Saturday, October 31, 2015

My Lighthouse: A Lament

Today was a hard, hard day for me personally, and for the life of our church body: today we celebrated the life of a little one from our congregation; a 4-year-old whose life ended far too soon.

There are so many unanswered questions, so many wonderings, so many tearful moments. It was a beautiful day, but in a tragic sort of way. It was a wonderful time to surround a hurting family with the love of their broader church family. So many from our congregation came together to serve. My wife and I were asked to help lead the worship time, and we willingly agreed. The parents had selected songs that were especially meaningful for their family, including classics like Amazing Grace and Jesus Loves Me. They also included a more contemporary choice: Rend Collective's song, My Lighthouse.

If you aren't familiar with the song, here's the video. (I love these guys--their heart and passion come through in every song they sing...)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

What is Really Important?

A dear friend who is a social worker shared this via Facebook this morning...

From the Iowa Foster & Adoptive Parents Association's Facebook page.
This is a real concern.


Kids struggle with depression.

Let me say that again:

Kids. Struggle. With. Depression.

This is a real thing, and if you a teacher, a parent, or work with young people in any way, you need to be aware of this.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

There is DNA in Your Smoothie!

DNA is an actual real thing. DNA is the "blueprint" for how to build a particular organism. Human beings, lobsters, oak trees, bacteria, strawberries, platypus (platypi? playtpuses?)...all living things are made of cells, and all of them have DNA in their cells that contain the instructions for how to build the structures of that particular organism.

Most of you won't be shocked to hear this, I know.

But have you ever wished you could see DNA? How do we really know it's a thing, if it's so small that we can't really see it?

This is a real problem for science teachers. We often are working with things that are too small, or too big, or too dangerous to show students directly. So we create models, or play videos, or show pictures...which are all good options, of course.

Take DNA as an example. When I used to teach students about DNA, I often showed them pictures of the double-helix structure in their textbook. We would view video clips of how DNA can make copies of itself using the microscopic machinery of living cells. I would have groups of students create construction paper models of the ladder-like structure of DNA.

But wouldn't it be nice to show students DNA first hand, if possible?

Friday, October 9, 2015

Grades Should Report LEARNING

I think you may need to know where I'm coming from if you're going to read this post, so you don't think I'm just suddenly ranting out of thin air.

Early in my teaching career, I was all about the points. I've written before about my "bucket-o-points" approach to grading, and how I slowly shifted away from this perspective. (I encourage you to read the article linked above for that story.) But this is still a passion area for me, and I think most teachers aren't nearly mindful enough about our assessment practices, and more specifically, about our grading practices.

Okay, on with the post...


I was recently doing some reading in preparation for a lesson I'm teaching next week, and I am using John D. Mays's lovely little book Teaching Science so that Students Learn Science as a text for the course. While Mays is giving advice to science teachers in particular, much of what he has to say applies to teachers in general.

Take this gem, for instance:

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Will It Float?

In Science Methods this week we have been learning more about what inquiry-infused science learning looks like. I really like the "5 E's" learning cycle for managing an inquiry-infused science class, and I've been recommending this to my students. (This model was developed by Rodger Bybee and colleagues in the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study; you can read their executive summary if you want more details...)

The 5 E's are a way of organizing learning activities for a student-centered, constructivist approach to science learning. The 5 E's are five "movements" in an inquiry learning cycle that describe what the teacher and students are doing. In a nutshell:

Engage - The teacher provides some sort of hook (a discrepant event, a connection to students' world, etc.) to foster curiosity and set the stage. This provides motivation and a need-to-know to set up the inquiry.

Explore - The students conduct a first-hand investigation to develop their thinking about the science concept to be learned. This movement often exposes students misconceptions about science concepts, and also gives them concrete experiences that can provide the basis of new learning.

Explain - In this movement, both the students and the teacher have the opportunity to do some explaining. The students explain their current thinking, based on their experiences in the Explore movement. The teacher has the opportunity to probe their thinking, ask questions, help them voice their ideas...and provide direct instruction to help students think more scientifically about the concepts being considered. This is the movement where teachers help mediate students' understanding of the content.

Elaborate - The students then have the opportunity to continue working with these new ideas, extending their thinking through another learning activity. This might be another hands-on investigation, further research, or some sort of creative response that incorporates the science concepts. They key is that students continue to develop their thinking about the science content, elaborating on what they have previously learned in the Explore and Explain movements.

Evaluate - Finally, students and teacher work together to find out what the students are now thinking about the concepts. Assessment of learning happens here, with the students (hopefully) able to say, "I used to think...but now I think..."

We had previously learned about the 5 E's learning cycle, but I wanted my students to experience a learning cycle firsthand. So, we took a couple class meetings to learn about floating and sinking, a common elementary science topic. Here's what we did:

Monday, October 5, 2015

Get in there and Jump!

I had a fun new experience this past weekend: I took my kids and nephews and nieces to an indoor trampoline park. You would think that I was there to be the responsible adult, but let's be honest: I was just the biggest kid in there. Here, this might help you picture the scene:

That's me, "levitating" with the smaller humans jumping around me...