Tag Archives: science

A Tiny Celebration of Writing

I aspire to a daily writing practice, following my thoughts where they lead, planting seeds of ideas that may produce something more at a later date, documenting life’s everyday events—both ordinary and extraordinary. Many days I fail to write, excusing myself mostly because the practice is not firmly established enough to be a habit that I no longer have to prioritize. But sometimes I get the opportunity to write in the course of my day…a treat that reminds me of my intention.

Last week as part of some work bringing National Writing Project (NWP) teachers and science museums together to consider ways they might partner to support students and teachers, I wrote. On my table a hotel coffee cup contained some small shells and a couple of hand lenses. We were invited to examine a shell, sketch, and write.

Here’s my beginning thinking—the result of taking about five minutes to sketch and write.

img_5890

Layers of ridges that wrap the diameter and also extend along the length give the surface a spiky texture that I can feel as I roll the shell between my fingers.

Spiraling up from a tiny sharp tip, an opening is revealed on one side of the widest part. Although I’ve seen a version of this shell many times, I don’t know who lives there or what it is called.

I imagine a tiny snail carrying its home on its back, washed with the tides without a permanent resting place. Perhaps these creatures are the original Tiny House Nation, secure, bringing their homes—intricately assembled for efficiency and functionality—with them wherever they roam.

I’m reminded again of the importance of establishing this daily practice, even if in tiny spurts—one I regularly espouse for my students and teachers I work with. Can I spare five minutes a day for writing? Of course, everyone has five minutes somewhere. Why don’t I write for five minutes every day? There are a million excuses—among them, the fear that I will need not five minutes but an hour once I get started.

So today I’ve written another five minutes or more, moving this small piece from my notebook to my blog and adding a bit of context. I hope this is a catalyst for reestablishing that daily writing habit, even if for only five minutes a day. Today I will celebrate the tiny start and be reminded that small starts are betting than not starting at all.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Something I Learned this Week

I’m lucky.  As a classroom teacher I have opportunities for learning all the time…from my students, out in the community, from my colleagues, with my “colleagues at a distance” (on MOOCs and social media), …and at home, from my family…  I am surrounded by learning.

On Thursday, we had the opportunity to take our students to the local waste water treatment plant.  We’ve been studying water (something we don’t have enough of here in San Diego!) and have a parent in our class who happens to be the deputy mayor in our community.  She was eager to make the connection between the study of the properties of water and the water cycle and the municipal responsibilities of getting water to our taps and then treated as the water heads back out into nature’s cycle.  So when she asked if we’d like to have her arrange a field trip to the water treatment plant just a couple of miles away, we were eager to go.

And even more fun, the water plant manager and the other employees were delighted to have us visit.  They had us break into three groups and then took us on a tour of the plant, carefully explaining and describing all the processes in the treatment cycle.  We started at the huge digester tanks, filled with the solid waste being cleaned by natural occurring microorganisms.  We learned that the temperature of the tanks is about the same as our body temperature when we have a fever…up to about 102 degrees.

IMG_7263

After spending 15 days in the digester, the now activated sludge is sent through a process that separates the water from the solids.  We watched the belts squeeze out the water and send the dry activated sludge into a truck to be hauled off to Arizona where it is used as fertilizer for livestock crops (alfalfa and the sort).

IMG_7272

We saw the big overflow tanks…where waste water collects under these big sheets (the water you can see on top is some accumulation as the result of the rain we got last week).  There is an inflow of 3 million gallons a day!  (And they have a duplicate tank just in case there is a problem with one–they explained the importance of redundancy to keep the operation moving.)

IMG_7276

After than, we got to walk through the lab…and take a peek at all the science equipment in use. We noticed test tubes and vials, everything scientists need to test hypotheses, collect data, and carefully examine what is going on with the water they care for.  We also got to see samples of the different stages of water cleaning.  (They use a three-part process to get water to the recycled stage)  Dale carefully explained each step in the water cleaning process to our young students.

IMG_7288

We learned about the way that air is used to clean water…and watched the water bubble with the air pumped through it.

IMG_7307

And this student was enthralled with all she was learning…she took pages and pages of notes in her little reporters notebook.  (She proudly announced that she filled 17 pages!)

