Monthly Archives: December 2011

Create a big footprint-It takes an Ecovillage!

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Not a carbon footprint of course but quite the opposite, your imprint on a child’s life. We as parents, science educators and communities have  a responsibility. We have a responsibility to give our children the education, the tools and the resources to live a lovely full life in balance with nature. Part of this is teaching them, “waste not, want not”. Typical modern families tend to be extremely wasteful, throwing away food and household items that could be consumed further. Recently I came across the concept of an ecovillage. I read an article about a man who built his house out of straw, mud and recycled items. I then found a website that showcases these eco-communities (http://www.livinginthefuture.org/). I am absolutely drawn to the concept of building your own house utilizing ecologically sustainable techniques and living off the land. Plus look how amazing this house is!

Living off the land in harmony can be beautiful! Unfortunately, many of these skills are not taught in traditional schools. Life sciences should be just that, teaching children how to use nature in a sustainable way to grow their own food, build their own houses and create the life they want by smart ecological techniques that often saves not only energy and reduces your carbon footprint but also is a much cheaper way of living. I realise that teachers are stuffed to the max with curriculum that they must get through each year but I believe that there is a way and I’ve seen inklings of it already. There are more and more schools with gardens where the students not only learn gardening techniques but they also cook with the food they’ve grown. Anyone who’s grown their own tomatoes knows there’s nothing more delicious then your own backyard fruit. This also meshes perfectly with the experiential, learning by doing style of teaching that most students love and appreciate and most importantly never forget. I know that green living has been a trend for awhile and for some, may just be a fad but I believe that it’s our responsibility to use our limited resources wisely and I believe it’s a big part of being a healthy community. By teaching our students and children to leave a space better than they found it, we can decrease the amount of litter, waste and lack of appreciation experienced today. A greater appreciation for nature, for the food we eat and the places we live will lead to a higher respect and consideration for the land which will create an automatic focus on sustainable living. This self propelling ripple affect is one reason why I have such a passion for science education. Teaching this way not only increases knowledge in that moment to help a student pass a test, but it can also change that student’s outlook on life, nature and science and thereby also change the lives of those around them.

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Inquiry Based, Experiential Learning

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STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) learning is best done

through inquiry based, experiential learning.

Why? It’s more fun, more memorable and more comprehensive as well since it follows the scientific method.

How does it work? First, kids need to make an observation or a discovery that insights questions. This is extremely important to initiating the learning process. What you are looking for during discovery is the reaction of “Wow that’s cool! How does that work?” or “Neat! How did you do that?” from your students. I tend to try and make my discovery phase begin with a bang! I find a flashy experiment with fire or something eye catching or something interesting to create excitement in learning more. Once you have the reaction of –“Cool! How does that work?”- You’ve got them hooked on the adventure of learning. They will want to move forward with the lesson and hopefully they can discover the answers rather than you having to just tell them. This is what creates future scientists! Active learning based on excited discovery and connecting the “what” of science or observations, to the “why and how” or knowledge and explanations of scientific concepts. Science can be boiled down to the act of observing something in nature and then trying to explain how and why that observation occurred and finally testing your explanation in a carefully designed experiment.

Along with the inquiry based experiential learning method, I also utilize cross integration of content areas within my curriculum. This is why I use art to teach science. Art and Science are traditionally taught in different settings but why do you suppose it could be important to cross integrate content areas?

Why use art to teach science?

-Teaches creative problem solving skills

-Showcases links across content areas in order to show relevancy of learning both topics

– Can reinforce both topics and create holistic thinkers that can further the advancement of both disciplines

-Great for homeschool setting

Most kids love art so it’s a way to show them how science is involved in art and it encourages them to learn more about science by luring them in with art only to fascinate them with STEM topics.

