Purpose Based Learning – Education for the 21st Century

Neil Bramsen's reflections on innovative K-12 Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths Education

Novel Engineering – engineering and literacy combined for student success!

October 2, 2014 by · No Comments · Churchill Felllowship Tour, Interesting Stuff!

Read a book, make a fish hook! Sound interesting?

If so, read on….

One of the real highlights of my recent Churchill tour to the USA was a visit to the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach at TUFTS University, Boston. One of their main projects is Novel Engineering and the website at novelengineering.org has detailed information. Essentially the project uses classroom literature as a context for engineering to engage kids in STEM through the integration of engineering and literacy.

Students identify a problem or challenge in a text and set about designing and building a solution to that problem. Examples of texts and the challenges the characters face can be found at http://novelengineering.org/what-is-novel-engineering/get-started/book-ideas/

mysideofthemountainbook

This term I have been using the classic American text My Side of the Mountain to support my Science and Human Society and its Environment units based on animal adaption and national parks. I’ve also been exposing my students to tinkering and makerspaces and they have responded very positively to design, make and create activities. So it was with interest that I set out to see how My Side could fit our ‘making’ environment in the classroom.

My Side of the Mountain has at its centre Sam Gribley and his adventures in the Catskill Mountains after he runs away from home. It is very much about adapting to a foreign and sometimes hostile environment with many practical challenges – ideal for novel engineering. One of the activities Sam completes in the book is the making of a fish hook using twigs and reeds/grass.

I set the task of having the students make their own fish hook using twigs, bark and natural materials from the school yard. I gave little practical guidance and we went outside and spent the first session collecting materials and ‘trying’ to make a hook. This was really interesting as students approached the activity in a number of ways; some jumped in and started trying to tie things together randomly while others took their time and found fine pieces of twig and casuarina leaves or tore grass plants into thin pieces for the weaving and tying.

first attempts

first attempts

first attempts - tying the hook using casuarina needles

first attempts – tying the hook using casuarina leaves

completed hooks

completed hooks 

 

 

Frustration also become evident for some students who while academically very capable and high achieving in the tradition sense could not complete to their satisfaction a finished design. We shared our finished designs of varying success and talked about the iterative design process and my favourite belief of ‘learning through mistakes’. We talked about what we could change in terms of material selection for the hook and for tying. We then returned and started afresh, this time students that struggled initially had taken on board suggestions, reflected on their designs and seen the success of others. Again we repeated the process and after a third making session of about thirty minutes we had our finished hooks ready to share.

On reflection I think that Novel Engineering has much to offer and caters especially well for students with learning difficulties or who might not always achieve the general mainstream academic success of their peers. I also found that both boys and girls engaged equally well, however students who have difficulty with say comprehension and reading could produce a product related to the text and explain the process that they had undertaken.

What struck me was how this type of engineering design task really allows all students to shine, one of my students really struggles with literacy and in this activity she shone and quickly crafted and delicately bound together a hook. She came to me beaming and explained that the needlework and craft that she did at home made the construction component that much easier.

I see great value in the project. It offers teachers who are not confident with the design and make process, a way in through using texts that they are familiar and at ease with. By combining both literacy and STEM, an integrated project learning experience is accessible and students have an engaging and challenging environment in which to succeed. Thanks also to Cara Rieckenberg from SEA school who recommended both this text and Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet series.

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Churchill Fellowship Report and Recommendations.

May 19, 2014 by · No Comments · Churchill Felllowship Tour

Below are the key findings of my trip. The full report is available as a pdf here. Churchill Report.Bramsen

 

Conclusions and Recommendations

 

“Hook them while they are young.

The new science and maths syllabuses provide schools with timely opportunities to re-examine and explore their commitment to the teaching of science and maths. In this age, when the likes of the Melbourne Declaration and a focus on 21st century teaching and learning perspectives (such as Wagner) encourage reflection and change in term of teaching styles, technology use and the expectations and the role of the teacher, then redefining the student as an active and an engaged global learner offers further scope for teaching and learning innovations.

