This trimester I’m teaching an introductory chemistry class. When I was planning out the class I wanted to find a way to really try to engage my students in science in one way or another. At first, I decided that we would blog about what we were learning in class. But then, I realized it was going to be a tough sell to get my students to blog about the very elementary topics we would be covering. I can’t imagine trying to convince students to blog about unit conversions and old atomic theories being an easy sell. So I went back to the drawing board and really started to think about why I wanted them to blog in the first place.
First off, I wanted to bring the reflective and critical thinking aspects of learning into this class. Sometimes, I think this gets overlooked and pushed to the side in science courses jam packed with curriculum to cover. Secondly, I wanted to increase the scientific literacy of my students and give them the tools and thinking skills to be well informed people. I have found on many occasions that people hear science news that they don’t fully understand and start to make mislead conclusions. In general, most people aren’t that great with talking about and understanding science news. This TED talk by Melissa Marshall may shed some light on why this may be. This video helped encourage me to create the blogging task that I am currently using with my students.
What I came up with for my students is simple: Once a week they have to find a news article about a scientific topic, a topic of their choice. Pretty much anything goes. They have to briefly summarize it and then share their thoughts on it, including how it affects them, their community, their country, and the world. In an attempt to create a small network of science learners, they also have to comment on two of their classmates blogs each week.
Does it “fit into the curriculum”? No, it doesn’t. I’m not going to pretend that it does. But my students are now reading news about scientific discoveries and inventions and they’re thinking about how it affects them. We are five weeks into blogging and trends are starting to emerge on their blogs. Some are talking about global climate change, some focusing on the mysteries of deep space, and all of them are starting to find things they are interested in, instead of the first article they find. The commenting has also really evolved since the beginning. Students are beginning to ask good questions and engage in conversations they may have never had.
Before we did this, most classes started with students chatting with one another about the weekend or their homework load from other courses. Now, I come into class and they are asking each other about their blog posts and sharing the “cool” thing they read and wrote about. I’m even finding myself keeping much more informed about things and ethical discussions about some of the topics are even starting to emerge. I can tell you it’s a great treat to start class talking about something new and exciting happening in world of science and engineering.
I would love to share the blogs with you, but I haven’t asked my students if they are okay opening them up to the rest of the world. Hopefully after our break, we can have this conversation and share them with you also.
Are there any other teachers out there doing blogs like this? I think a neat next step might be seeing this network of science news blogs grow to include other schools around the world.