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Calling All Elementary Science Teachers: Building Great Science Units Around Phenomena

Wild Rabbit by Tim Felce

When we think of phenomena, we usually think of things that are big and dramatic, hence the expression, “that’s phenomenal!”  The biggest science phenomenon of the summer may have been the solar eclipse – huge and spectacular (unless you watched it from Long Island, in which case it may have felt like a bit of a tease).  The devastating hurricanes that came at the end of summer are also awe-inspiring (although devastating) phenomena.

But “phenomena” has a broader meaning.  In Next Generation science, a phenomenon doesn’t have to be big –it can be anything that sparks curiosity and makes us want to know more. A tiny ant carrying a larger insect, a drop of water clinging to a leaf, a magnified grain of sand are all phenomena that can be used to introduce science units because, more than anything, they can inspire us to ask questions like:  What is this? What is happening?  How does that happen? Can we change what is going on?   In Next Generation science, phenomena may or may not awe and amaze us, but they always make us wonder.

As elementary teachers we know all about getting kids to wonder – it’s a key part of our job.  Now, as we begin to introduce Next Generation units, we’ll be thinking very deliberately about phenomena that can anchor units as well as phenomena that can introduce particular lessons within those units.  The key is to choose phenomena that will get the students wondering, questioning, and lead us into investigations that allow them to discover core science concepts and make connections across disciplines.

Phenomena can be introduced as photographs, videos, demonstrations, sensory experiences; but the best may be those we bring students outside to directly observe.  For example: Rabbits are everywhere this fall.  Take young students outside to observe them!  Then show a photograph that highlights the ears.   This will generate lots of questions: Why do they have such big ears?  Do they hear better with those ears?  What if their ears were not so big?  This can be an excellent way to induce a grade 1 unit on sound, or a grade 4 unit on external structures of animals.   After the rain, take young students out to see earthworms on the pavement. Then do some digging and observe them in the soil.   This will generate lots of questions: Why do they come up from the ground when it rains?  Will they die on the pavement?  Will they drown in the water?  How do they move in the soil?  This can be a way to introduce a grade 3 unit on environment and survival, grade K unit on push and pull.

Getting outside provides us with an endless source of phenomena to grab student interest, generate excitement and elicit the kinds of questions we need in order to build understanding as our youngest students discover for themselves the amazing way our world works.  

Live the Science, Don’t Just Teach the Science

Over the years I have realized that there is more to teaching science than just sitting in a classroom.  We should live it.  The environment of Long Island has so much to offer.  There is something for each one of our disciplines, and all we have to do is look to our waters.  As a Professional Association of Diving Instructor (PADI) Dive instructor, I have been teaching students about the wonders of diving.   Being an AP Physics 2, Physics, Chemistry, and Living Environment teacher brings so much more to this activity.

My uncle Billy was an avid scuba diver.  I remember him telling me stories of all his diving adventures from around Long Island.   Because of him, I joined the diving club, Aquanuts, at the Hampton Dive Shop.  There I learned about so many other possible diving adventures to go on locally.  Often people think that scuba diving off of Long Island isn’t very good because visibility isn’t very good, but I learned that when you know where and when to dive there is so much to see and do.

As a first year AP Physics 2 teacher a lot of things dawned on me.   The unit I teach on fluids in AP physics 2 includes everything I teach in my “open water diver” and specialties of diving classes.  Once this realization hit me, I started applying many of the concepts of diving to AP physics 2.   Many of the demonstrations and discovery activities I use in the classroom where inspired by diving.  For example, my students calculate the amount of air required to generate buoyant force to lift things off the floor, they calculate the volume of a sealed bottle at different depths, and the students develop ideas about air consumption at depths.  Because of this, all summer I have been trying to develop labs where students can go on a field trip to the Dive Shop to test and discover these principles.   I want the students to learn from real life action in the pool.   I want the students to model the phenomena and discover and explain what is happening.

Educators should explore their curiosity and try something new.   Find a dive shop and experience what you teach.   The more you experience the better you will become as an educator.   For example last year I dove the Oregon wreck.  On March 14, 1886, the Oregon collided with another ship and sank to the bottom of around 100-foot depth just off the coast of Fire Island.   She was the fastest ship of her day using sails and steam engine.   Before the dive, I was told that all that was left was a three story high steam engine and boilers.   I did not think there would be much to see.   During my plunge into the Atlantic, the steam engine came into sight in all of her majesty.   Then I spent the next 3o minutes or so lost in all of the biology and wonders hidden in all of the nooks and crannies.  I was getting lost in the science and thinking of the history and people who were on that ship that fateful day.

