by Zackary Grimsley
The session that had the largest impact and held the most for the examination of my current practices at the OSTA Fall Conference was attending the “Show me the Moo-ney! Determine the Genetics of a CA$H-Cow. '' This session was the furthest from my current teaching assignment and at first I wondered how it would be useful for my current grade level. I was pleasantly surprised by both the task which the session had all the participants work on and on how it challenged my approach to a science class.
Often there is the debate on whether starting with a phenomenon or leading with foundations and building from there is ideal for a unit. In “Show me the Moo-ney!”, the class was asked to perform a genetic analysis to determine which of the cows should be selected in looking for a particular known genetic marker. The speaker opened with a brief outline on the traits that a dairy farmer would be looking for and why. This was a solid example of a phenomenon in nature and how the market is currently using it. The speaker discussed various factors that a farmer could be looking for such as the largest volume of milk produced or if the milk produced would be usable for cheese making. The farmer that we were tasked with helping wanted to make sure that the new cattle being brought into the farm had the factor that was conducive to cheese production. Using known genotypes of three cows with either two, one, or none of the factors presenting, we were asked to examine samples from five mystery cows.
The process of how to use the gels and pipets was first modeled by the presenter. The whole class got a chance to practice with the pipets and to make a plan for how to use the provided materials. This guided instruction with a gradual release is a practice that I strive for in my classroom, and seeing this done in a different content area helped reassure that this process is beneficial. The samples were loaded into the gels by each of the participants and
placed into the MiniOne System to have the samples separated into their components. After running the MiniOne for 20 minutes it became clear which of the five mystery cows had genetics that showed they had either two, one, or none of the ideal traits.
This lab followed a structure that I would like to emulate within the classroom after I have been able to find an appropriate phenomenon to use as a jumping off point for each of the subject matters that 7th grade addresses. This process reinforced starting with a driving question, leading through possible procedures with a gradual release to the student directed learning, and bringing back the groups to share their findings. It was through starting with a clear question, but leaving it open ended for the class to process how and what it would look like to devise an approach to the problem, that processing was able to occur. It reminded me how important it is, at both the close and during a unit, that students are given a chance to share their findings with their peers and to revise their thesis statement from the beginning.
by Jennifer Henry, Oklea Middle School
At the Oregon Science Teachers Association fall conference this past October, I gained many valuable new insights into the teaching profession. I really enjoyed getting to talk to and learn from a variety of different science instructors and science professionals who were so passionate about seeing kids succeed in their science learning. I attended several fantastic sessions on a variety of topics but they all had a common theme running through them: flip the approach to vocabulary and concepts.
What brought this idea to my mind first was the keynote address by Okhee Lee, where she talked about a huge shift science educators need to make: taking the idea that vocabulary is the prerequisite to “doing” science, and shift towards vocabulary as the product of doing science. I thought about how many times I’ve started my new units by a long day of note taking, writing definition after definition down and telling my students to memorize those words in order to be successful in the lab. What would it look like if I shifted that?
What excites me the most about this shift is the reason I wanted to teach science in the first place. I love doing science! I love getting to do labs and learning through experimentation and getting messy. When I am able to do this with my students, it’s some of the most memorable times of the year. If I am able to leverage these activities with my students to teach them high-level concepts, thinking, and vocabulary, it’s melding what I love with high quality teaching. I also love that this puts science into the hands of all students. I have had students from a variety of backgrounds with a variety of science skills that have been able to grasp and perform high level science tasks without the use of vocabulary words. My goal is to learn how to use those tasks to then teach the content and vocabulary to the students.
The biggest challenge I see to this shift is learning how to assess the doing or the modeling of science for language and vocabulary skills. I really appreciated the session at the end of Friday by Okhee Lee where she looked at modeling and assessment. I already do a lot of modeling in my classroom, but I have been wondering how to increase students’ use of modeling for communication.
I think the easiest way to shift the approach to vocabulary is through the use of phenomena in teaching. By presenting a unique event to students and asking them to explain what is happening, you are able to assess their understanding before ever teaching them. By using their own vocabulary, you can meet students at their level of understanding and build them up from there. By giving them experiences with labs or activities you can give them shared experiences to communicate about. For example, in a session I went to on invention, I created a “robotic animal” that moved. I could ask students to first do an activity like this, then apply the language like circuits, current and motors.
