Category: Sabbatical

BiomimicrySabbatical

Biomimicry: Innovative Imitation

IMG_3543The Kearsarge Cougars STEM Camp is an incredible two-week experience for middle schoolers of the Kearsarge Regional School District.  Participants have the opportunity to enjoy a variety of exemplary educational workshops from computer programming to bridge building to laser cutting and SO much more!  I had the privilege of being a presenter this past Friday – one of the last scheduled events of my sabbatical year.

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When I was asked to be a part of STEM Camp I wanted to make sure that I was taking my sabbatical’s focus, the rocky shore ecosystem, and creating a seminar for students about the benefits of studying biology.  I have always been fascinated with the many mind-boggling characteristics the organisms of the rocky shore display.  They live in a harsh environment, so it is imperative that they have their superhero-like features.  It was when I was studying the blue mussel a few years ago that I came across biomimicry.

velcro

Biomimicry, not yet recognized by Microsoft Word as being a word, is the innovative process of human problems being solved by imitating solutions displayed by nature.  One prime example of biomimicry that many people are aware of is the invention of Velcro.  Human problem: fastening objects quickly and effectively without the use of adhesives.  Nature solution: cockleburs.

When I discovered that blue mussels produce byssal threads that are stronger than our Achilles tendon, can adhere to objects underwater, and are flexible at the same time, my first thought was that humans need to mimic this amazing adaptation.  After a quick Google search I found out that scientists were already on it: a soy-based, waterproof adhesive has already been invented in the process of biomimicry.  Engineers and scientists have yet to determine how to copy a byssal thread’s ability to be simultaneously strong and flexible, however.

So what did our STEM Camp workshop focus on?

  • Defining biomimicry
  • Discovering examples of biomimicry
  • Determining the importance of biomimicry (when confronted with a human problem, ask “Has nature already solved this problem?”)

Students learned about many examples of biomimicry via photos, videos, games and demonstrations:

 

Human Problem

 

Nature Solution

 

No strong, waterproof adhesives Blue Mussel Byssal Threads
Many deaths due to hospital infections Shark Skin
Bullet trains are too loud Kingfisher Beak
Large buildings are difficult to cool Termite Mounds
Fresh water is difficult to find Desert Beetle
It is hard to see proteins in the blood  Fireflly Enzymes
Industrial fans are too loud, expensive Humpback Whale Fins
Birds fly into our windows Spider Webs
Vaccines don’t survive transportation Tardigrades (aka Water Bears)
Adhesives hard to remove, make mess Gecko Anatomy

If you are curious about biomimicry, the problems and solutions mentioned in the table above are extremely brief and uninformative, so I encourage you to do some online investigations of your own.  Feel free to peruse the presentation I created below as well for more detailed facts.

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I cannot conclude this article without profusely thanking Rana Gupta, CEO of Felsuma LLC, as well as University of Massachusetts professors Duncan Irschick and Al Crosby.  Gupta provided me with extremely informative information about GeckSkin™, the technology that was invented by Irschick and Crosby.  I was able to relay this information to the students during my presentation.  The professors and Gupta also provided me with excellent GeckSkin™ products to share with the students that imitate the technology they created in their lab.  Gupta, Irschick and Crosby are not only invested in their impressive invention, but they’re also very invested in education, and I am very appreciative of their assistance and expertise.

STEM

Lastly, I wanted to take the time to acknowledge and applaud the efforts of the many people behind the Kearsarge Cougars STEM Camp (particularly Dom DiDominic and John Corley) for creating a fantastic experience for their campers.  What really makes this STEM Camp extra special is the strong bond of community that resonates from every lesson and activity.  Local businesses, community leaders and educators all play a vital role in the success of this camp and the education and enjoyment it provides.  Well done, Kearsarge!

Rocky Shore CurriculumSabbatical

Creating Critters at Andover Elementary

“Imagine visiting the rocky shore off the coast of New Hampshire during low tide and then mysteriously shrinking to a minuscule height of two inches.”

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When posing fantastical situations like this one to a classroom full of third graders, the creative and analytical juices start to flow with incredible force.  Imaginative scenarios can excite and engage students, creating a thirst for knowledge and sparking innovative ideas.

