Archive for the ‘Group Work’ Category

     It was hard to believe that it was still October as we stood outside this afternoon with an air temperature of 40 deg and wind gusting above 20 mph.   I was pouring water between two soda bottles and if they were more than 1/2 inch apart, the wind blew the water away before it reached the lower bottle.   The wind chill factor was below 30 deg – I’m glad that I didn’t know that before we headed outside.   The girls were in good spirits despite the weather and had fun launching rockets.    We split into two groups to look at different variables.   Our group was using a stopwatch for observations and the other group was using the force plate.  We did five trials at various conditions – I think we got some data that will make for a good conversation and new avenues to explore.   We seem to have gotten the scaffolding right with a generic data sheet that was just a grid with space for variables and observations;  they selected the variables but had a way to organize the data in their science notebooks.

     I led an activity to introduce the equipment we have for data recording.    We have Vernier Labquests that connect to a force plate, basically a digital scale with a fancy name and a digital output.   The Science Stars took to the electronics immediately and one of the girls quickly became an expert.   We started by having them look at a graph from a rocket launch I did over the weekend and talk about what they were seeing.  We started the exploration of that equipment by jumping on the force plate and examining the data.  Next, they made predictions as to what a large jump and small jump would look like.    Then we talked about elevators and they made predictions about the forces and what the force plot would like like on the elevator; after a few trials to get the timing down, we recorded data and checked our predictions.   I’m glad that I was able to lead the lesson – I am definitely less certain of my Physics knowledge than my Chemistry knowledge.   It will be interesting to teach consecutive lessons to the same class and watch the changes as I improve with each reiteration AND to see how long it takes me to get a good plan nailed down for the first time I teach a lesson.   I wonder if the lesson to lesson changes would qualify as an action research project.

     No blog post about Science Stars this week would be complete without a thank you to my sons.   They helped me run experiments this weekend to test the equipment.   They were glad to help me with my homework and I was glad to spend time with them.  My older son was enamored of the electronics and wouldn’t let me learn how to use it.  The younger one just likes launching and chasing rockets.   We found a 1-liter soda bottle that would work with the launcher and how to attach the launcher to the force plate.  The adhesive didn’t work as well in the frigid weather today as it did in the sunshine and warmth in the picture below.  The forecast for next Tuesday is 60 degrees and sunny – although I recognize that they really don’t have a clue at this point, I like the general trend.


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© Andrea Haase - iStockPhoto.com

     Science Stars this week seemed to be an uneven experience.   For those groups – including ours – who were met with great enthusiasm last week, the girls seemed to be a bit more apathetic this week.  For those groups who dealt with more ennui last week, there seemed to be more interest and participation this week.   This unscientific observation is based on a sampling of blog posts around the cohort about our experiences with the Science Stars after-school program on Tuesday.   Perhaps it is an expected consequence of the work many of us did to get off to a strong start last week.    The girls in our group wanted to know when we were going to burn something or blow something up – a reasonable expectation based on that other groups have been doing.   Hmmm – we are supposed to be doing physics;  would a nuclear bomb or cold fusion be more appropriate?

     We had less enthusiasm this week but that seemed to be related more to the mini-lessons than the hands-on part of our plan.    I’m still trying to understand where we are headed w.r.t. physics, energy, and an investigation.   I’m about spent on ideas – largely met with a lack of enthusiasm by my team – which is otherwise terrific;   this statement is more of a comment on the quality of my input rather than our potential as a team.  I enjoy physics and took almost enough courses to be certifiable to teach it in NY state – a scary statement in and of itself.  My kids, and some others, would consider me certifiable in other ways but that’s another blog post.   I am not anywhere close to the level of my teammates – Mike and  Dylan – who majored in Physics, or Donna and Amanda – who are experienced teachers;  although I’m trying, I feel like I’m way behind and also having trouble  wrapping my mind around how to do energy, physics, and inquiry with these girls.

     Hoping for inspiration.   Ideas greatly accepted from both our cohort blog world and anybody else who is listening.

