Sunday, April 27, 2014

10 Tips on How to Revolutionize a Science Classroom

I could write an entire book about revolutionizing a science classroom. By no means am I perfect-- I am not. This year was the first year I was granted 90 wonderful minutes a day to incorporate science rather than 20-30, so... I had to dig deeper into what invigorates a science classroom.

This year, I learned a lot, to say the least. Out of all the subjects I teach, I have learned the most about science over the course of a decade. Entering the classroom, I had never been a phenomenal science student, to say the least-- I earned As for the most part, but very little of it had stuck with me. Prior to high school or perhaps the eighth grade, I recall minute snippets of my science instruction. 
  • I do not remember ANYTHING I did in science prior to fifth grade, except in fourth grade, it was my least favorite subject along with math because I had never done a science experiment in school. It would actually ALWAYS remain my least favorite subject along with math until I entered the classroom, though I took a college geology course I enjoyed. 
  • In fifth grade, I recall one experiment taste-testing activity. My teacher put out Dixie cups filled with Coca-Cola, a generic Coke-like beverage, Sprite, and a generic Sprite-like beverage, I believe. She then proceeded on blindfolding us and asking us which beverage we preferred more. I recall the generic beverages "won". 
  • In sixth grade, I do remember learning about plate tectonics, the Marianas Trench, and Pangaea. I do not recall any experiments from that year, though. 
  • Seventh grade science impressed me in the least. 
  • In eighth grade, we watched Bill Nye the Science Guy on more than one occasion. I really enjoyed that teacher a great deal-- she was quite engaging and awesome. I remember doing a few collaborative activities in that class and really enjoying it, though I do not remember what I learned about at all. 
  • In ninth grade, I dissected a fetal pig in Biology Honors and received a score in the 50s because I was incredibly grossed out. I literally still recall where I was in the classroom and having to stick labeled flags on the dissected pig. In sophomore year, I took Anatomy and Physiology Honors and really found it quite fascinating, though I never felt like I was adequate in science for some reason, so I opted out of taking Chemistry or Physics. Our class salutatorian even received a C in Chemistry Honors, which immediately convinced me I would receive a D or lower, so I was intimidated out of my wits because he had always been an immense genius. 
  • The only year in science that I IMMENSELY enjoyed was eleventh grade when I took Marine Biology. At first, I knew I was opting out of taking Chemistry and then Physics, but something attracted me to that class. That was the year I learned to appreciate dissection-- we dissected sharks and starfish. We also got to sample octopus and squid. That was also the class where I developed unconventional methods for studying-- and our teacher had taught us fabulous methods for filling up information on an index card that we could use on our tests. 
How many labs did I participate in from grades K-12? I would like to say around ten, probably eight of which were in high school. It was not a significant amount, though. I remember participating in the school and district science fair competition in elementary school (somewhat against my will), though I progressed to district competition in the third and fifth grades. I have a few wonderful trophies in storage, but it was not for anything my teacher had done with the class. Class science fair projects were not required back then, I believe, either, so... I defined science as... 

Beyond boring. Book work. Sometimes over my head. Exhausting. Irrelevant. As I mentioned, I always did extremely well in Science, though it was not my preference. 

Why? I am a visual-kinesthetic learner, and though I am a proficient reader who has decent study skills under my belt, I was just acquiring information for the sake of taking a test and getting an A or B. I recall sitting through lectures and being somewhat quiet in my classes. I convinced myself I would never need the information again because I was not entering the science field. 

I didn't enter the science field, though I entered the education field and am teaching aspiring scientists. I am also teaching gifted students, some of which possess a greater wealth of knowledge about science than when I was in high school. Over the course of my teaching career was when I learned the majority of what I know about science. 

I convinced myself from about my fourth year of teaching that I was not going to make science a dull experience for my students, so I began delving into a great deal of research online for resources that would captivate my students' interest. I specifically went to the educator website for the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Ology from the American Museum of Natural History, NASA's education website, the education section of the Exploratorium website, and PBS Design Squad

For quite some time, I still possessed some gaps in my "scientific schematic database". Since I network with a great deal of science educators and people who possess a powerhouse of knowledge about science, I am embarrassed to type what I did not know about until perhaps a few years ago. However, I overcame those shortcomings and am now starting a domain dedicated to science education. 

The Exploratorium best states what a model classroom for scientific inquiry "looks" like::

1. Children view themselves as scientists in the process of learning. 
2. Children accept an "invitation to learn" and readily engage in the exploration process. 
3. Children plan and carry out investigations. 
4. Children communicate using a variety of methods. 
5. Children propose explanations and solutions and build a store of concepts. 
6. Children raise questions. 
7. Children use observations. 
8. Children critique their science practices. 

