Elementary Science, Uncategorized

Our Solar System Unit: Learning At Its Best

 

IMG_9455Our third grade solar system unit is more than just another teacher-made, elementary school science unit – it is learning at its best.  Why?  Because it is a whole child approach to education.  This unit does not just address the academic needs of our students.  It presents students with a variety of opportunities to develop and succeed, with the collaborative efforts of educators, families, community members, and local organizations.

There are five main characteristics of this unit that make it so successful:

  1. Interdisciplinary Teaching
  2. Utilizing Local Resources
  3. Collaborating with the School Community
  4. Character Building
  5. Culminating Event

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Our outer space unit is a prime example of interdisciplinary teaching.  We take our science theme and spread it throughout multiple academic disciplines.  We read, write, explore data, study historical figures, create artwork, utilize a variety of technological devices and programs – all involving outer space.

 

IMG_9360-001The culminating event of this unit (which will be described soon) requires accessing amazing local resources.  One of them is the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center.  This fabulous organization is dedicated to providing valuable learning opportunities to visiting schools.  More recently we have had the privilege of securing the services of the New Hampshire Astronomical Society (NHAS).  One of their volunteers, Steve Rand, has visited our school on multiple occasions to provide wonderful presentations and assist us with stargazing experiences.

This unit would not be possible without the collaboration of many school community members.  The long list of people that help make this incredible unit a reality include: the principal, several teachers and paraprofessionals, the nurse, the secretary, the media specialist, the bus driver, the janitors, the kitchen staff, the technology integrator, the art teacher, and more!  And last but certainly not least – we are extremely grateful to the abundant amount of family members of our students who volunteer their time and resources to make this unit and its culminating event a success.

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How does character building come into existence when students are learning about outer space?  In many ways.  First off, students are often working in pairs and groups to accomplish various tasks during this unit.  The ability to work well together is often discussed, practiced, and reflected upon.  Also, the topic of space exploration inevitably covers many facets of building character such as teamwork, courage, perseverance, and grit.  Lastly, when preparing for an entire day of different educational experiences, our students are consistently reminded of their school’s code of honor, and how this code still applies outside school walls.

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Thankfully, as our solar system unit comes to a close, it is not met with sadness but extreme excitement instead.  The “24 Hours of Space” is this unit’s famous culminating event.  Students get to experience an entire day, from Friday morning to Saturday morning, of outer space learning and fun. The day’s itinerary includes a field trip, crafts and games, presenting three completed projects, a potluck dinner, an NHAS presentation, stargazing, and a space-themed movie and school sleepover.  One of the most important aspects of this event is that it presents several opportunities for students to show off, and be proud of, what they have learned throughout the unit.  In many ways during this day their learning becomes much more valid; meaningful.

This year I received an email the day after our “24 Hours of Space” from the mother of one of my students.  She wrote that as her son was leaving the school on Saturday morning, he remarked that our “24 Hours of Space” was “the best day of my life.”  I have received numerous emails and cards that include similar sentiments over the last decade I have helped lead this event.  Comments like these are proof of this unit’s success and importance.  It truly is learning at its best.

Collaboration, Elementary Science

Coast Encounters of the Best Kind

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Who doesn’t enjoy a good tide pooling excursion?  There are so many fascinating and unusual creatures to be found existing solely at the rocky shore.  Kids and adults alike find this ecosystem extremely intriguing.

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Yet the majority of visitors to the rocky shore know very little about the animal and plant organisms they are discovering.  If you wish to explore New England’s rocky shore, you should definitely look up Coast Encounters before going on your next New England coastline journey…you will not regret it!

IMG_3246-001This past Sunday I had the pleasure of experiencing a Coast Encounters excursion.  Carol Steingart, a marine science educator, started her Coast Encounters business around twenty years ago.  She provides intertidal programs that include educational expeditions for small groups at the rocky shore, as well as onsite programs at schools and other locations.  Steingart is very passionate and knowledgeable about the intertidal ecosystem and its algae and creatures.

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Two of my sons (along with another family) enjoyed spending a beautiful Sunday afternoon with Steingart in Kennebunk, Maine. “Coastal Carol” did a great job of preparing everyone for their wet and rocky journey by ensuring they had adequate footwear and a good understanding of how to navigate this precarious, slippery ecosystem.

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Steingart guided us through the intertidal region from creature to creature and algae to algae, providing many fascinating details about each organism that were found.  Our three hour program was so full of facts and fun that it was hard to coax my boys from the shore when our journey was over.  We thoroughly enjoyed the view, the organisms, the adventure and our great educator!

If you want to learn more about “Coastal Carol” and Coast Encounters, the “Tourist News” recently wrote an in-depth article.  You should also check out Coast Encounter’s website and Facebook page!

 

Biomimicry, Sabbatical

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.

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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.

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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!

Curriculum, Sabbatical

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.

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  • 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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Collaboration, Rocky Shore Curriculum

Tuning the Unit – The Rocky Shore Ecosystem Curriculum is Almost Ready for Instruction!

When members of an orchestra tune their instruments before a big concert I imagine there is a high level of anticipatory excitement.  That is exactly how I felt yesterday at the Seacoast Science Center (SSC).

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Radula

I had the fantastic opportunity to spend the entire day with two tremendous employees of the SSC, Kate Leavitt and Sarah Toupin.  The twenty-four lesson, seven-week rocky shore ecosystem unit is complete, but it will not be ready for its debut until a lot of “tuning” has been done.  We spent many hours going over the curriculum with a fine-toothed radula to ensure it aligns extremely well with the Next Generation Science Standards.  If you don’t know what a radula is, you should look it up!