IMG_7306

I hadn’t thought about the technology of keeping odors at a minimum, but this space ship looking thing cleans smells from the air before it goes back into the air.

IMG_7299

Once water goes through the primary, secondary, and tertiary processes, it gets to the recycled water state…for use in landscaping and on golf courses.  This stage flows into the purple pipes that carry this water throughout our community, but at the plant the water flows through these white pipes that will eventually meet up with the purple ones!

IMG_7316

And whatever recycled water is not needed for the purple pipes is piped out into the ocean, joining the salt water and becoming part of our natural water cycle once again.  The ducks have decided that this is a great place to hang out…right across the street from the lagoon!  I think they see this place as their own private spa!

IMG_7317

So…what have you learned this week?  Maybe it’s a longer story of a particular place…or a snippet that caught your fancy and taught you something new.

You can post your photo alone or along with some words: commentary, a story, a poem…maybe even a song! I love to study the photographs that others’ take and think about how I can use a technique, an angle, or their inspiration to try something new in my own photography. (I love a great mentor text…or mentor photo, in this case!) I share my photography and writing on social media. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter using @kd0602. If you share your photos and writing on social media too, please let me know so I can follow and see what you are doing. To help our Weekly Photo community find each other, use the hashtag #learning for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

I’m looking forward to learning from you this week…pinpoint something you learned this week and share that learning with the rest of us through your lens!

Learning in the Intersections

You all probably remember them, those iconic experiences of heading out on a school day with your classmates and teacher to a local museum or art gallery to extend and enhance what was going on the in classroom…a field trip!  And in the best of times, those field trips are memorable, often motivating learning beyond the school curriculum.  Maybe one of those experiences even fueled your passion for a particular field of study.

But often, field trips are fraught with conflict.  Are you heading out of the classroom to “do school” somewhere else?  Is it a free day of fun with friends where the learning is incidental and accidental…if it happens at all?  What role do teachers and museum personnel play in the field trip experience? What about chaperones?  And what about students and their interests and passions?

Through Intersectionsa project funded by the National Science Foundation through the National Writing Project and the Association of Science and Technology Centersthe San Diego Area Writing Project, in partnership with the San Diego Natural History Museum and the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center,has been exploring the conflicts and tensions surrounding field trips.

In our second year of investigating how to support student learning in the context of a field trip, we have learned a lot.  Most significantly, we’ve learned the power of the interaction and co-learning of formal educators (those who work in school settings) and informal educators (those who work in out-of-school spaces like museums).  We discovered that our goals for student learning are mostly the same, and through our interactions, we have reconsidered how we might achieve those goals.  But first we had to let go of all that we have no control over–including exhibit layout and signage, field trip costs and transportation, and the uneven qualifications of chaperones, especially when it comes to facilitating student learning.

We’ve decided this year to focus on ways to support students as agents of their own learning, depending less on the adults who accompany them and trusting that a rich museum experience will result in meaningful learning–even when students do not complete worksheets that ensure they have learned specific facts or answered a series of questions delineated by grade level standards.

So we have asked teachers to prepare students for their trip by asking them to explore the exhibit, noting what interests them, and taking back interesting tidbits and lingering questions for further investigation through the creation of some kind of project back in the classroom following the trip.  And to better understand how this works in action–with a variety of grade levels and school contexts–we are observing students in action through a series of field trip pilots.

Today we observed sixth graders in action.  They came with a charge–to notice adaptations of plants and animals evident in the Coast to Cactus exhibit so they could create a project displaying their learning back at school next week.

IMG_4435

We watched students looking closely, in conversation with each other as they observed live animals in the exhibit.

IMG_4433

Students working alone, taking notes from the exhibit signage.  And others in pairs and triads, some taking photos, others sketching, and some simply flipping buttons and spinning dials.

IMG_4434

This student seems to be under surveillance by both the researcher and the stuffed deer as he takes notes from the informational placard.

IMG_4436

Some students found cozy nooks to meet and write–like inside this Bambi airstream that is a part of the exhibit.  While others took a bit of time away to see how many boys would fit inside the hollow tree trunk while a classmate looked on and snapped their photo!

