Monday, February 28, 2011

Reading in Science - Beyond the Textbook

The number one skill necessary for success on standardized tests is the ability to read. Even success in the math section of standardized tests is dependent upon the ability to read. 

Students should be told from the first moment that they can read that this is the one skill they should hone above all others in order to do well on the tests that will determine much of their academic placement for the rest of their time in school.

However, if you ask most students, they will associate reading with English.  They very rarely associate reading with the other subjects and they do not consider reading the text as reading. 

That is why I make reading a part of my science curriculum whenever possible.  I have implemented reading outside of the text in my Biology, Chemistry, Physics and Environmental Science classes for many years now.  I use these books to provide students with concepts that can supplement the text but also to encourage students to explore the subject from a variety of viewpoints.  But, most importantly this additional reading is to get students to understand that reading is not something that is isolated to the English classroom.

In Biology, my classes read The Hot Zone by Douglas Preston as a summer reading text prior to their freshman year of Biology.  There is no better way to get a group of 9th grade boys enthused about a subject then having a true story about death, blood gore and search into hidden caves in Africa to find the source of the disease. (see TED Talk Ali Carr-Chellman: Gaming to Re-engage Boys in Learning) There are many science topics that can be discussed from the study of the Ebola outbreak from Central Africa to Reston, Virginia including, the scientific method, epidemiology, immune system, vectors, hosts, disease, bacteria, virus, plague, AIDS, the CDC and WHO and cultural views of death.     
I have used Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton to introduce the concepts and ramifications of biotechnology. While I do not necessarily want my students to think they will be visiting genetically created dinosaurs in their future, I do want them to understand the possibilities of genetic research and the ramifications of the widespread use of biotechnology without the proper oversight or as Crichton points out a lack of a watchdog for this revolution. Jurassic Park is another book that provides a great story line to get students, especially teen age boys, engaged in the subject of Biology.

The third book I use in Biology is Jennie by Douglas Preston.  Jennie is the story of a chimpanzee brought from Africa and raised in a family as one of their own children. The story provides opportunity to discuss the biological, sociological and psychological differences between man and other primates.  Insights into the process of learning that takes place as Jennie assimilates into life as a chimpanzee in a human existence from language to imagination the observations are fascinating.  Do not replace this text with the Disney movie version as with most movies it does not live up to the story line or have nearly the same educational impact as the book.

I have already described the use of Ishmael by Daniel Quinn in my Environmental Science classes.  I have used A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr to discuss water and the legislative process of environmental issues. Students have read Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks in Chemistry to understand the development of the periodic table and the understanding of chemical study.  In Physics, I have used Richard Feynman’s Six Easy Pieces to introduce the basics and complexity of Physics.

Reading novels, biographies, non-fiction are great means to get students to appreciate the subject of science without the formalness and dryness of most textbooks.  Let’s face it, most of us have experienced the flat forehead of a reading nap from an exploration of a biology or chemistry text book.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Assessment - Practical Exams

The first practical exam I ever experienced was in a college anatomy course, and I failed miserably.  I did not know how to prepare, nor did I know what to expect as far as the type of information I would be required to be responsible for in the exam.  I made the mistake of thinking that every skull, femur and foot looked exactly the same.  I did not understand the importance of repetition nor did I understand that the images in the books were not exactly like the bones we were studying.

Like hitting a curve ball in baseball, you can't learn to hit one by reading a book or watching someone else do it.  You have to experience it, see the release, read the spin and swing the bat.

It is our job as educators to provide students with as many of the possible types of assessment as we can within our classrooms.  Preparing for and taking a practical exam is a very different experience from a standard pen and paper exam. 

Every semester my anatomy students take two skeletal practical exams.  The first exam   focuses on the bones of the axial skeleton and the second includes the bones of the appendicular skeleton.  Students are responsible to learn the bone names, anatomical structures and whether the bone is a left or right. There is no word bank provided and spelling counts.

Our school runs a 95 minute block schedule.  In my anatomy class students spend the first 20 to 30 minutes each day involved in bone study.  We are very fortunate to have two and a half real human skeletons and a plastic model.  Students work in partners and small groups to study the bones, their anatomy and structures.  I stress  the importance of repetition.  The value in working together and teaching each other.  (Phillips: We remember 92% of what we teach each other.)
I point out how each skeleton is unique and therefore the bones may differ and that students need to study each bone because they do not know which set of bones will show up on the day of the exams.

On the day of the exam students rotate through a series of twenty stations answering two or three questions at each station, naming bones, the structures, whether the bones are left or right and the classification of bones.

