, below is my letter to Bill Gates as he prepares to address my colleagues at the National Board Teaching and Learning Conference on March 14, 2014.

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January 2nd, 2014 by Luann

Organization (in the Lab): 20 Day Blogging Challenge, Day 2 #bc20

For years, I struggled with organizing student lab cupboards.  Way back when, we had enough basic lab equipment for each student pair to have their own stocked, locked drawer.  At my most recent school, we do not. Two pairs of students are assigned to work at 1 table. Each pair has their own cupboard. Each cupboard is, however, shared with 5 other classes, both biology and AP Chemistry.

Lab Cupboards

Table 1 nailed it!

Putting things away is not my strength. It’s a challenge to get students to do so, particularly when they are not solely responsible for their equipment.  I’m not particularly disturbed by clutter from student work. It is frustrating for students to have to search the lab to find a needed beaker that someone forgot to put away.  The goal is for students to have what they need so their work goes smoothly.

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January 1st, 2014 by Luann

A book: 20 Day Blogging Challenge, Day 1

I can’t choose  just one favorite book.  I decided to share 2 books, one for each major content area I currently teach. while I don’t have a unique way of using either book in class, I can say that these books are clear student favorites.  Students tell me they’re interesting and informative and help with understanding of important topics.  We use each book differently.

The Disappearing Spoon

The Disappearing Spoon

Chemistry students devour Sam Kean’s The Disappearing Spoon, and Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table.   So often, we forget that the “old dead guys” had lives, loves, families.  We forget the historical context of their work – the politics, social norms,   It  is assigned to incoming Advanced Placement Chemistry students as summer reading. Students report the book helps them make friends with elements; to use element names and properties in everyday thinking, and to build a framework for the descriptive chemistry we do throughout the course.  There is great appeal for kids who think of themselves more as historians than scientists. There are several study guides available for use with the book.

 

Blueprints

Blueprints for Evolution

 Blueprints: Solving the Mystery of Evolution presents the history of our understanding of biological evolution;  If you’re a biologist, you know Thomas Dobzhansky (“Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”)  If you’re not a biologist and think you understand the modern synthesis of evolutionary theory, you owe it to yourself and your inner educator self’s commitment to lifelong learning to read this book.  Helping students understand how natural selection drives biological evolution can be challenging.  I choose to let Maitland Edey and Donald Johanson help.  Donald Johanson was one of the paleoanthropologists who discovered Lucy.  Maitland Edey is a journalist who brings together all the lines of evidence explained by biological evolution in a way that a non-scientist can enjoy and understand. This book unpeels the layers of understanding needed to employ scientific thinking in the understanding of the natural world.  When working with students as young as 9th grade,  the opening chapters that describe pre-Darwin thoughts on change and fixity in geology and in living things. help us  We read later chapters together as we construct our model of the Modern Synthesis. Just read it.  

What are your favorite books?  Why are they your favorites?  How do you use them with students?

 

December 15th, 2013 by Luann

Using Teacher Leadership to Facilitate Change

Last week, our superintendent announced her decision to modify the model under which our high school has operated for the past several years. We run as 4 small schools, courtesy of a Gates grant and other funding. Each small school has a principal, counselor, and central office staff.  We will continue in 4 small schools as student/parent/staff surveys, dropout rates, and other sources support the model. We will lose our 4-principal structure. Instead, we will have one decision-making principal, and three assistant principals. The likely structure will show one head principal, two assistant principals in charge of 2 small schools each, and one assistant principal will be charge of learning and professional development. Who will do each job?

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