I think the best support I have are my coworkers in my science PLC. We are a group of creative problem solvers who love having fun and getting crazy with science. None of us are afraid to go out of the box to teach difficult topics to students. We have persistence and passion and love to see each other succeed. I went to the OSTA conference with them, I learned with them and I will grow with them.
by Chelsey Seedborg
I attended the Oregon Science Teachers Association (OSTA) annual conference in Eugene, Oregon on October 11th, 2019 with two goals. The first was to gain some insight on how to transition the classes I teach to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) teaching style. The second was to obtain a lesson I could implement immediately into my curriculum. When I registered for the conference, I was prompted to sign up for four sessions. I chose two sessions offered by Molly Malone from the University of Utah, without realizing that she was the instructor of both. I chose “Natural Selection and Argumentation” for the first session, and “Exploring Genetics Through Genetic Disorders” for the third session based on their titles alone. I teach high school biology so both titles resonated with me as being content appropriate and hopefully fulfilling my wish of taking home a relevant lesson plan. Molly was organized, professional, and extremely knowledgeable about the lessons she presented from the University of Utah’s online teacher.genetics and learner.genetics websites. Both sessions were very beneficial and helped meet both of my OSTA Conference goals.
The lesson from the first session, “Natural Selection and Argumentation,” is one that I will use this coming spring with my biology students during our unit on evolution. I have been looking for a way to show students a real-life example of natural selection and this is it! The multi part lesson guides students through decades of data collection on stickleback fish in Loberg Lake, Alaska. Students use electronic versions or paper cutouts to count armor plates alongside the fish, thus accumulating their own data. They then look at the number of plates in offspring resulting from the genetic crosses within the population to find evidence of natural selection. Using the data, the students must make a claim whether or not natural selection is the reason the fish population changed over time. Not only is this a real-life, relevant example of natural selection, but this lesson is perfect for integrating the NGSS principles of Claims, Evidence, and Reasoning (CER). The simple handout Molly gave us to guide students in the activity is a great way to scaffold students into the CER mindset. It shows them what three things are required for natural selection to work, then guides them into finding evidence of each requirement based on the data they looked at. Students can then defend the idea of natural selection being the cause of the change in stickleback by the end of the activity. There is also an activity included in the module where students look at non-examples of natural selection as well. I love this entire activity and can’t wait to use it in a few months!
The second session I attended was called “Exploring Genetics Through Genetic Disorders.” The title alone resonated with me because I’d been looking to do something different with genetic disorders in my biology classes. In the past, I had students select a genetic disorder to research and then present their findings in a formal research report and presentation. The research tended to be more on the symptoms of the disease and less on the genetic cause of it. The activities shown in this session are very based around the molecular genetics side of the disorders. This unit hasn’t been published on the teacher.genetics website yet so those of us who attended the session got a first look at it before it goes public. We were engaged the whole session as learners and teachers. I love that the units on this website are meant to stand alone so teachers can pick and choose which ones we want to utilize in our classes. We can go through all of them with our classes, or select single activities from the units to complement what we are already doing. They are all written to address high school NGSS standards, so I know they align with what I teach in my biology classes. Molly went through the materials on the website with us and then we did an activity where we looked at the genetics of Cystic Fibrosis. We were each given a different allele responsible for the genetic disorder. We analyzed what kind of mutation had caused the disease, and then looked at what the mutation does on a cellular, tissue, and organismal level. We were provided with a “Lab Notebook” to write in as we went through the activities, which is very student friendly and adheres to the NGSS teaching and learning style of student discovery. The end of the unit culminates with a symposium amongst the students. I have been wanting to try one in my biology classes, so this gives me the scaffolding I need to guide my students in preparation of one. Along with gaining another valuable lesson to take home, I learned some new biology at this session. I didn’t know that all five of the diseases included in this unit can all be caused by five different DNA mutations. I love learning new science! I absolutely loved the lesson we went through in this session and will utilize it next spring in my genetics unit.
