Science, Education, and Science Education

classroom applications

Archive for the ‘Special students’ Category

September 22nd, 2015 by Luann

All Means All, Part 5: The Elephants in My Classroom

This is the fifth in a series of blog posts summarizing my reflections on what it means to provide learning opportunities for every student, every day. Find the series here, at  #AllMeansAll 

A slim majority of my physical science students are Caucasian. The rest declare their heritage as Hispanic, African American, Pacific Islander, Native American, No matter their background, they have a few things in common: most don’t read. Most don’t write, at least not more than text messages. And most can’t verbalize the importance of school. They just don’t know. I recently took a closer look at the achievement gap in these 2 classes, and looked at the stories behind the data (I’ve done this before.) I was very, very uncomfortable with what I learned.

Read the rest of this entry »

September 20th, 2015 by Luann

All Means All, Part 4: Learning from Parents

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts summarizing my reflections on what it means to provide learning opportunities for every student, every day. #AllMeansAll 

At the beginning of each year, I send a safety contract home with my students to sign with their parents.  There’s also a place for parent and student to sign that they read and understand the course information and syllabus. The truly important questions, though, are on the other side of the paper.

Yes, I want to know what parents expect for their child in my class. While this survey is far from scientific, every year the answers I receive cause me to reconsider how I communicate with students and parents. Here, in general terms to protect privacy, is a summary of some of the most common comments from parents explaining what they want for their kids. Some comments are not at all surprising. Some comments, however, make me step back and think.

Parents want me to:

  • be enthusiastic about our learning.
  • be a really great teacher.
  • know if their child will learn to work with chemicals safely.
  • treat their children courteously and with respect.
  • know their children are kind, funny, clever, interesting, talented, intelligent, hard-working, conscientious, scared, stressed, anxious, are quick learners, struggle with math, are gifted artists and writers and musicians.
  • be available for any help their child might need with understanding concepts or learning skills.They want me to know their child doesn’t always like to ask for help.
  • communicate with them if there are any issues with their children, be they behavioral or academic – assignments missing, failing grades. They want to hear from me if they call or email.
  • actually teach the class and not just hand out papers and expect students to understand.
  • know they can’t help with chemistry homework.
  • provide career guidance and prepare their children for college.
  • give help, when their child needs it.

Parents want their children to:

  • be challenged appropriately.
  • enjoy science and learning.
  •  “just please pass this class.”
  • be able to ask questions and get answers delivered in a way that doesn’t make their child feel like an idiot.
  • be challenged.
  • be given clear expectations

Parents want to know what they can do to help their children be successful.

Most of all, each parent wants me to know his/her child; to know that Rosa loves her dogs more than anything; that Abby is on the state equestrian team and is a horse whisperer; that John needs frequent check-ins for understanding, that Katie lost her glasses and won’t be able to get a new pair for 3 weeks; that Zach is having surgery in October and will miss at least a week, that Mindy has anxiety attacks before tests but does just fine if I offer some reassurance beforehand that I know she can do well; that Jose wants to be a physicist and will take AP Chemistry and physics both next year; and that Roger wants to take over his grandfather’s machine shop after graduation.

There are very few surprise responses. Parents do ask questions,  and they expect answers.

How am I changed by knowing all this?  Students love knowing that I know a bit about them when I plan our work together. I can better craft physical and emotional learning environments that meet all students’ needs. I know  student seating preferences, who is reserved about speaking out, who doesn’t read aloud in class,  There’s something positive to talk about when I call home.

What do you do to better know your students? 

September 14th, 2015 by Luann

All Means All Part 3: Graphing our Learning Styles

This is the third in a series of blog posts summarizing my reflections on what it means to provide learning opportunities for every student, every day. Find the series here, at  #AllMeansAll 

Disclaimer: I’ve read a good deal of literature and opinion around the validity of learning styles. Nonetheless, at the encouragement of a colleague (this colleague) during some collaborative course design work, I pulled out the learning styles inventory* again this year, in Physical Science classes. The intent was to use the data gathered to introduce graphing, and that was a win.  The colleague suggested we share with students WHY we are interested in their learning styles. We are interested so that we can be sure to make learning available to all students in the modality each student best learns. We discussed this in both classes. The real win, though, was what I learned about my students, and what they learned about themselves.

Read the rest of this entry »

September 12th, 2015 by Luann

All Means ALL, Part 2: Engineering Design

This is the second in a series of blog posts summarizing my reflections on what it means to provide learning opportunities for every student, every day. Find the series here, at  #AllMeansAll 

Created during Champions of STEM work with BSCS, who probably own the copyright. If asked, I will remove the image.

On the first day in Physical Science, we got into teams and built paper towers as an engineering design challenge. Our process followed the outlined by a group of district STEM teachers working together last school year.

The challenge was simple: Build the tallest tower you can with 4 sheets of 8.5 x 11: paper.

First, a little history on this class:

Read the rest of this entry »

September 11th, 2015 by Luann

All Means ALL, Part 1

This is the first in a series of blog posts summarizing my reflections on what it means to provide learning opportunities for every student, every day. Find the series here, at  #AllMeansAll 

This year, my district has adopted a motto.

All means ALL.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this……

Read the rest of this entry »

March 31st, 2015 by Luann

A Perspective on STEM in the US and Interesting Implications

Today, I read this article from the Washington Post. The author’s opinions of STEM are interesting. The connection to STEM as I know it is pretty broad. Some claims are backed up with evidence, some simply reinforce his stance on a liberal education for all.

The author made some great points. I read with interest.  The twelfth paragraph really jumped out at me.