I commenced my trip with some ideas of what I thought worked well in my school, some preconceptions of things that might work well and an open mind to the many experiences that the trip would offer. Over the course of five weeks, and on reflection since, I’ve been able to clarify and identify some key ideas or opportunities that I believe can support our schools in creating meaningful, important and valued STEM learning experiences. As so many educators enthused, we need to hook students into the maths and sciences while they are young, i.e. 8-12 years old , ideally during the formative years when interests can be developed and grown.

The following recommendations are by nature as broad as schools are unique and are aimed at school leadership teams that will choose to initiate and customise programs that support the ethos, culture, direction and needs of their students.

Project based learning (PBL) is effective method of incorporating STEM into the K-8 classroom. Inquiry learning, challenge based learning and purpose based learning are similar models. PBL allows for exposure to both deep content and skills. Opportunities exist for collaborative teacher planning utilising teacher skill and interests. Consideration needs to be given to allocated class time, teacher ability, student self regulation, assessment criteria and the explicit teaching of curriculum as and when required. Schools can introduce PBL models through in NSW for example through Human Society and its Environment (HSIE), Science and Maths curriculum outcomes. Popular science programs such as the current Primary Connections provide strong support for teachers lacking confidence or skills in teaching science but importantly should also be used as a jumping off point to develop PBL opportunities. I value the comments of staff at High Tech High who state that PBL offers multiple entry points for students and enables them to achieve equitable success in a given area.

Device choice is essential for fully supporting a STEM program. Whether it be dedicated 1:1 or access to 1:1 as needed, a commitment to providing equitable device access to students is needed. Devices will be used for creating and curating content, collaborating and communicating, making, sharing, coding, designing and creating. A connected world is that which our students live in, they need access as required to make those connections, design solutions and share successes.

Integrated literacy and engineering offers an accessible entry point for all teachers to pursue STEM. By using stage appropriate texts that the teacher is familiar with, engineering and STEM challenges that confront the character in the text can be used to introduce design and engineering tasks. Sufficient time needs to be allocated to allow for the design and make process. This is ideal for group work and offers great scope for creativity and engagement with a text in previously unexplored ways. TUFTS CEEO has generated a list of texts used during its pilot program and these can be found on the website www.novelengineering.org

 

completed hooks                                            20% timeCompetition bot                                                       \HTH  Lego engineering

HTH K-8

 

Specialist STEM subjects and enrichment/outreach should be utilised. Integrated STEM subjects could include programming and coding in Scratch for developing maths logic, LEGO robotics for measurement, Sketchup for 3D shapes, Garageband for music and notation, Arduino programming and the like. Staff expertise should be utilised and syllabus planning undertaken. Integrating STEM into the classroom offers scope to hook all students whereas lunch and after school groups cater for those already hooked. Integrated STEM subjects especially in grades 6-9 can leverage staff expertise ad student interest to provide a comprehensive cross curricula STEM opportunities. Enrichment and outreach are valid avenues (and in some cases the only avenue) to offer STEM specialty clubs and projects (e.g. Science club, First Lego League, VEX robotics, school environmental initiatives) to students, however as mentioned previously, the students that put their hand up for these opportunities are already often convinced that STEM is an area of curiosity or interest for them. The challenge remains in the mainstream classroom where all students need to be exposed to STEM opportunities that are differentiated and engaging. Coding and programming are increasingly being valued as skills required of students and future adults. Both the UK and USA education systems are placing increased emphasis on the formal teaching of coding through the likes of MIT Scratch, app development and traditional computer languages.

Global connections and use of experts encourages authentic learning through making real connections, Teachers and students need to leverage, connect, value and share in partnerships through building long term partnerships with outside agencies, other schools and the greater community. PBL, Scientists in Schools, Skype and face to face mentors are some examples. The walls in a school are designed to hold up the roof, that is all. Connections and global sharing are key tenants of the 21st century teaching paradigm and cannot be ignored. Social media networks through Facebook, departmental platforms (e.g. Yammer in NSW) and Twitter offer access to professionals with similar interests or specific expertise that can be leveraged to benefit student learning.