All the materials that Molly used today are available for free on the University of Utah’s learn.genetics and teach.genetics website. I am in awe of all the amazing lessons available to not only teachers and students, but to the general public for free! I can’t wait to look around on the website for more activities to help me integrate NGSS-style lessons into my teaching. Molly is part of the team from the University of Utah that created both lessons. It was fun to be in her sessions as a student. She is a former teacher, so she could relate to those of us sitting in the session. I appreciated how she mixed the delivery of the needed information in the alloted time. Sometimes she showed us directly around the website and some of the time we were engaged in the hands-on activities that our students will be doing. She was prepared with relevant materials and always ready to answer our questions with knowledge and professionalism. These two sessions were both so valuable to me as an eductor. I walked away from OSTA this year more confident in my NGSS integration and very excited about the resources I know have from the University of Utah at my fingertips!
by Stacey Johnson, Oklea Middle School
When you think of drinking water….oh wait, most of us do not think too much while drinking water; we simply relish in its ability to quench our thirst and give our body the hydration it needs to survive. After attending the OSTA conference session titled “Water like Wine” you would never be able to drink another glass of water again without wondering what chemicals invisibly lie below the surface.
The ability for a citizen of Oregon to critically look at their own water supply is more important now than it ever was in the past. With the abundance of lead fixtures in old schools and buildings as well as the slowly dwindling supply of clean potable water, our students need to be literate in water quality analysis. This endeavor is what drew me to attend this session.
We started with working through the chemistry of the water we had on our table. We started with a quick conductivity test for dissolved solids and then Jan Migaki taught us tips and tricks for doing fast qualitative analysis of water quality through bubble production and the use of lettuce seeds as a bioindicator. I already complete a water quality unit with my students using vernier probeware and Hach kits, but was missing other qualitative measures of water quality to draw in every level of student. While probes and kits are great at acquiring quantitative data, you forget that using numbers to assess the state of a waterway can sometimes lead to slow processing of what the numbers ultimately mean. Lettuce seeds are a cheap source of seeds, they germinate quickly and are a useful bioindicator of water quality. Think “canary in the mine” but for waterways. You can count the number of lettuce sprout fronds, length of root and color of leaves as an indicator of sprout health. When you shake a bottle of water you can indirectly measure the amount of dissolved solids by the amount of foam when a soap is introduced. More bubbles means less dissolved solids and lower conductivity. The use of seeds also allows you to open up the conversation and connect water chemistry to the ecosystem as a whole and how water chemistry can affect the living creatures within the water.
Another novel idea is letting the students create their own water filtration systems using a 20oz water bottle cut in half and the top half flipped over. You can place food coloring or smells in the dirty water and the students could attempt to remove those small particulates, only to realize that they are difficult to near impossible to remove. The students can then equate this with their municipal water treatment and assess the effectiveness of their local systems. A really cool hint was the use of Alum, it will flocculate the suspended solids and then settle them to the bottom. This was a technique I was not aware of and will incorporate into future lessons on filtration. Also, flocculate is a really fun word!
Students love getting wet, we all need to drink water and there are so many local connections you can make no matter your locale. This form of a unit is a great way to incorporate many different areas and standards. Jan, the session presenter, is both very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the topic. Now it is time to get our kids excited and concerned about water!
by Wakerobin Gendel Sattler
My decision to attend the Fall 2019 OSTA Conference in Eugene this year was at the encouragement of a colleague who, having attended conferences in the past, thought it would be an opportunity for us to collaborate, learn and connect with other science teachers throughout the state. Initially I was hesitant: my background and training is in mathematics and, although I am passionate about science, I don’t have a lot of experience or training in science instruction. Admittedly, I fell into my current teaching assignment only because my middle school adopted a block schedule, which meant math teachers taught both math and science, and vice versa. Thus, I was a little intimidated presenting myself as a science instructor, knowing that the collective audience had a lot more content knowledge and understanding of current pedagogy. On the other hand, I came with open eyes and a fresh perspective.
It is hard to quantify what I learned from the experience. The focus of the workshops I attended were not on learning objectives, but on engagement and discovery. This was reiterated by the keynote speaker: science instruction in the early to middle school grades has shifted away from content acquisition toward building student understanding and appreciation for the scientific process and inquiry methods. Rather than teaching facts, we are expected to inspire students to ask questions, develop their own routes of discovery, and communicate their learning with others. Instead of teaching in the traditional sense, we are charged with the task of being the facilitators of student learning. We are science “coaches”, if you will, providing safe boundaries and the means for students to engage and explore.
Although this shift in instructional models is exciting, it also presents new challenges. Assessment of student knowledge may feel subjective, even when possible outcomes and the criteria for success are well thought out. It is not always possible to anticipate where a student’s journeys may take them. One must be open to unexpected outcomes and be ready to drift from what might have been a well thought out course. This could be challenging for teachers who are bound by scope and sequence or curriculum adoptions. Still, it is important that student inquiry and questioning drive the instructional process. The challenge becomes finding routes to make learning relevant to the content standards, as well as developing ways to ensure content standards capture student interest.