IMG_4438

And the questions linger.  How much like school should a field trip be?  Do students need to “on task” by completing forms, taking notes, answering questions…  Or can they be talking to each other, turning dials, inventing their own competitions and games related to the exhibits, crawling through tunnels and squeezing into tree trunks…and still be learning?  Do they need to “do” the museum, reading each sign, looking at each artifact from start to finish?  Or is it okay to  focus their time and attention on the areas that most pique their interests?

I’m interested in what these students will create when they head back to school.  How will the visit to the museum influence their project?  What will they remember most about this trip?  Will they come back on their own, with their families?  How would they use the museum if left to their own devices?

We are paying attention to the intersections of formal and informal learning, of writing and science…and of student interest driven inquiry and teacher/adult directed learning.  And with each pilot field trip, I have more questions about supporting student learning as we work to help students initiate and shape their own learning using field trips as a tool.

How do you view the iconic field trip?  How do you prepare your students/your own children for out-of-school learning experiences?  What outcomes do you hope for when you think field trip?  We’d love to hear about your thoughts and experiences!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Wonder

Do you speak in images? Enjoy taking photos to document your experiences or just to express what you notice in the world? Love to share them with others? Welcome to the weekly photo challenge! I post a new challenge each week…check in regularly and join the fun!

As I headed out my front door this morning a dew covered dandelion puff caught my eye.  I was filled with wonder as I noticed the heaviness of the strands of fluff and I couldn’t wait to put my work things in my car so I could head back over to take a photo. Seeing the dew all over my car and windows, I decided to start my car, squeegee the windows and then set up my macro lens to capture that image.  At that moment, as I sat in the driver’s seat and pushed the button to start my ignition, my car let out a short groan and then nothing. I tried to pull the key out to try again…but it wouldn’t release and when I tried the ignition button again…nothing.

Lucky for me, my husband was working from home this morning so I was able to head back in to see if he could help.  And while he was checking out my car, I got the opportunity to attach my macro lens and snap a few shots.  I love the way you can see the dandelion fluff encased in a dew drop in this shot.

dandelion in dew drop

(As I write this, my car is in the shop.  My husband was able to take me to work and hopefully we’ll be picking my car up later today.)

Yesterday, I reveled in the wonder of my students as they took a close look at some fall leaves my teaching partner brought back from her trip to Colorado.  My students had the opportunity to observe, sketch and photograph the leaves…and these will also serve as information and inspiration for some poetry and art.  I found myself taking photos of students taking photos of leaves (and you can see some sketches in progress in the background).

photo of leaf photoOn Monday, we celebrated the National Day on Writing (for details you can see this post) by writing collaborative poetry with the older multiage class at our other school.  My students continually amaze and delight me as they embrace the wonder of words…and of collaboration. It was such fun to watch kids, from six to eleven years old, figure out how to bring their ideas together in a collaborative poem.

poetry collaboration

I spent the weekend in Raleigh, North Carolina at the Association for Science and Technology Centers conference.  Unlike a usual educational conference, this conference is mostly attended by museum professionals.  My colleague from the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center and I presented as part of our participation in a partnership between writing projects and science centers.  Since we have been exploring ways to transform field trip experiences for students, we included a mini field trip “exhibit” as part of our presentation.  It was such fun to catch the wonder and delight on the face of adults as they explored with a science “toy.”

mini field trip joy

I also had the opportunity to explore the North Caroline Museum of Natural Sciences (I wrote more about it here).  This museum is quite unusual and includes many unique features.  I got to watch these veterinarians work with this snake, including using a “trach” tube.  We got to listen to the snake’s respirations and ask the vets questions about the procedure.  You’ll notice that they are also projected onto the screen on the right hand side of the photo.  I can only imagine the wonder children will experience as they watch these animal doctors at work!

vets with a snakeAnd in the more traditional part of the museum I happened to look up with a bit of surprise and wonder as I noticed these pterodactyls above my head.  You can also see the lights of the city through this windowed dome where the pterodactyls flew.

pteradactyls

And sometimes it is the simple things that fill me with wonder.  Raleigh is known for its oak trees.  While they were not experiencing full blown colorful fall leaves, there were leaves and acorns falling here and there.  I love the simplicity of this leaf on the brick walkway.

oak leaf

What fills you with wonder?  Is it the simplicity and beauty of nature or watching students at work?  Did you catch a scientific wonder (like today’s partial solar eclipse) or revel in the intricacies of man-made structures?