Teacher quality via extensive professional learning is essential for a successful STEM program. Consideration needs to be given to staffing positions, leadership awareness of teacher skill sets and encouraging staff with differing skills and experience to collaborate and possibly mentor/team teach. Enhancing skills and knowledge through internal development first and external options if appropriate. Teacher quality was raised by all institutions visited as extremely important to a successful STEM program. Teachers with effective classroom management strategies, a responsive nature, powerful questioning and communication skills and an ability to create a culture of mutual respect are well positioned to maximise teaching and learning opportunities and outcomes for their students.

In NSW the Quality Teaching Framework provides the structure and research to inform quality teaching in schools. Combined with the influential work of John Hattie, the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership and the Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority, leadership teams in NSW and Australia are well supported in developing and implementing quality teacher professional learning and development initiatives.

Makerspaces/learning spaces are 21st century spaces for creative learning and making. They encompass easy access, are open to all, have varied lighting, use modular furniture and are resourced with hands-on equipment such as electronics, pencils, paper, recyclables, computers, toys, play-doh, LEGO, Makey Makey devices, circuits, building equipment, tools, squishy electrical circuits and more. Schools need to identify a space, plan with student input and resource and timetable appropriately. Tinkering, constructing and de-constructing offer hands-on engineering opportunities that allow for student success and that engage student’s who may otherwise be at risk of failure in literacy especially. Children respond to ‘making’ and learning through play activities as a natural process. When scaffolded through curriculum outcomes, practical skill development and progress milestones, students can share a made product or artefact as an everyday part of classroom learning.  The text Invent to Learn is highly recommended for anyone looking to know about current education trends and pedagogy in this exciting new (yet old in many ways) area of learning.

Churchill Fellowship Tour

March 13, 2014 by · No Comments · Churchill Felllowship Tour, Interesting Stuff!

I was fortunate in 2013 to receive a Churchill Trust Fellowship for travel in 2014.

The driving question and focus is;

To study programs that successfully engage and enthuse primary and middle school students in MES (Maths, Engineering and Science)  or STEM learning to schools, universities and institutions in the USA and UK.

Please see the top of homepage and the link to the Churchill trip including observations and thoughts. A full and final report will be completed on my return in April 2014.

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Project Based Learning – TeachWild Marine Debris Project

October 4, 2013 by · No Comments · Mobile Learning, Project Based Learning

 

I recently spent a week with fellow teachers, educators and scientists on North Stradbroke Island as a part of the Teachwild Marine Debris Project managed by the CSIRO and Earthwatch.

debris survey

debris survey

Our school has a real focus on making connections and project based learning –  we want our students actively engaged with their studies and learning that has a purpose. TeachWild, through the monitoring of marine debris encourages students to contribute data on a national level while taking on an environmental stewardship role locally.

As a part of the project I wrote a daily blog that details the learning and how students benefit.

http://teachwild.org.au/school-b-2

 

I also made a video showcasing the week

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jjAtsy2nlrE

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The LEGO Robotics ‘fit’ and your school.

July 14, 2013 by · No Comments · Interesting Stuff!

Since implementing a robotics program at Mt Ousley PS in Australia a couple of years ago,  my journey has been one of shared discovery, enlightenment, frustration and joy. I’d like to share a few brief pointers that may make the journey easier for those starting out on this rewarding journey!

DSC01048     DSC01190  DSC01054

TIPS

1. Learn with Your Students – You can’t and shouldn’t know everything; let your students know that you are all learning together, and that with each failure you are ‘failing forward’ and one step closer to success. Both programming and building offer many levels of complexity so aim to enjoy the journey together.

2. Small Steps – Begin with building a simple robot base that enables movement and allows students to have early success. Program the robot to move forwards and backwards, stop at a given point and complete a simple turn. Introduce the use of sensors after the basics have been mastered.

3. Leverage Your Resources – How many kits do you have? What ages are you working with? Is it an after school or integrated curriculum program? Parent helpers? How many students per kit? How will computers and software be used? Consider these questions and the logistics and practicalities will fall into place.

4. Plan for the Future – Think about what you want from the program. Do you want to join in the likes of the First Lego League competitions and/or keep the program linked to classes or curriculum? Is it sustainable?

Through considering the above points I hope that you will enjoy the experience of robotics and share success with your students, peers and community.

This article first appeared on http://www.legoengineering.com of which I am a contributor. Check out some of the many technical and general LEGO robotics tutorials on the site.

