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Monday, January 05, 2015




Designing Educational Models for Learning Science

Embracing the Realities of the World in the 21st Century

 

Designing new educational initiatives for the science classroom intends to strategically place rigor, relationships and relevance into the science curriculum emphasizing the integration of three important aspects in human development.  This new model of science education reflects a three-tier approach to learning in both primary and secondary grade levels. 

The first approach is the conduction of long-term research projects, in the science classroom, geared toward mitigating climate change and championing a belief in the pursuit of a sustainable lifestyle.  This mindset is reflected in students’ commitment to the consumption of renewable materials for new products produced and consumed within our society, to the hydroponic growth of organic foods for large urban populations and finally for a commitment to energy efficiencies as part of the lifestyles we exhibit each and every day.

 The second is the acknowledgement of providing equity in educational opportunities for female students and disenfranchised minorities groups, world-wide, signifying a commitment to increased human capacity to prosper and learn along with the economic development associated with investments in human capital and in human lives.
 The final aspect of this new model for learning science is the commitment to researching and avocation for carbon-free sources of energy. The reduction in the carbon foot print, across the board, embracing all human activities on the planet is the cornerstone of this project-based science model for learning.  This aspect brings into focus the relevance of all of these above mentioned activities, concepts and efforts within 21st century models of

Saturday, January 03, 2015

Energy and the Electric Car Project




From the Mind of a Science Teacher

By Greg Reiva
 

This January I plan to literally put things in motion, while exploring the dynamics of velocity, acceleration and force with my students in conceptual physics class.  Engaging students, challenge their abilities and creating value for what they learn is no easily achievable goal, but doing real science in the science classroom is achievable, relatable to students and just plain exciting. It provides the rigor, relationships and relevance essential to learning in the 21st century.

Everything we do this spring semester will fall under the umbrella of Energy.  It is one of the most challenging concepts in physics to grasp and to be able to truly relate to the world that surrounds us.  For students this is the pinnacle of understanding when exploring ideas and concepts associated with the universe and its transformation overtime.

 The true essence of the concepts of energy play a pivotal role in describing 21st century models of matter and its existence in the universe. It defines our human existence within it.  At the center of any science curriculum should be the study of the production, use and transformation of energy.  This helps students understand the majestic structure of the universe and with that our human dependence upon energy for life.

Implementing inquiry-based models of learning in the classroom, along with project-based learning opportunities provide students with the means and the motivation to do real science.  This study of energy provides an excellent opportunity for students to utilize their skills and abilities to discover relationships, define laws of physics and to understanding interdependencies of multiple sources of energy that yield sustenance each and every day.

Solar panels, wind turbines, fuel cells, hand electric generators, electric motors, gear driven systems, electric cars and mouse trap cars provide an introduction to the wealth of resources available to teachers and students. It galvanizes creative minds helping them to be more engaged and motivated to become both innovative and inquisitive.
Energy efficiencies and the transfer of energy from one source to another helps define a system’s viability and capability.  To be competent in the determination of the flow of energies is to be able to manage a system’s productivity and maximize its outputs.  The goal of any energy producing system is to provide the means to create outcomes that produce work, transfer energies and support networks of human endeavor. 

A sustainable energy producing system will minimize energy consumption while maximizing outputs.  A sustainable energy producing system will access sources of energy that are carbon-free and completely self-sustaining.  Nonrenewable energy resources are a relic of the 20th century.  Energy awareness, in the 21st century, begins with students in primary and secondary grades embracing sustainability as a way of life and working to bring this belief into their homes and into their communities.

The Electric Car Project provides teachers with the resources and pedagogy to implement inquiry-based models of learning in the science classroom.  This project builds student understanding of the physics of motion and transcends into learning opportunities that requires problem solving and critical thinking.  Students work on a wide spectrum of energy-driven vehicles utilizing many forms of energy (mechanical energy, electrical energy, solar energy, chemical energy and associated sources of energy transfers) to produce motion. 