Here are my tips for revolutionizing a science classroom:: 

1. Go places. Attend events
  • Visit local and national science museums. Visit their websites and see what they offer for education. Head to national parks as well. Here is the educator website for the American National Park Service, which offers tons of resources for educators. 
  • NASA Socials are available for people who have social media platforms. They used to be called "Tweetups" because they were geared toward individuals on Twitter. However now, people can also utilize Google+ or Facebook rather than Twitter. I guarantee you do not have to be grandly established on social media to be accepted into the events, too, because I wasn't that established when I attended the GRAIL tweetup in September 2011. 
  • Not everyone knows Space Camp is available for educators. The price is pretty high if you attend the week-long camp, but there are options to attend for a shorter duration. There are also options to apply for a scholarship about a half a year in advance-- check in the fall if you may want to attend the Space Academy for Educators the following summer. Aside from meeting up with educators, you can also head there with your family, or if your district permits it, your students. A few reasons why Space Camp ROCKS: The Educator Center is PHENOMENAL and offers SO many gorgeous resources, you have the opportunity to participate in a mock mission and ride simulators, and you get to complete exciting hands-on labs with other educators. 
  • There is also the option of joining the NSTA and attending their awesome conferences. I plan on attending the one in Orlando, Florida this November. 
To captivate your students' attention, bring back awesome souvenirs, photographs, brochures, posters, etc., and display them in your classroom. This opens so many doors for discussion. 

2. Have your students go places. Have them attend events
  • Of course there are expos as well-- which are simply the best, especially when they are free. The University of South Florida Engineering Expo and the Mini Maker Faire at the Orlando Science Center are wonderful (though they are in Florida), and then of course, there is the U.S. Science and Engineering Festival in Washington, D.C. (If I had my own school, we would head to Washington, D.C. every year for a week to attend and visit the Smithsonian museums.) 
  • Discuss opportunities for summer camps and internship opportunities with your students. My friend Glenn used to work with high schoolers who interned at Goddard Space Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Let families know about the plethora of possibilities that are out there and how attending can be a possibility, even when budgets are a bit tight. 
  • If your students cannot go places or attend events, bring in guest speakers to enhance their learning experience. Ask around-- see who within your network of friends may have a connection to someone who works in a science field. 
3. Now for the hardest hurdle to overcome-- Incorporate labs in your classroom. 

I know, I know. You don't want something to go wrong. Not all your students are phenomenal at reading instructions. They may misuse the equipment. Something may spill. Something may take too long to accomplish-- and take away from the time where they can be acquiring content by reading passages, taking notes, and answering questions. Yet, guess what? SOMEONE needs to expose them to how to properly use equipment. Someone needs to show them how to stay within a time limit. Someone needs to explain the importance of following directions properly, understanding the purpose, and taking proper measurements. And even better, someone needs to show them what the world of science looks like beyond the pages of a book. I think once a student completes a lab for something, they are then in MUCH better form to take further notes or respond to questions. 

Where can you get GOOD labs? The sites I mentioned have decent inquiry-driven labs. The ones I am about to mention are beyond superior as well--
4. Think about the type of questions you ask your students. In how many of the questions are they applying themselves? Or are you asking them to... regurgitate information instead? Here is an article from Edutopia called "The Five Features of Scientific Inquiry". Beyond that is the NSTA's explanation

5. This may sound schmaltzy, but put up EPIC decor in your classroom that is science-oriented. Have awesome bobble heads, cool .pdf posters you printed out from the Internet, magnets using science quotes you located on Pinterest, images of scientists with googly eyes, Space Camp Barbie, NASA stickers... whatever you can locate. Don't distract the living daylights out of your students or make the fire marshal's eyes bug out of his head when he makes his annual visit, but have enough to captivate your students' interest. 

6. Do you use videos and music with your students? I use MP3 Rocket to download science videos, particularly Mr. Parr's science songs. I have MANY fifth grade students who are VERY musically inclined. They love singing along with these videos when I show them. When I told them there was a way they could download the videos at home, they were ecstatic. It is wonderful to have many ways to make content presentation memorable. I think the huge difference I will make in presenting these songs next year is having a printable of the lyrics in the students' science journals. 

7. Do you have students analyze other students' experiments? I have kept experiments over the years my students have completed... and I have also printed out examples of experiments from students in the Selah School District in Washington because they have a plethora of middle school projects showcased online. My students have solidified their understanding of what is required for a top-notch experiment by analyzing other peoples' experiments. 

8. Do you relate science to real life for your students? For example, let's say you are discussing minerals. Well, my infamous New Balance brand rainbow shoes that I wear every Friday are comprised of minerals! Beyond that, a lesson on force and motion can become so much more relevant when roller coasters or sports/sporting events like the Olympics are discussed. When you find a way to engage your students (part of the 5E model), they are hooked. 

Here is an awesome video I found on the Teaching Channel regarding Making Science Relevant with Current Events

9. Communicate with science teachers online and see what they do in their classrooms
10. Last, take baby steps in making science a more invigorating experience. For every standard you are required to cover, locate at least one song, video, lab, and inquiry-driven lesson. Peruse Pinterest and perhaps create a science planning board on there that others can see. There are also so many other boards you can link to for planning purposes. I have boards called-- Elementary Science, Elementary Science Expo, and Gathering for the Science Planning Team (for the science domain). 

Hoping the best for you as you plan a sensational year of science with your students! 

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