 

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When students talk to astronauts – ARISS and Mt Ousley PS!

March 17, 2013 by · No Comments · Interesting Stuff!

How do I get to be an astronaut?

Can you eat spaghetti and runny sauce in space?

How does your work benefit mankind?

How do you prepare for a mission and how long does it take?

What do you miss most about home?

These were just some of the amazing and interesting questions that K-6 students at Mt Ousley Public School (audio and footage on this link) were able to ask Commander Kevin Ford on the International Space Station between 7:35 and 7:45 UTC on March 12 2013. Before parents, community and their intrigued peers 14 students got to ask the science questions of a lifetime. For those present it was a fun, absorbing and important space science and education moment that demonstrated that we can break down global boundaries to inspire and educate tomorrow’s future scientists.

Through ARISS (Amateur Radio on the International Space Station) and NASA partnerships and more than 8 months of planning a great science event was accessible to all. Importantly the event gave the school cause to investigate and explore science and space concepts in valid and engaging fashion.

 

When you tell each class that they need to formulate questions and research space they get get interested. When you empower the class as a whole to pick the most interesting question they feel valued. When the student who wrote that question gets to stand up on the big night and ask that question they are excited. When they hear the crackle of radio static and then Commander Kevin Ford talking from the ISS as it passes over Italy at 27000km/hr and 450km above the Earth they are fascinated and empowered. Likewise the adults watching and the listeners via the Internet and the NASA feed feel connections to space and human endeavour.

Programs such as this are essential on many fronts. Firstly the educational benefit cannot be underestimated; students researching and questioning with purpose! They will be talking to an astronaut who is the expert, right there, right now living the dream and exploring and experimenting in space!

Secondly, this is real science with real learning, the live contact creates immediacy and urgency; a moment to be savoured.

Thirdly, we live in a global society. We surf the web, chat and use social media (as do the NASA astronauts) to communicate. In finding answers we want our students to communicate (safely and responsibly) to whoever, wherever and whenever. We want to break down the walls and share with those can help us become better informed, responsible and effective global citizens.

Challenge, innovation, exploration –  things we want our students engaged with to better prepare them for future careers and the future itself!

 

Checkout the NASA released audio here!

 

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National Youth Science Forum – Our future is promising….

February 3, 2013 by · No Comments · Interesting Stuff!

I was fortunate to attend the 2013 National Science Teachers Summer School at the Australian National University during the January school holidays. With 45 other K-12 teachers from all states and systems it was a wonderful week of collegiality, sharing and workshops and presentations on everything from astronomy and nuclear physics to plant science and geology.

However one of the highlights of a week filled with many was attending the National Youth Science Forum dinner at Albert Hall with the ninety odd incoming year 12 students selected to attend one of the three Forum weeks. The students were selected through a rigorous Rotary selection process and had demonstrated a commitment to science, their studies and learning. Previous alumni spoke confidently and Professor Steve Simpson gave a keynote that ended with the very appropriate reminder that all of the sciences are equally important to mankind and human endeavour and we should value them all.

Not only did the students share waiting duties during the reception and main course, they shared our tables and openly talked about their interests and plans. One student, Michelle from South Australia had recently returned from the UK where her school team had won the F1 in Schools Technology Challenge for their car’s design and testing. Michelle was enthusiastic, confident and we swapped business cards in the hope that we can support each other’s future learning endeavours. The students were genuinely interested in “us old teachers” and many in our group commented on what an uplifting and refreshing experience the night had been. It was a real highlight!

Australia’s science and technology future is in good hands as long as we support and resource the Sciences adequately so as to ensure quality higher education, access and equity, and relevant high calibre courses.

As I say to my primary (and secondary) students… you are the adventurers, scientists and engineers of tomorrow. If NASA gets someone onto Mars in 2030 as planned then that astronaut is most likely at school somewhere in the world right now! What an exciting time to be a school student!

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Scientists and Schools – Partnerships that Work!

November 13, 2012 by · No Comments · Interesting Stuff!