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Day 5 of Camp


     Wide awake at 4 AM.     Well it’s a little later than that now (as I start writing at 5 AM) because I spent some time deluding myself into thinking that I would go back to sleep.    This has been happening all too often since I started grad school and it definitely doesn’t help anything.   I didn’t even have much coffee yesterday and none after 10 AM.   Who knows?     I alluded to the weirdness in the short post I managed to put together last night.   I’ll attempt to address it here although it will be necessary to leave some of it out until it can be worked out on a personal level.    Yesterday was difficult.

Warning this is beyond long and although I needed to write it as a reflection and to help me understand it, readers are strongly cautioned that it contains material which may not be suitable for anybody hoping to hold on to their optimism.

    Harambe was awesome.   The energy was over the top – even the kids remarked about it saying that usually by Friday, everybody is tired and Harambe is less energetic but as they said “this morning was a rocking Harambe”.    There was a special guest from Ghana who spoke to the Level 3 kids about the twin city program and his life in Ghana.    He told them his theory of the interwoven relationship between skills, knowledge, and attitude then focused on attitude saying that self-control and self-discipline were the most important parts.   I wish he would have emphasized that he was a scientist more than he did but it was very interesting nonetheless.

     I thought we had a pretty good plan for today.   The focus was to finish up the presentations for next week and spend some time on the reviewing and framing the week so that they really understood that they had been scientists this week and to also spend some time on reflection about the experience situated in the nature of science.

     Within the first twenty minutes in our classroom, it was clear that my team and I were not on the same page regarding discipline.   (Group level weirdness)  I’m not sure what happened at the morning meeting but all of a sudden there was a need for more control and threats rather than encouragement and high expectations.     You can rearrange a lesson plan in front of the kids.   You can discuss a new strategy in front of the kids.    BUT, you can’t have a discussion about discipline strategy in front of the kids.  I feel – my perception – is that the threats undermined and fractured a pretty good working relationship with these kids.   I could be completely wrong and that could be the necessary approach but we weren’t on the same page.  In the perfect vision of hindsight, I wish we could have called for backup and stepped outside to discuss it as a group but we didn’t and it continued.  I guess this is a bit of fallout from having a good week so far – we had not needed to have this discussion.   It is also my issue and my style to do things differently and I could be wrong but it did point out to me that if I’m ever in a co-teaching situation, we will have to agree on how we handle classroom discipline.

     The kids worked on and reviewed their presentations in small groups and then presented to each other.   This worked really well and they seemed to gain confidence in talking about their work and supporting their conclusions.   One group had initially thought that the results didn’t match their prediction but had an “aha” moment during their presentation and realized that their thinking about current and the numbers had been backwards so it did match their prediction that the stronger current areas had clearer water.

     At the end of the morning, two of the girls got in a prolonged argument with each other including calling each other out for a fight outside this school and outside their school because they knew it wasn’t allowed in either school.  (Middle School weirdness)   It went on and on.   Separating them didn’t work.   Talking to them together in the hallway didn’t work.    Individual conversations in the hallway didn’t work.     We had to call in one of their leaders and that felt like a failure BUT I was glad we had tried to work on the situation without starting at threats.

    While we were walking to lunch, the students were asking me if I was a student at the U of R and how it was to be on campus – they don’t like the walking and when I told them where I was allowed to park, several said they were never going to college.    We then discussed the fact that I was studying to be a science teacher but wasn’t one yet.   Several students said they didn’t know why anybody would want to be a teacher because it’s the worst job on earth.    I told them how much I liked science and how much I liked being around kids.    The discussion moved elsewhere but then one of the boys took me aside – I really like him and think the feeling is mutual –  and said “Miss Kathryn, you can’t come teach at my school.   Please don’t come teach at my school.   The students at my school are bad.   They beat up the teachers.”    He then proceeded to outline several incidents at his school.     I know this happens.   I read the newspapers.     Lumped together at the end of an exhausting week, it was almost more than I could take but I retained my composure and fortunately, we arrived at the picnic table where we were having lunch and the conversation went elsewhere.   (Teaching as a profession weirdness)