The discovery phase usually involves just a basic observation of something of interest. It only requires mostly passive involvement from the students. Next we will begin to discuss the more active phase of inquiry based experiential learning which is learning by doing. The answering of the questions or the “whys and hows” that come up during the discovery or inquiry phase is connecting knowledge to the discovery. Connecting is the beginning of active work to learn more about the discovery or observation to gain knowledge or produce a hypothesis. So once you’ve ignited curiosity with a discovery or inquiry, then it’s easy to engage them in an activity to learn more about the “whys” of science or to connect them to the knowledge to answer their inquiry. Traditional teaching of the past has been to simply lecture, to just give the answer first and ask you to memorize it, which you may have experienced as boring and unmemorable thereby remembering it only long enough to take a test and it didn’t leave you wanting to know more. Using a question or discovery and observation first is what gets the mind going on a path of learning based on using the mind to happen upon the answer in an interpretive, intuitive way using inference to connect to the answers. When you feel that “aha” moment of connecting to an answer, that’s creating a new pathway of information in your brain. Teaching this way shows them that learning can be fun and boosts their confidence that they can do it. This is especially important with STEM topics as some kids feel these topics are boring or too difficult to learn.

THE EXPERIENCE.

We’ve talked about discovery or inquiry based learning and connecting that to new knowledge and why that is important for lifelong learning but what about the experiential part of the term inquiry based, experiential learning? Discover and Connect are the whys and how’s of science but now you have to put that into action through learning by doing. When I taught middle school science, I always taught my students the same information in three different ways. First we would talk about it through the inquiry phase- usually verbal and visual. Then I would use a visual aid such as a chart to teach them a concept. Finally we would do a hands-on lab or activity. This hands-on activity is the experiential aspect. Once again people are more likely to remember something they’ve experienced rather then something they’ve been told.  Plus it’s just plain fun to work with your hands! Teaching a topic in several different ways also creates a repetition in learning that covers all the different learning types; verbal, visual and experiential.

Lastly, I always practice my lessons ahead of time to work out any kinks as I’m sure many of you may also do. I create outlines for my programs that include a script so I don’t forget anything I’d like to say or cover in the program. The outline also includes the time frame I’d like to keep to and the materials I need as well as the prep work that maybe necessary for the lesson. Many times during this preparation and practice time I have additional ideas that arise to add to the lesson. It’s never a waste of time to do this prep work because you’ll be able to use the lesson with students over and over again.

Well, what DO you like to do?

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How many times have you tried to get your kids to participate in an activity that you know is very educationally important but they just aren’t interested? Usually that’s a topic that you really think has great importance in their development as individuals and yet those are the things that most of the time they think are- BORING! Unfortunately STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) topics tend to fall into the “boring” category along with the category of “definitely needs to know”. Although educators are coming up with more creative ways to teach these subjects, how do we spur continued interest in these areas, not just muster up enough energy and excitement to get through a single STEM activity?

How do we help them develop a lifelong love of learning or the confidence and interest in pursuing a STEM career?

How about starting with the question- What do you like to do? Some kids naturally like science and they are a piece of cake. They are your cheerleaders and helpers when you do a STEM activity.  Others have absolutely no interest, but believe it or not, these kids are the most fun when it comes to teaching a STEM program because your approach can be completely off the wall. These are the kids to whom you ask the question- What do you like to do?  When planning activities for kids we want to include some of what they really like and a lot of educational, leadership building lessons that we think are important. To make sure both of these goals are accomplished, have a planning day where the kids write down their top 5 favorite things to do or subjects to learn about. I can guarantee you that every one of those topics will involve a STEM concept in some way, whether you can connect it right away or not. For example, in my curriculum I use art to teach science. Why? Because I have yet to meet a kid that doesn’t like either art or science or better yet both. When you start with a topic that you know they already enjoy and then connect that topic to a STEM activity, then they will start to like STEM topics by association and they will see the sciences in a new creative way. At the very least, they will learn how the sciences are involved in what they love and how STEM topics are relevant to learn for future growth in the areas or topics they do like.

Ok, so you’ve discovered what they like to do but now you aren’t sure how to link that to a STEM genre? It’s easier than you think. There are a TON of great online resources for STEM activities. My all-time favorite is www.howtosmile.org because you can create a login. Then when you search their never- ending database of creative STEM lesson plans, you can save them in organized lists and refer back to them whenever you need ideas. Most of the activities are hands-on and easy to follow. You definitely don’t have to be a scientist to understand and facilitate the activities listed there. Another great feature is that the search engine will allow you to narrow your search in many usable ways ie: cost of the program, age group, time frame and type of activity along with subject area. This is in fact just one of many websites with similar capabilities. So take some time to get to know what your kids like to do and then get online to one of these websites and you will find it’s easy to create fun, educational STEM activities that every kid will not only enjoy but want to do more of in the future!