Monday, April 14, 2014

What is a scientist?

"What does a scientist look like to you?"

Analysing Castle Rock, Antarctica
Instinctively, I picture a geeky, white lab coat guy, before I draw on my own experience of being a scientist in Antarctica. It's then, that I start to overcome the stereotype and think about adventurers braving the elements to make observations and gather data or specimens. 
The Te Toi Tupu science facilitators asked my PLD group the same question.  Majority, if not all of the teachers described Albert Einstein and, sadly, the same picture is imprinted in google images too. It's, almost, expected that when students are asked the same question, they will described a male with white hair, glasses, lab coat and potions, and they do.  It's hardly surprising when we think of historical scientists as Bell, Newton and Franklin and we watch movies with characters like Q from James Bond, Doc from Back to the Future and Victor Frankenstein. All this information goes towards supporting our impression of a scientist.
So, what does a scientist look like? Well, like you and me! It's vital students recognise this in themselves too, so they are able to grow into scientifically literate citizens.
"In science, students explore how both the natural physical world and science itself work, so that they can participate as critical, informed and responsible citizens in a society in which science plays a significant role." (NZC, 2007, p.17)

Internationally, science educators have identified 3 domains that are necessary for developing scientific literacy (Bell, 2007):

  • A body of knowledge
  • A set of processes
  • A way of knowing
Student's perception of the world changing
'A way of knowing" is less familiar than the first two, but addresses the Nature of Science and is the area I'm most passionate about. It's here that we recognise science ideas as constantly evolving when new evidence comes to light and it's these ideas that bring change. "Science is a way of investigating, understanding, and explaining our natural, physical world and the wider universe, It involves generating and testing ideas, gathering evidence - including making observations, carrying out investigations and modeling, and communicating with others - in order to develop scientific knowledge, understanding and explanations. Scientific progress comes from logical, systematic work and from creative insight, built on a foundation of respect for evidence. Different cultures and periods of history have contributed to the development of science." (NZC, 2007, p28)
By providing students with experiences and then opportunity to reflect and discuss those experiences, we, potentially, influence their values and change their belief systems about the world. With the way information is communicated nowadays, it's important students have the Nature of Science skills and understandings to be able to critique and form their own opinions and make informed decisions, at the very least. However, through the Nature of Science, students can go further and explore, design and create, leading to new innovations and collaborating to solve some of the world's complex problems. A fantastic TEDTalk 'Paper beats Plastic? How to rethink environmental folklore' provides a context for this thinking.
Field Trip to Gisborne Observatory
When we are teaching the Nature of Science, it's important to recognise and acknowledge the backgrounds of individual students and what they bring to the discussion and how this can influence values and belief systems, even your own, if you are open-minded and actively involved in the process of ako.
A year ago I had a student in my class who has Aspergers. While watching the devastation of 2013 Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, I was drawing on students' empathy so they could relate to what the people of the Philippines must have been experiencing. The student with Aspergers had limited ability to empathise and rather than being tied up with emotion, started looking at solutions.  He saw the amount of rubble and timber and began
Performing Tāne me te Whānau Mārama
suggesting ways it could be reused.  I accepted his contribution, but was taken back as I was still sympathising for the people and thought it too soon to be thinking that way.  It was only when I reflected on the discussion that I could see the insight and intelligence this student had around science and sustainability.  I wondered how may times I had ignored what a student was saying because I didn't understand or it wasn't aligned with my way of thinking due to my own background.
Planting trees during Matariki
The same year I was fortunate to go to a Te Toi Tupu Primary Science Hui.  I heard Dr Daniel Hikuroa speak about science and indigenous knowledge. He spoke about teaching using an inquiry driven approach, which offered support systems, provided a relevant context, explored beliefs, methods, criteria for validity and systems for rationality. He suggested an approach investigate Mātauranga Māori and include Māori language. One topic I explore regularly with students is Matariki and during this time of celebration, we look at biodynamics, astronomy, and ocean cycles in relation to science and Māori perspectives. In a multicultural classroom I extend this to all cultures and allow students to be the teacher (kaiako). I've had students from Japan share their knowledge of the constellation Subaru, which is the same constellation as Matariki
Students identify ways Maui was a scientist
Hikuroa posed the question 'Was Maui a scientist?' Through exploration of the legends the audience acknowledged Maui to be curious, creative, challenging and mischievous.  All the elements of a great scientist. Hikuroa stated that it was important that when students think scientist, they think Maui, broadening their understanding of a the term 'scientist'. With this new insight Maui became one of my class' science role models.
When looking at the future of science I hope we can overcome the geeky, white lab coat, guy stereotype and start seeing ourselves as scientists and, as teachers, we open our students' eyes to the Nature of Science, and support them to come forward with their ideas. I look forward to seeing a generation of people who think critically and work together to tackle our world's complex problems and produce better systems. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Let the raisins dance!

