Monday, February 16, 2015

Just an Idea, #scienceinthepics




My idea started in a recent visit to the Kennedy Space Center. I was thinking how wonderful of an opportunity it would be if I could only bring my 115+ science students with me to this amazing place. The history, science, and absolute awesomeness of the event was being shared by...just me. This seemed like a waste. Also, I wanted students to see that I'm always learning. I'm always trying to connect with others, learn about our country's history, and enjoy science.

So, I started sharing photos of my trip on our class Instagram account, @lacrossescience.

It ended up that I got quite a few likes on the photos and videos from students. I even had a nice couple of interactions with students. They were willing to look things up and chat back and forth. 
So, I threw a bonus question out there as well.

This led to my next idea, why not try to get some science conversation going by asking students to share the science that they see going on in the pictures? I was looking for the students to share any vocabulary, themes, ideas, or questions they came up with when they looked at the pictures.

Fortunately, I headed to San Jose, CA over this past weekend to work with members of CASIS (Center for the Advancement of Science in Space). This seemed like a great opportunity to try out my #scienceinthepics activity with the students. But, wait...they are 8th graders, and I better have more incentive than following me on my road (sky) trip! So, I made it into #bonuspointsforscienceobservations. I posted 30 pictures in 48 hours of everything from the view from the flight to screenshots of the weather and sunshine. I even captured pictures during a run in San Jose. I simply used the bonus points hashtag with the picture number hashtag.

What were my results?
  • 20+ students participated in either commenting or liking photos
  • 43 points were awards between 8 students for their ideas
  • Each photo received between 2-8 likes.
  • And, conversation...WOW! The science conversation was riddled with vocabulary and ideas. I was even able to clear up a few misconceptions and get students to do a little research!
These are some of the best vocabulary used...


Instagram is where kids are liking each other's outfits and goofy faces and sometimes less kind actions. So, Instagram!

I think that it would have helped to have announced it ahead of time. I may have had even more participation. For it just being a quick event, I'm pretty happy with the metrics.

I guess it helped reaffirm two beliefs that I've had for awhile. 
  1. I have to meet the students in their arena. They come to my classroom for 45 minutes of their day. Our conversation can continue, and it should. In order to get their buy in, I have to share using their tools. Parents will follow on Facebook (and Instagram). Colleagues connect with me on Twitter. But, for now, students will connect on Instagram.
  2. Science is all around us. It just is. You can see science in every facet of your life. Even a simple photo of an airplane safety procedure can get a student thinking of fluid friction. (The guy holding on to the flotation device...the student response cracked me up! Fluid friction!)

So, yeah...still trying new things out and learning and growing.

Check out our Instagram account at @lacrossescience!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

In the Midst of Madness

Looking over the schedule for the next couple months can be daunting for both my students and myself. In trying to hold, students, teachers, and administrators accountable for maintaining high levels of performance, lawmakers have designed a testing regiment that is enough to shake faith in the public education system. In fact, there are reports of very successful and recognized teachers that are throwing in the towel. Their view and dreams for education are being destroyed by the very same assessment practices that are filling up my calendar like crazy!

Given time to think of all this and what it means to me, my students, my administration, and my community, I find it necessary to give myself a little pep talk. I need to remind myself of what science truly IS and what science looks like in my classroom. I sketched out my ideas in 2 parts. 

 First, what science tools and resources do we use in the classroom? Brought in by grant, provided by my school, or free…these are the ways we explore science. The true challenge and excitement for me is finding the perfect blend for the student. Like a special recipe, what ingredients do I put together to capture my students’ attention, draw them into the conversation, and make them an engaged and valued participant? Not every student needs or wants the same recipe. So, how do I differentiate for 115+ different people? That is an end game that I am still working to perfect! Time, experiences, and evaluating carefully is the key. You can see that the resources and tools are varied. Some are more treasured by students than others. 

Secondly, what do I ultimately want students to believe science is all about? When they leave my classroom, I don’t want them to view science as a 45 minute block in their day. I want them to develop a way of approaching all parts of their world. I want them to appreciate the complexity and beauty in the world by becoming careful observers and having thoughtful interactions with the people, places, and ideas that they will come across. Science literacy is a guiding theme in the classroom. Applying that literacy to the events that occur in their lives is the end goal. You can see from the image that what I want my young scientist to obtain is more general than the standards of my 8th grade curriculum. These guiding principles help me to present the material to my students (hopefully) in a way that supports their understanding, challenges their preconceived ideas, and guides them to finding truth in the world around them. Regardless of the test questions and topics, this is my approach to science.

So, how do I balance the holes that show up in our schedule with the multitude of tests? How do I help students to be as successful as possible in the constraints that these tests apply? How do I help students see a more balanced view of their science growth? 

So many questions. So many concerns. With limits on time and concern for my students, I have to do the best that I possibly can…

Using the tools that we have and my view of what science is, we will review with OUR work samples. During this year, my students have created some fantastic work samples that highlight the science and their understanding and humor. From Toontastic cartoons about the Law of Superposition to Keynote slide shows of topography, we have great review materials. Posters of the geologic eras and videos of Newton’s Three Laws of Motion. Amazing notes in the Paper by 53 app! Flip vocabulary resources that the students have been steadily building all year long…time to bring out those manipulatives that I have stored up! The list goes on…

So, no packets. No drill and kill. I’m just going to remind them of the science that they know and review the approach that scientists take to breaking apart problems. How will they perform on the tests? I don’t know. I do know that in the midst of this madness, I don’t want to lose sight of my students, my craft that I have worked hard to refine, and the science that is so exciting. My personal pep talk continues in my mind.