You can post your photo alone or along with some words: commentary, a story, a poem…maybe even a song! I love to study the photographs that others’ take and think about how I can use a technique, an angle, or their inspiration to try something new in my own photography. (I love a great mentor text…or mentor photo, in this case!)

I share my photography and writing on social media. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter using @kd0602. If you share your photos and writing on social media too, please let me know so I can follow and see what you are doing. To help our Weekly Photo community find each other, use the hashtag #wonder for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

Open your eyes and heart and pay attention to what fills you with wonder.  Breathe in and take that photo, not so much to make art, but to capture the moment for further reflection.  I can’t wait to see those wonder-full moments through your lens!

 

 

 

Citizen Scientists: Researchers in the Wild

This morning someone shared an article about kids as citizen scientist researchers–observing and documenting ladybugs in their place, and learning about research and data in the process. I love engaging students in real work as part of the learning process…and teaching them that all of us, as part of our daily lives, can and should continue to learn every day.

On our rain hike in Yellowstone the other day I got to look closely at the environment around me, noticing details and appreciating the beauty.  Our destination was this natural bridge, a work of nature that I’m sure informed the first people who saw it.

natural bridge

And as we walked away from the bridge back toward the car, I noticed bubbles in the puddles as we passed.  I was sure I was noticing something in the bubbles…and stopped to watch.  It seemed that with the rain drops, a bubble would form with a white insect in it–magnifying the image of the bug–and then pop after it floated a ways.

insect drops

I had to look closer…what were these creatures?  And why do they form these bubbles?  Do they only come out in the rain?  Are they native to this forested area in Yellowstone?

insect bubble

I haven’t yet found out what these insects (I think they are insects) are…but I am curious to know more about them.  I’m hoping that someone will know something more and lead me to some research to answer my questions.  Here is a close up view…

insect bubble close up

There are so many interesting things to learn about when you take the time to notice.  As I start to prepare for the beginning of school, I’m thinking about ways to support and encourage my students to pay attention the world around them and then to document and further research the questions that interest them.  I’ll also be on the lookout for citizen scientist projects in my area (and would love any information you might have)…what a great way to engage students as researchers!

And if you happen to know anything about these bugs in the bubbles…I’d love some leads!

 

 

Water on the Brain

Water: beautiful, powerful, moving, treacherous, life-giving, flowing through our veins, through earth’s veins, taken for granted, precious, tenuous, unpredictable, limited, overflowing…

I feel like I have water on the brain.  I woke this morning to images of water flowing–a water main break in Los Angeles had me gasping at the waste of a precious resource.  Our drought in Southern California–in CA as a whole (and other western states)–is so severe that I feel the constant of thirst, in my throat, in my heart, for our plants and animals, for our people. Reservoirs and lakes have shrunken to show thick exposed shorelines, creeks are but a distant memory of a trickle.  And the flooding in Colorado has me wishing we could share in this bounty rather than experience the extremes of water.

Floods, like their cousins wildfires, remind us that there is much we do not and cannot control.

I spent time today on the banks of the Clark Fork River in Missoula, MT learning and thinking about the indigenous stories of this place.  The beauty of the river masks its troubled history and ancient lineage.  Indigenous and scientific knowledge swim in these waters that tourists may see as a playground, a place for floating on inner tubes and cooling off in the 90 degree temperatures.

clarkforkriver

Inspired by the water, I wrote with others as part of a mini writing marathon at our Intersections meeting today.  The writing was rich and layered with stories of experiences with water…or no water.  And changing the lens…through the indigenous stories and science…prompted our memories and connections, letting the stories pour like the water itself.

Like water, there is power in writing.  Power to connect, to heal, to think and reflect.  We sometimes forget that writing in unexpected places, creates new urgency and agency for our writing.  So go outside, find a place by a river, on the curb, under a tree, or even sit on the car bumper and see what writing comes when you change your lens.

Lighting Up Writing and Art: a Design Challenge

My students love a project!  Project communicates to them that they will be doing some making, some designing, some problem solving, and probably a good bit of collaborating.  They also know that projects are about sustained time to create something they will value…and likely, others will too.