While examining the curriculum we also did something that I was not planning for but am very excited about – we aligned each lesson to the Ocean Literacy Principles.  These seven detailed principles were created by educators from kindergarten through college, researches from multiple ocean science disciplines, education policymakers, science coordinators from departments of education and federal agency representatives involved in education.

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The seven principles were developed to promote ocean literacy: the understanding of the ocean’s influence on humans and our influence on the ocean.  You can find the seven principles HERE.  The correlations between the Next Generation Science Standards and the Ocean Literacy Principles and Concepts can be found HERE.

Besides ensuring that the standards and the lesson content aligned, we also spent a lot of time making necessary revisions to produce a user-friendly document for educators.  A major objective of mine in the creation of this unit is to guarantee teachers that this curriculum will be an easy and enjoyable unit to implement in their classrooms.

 

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The “finished” curriculum should be available at some point in April!  However, my continued hope will be that this FREE ecosystem unit available to all educators will be a “living” document.  As time passes and I receive valuable feedback from educators, necessary improvements will be made to increase the learning experiences of all students participating in the lessons provided by this resource.

A HUGE thanks once again to the Seacoast Science Center for all their collaborative efforts in the development and promotion of this curriculum.

One final question and answer to reflect upon…What did the ocean say to the beachgoers?  Nothing…it just waved.

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Featured Article Image by Adam Kelley
Collaboration, New Hampshire Science Education, Student Teaching

Franklin Pierce University Collaboration

img_5480This past week has been a flurry of activity that did not involve interacting with a computer for several hours a day.  Don’t get me wrong – I am THOROUGHLY enjoying creating a rocky shore curriculum, but it is also very exciting to get back into the classroom and work toward improving science instruction and performance at the elementary level.

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I recently had the privilege of collaborating with Franklin Pierce University’s professors and students.  Professor Doug Gilroy asked me to speak to his Scientific Inquiry and Teaching Methods class, and Dr. Jacqueline Kelleher requested that I talk with the university’s Education Club.  I also had the wonderful opportunity to discuss science and education with the Education Division Chair, Dr. Alana Mosley.

Last Thursday Professor Gilroy’s class focused on learning about what to expect when teaching science at the elementary level.  We covered science instruction, curriculum, professional development and inquiry-based learning.  We also looked at data from surveys like the one below that indicate an overwhelming lack of preparedness elementary teachers believe they possess in terms of teaching science at the elementary level.  This led to positive conversation on what we can do to change that educational shortcoming.

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Professor Douglas Gilroy & FPU Students

Yesterday Professor Gilroy’s class conversed about how to create and plan instruction that promotes engagement and inquiry.  We reviewed different strategies that invoke inquiry, and we also discussed the biggest challenges educators face when attempting to engage their students.  I shared with students my instructional planning method and classroom management fundamentals which can be found on the homepage of this website.

I also had the privilege of meeting with FPU’s Education Club last night.  This was a potential lecture that turned into a question and answer session, and I appreciated this time immensely.  Students were able to ask me any question they wanted regarding education and I attempted to answer them as comprehensively and honestly as possible, because, I believe, collaboration between school districts and postsecondary schools needs to increase and improve in order to comprehensively prepare new teachers to face the many challenges educators encounter today.

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Dr. Jacqueline Kelleher & FPU      Education Club Members

The Education Club asked very thoughtful, challenging and detailed questions on topics ranging from instructing students with diverse learning needs to IEP meetings to collaborating with parents to teacher evaluation processes and performance-based pay.  I am hoping I provided adequate answers that will assist their work now as student teachers and beyond into their teaching careers.

One last aspect that needs attention regarding this collaboration with Franklin Pierce University: yesterday morning I was writing back and forth with the Department of Education and a member of the Subcommittee of the Professional Standards Board, Casey Sylvain, sixth grade teacher at Grantham Village School.  We are working on creating new elementary education science certification standards for New Hampshire educators in efforts to better prepare new teachers and to help guide future science professional development for current elementary educators.

When I explained to the new Director of Science Education, Barbara Hopkins, that I was not going to be able to physically attend the meeting in Concord because I would be working with Franklin Pierce University I discovered an incredible connection:  Barbara Hopkins’ alma mater (Class of 1977) is Franklin Pierce University.  Also, Barbara Hopkins was the 1998 Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical recipient for her project on the development of a scientific instrument sharing system.

How cool is that?!

Collaboration, Curriculum

New England Aquarium Collaboration

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Corrine Steever, NEAQ Teacher Services Supervisor

I have had the opportunity to visit the New England Aquarium several times.  None were anything like the experience I had yesterday, however.  Yesterday I had the pleasure of not only being an observer of a fantastic organization but a collaborator, as I met with Corrine Steever, Teacher Services Supervisor at the New England Aquarium.

Corrine has supported my project to advance science education at the elementary level, as well as my efforts to create a free rocky shore ecosystem for curriculum available for teachers and students.  Her assistance for the past two years in advocating for my sabbatical application was extremely appreciated and needed.

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NEAQ’s Teacher Resource Center Staff

In our meeting Corrine agreed to help with revising and editing the rocky shore curriculum.  She also provided me with a lot of helpful ideas of how to proceed with organizing the curriculum for educators.  The New England Aquarium’s teacher resource center will also be a valuable resource – just as it has been to numerous educators and students for several years.

At the end of Corrine’s letter of support for my sabbatical application process, she stated “Any professional development that will help raise teacher and student knowledge about the Oceans benefits all by allowing a deeper understanding of how to protect the planet.”  And this is perhaps the most important aspect of this project – education that will improve the health of our planet.  The New England Aquarium will certainly prove to be an invaluable collaborator for this endeavor.