Recently I had the privilege of visiting the third grade classrooms of Andover Elementary Middle School in Andover, New Hampshire.  I presented the storyline above (referencing Ms. Frizzle and her magic bus), and then I posed the following question: What dangers would you face?  The answers that followed either reinforced prior knowledge about the rocky shore, or led to an understanding of the type of chaotic environment rocky shore organisms face every day.

Fran

After our brief discussion of rocky shore challenges, I read a fabulous book, “Between the Tides” by Fran Hodgkins.  This non-fiction book for children does an excellent job of describing several rocky shore creatures and the many characteristics they have that enable them to survive their ecosystem.  It has beautiful illustrations, fantastic yet simple vocabulary, and its length is perfect to be an entertaining read-aloud book.

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With curiosity sparked and knowledge disseminated via Hodgkins’ story, it was time to guide students in what has become one of my favorite activities for elementary students (Lesson 7 & Lesson 19).  Students are asked to use their prior knowledge and ingenuity to “create a critter” which would be able to survive the rocky shore.  This is a life science meets engineering science lesson that can also double as a formative assessment.  Students are only provided with five index cards, scissors and Scotch tape for their creation.

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It is always a wonder to me to see what young minds can come up with in a short amount of time with short notice of their create-a-critter challenge.  The bright and enthusiastic Andover students came up with a variety of incredible creations including combinations of actual rocky shore animals – and one student had the impressive notion of using the tape as an actual sticking agent to help its critter to hold on tight to the rocks!  Everything the students built, in one way or another, reflected their understanding of both the dangers of the rocky shore, and the adaptations animals need to survive this harsh environment.

THANK YOU Mr. Hubbard and Mrs. Peters allowing me to come and visit your classrooms for an afternoon.  It was a pleasure and an honor to be able to spend time with your awesome and intelligent students!

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New Hampshire Science EducationSabbatical

New Hampshire Journal of Education Article

After having received an “EDie” because of being this year’s Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical recipient, the New Hampshire Journal of Education contacted me and requested that I write an article on a subject related to my project.

My project this year has been geared toward assisting and encouraging elementary teachers and student teachers to be better prepared to provide effective science instruction for their students.  The topic of my article focuses on providing statistics of NH’s student performances over the last several years, as well as ideas on how we can improve our science instruction (particularly at the elementary and collegiate levels).

I’ll refrain from writing anymore about it and encourage you to read it instead:

How New Hampshire’s Educators Can Stimulate Growth in Science

CurriculumSabbatical

Nearing the Finish Line

It is hard to believe that a year ago I was preparing for the end of the school year and getting ready to embark on my sabbatical journey.  Now there are only a couple months left in my sabbatical year and time seems to be washing away faster than the tides!

The Last Month:

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  • April 14th was the “release date” if you will of the marine science unit I created collaboratively with the NH Sea Grant, Seacoast Science Center, illustrator Adam Kelley, Hobblebush Design and the New England Aquarium – located on the homepage of engageyourstudents.org.

Carol Steingart

  • Carol Steingart, a local marine science educator and former Gulf of Maine Marine Education Association (GOMMEA) president, promoted the curriculum at a National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Conference in Los Angeles, California in April.

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  • More recently I had the privilege of promoting this curriculum at the New Hampshire Science Teachers Association (NHSTA) Spring Conference.

 

The Next Two Months:

  • I will be seeking out New Hampshire educators who are willing to pilot this curriculum so that I can take their feedback and build upon and refine the curriculum.

 

  • Next week I will be teaching a couple of lessons from the curriculum to students at the Andover Elementary Middle School.

 

  • I will be traveling with docents from the UNH SeaTrek Programs to schools around the state in order to learn from them and promote the curriculum.

 

  • The Seacoast Science Center (SSC) and I will be collaborating to create a workshop or two centered around the curriculum I am offering, as well as planning ways to promote the curriculum – including having it available on their website.

 

  • I will be teaching a few summer institute classes at New England College and Keene State College in late June.

 

  • The Kearsarge Regional School District’s Middle School has asked me to present at their STEM Camp this July and I was more than willing to participate!

 

  • I will be presenting a workshop at the New England Aquarium on July 30th.