Image result for oregon wreck dive

Related image

Another dive was of the USS San Diego.  On July 19, 1918, the Sand Diego was sunk by German Submarine U- 156 just south of Fire Island and was the only major ship lost during WW1.   She sits upside down on a sandy bottom at about 100-foot depth.  The dive was awesome and visibility was about 40 feet.   This ship has been underwater for about a 100 years and my curiosity got the best of me once again.   The holes that Mother Nature put in her gave me great areas to look inside and see the life of that now calls her home.

Shipwreck USS San Diego

Wrecks are not the only things to see locally when diving.  The Ponqugue Bridge provides a beach dive that offers so much ecology and goes a max of 30-foot depth.  Right at Shinnecock inlet, you can spend 40 minutes underwater and your wonder and amazement will grow.  Just to see how all of the creatures interact and how they hide and even the human impact of the environment and the symbiotic relationship that exist between humans and sea life.  The two bridges offer a home to the sea life.   They are attracted there for the food source and protection they offer.   Including the utility cable that lies on the floor of the canal.   You will find more and more hiding places for sea life.   The more I dive the site the more I find.

Image result for ponquogue bridge

Some of the fun is investigating the areas that you are going to explore.  There is so much history just sitting there on the sea floor.   I try to learn about the history before I dive the location.   I do this to pre plan my activity for safety, but also to learn where a ship had been, what people were on that ship and how that ship came to meet the sea floor.   If I did not dive our local stores I would never know of the German Submarines, artificial reefs and other ships that went down for various reasons.   It is so interesting to learn about the history and to compare the original diagrams of the ship to what they look like now.

What I am trying to say is that it’s great to venture out of the classroom not just in field trips but rejuvenate our love of the subject.   Try something new each summer vacation to get out of your comfort zone to feel more alive.  The more you learn and experience and the more ways you will have to provide the information to the students.  For more information please email me and if you have any ideas for labs you would like to see developed.   Also if you would like to set up an experience or get your certification please let me know.

Bibliography
http://njscuba.net/

Change is Blowing in the Wind

This past December the NYS Board of Regents approved the New York State Science Learning Standards (NYSSLS); STANYS was one of the lead partners in developing NYSSLS and the plan for implementation in New York.

STANYS’s Annual Conference held in Rochester spans three days with workshop opportunities over ten sessions, keynote speakers, exhibits, and field trips. The 122nd STANYS Annual Conference, November 4-6, 2017, will be the best place in New York State to find out what is going on in science education. The focus of the Conference will be on Science – Now in 3-D (Three Dimensional Learning) as teachers begin to prepare for the NYS Education Department’s implementation of the NYSSLS. What better place to learn about this new constructivist approach!

At the Annual Conference’s Exhibit you will have an opportunity to meet with company representatives and learn about their company’s:

  • Advancement of scientific products / technologies aligned with the NYSSLS
  • Impact on the environment
  • Educational programs/activities for K-12 science teachers and or students
  • Scholarships for high school to attend summer science workshops / research programs

We hope you will make every effort to attend this year’s Conference so you will be able to share the information you acquire with you colleagues.

Cool Tools: Loopy

Systems thinking is as important as it is hard.  As we look at the New York State Science Learning Standards, we see a clear role for systems thinking.  Systems and System Processes is one of the Cross-Cutting Concepts, and Developing and Using Models is a Science Practice.  It should be obvious to all of us that where we are going as a state is very much to system-land.

There are many ways that we can model system dynamics.  Many of us model systems in our classrooms whenever we engage in “simulations”, or other types of modeling activities.  And I’m sure most readers are well aware of the various interactive computational simulations that have been created for students to work with.  But there are not a whole lot of computational resources that allow students to construct relatively robust models of systems for their own investigation.  This is mostly because programming computers is relatively difficult. As such it’s not often tenable to train students in how to create a computational tool prior to having them use it.

Which is where Loopy comes in.  Loopy is a very simple systems dynamics modeling tool where anyone can create a system and then see how its dynamics affect the system.  No programming is required, and the tutorial should take anyone <5 minutes to be able to render a system of their own interest.

Here’s an example of Loopy at work in a simple food web model that I created for this article:

See?  Not that hard (also, I totally understand that it’s “not that good”).

Tools like Loopy can help give students opportunities to model systems, without the high cost of entry that usually accompanies computational model construction.

Upcoming Summer Professional Development

Summer is almost here! While summer is most definitely a time for relaxation and recharging, it is also a time for reflection. It is the ideal time, away from papers to grade, meetings to attend and the many distractions that can interrupt the creative process, to think about how to improve our lessons and expand our knowledge of pedagogy. While the first week or two of summer, we may just be exhausted and need to unwind from the hectic pace of the school year, mid-summer is the perfect time to start thinking about how we would like to elevate our instructional practices for the upcoming school year.

