Materials Science Teacher Camp Review

I know, it’s been a few weeks since I have blogged, and I still need to finish up Discourse Part 3.  I have the draft started, so it will happen.  In the meantime, I took some time to be truly “off”.  Then last week I went to Materials Science Camp at the Ambler Campus of Temple University.  It was great!

Monday was an introduction day.  We spent time getting to know each other and our leaders, Andy and Debbie.  Andy and Debbie are both retired with many years of experience teaching Materials Science.  Workshop participants ran the spectrum from middle school science to High school Chemistry, Biology, and Physics teachers.  We each brought a slightly different perspective, and it made for some good conversations throughout the week about how to use different activities in our classes.  Activities that we did on Monday included Materials Identification, demos with sulfur, and setting up some week-long projects (including a new-to-me way of setting up copper crystal growth).

Tuesday we spent more time on crystals.  We checked the growth on the crystals we started growing on Monday.  We saw a demo that showed two allotropes of iron.  In the afternoon, we started talking about metals.  We learned about heat-treating (annealing and tempering) in order to get different properties in our metal.

Wednesday was field trip day.   We visited Solar Atmospheres, a company that does commercial heat treating.  We were fortunate to have some great tour guides who really knew the business inside and out.  They love inviting teachers in (and school groups) to show what they do, because they are always looking for good, hardworking employees.  We asked about summer internships for high school students and they currently have 4.  It was a fantastic field trip.  They even posted about it on their website here.  After we got back from the field trip, we played with metals – including making crying tin, and some lead + tin alloys.

Thursday morning was spent doing some activities that can be used to teach the Activity Series of metals.  Then in the afternoon, it was time to play with polymers.  We made shrinky dinks, plastic figurines, and polymer density tubes, and latex bouncy balls.  We also spent some time glazing our raku items for Friday. I spent most of the time bouncing back and forth between making Star Wars figurines and glazing my bowl.   

On Friday, it was mostly making sure we finished up our projects.  We took our Raku items out of the kiln and reduced them in a closed coffee can with a little bit of wadded up newspaper.  The more the Raku is exposed to the air, the more it has a chance to oxidize and change the colors a bit.  We all had a mixture of some oxidation and reduction, but it made for some beautiful pieces – especially some made by the Temple students who were helping out for the week.  It’s a great way to teach Redox reactions – and let students get in touch with their artistic side.  In the afternoon, we worked with more polymers – and I got a great idea for a demo for my microbiology class when we talk about cell membranes.  It involves using HDPE, which is hydrophobic – and you can use a pipet to make little BBs that have the HDPE on the outside, and the water on the inside.  If you use food coloring in the water, then you can show that water can be transferred through the membrane (the colors mix), but the BB remains intact.  I have more details written down somewhere, and as I write it up for class, I’ll share it here.

Year 1 camp is a LOT of activities and demonstrations.  Fortunately, I have enough experience teaching that I can imagine how I would fit these into my classes.  I hear that year 2 camp is more advanced activities and that there is more time to plan lessons involving these activities.  I definitely will be signing up.  I might even sign up for year 1 again, as it was sometimes difficult to get everything processed and written down so I could remember it.  Several participants this year were 2nd or 3rd year participants. It was worth the week I spent there.  If you are interested, the summer camps usually get posted in January at this website.

About Discourse: Part 2

In this post, I’m going to continue thinking about discourse.  You can find part 1 here.  I appreciate the comments and support from the Twitter community.  I think I have also changed the settings on the posts so that you can comment without “logging in”, but please let me know if you have not found that to be the case.  I really do want this to be a dialogue (whether here or on Twitter), because I know everyone has ideas and different experiences to share.


Prompt 2:  What are your strategies for focusing whole class discussions away from personal critique and towards critical analysis of explanatory ideas?

