Why I Told My Students I Hated Science

I hated science as a kid. I got tangled up in all the instructions. I could never seem to keep all the “-osis” lingo straight. My biology course was the worst grade I received in college (though I still blame that on my husband since that was the semester we met…). Most of all, I just found most of it to be, dare I say it, boring.

Then, I became a fifth grade teacher. Our science curriculum included chemical/physical changes, geological changes in earth’s surface, genetics/adaptation, magnetism, and static/current electricity.

And for the first time, I LOVED it.

I geeked out over our chemistry experiments.

I discovered just how unique the geology of our state is and told my students that geologists all over the globe are jealous.

I played with our magnet sets.

I found myself fascinated by the survival traits and adaptations of animals everywhere I went — actually paying attention to those little plaques at zoos and aquariums.

I started thinking about lightning and static-y socks in terms of electrons.

The very thought of my students missing out on the wonder of it all was more than I could stand. So I shared that wonder every chance I could; but I also told them it wasn’t always that way for me. Why?

Because I wanted them to understand that love of learning is intentional. I wanted them to see what a shift in mindset looks like. And I wanted to let them know that if they found the subject matter dull, we could uncover the wonder together — because I’d been there, too.

Ultimately, helping our students connect with curricula is as much a matter of vulnerable relationship-building than anything else. We need to help them see us in our honest learning journeys if we are to show them how to navigate theirs.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Provocation for Design in Nature

I am a huge sucker for time-lapse. It’s a mesmerizing phenomenon that by speeding up time, we get to feel like we’re slowing down. This is especially enjoyable when it comes to nature, which is why two of the four resources in this week’s inquiry include time-lapse videos.

The concept connections here include pattern, design, geometry, seasons, etc. Time lapse also lend themselves well to the PYP Transdiciplinary unit of “Where We Are in Place & Time.” But the exciting part about provocations is that we have no idea in which direction this might spark our students’ curiosity.

Resource #1: WoodSwimmer, time-lapse by bfophoto

Resource #2: Spring, time-lapse by Jamie Scott

Resource #3: Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature, picture book by Joyce Sidman and Beth Drommes

Resource #4: Animation Explores the Beautiful Circles of Our World, video by National Geographic

Provocation Questions:

  • How are change and patterns connected?
  • How are form and function connected in nature?
  • Why are there so many different designs and colors in nature?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry into Color

Color. Seems like one of the more straight-forward aspects of our world, but lately, I’ve come across several resources to make me wonder. And since that’s what these provocation posts are all about — inviting wonder — I thought it would be fitting to dedicate a post to color.

At first glance, you might think an inquiry into color would only have applications in art, but it is much more rooted in the social and physical sciences than I would have guessed! So take a look and see what might inspire your students to dig into the deeper concepts for their next unit!

Resource #1: The Black Book of Colors by Menena Cottin & Rosana Faria

How do you explain color to someone who can’t see? A fascinating picture book of raised images to represent the different colors!

via Amazon

Resource #2: “Kids Describe Color to a Blind Person” by WatchCut Video

Speaking of color and blindness, check this video out of kid attempting to explain it to a man who is blind!

Resource #3: Colorscope series from CNN

The Kid Should See This has compiled all the videos into one page here.

Resource #4: The World’s Deadliest Colors by TedEd

Provocation Questions: 

  • How does color work in our society?
  • How have the perspectives on color changed over time?
  • What are reasons humans care about color?
  • How has human fascination with color impacted our world over time?
  • How is color related to perspective?
  • What is the relationship between color and human health?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Provocation into Possibility

We stick so closely to the known facts and conventions all in the name of preparation (whether for testing or for becoming grown-ups in general) that I wonder if we sometimes limit our own capacity to push what might be possible in the future…

Resource #1: How to Unboil an Egg, by Ted Ed

Years ago, to help my students better understand the difference between physical and chemical change, I created a Prezi that included frying eggs as a clear irreversible change because it is a chemical change. But in the video below, the word “yet” simply radiates the pioneering spirit that has brought and continues to bring most scientific advances to the world.

Resource #2: Balderdash!: John Newbery & the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books.

This picture book will take you and your students back to a time when the accepted custom was for children only to read books of rules, study, or religion — until John Newbery changed all that.

Provocation Questions:

  • What does it mean to be a pioneer?
  • How does pioneering differ across different subjects (science, history, etc.). How is it the same?
  • What is our responsibility to ask questions?
  • Why might some worry about questioning the way things are already done?
  • What is pioneering like in the 21st century?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

On Perfection & Imperfection: A How The World Works Provocation

This is part of a series of of IB PYP units of inquiry provocations. For more, click here.

The PYP unit, How the World Works is designed as:

“An exploration of the physical and material world; of natural and human-made phenomena; of the world of science and technology.”

I believe one of the biggest overarching concepts — stretching across the “physical and material world” –is the concept of perfection. We search for it. We strive for it. We pay billions for it. And yet, it remains elusive.

Moreover, imperfection possesses its own beauty — the persistence, the originality, the innovation.