     After lunch, we headed to the Mac classroom that we had reserved for our afternoon activity of finishing our presentation and doing a dry run.   We were in pretty good shape because we had completed the slides and done the initial run through this morning.   We just needed to put them together in one presentation and do a dress rehearsal AND we had about an hour and a half to do it in.    The classroom did not open with an ID swipe and we milled about while we waited for somebody from ITS to show up.   When the person got there, he said that the computers were all down because they were being upgraded – same was true in Rush Rhees our first choice but we had been told this classroom would be available.    (University level weirdness)   So we moved into a conference room and tried to engage the kids about the presentation while the ITS guy checked on another classroom.    They gave us a classroom full of PCs so we revised our plan to have them blog and explore Google Earth while Thomas ran over to Warner to get a Mac laptop that we would use with the projector.

     The kids blogged and more or less staying off My Space although that required constant supervision.   We did a scavenger hunt for a picture of bacteria or something from the beach and a few kids used Google Earth.     Thomas arrived with the Mac laptop, gets it working with the projector – Yay Thomas!, and we discover that it has the older version of Keynote which will not accept the new Keynote files the kids had prepared that morning.    By this point, it is 1:15 and we are tired of trying to keep them off My Space, You Tube, etc. so we headed outside to eat cookies and wait for the buses.    It felt like the entire afternoon was wasted.     (Operating System weirdness)     With apologies to the evangelical Mac users, I wish that I had listened less to the objectives about using Keynote, which was even presented as a social justice issue, and gone with my instinct to use Powerpoint or even Google Docs for the presentation.    I kept trying to get over myself, recognize and deal with my discomfort with Macs, and adapt to new things;  however, the fact that the software was only available on about 10 PCs AND we had over 40 kids at camp AND the lovely ITS people took every Mac on campus down for an upgrade on Friday made this a disaster beyond our control.    A computer is a tool.    I know some people prefer a green pencil but I like my blue pencil and although they are different, we can get the job done with either of them and sometimes you need to go with what you know.

Pluses (struggling to come up with these) and Arrows:

+  The kids did get to present their data to each other and support their conclusions.

+  Everybody liked the lunch and the cookies.

+  Harambe was amazing.

->   Discipline strategies and theories need to be part of planning for all co-teaching situations.

->   Overall, we should have done more scaffolding – hindsight is always 20/20.   I can use that word in a sentence now but feel that we didn’t do it well.   I think we should have had a lot more planning and structured activities this week.   I learned much from watching my classmates.   I have learned from the mistakes of this week and will incorporate more explicit teaching (not lecturing) of skills including carefully structured activities.

->   I need to do more reflection on my feelings about group work.  Overall, we worked very well together and I really like my teammates but I have a different style that is sometimes perceived as perfectionism.   I am a planner and a list maker and more comfortable if I’ve worked out a detailed plan but I will try to incorporate the feedback about my perfectionist tendencies into my future group work.


And now – I get to go pick up my kids at camp.   They might actually have missed me but I will be disappearing to the library for the next 10 days.   I wish I could have afforded another week of camp for them.   The next ten days are going to be rough to get through.    I have five major assignment due for two courses.   Have I mentioned that I haven’t had enough sleep?

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      I am so tired – neither of the picture links are working and I’m too tired to try to find out why so that I can post a picture.    Andrea did a great post on her blog and I’m tempted to just write “what she said” and go to bed.    Having another class after camp is exhausting and although I know I am not alone in that – Wow! am I tired.