Our role in this new teacher-student dichotomy presents challenges, but also presents new opportunities. Mastery of the teaching profession will not be judged on content knowledge, but on one’s ability to be responsive and exhibit flexible thinking, forcing us to constantly refine our craft. In the end, although I anticipate many obstacles, the opportunity to reevaluate my own professional practice leaves me with a sense of excitement and wonder, which I hope I can instill in the students in my tutelage.
by Megan Durst, Kelso Elementary
This was the second OSTA conference I have attended in my 12 years as an educator. For a little context, I grew up with a biology teacher mother and an organic chemist father. I always wanted to be a veterinarian but my undergraduate work resulted in a BA in Spanish with an Animal Sciences minor. I spent 10 years teaching at an International Baccalaureate World School and now I teach second grade in Boring, Oregon.
The best experience I had at the conference this year was when I heard more than one presenter using the term “phenomena” to describe natural occurrences that we can observe and analyze. Of course, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the LL Cool J song, “Something Like a Phenomenon”—a good motivator for my students for sure. I realized that even though I have always thought of myself as fluent and consistent in using science terminology with my students, I had never used that term in twelve years of teaching! During my three-hour drive home, however, I concluded that there really is no better way to describe the oddities of the natural world using a single noun.
My second graders were just about to start learning about insects and their survival when I attended the conference. I was a little confused about how to approach this, as this is my first year teaching second grade. The main reason I chose to attend the conference was because I felt unprepared for the unit and felt like I was relying on provided curriculum, which seemed to only scratch the surface of the science content while focusing more closely on the grammar and language behind it. Of course, the keynote speaker at the conference this year, Dr. Okhee Lee, emphasized the importance of incorporating language and science content, but the curriculum didn’t seem to allow for inquiry and discovery with interesting enough information. I definitely felt stuck before the conference.
The week after the OSTA conference, I went to yet another training: Building Academic Language. My teaching partner and I were able to incorporate what I learned at the OSTA conference with this new information to create a deeper learning of the content. Second graders are now creating labeled diagrams of insects (see photo) and have even completed a 4-chapter non-fiction book about an animal of their choice, based on the research we did after the OSTA conference. They explored the phenomenon of survival, from an insect’s perspective, which led to researching a vertebrate of their choice and its methods of survival. The students are now eager to continue learning and writing about the natural world and its phenomena. They can use both library books and Chromebooks to find the information they are looking for and they also learned the importance of citing their sources.
While my students certainly learned about the phenomenon of survival from various perspectives, they also learned valuable research, language, and scientific skills in context and with a deeper understanding of the content. Without attending the OSTA conference, I would not have felt as comfortable pushing my students as hard as I did. Now, I feel like they can definitely take this learning and apply it to a variety of different content areas.
by Alicia Ryan, Cascade School District
Several experiences from this year’s OSTA Conference stand out. Generally I rely on both my notes and my memory to review the important concepts and techniques covered. This time without reviewing my notes, I relied on my memory to reflect on what I had learned. The things that stand out were not necessarily the most useful or the most interesting in content but all involved doing something beyond listening and taking notes. This process of reflecting on my learning experience has been useful when preparing lessons for my students.
In the session on Increasing Student Discourse I recalled touching, playing with and subsequently eating the candy. A small plate of four different candies were waiting at each table when we entered the session. We were told to investigate the properties of each candy with all of our senses. Although we didn’t actually spend much time with the candy, we used the sensory experience to generate questions. Because I had to interact with the candy and then write questions about it, I remembered a great deal more about the session. We also did a cool “flash debate” in the same session. A flash debate is a one to two-minute debate where the class is divided into two topics and then each student debates one person from the opposition. Again, I had to interact with the topic, first by collaborating with my debate team and then by debating with just one other person. The only other session that I recalled in any detail was the El Niño Session. I have very few notes on that session yet I vividly remember coloring thermoclines for the ocean and then having to decide which one was the El Niño map. I do not remember what I write, I remember what I do.