Paul Anderson working with teachers at the American School in Dubai

Suffolk STANYS and the New York State Master Teacher Program are co-sponsoring a visit by Paul Anderson to “Take a Deeper Dive into NYSSLS” this summer. The conference will be offered at three locations. The first will take place July 31-Aug 1 at Stony Brook University, followed by August 2-3 at SUNY Adirondack in Queensbury and August 4-5 at Monroe Community College in Rochester. The cost of registration is $125, which includes continental breakfast and lunch both days. Twelve hours of CTLE credit is available. Space is limited, so register ASAP!  You can register here.

If you are not familiar with Paul, you may want to check out his vast array of videos on all fields of science and science education at his website,  or on his YouTube channel. Paul was a classroom science teacher in Bozeman, Montana for twenty years and has created countless videos for his students. Paul has shared his informative and engaging videos on all four basic science classes, including videos for science topics at the AP level. Both teachers and students have found his videos to be helpful additions to the classroom experience. Paul also collaborated with SCSTA’s own David Knuffke on a podcast “Horizontal Transfer” available on iTunes, and other podcast places. For more information on the podcast visit their website. Paul now consults on science education at schools around the world and has offered professional development in New York State at the STANYS Conference and at the Commack High School STEM conference in November 2016.

Paul’s website offers several videos that explore the NGSS including the Science and Engineering Practices and Cross-Cutting concepts as well as a close look at the Disciplinary Core Ideas for physical, life and earth and space sciences. The videos are an easy way to gain an understanding of the NGSS, which are the basis for the NYSSLS and are recommended viewing whether or not you are able to attend this summer’s professional development. The videos are relatively short in length and focus on one central theme…a perfect accompaniment to your morning coffee and an easy way to become familiar with the NYSSLS!

Paul is an engaging speaker and you will most definitely leave this program with a deeper understanding of how the new standards will influence the future of science education in New York State. You will have a better idea of how to transform lessons to align with the NYSSLS approach to science education. You will have an opportunity to meet fellow content area teachers and share ideas to bring back to the classroom. I was present when Paul spoke at the annual STANYS conference in Rochester in November of 2016 and held the entire audience of science educators captive with his keynote presentation on “Unlocking the Power of the NGSS”. As his presentation started to wind down and the hour for dinner was approaching, the entire room remained attentive and came away excited to make the changes to our lessons that would not “kill the wonder” of science. I can honestly say that his keynote address was among the best professional development that I have ever attended! I can guarantee that you will both enjoy this conference and return home excited about the transition to the NYSSLS!

The Science Event of the Summer

It is difficult to get the Sun, Moon and Earth to align for a total solar eclipse. The last total solar eclipse to cross a large portion of the United States was in 1979. The last annular solar eclipse to cross New York was May 10, 1994, when I was in 8th grade. That was amazing to see and since then, I have waited patiently for 2017’s totality event.
After a year of planning our eclipse trip, our path is set. On August 21, 2017, we will be in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, northeast of Nashville, nearly on the centerline of totality! There is a lot to do in the area, and when I searched for hotel rooms in late April, there were still many available.
Originally, we intended to view the eclipse from Carbondale, Illinois. A shady hotel cancelled the reservations I made a year in advance, and left us scrambling for a new location. Luckily, it is not too late to find a room, or a campsite, and see one of nature’s rare and beautiful events.

Eclipse Resources:

General Eclipse Info and Maps: www.greatamericaneclipse.com 

NASA’s Eclipse Page: https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse.html 

Rice Space Institute’s Eclipse Page (sign up for the eclipse listserv!): http://space.rice.edu/eclipse/ 

Totality App (from Big Kid Science): Free!

Safe Viewing Practices:

NASA GSFC’s Eclipse Safety Page (with links ranging from eye protection to taking travel precautions): https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety 

Purchase your Eclipse Eyewear ASAP, before they sell out! https://www.greatamericaneclipse.com/eclipse-viewing/ 

Eclipse Lesson Plans:

NSTA Eclipse Booklet: http://static.nsta.org/extras/solarscience/SolarScienceInsert.pdf

Big Kid Science Lesson Ideas: http://www.bigkidscience.com/eclipse/classroom-activities/

NASA/JPL Eclipse Yardstick Model: https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/download-view.cfm?Doc_ID=327

Other NASA Activities: https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/activities 

Eclipse Animations:

Eclipse as viewed from the Earth, accounting for the Earth’s topography and Lunar Rim features from the LRO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MJgXaqW3md8 

2017 Eclipse Shadow Cones (my students thought this was so cool!): https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/4321 

Other NASA Animations (a treasure trove of resources from the Scientific Visualization Studio): https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/index.html 

What will you see from New York?