I have also included practical exams based upon dissection labs and microscope labs in both anatomy and biology.  Students need to learn the importance of viewing more than one slide or  their own dissected frog.  They learn to appreciate the uniqueness of each organism through their observations over time. These exams help students to focus on details and gain a better understanding of the application of the knowledge gained.

Most often, my former students point to their experience in taking and preparing for practical exams as one of their most valuable learning experiences for success in college.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Remind Students To Pick Up Pebbles

A man was out walking in the desert when a voice said to him, "Pick up some pebbles and put them in your pocket, and tomorrow you will be both happy and sad."

The man obeyed. He stooped down and picked up a handful of pebbles and put them in his pocket. The next morning he reached into his pocket and found diamonds, rubies and emeralds.

And he was both happy and sad.
Happy he had taken some - sad that he hadn't taken more.

I share this parable with my students and remind them of the importance of each and everyday they have in school.  How often are we as teachers faced with the question, "When am I going to need to know this?" 
The best answer of course, "In summer school."

If we could get students to understand that each day presents them the opportunity to fill their backpack for life with items that they may not ever need, but will be so happy to have when the situation presents itself.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Everything I Really Need to Know, I Learned in Kindergarten

Sometimes, even with older students,
it is good to go back to the basics.
Because, after all, besides the Golden Rule, 
we learned the most important lessons
back when we were five. 
As advanced as the world gets,
the simple truths still hold true.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Field Trips Without Disruptions

Field trips are a great way to provide learning experiences for students outside of the classroom.  But field trips come with a variety of baggage, finding chaperones, planning transportation and cost to the students.  However, for most high schools, field trips also pose the problems of students missing other classes and prepping sub work for classes missed by the teacher. School administrations will admit the importance of having students engage in experiential education through field trips but worry about how students and the other teachers are affected by the missed class time.

With a little research and planning it is possible to provide tremendous learning experiences with mini field trips involving sites close to the school.  The school I teach at has a three period block schedule with ninety-five minute classes.  The middle period of the day is sandwiched between a twenty minute break and a thirty-five minute lunch.  This provides a two and a half hour block for mini field trips. 

I take students on field trips almost every semester in Anatomy, Biology and Environmental Science utilizing sites within a half hour of the school and organizing ninety minute visits that provide students with experiential learning outside of the classroom.

Students in my anatomy courses have experienced the cadaver labs at local chiropractic schools, to bring to life (no pun intended) to hands on anatomical study.   They have also visited the Body Worlds exhibit each time it has been at the local Science Museum. Biology students have trained for their field study projects by visiting the local canyon near the school and practicing observation techniques. Environmental Science students have visited the John T. Lyle Center at Cal Poly Pomona to tour the Environmental Graduate Center and view graduate projects in sustainability.  They have also toured local LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) buildings to understand the guidelines and possibilities for green building under LEED specifications.  

All of these field trips take place within the two and a half hour time frame of the middle block of the day.  Students do not miss any class time, and I do not have to miss my other classes.  These local field trips are brief but provide great experiential learning for the students without disrupting the educational process of other classes, teachers and students at the school. 

This semester we are planning a field trip to spend two hours cleaning up the local river beds after the spring rains in the Arroyo Seco.   

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Do you think with your LEFT or your RIGHT?

Once teachers get out of their comfort zone of teaching the same way they were taught ten, fifteen or twenty years ago, the trend is to create lessons that reach students through the multiple intelligences: visual-spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonl, intrapersonal, linguistic and logical-mathematical based upon the work of Howard Gardner.  Sometimes however, it may be better to make sure lessons are developed based upon the two halves of the brain. 

The students in any classroom will demonstrate very different characteristics in learning based upon the dominant hemisphere of their brain. 

If students are asked to write about the image above, Left Brain and Right Brain students will approach this assignment quite differently.

The Left Brain student will describe the trees themselves, discussing their arrangement, number and their height. The Right Brain student will describe the forest, discussing the colors, patterns and shadows.  The Left Brain student will  recall news reports on deforestation. The Right Brain student will recall a calendar of cute forest animals.  The Left Brain student will want to know how many sentences the paragraph needs to include.  The Right Brain student will want to know if they can listen to music while they write. 

Both students are approaching the assignment on the side of the brain they are most comfortable.
Niether student is incorrect, they are simply working in their comfort zone.  Whether, that is an statistical appraisal of the trees or recalling a family vacation to Yosemite.  Students must be given the opportunity to explore this learning experience in the method that best allows them to associate their brain preference with the task at hand.

