Monday, May 14, 2012

Octopus, Crabs, and Sea Stars, Oh My!

Tide Pooling with my Marine Science Class

On Friday, I took my marine science class to the local tide pools. The students have recently finished their units on invertebrates, and we were going to spend the period finding the creatures they had learned so much about. We found sea stars 8 to 10 inches in diameter, two crabs, both male and female, two purple sea slugs, countless sea anemones, and finally the elusive octopus. This was learning at its core. The students were able to see, touch, and observe these creatures in their natural habitat.

I was also impressed with the students desire to respect and preserve the sea life and their habitat. They were incredibly respectful of the animals we found, always handling them with care, and returning them to the same place where they were found. They asked lots of questions about the importance of the habitat and what they can do to help keep it healthy for the future.
This was the best form of assessments. The students recognized the different types of sea life, were able to name their phylum and the unique features of each species, and also showed their understanding of the importance of habitat preservation. It was a great day.

I WANT YOU – To Save the Environment!

Final video assignment for my APES class

As part of the AP Environmental science class’ final project, my CT and I decided (thanks to some input from our own Jeff Heil) to have the students create their own short propaganda video on any environmental issue that they studied in class. I am really excited to incorporate this new technology into my teaching experience. We are having the students work in groups of three, and to ensure that the students have access to video equipment, we are setting their groups up so that there is a least one student in each group who has access to video equipment at home.
The students are being given a lot of freedom to be creative with their video.
On Friday, we had the students break into their groups and begin their storyboard on their video. I was so impressed with their creativity. We have one group writing an environmental rap, another group who is performing a parody on the crocodile hunter, and another group who is taking a more serious stance on deforestation. These senior students have been burnt out and unmotivated, but they were really energized by this project. I am so excited to see how each of the videos turns out.
We have decided to show the videos on their last day and we are going to have academy style awards to go with it. It is going to be a great way to send off a great group of kids.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

To Have Labs or Not to Have Labs - That is the Question

Will increasing class sizes eliminate science laboratory lessons?

Currently at my school site, they are expecting a large increase in the number of students in each class. They are estimating that the average science class will be 38 students, which means some classes may have much more (some are projected as high as 45). And this is not unique to this school site. Schools all across the state are facing much larger class sizes. While this poses problems in every subject matter, it poses a particular problem to science and how to maintain safety in the laboratory setting.
High school laboratory settings often have students working with chemicals, open flames, and sharp objects. It is imperative that safety is always comes first. Many laboratory classrooms in older high school were not designed to effectively hold over 32 students and increasing those numbers may put students at risk. Another factor to consider is how well one teacher can monitor the students when they are working with hazardous chemicals and equipment.
Unfortunately, many teachers are discussing alternatives to the laboratory classroom, such as moving to demonstrations only, where the teacher performs the lab in front of the students, or virtual labs, where the students conduct the lab using a computer simulation. Teachers are considering these changes because they don’t want to assume the increased risk and liability that comes with the increased number of students in the classroom.
What does this mean for our students? It means less engagement and hands-on learning. The benefits of learning science through experimentation are numerous. Hands on laboratory lessons help students to retain the information they learned and to transfer and apply that information to new situations. It is fun and enjoyable for the students which keeps them interested and engaged. They become active participants in the learning process rather than a spectator.
As a science educator, I truly believe that laboratory lessons are essential to effectively science learning. It is crucial that we find ways to maintain laboratory lessons as part of our science curriculum. I sincerely hope that these increased class sizes do not ultimately result in the significant loss of the science lab.