I received a text from the students of Room 7 this morning, thanking me for teaching them while their teacher, Mrs Mador, was away. The text put a smile on my face and I responded by thanking them for the shared science experience and what they taught me.
It reminded me of the Māori concept 'ako' and how important it is to thank students for the personal growth they give teachers through the knowledge, experience and understanding they bring into the classroom everyday and share.

This week I was asked to relieve in New Entrant and Year 1 classes. I haven't had much experience teaching this age group and was interested to see what science concepts the students had. 
I decided to teach the lesson Dancing Raisins, which shows air bubbles can cause objects to float.
I began by simplifying my learning intentions and explained to the students we were "learning to be a scientist by using our five senses." 
I had to clarify what a scientist was, as the students were learning about how to manage themselves in a school environment and were focused on giving me answers about friendship, which is an extremely important skill to have even as a scientist. I ended up explaining a scientist was a person who makes discoveries and today we were going to find out how raisins danced. Naturally, this got the students excited and I could see they were picturing the ways a raisin could dance in their minds.
Introducing the lesson took some talking on my part, and to keep the students' attention I used energiser science songs like Hi-5's Five Senses
I got the students to head up their pages with the titles Input and Output. In hindsight I would do this myself and write the learning intentions and necessary information on the input page (see first post for info about input and output pages). The students were developing their ability to form letters and this slowed them down and wasn't a focus for the science lesson.

I gave each student a small science cup, a large science cup and a plate.  I asked them to draw their science equipment to develop their observation skills. 
All material can be found in the party section of any supermarket.
In each small science cup I placed a few raisins for the students to investigate using their five senses.

Lots of talking took place and fantastic scientific language was used. I recorded their language on the interactive board. Once we were happy with our information I moved onto the lemonade. I got the students to be quiet while I opened the lemonade bottles, making sure they heard the sound of the carbon dioxide escaping when the cap's seal was broken. This sound brought great delight and I posed the question 'why do you think lemonade makes that sound when I open the bottle?' Nobody could answer, so I suggested we keep the question in mind while we continued to be scientists.
After pouring the lemonade into the small science cups, students got to investigate the lemonade using their five sense and drew what they saw. Again, students came up with great scientific language to explain what they were experiencing.

I began to set up the experiment and during this time students spontaneously began to share their predictions about what they thought would happen when the raisins were dropped in the lemonade. I quickly recorded their thoughts on the interactive board.
"It's going to explode."

"They will go to sleep."

"It will sink."
"They will dance and pop out."
Students dropped the raisins into the cups and watched what happened. It was lovely to share in
their wide-eyed wonder and enthusiasm for what they were seeing.
After ten minutes of observing and group discussion I brought the students down to the mat to have a class discussion about what they experienced. I repeated the bottle opening with the New Entrants and talked about how the sound is air trying to escape from the lemonade, and asked questions relating this to the dancing raisins experiment. A few of the students could see the relationship with the air bubbles and lead the discussion.
I took this discussion further with the Year 1 class and, together, we researched other 'scientists' work on the interactive board. We looked on Youtube and found a Dancing Raisins experiment. After watching the clip the Year 1s were able to explain how the raisins danced in more detail.
It was a great opportunity to relieve at this level and observe the developmental thinking taking place. The students may be limited by their various communication skills, but they show an ability to grasp scientific concepts and, definitely, renewed my vigor for teaching through their joy and happiness for learning.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Popping poppers make for a party of science