In the photo above, you can see students starting to move into a circle, with whiteboards posted (not all are there yet – ha!). This can be uncomfortable for students because their work is on display.  If I’m not careful, a discussion can quickly move from something productive into something demeaning as students internalize critiques in a personal way.  I want my room to be a safe space for students, and for all to feel comfortable with voicing their (possibly) imperfect ideas.

First, I try to plan for discourse around labs, tasks (like Brian Frank’s card sorts)*, or ideas where there is not necessarily going to be “one automatic right answer.”  My students’ first board meeting experience occurs on the first day of school with the “Exploding Can Demo.”  I ask students to imagine that they are on The Magic School Bus with Ms. Frizzle and they should draw particle diagrams for what they would see inside of the can.  This is the first day of school, so of course, none of them have anything close to the “right answer” and they know that.  It’s much easier to have a non-judgemental discussion when you know that everyone else is in the same boat.

One strategy I use for discussions like this, I adapted from The Math Forum is “Notice, Wonder.”  After students get into a circle, I will ask them for 2 minutes of complete silence.  While they are silent, they should be looking at the whiteboards around the circle, keeping in mind the prompts “I notice…”, “I wonder…”, “What is similar is…”, “What is different is…”, though I do tell them they are not limited to those prompts specifically.  After 2 minutes of silence, I let them begin discussing with each other.  There’s always something that has piqued student interest.  At first, they will hesitate, and then direct their question/comment to me.  I have to be very intentional about directing it back to the class as I don’t want to be seen as “the keeper of all knowledge.”  After a few times of doing this, they get the idea and start talking to each other.

But what about when students are presenting problems and there are specific right answers?  I don’t get into this kind of whiteboard meeting until at least a month into the school year – after we have built up a classroom culture and there is some trust.  Even then, I find myself needing to remind students that we should not be making personal judgments, and also should not assume that others are making judgments against us (sometimes it feels that way, even if the intention wasn’t there).  Easier said than done though, right? Something I haven’t tried yet, but am thinking about trying is Kelly O’Shea’s Whiteboard Mistake Game.  I got to experience this for the first time in her “Designing for Discourse and Sensemaking” workshop.  What I like is that it normalizes making mistakes and talking about them.  It allows students to be picky about mistakes that were made, but it frees the presenting student from feeling “personally” attacked – they were SUPPOSED to make mistakes.  Now, no one knows (unless the presenting student specifies) if the mistake was made on purpose or not.

These are just a couple of strategies, but I know there are so many more out there.  So leave a comment or catch me on Twitter:  what are your strategies for keeping discussions away from personal critique?

*I actually first made a card sort because I saw Kelly using one in her class.   Check out her post too!  There will also be more card sorts posted as a result of her Designing for Discourse and Sensemaking workshop.  I’ll be posting a couple myself in the weeks to come – so watch for that!


Edit: July 19:
Brian Frank has been tweeting about whole class discussion tasks.  If I’ve done it correctly – the link should take you to one such thread, but I believe there are actually several.  Definitely check it out, because there are some great ideas there, and I have a lot to think about as I plan for my classes this fall.

About Discourse: Part 1

This past school year, I thought a lot about discourse in the classroom – especially in my 9th-grade chemistry classes.  I use the Modeling Instruction approach to teaching and student discourse is a large part of that pedagogy.  One class was full of students who had managed to hold on to their natural curiosity about the world around them, and discourse happened naturally.  Another class struggled to talk to each other and I had to figure out what moves I needed to make in order for discourse to be productive.  To make a long story short, in February I held space for teachers in all 3 divisions to talk and strategize.  All I did was post a few prompts to get the discussion started.  Over the next few posts, I’m going to share those prompts.  Feel free to respond and get a discussion going!

Prompt 1:  What do you think productive discourse looks like?

As a teacher, sometimes discourse can be scary. Productive discourse can be loud and messy.  It requires an observer to have an idea of what to look (and listen) for.  There’s only 1 of me, and 18 (or 24, or 32, or…) of them.  If I put them into small groups, how can I be sure that everyone is on task and talking productively?  Looking at the picture I posted above, I notice that all 3 students are engaged in dialogue.  One is actively speaking.  Another has a finger on the problem for reference as she listens.  The third is actively looking at her own copy of the problem as she listens.  All three have writing utensils in hand, ready to write notes or change their work, depending on how the conversation goes.  This isn’t the “be all end all” of what productive discourse looks like, but it makes it easier for me to scan the classroom and determine which groups I need to listen in on first.

In a whole class situation, I would hope to hear only one voice at a time.  That being said, I would hope to hear multiple voices throughout the discussion.  I might expect to hear moments of silence as everyone processes what was just said.  I would hope to not hear my own voice very often – I want to only ask occasional questions to give a little jump-start if needed.

These are just a couple of thoughts I had in response to this prompt.  I hope you will add more.

A note about my blog:  I’m terrible about following through on blogging, but I am really good at getting ideas from other people’s blogs.  So this is my attempt (once again) to give back.  I think my SO created this site for me a year before I posted my one (and only) blog post.  It’s been two years since I posted that one blog post.  I am going to work on not taking two years to post again, which is why I’m splitting this discussion into multiple posts.  I hope that will provide me with motivation to keep going and to give back to the science ed community.  If you find that it’s been awhile since I’ve posted, feel free to call me out on it.  🙂

The Importance of Being ConnectED

I have been thinking about making a website for a few years.  My husband has been (gently) pushing me to make it.  I have many twitter peeps who have suggested it.  Sometimes I tend to be a bit OCD.  I don’t get out of bed until the clock shows a minute number divisible by 5.  I think that I have to start things like blogs when new school years start.  I need to have nice, organized categories for my posts, and a list of posts ready to go.  This year, I’m trying to step out and let go of that perfectionist side.  I still ended up waiting for the school year to start – mostly because this summer has been busy.  However, I don’t have nice, organized categories ready to go.  I’m not sure when I’ll post again (though I will try to do so at least once a week).  This website isn’t anywhere near being done.

This summer I got to travel – a lot.  I was not home for an entire week  once the calendar turned to June.  I attended workshops at the University of Kansas, University of Nebraska, and Kansas State University.  At each of these workshops, I got to learn from professors and how to connect their research to my classroom.  I also got to meet a lot of other great educators and beg, borrow, and steal a lot of their fantastic ideas.

I also attended EdCampSWKS.  This was scary for me, as I went by myself – only knowing people through twitter.  I am a bit of an introvert and meeting people (even people I kind of know) is terrifying.  I had signed up for the past 2 summers, and let excuses get me out of it.  This summer, I pulled up my big girl pants and headed to Dodge.  I’m glad I did – again, because I got the opportunity to beg, borrow, and steal a lot of great ideas.  Thanks to the ladies of USD 355 for letting me join you for lunch!  😉

I have had the opportunity to work with one of my favorite twitter teachers, Kelly O’Shea.  We had some Chemistry Google Chats.  I got to attend Physics Teacher Camp in Sacramento, California – one of her pet projects in connection with AAPT.

In addition to these fabulous opportunities, I was also honored to be able to lead a few workshops around the state, as one of the Kansas NGSS trainers.  I always learn so much from these opportunities – especially when I am partnered with a teacher like Denise Scribner!

My highlight of the summer?  Attending the NSTA STEM Forum and Expo in Denver with 6 awesome colleagues, and getting to hear from (and take pictures with) the AMAZING Derek Muller!  He gave his This Will Revolutionize Education keynote – with a bit more details and activities than this video.  If I can summarize a bit:  the role of teachers is to help students “get off of the couch” and get CONNECTED with their learning.  (For a little more, check out his guest post on Frank Noschese’s blog:  What Puts the Pseudo in Pseudoteaching).

Connection.  This year, I want to delve a little bit more into this word – and these experiences.  This is just an intro post – if I say it, that means you’ll hold me accountable to more, right?  😉

One powerful little word.  How are you experiencing the power of being connectED this year?Veritasium Selfie