Playing with candy also triggered a memory of the keynote speaker’s presentation related to building language from the ground up rather than frontloading vocabulary. These strategies will help my second language learners as well as assist my students that struggle to connect with the vocabulary and concepts. Building language from the bottom up will allow for increased conceptual understanding and language development. The El Niño coloring of ocean temperature is very similar to some of the information I teach in my classes. I have noticed that many students won’t remember information about ocean temperatures for very long. Perhaps taking the time to color the temperature gradients and then connecting that to other graphs and finally making predictions from what we have colored may help them remember it longer.
The instructional strategies that seemed to be most effective for me as a learner were those that were experiential, sensory and hands on. They included activities such as the following: handling and examining candy and coloring ocean temperatures; creating meaning whether singly such as flash debate part 2 and coloring, or in a small group such as flash debate part 1; creating meaning as a class through debriefing as we did in El Niño, flash debate and candy activities. I found that eliciting background knowledge through writing on post-its and putting them on the board as we discussed was engaging and stimulating. Specifically, if I had to contribute to the activity and to the discussion, I remembered it better.
Reflecting on how I learn is incredibly useful for influencing how I approach pedagogy in my classroom. I need to allow more time for students to build the knowledge in class individually and together. This may mean moving labs and experiences earlier in the curriculum rather than using them as capstones. It means less lecture and a more focused playing, using play very deliberately and ensuring that what we do directly relates to our material and leads directly to desired outcomes. I also need to be more thoughtful and deliberate about eliciting and developing more background knowledge. Having students write on sticky notes is a great technique to engage them without pressuring them to share orally if they don’t feel comfortable. Putting sticky notes on the board shows that we are building a framework around existing class knowledge, thus giving more ownership to students while laying out a path through our curriculum.
Overall, I felt I gained useful strategies and techniques to adapt and incorporate in my curriculum delivery. We share a lot of data in my classes. Now I plan to create student experiences and processing activities in more interactive and memorable ways. This should help students draw their own conclusions because they will have a deeper understanding of the data as they will have interacted with it more profoundly and over a more extended period of time.
by Blake Poyner
OSTA has done it again! The 2019 Oregon Science Teacher Association Fall Conference on Science Education is in the books and once again I find myself filled to the brim with valuable resources, novel ideas, and invaluable new connections. Throw in a beautiful, sunny fall day in Eugene (I thought it only ever rained on that side of the Cascades!) and the stage was set for learning and inspiration.
I’m always amazed by the “new to me” resources that I’m exposed to at OSTA. While my district has fully adopted the STEMscopes curriculum, which I thoroughly enjoy using, I’m always looking for supplemental resources to enhance my students’ learning. I need to thank Berkeley Gadbaw and Molly Malone for introducing me to twonew resources, of which I plan to use extensively: Data Nuggets and Teach Genetics Exploring Genetics Through Genetic Disorders. Data Nuggets is a great way to bring real data from real investigations by scientists in the field into the classroom. They’re versatile too! I can select whether students practice graphing the data, are supported in graphing the data, or analyze a pre-graphed set of data. My Student Learning Growth Goals for 7th grade science consists of selecting and constructing an appropriate graph, and writing a Claim, Evidence, Reasoning explanation from a given set of data. Using Data Nuggets I can select which components that I want my students to get practice with as well as give them all of the background information necessary for them to comprehend the scientific investigation from which the data originated. Teach Genetics - Exploring Genetics Through Genetic Disorders gave me an idea and an anchoring phenomena by which to ground my lessons on genetics this year. Students are already fascinated by genes, variation, and inheritance, but mutations send their curiosity skyrocketing. I plan on using this resource and the concepts of genetic disorders and mutations to drive the learning from the beginning of the unit.
This year’s theme of “All for Science and Science for All” was in full display at “A New Framework for Multilingual Science Meaning Making” session led by Cory Buxton, Karla Hale, and Barbara Ettenauer from Oregon State University. The discourse was rich in the room as we discussed the role of language in the science classroom. The idea of translanguaging, or using all of our language resources for meaning making, made me think of a better way to support my past, present, and future English Language Learners (ELLs). The idea is to allow and/or guide students to make meaning in whichever language resource is most meaningful. This can work for non-ELLs too! The idea is to use multilingualism as a learning resource to enhance the learning of all students. Another theme that resonated with me was the idea that scientific vocabulary, while critically important, are not the only new words our students need to become proficient with. The presenters made the case that general academic vocabulary are just as critically important to fostering meaning making as are scientific specific vocabulary. This week I’ve adjusted my practice by including some key general academic vocabulary to the required list such as conduct, describe, interact, and investigate. My final takeaway from this bountiful discussion came in regards to the patterns of instruction that we can establish to assist all of our learners in the process of science meaning making: semantic waves. I sense that this shift in my instructional flow has already benefited my students. While working through key general academic and science specific vocabulary I’ve been helping my students “ride the semantic waves” as we learn new vocabulary. The idea is that we alternate from simple to complex, or put another way, from abstract to concrete and back again. Let students experience an academic definition, then provide a concrete example. Describe the complexity of a new term, then define it in simple language. By continually moving up and down the semantic waves we can give our students multiple opportunities to make their own meaning from new vocabulary, whether the term comes from their native language or not.