 

I am so grateful for all of the people who have encouraged and supported me throughout this sabbatical.  I know it is not over yet, but as I near the finish line I can’t help but begin to lament how quickly it has passed, and at the same time reflect on how thankful I have been for this amazing opportunity.

 

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Rocky Shore CurriculumSabbatical

Three Pivotal Numbers

Good morning!  I am writing a very brief blog post this morning to celebrate three specific numbers associated with my sabbatical project:

1,000 – Engageyourstudents.org, the website I have created to track the progress of my project’s objectives and to be a home to the complete and published rocky shore curriculum has already reached 1,000 hits!

hits

4 – This morning I “googled” the following words: rocky shore curriculum. Engageyourstudents.org came up fourth in a list of 117,000 results!

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1 – Although not yet complete, the Rocky Shore Marine Science Curriculum for elementary educators has one complete cover page – special thanks to Adam Kelley (illustrator) and Kirsty Walker (designer) for creating this incredible cover!

cover

Although I have many more lessons to write, many more schools to visit, and many more objectives to carry out before my sabbatical is through, I find it extremely important to recognize and be thankful for each accomplishment, big or small.

CollaborationSabbatical

Behind-the-Scenes: The Unseen Action

craftsMany of my friends who are not teachers often don’t know how to approach the “how is work going” conversation.  They have no clue what elementary teachers do for the most part, just as I have no idea what many of my friends actually do all day.  Assumptions abound, however, regarding the responsibilities of elementary educators – such as the presumption that we are continuously preparing arts and crafts projects.  And my favorite conversation go-to: “You have a vacation coming up, right?”  Right…

There are NUMEROUS behind-the-scene responsibilities of teachers many are not aware of, and I am hoping some big-wig director decides to create a documentary on the day in the life of a teacher someday to inform the unaware.  Until that day, friends, you’ll just have to believe me – professional educators do A LOT more than you might think.

Now on to the objective of this post – to share with you some of the behind-the-scenes aspects of my project that are currently happening:

  • Illustrator Adam Kelley is currently working on the cover page of the rocky shore ecosystem curriculum (the first draft is the featured image of this blog post).
  • Kirsty Walker, president of Hobblebush Design is currently working on formatting the curriculum.
  • Mark Wiley, Assistant Director of Marine Education at UNH is reviewing and revising the curriculum.
  • Kate Leavitt, Director of Mission Initiatives at the Seacoast Science Center and the education team at the SSC is reviewing and revising the curriculum.
  • Corrine Steever, Teacher Services Supervisor at the New England Aquarium is reviewing and revising the curriculum.
  • Pam Castor and Wendy Corbyn, elementary educators from KRES at Bradford, are going to be reviewing and providing feedback on the curriculum.
  • Plymouth State University – I am meeting with student teachers for the third time next week to assist them with science planning and instruction.
  • Keene State College – currently in discussions of how I can assist their student teachers.
  • Franklin Pierce College – currently in discussions of how I can assist their student teachers.
  • New England College – currently preparing a 2017 summer institute course.
  • Hillsboro-Deering School District – in a couple of weeks we are meeting to discuss how I might assist their educators and students.
  • Hopkinton School District – currently in discussions of how I can assist their educators and students.
  • Last but not least…I’m currently working on my twelfth lesson out of twenty-five lessons for the rocky shore ecosystem curriculum I am developing for New Hampshire educators and beyond.

That’s what is currently going on behind-the-scenes with my project, in a “seashell.”

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“The Rocky Seashore” by my son, Gabe

SabbaticalServing the Community

The MainStreet Marketplace and Gallery: The Place to Be

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Have you ever discovered an amazing place and you have torn emotions of selfishly wanting to keep it to yourself, yet unselfishly wanting to shout your discovery from the rooftops?  I recently made this type of discovery while searching for a place to work on my sabbatical project.  Despite selfishly desiring to wait until my sabbatical year was over to exclaim my find, I could not in good conscience keep my discovery a secret.

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So far I have managed to work in a hodgepodge of settings, yet one stands out as the premier place to be productive.  The MainStreet Bookends of Warner is a great bookstore…no, a FANTASTIC bookstore.  Katharine Nevins and her family have created an incredible business that has wonderful products, delightful ambience, and without a doubt the friendliest service around.  But there is an out-in-the-open secret that is rarely tapped of its sweet goodness cozied up to the back of this bookstore: The MainStreet Marketplace and Gallery.

