Monday, April 18, 2011

Stone Lab...Here we come!

The lists are made, the permission slips are collected, the money is turned in...
The excitement has been building since the end of October when my fifth graders science trip to Stone Lab was postponed due to weather.

So, away we will go by bus, ferry, and small boats over to Gibralter Island, where our science learning will be kicked up to the next level with lab after lab.

I can't even describe how awesome of a feeling it is to watch my students work with the Stone Lab scientists for a day filled with hands-on, information packed labs. To see the excitement, the learning and questioning that happens for over a hundred kids in two days...amazing!

The facilitators at Stone Lab are really good at pulling the kids in, giving them control of the lab, and pulling it all together with them. The topics covered range from limnology to ichthyology to ornithology and more! The kids dissect fish, use awesome microscopes to see plankton, and learn about invasive species.

This is SCIENCE! My students leave this experience wanting to investigate more, record their observations, find careers in science. Could you ask for more from a trip? A day of this does so much that the state of Ohio will never assess with achievement tests. The labs reinforce the content 100%. But, the gains in really learning science with this trip is off the charts valuable!

So, will I sleep tonight? Not likely! I am just as excited as my kids...a little more worried about details. But, visions of Stone Lab will be dancing in my head!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Marshmallows and Student Interest

So, right now I have a high school student working with my fifth graders. Claire is working through a program that will help her explore various levels and aspects of teaching. She is on her second round with my students because we begged her to come back to our room for her last experience. We LOVE Claire.
Hearing my students talk about thermal energy and how things expand as they heat, Claire decided to help out with our conversations and learning. She video taped a marshmallow heating and expanding in the microwave. She kept the recording going while she opened the door. My students were able to see the cooling and contracting. Even though she wasn't at school on Friday with us, Claire emailed the video to us.

Now, how awesome is that? This young lady jump started our conversation and learning without even being in the room. My students were so excited to think of ways to repeat the investigation and extend the test. They wanted to try different sizes of marshmallows and check the resulting expansion. They wanted to test different flavored marshmallows, different brands, coated with chocolate syrup, and my favorite...frozen marshmallows. Various microwaves and methods of heating were discussed. They were on a roll, discussing controlled and manipulated variables. What a great discussion!

So, plans for next week are changed, marshmallows were purchased at the grocery, and a microwave is being borrowed! A google doc for investigation design is in the works for student use in setting up lab. Of course, the date of test will HAVE to be on Tuesday. As one of my students pointed out, "We can't do the test without Claire!"

Going with my student interests has always been the best method...
Is there a state achievement test question that will be formatted like this? Probably not. We are not filling in a multiple choice, short answer, or extended response question. It's not in a packet, and it will be quite messy. (I can guarantee that. Can you imagine measuring the expanded marshmallows? HA HA!) But, this is the real science. The problem solving, messy, curious, exciting way of working in the world. And, these are the type of scientist I will be helping to send into the work force.

Also, there may be many messy microwaves over the weekend....Hmmmm.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Student Questions Education

So, the conversation started with, "Why do we have to even come to school if we can find information on computers?"

(This was asked very honestly by a young man in my 5th grade science class. It was asked in all sincerity with no snarky intent at all. This young man wanted to know why the educational system existed as such.). Why did they have to come to my classroom each day for science instruction?

Looking around my somewhat cluttered science room (Legos over here, modeling clay over there, flashlights and wiring equipment popping out over there), my first response was, "Look at all the materials we use to explore science. You need to use all this to really get into science. Plus, you have access to iPads and more to help you learn.". I gestured around the room and felt myself physically deflating. You know that little voice in the back of your head that sometimes warns you of a strike out? Blaring in the back of my head! I knew that my answer was not sufficient, thoughtful, or appropriate for this question, but in all honesty...I panicked. Why did they have to be here? And, don't say compulsory education. (That was my second thought.)

So, I shelved this question. I did what I like to do with a lot of tough topics. I rolled it around in my mind. I talked through the idea on some of my long runs. I tested my ideas out loud once in awhile, and I listened to the people talking education.

(For the record, the conversation started in October and has continued internally since then.)

To my student, Michael, I decided to pose the question again this past Thursday. I started off the conversation explaining that I was still thinking of a question that he had asked several months ago. I was honest and said that I didn't really like my answer that I gave at the time, and that I had been thinking about the question. I wanted to hear his ideas.

"Michael, why do YOU think we have to come to school if you can find all your answers on computers?".

Looking around my still VERY cluttered room, now prisms, PVC pipes, tuning forks, model telephone cups, and thermometers everywhere, Michael didn't miss a beat.

"You help me ask questions I didn't even know I had!"

Oh, yeah?

"I wonder more when you are teaching, and I think about it later. That's more learning than just finding answers on the computer."

AWESOME...phenomenal response from an 11 year old!
Now, is there more than that? I imagine you have more answers, ideas, and ways to react. On my runs, I have developed more. But, I LOVE Michael's answer. Throughout this year, I have tried to give each student the experiences needed to have them leave my classroom knowing that they are a scientist. We celebrate our questions, investigations, answers, and resulting questions. We ARE scientists.

Thanks for questioning the system, Michael!