Posts Tagged ‘science education’

NSTA 2011 Here and Gone Again

As promised, I will be writing up some of the sessions I attended this past weekend…since this was my first conference as a presenter, I spent less time in sessions as usual, but I did learn quite a few new tricks!

This weekend was also exciting since the conference was held in San Francisco – thousands of science teachers in a city with a tsunami warning; I can bet lots of lesson plans were changed (including my own) to focus on the current events in Japan.

So be on the lookout for:

  • Parent-teacher communication and involvement ideas
  • How to host a physics-themed haunted house
  • Ways to make the most of the Holt Introductory Physics textbook
  • Accessing understanding of ELL students
  • Skills to help ELL students understand science
  • Exhibit hall highlights

My First Prezi

There have been many things going on lately, most of which I’m halfway through blogging about – I promise they’re coming soon!

Anyways, I’m so excited to announce I just finished my first Prezi. Check it out here:

It was so incredibly easy – even faster than Power Point! And much more engaging…I’m interested to see how my 9th graders react!

First Week of School Science Activities

Since it takes awhile to get all of the administrative things out of the way in the first week of school, I am planning on focusing on mostly Nature of Science type activities. The following are some of the things I’m most excited about:

Science Is – Students brainstorm their own lists of things that Science Is and Science Is Not. Then a large list is generated and students sort words on a t-chart into what they believe science is and isn’t. We did this activity using construction paper and glue sticks to make colorful Science Is Charts!

Tower Building – Students work together to build the tallest tower of cups they can without speaking. The second time, students are allowed to talk. This encourages students to think about the importance of communication in science.

Which Is Better? – As a student guided scientific method activity, we split the students into two groups. One had to analyze which bouncey ball is better and the other which bubble wand is better. The students defined their own definition for “better” and their procedure. Afterward, they listed their steps and quickly realized they used the scientific method without realizing it!

Letter Writing – Students wrote themselves a letter setting goals for themselves for the school year. I will return their letters at the end of the semester or the end of the year.

Lab Safety – For lab safety day, we handed out the Flinn Safety Contract and students wrote short skits demonstrating 5 safe lab techniques and 5 safety violations.

Virtual Labs in Science Class

from a lecture given by Amanda Gunning.

Why a virtual lab?

  • Online or downloaded – I recommend the downloaded version if possible since you won’t have to worry about faulty internet.
  • “Hands On” – student should still be manipulating variables, making observations, and drawing conclusions.
  • Fulfills lab requirements.
  • Provides variety to curriculum.
  • Easy way to incorporate technology and use school resources.
  • Explores complex and difficult to observe concepts in a simpler way.
  • Great way to give students lab activities when they are home-bound due to illness or are chronically absent.

Challenges to using virtual labs:

  • Availability of computers and internet access.
  • Battery-life of laptops.
  • Management issues – to get all the computers set up and ready for use cuts into class time.  If you have an IT person who doesn’t come from an education background, get to know them and learn as much as you can so that you don’t rely on them in case of a technology issue in class when they aren’t available to help. Be sensitive that they don’t always understand the time constraints and pressures related with teaching.
  • If students are sharing a computer, are they both involved or is one student taking control and the other off task?
  • Students might want to listen to music while working on the computer – this is a policy that needs to be determined by the teacher if the administration hasn’t already written a policy on that.

Preparing for a Virtual Lab

  • Plan for it! A virtual lab isn’t a free period: are you using the lab to introduce a topic, demonstrate a concept, or assess student understanding?
  • Scaffold the virtual lab! Introduce using the virtual lab as another way to experiment, explain and model the features students will manipulate, and have an associated assignment or handout.
  • Plan for discussion to make meaningful conclusions.

Great Virtual Lab Sites

First Day of School Activities

From a lecture by Jessica Riccio.

As I’m going to be a first year teacher in the fall, I’m starting to think about how to organize my classroom and curriculum. We had a helpful discussion in class the other day and generated the following list of first day of school activities:

  • Have students build the tallest plastic cup tower – without talking! This will lead to a great conversation about why communication is so important in science.
  • Word Search with vocabulary from the entire curriculum.
  • Time Capsule with individual student goals and misconceptions. I really want to do this with my classes to give the students an opportunity to see their own growth throughout the year.
  • Wear a normal teaching outfit with one mismatched accessory (sneakers with a dress). Have students make observations about why you might have chosen to wear such a wacky combination.
  • Have student make collages of themselves and tape them together to form a class quilt.
  • Perform a “purse dump” (backpacks work well too) by dumping out your purse contents onto the table and having student draw conclusions about you. A great way to introduce yourself to students.
  • Have 2-4 students be the scientists and send them into the hallway. The remainder of the class learns 3 new rules for behavior: ex. only yes or no answers, only speak to people with similar symbols on the name tag, and only answer yes to questions asked with a smile. The scientists much determine what the rules are by asking questions.