How lucky are we as science teachers to have an annual time and place in which to gather, share our experiences, and better our profession? As I reflect on my first four years in this profession the effect that the OSTA Fall Conference on Science Education has had on me as a professional, and the quality of my practice is abundantly clear. Thank you everyone for playing your part in making this year’s conference so valuable. Every presentation, every conversation, and every idea hastily scratched out in my notebook has made me better at what I love to do, so thank you.
by Jennifer Callahan, Kindergarten Teacher, Redmond Early Learning Center
My name is Jennifer Callahan. I teach kindergarten at the Redmond Early Learning Center (RELC) in Redmond, Oregon. RELC’s goal is to be a hub where children from birth through age six and their families can access the early learning and developmental opportunities and supports that enhance their ability to succeed. The center provides equitable access for children and families by offering a “one stop shop,” that is centrally located within our community. The center includes partners such as Head Start, Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE), Public Health, Healthy Beginnings and many other agencies. We have just started our third year with this model.
I attended the 2:15 PM Session “STEMtastic Elementary Family Events: Increase community engagement without losing your mind” with Kara Allan and Kama Almasi as part of the 2018 OSTA Conference in Newport, Oregon.
I serve on the leadership team at my school in charge of parent engagement events, the district science curriculum adoption community, the Oregon Science Project, and on the PreK-3rd Initiative High Desert Education Service District . I attended this workshop in the hopes that the information would help me to organize a STEM Night for the 400 kindergarteners and their families that attend the school where I teach. I strongly believe that parents and families play an important role in supporting their child's education. According to the National Education Association, when schools and families work together, children do better, stay in school longer, are more engaged with their school work, go to school more regularly, behave better, and have better social skills.
The workshop provided fun hands-on activities from the Oregon Coast STEM Hub using the “Family Engineering: An Activity & Event Planning Guide” and “Picture-Perfect Science Lessons: Using Children's Books to Guide Inquiry” books. These resources provide activities to engage elementary age kids and adults in exploring the exciting world of engineering together. One of my favorite activities was the “Learning From Failure” from Family Engineering. First, you create a boat out of one piece of aluminum foil and place it in a tub of water. Predict how many pennies you think the boat will hold before it fails and sinks. Next, place pennies in your boat gently, one-by-one. Watch the boat carefully as it gets close to sinking. Then, can you change your boat’s design to hold more pennies? Try again using the same foil or one new piece. Finally, what did you learn from watching your boat sink?
The workshop shared event planning resources and provided personal experience for organizing a successful Family Engineering event. I gained a variety of ideas, explored several lessons first hand, was given valuable tips to planning my own STEM night, and gained the confidence needed lead my own parent engagement event. Photo #1 was taken of myself with two colleagues (Lisa Jacobs & Kama Almasi ) participating in an engineering activity with pipe cleaners. Photo #2 was taken of myself during the workshop taking part in the “Learning From Failure” activity.
Currently I use Amplify science curriculum in my kindergarten class. In the past I have used the “Learn To Learn” Lego STEM lessons, my students have attended outdoor school for the day, taken part in a variety of agriculture lessons, engaged in simple investigations, gone on several field trips (snowshoeing, the fish hatchery, hiking in the forest, etc.), benefited from guest speakers from our community, and more. Next, I plan to provide more opportunity for my students to explore STEM lessons. I would love for them to do the lessons in class before the STEM night with parents. That way they can be the leaders / teachers and help lead the experiments at the event.
by Elyse Grimsley, 4th grade teacher at Territorial Elementary in Junction City
Attending the OSTA Fall conference in Newport reminded me what it was like to be a classroom learner again. As a teacher, I am always reading new books and learning new strategies from co-workers, but to sit in a classroom with an instructor in front of the room does not happen as often. Students often do not have a choice in what classes they attend, but in this case, I had multiple options. You would think since I had the opportunity to choose the conference and which sessions I attended, that I would be highly engaged in all the sessions, but some utilized stronger engagement techniques that helped me remember what I learned, to the point where I could even share what I learned.
