I was recently fortunate enough to have two school parents generously nominate me for the Prime Minister’s science prizes. After a lengthy process I received a phone call while driving to the snow one Friday night. On a scratchy line it was a real delight to be told that I was the primary teaching recipient.
Essentially the award distills twelve or more years of actively engaging in, and for the most part enjoying, the teaching of science and associated areas in the primary school context. It was an honour to share this award with the other recipients who are all outstanding scientists and researchers; humble, dedicated and great company over the few days we spent together in Canberra.
The school I work at, Mount Ousley PS, Principal Peter Holmes and the staff all deserve recognition for making the school a dynamic and vibrant place of student focused contemporary learning. There is a strong culture of trust and a supportive community.
I was asked to share my thoughts on aspects of science teaching, STEM, the outdoor classroom and contemporary teaching. They are below, and whilst being a media and broadcast beginner they capture my beliefs more spontaneously than through a written post or essay.
This year students from stage 3 participated in the NSW Aeronautical Velocity Challenge – a competition designed to encourage STEM skills across bottle rockets and model planes for all ages and education sectors.
The winners were getting upwards of 125m in distance, which is very impressive. Mt Ousley PS has spent quite some time over the past few years using rocketry as a way to hook kids into loving science, maths and all things space. So it was great to join in this event.
While model engine rockets have a place in my program after visits to the Honeywell Educators@Spacecamp program, I also love bottle rockets for the relative simplicity of teaching elements of design, maths and physics. With variables including fin and nose cone design, rocket mass and balance and air/water fuel balance, the opportunity arises for many iterations and tests to obtain maximum flight.
Our team ran with a simple 1.2L bottle, foam core fins, a weighted nose cone and a decorative mission patch which is a terrific way to incorporate elements of human endeavour, art and symbolism. Not the most evolutionary but a sound starting point for their first competition.
One of the best aspects of sharing in these days is getting to see how other teams approach the design process. Many primary and secondary schools were using 3D printers to design fins and nose cones. There were also quite a few jigs and spacers being used to carefully hot glue on the various components. Our team came away excitedly planning how they might approach future builds.
When it came to what mattered – the launches, they were a mix of long and impressive flight, some mid air collapses and a few with wayward direction due to design flaws with balance, fins, weight etc. Rocketry is a truly engaging STEM activity that offers wonderful design opportunities and a visible result as to success or otherwise.
Of course it’s always fun to launch, fire or blast a rocket and both teachers and students enjoy the experience. Importantly rocketry can be done safely with some basic attention to cutting and tool instruction and well considered launch and recovery procedures. Always learning!
One of my favourite and most powerful ways of motivating and enthusing students into STEM elements is through design challenges.
Novel Engineering out of TUFTS University have updated their resources and book list and the site now offers teachers a great opportunity to connect literature and texts to real life problem solving challenges. In having students construct solutions to challenges faced throughout texts then design and engineering opportunities can be considered, alongside responses to, and deeper engagement with various fiction texts.
I am always keen to have my students undertake at least one major project based learning experience each year. In mid 2016 I had my class work on revitalising an overgrown garden area into a ‘Butterfly Garden’. I was inspired by my visit to High Tech High in Chula Vista a few years ago where I saw a comprehensive PBL program in place including a butterfly component.
Exploring regional butterflies and appropriate feeder plants introduced a strong environmental and biodiversity perspective as students considered the ecology of a butterfly habitat.
Over the course of six months it was rewarding to document and reflect on the process that covered a multitude of learning areas such as measurement, science and information reports but also the physical tasks of gardening and assembling materials.
Of course PBL is a terrific way to ‘access’ this type of learning and each student was able to achieve success through various entry and exit points that they could identify with. Key Learning Areas such as mathematics, science and English and PD,H,PE came into play and offered a broad scope of learning opportunities.
There was extensive use of measurement; both through aerial photography via a DJI Phantom Drone and scale and grid tasks that calculated the area of the garden and path. This then evolved into a volume activity as the depth of mulch and crushed concrete were calculated.
The students used websites to source local materials, cost the materials and to then ring the landscape company to place the order.
Highlights included in-depth research into local butterflies and suitable host plants. The class explored colour and the types of colour needed to attract butterflies.
Importantly it all came together as student’s physically engaged with and enjoyed the gardening – from clearing weeds, moving barrow loads of mulch and pouring crushed aggregate to make the path. The area came to life as the seedlings and young plants were put in and began to develop. Students then followed a procedure to assemble benches so that it was a welcoming learning space.
A daily watering regime was added to the class task list and deep saucers were added for birds and to provide water for butterflies.
As the area established it was used for nature sketching, quiet time, reading and sensory awareness activities by the class.
Now in early 2017 the garden is evolving as species continue to mature. Now is the time for other students and classes to take the opportunity to enjoy this special place. Those who contributed to its making remain keen to use and proud of their learning and effort.