Mt Ousley PS has recently been partnered Dr Ali Haydar Goktogan who is  a Research Fellow at the  Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR) at Sydney University. I recently Skyped with Ali and we explored how we might work together to enhance learning opportunities for our students studying robotics and use the 5Es to explore, engage etc. We were both enthusiastic about the partnerships and it already looks like we have arranged a school visit from Ali to demonstrate some robotics models, a field trip to ACFR and also a visit to the Powerhouse Museum to use the Pathways to Space – Mars Simulation Robotics that Ali helped build.

Increasingly partnerships between schools and scientists are being viewed as an effective way to bridge gaps in science teaching and learning and importantly add a real world context to student learning.

The Australian model of Scientists in Schools has proven highly successful and a recently released report paints a very enthusiastic model accepted by both the teaching and science communities.

Furthermore a new international teacher -scientist conference has just been announced due to increased focus on this important area.

Building partnerships, professional networking through a PLN and embracing opportunities are what makes for successful and fulfuling teaching and learning in this day and age. Long live sharing!

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ISS EarthKAM New Mission

November 6, 2012 by · No Comments · Interesting Stuff!

There is a great opportunity coming up to engage your middle schools students with real data and space imagery. The ISS EarthKAM mission for November is up and running. This mission allows students to request photographs from the ISS. Students enter codewords and lat/long along with orbits for their desired photo location. The digital cameras on the ISS will take the photo and students can analyse the result.

My students in the past have responded well to the nature of the task and it’s real with great teaching opportunties in mathematics and geography. I written more at this previous post. Jump on board at https://earthkam.ucsd.edu

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Honeywell Educators@Spacecamp and NOAA Teacher at Sea Applications Open

October 3, 2012 by · No Comments · Interesting Stuff!, Spacecamp for Educators

Well two great teacher professional learning events are now accepting applications for the 2013 program. Honeywell Educators@Spacecamp I’ve written about previously and the week provides a wonderful immersive experience in space science and STEM related content at the US Space and Rocket Centre in Alabama. Apply here for 2013 - http://educators.honeywell.com

The NOAA Teacher at Sea program I’ve not yet experienced but colleagues such as Kaci Heins and Jenny Goldner both speak highly of the aims and experiences. Working with scientists in the field does enable teachers to better understand the scientific process and then take that learning and apply it to the classroom.  Apply here for 2012 - http://teacheratsea.noaa.gov

Both programs are about promoting and encouraging the pursuit of science.

Apply now and embrace the learning on offer!

 

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Real Science – Citizen Science

September 27, 2012 by · No Comments · Interesting Stuff!

One of the most rewarding aspects of teaching science to school students is the ability to use citizen science projects and programs to engender real learning and validity to the learning experience.

When students are asked to collect, consider and submit data or utilise a data set to make conclusions, the experience should offer greater opportunities for aspects of learning such as student engagement, deep learning and higher order thinking aspects to suggest a few. Here is a great read from KQED.

I know that when I work with real data or submit data I gain a greater sense of satisfaction through knowing that I am engaged with real science; I am observing and recording, collecting and analyzing, hypothesizing and concluding.

A new an exciting Australian project is TeachWild, monitoring marine debris in our waters and especially focusing on small plastics that are so inviting and fatal to seabirds and marine life. A great ABC Catalyst article can be found here.

I have written about Birds in Backyards in Australia and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Lab in Ithaca, NY previously and the innovative programs they both have on offer.  Having lived on the coast for many years I have always maintained an interest in marine and environmental education.

With data sets available that explore great white shark movements, penguin counts and recently the ability to contribute to whale shark population and movement counts in Western Australia diverse teaching opportunities are available.

The next time you are thinking about teaching science, consider citizen science and how you as an educator can contribute not only to a student’s deep knowledge and learning but also through encouraging them to make a real difference in the world.

 

http://www.ala.org.au

http://www.birds.cornell.edu/page.aspx?pid=1664

http://www.oceantracks.csiro.au/index.html

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Enhancing Middle School Science Projects through Using ISS Earthkam and GRAIL Moonkam

September 27, 2012 by · 2 Comments · Interesting Stuff!

 

Sally Ride was America’s first woman in space being a crew member of Challenger STS-7. In later years she founded Sally Ride Science and until her death in July 2012 she was a major supporter of outreach science programs for students including though her own Sally Ride Science business arm.

