Wednesday, June 29, 2011

This is Why I Teach – Post #36

 Dear Mrs. S:
I just wanted to write this letter to let you know how much I’ve appreciated you this semester. This course has been one of my favourites and I’ve learned so much. You made this course fun and enjoyable with all your stories and jokes and you always seem to explain everything perfectly!
I love your teaching style so keep it up.  So I just want to say thank-you for doing what you do because, because of this very course and you, I’m starting to figure out my future. It means a lot!
Thank you for an amazing semester that I will NEVER forget,
p.s. Enjoy your summer!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Father's Day blog Posting -- #36

Father and Daughter
This blog posting is the entry I sent in to the Geekdad contest in an effort to win some cool geek electronics. Although I did not win it lead me to reflect on where my affinity for inquiry-based learning came from. If this story isn’t a classic inquiry than what is? Thanks Dad!

Here is my Geekdad story:
Many years ago I was engaged to be married. Although I was 100% sure I wanted to be married to the man of my dreams I was not so keen on the actual wedding ceremony. Though a series of compromises the wedding was scheduled for 10 o’clock on a Monday morning. Following the church ceremony there would be a sit down lunch catered by some church ladies, the bride and groom would leave on our honeymoon and the partying would continue at my parent’s house. My parent’s house, which is my childhood home, is a large Cape Cod style house that has seen many parties over the years. These parties include some fantastic teenage parties that my sister and I would host when my parents and brothers went on summer vacations without us. (We couldn’t go! We had to work!)  For sure there had been at least 200 kids in our house dancing and jumping up and down on a number of occasions and although there were a number of consequences on a variety of levels the house itself withstood all the partying unscathed and unchanged.
Family Home
This is where the Geek Dad part comes in. My dad, a trained engineer, spent weeks prior to my wedding day fretting, wandering around the house with a measuring tape and  his trusty slide ruler while scribbling little calculations on scraps of paper and the back of napkins. You may think he was upset that his baby girl was marrying, that he was designing a new suit for himself, or that he was calculating the cost of all these shenanigans. But no! This is not how Geek Dads think! What he was actually doing was calculating how great a load the floors of our family home could withstand. What if there were so many people in the house that it collapsed! This was a very real worry for him!
Naturally, like all good daughters, when my Geek Dad tried to talk to me about the consequences of the partying continuing at our family home I just laughed at him. Who ever heard of a house collapsing from the load on the floors during party? I have been at  many parties and I have never heard of such a thing, have you? Our family home is a sturdily build wooden two story house, we had never had any indication that the floors might collapse. All the woodwork was in tiptop condition. Stop worrying, Geek Dad!
The night before my wedding day my father must have conceded that the after-party would, indeed, be at the family home. The father-of-the-bride is easily lost in the shuffle of wedding plans and he had definitely lost this battle. (The story of the force that is my mother shall be told another day!) As a last resort Geek Dad enlisted the help of our Best Man.  He showed him all of his calculations and explained, as only an over wrought engineer can, the potential danger of the wedding guests enjoying one last cup of tea at our family home the next day. To his credit our Best Man listened politely and nodded attentively as my dad instructed him to make the rounds during the wedding feast and dissuade everyone from attending the after-party. He did not, however, act on these carefully laid plans of subterfuge. 

The wedding went off without a hitch, the wedding feast was enjoyed by all, my new husband and I drove off into happily-ever-after and the after-party was in full swing until the wee hours of the morning. Did the floors cave in? Did the house collapse? What do you think?
I love you, Geek Dad!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Free Science, Engineering and Medical textbooks! -- Posting # 35

The National Academies Press has made all of their books free to download in PDF format! Eureka!
Their books are of the highest standard in science, engineering, medicine and research.
What are the implications of this to the education system and to the publishing industry?
Leave a comment or send me a tweet @EurekaTeacher with your thoughts.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Metamorphosis – Posting #34

During the month of May we have been witnessing metamorphosis in our science lab. This project has captivated students in not only the locally developed, applied and university level  science courses that I teach but also members of the student and staff population that generally avoid the science wing! It has been authentic experiential learning that has captivated the hearts and imaginations of people that I have never had the pleasure of meeting before and more than just the butterflies have undergone a metamorphosis.
In an attempt to save a few dollars we tried to find a recipe for larvae food but found out that this is a closely guarded company secret and something that graduate students have struggled with for eons. It would have been less expensive to simply feed the larvae what they eat in the wild, in this case thistle leaves, but alas spring was unseasonably wet and cold so we were unable to find any thistles in our travels. Fortunately, our Student Success team funded the purchase of the larvae, the larval medium (food) and a picture book describing the metamorphosis process. 