 How well, do you know your students?  How well do you provide opportunities for your students to experience success in the comfort zone of their brain and it's ability to learn?

Do you spruce up your organized sytematic outlines with symbols and pictures?
Do you talk about the details of an idea or the possibilities for it's completion?
Is music in the background while students work in small groups?
Are pieces of art viewed for their overall imagery or the techniques used in their creation?
Are students encouraged to read aloud in order to hear the words for greater comprehension?
Is the classroom environment safe for all students in clarity of rules or boundaries?

 Left Brain Strategies

  • Write an outline of the lesson on the board. Students with left-brain strengths appreciate sequence.
  • Go ahead and lecture! These students love to listen to an expert and take notes.
  • Discuss vocabulary words and create a crossword puzzle.
  • Discuss the big concepts. Left-brain students love to think about and discuss abstract concepts.
  • Assign individual assignments so students may work alone.
  • Ask the students to write a research paper that includes both detail and conceptual analysis.
  • Keep the room relatively quiet and orderly. Many students with left- brain strengths prefer not to hear other conversations when working on a stimulating project.
 Right Brain Strategies 
  • During the lecture, either write the main points on the board or pass out a study guide outline that students can fill in as you present orally. These visual clues will help students focus even though you are lecturing.
  •  Use the overhead, the white board, or the chalkboard frequently. Since the students are apt to miss the points discussed verbally, the visual pointers will help the students “see” and comprehend the points.
  •  Have some time for group activities during the week. Right-brain students enjoy the company of others.
  • Play music, students with right-brain strengths are intuitive and like to get in touch with their feelings during the day. Music creates associations between what they hear and see and what they feel. This enhances transfer from short to long term memory.

  • Let the students create a project (such as a poster, a mobile, a diorama, or paper mache model) in lieu of writing a paper. Right-brained students enjoy the process of creating something tangible.

  • Bring in charts and maps and allow students too find cities, states, countries, planets, galaxies. Way. Maps and graphs make use of the students’ strong right-brain visual-spatial skills.
It is human nature to find comfort in the familiar.  Educators are no different.  We teach in the manner that we feel most secure.  But it is not the teacher's learning that is important.  It is the students who must find safety and security in order to most effectively learn. 

Good teachers grab their pupil's attention.
Great teachers KEEP their pupil's attention.
Don't be a good teacher!                                                            
  -Matthew Schmigel

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Critical Thinking Skills

  • Decide for yourself what you are going to believe.

  • Enhance common sense
  • Filter emotion
  • Categorize experiences
  • Select reference
  • Understand the "experts"
  • Sort fact from opinion
  • Learn to express yourself in a coherent and expressive manner
  • Attractive socially
  • Able to resist manipulation
  • Able to overcome confusion
  • Able to percieve connections between subjects
  • Able to base judgements on evidence and facts
  • Able to realize that the "truth" is never simple. Grey or foggy areas always exist. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Three Cups of Tea - The Value of Education

"Tell us, if there were one thing we could do for your village, what would it be?"
"With all do respect, Shahib, you have little to teach us in strength and toughness. And we don't
envy you tour restless spirits. Perhaps we are happier than you? But we would like our children
to go to school. Of all things you have, learning is the one we most desire for our children."
           -Conversation between Sir Edmund Hillary and Urkien Sherpa,
from Schoolhouse in the Clouds-

The inspiring account of one man's campaign to build schools in the most dangerous, remote, and anti-American reaches of Asia

In 1993 Greg Mortenson was the exhausted survivor of a failed attempt to ascend K2, an American climbing bum wandering emaciated and lost through Pakistan's Karakoram Himalaya. After he was taken in and nursed back to health by the people of an impoverished Pakistani village, Mortenson promised to return one day and build them a school. From that rash, earnest promise grew one of the most incredible humanitarian campaigns of our time—Greg Mortenson's one-man mission to counteract extremism by building schools, especially for girls, throughout the breeding ground of the Taliban.

Award-winning journalist David Oliver Relin has collaborated on this spellbinding account of Mortenson's incredible accomplishments in a region where Americans are often feared and hated. In pursuit of his goal, Mortenson has survived kidnapping, fatwas issued by enraged mullahs, repeated death threats, and wrenching separations from his wife and children. But his success speaks for itself. At last count, his Central Asia Institute had built fifty-five schools. Three Cups of Tea is at once an unforgettable adventure and the inspiring true story of how one man really is changing the world—one school at a time.   – Book Cover-

Five years ago a student gave me the book Three Cups of Tea. He felt that I would appreciate Greg Mortenson's single minded quest to provide education to the marginalized populations throughout the
Karakoram Himalaya.