“No matter how strong your math and science skills are, you still need to know how to learn, think and even write. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon (and the owner of this newspaper), insists that his senior executives write memos, often as long as six printed pages, and begins senior-management meetings with a period of quiet time, sometimes as long as 30 minutes, while everyone reads the “narratives” to themselves and makes notes on them. In an interview with Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky, Bezos said: “Full sentences are harder to write. They have verbs. The paragraphs have topic sentences. There is no way to write a six-page, narratively structured memo and not have clear thinking.”

Read the rest of this entry »

December 31st, 2012 by Luann

This is not your father’s homework assignment.

Homework is evil. All homework. It’s a pile of worksheets; pointless, drill-and-kill busywork that overloads students brains, frustrates (or bores) them to tears, reinforces the practice of incorrect algorithms, destroys every creative cell in students’ bodies, and takes away from valuable playtime or family time. And it should never, ever be graded.

That’s the message sent by many who are trying to fix whatever’s wrong with education. I don’t buy it.



Our school is on an AB block schedule.  I see students at most 3 days a week (when we have a full week of school), so more often twice a week; sometimes 4 times in 2 weeks, and sometimes 6-7 days pass without meeting as a class when we have long weekends.  (Yes, I use electronic communication as much as possible, considering 20-25% or my students have neither an Internet connection in their homes nor a smartphone). To that end, my teacher-gut tells me that students who have deeper conceptual understandings and own their skills are the students who have stayed connected to their learning. I’ve become a fan of a few types of assignments to help students stay connected.  Some are most specifically, homework. Other assignments are directly connected to an upcoming inquiry or project lab. Other work is investigative, calculation practice, synthesis, or preparation for discussion.  Outlined below are some general types of “homework” students may expect to best support them as they learn science.

Read the rest of this entry »

August 14th, 2011 by Luann

Collaboration, Lab Work and Student Roles

Group Roles

Neurology Students in Berlin, a long, long time ago.

My introduction to assigning student roles in group work came in 1994 at a Project Discovery summer workshop. I didn’t question the value of this practice. More experienced teachers and university professors shared their expert guidelines.  As teacher participants in the workshop, we used these canned roles as we worked our way through canned labs intended to inspire student discovery. They appeared, we decided, to be a pretty effective method for managing students in lab settings and for facilitating student communication about their work. The checkpoints added strategically to canned procedures helped me check for understanding while students were working.

Read the rest of this entry »

January 1st, 2009 by Luann

How to do “half a lab .”

This post is dedicated to special education professionals everywhere, with my apologies that you have to work with science teachers.

Many students in special education have IEP’s specifying a reduced work load.  This specification was perhaps meant to minimize the frustration from an overwhelming number of practice math problems or with essays of unmanageable length.  Doing ‘every other question’ isn’t practical when the task is a laboratory investigation.

To better help students learn scientific investigation, I started to focus on just one significant part of the actual investigation and report at a time.  Here are the components of the lab write-up:

  • Experimental Question – what you want to know and can find out with an experimental design
  • Hypothesis – possible answer to question; testable, potentially falsifiable
  • Introduction – background information needed about the topic to be investigated
  • Materials (written as the investigation is designed)
  • Procedure – written in short steps as a set of directions.  Include everything on the Score Sheet list, linked below.
  • Safety – apparel, MSDS info on any chemicals used, equipment cautions.
  • Data table
  • Data analysis – includes graph or other alternative representation of data, and discussion of hypothesis as supported or not
  • Calculations and calculations table – calculations done in format of describing what is to be calculated, an equation, and a sample of the math.
  • Conclusion – answer the experimental question, use data to support your answer ( numbers! use high and low average of 3+ trials) and explain how the data answers your question.

Now if this looks suspiciously like the standard for investigations in some state’s standards, I will agree.  Students must write in this format to receive a high score on the high-stakes test.  It’s also not bad science, overall, so we just do it.

How to do half of this?  We start the year with a lab activity to which pretty much everyone knows the answer:  How does exercise affect your heart rate?  We walk together through all the parts and everyone writes each component into his or her lab book during class, working in groups, over 4 days.  During this time, we talk together about the variables that might affect heart rate, such as the type and speed of exercise and what variables we can keep the same, or control, for everyone.  We also talk about what we can’t control, such as the food eaten for breakfast, body size, leg length.  We decide on an experimental control as a student who does not exercise at all yet whose heart rate we record at the beginning and end of the exercise time, with everyone else’s.

Examples of the student handout for our Photosynthesis lab, with directions for the introduction and data analysis are here.  The score sheet checklist is here.  I copy the documents back to back and hand to students as we begin the lab write-up. It;s the 5th investigation we do, so most are pretty good at it.  Help yourself; I’d love your feedback.  I know the score sheet is labeled “rubric” when it is really more of a student checklist, but it’s progress….

The focus for this lab is the design, or procedure, itself.  Options for students needing a reduced assignment include:

  • writing the hypothesis to a given experimental question
  • reviewing the introduction material with teacher or lab group and writing a statement telling the purpose of the lab
  • safety must be written by everyone, period
  • writing the procedure and materials together with the lab group.
  • directions on how to re-work the data, or interpretation of a ready-made graph of the data
  • analysis questions are easy:  select depending on the student’s needs and focus.  Perhaps the student is already good at identifying variables, so select other questions.  Perhaps the student needs to learn to identify variables, so select the variable questions and one other.
  • the conclusion is pretty basic – if the student has had guidance with the data, the conclusion is surprisingly easy.

Maybe this isn’t exactly half a lab.  It’s a ‘reduced assignment,’ though.  It’s been my experience that even struggling students will accept this version if given guidance and the security net of a lab group at first.  Can they go through life with a security net?  Probably not.  This one is just a step in the direction of self-sufficiency and using one’s resources.  We don’t all walk that direction at the same pace.

%d bloggers like this: