STEM, ED697, Socio-Scientific Issues in the Science Classrooms

Socio-scientific Issues are utilized in science education in order to promote scientific literacy, which emphasizes the ability to apply scientific and moral reasoning to real-world situations.  Research studies have shown SSI to be effective at increasing students’ understanding of science in various contexts.

Below, you will find a link to my Google Document that I created, incorporating SSI and debate/research into a current lesson in the fourth grade curriculum.  Enjoy!


Final Reflection

ED676 Course Reflection

Part 1: On the discussion board you will see a link to my PDF that I re imaged for my fourth grade class next fall. I shared my work with my colleagues last week, and the entire team is excited to enhance our Ecosystems Science Unit. The unit plan I submitted shows the current readings, and then shows a typed up version of an idea that I got from an article I read in my STEM class. For those of you who are unfamiliar with STEM, it truly fits Meenoo’s conversations greatly, as it’s very student-centered, and is a playful approach to teaching. Re-imaging a unit plan in my school is something that I am lucky enough to be able to do. As we read about in “Thrive” there are some schools that forbid their teachers to stray from the pre-packed curriculum. My principals, however, are open to our ideas, and my entire district is supportive to STEM methodology. My unit plan starts with the idea of teaching kids about recycling through a more exciting way that the current articles we read in our science books. Students will engage in an activity based off of “Caine’s Arcade.” Caine is a young boy in California who created an entire video game center out of cardboard, and recycled items. My students will do the same, after watching the video. Each group of kids will receive one large cardboard box, filled with recyclable items such as bottle caps, paper towel rolls, egg cartons, jars, etc. The kids will create a functional game out of the material, and will be allowed to use tape. The students will build using the engineering process, of imagining, designing, building, evaluating, and then re-designing if necessary. Once the kids are finished with the building of the games, they will write a set of instructions and we’ll spend the afternoon playing games. Later in the PDF attachment you will see a write up about the cross-curricular opportunities and also ways we can empower our students to reach the community through this unit. Students will have a lot of choice after being given the assignment. I hope that this is something that my colleagues and some of you will read through and consider using in your own classroom!

Part 2: Final Class Reflections

I didn’t know what to expect when I took this class, but as soon as I received my copy of “Thrive,” I propped my feet up and began reading. Often, when I do grad work it’s more of a chore, but this course was so intriguing, as I loved the topics discussed. I loved reading about the “simple” things, and then thinking about them in depth. For example, we’ve all been encouraged to have a mentor. Perhaps we even started off our careers with an assigned mentor. It wasn’t until I read “Alone in the Classroom, Why Teachers are too Isolated,” until I realized how much time teachers really do spend behind their desk, working. The power that comes from networking and collaborating is so strong, and I can speak for myself by saying that this is often something I forget. I’ve come home after long days and realize I’ve gone days without interacting with other adults. This is certainly something I will now be more aware of, after taking this course.

I thought a lot about my student teaching experience as I went through this course. One of the many things that I remember about student teaching is the fact that I reflected so much and how my mentor at the time explained how important that was. She had me make notes each note and journal about the day. It really helped me become a more thoughtful teacher. Although time consuming, it was the best thing she could have done for me.

How many of us actually take the time at the end of each day and reflect on what happened? Did students learn the material? Which students struggled and why? What can I do better next time? All of these questions are vital in order to increase teacher and student productivity and successfulness.

Lana M. Danielson writes, “Because of their ability to reflect, great teachers know not only what to do, but also why.” Great teachers have a purpose when teaching and their activities, procedures, and assignments have a reason. I enjoyed reading “Fostering Reflection,” and especially found the four modes of thinking to be areas that I need to be more aware of. Formulaic thinking, situational, Diliberate and Dialectial thinking are modes that require an increasing degree of analysis and data seeking.   I often thought before this course reflection was simply “how did the lesson go?” but there’s certainly more levels to student evaluation and grades. The importance of utilizing colleagues, writing down notes, and listing questions are now things I will consider in my own teaching. I think the “four modes of thinking,” has before always just been lumped into one way of thinking. I am excited that I will start off my new school year with the importance of mentorships and self reflection in mind.

My two mentors have always been great “go to” people in my building, but taking this course encouraged me to step up and become more involved with their teaching in terms of how I can use them to better my own. On my Blog I wrote about Ashley, who is my mentor that has really helped me with tech over the year. She’s given me some great resources to put into my own classroom, and I hope that everyone takes a peek at my Blog post about “Plickers.” I would have never gone out on a limb and searched for this formative assessment resource, but thanks to someone I’ve worked closely with and already trust, I was able to bring new tech resources to my students.