NASA’s Great Moonbuggy Race

I saw this photo gallery about NASA’s Great Moonbuggy Race the other day and just had to share!

Students and other participants flock to Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama to race their Moonbuggies: vehicles they have designed to withstand the elements on the moon. Teams race their buggies around the course and compete for speed and design.

This would be a fantastic project for a high school or university engineering or physics course! Check out the Great Moonbuggy Race website for more information.

Steve Spangler [Exploding Soda & Flying Potatoes: How to Create Unforgettable Learning Experiences]

As I walk into the room, I hear the general din of buzzing educators tense with excitement. We’re about to hear from Steve Spangler who has been on television shows across the country and spoken as the key speaker at dozens of events. He’s got a website, blog, twitter, and hosts a myriad of science teacher training events in the U.S. as well as on cruise ships!

Whenever I think of Steve Spangler, I think of things exploding.

“If you’re happy and you know it, clap your hands, [audience claps]. Just checking…” Haha, you know the man started out as a teacher.

Steve starts his talk with an anecdote about a previous speaking engagement for elementary school students where he discovered that kids still have the sense of wonderment science teachers try to capture and encourage.

Reaching back to kindergarten, Steve discusses a science project from when he was young:

The Potato Gun with Straws

  • Stick a straw into your potato (hold your finger over the end to give it structure)
  • Do it one more time so you have potato in both ends.
  • Jam something else through the end and watch potatoes fly!
  • Bigger straws = more fun! Steve used huge plastic straws for his presentation.

“Just because kids have stuff in their hands, doesn’t mean they’re learning science.” It’s obvious Steve is concerned with giving kids and teachers authentic experiences with science. One of those experiences was in Colorado when he gave a few hundred teachers 200 pounds of potatoes and potato guns. The video was pretty intense.

Good teachers:

  • Lots of activities
  • Kids know good info
  • Tell you how to do things
  • Tell you facts

Great teachers:

  • Open ended questions
  • Teaches you why to do things
  • Takes fact and ties it to real life (making connections)
  • Turn hands on activities into unforgettable hands on experiences
  • Remember that science is fun

“If it gets to the dinner table, you win!” You know you’ve created an authentic encounter with science, Steve says, if a kid shares about it at the dinner table. But he’s concerned about learning, too. Steve is concerned with doing science activities with the wow factor and supporting them with the science content to back it up. The crazy activity should merely be the means of illustrating the concepts.

Find that person at a cocktail who responds to you telling them you are a science teacher and they respond, “I loved science when I was a kid!” and buy them a drink. They’ll always tell you their teacher was crazy.

Steve Spangler could be considered a crazy teacher. He gave us the inside tips to all his favorite “tricks” (yes, he’s got a baccalaureate degree in Bio-Chemistry, but he does tricks):

  • Pretend to have a broken arm: twist your arm and crush the plastic cup you already placed in your armpit.
  • Take a 1 liter bottle and write “Do Not Open” on the outside. Poke tiny holes near the bottom and place it on the table. As soon as someone opens the bottle, water will come squirting out!
  • Take kids to Home Depot and grab a magnet, bottle of spray paint, and bring a ball bearing along. Shake the paint and then stop as you secretly place the magnet against it, drop the ball bearing. Kids will go wild!
  • Put magnet in Starbucks cup and place on top of your car and drive.

“Great teachers exude fun.”

Steve pulled out a super long garbage bag (a la Diaper Genie). Let students to try a few breaths into the bag – how many fills it up? Eventually, you’ll get to discussing Bernoulli’s principle that it only takes one breath slightly away from the bag to fill up the whole thing because it will pull all the air around it into the bag as well. At one conference, a teacher told Steve she found Subway sandwich bags to be successful as well.

Then he told everyone to reach under their seats and grab the bag laying there. It was so much fun for everyone to mess around with the science “toys”.

