Thursday, May 31, 2012

Strawberry Deliciousness

I love fresh strawberries out of the garden. Particularly when its not a garden you planted, cultivated, or cared for. But you get the reap the benefits! And this is our situation. The boarding school where we volunteer has a large strawberry patch, and we had permission to raid it! Caleb and I are the big strawberry eaters, and we made out like bandits last week!  

On one of our evening walks we brought our Frankenstein faced-halloween bucket to collect those precious morsels of deliciousness! Oh, its just heavenly!   One for the bucket, three for the mouth!

While eating them right out the garden is the best, we also sprinkle sugar on them, let them sit for several hours, and then drizzle the soupy deliciousness onto ice cream. I also like to make a rhubarb/strawberry cobbler that works because the tart and sweet are such a wonderful combination. But our favorite is

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Multiple Intelligences and STEM

Anyone who has kids or works with kids understands that not only does each have his/her own personality, but each also prefers to learn information in their own ways and also have preferences in how they share what they have learned. There are many different theories of learning styles out there, enough for everyone to find one they like best. For me it is the Multiple Intelligence theory.

Since my early years in undergraduate education (back in the 1990's) I have been a fan of Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence (MI) Theory. Dr. Gardner's writings were not originally meant for the education community, and many educators find his writing a bit theoretical. However it is the educators who sat up and listened knowing he was on to something. Teachers like the MI theory as it explains learning styles in more detail than the commonly used learning style trilogy; auditory, visual, and kinesthetic.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Why Do We Judge Student Research Events?

Just like anything in life, you have to take the good with the bad, and this is true for science fair competitions. While there is much I appreciate about these research events, like the student-student interaction, I feel that we need to be careful that the judging mimics what scientists do in real life, and that these events encourage student to imitate how scientists view learning.   

Why do we judge student research? Teachers will tell you that the research events are wonderful culminating events that help students showcase the hard work they have put into their research. It gives them an authentic audience with which to share what they have learned, and that in and of itself, makes it valuable. So the next question is "Are scientists judged on their work?" The answer is Yes. This is why scientists must publish their findings in scientific journals. The scientist's methods, statistical analysis, and conclusions are carefully scrutinized by scientists in the same field of study. Another way in which scientists are "judged" is when they are trying to procure funding. Again, a team of experts review the purpose of their research, the methods, and whether or not the potential results will impact society's needs.  In this way scientists are competing against colleagues within their respective fields of study, to have strong research designs that will provide answers to interesting questions. So in this way, student research events do mirror what scientists do in real life.  

So the next logical question is how close the judges at a student research event emulate the peer evaluation used in the scientific community. Ask anyone who has hosted a student research event, and they will tell you that

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Our Eastern Screech Owl Family

You're not going to believe this, but we have a family of Eastern Screech Owls hanging out in the trees around our home. My husband spends a lot of time sitting outside in the evening, and when he heard what sounded like a baby kitten crying, he found the noise coming from an owl perched on a low limb on the tree right above him. In the following weeks, we have identified a total of 7 owls, five of which appear to be baby owls. While we have captured some photos at night, I was also able to get some photos at dusk, with four of them perched close together. I dusted off my telephoto lense and got some decent photos!

One of the counselors at the boarding school were we volunteer loves birds, and has identified these owls as Eastern Screech Owls. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology website has some wonderful information if you are interested. I will tell you that the "voice" recording on the Cornell page are  not the sounds our owls make. Ours sound more like kittens. Maybe these are the juveniles (babies), and their voices are still developing? Only a guess!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

5 Year Old In-line Skater

So now that we've conquered riding a bike, Caleb wants to learn how to skate. Here's a look at his first attempt. He's wearing my skates, we're looking for a pair more his size at garage sales, but until then, this will work. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Emphasize Student Interaction at Science Fairs

While there are some aspects of the science fair, that I an not crazy about, what I appreciate most about  student research events is the interactive experience my students receive as they mingle with other student-researchers. While its easy for students to be self-absorbed on this day (after all, they've been preparing for this culminating event for at least several months) students can gain a lot of insight on how science is done, by talking with OTHER students. However, no matter how social your students are, they are not likely to interact other students from other schools without a little motivation from you, their teacher or parent.

I always encourage students to mingle and talk with others about research. Even if they don't understand the topic another student studied, they do understand the scientific process they used. Therefore, they automatically have something in common with everyone at the event.  To help prepare my own students, I hold a pseudo-symposium day in class where they set up their posters and in two shifts, they move from poster to poster. This accomplishes two importance objectives. First, it give the presenters practice. And secondly, allows the rotating students acting as the audience, practice in interacting with others. I encourage presenters to invite those who are walking by their poster into conversation to avoid those awkward moments, not knowing if the passer-by wants to stop or not!  I remind them that students from other schools are just as nervous as they are, and while not presenting, their teacher has told them to move around the room. I tell my students that they are actually helping other students out by engaging them in conversation about their own research!   

If you are a teacher taking your own students to an event like this, I would highly suggest that you find a way to "encourage" students to seek out students from other school with whom to talk. I have found the most success with an assignment that forces them to mingle. While "force" is a strong word, they need some motivation or the peer pressure to just hang out with their own friends will inevitably win out! I've seen teachers assign a variety of tasks:

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Videos that Cheer Us Up!

The first one is James Taylor singing "Jellyman" on Sesame Street. The kids in this are hilarious!

Another Sesame Street favorite: "Mary Had a Bicycle"

I learned of this video when I found my husband and son huddled around the computer screen yelling, "Ohhhhh...... Whoa!!!!!! ......Ah!!!!" And this is what I found them watching! The footage is the surveillance video of a tornado hitting a train. Kudos to the hubby, who knows the perfect key words to search for (and ones I would never have thought of!)

Here is another Sesesme Street Favorite: This is Ernie singing "You gotta put down the ducky if you want to play the saxophone."

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Making Observations

Making observations sounds easy right? But did you know that observing something is more than just "looking" at it?

Defining "Observation"

Think of it this way. Have you ever said to your husband or kids, "Do you hear me?" Of course they hear you, what you really mean is, "Do you understand the concepts I am communicating to you?" Making good observations is the same thing. You can look at something, but not really observe details or be able to recall them later. 

Think of a time when you really observed something ordinary for the first time. Maybe it was a stick, a campfire, or a seed germinating. Hopefully REALLY observing something brings with it a sense of awe. Studying science for me is praise and worship of my wonderful creator. Nature constantly reminds me of the order and care that God put behind everything in the world around me. Beyond awe, you notice details. Shading of colors you never saw before.  Shapes that went unnoticed until then. Textures that before were overlooked. Odors that never registered. These are the best kinds of observations!      

In the scientific sense, observations are facts/data that are collected, perceived, noticed, and then  recorded. 

Types of Observations

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Measuring Corn Growth with Lego Guys

Photo of young boy measuring small corn plants with lego guys

For a girl who wanted to get out of the midwest and move to the west coast, I sure do enjoy the planting season. I thoroughly enjoy watching the crops go into the soil, and then seeing the baby corn grow into tall stalks! Since we have fields right outside our home, I decided to develop a summer project that would help Caleb appreciate the growth of corn. 

Last fall we picked up seed corn (not the same as sweet corn) out of the fields after harvest. And this is what it looks like, for you city folk, who've never need it!

Photo of clear plastic glass with corn seeds sprouting along with an ear of seed corn

I believe everything looks cooler closer up. While we've all seen corn, look at it! Isn't is beautiful? All lined up in straight rows...all that potential to become something great, if only put into the right environment. I'll resist the urge to go into an object lesson here, but you get the point. 

Photograph of Seed Corn

Monday, May 7, 2012

Footprint Lab: Playing and Designing Methods

In my attempt to do a lab resembling earth science, this week in my middle school science lab, we did a "Footprint and Tracking" lab  This allowed me to play with various  "fossil" dough recipes, but more about that in a minute. Here is a link to the student lab handout.

I wrote the prelab section as a way to get students thinking about evidence and to make sure they understand the difference between observations and inferences. Observations are what we can record about what we see, hear, smell, touch, and taste. (Usually taste doesn't apply.) Inferences are how we interpret our observations. During discussion I give statements and have students guess if it is an observation or an inference. Then they are ready to study the graphic below. It shows 2 sets of footprints and they are to list ONLY observations. I encourage them to state the obvious, without providing any inferences. 

So our list looked like this. (I labeled the larger prints as subject A; and the smaller prints as subject B.)
a) There are 2 sets of animal tracks.
b) Both sets of prints come from the North moving in a southward direction; the larger came from the northwest, the smaller from the northeast.
c) Subject's A's prints are further apart just before the 2 paths cross.
d) Subject's B's prints are further apart just after the 2 paths cross.
e) The subjects tracks overlap in the center and move around in a circular pattern.
f) Animal A's prints leave the scene in a southwestern direction.
g) Animal B's prints disappear.

The next prelab question asks students, "Is there information missing? What other observations would you like to have to better analyze what happened at the scene?" The point here is to make sure students understand that the prints are only ONE piece of data that might be left at a scene. And interpreting the footprints in isolation without looking at any other data will mostly likely lead to incorrect conclusions. Student answers usually include: Out deep the prints are in the soil/sand/mud? More about the environment, trees? bushes? Is there evidence of a struggle, like feathers, blood, or a carcass? When were each of the prints made; at the same time or at different times? The last prelab question asks students to tell a story of what they think happened based on their observations. 

The hands-on portion of the lab is intended to allow students to play. Their task is "to figure out it is you can determine about a subject by studying its footprint." I set out a bunch of supplies and just let them play. My materials were:

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Countdown Birthday Chain

This week I decided to make a birthday countdown chain for Caleb. He's having a bit of trouble with the concept that his LITTLE brother had a birthday a month before he did. So this chain is my way of dealing with the never-ending question, "When will it be my birthday?" Each morning when he wakes up, he runs over to rip off a single link in the chain, and read how many days left until his birthday. So far, its a big hit!