This project is a model of learning that builds upon prior knowledge and abilities, while offering engaging challenges directed at students’ intrinsic motivation to learn.  The rigor of the project is embedded within the concepts and learned principles as part of the science curriculum. The development of relationships, during the project, is fostered within students’ increased sense of autonomy, developed self-efficacy and a renewed openness to new ideas with collaborative efforts among peers. The relevance of doing inquiry-based research, as part of a science project methodology, contributes to an ecological conservativism; this is rooting in the belief of restoring a sense of community’s self-sufficiency, development of a commitment to raising the quality of life for all members of society and creating a deepened sense of engagement to life time goals.

 

 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014




Lost Opportunity

 
For over 20 years I have toiled in the science classroom for the betterment of learning for all students.  At the end of each fall semester I always get a little melancholy when I start to compare student achievements that I witness to what I would consider as essential abilities and needed attributes.  The gap between this reality and my perception is what I call the “lost opportunity”.  This feeling that I have lost time or lost the opportunity to get my students to learn burns inside me by the end of each semester.  Even with all of the innovation, education and experience that I possess, the reality is that it still bothers me that I have missed benchmarks in achieving the level of student performance that I feel they are all capable of reaching.

The situation is akin to making an effort to redesign garden plots for plants, year-after-year, when struggling to enhance productivity and output.  But in reality, advancement in the quality that is witnessed can take on many forms and attributes.  Experts in any field of endeavor look closely at situations and realize there will always be particular nuances, unique to any situation, that support the justification of their efforts to gain productivity and quality of outcomes.

Education is a product of both the mind and of the soul of people.  Greater autonomy, self-reliance, commitment to excellence and cooperation with peers helps to describe the essence of who we are and what we are willing to believe in. These attributes, forged through this learning process, are the hallmark of what makes great learners and great citizens.  Gaps in achievement with respect to these personal qualities will negatively affect the quality of life.  Therefore as a teacher, I look at my students and I see “lives of opportunity” that await them and I have a strong  compassion to reach out to them with a sense of urgency.

The relentless pursuit of betterment in how we educate our kids, relies upon innovation that is brought forth by teachers to create learning environments that not only meet the needs of students, but also provide an impetus galvanizing their intrinsic motivation to learn.  If learning requires students to solve relevant problems in their community or their homes, then it will also require students to become more engaged and committed in school and see their efforts through to completion.  This helps to develop the self-efficacy that lies within each student. This wealth of youthful energy and ideas can be an important resource for communities of people in school or within the community at large. This is the challenge that schools face as they deliver an education for the betterment of kids. Teachers continue to build upon these efforts and help to foster loving and loveable people within a good society.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Daring Greatly


Daring Greatly

By Greg Reiva, Pitsco Corporation TAG Member, Teacher at Streamwood High School, Streamwood, IL

It is a fact that, given the time and motivation, students can achieve incredible feats within relatively short periods of time. For years, at school, I have witnessed student athletes, student actors, and student leaders present themselves at the highest level of performance, pushing this effort to the very edge of their abilities and rarely disappointing their audience.

Academically, this is not always the case. It is a rarity that students are able to truly draw upon their personal resources and abilities to show greatness in the science classroom. To show greatness is to be part of an event galvanizing fortitude, commitment, and personal satisfaction.

President Theodore Roosevelt once said, “The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood [. . .] [I]f he fails, at least [he] fails while daring greatly [. . .]” I believe that the very act of innovative thinking, questioning conventional wisdom, and proposing new avenues of exploration and scientific investigation encapsulates the essence of daring greatly in science education.

Robert Yager, distinguished professor of science education at the University of Iowa, once compared learning science to the situation of an athlete learning the rules and mechanics of his sport. An athlete must adequately prepare both mind and body to compete. The ultimate goal is to compete. In the same vein, students in K-12 science curriculum will spend years acquiring information, knowledge, and understanding to do science. In an article Yager once cited the late Paul  Brandwein, a noted science educator and author, who believed  that the majority of students, throughout their K-12 tenure in science education, never really get to experience the intrigue of doing real science.

