Saturday, February 19, 2011

Making Connections: Scientific Explorations in the Students' Own Environment

Many schools follow a rigid, formal science curriculum when designing science experiments or activities for students to use in the classroom. Therefore, although many of these ideas and experiments suggested by the state and national standards may be great, they often include experiences that are unique to students’ home environments in a specific geographic locale. Students definitely need experiences they can connect to their own lives and natural environments that surround them by bringing in objects and phenomena they notice daily. These science experiences are unique and personal and they make up the informal science curriculum, which is certainly no less important than the formal science curriculum.
During my elementary school years, I cannot recall going out into the environment and having true, personal science experiences. I can remember going on fieldtrips to go apple picking or to a science museum, but that is certainly the extent of my outside experiences as a young student with science. Our fieldtrips were certainly fun and interactive; however, I wish my teachers would have taken the opportunity to reflect on the experiences we had on out trip when we returned to the classroom. My teachers did not use inquiry very often in our science experiences, and therefore, connections were usually not made to prior knowledge or new knowledge being constructed in the classrooms. Fieldtrips serve as perfect, outdoor, real-life experiences to connect science ideas and content to student’s prior experiences, and enable student’s of all diversities to construct new knowledge.We were always in the classroom, reading textbooks, memorizing information, and being horribly bored and uninterested. My teachers were always fearful of science, and therefore, usually tried to avoid teaching the subject as much as possible or putting any effort or creativity into the lessons. I may have had a science corner in my classroom; however, I certainly do not remember being involved in its development or interacting with the science corner objects at all. Therefore, it must have not have been a truly successful science corner. Personally, I will implement the use of a science corner in my classroom, and change its contents according to the subject content we are learning at week. I would make it an interactive science corner, where students can record observations and, respond to questions, generate their own ideas for materials to add to the corner, and answers their own questions. Kindergarten was probably the only year where I can recall having an object from outdoors and nature in our classroom. My teacher had brought a large hornet nest into the classroom to hang from the ceiling, and we were all fascinated with it. She taught an entire lesson on bees and honey after that experience, and I can still remember it today! That in itself is proof that students learn best when the curriculum is related to their lives, which then enables them to make connections and construct their knowledge actively. Students actively participate in these experiences by engaging and reflecting, see how these new experiences fit in with previous ones, and make new connections.  By incorporating prior knowledge, students can construct new knowledge with these active experiences. Using these opportunities, teachers can make interesting connections between students’ lives and the natural world around them-making the classroom a dynamic and vital place. This helps student see the bigger picture, and realize past and present issues in society, locally and globally, today. In addition, integrating science into students’ everyday lives aids in motivating students to participate and feel less alienated from science. This particularly involves females and minorities, who often have a negative perception of the usefulness of science in real life, and this adds to their lack of participation in science related activities. Educators can help modify and alter these biases and beliefs students enter school with, and therefore, it is imperative that teachers use experiences to make connections with their daily lives. These natural, personal experiences in one’s classroom will incorporate and address the diversity that is among students and that it in the surrounding nature. One student may come from a family that has never seen a dandelion growing out of the sidewalk, one family may eat dandelions in their meals, and another may think the dandelion flower is beautiful. All prior knowledge, culture, and background influences one’s beliefs, and simple walks in nature outside your classroom can incorporate and address all of them.
In addition to incorporating real-life nature experiences in science, educators should teach students how to care for their environment, conserve energy, generate less waste, recycle, and understand the effects of their daily actions on the planet’s environment. Although green science is not part of the formal curriculum, it is important knowledge for students to have about the planet they live in. Naturalistic intelligence is important for students to be “nature smart” and develop an appreciation, understanding and stewardship for the planet. A large body of evidence suggests that immersing students in the local environment enhances their understanding of a “green” daily living. I work at a nature museum in Cornwall, NY, where the main purpose of our establishment is to educate the public and the children in the area about the environment. We help students and children become young naturalists, and instill in them the motivation and burning passion to become lifelong caregivers of the earth.
This week during class, we began practicing presentations and microteaching. It is very interesting to see how my other peers are implementing science concepts and inquiry in these short minilessons. Together, we are providing feedback and helping each other improve our teaching skills and public speaking abilities. The classroom is certainly a safe and comfortable environment to practice and improve these skills. I think the microteaching lessons (both Kira’s woordle and Katherine’s geology interactive lesson) are going very well. I now know how to use woorlde to activate my students prior knowledge and introduce a concept through using this tool that displays numerous words in a fun, creative manner. In addition, Katherine showed how bringing in everyday nature objects, such as rocks from around the area, can help students activate prior knowledge and make connections to their personal lives. I began thinking about the different colors, textures, sizes, striations, hardness, and minerals of rocks that I have seen daily, and could now relate the concepts about mineralogy and geology to my personal experiences with rocks. I will try to always connect my student’s prior knowledge to the content we are learning in the classroom in order to formulate connections. When i do my microteaching, I believe I will also bring in an object to teach a lesson in order to help students make connections to their own evironments.

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