The project they did last week comes from 21st Century Notebooking: work I have done in collaboration with Paul Oh of the National Writing Project, Jennifer Dick of Nexmap, and David Cole of CV2.   I’ve had a few opportunities to explore the possibilities of “lighting up” my writing and art–and knew right away that my students would both love the opportunity and learn a lot from working with circuits and writing and art.  I feel fortunate to have the chance to pilot the use of LED stickers with my students and explore the ways a project like this works with young students (grades 1, 2, and 3).

On Monday we started with a pre-assessment to document what my students already knew about circuits and electricity (not much) and then to read a picture book to give them a bit of background knowledge about how electricity and circuits work.  We read Switch On, Switch Off by Melvin Berger to give students an overview of electricity and circuits.  And while the book is a bit dated, it did pique students’ interest and generated lots and lots of questions.  “Breaks” in circuits in conjunction with switches created lots of confusion!

On Tuesday we began talking about how light might impact a piece of writing and art.  I showed students examples that I had created and then they began to brainstorm other possibilities…focusing on topics and things they cared about.  They were invited to come up with at least four possibilities and began sketching them in their writer’s notebooks.

Just this small selection shows the variety of ideas…and students were eagerly discussing not only what they would draw, but also what they would write.  And in typical fashion they were already questioning whether they had to write in the format I had written (I had written a Haiku as my example) or if they could write in some other way.  For me, this was a demonstration of the ownership they were already feeling as the creative juices flowed.

On Wednesday, students were asked to commit to a design and draw it on their folded booklet. Then I showed them how to draw a circuit diagram on the inside of their booklet that would allow them to put the light(s) where they wanted them to shine through.

circuit diagram

series diagram

Thursday was the day that the kids got their hands on the copper tape and LED light stickers. Before they tackled creating their own circuits, I showed them how to work with the materials, how to make turns with the tape, how to use the stickers to measure how far to run their tape…and then they set off to work.

working with led stickers

guiding copper tape

The room hummed with the 43 six through nine-year-olds all focused on getting their circuits constructed with the tape and lights.  Many worked with a basic one-light circuit and a few brave students tackled a parallel circuit that included two lights.  When the first circuit worked, the entire room lit up with the students’ excited energy.

circuit success

But as you might imagine, every student was not successful on their first attempt.  We suspected we might have to deal with a few tears of frustration during the course of the project…but, although there was frustration, everyone kept at it, and the spirit of collaboration and encouragement could be felt across the room.  Some students became expert debuggers–and helped their classmates figure out why their circuit wasn’t working.  And my teaching partner and I also became experts, giving recommendations and helping those little hands that had trouble keeping their copper tape smooth and getting their battery lined up and clipped on.  Even before everyone finished, it was time to clean up…and we reassured them that we would return to the project the next day.

On Friday we were fortunate to have our school’s science teacher design a lab to complement our project.  She had students work in groups of four to attach components to make a circuit with an AA battery and battery holder, a light holder and a small incandescent light.  Because of their experience with the circuits in their project, this was a fun review for them…and they loved that they were able to get their circuits to work!

science lab with circuits

light

light with Joe

As part of the lab, they also explored conductors and insulators and noticed which materials allowed the light to light up and which interfered.  All of this was useful information as they returned to their circuit/notebooking project to problem solve circuit issues and continue with their art and writing.  By the end of the work period on Friday every student had successfully gotten their circuit constructed and their light(s) to work.  And we learned some important lessons along the way.  The stickers are pretty easy to work with, but grubby little hands can cause interference with the conductivity of the adhesive.  We had a few instances where we needed to pull the adhesive off and use tape to secure the sticker.  And sometimes our best approach was to peel the copper off and begin again.

Here are few examples of student projects:

circuit project-CJ

circuit project sophie

circuit project-elke

circuit project_Eva

We still have some final details to complete…including some writing about the science learning that took place during the project. And students are anxious to get a closer look at everyone else’s projects too!  So this week we will take some time to concentrate on the finishing details and already have a gallery walk planned for students to get a close look at all the projects.  The kids can’t wait to take these projects home…but they will have to wait until after Open House later this month.  We just have to have them on display on that night to allow families to experience the “wow” factor in the classroom.

With all the work we have done with the power of iteration this year, I am wishing for some more LED stickers to allow my students a second chance to use these materials.  I am wondering what they can do and would do now that they understand the possibilities.  Maybe I can talk Jen and David into scrounging up a few more just to see what my students would come up with…