A revolution in science education would involve capitalizing upon the students’ human instinct to explore the natural world, proposing questions, following their instinct into new explorations, and capitalizing upon personal interest and motivation. It is not about just doing labs in science classes but letting students design their own experimental methods and assigning independent and dependent variables while testing their own hypotheses. Giving students this opportunity to dare greatly means challenging them to step out on their own and reach for a sense of accomplishment realized by innovative thought and personal perseverance.

Presented below is a brief list of a vast array of possibilities available to our students to break the traditional mold of learning in the science classroom and become inspired to dare greatly!

Mousetrap car designs, water bottle rocket construction, robotics innovations, wind turbine technologies, photovoltaic electric cars, passive solar cooker designs, fuel cell applications (as a source of carbon-free energy), scientific investigation into methods of conserving energy and preserving the environment, developing hydroponic and aquaponic organic herb and vegetable farm.
Long-term research projects, deeply embedded within the K-12 science curriculum, are an educational methodology bridging the gap between knowing and doing. Doing projects inspires students to maximize their knowledge, understanding, and experience, guiding them toward future academics and ultimately into their preferred careers.

 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


THE LEARNING CURVE IS STEEP




It is already mid-October in the science classroom and you can find my students in both physics and physical science classes preparing to initiate long-term research projects.  I make the contention that my high school students can complete real research by dong science and become active self-motivated learners. This effort by my students reflect my belief in students' abilities to create their own self-motivated learning experience.

Connecting with students takes an investment by the teacher of time, effort, fortitude and a never ending expression of eagerness to learn.   I find that my biggest challenge is getting students to ascend a steep learning curve with respect to becoming intrinsically aware of their own abilities and of the opportunities offered to them to learn.

My students bring into the classroom aptitudes such as inquisitiveness, creativity and openness to new ideas and are presented with a project-based learning environment that challenges their abilities to solve problems.  I help students by scaffolding for them material resources, peer-supported and team orientated lab designs which contribute toward successful completion of  investigative processes when doing science.


Project-based science is most effective when a teacher's pedagogy lends to the implementation of a growth mind set for learning.  This becomes the best practice for continued student success as students become more self-motivated and take charge of their own learning when they perceive that the teacher is working for them and not at odds with how they perceive themselves doing science.

The accent up the learning curve toward growth orientated thinking begins with the recognition that students abilities are as diverse as is their backgrounds and personal experiences.  It is therefore important to address this, diversity of thought, by differentiating the delivery of the curriculum within the same classroom.  It is not a one-size-fits all.  Opportunities to learn have to be as broad and diversity as are methods humans perceive and employ to solve similar problems.  Long-term research projects, conducted in the science classroom, are well suited to engage and promote this growth orientated thinking and perspective of students.

Everyday in the classroom has to connect and capitalize upon previous efforts and momentum in learning.  The cognitive discourse created by asking questions, probing for greater understanding and communicating findings and outcomes are effective tools used by the scientific investigators and researchers.  Engaging in science projects is the genius of real cognition and real discourse for our students.  Doing science breeds inspiration and innovation that is currently so lacking in our science education programs today.  This is an act of breaking down the disciplinary silos, in conventional education models, and letting the light of acknowledgement into the learning process.  The shear act of displacing the focus of teaching content with teaching learning becomes a vindication for positive change in the 21st century classroom.







       



  





Friday, July 18, 2014



“Be the guide on the side and less of a sage on the stage”

 
 
 

The emphasis now placed upon science education in America is to move the ball forward
toward the goal of increased science literacy for all. Many interests from a wide spectrum of
stakeholders are in play and demand change in how we deliver learning opportunities to our
children in our schools. Professionally, as educators, it is our responsibility to facilitate this
change and morally it is now an imperative.

The district-wide curriculum committee, in early June, did just that by taking on the responsibility to
support a commitment to a new science curriculum model that involves tearing down current
academic silos, while extending the reach of learning in a cross-disciplinary manner within the school.
This new curriculum model, aligned with the Next Generation Science Standards and support by
research on the effectiveness of project-based science initiatives, will both inspire and motivate
student learning. It truly is a better working model for education because it demonstrates how
people collaborate and communicate with each other to solve problems together in the real-world.