Two key projects that have enabled middle school students worldwide to gain a more comprehensive understanding of our place in space are the established ISS EathKAM project along with the recently launched GRAIL Moonkam;. Both projects operate in conjunction with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and allow students to request photographs from the ISS and Ebb and Flow GRAIL satellites.

I’ve used both programs over the past two years and have found that students greatly enjoyed the experience of logging onto the Student Mission Control Centre (SMOC) and using unique passwords to request specific location photos of either the Earth or the Moon’s surface.

Both platforms are web based which makes them easily accessible. They provide resources and guides for students to learn about orbits, day and night passes, camera distances and latitude and longitude. In both cases I had extension year 4-6 groups who responded enthusiastically to the concept of identifying a desired location on an available day orbit, requesting a photo, and then, in effect, controlling the camera shutter to take the image.

After the photos were taken, which took up to a week or more students were able to download their images for closer examination and interpretation. In MoonKAM craters, mountains, long shadows and the occasional technical error were all met with a smile. In EarthKAM images that greeted students included vast ocean stretches, the Australian outback near lake Eyre and sometimes a complete cloud layer.

Both programs offer students an insight into the vastness of space along with the scientific research and investigation goals of NASA and the technology of satellites and the ISS. Importantly, projects such as these foster in students a sense of curiosity and the knowledge that there is much out there to explore, comprehend and enjoy.

All adventures, especially into new territory, are scary. Sally Ride 1951-2012

 

https://moonkam.ucsd.edu

https://earthkam.ucsd.edu

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Mobile Learning – School Birding and iPads; exploring ecology.

September 3, 2012 by · No Comments · Mobile Learning

 

This is an update of a previous entry in mid 2012.

Just over a year ago at my previous school Sussex Inlet PS (coastal with remnant forest and nature trail) I ran regular bird studies activities either before school as a special interest group activity or with my regular class as appropriate.  The sessions came out of my interest in environmental education, a visit to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in New York state and the availability of the Birds in Backyards website and its online school survey function.

What started out as regular bird watching and identification transformed into science focused data collection with a purpose; students not only wanted to identify birds and listen to their calls but then collate the session data and log each survey.

I’m now at at Mt Ousley PS in urban Wollongong. The school is in the middle of a suburban residential block and is surrounded by houses; a different ecological environment yet still interesting and with a range of urban species.

I introduced my class to bird observation through a walk around the grounds, we took with us a species identification chart and a single pair of binoculars. Students quickly became absorbed in looking and listening for birds and as I’ve found previously, ‘the outdoor classroom’ encouraged students to actively respond to their surrounds.

Excitingly and for our next session we had the use of iPads and a wireless school network for web access to the Birds in Backyards site.  The students, armed now with various defined roles such as identification chart observer, bird spies (via five pairs of new binoculars), and iPad researcher responded to an enhanced learning experience.

The iPads proved a success as the students used the devices as bird identification tools and to enter data and survey results while others played mp3 birdcalls of species observed and took photos as we moved to different areas.  Combine this with Google Maps providing a satellite location shot and we had a mobile learning experience that was truly valid, engaging and rewarding.

In 2013 I’ve also started using the Field Guide to Victorian Fauna iPad/iPod/iPhone app as it covers the vast majority of birds seen and has integrated bird calls while not needing an active Internet connection. It’s also worth remembering that Birds in Backyards can provide collated data in spreadsheet form for long term reviews and studies.

I now have students asking to go birding, that have purchased their own binoculars and are producing bird artworks and observing birds at home…an education that goes beyond the classroom, beyond the school and into the home.

We recently participated in a video conference with the Field of Mars Environmental Education Centre in Sydney and shared with five others schools how to explore our habitat and build a nest box and is the subject of another blog entry.

Creative, critical and curious students…… now that is rewarding!

 

http://www.birdsinbackyards.net

http://www.birds.cornell.edu/

http://itunes.apple.com/au/app/field-guide-to-victorian-fauna/id423945031?mt=8

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The teaching of science in our schools….

August 19, 2012 by · 1 Comment · Interesting Stuff!