     We had a pretty good day today.    There were external and extenuating circumstances that had our group a bit down this morning despite the enthusiastic greeting at the bus.    I did get big smiles this morning from most of them but it was a gray, down morning both in the skies and in their moods.   Even having a snack and water right away didn’t seem to cheer anybody up.   A few kids mentioned not having breakfast and being hungry;  I’m not sure what is up with that because I thought that they got breakfast at the Freedom School.   We had a bit of fun – mostly working on Andrea’s cheer capabilities (she was a very good sport) – which helped lighten the mood a bit and then we discussed our questions, our model, made some predictions, and began data analysis.    I hope we can figure out a stronger start for tomorrow because we need to get everybody engaged earlier AND add some fun to our day.

     After lunch, we headed over to Hutchinson Hall – arriving just before a rainstorm – to spend time in the laboratory exploring the samples of the “nasty stuff” that we picked up on the beach and counting bacteria cultures from one of our investigations.   They were done with the lab fairly quickly and we headed back to Warner.     After some confusion over room assignments and three moves, we had a few moments left for blogging.    Some of the kids mentioned looking at the blog and possibly working on their posts tonight; if they don’t get to it, they will definitely have time tomorrow.   It was a bit upsetting to listen to one of the leaders yell at the kids before they got on the bus but they have a long relationship and I have no idea about the backstory so I’m trying to make my peace with it.

     I really enjoy being with these kids and have had some fun conversations with them individually.    I think they know how we feel and trust us enough to reflect some of that back to us.    They are getting more comfortable with making mistakes, then just fixing them and moving on.    They have talked to us about real things in their lives both current and some of their hopes for the future.    I hope we can find some ways to have fun with them tomorrow.   They have been working hard and making good progress on the science, the group skills and dynamics, and learning technology so they need to not be working in a room the entire time tomorrow.

Pluses and Arrows:

+ We completed the initial model and started data analysis including some manual graphing.  

+ Some kids engaged in the lab in a way they didn’t engage in the other activities.

+ We overcame a very rocky start and had a relatively smooth day.

+ Andrea got the cheer right.

->  We need to keep them moving, find some fun, and still get some serious work done plus find a way to avoid the morning doldrums.

->  We need to avoid contact with other groups because that causes a major lack of focus.   This is a bit of a problem because nearly all of the laptops are PCs and we are supposed to be working with them on a Mac based program which is only available in the tech lab and on a few select portable computers.   Even the biology lab was an issue and there were two separate rooms which didn’t seem to be enough for two groups.

->  We need get the creative juices flowing for our final project and find a way to engage Ridge’s artistic ability.

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     Today, Team Thunder had an awesome day at the beach.    Our plan worked really well and the scholars were engaged and enthusiastic.     The above picture is our Turbidity Team who did water current and secchi disk measurements at nearshore and offshore locations along the beach.

     We started the morning by reviewing yesterday including the cultured bacteria from our equipment stations yesterday.    We decided to break up into small groups so that we were sure that everybody understood the concept of a model and testable questions.   Then we got back together as a large group and reviewed the concept map of our model from yesterday, brainstormed our equipment list, and reviewed our questions.    Many questions would have required time travel to go back and record data in the past so we discarded those.  

     Of the questions that were left, we expanded on them to create three testable questions about a) air and water temperature offshore, nearshore, and in the water, b) turbidity levels and current – they noted the waves were much bigger today, and c) bacteria levels at the bottom of the swimming area.   We divided into groups again based on who was interested in what question and each group planned their investigation.   The groups presented their individual plans to the whole group which decided that if we all tested our questions at the same locations, we could combine the results.   The afternoon was spent collecting data and blogging.   The students are excited to review the data tomorrow.

    The best thing about today was that we had a lot of fun together.   The kids were more relaxed with us and vice versa.   The team member who was not there yesterday was integrated easily into our group.    We worked on a team cheer and are trying to teach Andrea the clapping rhythm for the “Good Job” cheer.    

     I feel like I learned something interesting about each of the kids – Ridge is a talented artist, Jalen likes to make predictions, Yasmine really enjoyed science today despite being our most reluctant scholar yesterday, Fallon has a great smile and keeps it light while seriously working, Frank worked well with the rest of the group despite missing yesterday, Gabi likes making connections and was a great sport when a large wave splashed her, Yolanda can be quiet but asks amazing questions about factor interactions, and Lavalle stayed focused today and seemed to enjoy himself without causing trouble today.