Meenoo, I want to truly thank you for gathering great materials for us to read this year. I also want to thank my classmates for sharing posts, blogs, and creative unit plans. My favorite thing about this course was that although a structure was provided, and guidance was present, Meenoo really gave us each the opportunity to be stylistic in the way we share. Blogging, for me, was something that I would have never imagined doing. Now, I will continue to read educational articles and post on my blogs, for everyone to share! I think it’s such a fantastic way to get lost on the internet- reading one another’s blogs. I want to thank Meenoo for teaching us, but allowing us to leave this course in our own greatness that we’ve each created!

Happy Teaching, fellow classmates, and enjoy a well-deserved summer vacation!

Chapter 5, Empower Your Students

Chapter 5, Empower Your Students

The reason I am a teacher stems back from my early roots in elementary school. I loved my teachers! I loved walking into school every morning and being greeted by the friendly faces of Mrs. Ashbrook, Mrs. Dobil, Mrs. Damweber, Ms. Schneck, Mrs. Gall, and Mrs. Madis. I loved the community that these teachers established, and more than anything, loved the school-family I felt part of within in the vibrant, colorful classroom. I am a teacher because I realized that there was no other job for me, other than giving back that same joy and love to kids. When I read chapter 5, I truly felt connected to the empowerment of students. My ultimate goal every day, every year, is to show up my authentic self, and to be seen. I love serving as a role model for my students both in the classroom and in the community, and more than anything I love getting to know my students as learners, and also their families and backgrounds.

As Meenoo Rami says, “Our legacy lasts a long time in children’s lives.” I couldn’t agree more! When I found out I got a job teaching fourth grade, I was thrilled, but the words “fourth grade” made me nervous. It wasn’t because of the age of the kids, or the curriculum, but it was because out of all my elementary days fourth grade was my LEAST favorite. My fourth grade teacher was the only one that I didn’t feel connected to, so my prior experience of fourth grade was a bit less than incredible. Luckily, I overcame this fear quickly, and realized that the grade I teach really doesn’t matter. The type of teacher I would become is a culmination of all my experience, all my super teachers, my great role-models, and my desires to show up in a big way to my students. I often remind myself that my legacy will last a long time.

Part of empowering our kids is teaching them ways to improve. Their job is to show up and gain knowledge. Our textbook discussed that “we must have honest discussions with our students…and yes, these discussions do need to happen…” I know that my first couple years of teaching, I had a hard time giving student feedback. I wanted all my students to love learning and to feel comfortable and successful, so when it came to giving honest feedback, I really struggled. Each year I find myself getting better at having honest conversations with my students, and this year I took some huge leaps towards creating more successful writers. I noticed that this year a vast majority of my kids were afraid to write. Every time a writing prompt was given, or even a quick-write in their journal they’d cringe. Kids would ask to go to the nurse, others would say “I can’t think of anything,” and the few that did get going right away wrote the bare minimum and quickly closed their notebooks. I realized that this was going to be an area that I needed to empower my students, since we had an entire school year together to overcome the obstacles they feared with writing. With the help of my mentor, and talking with some writing coaches, I decided that the fear wasn’t “what to write,” but rather how their writing would be evaluated. I decided to teach writing through the five scoreable domains. I broke down focus, style, organization, content, and conventions and had mini-lessons about each domain. Although I’ve done this in years past, I admit to rushing through these areas of evaluation, since I figured the kids got it. This year, however, I elaborated each domain and enriched my lessons with mentor-text that I found at the library. I brought each domain into everything- our language arts stories, our read alouds, and completely blended writing into every area of study. I was determined to break the false thought that my kids were “bad writers,” since I knew half the battle was getting them to believe in themselves. I also empowered my students by writing each of them hand-written letters numerous times throughout the year. Every couple months I would send each student a quick note to their home address, pointing out an area of improvement. Sharing this feedback with the kids was a great way for them to build trust, but also a great reminder that their hard work in the classroom isn’t going unnoticed. This empowerment was created out of trust, joy, and love but mainly out of co-creation. I took an opportunity to create something new, to take a chance, and to experiment with the ways I was teaching my students. Empowerment can come in many different forms, but the key concept is always the same- it’s giving pieces of our great unique self to others, so that they can thrive!

Chapter 5 stresses that it’s not only important how students acquire skills but it’s also important that they are left feeling empowered. At the end of the year every single student should leave your classroom, wanting to come back tomorrow. This past school year was the best year I’ve ever had. I was able to give my student’s tons of choice, because they could handle it. I was able to do yoga with my kids, and provide opportunities for them to teach me lessons that they created. I know that it was a meaningful year, and I also know that I left them leaving feeling as though they owned their learning. Being in creation with me during this year is something I want them to remember when they think back to their fourth grade year. I want them to remember their student-centered classroom as a safe environment to take challenges and make mistakes.

Benefits of empowerment include creating a lifelong love of education, increasing engagement, and building momentum. I saw my students taking the extra challenges this year when they were early finishers. I didn’t even need to tell them what to do when they finished their work, but instead they just did it. They developed this intrinsic motivation because they loved learning. When I think back to Mrs. Ashbrook, my favorite teacher of all time, I remember her setting these basic fundamentals of empowerment in me, and in her other students.

Coming directly from Meenoo Rami’s, “Thrive,” she summarizes final thoughts to her readers before closing this book. I love the points she makes so much, that I wanted to include them in my Blog to share with you. Those of you who are reading this, I highly encourage you to go pick up a copy of “Thrive,” as it is a quick, enjoyable read that will be one you’ll pull of the shelf every time you feel the need to energize your teaching style.

Perfectly, explicitly stated, here are Meenoo’s final thoughts that sum everything up:

-There are people in your community and network who want to help you. They can help you if you invite them.

-Know your students well so that you can live in peace with the decisions you make or them.

-Although the tools will come and go, how you model lifelong learning will stay with your students long after they leave your classroom.

-Standing still in these times is not an option. Your teaching must change and respond to the evolving world around you.

-You may not see immediate results or gratification with your students, but eventually you will. Watch for the tiny moments and appreciate them.

-You don’t have to follow every mandate put in front of you.

-Teaching is incredibly difficult and is the most meaningful work you’ll ever do in your life. It will change you physically, emotionally, and intellectually, and nothing you’ve ever done before will completely prepare for it.

Chapter 4, Listen to Yourself

Chapter 4, Listen to Yourself

Meenoo Rami starts this chapter off perfectly, with a quote from one of my favorite authors, Brene Brown, about human engagement and creativity. She quotes, “When learning and working are dehumanized- when you no longer see us and no longer encourage our daring, or when you only see what we produce or how we perform- we disengage and turn away from the very things that the world needs from us: our talents, our ideas, and our passion.” As this course discusses teacher burnout and ways to prevent it I think it’s important that we as educators really spend time evaluating our talents and ideas, and whether or not we’re fully putting forth our authentic self in the classroom. When we come to the classroom in auto pilot, and pull out the same material year after year, simply just to “plow through” that’s exactly when we begin to hurt ourselves and others. The value that we give to the students is diminished when we aren’t our true selves! “So what is it we can bring to the classroom?” one may ask. The answer is, everything! As educators we are talented people, often well-rounded in literature, or have backgrounds in art history or sports. Heck, we’ve got the whole summer off and many of us have a second job or hobby we turn to for the two months of the year we have some free time in our lives. I compete in triathlons, and spend summer days logging hours and hours of swimming, biking, and running to train for the Ironman triathlon. If I don’t teach through this lens, my students aren’t seeing my true self. As teachers, there is so much power in bringing the greatness of all that you know into the four walls of the classroom.

Meenoo talks about fear, and how teachers become fear based, and mask true feelings and identity. As teachers, we must be risk-takers, and as Brene Brown says we must dare greatly! Teaching from fear hinders the ability to act according to values that guide our teaching. I think a lot of the fear comes from administration, and the pressure to be successful. In my building a shift happened when the state changed the way we are evaluated. It seems as though any creativity that my colleagues and I once had became diminished once we knew that the PSSA scores would have such an impact on our teacher score as well. It quickly became, “teach to the test,” since there was x amount of material to fit into six months. I think once there is talk of this fear, the vibe changes quickly and unfortunately the children are the ones who suffer from the lack of creativity.