To finish out his talk, Steve discussed (and gave out) mentos and Diet Coke. Always fun! Once again, Steve had great suggestions for making this a worthwhile science experiment in class: take kids outside and measure how many bricks high the soda flies. Allow kids to predict and test how high the soda will fly with different numbers of mentos.

The grand finale (choreographed to the William Tell Overture) included him knocking cups off the heads of the front row with a homemade air cannon (trash can with a hole in the bottom and the top sealed with a shower curtain). He even filled it with a smoke machine so you could see the ‘o’ shaped ring of air coming out!

The following is a clip of Steve doing the same thing on television:

To get to know Steve better, visit You can also sign up for his Experiment of the Week, a weekly email with great ideas for science lessons!

Lisa Henson [Sid the Science Kid & Dinosaur Train]

The daughter of famous Jim Henson is the first plenary speaker for the weekend. She talked about my favorite show on PBS: Sid the Science Kid! There are currently 40 episodes covering Science Tools & Measurement, Health, and Biology with new episodes coming to cover Light & Shadows, Physics, and Environmental Systems. Can you guess how excited I am to see those Physics episodes?!

The basic idea of Sid the Science Kid is to recreate a realistic preschool experience through sketch comedy and humor provided by Sid, his family, and his friends. Sid and his friends go to preschool each day and actively investigate the answers to different questions through the Preschool Pathways to Science curriculum with their teacher Miss Suzie.

Henson states that PBS has done such a great job of encouraging young children to pursue literacy through Sesame Street (she even showed a clip of herself on the show when she was young!) The show Cyberchase has sparked a new interest in young children doing mathematics. Sid the Science Kid was the answer to providing kids with exciting science television programming. As Henson says, “we want to have kids identify themselves and say ‘I like science!’”

Sid the Science Kid teaches children to investigate and think larger than what they know to discover new things about the world around them. Most importantly, “These adults in Sid’s world take advantage of teachable moments.”

The other new PBS show for early childhood science education is Dinosaur Train. Like Sid the Science Kid, Dinosaur Train has the goal of encouraging kids to be investigators in their worlds. Henson calls the show the “television version of chocolate and peanut butter.” Dinosaur children have questions about their surroundings and go on the Dinosaur Train to explore pre-historic ecosystems to discover more about life science, paleontology, and physical science.

There’s even humor as the main character’s mom says, “That’s enough observing for one day now, Buddy.” The characters on these shows are never satisfied – they always want to know more!

Factual content in Dinosaur Train relates to current day understandings and the modern animal kingdom. Dr. Scott Sampson is the content advisor and even appears on every episode. Dr. Scott explains his hypothesis and conclusions relating to the episode’s content, encourages students to think and explore like a scientists.

Each episode ends with Dr. Scott telling his viewers to “Get outside, get into nature, and get observing.”

Henson finished with a quote from her dad: “I believe that we can use television and film for good and we can shape the thoughts of children and adults in a positive way.”

Chris Emdin [Rethinking Student Participation: A Model from Hip-hop and Urban Science Education]

As I walked into the room, there were two gentlemen sitting in the back row. I decided this was a good opportunity to start meeting people. I asked one what brought him to the Celebration and when he answered, “A big plane” and laughed, I knew it was going to be a good weekend!

It turns out they are Richard Cappo (a member of the Federal Advisory Board, veteran teacher of 42 years, and the Archdiocese of Baton Rouge, LA) and Mark Richterman (Principal for the Baton Rouge Magnet Arts and veteran teacher of 40 years).

“Hip-hop, really, at its core is the voice of the marginalized.”

Chris is releasing his new book “Science Education in the Hip-hop Generation” today, in honor of the Celebration and is sponsored to be here by Phi Delta Kappa who recently awarded him for his work in urban science education. His passion and research focuses on rethinking how we teach science and mathematics and honing in on the real issues in order to successfully teach science in the urban culture.

“Established frameworks for participation get glossed over…participation is a given…It needs to be focused on because it needs to be rethought…Work done in science education has been glossed over.”

There are many different approaches to dealing with the need to approach science education. Chris reminds his audience that it is important to look at student participation in science as well as what we think science is. What are we telling our students are the most important aspects of science? What kinds of interactions with science are we giving students?

