The internet is full of videos, some silly and others serious. Every once and a while you stumble upon a video that resonates with you, makes you think, and makes you ask questions.
That’s how we felt when viewing the one and only video blog from elementary science student Dagan Merckler. Dagan attends World of Inquiry School #58 in the Rochester City School District (New York). The goal of this school is to facilitate inquiry-based thinking and developing critical thinking, questioning, and problem-solving skills with a “learning by doing” approach.
From their Facebook page, it’s clear the school district values active-learning and focuses on providing STEM activities for students and the community alike with events like their recent STEM Expo and Family Science and Engineering Night. Not only can students showcase what they’ve learned to parents and teachers, they’re able to engage in STEM learning alongside family members. This increases the chance that concepts learned in school will be emphasized at home, too.
In his YouTube video blog above, posted September 11, 2015, WOIS student Dagan expresses his excitement and concerns for learning science in the new school year:
“Hello, my name is Dagan Merckler and I go to World of Inquiry School #58. This year, I’m looking forward to all of the fun things in science class. To me, science class is learning about different…sciency things. I am gonna hope to have fun in science class because I will be uploading videos, working with animals, and hopefully making things explode. One thing I’m nervous about is getting all of my work done because I think I am going to have a LOT of homework over the year. Thanks. Bye.”
Although Dagan said he would post follow-up videos chronicling is science adventures, he never did! We’re left wondering what happened to Dagan? Did he have fun in science class or did he feel uninspired to document his experience? Did he get bogged down in assignments? Did he give up in frustration?
We may never know how Dagan did in science class this school year, but we do know the topic of this video touches on fundamental issues in science education. Dagan addresses a common concern for science students and teachers alike: will this class be fun?
As Dr. Jackie Gerstein (@) discusses, engaging students in science as early as elementary school is important because this is when they form an interest in STEM (STEM for Elementary School Students – How to Instill a Lifelong Love of Science). At this age, curiosity fuels a love for hands-on activities. She suggests making science lessons relevant by giving students the chance to try their hands at real-life problems. Science doesn’t only involve making things explode, like Dagan looked forward to, but teaching students to create projects that will allow students to collaborate and come up with plausible solutions. Teachers are challenged with making science fun for students, but it is a challenge, notes Dr. Gerstein, that can and must be overcome if we are to nurture next-generation leaders capable of solving big-world problems.
“Too many teachers have been taught, both as students and in their teaching training, that science and math should be taught out of a book… STEM, in the real world as practiced by professionals, is about examining, exploring, and solving real life problems. As such, it should follow that this should be the focus when teaching STEM.” — Dr. Jackie Gerstein
Luckily, there are tons of resources out there for teachers and different approaches to engaging students in STEM. By approaching learning with different activities, students can see that science is a wide field that has something for everyone, especially girls, who are disproportionately represented in STEM careers. Teachers can help inspire a love for science by teaching with a curriculum that is project-based by design and involves fun, relevant activities like those in Active Chemistry, where students connect chemistry to film, art, and cooking. These lessons show students science is a fun, interesting part of everyday life. These type of connections are critical for inspiring students.
Science Learning Beyond the Classroom
It’s also important for students to engage in science outside the classroom with after-school activities and games at home. Science is an inherently collaborative field. Opportunities for students to get together with their peers and learn can help develop life-long learners. This can be activities like robotics clubs, which adds friendly competition to the mix to engage students, and student-run organizations like Teen Science Café, which brings students and real science experts together for fun, interactive learning that nurtures curiosity.
Students and parents can also explore science clubs like those through Science Explorers, an east-coast organization that explores the wonders of science through experiments like building rockets, dissecting a squid, and more! Opportunities like these complement what is learned in the classroom and are perfect for students of all backgrounds, especially those who are excited about science like Dagan.
For the student who wants to interact with science-lovers from home, there is the monthly #scistuchat on Twitter where students and science experts chat about all things “sciency” (as Dagan calls it). This month, that meant the science of spiders (creepy or cool, depending on your perspective)! Online platforms like Twitter, YouTube, and even live streaming platforms like Periscope, give students easy access to scientists all over the world, which not only expands their learning, but offers students a great way to connect with other science-loving students around the world (it’s hard to feel alone when you’re sharing your excitement for science with hundreds of other kids just like you!). It’s worth noting that Dagan is likely using his mobile phone or laptop, and YouTube to record and upload the video.
At the end of his video, Dagan expressed concern over the amount of science homework he would have. Homework assessments are meant to be just that, a way to assess a student’s learning. Heavy homework loads have resulted in studies linking to lower science scores and frustrated parents like one father who decided to take on his daughter’s homework for a week and ended feeling exhausted and defeated.
How do teachers avoid this student burnout? How can teachers balance assessment without drowning students in work? The key is encouraging students to document their learning along the way, instead of ending the school day feeling lost and going home to lots of confusing homework and notes, which inevitably becomes the struggle of parents who can feel as lost as their child. In Project-Based Inquiry Science™, students use Project Boards to keep track of what they’re learning by asking: questions like:
— What do we think we know?
— What do we need to investigate?
— What are we learning?
— What is our evidence?
— What does it mean for the challenge or question?
Organizing information in this format allows students to see the complete picture of what they’re learning. It helps them connect concepts, so that when they go home and start their homework, they’re more prepared to tackle problems and think them through step-by-step. Watch a video explaining how Project Boards are done in science class HERE.
Another way to help prepare students to tackle homework is using a portfolio. Former Interactive Math Program (IMP) student Leslie Myint describes her initial concerns about creating a portfolio and what it meant to her in terms of her education later on:
“At the end of every unit, students are required to create a portfolio of reflections, class notes, and assignments that were instrumental in their comprehension of the main topics…Portfolio time was always a laborious and dreadful experience for me during middle and high school, but I recognize now how useful a practice it is for being serious about retaining knowledge.
As a graduate student, I have been exposed to several fundamental concepts time and time again in different courses, and I have found myself consciously wishing that I had put together portfolios for many of the classes that I took during college. Not only is the act of putting together a portfolio an invaluable synthesis activity, but the portfolio also serves as a one-of-a-kind reference manual.”
Although Leslie Myint initially dreaded the work, she found the portfolio helpful and a valuable resource for learning. Having this reference manual tailored to the learning of each unique student can be helpful when it comes time to sit down and attack those homework problems. It can also help them when they need to present and explain their research findings in class. In PBIS, this is call “conferencing”:
What is PBIS conferencing and why is it so important/effective in science learning? Teacher Lori Matthews explains. pic.twitter.com/LRgde4XjHp
The combination of activities that synthesize learning in class and opportunities to gather with other science students and experts outside of class are building blocks for a life-long love of science. With project-based, interactive, and collaborative learning, hopefully more students like Dagan will share their love of science class and be inspired to continue on a path of STEM success.
Teachers: If Dagan Merckler were your student, what would say to him after seeing this video?
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