A funny sad thing happened at my school this week. It was National Science Week and I’d pushed and encouraged all class teachers to spend the same afternoon implementing a hands-on science activity within their classroom.

Just before the sessions commenced I put on my blue flying suit from Space Camp and theatrically set up and had two students launch a couple of A engine model rockets for the entire school. The firing was received enthusiastically and I quickly rustled up plenty of interest for the afternoon rocket club which is commencing soon. In short the kids were pumped!

We moved into our class sessions and I walked around the school to see students exploring density, building bi-carb volcanoes and testing plasticine bridges. There was smog being made and everywhere you looked there were hands-on and engaged (yes, that word) students and they were smiling.

After school a teacher came up commented on how great it was that the students were having fun and enjoying design and build, investigation, touching, constructing and so on…  The message was simple; we need to teach more quality science, the science needs to be hands on and teachers need to plan and implement these opportunities with enthusiasm and vigour. Why don’t these things take place on an everyday basis and be viewed as the learning moments or planned learning that they should be.

Too often we see science as a key learning area relegated to the back blocks of timetabling and viewed as an optional subject, which it is not. I’ve had newly graduated and experienced teachers come up and say they do not feel comfortable or knowledgeable enough to teach science with confidence and this saddens me.

How can a teacher complete a unit of work on gears and pulleys via worksheets yet never have students understand the simple mechanics involved through hands-on investigations using the likes of real bicycles, technical Lego or simple pulley systems?

School resourcing can be another issue; are there electrical components, rock samples, magnifiers and simple pieces of equipment to demonstrate that the school itself is committed to a quality science programme.

I know that I am passionate about seeing students engage with science; I want them to discover and explore and question what is happening in the world around them. As teachers we then need to provide appropriate opportunities, to learn with our students as they learn and ensure that we ourselves model and believe in the strength of science as the essential and rewarding area that it has been and remains for mankind.

GRAIL Moonkam Research at Mt Ousley Public School

July 14, 2012 by · No Comments · Interesting Stuff!

Research Group, consisting of year 2-6 students Josh, Matthew, Luke, Aiden, Riley, Connor, Sierra, Molly, Marlena, Darby, Willow and Ken has been a real blast as they explored the physics of rocketry along with participation in the GRAIL Moonkam project in which the students sent requests for photos to two satellites orbiting the moon and then downloaded the images.

Research Group is focused on extending each student’s academic ability through the use of the higher order skills of creating, evaluating, analysing and applying as expressed through Bloom’s Taxonomy.

Rocketry focused on students exploring the mechanics of how rockets work and then through the building their own air/water powered bottle rocket which was then tested for optimal flight using differing amounts of water.

GRAIL Moonkam has been an opportunity for students to log into the Moonkam site and upload photo requests of specific sites on the moon based on day/night passes, orbits, camera position and latitude and longitude. A great number of photo requests were successful.

All students have been given a class for which they are currently preparing a presentation. Well done to the group and we’ve had fun as we’ve tested and re-tested, made and re-made and explored the scientific world!

Honeywell Advanced Educators@Space Academy 2012

July 14, 2012 by · 1 Comment · Interesting Stuff!, Spacecamp for Educators

Well I have just returned from an amazing, stimulating and highly rewarding experience at the Honeywell Advanced Educators @Space Academy at the US Space and Rocket Centre in Huntsville, Alabama.

I first attended Honeywell Educators @Space Academy in 2010 and a review is on this blog. When I was selected to attend the Advanced course this year I was excited and eager to join fourteen other middle school teachers who have a similar passion and interest in not only space and science education but in learning itself.

During ten days we participated in a range of team and confidence building activities such as the ‘Pamper Pole’ climbing and trust ropes course, space briefings on the shuttle program and future NASA directions such as the Space Launch System (SLS), multiple simulated missions, scuba in the Underwater Astronaut Trainer, sessions with astronauts and visit to the Kennedy Space Centre.

Kennedy was a real highlight for everyone and after the twelve hour bus ride we couldn’t wait to visit launch pad 39 and the Orbiter Processing Facility where we stood under the Atlantis during its decommissioning. This is something special for anyone interested in space exploration and NASA achievement.

