Earth in Verse

I heard a snippet of Maria Popova’s “The Universe in Verse” and was inspired to do something for Earth Day this year.

Students were challenged to find a photograph of nature that made them feel happy and one that made them feel sad, and then to write a poem about one or other photo: Nature Light and Dark. I suggested they start with a descriptive phrase and go from there. Here’s the example I shared.

Why something so art-y and subjective/imaginative in science class? Because what you feel is what you remember and what you care about. And the world desperately needs young people who care about the state of the planet, who care to learn about it and do something, and know how to get others to do so too. It’s a lead-in to a unit on environmental science coming up.

They were free to use photos from their phones. They could also do a Google image search from a growing list of science terms that have something to do with nature. For the happy photos, they looked up images of places that they love. They picked an issue that they were especially concerned about as a search term to find a photo that made them sad. Here is the slide template I shared with them via Google Classroom.

It was lovely to watch them so completely absorbed, showing each other pictures on their phones, had to set a few boundaries – no selfies, or pics primarily of their pets. Resort pictures are not really wild ‘nature’ and that’s an important consideration these days where the wealthy get this manicured view of nature inside giant resort enclosures where the surroundings are often seriously impacted – Cancun springs to mind.

A bit of counseling to avoid the first image that pops up so we don’t see the same thing over and over. But also a lovely opportunity to roll the chair around to each group and listen in, encourage, help and coach. What IS a ‘good’ photo? – one that makes you feel something. In sharp focus, with ONE main thing that it’s about. But other than that, you sort of know when you see it. Some students are so schooled in ‘the right answer’ that it’s hard for them to know and trust their gut when it’s appropriate. And what is ‘good’ poetry? Another huge question but for the purposes of today, I suggested the following: It’s what is true for you. Write first whatever comes up from the photo that you feel most strongly about. THEN edit. Don’t worry about rhyme unless it comes easily. Consider the sound and rhythm, the meter of the words and the punctuation. Read it aloud. Does it sound right? Edit.

Students wrote their poem on the third slide and then copied and pasted their work onto a slide set for the class so it automatically made a slide show. Today, they read out their poems with the picture that inspired it behind them.

Here are the best poems and pictures in a Google Slideshow.  Kids would love it if you commented and said where you are writing from!

 

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May 15, 2019 at 8:22 PM 2 comments

The Freedom to Fail…

is central to success. ?!

Leading the lesson with that caused looks of confusion in my somewhat stressed students as we near the end of a major project. It’s important for me to realized too. I have to allow students to choose to fail. If there is no possibility that anyone will fail, success has no real meaning. And I am making myself responsible for all student work and taking on the onus. Plus it would make me super-stressed and really (even more) annoying, nagging them to death and um, treating them like I didn’t trust them.

Of course I’m going to support students, check in with them, break down tasks and deadlines and most importantly, talk to each individual group in this last project-work lesson. “How are you?” “What’s your panic level?” “What is next on your check list?” “Want me to look over your written section for suggestions?” (note NOT to re-grade stuff, that entirely changes the vibe.) “What are your plans to get this done with each other at home?” I also go round and distribute the rubric for the finished project to keep them focussed on what is required. Having kids share documents for color printing is a good way for me to give a last look at their work too.

We had a bit of a laugh looking at Tim Urban’s TED talk “Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator” too.

I thought they would be tempted to spend way too much time decorating their poster board or to stick on random pictures just to make it look pretty. But in fact it was more like they didn’t want me to bug them – too busy getting it done.

It is SO hard to resist the urge to nag, require, boss and take over their decisions. I feel like a bad teacher if they are just standing about chatting when they could be working. Especially students who have been struggling. But when I think of how I learned not to procrastinate, I had to really feel the pain to make a change worthwhile.

I used to let grading pile up by the end of each quarter and then have a last-minute, late night frenzy, giving kids grades based on what was bad because I was too tired to notice what was good and give encouragement. Then they’d get their work back weeks after they did it, and would only look at the grade and not pay any attention to the other feedback. It was all long past. So it damaged relationships with my students which then resulted in tense parent exchanges too. It was ultimately enough pain to start to challenge the urge to procrastinate.