The Marketplace and Gallery is an ideal location if you are seeking out a quiet and aesthetically pleasing atmosphere.  Here is a list of the many attributes this bookstore hideaway has to offer:

  1. Seating – several beautiful tables and chairs to choose from
  2. Artwork – several local artists’ illustrations and handcrafted items line the walls
  3. Coffee – delicious coffee from the Woodshed Roasting Company along with fresh half & half from the Contoocook Creamery is available with a $2 donation
  4. Quiet – away from noisy traffic and the hustle and bustle of in-and-out customers you will find rare and invaluable tranquility
  5. Wi-Fi – a strong internet connection awaits to provide your connectivity needs
  6. Setting – the lighting and artistic surroundings provide a cozy and peaceful locale
  7. Events – amazing authors and talented musicians visit here often

So…as much as I’d like to keep this place to myself and its loyal guests, you REALLY should visit the MainStreet Marketplace and Gallery if you are seeking a beautiful and serene place to work, read, and write, or a place to relax with a friend.

You will be thrilled if you do!

 

Elementary ScienceSabbaticalStudent Teaching

Plymouth State University Collaboration, Part One

calm

Whenever you do something for the first time, there is always a mixture of excitement and nervousness brewing inside.  The amount of anxiety and anticipation is dependent upon the imminent venture, of course.  Last week, when I was teaching my first college class at Plymouth State University (PSU), my ninety percent excitement level turned into about a ninety percent anxiety level quickly when some of my corny jokes and 80’s references fell flat.  However, the students at PSU were remarkable and respectful learners and Dr. Elisabeth Johnston was an excellent educational collaborator – and I am pretty sure my lesson was clear and well-received.

The main title of my lesson was “What to Expect When You’re Teaching Science.”  I created the title with the “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” book in mind (having seven kids requires books like that in your household).  This lesson outlined one of my main objectives during this sabbatical year: to help better prepare student teachers for their future science teaching experiences.  Here is one statistic from a 2012 National Survey of Science and Mathematics Education that vividly shows the need for more science professional development for future and current elementary school teachers:

prepared

Eighty-one percent of elementary teachers perceive themselves as very well prepared to teach reading, whereas 39% of elementary teachers perceive themselves as very well prepared to teach science!  Perception is important, because if you do not feel prepared to do perform a task, when faced with that task you more than likely will not fare well.  Our students need us to feel and be prepared to teach every academic subject.

inquiry_2

Despite the State of New Hampshire being continually lauded for being in or around the top ten in academic subject ratings compared to the rest of the United States, there is still data out there that shows that there is definitely room for improvement.  The one area of science in which students need the most growth in is inquiry skills.  The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) defines inquiry skills as “practices,” using a term that covers both the content knowledge and inquiry skills required to successfully solve a problem and / or design a better solution.  Inquiry skills (or practices) are the students’ ability to “formulate questions and hypothesize, plan investigations and experiments, conduct investigations and experiments, and evaluate results.”* Considering this definition, is there any wonder then as to why future (and current) educators need a lot of experience and training to teach science effectively?

Here are ten tips I developed to help early childhood student teachers be better prepared for science instruction (available here as a pdf).  I believe it can assist current elementary educators as well:

  1. Seek out science professional development opportunities
  2. Advocate for beneficial curriculum and supplies
  3. Refine science units and student experiences continuously
  4. Elevate your profession by knowing the data and taking action to improve science education where necessary
  5. Embrace students’ questions and allow for discovery
  6. Excel in your science knowledge to teach effectively
  7. Allow mistakes and messes
  8. Reflect on your students’ successes and failures as well as your own – and act upon them
  9. Request observations and feedback on your science instruction performance
  1. Strive for science to be an enjoyable and successful experience for all of your          students

I’ll conclude this post with a 1987 movie clip from Planes, Trains, and Automobiles that I played for the PSU students, as one example of what teaching science is like when unaware that you’re unprepared:

*definition from New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP)

CollaborationSabbaticalStudent Teaching

The Cycle of Education: Students Becoming Teachers

PlymouthNH PlymouthStateU RoundsHall.jpg

Education is cyclical.  Preschool students become elementary students.  Elementary students become middle school students.  Middle school students become high school students.  High school students become college students.  AND…college students become teachers of all of the above (some, anyway).