Out of the five sessions that I attended, two stuck out to me significantly more than the rest. One of these sessions was on language development in the science classroom. It was geared towards helping language learners better access the science classroom. In this session, the presenter started with a hands-on experience. We started with a plastic recyclable water bottle, something we see every day. She then asked us if when we twisted the bottle the pressure would increase or decrease. This lead to another question as to whether the temperature in the bottle would increase or decrease. This was a segue into looking at high and low-pressure systems.
A couple of elements made this a highly successful session. The instructor took something that everyone was familiar with, a water bottle, and used this to demonstrate her point. Using simple everyday objects helped me, and can also help students to find a way to relate to the lesson better. Another part of this lesson that was successful was that it was very hands on. We were interacting with a partner, jointly working on graphing high and low-pressure fronts, as well as the path of hurricanes and typhoons. We also did a gallery walk to look at the work of other groups. It is challenging to stay engaged when you have to sit for long periods of time, but in this almost two-hour class we were on the move every fifteen minutes. I think sometimes as educators we forget what it is like to be a student sitting all day, and how much more engaged we can be when given the opportunity to move more often. Also, being given the opportunity to do the work myself, graphing, versus watching a demo under a document camera, gave me more ownership of what we were doing. (I can now even demonstrate with hand motions high and low-pressure fronts.) Sometimes things are best demonstrated whole class, but many times we revert to that as a time saving technique, whereas if we gave students the time to engage in the activity themselves, they would retain the knowledge better.
The second session that I found highly engaging was Engineering the Oregon Trail. In this session, we programmed Dash robots to complete a journey on a simulated Oregon Trail. The robots also had to carry cargo on this arduous journey. Was this more engaging just because it was utilizing technology? No, not for me, but sometimes for students this is the case. What made this session engaging was a combination of old and new, yet something that for me at least, is very applicable. The old – I have some experience coding. No, I am not by any means as expert but I understand the general concept. I have used a few coding websites and apps in my classroom to introduce general block coding. The new – I had never seen a Dash robot before. When I had previously utilized robots for coding, I would call the system clunky. It was not something that was very user friendly and did not make me want to start a new class project with them. The Dash, on the other hand, had a very simple easy to use interface. Our instructor pretty much handed us the robot and iPad and turned us loose to complete the challenge that he had set forth. Having the background knowledge made the task seem manageable. Having a new challenge motivated me to learn the new robot. What made this session especially applicable is that I teach 4th grade, where most of my social studies standards can be covered in an Oregon Trail unit that takes up a month or two each Spring. This was a week-long unit that I could add to my journey West each Spring, given I had access to some type of robot. Knowing how I could use this in the year to come really motivated me to glean everything I could from the presenter about this unit and any others he had to share.
Sometimes students just don’t see the point in learning certain concepts. We have all heard the line “When am I ever going to use this?” As my husband tells his class, in short “Some of you will never use this, but we don’t know what knowledge you will need so we want to give everyone a good base to work with.” Even though some students see the long game, that they might need this knowledge in the future, others have a hard time relating to the concept unless it affects them here and now. This reminds me that I can do a better job of showing the students why this concept matters, why it affects your life. Another example of where I can better connect student learning to real world examples is through our recent science unit. My class has recently been working on a unit on natural processes where we have been talking about plate tectonics, earthquakes and volcanoes. I have talked with the students about the ramifications for us Oregonians and our placement amongst the plates, but I still don’t think they fully understand its importance. A couple of years ago in OBOB (Oregon Battle of the Books) there was a book called Escaping the Giant Wave by Peg Kehret. This book is about a family visiting the Oregon coast and what happens when there is an earthquake, and then in turn a tsunami. I truly love the coast, but for a few weeks after reading this book the thought of even driving over the mountains to head to Newport terrified me. For someone who has lived in Oregon my whole life, this book painted a very clear and terrifying picture of what could happen when a tsunami hits the Oregon coast. I am not trying to scare my students, but that book just jumped towards the top of my list of books for read aloud time. My students need a real-world connection to see why science is important, to see why it matters, to see why it is worth learning and investing their time in.
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