Depending on your latitude, you will see 70% (southern New York) or less of the Sun covered by the New Moon this coming August.

Finding a Place to Stay on Eclipse Day:

Camping (and Glamping) at the Oregon SolarFest: https://www.oregonsolarfest.com/ 

Casper, Wyoming Eclipse Festival: http://eclipsecasper.com/ 

Nebraska Sandhills: https://2017nebraskaeclipse.com/ 

St. Louis, Missouri Eclipse Day: http://www.missourieclipse2017.com/ 

Tennessee State Parks: http://tnstateparks.com/activities/solar-eclipse-at-the-park-2017 

Mount Juliet, TN (where we will be stationed): http://www.tennessean.com/story/news/local/wilson/mt-juliet/2017/02/27/mt-juliet-jumps-city-view-total-solar-eclipse/98274534/ 

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What if you miss the eclipse this summer?

The next American total solar eclipse will be Monday, April 8, 2024. This will take a different path from the 2017 eclipse, with the Moon’s shadow crossing over far western and northern New York State! We will have to work on our local school boards to plan our spring break that week, so we are all able to travel for the event.

Spring Conference Recap

On Friday, April 21, Suffolk STANYS held their annual “Spring Into STEM” conference at Brookhaven National Laboratory.  Attended by over 140 science teachers from around Long Island, it is one of the premier events for science educators of all grade levels and content backgrounds.  Presenters came from a variety of organizations and institutions, including the Long Island Association for Chemistry Teacher Support and the Long Island STEM Education Leadership Association.  Participants had the opportunity to participate in a wide array of workshops – there was even a Makerspace!

One of the overarching themes of the conference was informing and preparing teachers about the New York State Science Learning Standards (NYSSLS).  With its roots in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), NYSSLS is not just a change in content; NYSSLS will change how educators teach science to their students.  As a result, STANYS made sure to offer sessions in these methods such as question formulation technique, science and engineering practices, and modeling.  here was even a session that discussed the possible upcoming changes to science assessments that educators could expect see.

Since this conference is held at Brookhaven National Laboratory, educators had several experiences that are unique to the lab.  Teachers were able to tour the National Synchrotron Light Source II, which is currently the brightest synchrotron in the world! Additionally, Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Office of Educational Programs also offered a variety of workshops that were in the spirit of the NGSS.

 One of the highlights of this conference was our feature keynote speaker Chris Paparo.   Not only is he the manager of SUNY Stony Brook’s Southampton Marine Science Center’s web and the center’s resident naturalist, he is a well-respected speaker and advocate for Long Island’s natural environment.  His talk, “From Plankton to Whales – Why Our Local Waters Are Worth Protecting”, captivated many of our attendees, especially since he included many of his personal photographs of Long Island.  Many of his photographs, as well as his adventures with his red-tailed hawk Emmy, can be seen on his online photo gallery, Fish Guy Photos.  It can be found on both Facebook and Instagram.    

In closing, the conference was a success.   Special thanks go out to our Vice President of Programs, Matthew Christiansen for all his hard work putting this conference together, the STANYS Suffolk Board for volunteering in assisting in this conference, and all the presenters who came together to offer a high-quality conference.  We hope to see you soon at our fall conference, which will be taking place on October 16, 2017 at Hofstra University.  Be on the lookout for a postcard this September with more details!

A Couple of New Websites

This is the moment of the year when I can begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel so they say. AP Exams are around the corner and I often forget the stress not only on the students but on myself as well. I am often thinking “Wow, I am not sure I will be ready for this in September again,” but then after recharging over the summer I find myself excited to start all over again.

I do try to use my time after the AP Exam to finish, start, continue with the things that have been placed on the back burner during the rest of the year. I have found two great resources I would like to pass on to the membership:

  1. An online library full of resources for biodiversity produced collectively by the California Academy of Sciences and Khan Academy. This is an online virtual expedition for high school (and adult) learners and covers more than 30 specific tutorials. It ranges from topics like why biodiversity is important, where it is found, specific case studies and how it can be protected. Each of the tutorials includes videos, articles, a glossary, quiz questions, activities, and references to dive deeper into content.
  2. A youtube channel that covers teacher tools. It is a mixed collection of teaching tools and websites that students can learn from. Each week the author, Jamie Keet presents a short (~10 minute) video on his picks of the week. I often play this in background while I am working on something else so that I can pause when something peaks my interest and pick up a new tool. Here’s a recent video from the channel: