Posts Tagged ‘Science Stars’

Wrapping Up Stars

      I give up.  I’ve tried to load a pic for two days now and, once again, it’s not working.   Perhaps it’s time to apply to do my grad school blog in another venue.   No pics.   No fun.   Just a few hours of frustration at the end of the semester when I don’t even have 10 minutes to spare.   I’ve changed browsers, rebooted the computer, resized the picture, rebooted again, cleaned my cache/cookies/general flossing of internet stuff, defragged the hard disk, checked the settings, rebooted again.  These things have working in the past on this apparently fragile blog host.     I give up.

      This is my mandatory Stars post for the week.   I will miss these wonderful girls that we have been working with for the last 10 weeks.   We had a good session on Tuesday and the girls made a PowerPoint presentation, did the graphic design for a poster presentation, and developed an intereactive presentation involving kids at the presentation conference tomorrow.   I need to go glue a bunch of stuff on a trifold which is another thing for which I do not have time.   Have I mentioned that it’s the end of the semester?  and my son’s birthday party is tonight? and I needed to check in at my observation today? and little things like uploading a picture should not take hours…


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     The weather cooperated magnificently for Science Stars this week.   It was sunny and 70 degrees with a light wind.   My partners, Mike and Dylan, already wrote about our astonishment that, even with the nice weather, the students did not want to go outside.    The girls pictured above collected data on eight launches and were adept at using the equipment.   Working with these amazing students – they named their group “Girls with Brains” – is the best thing about the program.

     One of the next best things is working with my colleagues in the science teaching cohort.   We meet as a large group before the time with the girls to talk about our plans and get input from each other.   At the end of the session we review the session and talk about what went well and what could use improvement.   I have learned a great deal from them including things that I will incorporate in my future practice:

– Many of the groups have done a great job using icebreakers – described here on Kristin’s blog and here on Sean’s blog – that I think have led to better group cohesion.   This doesn’t come naturally for me but I will need to work on using classroom cues, which we talked about last week in Seminar, to create a ritual framework and structure.

– All the groups have been using concept maps in one form or another to help the students understand modeling and the reiterative nature of science – one method is described here on Jim’s blog.   A variety of approaches have been tried but it seems like having “preprinted” factor blocks to move around has been the most successful for the groups and we will use that approach next time we meet.   I am thinking about ways to make concept maps a natural part of instruction and reflection in my own classroom.

– Time constraints have been an issue as we try to keep things open-ended but yet keep things moving to meet the objective of wrapping up a complete investigation in early December.   Discovering the quantity of scaffolding necessary to support the students without guiding them excessively is part of this balancing act.   My experiences with Get Real Science Camp this summer, Science Stars, and my field observation have made it clear that I need to get used to feeling time pressured.

      We met on Tuesday which was also election day.   I wore my “I Voted Today” sticker and the girls, who had voted in a mock election at school, all had stickers too.   We talked excitedly about who we hoped would win the presidential election.    I was pleased with that result;  however, the setbacks in California (Proposition 8), Florida, Arkansas, and Arizona make me realize that there is much more work to do to eliminate the -isms that divide us.

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     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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     For me, Science Stars was difficult this week.   I really like spending time with the students.   However, I was upset that we didn’t stick with our lesson plan and missed some important objectives which will put us behind on the overall project.  I also feel that we fell far short of our goal of making this aftershool project fun, hands-on, and different from school.   One of the girls was so unengaged that she read a book the whole time, although I’m not sure we could have avoided this because she was reading while the girls were eating pizza before we even started .

     Theoretically, I was the one who was supposed to be the leader this week but I was unsuccessful at being in charge.    I am unsure how to handle confrontation in front of students – this was a problem at camp too.   If it was a regular classroom co-teaching situation, we would have time to work out strategies and coordinate the differences in objectives that are to be expected.   I think different levels of engagement and different objectives are what make group work hard in general.

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Blasting Off

© dsgpro - istockphoto.com

      This week, our time with the Science Stars on Tuesday was a great success.   Science Stars is the group of seventh grade girls with whom I spend Tuesday afternoons.  The girls had fun.  The teachers had fun – see blog posts by my teammates, Dylan and Mike.   We generated a lot of excitement about investigating energy and physics through water bottle rocket launches.    The girls decided that our group would be named GWB for Girls With Brains – I think I’m going to work on incorporating the rocket above into a logo including our group name and making stickers, following the example of Anne, Chris, and Kristin‘s group The Bomb Stars.  

     There are many reasons that I was a reluctant Cub Scout parent.    My younger son and his best friend dragged me into the program against my better judgment.    Hanging out with kids is great though and the projects and trips made it fun.  One of my previous blogs was about the experience – as much for the reflection, as to provide a photojournal for parents who couldn’t be there all the time.    The organization with which my son was involved was gracious enough to lend us several water rocket launchers that send a 2L soda bottle, partially filled with water, at least 50-60 feet into the air.   

     The GWB physics group enjoyed shooting off the rockets and trying to predict what would happen with more water, less water, and no water.   The notebooks that the Science Stars program provided for them to record data and observations were enthusiastically received and utilized – it’s hard to go wrong with pink and purple polka dots.  Next week, we will work on a more focused and organized investigation.    We need to spend some time covering the science concepts with them but the predicted good weather means we will certainly be blasting off again!


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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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     Tuesday was our first meeting with the middle school girls who will be partipating in our afterschool program, Science Stars.   Our group will study energy within the realm of physics.   Thankfully, I’m working with two physicists, Mike and Dylan, who majored in physics AND graduated recently, who will be able to help me dust off and get that part of my brain functioning again.   When we did introductions, two of the girls mentioned that they liked pouring chemicals together so maybe, just maybe, I’ll find a way to work some chemistry in – batteries? explosions? (see what Anne & Kristin did here, for more on explosive teaching).

     We did hands-on APK work with the kids using “Newton’s Cradle”, pictured above  [Thanks Orlando!]; hot wheels cars on a track, powered by rubber bands,  crashing into blocks; and electrical circuits including light bulbs.  The students even mustered up some enthusiasm for a picture about energy sources which we used as a discussion starter.    They were great at making connections, without necessarily using the terminology, about stored energy, inertia, and simple circuits.  We were able to see how they did with group work and experimenting to put the car and the block in the target zone after the crash.     The global connections about energy sources and they use was a bit of a weakness, e.g. no indication that they understood where the electricity in the outlets came from although we had talked about wind, solar, etc. but we may not focus on that anyway.

      I’m still trying to wrap my mind around inquiry in Physics as it pertains to electricity or other forms of energy.    We’ll have to come up with a good plan for next week to help them understand their knowledge, extend it, and then figure out what they want to do for an investigation/project.

      I loved meeting and spending time with the kids today.  One of the highlights was getting a hug from one of the kids from summer camp in the hallway on the way to Science Stars.   I had some clashes with this student during summer camp so I was pleased that her reaction to me was so enthusiastic.   After spending a solid week with the kids at camp, I got quite attached and frequently wonder how they are doing.   Did the camp make a difference in how they are approaching their science classes this year?



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