Finishing off with Lego Mindstorm Robotics was a rewarding finale and for someone with little robotics experience like myself was valuable and enjoyable professional learning.

While that’s a summary of activities the intangibles of a program like this are what really matters. When you put fifteen like-minded passionate, curious, creative, geeky and crazy teachers together for ten days great things happen. We talked, shared, supported, encouraged and worked as true team for the entire period. We took risks and laughed and cried at successes and failures…. we all need both to learn and grow, as do our students and we should all continually be pushing and stretching forward in the pursuit of learning.

So now as the new school term commences I’ll be looking to incorporate and grow school programs in rocketry and robotics and through those themes expose our students to the deep learning and quality teaching that comes with investigation and design, test and re-test and collaborative inquiry based learning.

Thank you Honeywell, the USA Space and Rocket Centre, NASA and especially the wonderful people of Team Kennedy (and our leader Dan who kept us on track and out of trouble!).

Lifelong learning rocks!!

 

Honeywell Advanced Educators@Spacecamp

June 3, 2012 by · No Comments · Interesting Stuff!, Spacecamp for Educators

I’m excited about my upcoming return trip to the US Space and Rocket Center and the Advanced Educators Spacecamp in June 2012. The educational and professional values are exceptional. Since my first trip I’ve introduced Rocketry and Space programs in general class programs but also for enrichment classes and the Research group at my new school – Mt Ousley PS .

This next trip will consolidate existing skills and introduce new opportunities to encourage and promote science  and math education in the K-6 context.

Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy 2012 Applications

October 3, 2011 by · 2 Comments · Spacecamp for Educators

The Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy program has influenced my teaching greatly in the past year –from rocketry and space to innovative math lessons.

Applications are now open for 2012. Follow the link for a possible countdown to a rewarding learning opportunity!!

2012 Honeywell Educators @ Space Academy Applications

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Citizen Science in the School – Mobile Learning, iPads and Birds!

October 3, 2011 by · 1 Comment · Interesting Stuff!, Mobile Learning

Over the past few years at my previous school Sussex Inlet PS (coastal with remnant forest and nature trail) I ran regular bird studies activities either before school as a special interest group activity or with my regular class as appropriate.  The sessions came out of my interest in environmental education, a visit to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in New York state and the availability of the Birds in Backyards website and its online school survey function.

What started out as regular bird watching and identification transformed into science focused data collection with a purpose.; students not only wanted to identify birds and listen to their calls but then collate the session data and log each survey.

I’ve now taken on a new role at Mt Ousley PS in urban Wollongong. The school is in the middle of a suburban residential block and is surrounded by houses; a different ecological environment yet still interesting and with a range of urban species.

I introduced my 1/2 class to bird observation through a walk around the grounds, we took with us a species identification chart and a single pair of binoculars. Students quickly became absorbed in looking and listening for birds and as I’ve found previously, ‘the outdoor classroom’ encouraged students to actively respond to their surrounds.

Excitingly and for our next session we had the use of iPads and a wireless school network for web access to the Birds in Backyards site.  The students, armed now with various defined roles such as identification chart observer,  bird spies ( via five pairs of new binoculars), and iPad users, the students responded to an enhanced learning experience.

The iPads proved a success as students used the devices as identification tools, enter data and survey results while others played mp3 birdcalls of species observed and took photos as we moved to different areas.  Combine this with Google Maps providing a satellite location shot we had a mobile learning experience that was truly valid, engaging and rewarding.

I now have students asking to go birding, that have purchased their own binoculars and are producing bird artworks and observing birds at home…… an education that goes beyond the classroom, beyond the school and into the home.

Creative, critical and curious students…… now that is rewarding!

 

 

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Schools Exploring Environments -SEE

March 30, 2011 by · No Comments · GPS, Geocaching, Google Earth, Interesting Stuff!

MacICT is looking for schools (yrs 4-10) keen to trial our new Environment Education project focused on local school habitats.

Schools Exploring Environments takes a collaborative student centred inquiry approach with teacher moderation and guidance. Students work through online modules such as habitat health voting, Google maps locator, data wikis, image galleries etc along with data collection/surveys in the field.  Schools will be supported by email, phone and video conferencing during term2.