Training to Think

Imagine a gym teacher welcoming her elementary school students to class and informing them that they are going to learn about basketball today.  Big and small cheers come from the students as they are excited to learn how to play.  There may be a groan or two heard, perhaps from those that prefer other physical activities, but for the most part the group is eager.

IMG_0919

The gym teacher begins her class by talking about all the skills a person needs to play the game.  She then describes the basketball court, and the purpose of each line on the court floor.  After some more discussion, and a question and answer time, the gym teacher then fills the students in on all of the rules of basketball.

All this time students have been sitting on the hard gym floor, listening intently yet somewhat impatiently as they are enthusiastic about playing the game.  As the gym period comes to a close, the gym teacher reaches into a bag and pulls out a basketball.  This is it!  The moment the students have been waiting for!  But the gym teacher calmly explains to the class that the next time they meet they will be discussing the history of the game, as well as the composition of the ball.

IMG_0920

A student raises his hand.  He asks when they are going to get a chance to play the game.  The gym teacher responds that there are not enough balls for the entire class to learn how to play, but that students need to pay close attention to the lessons because there will be a test in a couple of weeks on what they have learned.  And it is important for them to learn about basketball in case they get a chance to be on a team someday.

All of the students are discouraged.  Many students have lost interest.  Many will remember what they have learned, but the joy of the game…the desire to participate is lost.

IMG_0925

This is what science class is like without hands-on activities.  Yes, instruction needs to occur.  Yes, facts need to be addressed.  But without the ability to participate in science – without the ability to learn science by doing science – interest is lost.  And when interest is lost, ability is lost, and when ability is lost, scientists are lost.

I am thankful that our school’s district is currently investigating how to make our science instruction and curriculum even stronger this year.  A committee I am proud to be a part of is currently working hard to ensure that each elementary classroom is providing as many meaningful science instruction opportunities as possible.

Recently our class has had the privilege of participating in a pilot program using Foss Science kits.  These kits contain a well-blended mixture of instruction, reading, mathematics, and hands-on activities that have not only taught our class vocabulary words and science content, but it has encouraged students to participate as scientists, peaking their interest and increasing their abilities.

IMG_0922

After all, “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.” – Albert Einstein

To Squeeze or Not to Squeeze (an object lesson)

toothpaste-300x225

In our first week of school our third grade students participated in an engaging object lesson.  The Free Dictionary defines an object lesson as “a concrete illustration of a moral or principle,” as well as “a lesson taught by using a material object.”  Our object lesson focused on the words we use to speak to each other, along with some squishy items.

goo 3

Pairs of students were given the option to choose a container of toothpaste, hair gel, or lotion.  They were also given a plate and a spoon.  Students were encouraged to squeeze out as much “stuff” as possible onto the plate in five minutes.  Their plates were instantly covered with a sticky or oozy mess.

goo 2

Next, all partners were given five minutes to put their “goo” back into their tubes.  Despite working hard, students became quickly discouraged with the seemingly impossible task.  Some students did come up with some clever ways to attempt to put their mess back in its place, but alas, the plates remained full of glop.

dt
After a much needed cleanup time, students were asked, “What was the point of wasting some perfectly good Dollar Tree toothpaste, hair gel, and lotion?”  A few came up with some good, yet incorrect suggestions.  One student came up with a reason that was not intended but made a lot of sense – “Keep trying until you figure out a way to solve a problem.”  We had to take the time to discuss the merits of this wisdom!

I then revealed then main purpose of the object lesson:

  1. When words are quickly squeezed out of our mouths they often create a mess.
  2. When we speak a mess of words it is difficult to take back what was said.

For the rest of this year our students will be reminded to be careful not to squeeze their words out too quickly, and that what we say to each other should be encouraging, not discouraging.

goo

Making Learning Relevant: Fossils

Mastodon0106

For the next few weeks our class will be learning about fossils – the different types of fossils, how fossils are made, and why fossils are important.

Fossils are old – often REALLY old.  Fossils are rare (especially in our Granite State of New Hampshire).  Fossils are remains of dead plants and animals, or evidence of dead plants and animals.  Who wants to learn about really old dead things?  Why learn about really old dead things?

We began our unit with a trash bag.  I rummaged through a trash bag and pulled out different items.  After examining these items, it only took a few educated guesses to discover the owner of this trash bag – our classroom’s valued paraprofessional, Mrs. Duffy.  Why go through someone’s trash?  Because someone’s trash can give us clues about what that person’s life is like.

inquiry

Why learn about fossils?  Because fossils can give us clues about what earth’s life was like MANY years ago – how cool is that?  Learning about fossils is not only like solving mysteries, but it easily connects to the process of scientific inquiry – something our youth definitely needs experience with.

When someone is studying any topic, if the topic is relevant to their life, they are bound to be more interested.  So how do we make studying fossils relevant, especially in our fossil-starved State of New Hampshire?

  1. By investigating current events
  2. By examining how it relates to our lives
  3. By acting out the process of a paleontologist

mammoth

Today our students read an article and watched a video about an adult wooly mammoth that was discovered by Michigan farmers…this past weekend!  This investigation of a current event alone inspired students to want to go and dig in their backyard.

For the last couple of years students at our school lobbied (unfortunately unsuccessfully) to have an official state fossil declared.  They researched what types of fossils were discovered in our own state, learning how fossils related to our local lives – it was an incredible learning experience.  This year I have contacted a UNH and Dartmouth professor regarding a fossil we have in our class – they are very intrigued and have already provided some feedback (see below).  We have a large, real life example in our classroom!

dig

In a couple of weeks our class will be taking a short walk behind our school to “dig for fossils.”  Although we will likely not find any authentic fossils, students will discover something – and participate in the process of how to excavate and study fossils.

Making learning relevant is one very effective way we here at Bradford strive to help make our students’ education engaging and worthwhile.  I certainly hope your child finds our fossil unit to be both an exciting and valuable experience.

IMG_7513

Classroom Fossil

IMG_7512

Donated by Anonymous Community Member

Professors’ Comments on our Classroom Fossil:

“The fossil seems somewhat vertebral, or even the end of a long bone.  My first guess was that is was from a whale, but really not certain.  I note that it seems imbedded in a hard rock matrix.  Therefore, geologically quite old, and probably not from around here.  Which then begs the question – something from quite distant in time.”

– Professor Gary Johnson, Dartmouth

“Definitely fossil bone which makes it a lot more interesting than most of what passes through my email box from state residents! I agree with Gary that my first guess would be whale or at least large mammal (bones look hollow). Size looks like it could be a dinosaur but bone texture looks more mammal.”

– Professor Will Clyde, UNH