The Science K-10 Syllabus is up for review and BOSTES is currently holding consultation sessions around the state. I attended the Wollongong session last week and came away impressed by the level of engaged and passionate discussion by those that participated. Session locations are here.
the inclusion of a Connected World content module – this takes on board elements of the Australian Curriculum Digital Technologies. Concepts will include;
Communications: examine how living things communicate and transmit information.
Digital systems: recognise and explore how hardware and software components interact.
Data patterns: recognise different patterns in data including coding. Test predications by gathering data and evidence to develop explanations of events and phenomena.
Data types: recognise that whole numbers are used to represent data in digital systems.
Networks: explore components of common natural and digital systems and how they connect to form networks to transmit data.
the inclusion on a ‘make’ component as an explicit part of the design process – Inquire, Design, Make, Evaluate.
We had an interesting discussion about the order in the syllabus of value and attitudes, skills and knowledge and understandings. Skills is now separate to Knowledge and Understanding. There was general agreement that values and attitudes should be placed first on the page as instilling in students a positivity and curiosity that encourage them to value science was of significance. Without valuing science the lessons and learning experiences mean nothing and simply become another curriculum box ticking exercise.
All in all I’d highly recommend teachers make the effort to contribute to syllabus development. How often do we hear staffroom rumblings about content and outcomes, continuums and rationale. This meeting was an insight into the development process and the BOSTES staff were very keen to hear and capture feedback.
Continuing to grow professionally and personally is an essential ingredient to maintaining enthusiasm, knowledge and currency in the teaching profession. Professional learning experiences for myself include life changing opportunities such as a Churchill Fellowship, Honeywell Educators@Spacecamp and Apple Distinguished Educator conferences, to earthy, yet as valuable, TeachMeets and Edcamps that offer valuable local networking and professional learning opportunities. ‘Thanks for sharing’ is so great to hear!
The Space Foundation Teacher Liaison program offers K-12 and other educators with a passion for space science and education, the opportunity to share, collaborate and network under the umbrella of The Space Foundation. Applications are now open and if you can demonstrate evidence of student engagement, community outreach, teacher education and a Space Foundation connection (not difficult) then you might well join the 2015/16 intake. Applications close December 4 2015.
For the last year I’ve had a class mindset poster on my year 3/4 room wall. One of my goals (along with the school in general) has been to develop and foster in our students a resilience and commitment to learning through having high expectations and a reflective and respectful culture within the class.
We can succeed but might fail on the way.
This learning has meaning for us.
We are respectful and reflective learners.
Sentence starters for conversations, an expectation of respect and reflection at the end of most lessons have contributed to an improved classroom culture and strong sense of togetherness.
I’ve recently had the chance (or time!) to consider the work of Carol Dweck and her work in developing growth mindsets. Her text Mindset is a must read and there is much supporting research and readily available material on the Internet. There is a TED talk here by Dweck.
Both students and teachers benefit from a growth mindset. Students gain develop a resilience (so often lacking I’ve found), a comfort with making mistakes as part of the learning process and an understanding that effort and application positively help their learning. Importantly teachers also need a growth mindset to get the best out of all of their students, in fact a teacher without a growth mindset is not a teacher I would want in a school! More information on the school context is here.
So where do we go with this? Well this term I’m placing a stronger focus on the growth mindset in the classroom for my students along with encouraging all staff to explore their mindset as they drive into school each day and grow or suppress their students’ confidence and learning.
What can we do?
Praise effort not intelligence or talent – this is a biggie for me and also for Dweck. How many students do we have who are ‘naturally academic’ yet won’t take risks for the fear of failure. Those kids that have meltdowns when presented with a non-linear challenge such as project based learning or hands-on design and make activities which are classics. The students decide that they can’t risk failure so do not take risks, they themselves become locked into a fixed mindset which might limit their potential. At the same time the student’s resilience can be weakened if challenges are difficult and the risk of failure in their eyes is too great.
As teachers and parents we need to provide constructive feedback praising effort and application and persistence. We need to provide entry points for success for all students. Importantly we should maintain high expectation and be honest and provide support. We should not lower standards- easy work is a false reality and great disservice to our students. Dweck says and I would agree that ‘many teachers hide their own lack of ability behind statements such as ‘they don’t get it or are they don’t have the ability, why waste my time.’
Some other things to remember before we jump down a student’s throat and judge them in the negative is that all kids misbehave – it’s part of being a kid. Do we only want to teach perfect (whatever they may be) students based on our own misconceptions? We must move to growth-oriented teaching.
As Dweck says it is important not to judge, don’t give up on the dumb ones, believe in improvement and challenge and nurture our students. To repeat, praise effort and not intelligence!
We need to tell the truth and give them the tools to make them stronger, more resilient and confident to achieve success, while fostering in our students the mindset of the life long learner, always seeking to be better.
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.
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 – tying the hook using casuarina leaves
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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
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.
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.
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