Science in the City

Aug 31, 2014

Social Action and Surprising Current Issues in the Classroom

I have spent a lot of time this summer reading and educating myself on food, and nutrition. I have been interested for several years, as my son has several food allergies, so I am forced to read labels, and, for the most part, cook from scratch. A few years ago I read The Unhealthy Truth, by Robyn O'Brien, but mostly with my kids in mind. In the meantime I have gotten busy, have two kids now to make school lunches for, and have gotten lazy (not about the allergies, which are life-threatening, but about health choices that are not immediately life threatening).

 I have also been very tired, and just low energy, getting sick (just with colds) more frequently. Bloodwork last year didn't turn up anything, and the doctor had a conversation with me about stress management, and eating healthy. That rung true, but not quite. I didn't feel like I was under anymore stress than I have been, maybe less as my kids are both old enough to sleep well, I'm a more experienced teacher, was at a better school last year than the two previous years.

 Near the end of school a colleague was excited about the "Whole30" and the energy boost, health benefits, etc. I read up on that, experimented a bit (decided it was WAY too restrictive for without a strict reason or problem to solve). But that experiment and reading led me to more reading on gluten, and on other health myths/topics. Then a friend's doctor recommended the book "Eat to Live." I was intrigued and also read some of that. I found this more well supported, and backed by research, as well it made more sense to me logically, but is basically a vegan diet, focusing on salad, maybe 2 meals a day. I don't see that as feasible for me right now. But I did try to make some changes. In all this reading and thinking (which I only have time for in the summer), I came across two things that really got my attention as far as the classroom.

 1) The blog (and the associated recipes, facebook page, etc. This is also about healthier eating, but from a little different perspective. What really stuck out to me, however, is that unlike a lot of the other things I had been reading, the author here emphasizes taking small steps (mini-challenges), and that any improvement is better, and that this does not have to be a 100% change. I think that is also an important lesson for our students -- take small steps to make changes. Any improvement is better in the big picture.

 2) I also stumbled across this book: The Omnivore's Dilemma for Kids.  This is supposed to be written for teens.  A lot of it is about science -evaluating different studies, analyzing nutrients in our bodies and how our bodies break down and utilize various chemicals.  Now I really want to use this book with my students.  I'm trying to determine where in the curriculum it fits, and how best to do this.  Where I teach, I'm sure this is not a topic of why my students are very much aware, at all.  When I taught AP Environmental, several years ago, I did a similar unit and my students were completely blank slates before.  Such a far removed topic from their daily lives.  I would like to bring some awareness to ninth grade biology students, maybe through the use of this book.

I think I will start with writing a grant for the book, but in the meantime I need to determine where in the curriculum it would go, and how I could use it.

Any ideas, send them my way :)

Worried About the First day of Class? Scavenger Hunt Exclusive Freebie

I have been getting my classroom ready for the upcoming school year, and part of that process for me is making up signs to mark areas with in the classroom that I want to be clear to students.  We get a lot of student schedule changes and transitions, and student attendance is not always great.  For those reasons, and because students have several classes to keep track of, I try to make procedures clear for them early in the year, and post reminders.

This is an exclusive freebie to my blog readers.  It is a set of signs and a classroom scavenger hunt that I use in my classroom. The files are in PowerPoint format, so that they are completely editable and customizable to your classroom needs as well.

Classroom freebies

Aug 23, 2014

Innovative Technology: Google Drive and Google Chromebooks

I have been meaning to blog more often this summer, and haven't done so. The last couple of weeks I have been deep into learning about Google Chromebooks and Google Drive (which I was familiar with) and how to use them in the classroom. My school is going to be a 1:1 Chromebook this year as part of a pilot program. I was asked to be on the technology committee, so I have been at many meetings planning logistics and rollout procedures, as well as staff professional development.

I have learned several things from this Chromebook experience, before school has even started, and I will definitely keep you posted as the year goes along.

1) Roll out and logistics procedures are critical for things to go smoothly.

We have spent a lot of time developing procedures for checking in and out the chromebooks, labelling them, determining what the procedures will be for late entry and early dismissal students, where they will be stored and how to access them, how to carry and store them, etc.  These clearly stated and communicated guidelines and procedures will (hopefully) eliminate a lot of problems later on. The same is true in the classroom!  It is so important to think through all of these details and what-ifs ahead of time, and to develop, organize, and communicate with your students.

2) Staff training, comfort level, and staff being on the same page is also critical.

The IT Department from the district came to do some training with us.  They began by stating that they expected people to be anxious and fearful, or opposed. Our staff was mostly not.  They were very excited.  We have a great staff.  However, I think a lot of the positive attitude was also due to keeping people informed ahead of time, providing resources and training so they are comfortable, and providing ongoing support and training so they  know they won't be lost.  I think people are much more likely to try something new when they are comfortable and feel successful in what they are doing, and know that they will have support.

Again, the same in true in the classroom!

3) I think this technology has the power to change the classroom, as we know it.

I used a smartboard, and powerpoint, but I don't use them extensively.  They are a great way to present graphics and diagrams, or do whole class instruction, but most of the best educational practices are not geared around whole class instruction with the teacher at the front of the room.  If you are using these technologies a lot, I fear that is what is happening.

Google drive, however, offers a way for teachers to spend less time copying and organizing work, and for students to keep their work organized.  It automatically saves, and teachers can provide templates or work to students to complete right in their Drive.  It also offers real time collaboration, commenting, and feedback, as well as research resources immediately in the hands of every student. It allows them to look up information, search for help, spell check, create documents, critique each other's documents, and watch videos or take notes, somewhat at their own pace.  They can go back and edit, go ahead, or re-watch something. I also see many opportunities for individualization and differentiation, from additional research questions to apps that allow text to be read, or making the screen size different or changing contrast.

I am really excited about this opportunity, and I hope my students are too!
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