December 22, 2011

Students into Scientists

Deirdre Bailey and Amy Park
Cross-posted on Calgary Science School's Connect!

It began with a conversation on how best to develop deep understanding of biological cycles. When we considered simply slicing fruit and vegetables in half and leaving them out in the open to observe the resulting changes, we never anticipated the smells, the new life, or the learning that would ensue.

The suggestion that we use Google Docs to facilitate collaboration and data management through the scientific process provided an excellent opportunity for introducing students to the incredible value of  facilitating collaborative research and documentation through technology. Have a look at our students' work, linked directly to our classes' Science Lab Website.

Although our decomposed specimens are now carefully buried in soil, the memory of the experiment is alive and well among our grade 4 students.  From Day 1 to Day 12, these young scientists were engaged, excited, and passionate about their discoveries. Throughout the process, students developed deep understanding of decomposition, the scientific process, collaboration, problem solving, data analysis, and so much more.

The following video outlines the entire process and the amazing learning that resulted.  

December 13, 2011

Waste and Our World Movie Project

Deirdre Bailey and Amy Park
Cross-posted on Calgary Science School's Connect!

Our Grade 4 classes have spent the past three months inquiring into the topic of "Waste and Our World" with the goal of developing an appreciation and understanding of their roles and responsibilities as global citizens of this environmentally fragile and increasingly endangered planet. We had hoped that our inquiry would help students feel empowered to sustain environmentally conscious action as part of their everyday lives. 

Our first mission was to collect garbage from the school ground. Students were shocked to discover that we had collected over 4lbs of lunch-related waste in one day and that this amount was repeated by the following class the next day! This activity made it clear that action for the environment was needed and could have a very real effect in our immediate community. As a group, we concluded that one minute public service announcements highlighting a need for change in our daily practices would be the best way to inform our school peers and inspire action. 

In order to build understanding and knowledge prior to designing their PSA's, students worked through a variety of tasks which included:
  • creating a decomposition timeline using human waste collected in the immediate area
  • discussing the composition of various human waste items and the factors affecting their breakdown
  • digitally documenting human waste samples from our school grounds
  • completing a retrieval chart with hypotheses on their specimen's origin and ultimate destination
Once students had a good understanding of the impact our human waste can have on the environment, we turned our attention to natural waste and consideration of how our natural world discards, reuses and recycles. As part of our exploration we:

Armed with a new understanding of how human and natural waste fit in our world, students watched some exemplar PSAs and advertisements aimed at communicating powerful environmental messages. We then worked together to build a rubric outlining what exemplary work might look like!

Lots to improve, keep working/trying. 
You’re okay but...

Good job, met expectations


Boring and meaningless facts! Used only a single source. Copied!
Partially researched, lacking information,  “is that it?” incomplete
Well researched, descriptive, relevant.
Interesting and helpful facts! Engaging! Has obviously used multiple sources. Original and in own words.
Uses “tired” words. Lacks description. Information is unclear. Off topic and confusing. Unconvincing. Audience is bored...
Unconvincing, “I’m confused”
Sufficient, concise, competent, clear message.
Uses juicy words. Descriptive. Is clear on the facts. On topic and makes sense. Persuasive. Exciting - captivates the audience’s attention.
Inappropriate, fuzzy, irrelevant, unrealistic,  doesn’t go with the subject/script/topic
Unpleasant, may not be appropriate to message
Appropriate, pleasing, satisfying
Realistic! Relevant! Memorable! Detailed! Appropriate! Clear! Interesting!
Lacks expression, boring, mumbly, too quiet or too loud, “notalkinglikethis” and “no.... talking.... like.... this.....”
A little mumbly, a hard time following, muddly, needs practice
Clear, nice, good expression.
Lots of expression, enthusiastic, good volume, enunciated well, speaks at a great pace
Making one person do all the work, “me first”, hoarding, arguing, fighting, using only one person’s idea, nobody is cooperating, bossing, poor communication, all talking at once, “my idea is better”, not sharing, off task
Inefficient, needs help and support, argumentative,
Nice to people, shares, demonstrates positive body language
Cooperative, inclusive, everybody has a voice, communicative, compromising, taking turns, no arguing, incorporating everyone’s ideas, on task, “you first” mentality

FInally, students supplemented what they had learned with the info on their retrieval sheets and internet resources to create one-page storyboards communicating their ideas effectively and concisely. Once their storyboards had been approved, they worked in collaborative groups to add voice to their own images creating short movies highlighting differences between human and natural waste and the impact they both have on our world. 

