Updated on January 18, 2014
For the opening day of my STEM course I used this activity, inspired by the following TED talk:
I found it to be a great experience for my students. It was a fun way to start the year and the first step towards encouraging my students to take risks within my classroom. Since this was the first time I met my students, it turned out to be a great way to introduce myself and learn a little about them as they worked through the activity.
There was a lot of success and a lot of failure throughout the activity for my students. In hindsight, I think this activity would have been a perfect activity to document with their smart phones, which is something I will definitely try in the future. The activity also was a good lead in to our first topic, scale and units. For homework I had them research large buildings from around the world and look for similarities in their structures. We opened the next class with a discussion about those similarities and whether or not they noticed them in their own marshmallow tower designs. After this discussion, I had them consider what they might do differently if they were given this task again in the future. I am hoping I can find a random day to do this again and see if we’ve learned from the past or if they’ve improved with working in groups.
You can read more about the Marshmallow Challenge at http://marshmallowchallenge.com/
Cover image from the Marshmallow Challenge website.
Posted on March 25, 2013
Back on February 3rd, I decided that I was going to make a commitment to blog everyday for a month. At that point, I had already blogged for a couple of days in a row. This was a tremendous increase in my blogging and reflecting, having only blogged a handful of times since my ECMP courses.
I didn’t pull through on my blogging for a month straight, but I did manage to post 13 more blog posts over the next twenty days. More importantly though, I found myself reflecting and thinking about things I could blog about. Things I could share. But, it slowly died off and sharing got pushed to the bottom of my to-do lists.
I think there are a number of reasons I didn’t pull through on this. The first reason being that I teach and as a first year teacher I’m still struggling to balance my time between grading, planning, and keeping myself alive. There were also times where I felt that I had nothing to share, and just as many times where I felt that I had a million things to share. It was (and still is) tough to balance out. Sometimes I felt that some sensitive things I wanted to share, but didn’t feel my blog was an appropriate place. My students know that I use online spaces and if they were to check up they could probably easily figure out exactly who I was talking about, even without using names or specifics. A number of times I found myself 3/4 through a post and just couldn’t finish it up in a way that I was happy with, resulting in at least 10 unfinished posts in my drafts.
I understand that these aren’t great excuses, but I hope that by addressing them, I can find ways to work around them and continue to share, reflect, and learn in this space (my blog). Instead of blogging daily, I think I need to ease myself in and share as much as a I reasonably can. The entire reason I got into blogging was to reflect on my own practices and, even though my monthlong commitment was a failure, I have found myself reflecting more and being critical of the things I do as a teacher. This can only be a good thing for my and my students. Whenever I have something to share, it’ll be up here.
Posted on February 23, 2013
A few weeks ago I posted about how I had my science students blog last trimester. Since I am starting a new trimester, I have tweaked the assignment a little.
If you didn’t see the earlier post, my students were blogging about current events in science. They were asked to summarize an article they found and then share how they feel it impacts them, their community, their country, and then the world. It was very successful with my students, evident in their conversations about what they had blogged about that was happening in the world of science.
This trimester, I have a new set of students, with about five that carry over from before. I am challenging my students to include a creative commons licensed image to bring more meaning to their posts. Luckily, the English department at my school does blogging also and requires students to include images licensed this way, so it’s not new to them.
I am also working on setting up a blogging collaboration with another teacher back in Canada. If all goes to plan, her students will do a blogging assignment very similar to mine. And then our students will read and comment on each others blogs. If this works out, I think it will be really neat to see if the perspectives differ from country to country.
The biggest change that I’ve made is that both Mac (the MIT grad student who is collaborating with my class) and myself will be blogging alongside my students. I’m not entirely sure how they will respond to this, but I’m pretty excited to get in there and blog about current events in science with them. I think it will be healthy for my students to see us learning alongside with them.
Updated on February 21, 2013
Full credit for this post goes to Mac Hird (@ImMacHird), who is blogging and collaborating with my chemistry students this trimester. The first blog assignment was to share thoughts on “What makes a good science student?”. Mac’s response is one that I feel all science students should see.
Close you eyes and imagine a science student, as portrayed by popular culture. Almost certainly you have imagined someone who has memorized the entire textbook and never asks questions in class, only answers them. My definition of a good science student is exactly opposite to this.
Good science students are okay with saying “I don’t know,” aren’t afraid of asking questions in front of their peers, and certainly don’t spend the time to memorize the textbook. What has struck this idea home for me the most though, was a passage in Richard Feynman’s book “Surely you’re joking Mr. Feynman.” Feynman was a Nobel Prize winning Physicist, and a personal hero of mine growing up. In this book he details his experience in a graduate level biology course (that he, as a Physicist, was surprised to be keeping up with the other students in the class despite the advanced material that was from outside his field) where he was asked to present a research paper on the nerve impulses in a cat. He began his preparation by going to the library and asking for a “map of a cat” as he put it; a diagram of a cat’s anatomy so that he could make sense out of all of the references in the paper. He then began his presentation outlining the various muscles and nerves. He was interrupted by a biology student, asking him to move on because they had all memorized all of the muscles and nerves in a cat.
His response, which I will never forget, was:
” ‘Oh, you do? Then no wonder I can catch up with you so fast after you’ve had four years of biology.’ They had wasted all their time memorizing stuff like that, when it could be looked up in fifteen minutes” (Page 72, if you are interested)
Here is one of the most decorated physicists of all time clearly demonstrating that it is much more important to grasp the nature of scientific phenomenon and asking questions to improve that understanding than it is to memorize equations that can be looked up in minutes back in the 1940s, and can be looked up in a few seconds today. I try not to make this same mistake in my own studies, and I hope you don’t make the same one!
Couldn’t have said it better myself.
Posted on February 20, 2013
This is the question that lead me to becoming a teacher.
I was a second year university student, further away from knowing what I wanted to do with my life than ever before. I had considered engineering, nursing, business and everything in between at one point or another while trying to decide. But then one day, a friend of mine asked me “What if you won the lottery? What would you do then?” Almost instantly, I said I’d want to teach. I surprised myself with this answer, since teaching was probably one of the few things I had not seriously considered pursuing yet. I had always tutored peers and often found myself thinking about how school could be more interesting and fun as I didn’t pay attention in high school.
To be honest, my vision for being a teacher quickly changed once I started my teacher education. But, this was the one question I can thank for leading me into a career I can honestly say I love.
This Youtube video with Alan Watts narrating reminded me of this earlier today: