Friday, April 27, 2012

The View From Our Window

Phew... what a week!The highlight of our week was getting this new bird feeder put up outside our class window. I suppose I will be investing in a Virginia bird book because the kids are totally fascinated by the bird feeder. At one point we were all sitting on the carpet doing some word work when all of a sudden the children all started pointing to the window. A squirrel was robbing the bird feeder! We watched him as he ate the little bits of seed and jumped down from the perch. 

Who knew how exciting a bird feeder could be! 
Also I am LOVING my new blog design by SimplyYoursDesigns!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

How To Plan a Successful Family Science Night

Somehow I inherited the role of science lead teacher at my school. I have to admit at first I was just taking on the job because I was asked to and I felt I wanted to get more involved in my school. Never would I have thought that this role would become one that I feel strongest about. Two of the biggest responsibilities I have are planning a family science night and the science fair. Luckily, I attended a very helpful session at the NSTA conference, entitled "Science Rocks & Rules: A Science Family Night How To" by M. Brouwer and K. Walther. Here are some highlights from their session that I thought were helpful:

Science Vocabulary Rings
  • Start early! Never underestimate how much time it will take to plan a successful family event. Put the date on the calendar at the start of the school year. Sure it is possible to throw something together in a week or two, but it won't be the quality event it could be. When I saw what these two science teachers have accomplished at their school, I realized how much more I could be doing with our family science night.
  • Think about limiting the science night to a certain grade level. The presenters' science night was only for 4th grade students. Think about the level of participation you expect to have and decide if it is worthwhile to limit the event or just invite the whole school. Personally, it makes more sense for our school to hold a school-wide event.
  • Apply for a grant. Need funding? Think about getting a grant to fund the science night. A lot of the initial supplies you will purchase can be used over and over. Buy them the first year, store each station in a tub, and replenish each year.
  • Think about take-home items. The presenters had these cute rings (see above). When the students arrived they got a zip lock bag with a pencil, the ring, and the "Welcome to Science Family Night" card. As they went around to each activity, the collected a science vocab card that went along with that particular activity. At the end of the night each student had a ring full of scientific vocabulary words. I love this idea! If you have parent volunteers they could cut the cards ahead of time and this would be a relatively inexpensive take-home favor.
  • Think about getting help from high school or middle school students who enjoy science. Why not get volunteers to man that stations so you can be free to float around? It's best to ask for students who want to help, rather then offering extra credit or requiring students to help. I think this is a great idea because there are always students who will want to come back and help their elementary school.
  • Have a t-shirt design contest. The presenters have students design ideas for t-shirts and then sell the shirts before and after the event. What a great way to foster community excitement about this event. 
  • Brouwer & Walther's science night t-shirts!
  • Have some type of science give away. The presenters use Steve Spangler's test tube science experiments. These are pricey, but if you having funding I think it is a great idea to get kids excited about science at home. You could put them in each student's zip lock bag. Check them out here.
I love the idea of having an open-house style night with stations where student volunteers help younger students complete each activity. Here are some possible ideas for stations:

Monday, April 9, 2012

Teaching Students CER (Claim, Evidence, Reasoning)

Two of the most fascinating and useful sessions that I attended had to do with the CER framwork, which stands for Claims, Evidence and Reasoning. I hadn't heard of this framework but now I can't wait to start incorporating it into my science units, as well as sharing it with the upper elementary science teachers. CER works very well if you are already using science notebooks. It is a way to get students to think about their scientific inquiries or projects and support their conclusions. It just makes sense to me. Why shouldn't we be explicitly teaching our elementary students to argue their point and back it up with evidence? According to the presenters (K. McNeill from Boston College and P. Pelletier from Boston Public Schools), the reasoning piece typically is not introduced until 3rd grade, but they did showcase how second graders completed a worksheet with the just the claims and evidence pieces.

 In this month's issue of Science & Children (an NSTA publication), the feature article is titled "Engaging Students in Scientific Practices of Explanation and Arguementation." It goes on to to explain how we must move away from teaching each scientific concept in isolation and instead provide students with a framework to discuss and apply how core areas of science are related. Using the CER framework is one way to support students in developing theses critical thinking skills, which in turn can be applied across subject areas. Just think how being able to make an argument in science would help a student with a reader's response or a word problem in math.

Student generate chart describing the 3 parts of scientific exploration.
The second presentation was perhaps the best that I attended because it was so practical. A team of teachers ranging from K-4th grade discussed how they use claim and evidence structure in their science lessons. I saw how they took the very research that McNeill and Pelletier discussed in their session and applied it to all levels of elementary grades. The best part of their presentation is that they shared actual videos of them using this technique in their classrooms. Each teacher also brought their graphic organizers from the lesson for us to see.

All of the pictures below were part of the presentation entitled, "My worm likes the dark because it ran from my flashlight" - Young Scientists Make Claims Bases on Evidence. Presenter(s): Jessica L. Cowan (Gray's Woods Elementary School: Port Matilda, PA); Kimber Hershberger (Radio Park Elementary School: State College, PA); Judi Kur (State College Area School District: State College, PA)

Kindergarten Example: I Know, I Think, I see, I wonder

This was third grade example. Notice the addition of "Scientific Principles and Words."

Each of the teacher presenters went through a specific inquiry project that they have done in their classrooms. I was impressed with their ability to get kindergarten students to sit in a circle and have a discussion with their science notebooks in hand. Maybe you are reading this and you have expereince with with getting students to construct arguments and evidence-based claims...I'm curious what you think. To me these sessions were a huge wake up call to me that I have not been teaching inquiry-based science. And it has nothing to do with time constraints. It is possible to make this framework fit, regardless on how much time you have to teach science. CER and other similar frameworks will improve your students critical thinking skills, which we all know is a very important aspect to preparing students to be successful members of society.

I just ordered this book, written by some of the authors from the above presentation. Check it out!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Appreciating Children's Scientific Interests

As promised here is the first official post on the most helpful and captivating portions of my recent trip to the NSTA (National Science Teacher's Association) Convention in Indianapolis this past week. Over the next week or so I am going to be reporting on some of my favorite sessions and "aha" moments. I will also be documenting how I am bringing some of these new ideas into my classroom.

I have already experienced the frustrating realization that creating change in any classroom can be a daunting and overwhelming task, never mind trying to create change throughout an entire school. However, with that said I feel that I have already made a pivotal change in the way I think about my science instruction. I now think about weaving science in all day long. I have a greater appreciation for the child who found a piece of a bee hive on the playground; I actually said yes when the students asked me if we could check on the corn we planted a few weeks ago even though recess was over and it wasn't in my plans; we took out the magnifying glasses during writing time and made observations so we could write nonfiction. So perhaps it is possible to implement new ideas right away and even more importantly it is possible to re-frame the way you interact with children and think about their experiences throughout the day.

One of the first sessions I attended was called "Developing Literacy, Math, Science, and Social Studies school-readiness skills in early childhood education." The presenters discussed how they used local wildlife and farm animals to foster that nature of science in young children. They had a grant to help fund some of the outreach programs that they organized for preschoolers and parents; however, with or without grant money it is possible for early childhood teachers to use their surroundings to spark students interest in their world. Working in an inner city I have fallen into a habit of thinking that my students don't think about their surroundings because we lack a rich background in which to explore. NOT TRUE! This presentation focused on birds and how to lead an inquiry project on local birds that you would see around your school. I have three take aways from this presentation:

 1. This lovely homemade whiteboard made out of tagboard and plastic sheet protector. They are so much easier to pass out and store compared to those heavy lap-sized whiteboards. Here we were using them for a simple Venn Diagram sort.

2. The other great resource I was introduced to were the Baby Einstein Animal Discovery Cards. These cards have beautiful, high-impact photographs of various animals on the front and a brief description on the back...perfect for beginning readers. I also like how large the cards are. They would be a great tool to kick off an animal unit by discussing student observations.

3. I am kicking myself for not taking a quick picture of the last activity these presenters shared. They had 8-10 plastic tubs with various materials in them. Then next to each tub were different types of utensils and "stabbers." The activity was modeled around different kinds of beaks and how they are designed to pick up various kinds of food. Students could experiment with each utensil and make observations and conclusions about what they found. This was a very high interest inquiry project even for adults!

Last, while I'm on the topic of early childhood science, I picked up this fantastic resource at the convention book store. It is a refreshing collection of articles about teacher's research in the area of early childhood science. I have flown through it. Check it out here!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Greetings from Indy!

National Science Teacher's Association Conference
Indianapolis, Indiana
March 29-April 1

Had to show Dad the McGraw Hill Education Booth!
Greetings from Indianapolis! As I sit here waiting for my flight back home, I feel an excitement that I haven't felt in a while. Those of you who have attended a national conference can probably agree that it is such a wonderful learning experience. I have met so many interesting people and learned so much more beyond the teaching of science. There is no way I'm going to be able to blog about everything in one post so I'll be doing a series of posts this week to recap my 4 days in Indy at the National Science Teacher's Association conference.

I have had a great time attending sessions and learning about what other elementary science teachers are doing. This conference has been a humbling experience as I have realized how much more I could be doing to help my students understand science. For obvious reasons I have reflected a great deal on language arts and math. I understand how as an early childhood teacher I am providing the foundations in both of these subjects for my students to go on and be successful in the upper grades. This conference has helped me recognize that science is also important. As an elementary teacher I can provide students with hands-on experiences to help them think and talk about science in a way that will be crucial to their overall conceptual thinking skills, which will carry over to language arts and math. They are all connected and kids love science because it is so high interest, so I need to be using it more...not just skimming over the topics that are on the pacing chart. Science can and should be integrated throughout the day, especially in early childhood classrooms.

Exciting new resources that I can't wait to blog about!
Believe me I have had a lot more "aha" moments over the past few days. I have new resources and leads that I want to follow up on and I can't wait to share what I have learned and how I am utilizing this information in my own classroom over the next year. I think I'm becoming a science nerd...something I never saw coming, and I'm sure my family is falling out of their chairs right now reading this. My biggest take away from this experience is that I am proud to be a teacher and to be associated with the field of education.