Students had the opportunity to showcase their first products in front of their classmates, after which they were provided with constructive feedback that was related to the rubric and based on the work. Throughout this process, students learned how to give feedback as well as how to receive it, and use it to improve. They were able to learn by reflecting on the work they and their classmates had created, and were then given an opportunity to use what they'd learned to refine their final movie project.

Here's an overview of the process:

Of the 22 projects, our group selected the best of the best to represent our learning and the message we hope to convey. Please help us get the word out by commenting below, sharing your feedback and your ideas on how we might be able to share these with a broader audience. Thanks for listening!

Student Exemplar 1: Nature Killers!

Student Exemplar 2: Think About the Future

See more examples of student PSA's here.

December 12, 2011

These kids get it

Deirdre Bailey

Today was amazing for a number of reasons. We finished our decomposition lab this morning. It had been an enlightening few weeks of learning what becomes of a perishable food, halved and left in the open for three weeks. Some awesome things happen to rotting fruit after it starts to smell, not least of which are fluid loss and bacteria growth. This morning, the tomato had given birth to a new family of fruit flies, all of whom remained happily trapped under the wrapping as our young scientists whooped victoriously while pressing their faces to the creeping mass of molding vegetable.

As today was the last day of our lab, we were burying our specimens in dirt with plans to test soil content and plant growth in the New Year. Most students were happy to put an end to an experiment that was becoming increasingly hard on the stomach, however one group in particular stood out as they proceeded solemnly to the dirt pile with their specimen, chanting the name "Alfred" in melancholic tones. "Aaaaalfreeed, life won't be the same without your stink... Aaaaalfreeeed, you taught us a lot about mould.... Aaaaalreed, we are going to bury you so you can grow a plant..." Alfred was their cucumber.

When I think back to the things I remember from Grade 4, I struggle to recall anything memorable outside of field experiences, Christmas holidays and family trips to Ireland. I imagine however, that if I had spent two weeks watching Alfred shrink, stink, and give birth to fruit flies, that I would remember Alfred. As adults, we seem to spend a tremendous amount of time discussing, warning and lecturing without experiencing and we forget so easily that our most powerful inspirations to date will have almost exclusively resulted from actual emotional experiences.

After lunch we had a presenter come and talk about endangered species in North America, specifically wolves. She asked the kids a number of questions which they were eager to answer, one of which was  about why maintaining the wolf population was of benefit to trees. Thirty plus hands went up.

"Because the nutrients in their poop help build rich soil for plant growth..." 

"Because they eat animals which would destroy the trees in larger quantities..."

"Because they sometimes eat plants and poop the seeds which helps distribute the growth..." 

Three months exploring the Weaselhead and connecting online in order to develop meaningful videos highlighting local natural waste and its place in our ecosystem had paid off. Natural organisms have a place in the wild, these kids had seen it.  "Wow, you guys really get it" was our presenter's response. "I have this conversation all the time with adults and it is hard for them to understand how wolves are connected to the trees."

"EVERYthing is connected to the trees!" was one indignant reply. Followed by: 

"..those adults, you have to explain a lot of things to them, there's so much they just don't understand..."

We learned a lot about native species in Alberta in 45 minutes. We learned a worrying amount about what our government says they're doing to protect them, as even to 9 year olds, many of their policies appear outdated and nonsensical. I gave the students sticky notes at the end of the presentation to jot ideas and questions about our current Endangered Species Act, what's working and what we should change. One student kept coming back for more notes... "Three's the limit right Mrs. Bailey? I can only have three ideas?" Who told this kid and at what point in his life that he could only have three ideas? He wants to write to the government on behalf of every one of the 13 male sage grouse left in our province. Then he wants to tell them that shooting wolves won't save cariboo, that Little Red Riding Hood was a liar, that wolves aren't the bad guys. He also wants to tell them to forget about the oil in the ground on the Blood Tribe land and just re-introduce the Swift Fox population the way they'd planned in 1973 and that they should be ashamed they've waited so long. He's got classmates on board.

Adults should remember that it's that simple. Kids are already curious and creative. They want to explore things and find out what's happening. Nothing about who they are is average, obedient or passive. All that is left to us, is to foster an awareness of the possibilities that surround them, to allow them to explore and then to get out of the way. Let them ask questions, make decisions, be different. There's more to their futures than resigned consumption and obedience.