But the other piece was more positive: Barbara Nagle, a former chemistry teacher and mentor said that she was really curious to know how her students had done on an assignment right after they handed it in, and I noticed that’s when I was most motivated too. So I tried it after a particularly brutal end-of-term grading thrash. There’s also when I started to made more careful decisions for what to grade and not to grade. I write rubrics and/or a model answer for most pieces of work now. But I also just get on with it, (the mantra of – British psychotherapists 🙂 grading work often during seat work time in class, which allows me to give students one-on-one verbal feedback to save me the time of writing it down. Plus tone of voice can soften criticism to become coaching, and if I lead with curious questions, I often uncover what was going on with a child who’s done a horrible piece of work. Saves accidentally smacking a kid down when their dog has just died etc.  I know. It was sometimes horrifying how close I’d come to doing that in the press of work and hurry and stress.

I do have one student who is driving me crazy right now – bright, friendly guy but does nothing. Nothing. Just hangs out and shoots the breeze with anyone who will listen. I keep talking to him – checking he gets the big picture and try to help him feel how great it would be to have a project to show his parents etc. Come to think of it, I have two more who will probably end up with nothing much. Worked with them all today trying to structure tasks with them, one piece at a time. One did quite a bit and gave me a hug at the end. The other drew a picture of an eagle instead… But would nagging them make any real difference other than window-dressing with a ‘project’ that was basically done by me/parents/special ed colleagues? And would it do actual harm – helping to form entitled, lazy and ultimately unhappy young adults?

I do feel that it’s a genuine gift – the freedom for my students to feel the pain, visualize and to choose to avoid it, or learn from it. It’s good for me to remind myself that I’m in it for the bigger goal of preparing them for their adult lives, and it’s good for me to grip the controls a little more lightly – like riding a mountain bike over rough ground.  It’s not a free-for-all, it’s not chaos. My feet are definitely not up on the desk. And there are boundaries – no distracting other groups for example. And no chopping worms in half. But that’s another story.

 

 

March 21, 2019 at 3:25 PM Leave a comment

Welcome to the Earth Exhibition!

We’ve been trying to make the timeline of the Earth riveting for ages for our 7th grade scientists. Geologic ages. Finally, we called on our local 4th and 5th graders to the rescue.  Here’s what we did, ‘learning opportunities’ and all, so you could try something similar to get an authentic audience for your next PBL project.

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Developing teaching materials to engage younger students is very motivating for our students and at 7th grade, it’s wonderful to get them outside of their heads and their dramatic social lives. They were so excited to be doing something real, for real kids and also to see their beloved elementary teachers again.

We probably should have checked with the principal of the elementary school BEFORE launching the project challenge with students – “Write a story in a geological setting to be read out loud to elementary students. Then make a slide show to show the science behind it.” Here’s the overview of Rock a Story Set in Stone including links to examples, templates and rubrics.

We had a second project we wanted to share at the same time “Teach the timeline of the Earth using an interactive model or game that will engage elementary students.” Here’s an overview of the Timeline of Earth Project.

We were lucky that both the principal of our school, and of the local elementary school agreed um, in principle. With the proviso that the experience be interactive and not just a show-and-tell.

We made a little slide show of kids making the exhibits (open with QuickTime), plus links to a couple of the best projects to send out as an invitation to our elementary colleagues teaching 4th and 5th grade classes. We were also lucky to have a 6th grade colleague who agreed to bring her students in to fill in the gaps when we couldn’t find enough elementary classes to come in. Ideally, you need one class of ‘audience’ to one class of ‘teachers’ to have the classroom feel vibrant and to minimize the number of students standing around without an audience.

We set up a Doodle for teachers to sign up and amazingly, some did, walking their classes over the mile or so in the threatening rain, taking a valuable hour and a half from their busy curriculum. We invited admin and counselors too.

Here’s the lesson plan we used. fullsizeoutput_44d4A 45 minute class was a perfect amount of time. 5 minutes intro, 30 minutes for kids to share stories (in 3 little ‘pods’ around the edge of the room), share their exhibit or play their timeline board game. The board games were the big hit by the way. I was not expecting that. Then at the end, we ran a Kahoot where 7th graders each found a younger student or two to pair with. That was super fun and a great way to end the class – the last question asked what they’d liked best about the day and all the alternatives were right. Here’s a link to the Kahoot we used.