Below are three resources that could take your class in many different directions as they explore the idea of perfection/imperfection in the world around them:

Resource #1: Unsatisfying, by Parallel Studio

Resource #2: Forms in Nature

Resource #3: Audri’s Rube Goldberg Monster Trap

Provocation Questions:

  • Why is imperfection so much more common than perfection in the world?
  • How do people respond to imperfection? Why?
  • What is the purpose of imperfection in nature?
  • What is the purpose of imperfection in human’s creations?
  • What does the growth mindset have to do with perfection/imperfection?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

7 Videos That Will Prove That Science Rocks

It seems like there are a thousand videos on every known scientific topic, with most hardly more engaging than Ferris Bueller’s Day Off‘s econ teacher (“Anyone? Anyone?”). But every now and then, we stumble across something truly inspiring. Here are seven that take my breath away–and may they do the same for you and your students!

Inner Life of a Cell (3:12)

When I was first introduced to this video nine years ago in my college biology course, I actually cried for the beauty presented. This animation by Harvard University and XVIVO is every bit as moving now as it was then. Click here for the full 8 minute version with labels. 

The Miracle of Life (12:15)

I came across this video when my daughter asked for details about her little brother’s growth in-utero. It may or may not have been what prompted her to contradict our storytime librarians when they explained that mammals don’t come from eggs… But at any rate, this detailed animation is a wonderful way to show a baby’s journey from conception to birth, and to inspire the wonders of life science.

The Known Universe by AMNH (6:31)

This astronomy animated film takes viewers from the Himilayas all the way to the furthest reaches of the known universe–and then back again. It is an incredible way to orient students to our minuscule relative position in space. A similar, but shorter video can be found here, entitled “An Animated Flight Through the Universe.” It is not labeled, so students may not understand what they are seeing, but it is beautiful nonetheless.

Massive Black Hole Shreds a Passing Star (1:02)

You’ll probably want to watch this brief NASA animation more than once.

Why Do I Study Physics? (3:14)

This is a phenomenal stop motion sketched animation by Shixie. It addresses one student’s complex relationship with the subject of physics in a personal, playful, and thought-provoking manner. 

Beautiful Chemical Reactions (6:30)

Witness various examples of eight different chemical reactions, sped up to view every intricate detail. Published by L2Molecule.

Animation Explores the Beautiful Circles of Our World (2:06)

This video could make a thrilling provocation or conversation-starter for students studying shapes, nature, patterns, and more.

What are other high-quality science videos you’ve come across? Please share in the comments!

featured image: Bureau of Land Management

3 Reasons We Hate Science Fair–And How to Fix It

The day my school decided to move science fair to sixth grade instead of fifth, we all cheered–students, teachers, and parents alike. Years later, I’m reflecting on the root of our mutual animosity toward the project. And it seems to come down to three problems–and solutions!

Lack of Teacher Modeling

We ask students to dig deep. To ask questions that don’t have an answer yet. In short, to go beyond comparing popcorn brands. But how often do we model how we develop our own original questions? Share our honest, raw wonderings? Demonstrate our process of Googling to refine an idea?

Creativity and innovation are skills, and science fair projects are an advanced exercise of these skills. If we expect our students to suddenly showcase skills we’ve never helped them cultivate (or worse, that we’ve never cultivated ourselves), we are setting them up for failure–or just another diaper absorbency project.

  • SOLUTION → Metacognition: MindShift recently wrote about 5 inquiry tools to help students “learn how to learn.” These metacognitive strategies encourage students to honestly reflect on their own learning processes and emotions when facing challenges (see also “Smart Strategies that Help Students Learn How to Learn”).
  • SOLUTION → Teach questioning: If you want students to ask “measureable questions,” teach them how to do so long before introducing science fair. Strategies like frequent use of Visible Thinking protocols trains students how to develop and refine their questions. (see also Tubric).
Lack of Existing Student-Driven Project-Based Learning

The science fair should not be an isolated experience of students taking ownership over and driving their own learning process. If it is, it’s unlikely that many will rise to the freedom in ways that will fuel their passion and motivation.

  • SOLUTION → Project-Based Learning: Make it your next weekend project to create one new PBL opportunity. Guides like this one found on Edutopia can help you get started.
  • SOLUTION → Student Voice & Choice: Mindfully consider your students’ choice and voice in their day-to-day learning. When we gradually let go of control and allow our students to steer the learning, they will grow in confidence and self-understanding.
Lack of Engaged and Authentic Audience

Even if students do manage to find a passion-driven project, how often does their work ever go beyond a cardboard trifold display in the gymnasium (unless they happen to move on to regionals)? Too often, we only allow our students small sips from locally limited audiences–when we could lead them to the very fountain of global conversation with our fingertips. It’s time to throw open the floodgates and watch what happens when our students swap ideas with peers, scientists, and experts across the world.

  • SOLUTION → Student Blogging: Encourage your students to blog not only the final presentation, but their entire process along the way. Then, teach them how to ask for feedback to fine-tune their ideas.
  • SOLUTION → The Wonderment: This is an especially wonderful platform for younger students to collaborate safely online.  They can upload photos, videos, and text, asking questions and getting inspiration from kids around the world (see other excellent blogging alternatives here).

Let’s break the mold of hating science fair this year. What are some of your strategies to do so?

Featured Image: Andria via Flickr