Monday, June 30, 2014

Play along if you feel like NoS is your truth

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As a reliever, I invade another teacher's space, take over their role and mess with the dynamics of the team/class. I need to be mindful that some students are not going to be impressed with the sudden change and I have an array of positive behaviour strategies to use in each situation.
One of my strategies is singing and dancing and I began one day, with a Year 6 class, by singing Pharrell Williams song 'Happy'. I mentioned to the students how this song has become a symbol of finding the happy moments in, possibly, unhappy times. And here, in New Zealand we are fortunate to have the freedom to think, question and learn. Today would be a great opportunity to do that as scientists.
Hoping everyone was in a good mood I began an investigation on air resistance. A lesson I observed from Te Toi Tupu science facilitators and lessons like this can be found on the Virtual Learning Network.
Learning Intentions
Students hypotheses
After the students set up their books with the input/output model and learning intentions (see previous posts), I started the lesson like the beginning of a magic trick. "I have two pieces of A4 paper. Are they exactly the same? Why do you agree/disagree?" The students concluded it was because they were the same length, width, weight, and came from the same ream of paper.
I got one of the pieces of paper and screwed it up (something which goes against my grain as a teacher of EfS) I asked what direction the paper would mostly likely fall from at a certain height and got the students to record their predictions.
Students hypotheses
A volunteer then conducted the experiment from on top of a chair. Some of the students, who were working hard to be disengaged, started taking notice, but still stayed down the back of the classroom. After repeating this part of the experiment a few times, the students at the front of the class established the trend of the screwed up ball of paper to be a drop with a few bounces followed by a roll.
Next, we got the flat (unharmed) piece of paper and repeated the experiment. I introduced the importance of fair testing, but only as a conversation. I didn't want to detract from the experience and lose momentum. The students recorded their predictions/hypotheses after a 'think, pair, share' session and we got the same volunteer to repeat the experiment again.

Some of the students who were paying attention at the back of the classroom decided to move to the front, where the action was.
Students work on Twitter
I commented on their work and asked if it was okay to take a photo of their recording to tweet out and inspire other students, teachers and scientists. The students were proud to have their work tweeted about and it became a huge buzz when someone on Twitter responded to it, making the class more focused on the task. Social Media is a powerful tool.
The students stated the trend of the flat piece of paper began with a slow movement down which then went from side to side.
This is when I started questioning students perceptions.
"Why does the ball of paper drop straight down and the piece of flat paper glide?"
I got students to 'think, pair, share' their answers to consolidate their reasoning, before discussing as a class. Some students were stuck on the concept of weight, even though we continued to go back to the original two pieces of paper (this is a common misconception and I recommend having measuring scales to help overcome it), some students discussed gravity and others played with the idea of air resistance. Through my question-probing students were able to figure out the cause of the two trends and I was able to observe processes related to the Science Capabilities and Nature of Science taking place.
Blimp-making instructions
After this part of the lesson I'd, normally, move onto making spinning blimps and play with concepts of air resistance through modifying the blimp design. However, I still had a couple of students at the back of the classroom who were not engaging and I knew they were not going to if I were to remain the authority of the lesson. Instead, I decided to hand ownership of the lesson to the students. I explained to them that they needed to go through a process of design thinking to create an object which used air resistance to move and the accountability lay in recording their process. I showed them how to make blimps as a beginning concept and how to research on the Science Learning Hub. At certain stages I stopped the students to see how they were getting on, record their ideas to share with each other and offer inspiration through YouTube clips.
Students air resistance creations
The students loved it and the whole class were onboard. I observed ideas based on students prior knowledge being swapped freely and research was being conducted in collaboration with one another, just like scientists.
At the end of the day we had a presentation where students shared the process they went through. During this time, some of the students identified their failures and if they had more time how they would improve their designs.
At the time I handed over the lesson to the students I questioned whether the science concepts were going to be taught well, or if I should continue the lesson like I intended, with the potential for conflict.
While reflecting on this, a friend shared a TEDTalk with me on Science is for everyone, kids included and it was great consolidation around my thoughts on the importance of play. Beau Lotto mentioned that for us to learn anything new we have to ask the 'why' and in doing so we step into uncertainty, but the best way to learn about the uncertainty is through play. Lotto explained play as:

  • celebrating uncertainty
  • adapting to change
  • being open to possibility
  • cooperating
  • being intrinsically motivated
Comparing the points of play to those of the Nature of Science and the Science Capabilities, they are consistent with each other and tell us that science and play are intwined and, really, are just a way of being.
Upon this discovery of thought, I've realised I need to action more 'freedom to think, question and learn' with students and offer them more ownership and leadership of the lessons to develop aspects of innovation and creativity, so we can all be happy! 

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

I'm not sciency!

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"But I'm not sciency!"

I've heard that statement a lot and it resonates with me because I thought and said similar statements too. Yet, I wasn't half bad at science in school.  My biggest inhibitor was how I perceived myself as a learner.


In the field, Antarctica
Once I'd graduated with a Bachelor of Teaching in 2004, and had been teaching for a couple of years. My confidence grew and ideas about myself started to change. I got involved with Education for Sustainability and this became my passion. However, while developing an EfS programme in the school, I started asking more questions about the world than I was getting answers. This made me question the effectiveness of my teaching and grasping the 'big ideas' from different perspectives. To find those answers lead me back to my childhood obsession with Antarctica. I applied for and was accepted into the Post Graduate Certificate in Antarctic Studies at Gateway Antarctica, University of Canterbury in 2010.
Here, I thought I'd find the answers, but like any science, it lead to more questions. Instead, I went on a journey of discovery which had me identify the biggest barriers to my learning at school.
As teachers, we know what limits a student's learning is their own self-belief, so, for the whole three months of the course I was constantly battling with this and being conscious of what I was feeling in regards to it.  I felt like I was always on the edge of my Zone of Proximal Development. Whether

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is was engaging with expert scientists, earning my stripes in the field or presenting my own work to those same experts. At one stage, due to my self-belief, I had what I can only describe as a panic attack. I had to go home and meditate my way out of it.  I had stepped too far out of my zone.
Since then, I have observed many students step outside their zones and their anxiety has manifested in many ways. Most often disruptive, as a way to avoid the task or the risk which comes from being involved in the task. I've noticed when the student has observed the task being carried out from the safety of their 'time out' area, they do reintroduce themselves back into the work.
Students' experimenting
That's why it's so important to provide science experiences from a young age, not only to build a student's scientific literacy, but also to give them the opportunity to take risks in a variety of different situations.
However, that starts with us as teachers. We need to take risks and acknowledge ourselves as learners with the students. We have a responsibility to provide these experiences to our students as there is the chance they will not receive them elsewhere. We need to get away from our own perceptions of knowledge and start exploring the ways of how we might know, and what's great is by relinquishing the control and opening it up to the students, we receive a variety of ideas based on their individual backgrounds to build from.
The Antarctic experience was invaluable. I expected to gain knowledge to enhance my teaching, but gained insight into being a learner and overcoming my anxiety around the learning process.
Now, I say 'I'm sciency' to my students and once discussing and building our ideas of what science and scientists are, hope they do too. Most importantly, we have fun while doing so.


TEDTalk explaining ideas of science