    Our group was having a hard time coming up with arrows at the end of the day!

Pluses and Arrows:

+ Our investigative plan came together really well despite the fact that it seemed like we were behind yesterday.

+ It required less scaffolding than I feared but a bit more than I hoped so perhaps it was a good balance.

+ We had fun!!!!

->  Keep working on group dynamics.

->  Make sure we have a good plan for tomorrow.   We’ve got a lot of work to get done in the next three days.

->  Keep everybody busy, moving, and involved in as many of the activities as possible.

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      I am going to try really hard to keep this to a strictly reporting format.    My sense of humor seems to be lost on some people even though I’ve tried hard to leave really big clues like the book being parodied and giving up a girl card sooooo… here goes an attempt at a serious, reporting, assignment-type blog post.  [OK a little humor slipped in there.]

      Today was our first day at camp and, overall, it went really well.   We did not get as much done as we planned but we were close and have high hopes for tomorrow.   At the beginning of the day, the kids were very negative about being at the beach and about science but I feel like that turned around by the middle of the day.   After they grabbed some beach muck and waded into the water to use the equipment, they were much happier about the whole idea of being there and doing science.    Lunch was a nice break after a busy morning although some of the kids were mystified by the raisins in the tuna salad (me too – yuck!) and the “chocolate bread” but everybody found something to eat;   some had mentioned being hungry well before lunch so we’ll modify that for tomorrow and possibly have snacks mid-morning.    We spent the afternoon talking about connections and building a model – either they were tired or it was post-lunch naptime, but this didn’t go quite as well as we hoped.

      Pluses and Arrows:

+  Some kids who were negative about the beach and/or science were more positive relatively early in the process.

+  The kids did great with the muck and the boots and getting in and out of the water.

+  I really liked being with the kids and tuning into their insights and wonderings.

->  We need to make this more fun for them.    The one girl who was actually positive about science seemed very bored by the end of the day.  The others were more positive about it.

->  Our group needs to work better as a team, see Thomas’ blog post for details.    We also need to get the group dynamics for all of – scholars and Warner students – on track.

->  We need to have a question and a plan early tomorrow morning because it’s our last day at the beach.    This may require more scaffolding than I had hoped.

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Our Team with the Kids

(Picture by Joe H.)


     Yesterday, our class went back to the school to do Concept Interviews with the kids we will be working with at Science Camp.     Our team – Andrea, Thomas, and I – worked with the scholars to assess what they know about water ecosystems.    In this picture, they are brainstorming Around, About, and In  water and we are trying to capture all the things they mentioned.

     The kids were generally very enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge and had no trouble figuring out that we were writing living things in green marker and non-living things or characteristics in brown marker.    We passed out cards to have them describe an interaction between two of the things from the list and write a question about what they wanted to learn at camp – this part was less successful but it was more of a time problem than a concept problem.

     One of the biggest pluses was getting to work directly with the kids and learning their names AND the pronunciation of their names as we went around the circle introducing ourselves and saying one thing about ourselves.    It was difficult to hear with all the excitement and energy in that room but it was all good.    The kids were great at coming up with things to say about water ecosystems although the energy waned a bit towards the end of the hour and we all got a bit tired.   

     It was interesting to note the effect of previous stations.   Only one group had previously gone through the water quality station – done by Anne, Lisa, and Suzanne;  they were very much focused on the About part of the chart and whether the water was good or bad, clean or dirty, polluted or not, etc.   We had to prompt them to get them to come up with fish or anything else that was not a quality characteristic;   I’m glad that station was immediately adjacent to ours so that only one group had experienced it prior to our discussion.   The kids came to us right after their work with Chris, Debbie, and Sean;   they were very excited about the Doritos evaluation and subsequent snacking that were part of that group’s station and wanted to know if we had food too.

    It was a great experience.  I’m really looking forward to working with the kids again at camp!



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