 This process of reinventing learning in the classroom is a reconceptualization of the
fundamental nature of teaching and learning itself. It is not just another mechanism for
delivering curriculum to students. As described in the book, The Fourth Way by Hargreaves
and Shirley, this fundament shift that we associate with respect to this new curriculum
initiative will, “restore greater autonomy from government and introduces more openness to
and engagement with parents and communities...this is a democratic and professional path
to improvement that builds from the bottom, steers from the top and provides support and
pressure from the sides. Through high-quality teachers committed to and capable of creating
deep and broad teaching and learning, it builds powerful responsible and lively professional
communities in an increasingly self-regulatory but not self-absorbed or self-seeking profession.”





From my perspective, as a science teacher beginning my 20th year at Streamwood
High School, I believe that we are at a historic turning point and a momentous time of crisis
in education. This crisis presents great opportunity for educators to embrace dramatic
transformations in our habits, and beliefs. At this juncture we must make daring and disruptive
changes, not incremental adjustments, but the genius of this effort will come from a strong
position of professional commitment and responsibility.

Over the past 20 year I have had  the privilege to be associated with some of the most creative and innovative educators in our district that seize innovative opportunities and help to increase our students capacity to learn and to be successful in life. Historically, as a school district, we have embraced change as the means to reach for continued student success in the classroom. Fundamentally it is this openness to change and willingness to pursue it that is one of our greatest strengths.

 Professional autonomy to design and implement needed reforms in how we deliver
educational value to our students will be the catalyst for extraordinary innovation in the
classroom. Being the guide on the side instead of the sage on the stage is really an educational
and philosophical priority that can be a rallying point and a model of learning that we embrace.
If creative and dynamic educators can model innovation in the classroom that is both inspiring
and meaningful then we can change education in a way that is transformational and long-lasting.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014




Maria

The school year is a precious time for my students to learn and to grow as individuals. As we approach the end of the school year I can’t help but reflect upon what has transpired in my classroom with respect to learning.  I focus on the positive things that I can point to where I feel that I made a difference in the lives of the kids that I help to educate.

I have always been impressed by Maria’s tenacity to work out challenging problems or to reason out possible solutions.  In my physical science classes she is one of the few students that consistently exemplify an intrinsic intellectual curiosity to learn new things.

When I design new projects or consider new avenues into doing inquiry in the classroom, I will often measure how students like Maria will adapt their thinking to this process of doing science.  I still labor over creating projects that provide challenges and needed outcomes that will produce successful inquiry experiences.  It is the challenge, the focus, the feedback and the desired outcomes that make for great projects.  This year, Maria’s writings on the science that she completed in class have been expressive and detailed.  Her experimental analysis is thorough and her emotional connection genuine.

During this school year I have focused upon the female perspective of doing science in my physical science classes.  Female students, like Maria, harbor unique characteristics that skilled and thoughtful pedagogy can help to bring forth and provide the support for great achievement in the science classroom.  Enthusiasm and interest in science are quickly galvanized when opportunities to do projects present themselves.  The intensity in their eyes, their smiles and the intellectual curiosity expressed in discussions are all excellent indicators of a solid learning experience.

After two days of construction, Maria ignited the electric power stored in batteries which fuels her electric car and causes the wheels to spin with a high frequency whine.  She breaks into a wide grin that says, “Hey look at this accomplishment”!  Then fresh from this mechanical achievement, she races the prototype model down the hallway making observations and inquiry, while flushed with success.

 Building these solar powered cars is a challenging experience for students.  The powerful success story expressed here is shown by Maria’s ability not only to relate concepts in physics to the car’s performance, but also to now utilize her newfound personal attributes and abilities to do science.  The sense of accomplishment and the feeling of autonomy that are created here are some of the most important aspects of this year-end project.  It provides students, like Maria, with experiences that will help to positively shape the way they feel about themselves and where they see themselves going in life.

Doing science can be a very liberating act because it helps to define who you are; it provides opportunity to showcase your abilities, while using the personal attributes to reach for challenging and worthwhile goals.  Science develops both personal resilience and a commitment to achievement.  At the end of this school year, Maria and other students like her are ready to move on with a greater sense of the possibilities for themselves and of what they can hope to achieve.