I ordered the live larvae from a biological supply company and they were shipped to the school on exactly the date they were promised. While waiting for the larvae to arrive we learned about what to expect when they came and created our own habitat from an old aquarium tank I just happened to have in the back of my classroom. After viewing a number of videos from you tube we decided that we would:
1.      keep our larvae, pupae and butterflies at room temperature;
2.      modify the old tank so it had a lid and allowed a free flow of air;
3.      get some packets of sugar in stock to prepare sugar water for the butterflies when they emerged;
4.      be able to identify whose larvae was whose by keeping them in separate containers until they pupated but once they were moved into the larger habitat there would be no way of identifying and owning them.
By happenstance our shipment of larvae actually arrived while I was teaching the locally developed class. Because the front office knew I was expecting the shipment and it was clearly labelled as containing live specimens they called into my classroom as soon as it was delivered. This created great excitement amongst the students! When the “runners” brought the shipment up from the office we studied the package prior to opening it. It had large red labels on it reading, “Live Specimens, Handle with Care, Do Not Freeze” which created a beautiful teachable moment for literacy. We read the label, discussed the choice of colour and font size as well as the meanings of the words and phrases. (Proving, once again, that text can take many forms and be found in a variety of situations.)
Mixing up the larval medium (food) for them to feed on proved to be surprisingly difficult which meant that it took long enough for everyone to have a turn at stirring. While we were passing it around the room to stir it we also practised “safe smelling” by wafting its odour towards our nostrils and hypothesized about what might be in the top secret recipe. Lots of excellent ideas were put forward. They included:
·         oatmeal
·         baby pablum
·         wheat germ
·         flour
·         sugar
·         bran

Once we got the medium stirred to an even consistency we each transferred some food into our labeled containers and punched air holes in the lids. Next I demonstrated to the students how to transfer the larvae, using paintbrushes, into their individual containers. The students took the time to examine their larvae with hand lens and exclaimed at their observations – “I can see the bristles”, “Mine has its mouth open!”, “Mine curled up when I touched him!”, “Mine is looking at me!”, “I think mine is dead, no . . . wait, its moving now!”, “Mine is already eating!”
In order to encourage ownership of the project I asked each student to name their larva. Careful handling of living specimen and caring for all God’s creatures was inherent in this project. So much so that a few days later when I realized that my larva was well and truly dead (the only one that actually died) I expressed disgruntled emotions and tossed it into the garbage. The students were outraged! Boy was my face red!
Bowing under pressure from my students I removed the larva from the garbage can, apologized for being disrespectful towards a living (now dead) creature and had to actually have a little funeral for the dead larva! Eureka! They understood the ethics of handling living things, no matter how small or unattractive!
Each student kept a daily journal of their larva’s growth and development. Their daily observations included the date, a sketch of their specimen, and one or two descriptive words. This observation journal formed part of their final assessment for this project. During their observations the students learned about the moulting process of caterpillars. It took about 7 – 10 days for the larvae to pupate, at which time they were transferred into the butterfly habitat we had created out of the old aquarium. Two – three days later the butterflies began emerging. Magic!

For a final evaluation project of the project I had each of the learners in the locally developed course create an eight page illustrated butterfly book. The page break down was:
1. Title page
2. Egg
3. Larvae
4. Pupae
5. Adult
6. Larvae food
7. Adult food
8. Structure and function of the proboscis
The students, and various other members of our school community, were so engaged in the experience of watching the process of metamorphosis that they would often drop by the classroom several times a day. All of my students, in each period, became experts on the entire process because there was always someone coming by to take a look and ask questions. My response to any questions asked by visitors was consistently, “Ask the students.” This allowed the students to discuss their learning and thereby reinforce it.
I was truly planning to take the student produced butterfly books with me to the Smarter Science Unconference next weekend (June 11, 2011) but I have been unsuccessful in finding a sponsor for the cost of my travel (aprox. $500.00). If you know of any grant money or other funds I could access for this reason please contact me via Twitter @EurekaTeacher.