Last year, I had the opportunity to gain professional development in primary science through Te Toi Tupu science facilitators. The focus was developing teacher's understanding around the Nature of Science and the facilitators showed us a variety of science lessons to develop teacher confidence and enthusiasm. Since then, I have started my own teacher inquiry to better understand what it means to develop citizens (students) who are scientifically literate for the 21st Century. 
One lesson the science facilitators showed us was with party poppers. The focus was to investigate how a party popper worked.
Party Poppers

I have taught this lesson to a number of classes and each time get something different from the lesson based on individual student's curiosity.

I begin the lesson by sharing the learning intentions. The class and I have a discussion around what it means to be a scientist. It's interesting to find out students perceptions of a scientist and it is a great feeling to see students' eyes light up when you give them ownership by explaining they are scientists too.
This is the time when we set up our books with Input and Output pages. "When the teacher puts information into your brain, it goes on the Input page. The information coming out of your brain goes on the Output page." (Helpful hints from Te Toi Tupu facilitators)  We have a class discussion around the importance of recording our thoughts as scientists to refer back to later.

Learning Intentions
Now the fun really begins. Students are given a party popper each and asked to follow the success criteria and observe/record what they notice. There is a lot of conversation and this is when I identify and link students vocabulary back to other learning areas of the curriculum. "Wow! I noticed you have used words like shape and design to describe... Can you see how you are incorporating your understanding of mathematics into your inquiry?"
After about 10-15 minutes (depending on the age of the students), I have a class discussion around our 'noticings' and if an interactive board is available, I'll use this to record. Otherwise, pen and paper is great as there is a chance you may go back and look at the recorded information at a later date with the class. A class science book is a great idea.

Input and output pages
When the students and I are recording the ideas being shared, I stress the importance of being a 'safe and sensible' scientist. We have conversations around the caution and instructions label and I pose the question; What is the definition of an adult and young child? Students apply their understanding, experience and knowledge to answer the question and, together, we come up with a collective definition. We, also, look at language like 'a foot'  and 'hold by neck', to clarify any confusion.

Students dissect party poppers
Second class discussion after dissection
From here we go onto dissect the party popper using scissors. Again, I stress the importance of being a 'safe' scientist. I have had party poppers accidentally (and not accidentally) pop. The shock has lead to tears in some cases and we talk about mistakes leading to opportunities. It's here that I get students to compare popped and un-popped party poppers with their 'fellow scientists'.
Students record their discoveries and we discuss concepts around hypotheses and if anyone has an idea about how a party popper works.
It's important to note the NZC Science Capabilities and by asking students to 'compare and contrast' or use 'trial and error' etc, students are exploring ways science knowledge is created and being used in the world.

Popping party poppers outside

Final class discussion
 Finally, students are able to experience popping a party popper. Popping them inside the classroom creates a great atmosphere and students are able to use their five senses better, but if the noise is going to frighten the 'less willing', I'll take the experience outside. I'd rather promote risk-taking and participation by all.  It's during this recording and discussion that great language is used, including words like pressure, force, triggers and friction etc. If the words haven't been used already in the lesson. It is a surprise to the students that they have a lot of scientific vocabulary and knowledge when they are made aware of it.

Student researching
After more discussion around what we have observed we make our final hypothesis and if there is time we will further our investigation by researching information about party poppers on the internet.  Once we are confident we have an answer, we use one last party popper to check (I provide the ratio of 3 party poppers to 1 child for each lesson). Often, students have their own questions which they want to investigate, or using the party popper remains draw and develop their own party popper prototypes. If there is time, I dedicate the rest of the day to this exploration. I even had one student question what research the company had done to design and create the party popper (see photos).

Student's thoughts
Seeing students engaged and pushing the boundaries of their thinking is exciting and it is on days like these that you think 'this is what teaching is about'. The photo is of a thought from a Year 5 student's Output page and says "My original theory was about gun powder mixing with air.  Now I know that is not the case because when it was exposed to air nothing happened."