Next year, we will re-do the schedule so that elementary classes can visit all our classes – 7th graders felt much more comfortable reading to children a couple of years younger rather than 6th graders. Younger students asked more questions and were more visibly thrilled to be there too. Also great to connect with our elementary colleagues who seemed to think it was so wonderful that they will tell their colleagues at our other elementary schools to build momentum for next year when we’ll invite all elementary schools (this was a trial with our nearest elementary school). We might also move the story telling circles to one classroom so it’s easier to hear. But otherwise, we are tired but pretty happy at the end of this slightly crazy day.

 

 

 

January 11, 2019 at 4:51 PM Leave a comment

Model the Formation and Structure of the Earth. In one easy lab.

I used to think that geology was basically memorizing the layers of the Earth, and boring collections of rocks. Like most middle school science teachers, I’m a biologist by training and now I have to teach it with the integrated NGSS courses mandated in California. I’m getting more and more excited about the subject matter as I learn more, and hopefully passing that on to my classes.

I dreamed up this lab to help teach the underlying big-picture concepts for both layers of the Earth and an intro to plate tectonics. It went really well. Kids seemed lit up by the concepts and of course, stirring stuff and poking warm wax. I’m excited to share it with you. Not so excited about cleaning up the wax all over almost everything. But worth it. Really 🙂

So welcome to the sawdust, wax, sand and water jam-jar model of the Earth’s formation.

THE SET UP: Grate candles. Get sawdust (or beans will do) and sand. Have a couple of kettles. Boil ahead of time so the water is hot but not boiling. Have some non-slip oven hits. Have a box of ice. A quarter cup measure is handy for the sand and sawdust, a tablespoon of wax is enough. Mason jars or other heat-safe glass jars, one per table. Have a tub for students to wash out jars at the end so that wax and sand does not clog your sinks. Wash out the jars between each class.

SET THE CHALLENGE:

How did the Earth Form? – brief pair-share discussion to expose prior knowledge.

How does the Jam Jar Model relate to how the Earth formed and to the layers of the Earth? – The title they wrote in their journals.

THE DIRECTIONS:

Demonstrate: Put a scoop of grated candle wax, a scoop of sand and of saw dust in a Mason jar. Show how to use the hot water safely but don’t do that step or you’ll give it away. Have students wear eye protection when shaking or swirling the mixture.

Have one student from each group get the materials cafeteria style, Swirl it up. Add very hot water. Swirl some more. Let it settle and cool in the middle of the table. (Don’t do it for them, stop short of showing what happens.) I had students complete a poster of the layers of the Earth if they didn’t have enough to do – this is really a one-kid demo.

Show a video clip like this one from National Geographic “Birth of the Earth”, first 11 minutes.

Have students figure out how the settling and cooling ingredients relate to the real events that geologists think led to the formation of earth and the tectonic plates.

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Whiteboard lesson plan

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Students guessed the stages of earth’s formation on whiteboards

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As they waited for settling and cooling, they worked on earth layer posters

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Cafeteria-style collection of materials

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Comparing the model to the Earth layers.

 

SAFETY: Demonstrate how to use the hot water from the kettle – pour when the jar is on a counter or sink. Swirl, rather than shake up. Use eye protection and an oven glove during this process.

WRAP UP: Ask/discuss/write answers to these questions:

Why did the layers form? Use words like floating, sinking, density and buoyancy. The denser sand sinks to the bottom, then the sawdust, then the water and the least-dense wax floats on top. 

Compare the layers in the jam jar model to the layers of the Earth in a ‘t’ chart and/or as a diagram. See the illustration above. The densest minerals ‘sink’ to the center of gravity in the center of the Earth. The crust is the least dense – basalt and granite ‘float’ on top of the slowly convecting mantle minerals. 

How does this model relate to plate tectonics? The wax layer is thin and will break if there are currents swirling beneath, like the tectonic plates over the much more slowly convecting plastic mantle. 

How is this model NOT an accurate representation of the formation of the earth and it’s layers? The shape – it’s not spherical. The water is much more liquid than the mantle which is more plastic and convects very slowly. The sand is not radioactive and made mainly of iron and nickel etc. 