When examining how to improve the educational experiences of our public school students, we need to look at the collaborative efforts being made (or not made) by all of the parts of the education cycle.  To some degree, all of these institutions leveled by age communicate with one another.  This communication is vital as educators inform each other of what they are doing, so that they are ensuring smooth transitions from one school building to the next – or at least they should be.

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The one lug nut that may need to be adjusted and tightened the most in the education cycle is at the collegiate level.  I am NOT implying that education departments are not doing their jobs – far from it, actually.  What I am suggesting is that the communication and partnerships between collegiate education departments and public schools need to increase – starting with public schools seeking out opportunities to assist their local colleges and universities where there are needs.

A few weeks ago I met with Elisabeth Johnston of Plymouth State University (PSU).  The department of Early Childhood Studies at PSU is transforming the student teacher program into extremely valuable opportunities for aspiring educators.  Instead of the run-of-the-mill student teacher experience of 1) observing a classroom, 2) taking on some teaching responsibilities, then 3) teaching a classroom solo for a week or two, the program collaborated with schools around New Hampshire in order to produce better prepared teachers for our students by creating a yearlong internship.  During the fall semester the interns spend two and a half days a week and in the spring semester they will be working with the same mentor educator five days a week.

Student teachers from the Early Childhood Studies department at PSU will be able to work with public school educators from day one – actually in some instances before day one – in order to become the best first year teachers they can be.  They will work side-by-side educators to see the process of preparing for a new school year and be a part of the first several weeks of school with all of the challenges and adjustments that go with it.  Lastly, their student teaching experience of taking on the responsibilities of classroom teacher will not be a small, isolated event but another valuable collaborative opportunity in which they will work a significant amount of time in the classroom, co-teaching with an experienced mentor educator.

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This year I am excited to be working with Elisabeth Johnston and her students during my sabbatical to help better prepare them for what to expect in regards to teaching science in the primary grades.  We will also work together on the how-tos of effectively planning and implementing science instruction in the classroom.  Because the importance of assisting early childhood majors in the areas of teaching reading and math are so high, topics such as science and social studies inevitably receive less attention.

Yes, the first people responsible for guiding students teachers down the right path are their professors.  However, elementary, middle, and high school teachers and their districts should also start considering putting “help local student teachers where there is need” near the top of their list of responsibilities.  This will, without a doubt, ensure a healthier education cycle.

 

Rocky Shore CurriculumSabbatical

Time to Create and Illustrate

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If you’re going to make a book, you need a talented illustrator to make great pictures to go with it.  The PERFECT illustrator for the free rocky shore ecosystem curriculum I am creating for educators is on the job – Adam Kelley.

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The sea stars really aligned when I found out about Adam.  I contacted a publishing company in New Hampshire a couple of years ago to see if they would be willing to help me make the curriculum.  They quickly recommended Adam as an illustrator who would be a good fit for the project, and is he ever!  Despite my choice to go with a different publisher (Hobblebush Design), Adam readily agreed to continue to collaborate on this project.

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Adam describes his three passions on his website as being “science, art and education.”  He has taken his passions and talent and worked with SEVERAL incredible institutions – the Georgia Aquarium, the Connecticut Science Center, the Smithsonian, the Perot Museum, the Franklin Institute, McGraw-Hill and more!

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The best thing about Adam, however, is his character.  I’ll be honest with you – I was quite nervous meeting him for the first time.  I figured an accomplished illustrator like Adam might have an air about him which suggested my project and I were beneath him.  Was I ever wrong!  Adam is not only enthusiastic about this project, he is one incredibly kind and down-to-earth guy who loves his family, his work, and nature.

As you may have guessed, I am extremely thankful for Adam, his abilities, and his willingness to work on this project.  He is going to be creating an amazing cover page and spot illustrations for the rocky shore curriculum.  Stay tuned as I will be providing more updates on our collaboration in the near future.

Adam’s Website: http://adamjamescp.com/

 

all illustrations above by Adam Kelley