These are the questions that are essential for successful science teaching. “It’s important to embrace the fact that we are different from our students.” Most importantly, Chris reiterates, we need to recognize the fact that we have a different culture from our students. From taking Chris’ Urban Science Education course at Teachers College, I have accepted a definition of culture as ways of knowing, thinking, and acting. We know, think, and act differently than our students and can capitalize on those differences in order to form “weak ties” with your students.

“What are you listening to?” Get into your students’ lives and get to know them based on their culture, not just as individuals.

“If you don’t have participation, you don’t have learning.” Chris draws a timeline of the attitude towards participation in the classroom starting in the Sputnik Era. In the 1950’s, student participation was categorized by hands raised around the room. In the 1990’s, educators were not satisfied with students individually raising hands and put students in groups. Chris argued this was really not fixing the problem because now our students are just raising their hand sitting in groups.

“We teach with a view of participation that only looks at participation through the lens of 1950’s participation.” Kids have learned to “play the game” by raising their hand in order to get a good grade because they know the teachers are only looking for hands in the air. Chris calls this the “Pretty Brown Girl Syndrome”.

Recently, Chris has observed and compared the engagement in classroom activity of the “hand raisers” and the “disengaged”. He discovered the two groups of students had the same knowledge of the content. The “engaged” students did not actually have any more content understanding because of the their participation.

Chris argues that you should allow class participation to happen in a Hip-hop style. The kids who need help and attention should feel free to raise their hands (usually along with, “Ooh, let me do it.”) and other kids may need to discuss the content on their own in the back. This is analogous to a rap cycle: one person stars “Yo”-ing and then raps while others beat-box, etc. Eventually, the one person has gone on too long and starts “Yo”-ing to communicate it is time to pass the baton. Allow students to work off of each other and help each other.

The classroom should be a working buzz; learning is happening in smaller spaces than entire classroom discussion.

A video clip shows a teacher loosing students in a content discussion. A student stands up and pushes the teacher out of the way and continues his lecture in a way the other students get it. Involving students in their own learning gives them the power to communicate content in such as a way as their peers can understand as the teacher gets out of the way of learning.

“You are, as the instructor, the content matter expert. You are not the pedagogical expert. The students know better how to communicate the content matter better than you.” That, Chris argues, is participation.

“A kid who’s engaged talks with his hands is engaged.” This comes from Hip-hop; physical movement is a sure sign of a student being engaged in learning.

After his talk, Chris had his first-ever book signing! His books sold out. Yay Chris!

Earthquakes and Tsunamis

Coincidental to the earthquake in Chile and tsunami in Hawaii, my class is studying waves. On Wednesday we even studied the refraction of water waves and discussed tidal waves. I am glad we discussed the formation of tidal waves before this occurred so my students have a scientifically literate knowledge of what is happening.

We watched this video of an annual tidal wave and discussed that large waves are created when a large amount of energy in the deep-sea is forced into a more shallow area, causing a higher amplitude and faster wave velocity.

The important difference between a tidal wave and a tsunami is the initiation of the energy of the wave. Tidal waves are generated the same way as tides – by the changing distance between the earth and the moon. Tsunamis are caused mainly by earthquakes.

Most people think of a tsunami as a The Day After Tomorrow-sized wave that will take out all of lower Manhattan.

I guess the possibility of that happening one day is not out of the question, but tsunamis are not classified by being at least 30 meters tall. In the case of this tsunami, the amplitude of the waves have not increased more than 1 meter every 20 minutes. This might be the greatest change in amplitude that is observed.

The biggest concern with this storm is that the major changes in tides could cause an extremely caustic environment for the flora and fauna within the ocean.

The reason I’m writing tonight is not to teach you about tsunamis, but to stress the importance of using every opportunity to provide our students with an education rich in scientifically literate experiences. Watching the news today, I have heard too many people panic that a tsunami means ginormous wave that will inevitably destroy everything. I shutter at the idea that these people went to school for at least twelve years and never had a science lesson that corrected the “2012” inspired misconceptions about tsunamis.

This is why I teach science – to give students an opportunity to learn about the world around them.

NOTE: It may seem that your content area is not suitable for teaching about tsunamis (especially if you’re not a geology or earth science teacher!), but if I could work it into a physics lesson, you can work it into any science course! A biology class could discuss  the effect of the tsunami on the ecosystem of the Hawaiian Pacific Ocean, as could an environmental course.  A chemistry class could discuss how the changing chemical composition of the ocean will affect the organisms. Any way you do it, you’re giving your students a priceless exposure to scientific current events!