Reflection on Science Teaching (Order vs. Chaos)

Unfortunately, due to budgetary concerns, the middle school I helped develop will be closing after only two school years. This news, delivered not long after we all returned from Winter Break, came as a shock–not just to me, but also to the middle school students who have been pouring themselves into making our programme great.

To say that I am heartbroken would be accurate; however, I am now moving forward, hopefully in a direction that will allow me to provide support for my students and continue the innovative, inclusive brand of education that I so enjoy.

I’d like to dedicate my next few posts to BALANCE. Balancing teacher and student control. Balancing classroom tidiness with creative chaos. Balancing new technology and old technology. Balancing behavioral management styles. Teachers deal with BALANCE all the time.

Order vs. Chaos

I work in a open learning space with one or two other classes always occurring at the same time as mine. I oscillate between teaching mathematics and science.

At any time, my students have to navigate themselves around a number of ongoing experiments for their science classes. We try to keep them out of the way, but space is finite. Currently, we have a wave simulator (giant bin of water and sand), semi-working Mars rover robot, and pinhole cameras made from matchboxes. Science is a subject based on recorded experimentation. Outside of their lab notebooks, where they practice orderly application of the Scientific Method, the kids focus on proving the various scientific theories and facts that they find in their research.

 

My classroom can look like chaos, and I like it that way. I want them to catch their moments of inspiration and run with them, even if it doesn’t directly feed my plans for the unit. For example, in our Mars unit, the kids are choosing materials to represent the types of terrain on the Red Planet. We found two bags of perlite rocks, and I asked the kids how they want to dye it.

This led to a discussion of the different liquid solvents we have in the classroom: water, ethanol and isopropyl alcohol. From our experiments making soap, candles and molecular gastronomy, the kids already know that the solvent is important.

Now, I could’ve told them how to dye the perlite best to get them back to the project, but this tangential experiment still serves the central purpose of science class. It is inspired, engaging and allows the kids to practice the application of the scientific process.

From the chaos, we find avenues of order. From the explosive forces of creativity and experimentation, we can derive meaning.

This, I think, is authentic learning. What I teach my kids rings true to my experience in lab work and field work. Science is the making of ordered thinking from observed chaos.

The science classroom should reflect that!

 

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Making Math Accessible

As the Grade 8 students move into 3D geometric space, they are learning how to use mathematical notation to transform 2D spaces. Their transformation studies include learning how to use translation, reflection and rotation.

Skills focus

We can translate, reflect and rotate points, lines and shapes on a coordinate graph.
The spatial reasoning involved in learning transformation skills is difficult to communicate on a worksheet, so we started thinking outside of the box. By building two coordinate planes, we created a flexible, 3D graphing space in our classroom. The students have been practicing graphing on this structure, and it has resulted in better performance on worksheets and unfamiliar problems.

The process of building forced learners to break down complex math scenarios into basic parts. Knowing how to transform means understanding how to plot an (x, y) point. Knowing how to plot an (x, y) point means knowing how to build a coordinate graph.

Collaboration means showing understanding and receiving feedback from other classmates. By working together, the Grade 8 students support and enhance one another’s learning.


Math is a universal language that the students at Deutsche Schule Kobe are becoming more fluent in each day. Stick around for more updates from Grades 6 and 7.

Summer 2016 Updates

Short update:

It’s over a 100° F and humid in Japan, so I have been making camp under the A/C in my apartment. This year I will be finishing my graduate courses at Boise State University for Educational Technology and continuing development of the new middle school at the Deutsche Schule Kobe / European School Kobe.

GCE_Badges_02

Thank you @satyadamours for making sure I had a productive summer! Now I’ve got my eye on that Google Innovator Program.

I also just passed the Google Educator Certification, Level 2. So now I can proudly display my new badge for the world to see. Using Google Apps for Education in my daily teaching practice provided me with enough experience to whizz through the test itself, and passing has given me more confidence in my Google skills.

Funnily enough, I learned a lot by taking the test. I am already applying some of the tools and skills that were introduced to me through the test-taking.


 

 

Looking at this next year, I will be working my professional development after a frantic year setting up a middle school program.

To that end, I am wading through the piles of teaching resources I bookmarked to look at “when I have time”. In that mix, I found some great stuff to use this year. I will be sharing my finds here.


Recommendation: ProDivas for Inquiry-based teaching

ProDivas is a resource that provides short, sweet resources for educators. A colleague at work recommended it to me at school, and I came across it today while creating my teacher planner for the year.

One of the areas I am looking to improve on is incorporating inquiry more effectively into my subject-specific teaching. Since I will be moving into more and more specialized levels of science and mathematics with Grade 8, I need to hammer out a plan for balancing higher level concepts and content with the project-based learning my students are familiar with.

This chart by Natasha Hutchins lays out a helpful breakdown of Inquiry Cycle steps into easy to digest, action-oriented parts. I will try to be doing the same in greater detail before the school year starts.

Collecting samples from the ocean

Using their handmade plankton nets, the Grade 7 braved the strong winds and winter weather to gather seawater samples from Suma and Ashiya beach. The students learned firsthand what fieldwork is like for real marine scientists.

Finding plankton at the aquarium

Many of the students have been to Suma Aquarium, but few have looked for plankton there. Many kinds of sea animals begin life in planktonic form, and if you look closely at the water, you can see the tiny meroplankton (animals that are plankton as babies and grow into adult forms) moving around. With that in mind, we made it a goal to check out Suma Aquarium.
We even got lucky because there was a special Clione, or sea angel, exhibit, and Clione start off life as plankton.


Processing samples

After two days of collecting samples, we have begun processing and recording data. So far, the Grade 7 students have found a bunch of zooplankton and some phytoplankton in their wet slides. The kids are excited to continue their search in the next class.

Grade 7 is hoping to discover a new species in their water samples. Anything is possible!