I connect with the fear based part of Meenoo’s book, as currently I am in the graduate program at Arcadia University and have faced some fears brining what I’m learning into my classroom. I’m taking STEM courses, and this past year I tried to integrate as much STEM into my fourth grade classroom as possible. My other fourth grade teammates gave me a bit of difficulty when I engaged my class in certain projects, partly out of jealousy, and partly from a creativity stand point. They feared that if things went well with teaching from the STEM methodology that over time they’d have to make a switch, too. Teachers who have been around a long time (let’s face it), fear transitions! My teammates wanted us all to be doing the same thing. Instead, I wanted to take risks, and try on what I was learning about in class. I laughed when I read the part of Meeno’s book about the amount of “extra work” she referred to, as this extra work can certainly be a killer of motivation. It’s easier to just grab the materials already given to us by the school district and go on with the boring old science kit. Instead, though, going the extra mile had tremendous effects in my classroom. My kids loved working on the engineering projects I did with them this year. I am motivated to continue to bring this energy and style into my classroom again next year. I strive to teach my kids, too, that perfection is NOT the goal. STEM has helped me convey this message to kids, as often when we engineer something it won’t work the first or second time around- this is perfect, since each time we fail creates a learning experience! I am lucky that my administration is very open to creative ways of teaching. In “Thrive,” we read about the fourth grade teacher in Austin, TX who was allowed to only teach from test materials, exclusively. Teaching test preparation all day long is not only boring for the kids, but frustrating for the teacher. This district is forcing teachers to lose their authentic self, and forcing teachers to do the exact opposite of empower their students!! Overall, it’s important to continue to turn back to the essential goal, which is to determine how we can align our teaching with our values. Seeking our selfhood in our classroom can be done, as long as we continue to be open to this important concept.

Reading about pre-packaged curriculum and the regular need to make changes really resonated with me. For this course, one of the requirements is to take a pre-packaged curriculum and to “listen to ourselves” as we create a more meaningful experience for the students. I am currently working on this project, and am thinking of ways to bring my students and my community together as a whole. Bridging the gap between the community and classroom is important to me. This past year I tried to do a better job at bringing people into my class, and one of the fun things I did was bring a seeing-eye dog trainer into our room during a week-long literature study that was about disabilities. I know if I bring community into our school this will make it easier for the kids to turn to their community members to enhance their education. For example, in my current plan I’m writing to revamp my Ecosystems unit I have a tie in with community and classroom. My students will be much more likely to succeed with this piece if they have seen interaction happening in the existing classroom. Once they see all the fantastic things the community has to offer, they’ll be motivated to work together. Certainly, this requires more work than just reading the ordinary textbook but in the end it brings authenticity and value to the classroom.

This chapter also motivated me to talk to my own students more about being a lifelong learner. In my own life I model curiosity, and lifelong learning, and I think it’s important for my students to hear about grad school, including the challenges I face. It’s important that we as teachers don’t make ourselves the center, but rather share with the kids that we are real people. I want my kids to know that things don’t come easy to me, and that when I was their age I struggled with reading comprehension. I talk to my students a lot about when I was in fourth grade, and the things that I now know that I didn’t know then in order to be successful. This thought brought me back to a concept we spent a lot of time discussing during my yoga teacher training. The idea of teaching with the question in mind of “who is this for?” If I am talking in front of my yoga class just to talk, well it’s probably about me. If I play my favorite song, it’s probably for me. This is the same in my classroom at school. If I dig out the old box of science materials and do the same lesson as every other year to teach about sustainability in ecosystems, well that style of teaching is absolutely about me! The answer should rarely, if ever, be about me in my classroom. My job is to make my students the center of learning, to empower them and enrich their education with creativity. Meenoo also talks about, in chapter 4, the importance of sharing student work. When kids know their work will be shared, they will be much more likely to edit for mistakes and go the extra mile to make it as clear as possible. When students share their work to an authentic audience, they are given the opportunity to overcome fears, which ties in perfectly to the fears that often hold teachers back from taking risks.

“So, this all sounds great but now what,” one may ask. Well, if you’re reading this you are already on your way to a bigger and better self. Reading Blogs, like this one, and continuing to read books, journals, and talking to your colleagues is a fantastic way to show up big. As we read about a few weeks ago, avoid isolating yourself. Avoid sitting in your room during all your prep periods and instead go look around. Open your eyes to the opportunities either already existing in your school, or potential areas to bring opportunities. Share with your peers. Encourage mentorships, and work with your mentor about ways to bring your ideas into the classroom. Most importantly, though, “Listen to Yourself.” We are in tune enough with our style of teaching, and our classroom to know when we need to make changes. Don’t think about it- just listen to your gut and do it. Dare greatly! Remember, that we as teachers, have the power to bring joy and love into our classroom, and have the power to give students the opportunity to THRIVE! A big thanks goes out to Meenoo Rami for brining awareness to our identity, and for reminding us that retreating from our real voice ultimately hurts our children. Listening to yourself is the key to success!