Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Science Extension...Electing to Follow Interests Part 1

It's almost been a year since my last blog post. I'm not thrilled about that, but I recognize that life can speed up in a heartbeat! Parenting has been a massive challenge for me. Home improvement is sucking the life right out of me. And, my science and tech world hasn't slowed down at all! I appreciate all of this, but just can get overwhelmed. So, lately, my platform of sharing ideas has been through FaceBook, Instagram, and Twitter. It has been easy to share a picture or video with a short narrative. Ultimately, I'm trying to make my way back to this space for journaling, sharing, reflecting. My blog title is Conversations: Learning and Growing, and I believe that this type of writing has a more impact on me as a reflective learner.

 Here goes...

Science Extension Class:

I'm really excited about a new class that I'm teaching this year, my Science Extension class. My principal, Chad Carter, worked with our school schedule to allow for a rotating, 6 week course that students attend. We were asked to brainstorm how we would use these 6 weeks with students. With the 7th grade Science teacher, I brainstormed an extension class that would ultimately give students the support to run through their own "science fair" type of investigation. Supporting the students as they work through their questions, engineering challenges, building projects, or any topic that they are curious about has been my focus in that class. My job...help identify resources, narrow down focus, supply materials, pose questions, answer questions, and generally stay out of the students' way unless support is needed.

 My students have shown a range in passion. This is just a quick list of where the first 6 week's of rotation has brought us:

  • designing plant walls
  • researching how cosmetics are tested
  • learning to code
  • building a dog house
  • designing a prosthetic leg for a dog using 3D printing
  • learning to sew and creating a line of dog products
  • getting answers to questions about our solar system
  • testing light in different classrooms to see impact on plant growth
  • designing and 3D printing a container for hair accessories

  • creating a Friday Science news show (Link for a sample video)
  • creating a model of the Wheel of Fortune game show set with little Bits
  • dissecting (link to Instagram video)
  • and so many more!
I am absolutely loving the variety. Students are taking what interests them and designing projects that allow them to follow that interest. Seeing the investment in most students really leads me to believe that this type of independent study should be a reoccurring class for students as they progress through our school. Getting an opportunity to pave the way, make mistakes, recover, and keep moving forward is such a powerful pathway.

I titled this blog "Part 1" because I have a list of moments in this class that have caught my attention and felt worthy of blogging. Who knows if I will return with a Part 2, but I wanted to share a super cool story for a couple of students.

Bella...and her (probably not going to happen) prosthetic leg:

This is a favorite for me, partly because it involves Bella and partly because the multiple connections.
Two students, Faith and Jenny, decided that they wanted to develop a prosthetic leg for Bella in Extension Class. Bella is a 3-legged Pomeranian/Chihuahua mix that lost her leg years ago in an accident. She actually gets around fine with her little hopping motion. She even chases down our Alaskan Malamute, Leo. So, she doesn't really need a leg, but based on another students successful process with this a couple of years ago, I had a feeling the project would be worthy. It has been awesome!

The girls started out by just meeting Bella. They watched her walk, even taking video and discussing her hopping motion. They measured Bella and recorded all the details about where the leg was amputated. Then, the girls started doing research on prosthetics. They looked at materials, connectors, and possible structures. 

With some designs and ideas, I directed the girls to check out the virtual reality dog dissections on the zSpace machine that we are piloting in the classroom. Faith and Jenny were amazed at the connectedness of the muscle, bone, nerves, and blood flow. By just manipulating the zSpace simulation, they gained so much information and knowledge. The machine was also wonderful for a Prosthetic Lab simulation. The girls were able to investigate the structure and composition of prosthetics in more detail. Win! 

From here, enter Jon Jarc. Jon is a high school teacher that I consider a guru on many topics, but in this case I knew that he would be an excellent resource for my young scientists in the area of prosthetics through 3D printing and the mechanics of the device. I set up a Skype call with Jon and turned over the teaching to him! What an excellent collaboration. Jon chatted with the girls for about a half hour sharing his thoughts and recommendations. He asked them guiding questions to help them make discoveries on their own. When he held up the prosthetics that his students were making for children, it was an amazing connection. I couldn't have asked for a better moment for those girls. This really authenticated their work. It brought focus and possibility to their ideas.

Moving forward, the girls have used the sewing machine for creating a harness. (Link to Instagram video) They have used 3D printing for initial prototypes in the leg. They have worked with testing various material for strength, weight, and flexibility. The work is definitely on going. With every hurdle, the girls are discussing, problem solving, and referring back to their resources.

Will the leg get finished in time for the 6 weeks? Probably not. Does it matter? Maybe a little. I know that the girls are invested and hopeful. We will probably have to get Bella to make some more appearances in the classroom, which is just fine for me. The kids LOVE her, and she has some unintended pay offs for students.

So, following interests, passions. That seems to be a key in this Extension. I'm loving it. Not all students have had this awesome of an experience. Some students look less at following their interests and more at making time with peers. These projects don't always have the pay off or end well. I'll share about those too. But, my conversation...where I'm learning and growing...moments of success make all the difference for me. This Extension Class has had some awesome moments in it that have helped keep my heart in education.

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