For 12 weeks, sixth graders in my class embark on a learning adventure based on the misadventures of a fictional character called Dr. Smallz. The class is a hands-on, inquiry-based, integrated science and math course. Students get a chance to be scientists, designers, makers and players as they learn all about human body systems, cellular functions, and the ability of the human organism to maintain dynamic equilibrium. The Dr. Smallz Mission is a great example of the type of game-like learning experience that creates a powerful "Need to Know" in students, leaving them hungry to learn more.
February is a time when Americans reflect on the tremendous contributions of people of African descent. While names like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks are known, names of famous black scientists and inventors are not as common. Well, not until now. Let's examine some notable men and women who made great achievements in science, technology and engineering. Here are some examples of giants on whose shoulders we stand.
Explicitly teaching students about neuroplasticity can have a transformative impact in the classroom. A central facet of our work as teacher educators is teaching about how the brain changes during learning. Many teachers have told us that these findings have had a positive effect on their expectations for their students and on students' perceptions of their own abilities.
Science role models were key to my journey. A pinnacle moment was when I watched a show on PBS called 3-2-1 Contact, which featured a segment with a teenaged black girl solving problems. When I saw her doing science, I was irrevocably hooked.
As part of the Marin Speaker Series in San Rafael, California, legendary Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak was asked what advice he would give a middle school math student. His answer: learn programming and get off the page in the textbook, don't let school hold you back, and learn at your own pace with tools like Khan Academy. In other words, break free from the linear path of math instruction that starts with pre-algebra and culminates with calculus, as The New York Times Editorial Board highlights in its piece "Who Says Math Has To Be Boring?"
Minecraft, the popular sandbox game, is beloved by educators for its use as a learning tool. It enables students to explore, create and imagine in a completely different way than they could ever do in a traditional classroom. The beauty of the game is in the way it unleashes the creativity of both students and teachers.
More people watch the Super Bowl than vote in a Presidential election.
This fact stopped me in my tracks, and I wondered if the tremendous popularity of football could be used as a way to teach STEM. I took on this challenge with journalist Allen St. John when we wrote a book called Newton's Football, a new title from Random House.
What did we find in terms of science at work on the gridiron? Surprisingly, a lot, and many of the topics fall under the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Let me share a few items, which might be useful to you in your classroom.
Just recently, I was lucky enough to attend a "Sewing with Circuits" workshop run by The Hacktory, a local Philadelphia maker community focused on education and creation. (On a side note, they are located within the collaborative space rightfully named "The Department of Making and Doing.") It was Saturday night and an email caught my attention about a workshop on Sunday. I had nothing else to do, so I dropped the $45.
While math and English language arts teachers have a much more direct call for Common Core implementation, teachers in other content areas are also being called to implement the Common Core State Standards. This may be a challenge for some. In my work with teachers across many states, I find that non-ELA and non-math teachers aren't as familiar with the CCSS, nor with implementation. In the next couple of blogs, I'd like to share the stories of science and art teachers implementing the CCSS -- their processes, reflections and advice. We'll start with science.
Comic book writers are indebted to scientists, and they demonstrate their gratitude by giving these real life mega-minds special places in the pantheon of superhero mythologies. Bruce Banner, who goes Hulk when angered, developed the Gamma Bomb for the US government. Susan Storm, also known as the Invisible Woman, holds four doctorates in biochemistry and still finds time to save the world. Even the X-Men's Beast is a much-lauded biochemist. Close study of comic book universes and the science concepts upon which they are founded can be enlightening for students and teachers alike. Boys and girls are riveted by the unique powers and compelling personalities and histories of superheroes.