 

January 7, 2019 at 5:43 PM Leave a comment

Kid 2 Kid Puerto Rico Solar Oven Project

With the power taking so long to be restored in Puerto Rico, solar ovens could be really helpful.  So we tweaked the solar oven project to challenge students to engineer a solar oven out of household items that 7th graders could easily find and assemble.

  1. We started with a do-anything, make-any-old solar oven with no guidance. They got the hang of it, and some experiences to link the physics of solar ovens to. The challenge was to heat 60ml of water the most in 2 minutes. I provided boxes, pizza boxes, mylar survival blankets, masking tape, magnifiers, scissors, cling film and other office supplies I had lying around as they asked. This playing around piece might sound like a waste of valuable academic time but it really does make the rest of the learning and the engineering go MUCH more smoothly. It’s also straight up more fun for me – I hate having to over explain stuff and boss around kids who don’t quite get the instructions. Obviously, I keep an eye on safety and circulate all the time to answer questions and give encouragement/re direct. The level of engagement is so high that there are very few discipline issues – the chaos that seems to be implied is way less than you’d think.

2. Then we studied some physics on a need-to-know basis:

 

a. Energy transformations in appliances, toys, pets and cars to review concepts they learned in earlier grades.

 

b. We had to review the definitions of energy and matter with a card sort, this time on a continuum, rather than one or the other. Much easier this way.IMG_1624

c. Light and optics lab to learn about reflection and refraction using light boxes.

 

c. Students researched ideas from other solar ovens being used in the world – in developing countries, by off-the-grid homesteaders, by campers and even by The Chef in his solar oven episode.

3. They put together their knowledge of physics and already-invented solar ovens and designed new solar ovens to fit the challenge with a second build day.

4. All the ovens were tested for effectiveness (temperature change of 60ml of water in a bean can).  Good to repeat the test to iron out data collection issues. I have kids put the ovens by temperature rise rank on the black top so we can easily compare and contrast them.IMG_7364IMG_1727IMG_2179IMG_2961IMG_1731

5. We evaluated the ovens on the use of easily available materials, and on ease of assembly and use. Then we combined the best ideas – what do you think? Think, pair, share. Each class came up with a design that was based on one of the top two or three

6. Apply for a job in the How-2K2K Video Production Company. Here’s the list of jobs. The application was a half page for them to say why they wanted the job and why they would be good at it. IMG_5485

7. Review and test on the science concepts we have been applying – optics, spectrum green house effect, energy transformations. Students see the test and use it to guide their review – I’ll use different solar ovens and energy transformers for the real thing.

Here’s the test and answer sheets.

8. Make the How-To video.

This was harder than saying ‘Hey kids, now you know your jobs, make a video.’ Who knew? After some false starts (chaos 🙂 I grouped kids by their jobs and briefed each group on what I expected. The director(s) were only in charge of the filming.

It’s a good idea to let the ‘how to’ group re-assembling the solar oven rehearse first with the camera people. Maybe one to record a time-lapse, one to videotape and one to take stills.

Props was the hardest job in the end. Students had a really hard time getting past ‘we don’t have a steel bowl at home.’ end of story. Went over how to solve a problem like that and one mom did go out in the evening to actually buy something. Ugh, not what I intended. I used the props people as floaters to fill in for other jobs that arose.

We talked about ‘finding something useful to do’ if they had spaces of time when their job was not immediately needed. What a great life skill.

It was really hard for the directors to assert themselves with their peers, as it is for most of us.

I allowed a catch-up day for editors, script writers and any other crews to finish off their jobs. Much better than a rubbish end product.

9. The Kid 2 Kid Solar Oven How-To Movie Premiere!

Here’s one of our best videos from Period 7

Here is the link to our other videos. And from Marshall Sachs’ classes too.

 

 

 

 

October 31, 2017 at 2:44 PM Leave a comment

The Hurry-cane Help Project

An engaging, upbeat (and manageable) way for students to respond to humanitarian crises!

Continue Reading October 4, 2017 at 9:21 AM 1 comment

Weighing in on Google and Chrome books

Using Google Classroom with Chrome Books for the first time and reacting to the NY Times article “How Google took over the classroom”.

Continue Reading May 21, 2017 at 7:47 AM Leave a comment

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