The book begins with a chapter on "Failure"and follows a thread of the value of education that includes insight into how the lack of education around the world is a greater threat to our national security than WMDs or Oil. Greg Mortenson's journey provides a multitude of opportunities for cross curricular education including:

Education               Prejudice             Global Perspectives                   War                       Economics           U.S. image in the World
Culture                   Geography           Mideast Politics
Communication       Government      Goals                                                  Commitment           Terrorism            Patriotism
World Hunger        Service               World Religions
Health Care            Injustice              Peace

This list is just a partial list of the topics that teachers and students will find common ground to discuss in regards to this text.

The Three Cups of Tea  and CAI websites offer, educational support materials including lesson plans, handouts and video clips for all grade levels.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Allow Students to Tinker - Lou-Vee Air Cars

"I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to
provide conditions in which they can learn."
                              - Albert Einstein-

Today is a pre-fab world. A world where it is no longer necessary to put things together yourself. From computers to toys and even chocolate cookies, we could "make" them ourselves and not even need to be able to decipher directions.

Have you put together a desktop computer recently? Unless you are colorblind or failed at putting the shapes into the correct slot when you were two, it is almost impossible to fail at putting the computer together. If a toy does not already come assembled, the most difficult part of putting it together, is deconstructing the packaging without damaging the toy.  Even Toll House cookies come in pre-fab slabs scored into cubes for the perfect size cookie.

Do most kids today understand the satisfaction of making something from scratch?  Building a model of the Apollo rocket from two hundred pieces, including the lunar lander, and sixty authentic decals.  Paint optional.  Even with gaps between the rocket panels, wispy strings of model glue and creases in the decal strips, displaying it lovingly on the shelf for all to see.

Most kids today are not very often given the chance to be creators.  They are manipulators of a touch screen world.  They can format a movie from a plug and play system on the computer.   They can put together a playlist from iTunes and add music to their PowerPoint. But, how often are they asked to actually create something from scratch?  How often do we as teachers create a rubric so detailed that it is impossible for students to make a mistake?

Heck, the last time I was at Michael’s, There was an aisle completely dedicated to pre-fab California Mission projects with everything necessary to create the perfect styrofoam mission complete with friars, indians, animals, trees, bushes, brick walls, animals and crops all pre-packaged for ultimate success.

I have found that most students are very uncomfortable with creating anything that does not turn out perfect and will avoid trying to create anything that they are not certain will meet all expectations.  Teachers also create rubrics that are so detailed it is impossible for a student to make a mistake.

But, how valuable are those experiences,when students are allowed to struggle through a process and try to figure out what works and what doesn’t?  How valuable is that experience that allows our students to make the mistakes that provide opportunities to learn.

One of my favorite in-class projects is to build Lou-vee Air Cars. 

Lou-vee Air Cars are composed of file folders, drinking straws, paper clips, rubber bands, and masking tape.
They provide an opportunity for students to discover their capacity to create a car that moves utilizing everyday objects.   I provide students with a set of directions and a schmatic diagram. I provide all of the supplies and tools necessary and I give them three bocks (95 minute periods) to create their car. And Then on day four we have Lou-vee Air Races.

The first day I allow the students to work through the process and I provide very little guidance. On the second day, I build my own Lou-vee Air Car.  First to show them that it can work, and second to give them a model as a guide. The third day I offer suggestions and do some troubleshooting.

It is interesting to watch the dynamics that take place in the classroom as students interact with the process and each other.  Even though each student needs to create their own car, it does become a very collaborative process.  In some cases there is a natural division of labor that occurs. Those that are good at straightening paper clips take on that role for others.  Those who cut well start manufacturing wheels that are smooth. It is wonderful to see the fear dissipate as students assist each other and try to help each other succeed.

The project is graded in two parts.
Part I, is to produce a Lou-vee Air Car
We set up a Lou-vee Air raceway in the dining hall divided into five foot sections. A fully built car at the starting line earns a student a 14 point score. (14/20 = a C grade) A car can earn two points for every portion of five feet it travels. ( 7 ft = 4 points)  Students can earn up to 24 points if they can get their car to travel more than 20 feet. (4 bonus points) 

Part II, is a write up that includes a series of questions about the process. 
What did they learn about themself?  What were they most proud of? What would they do different?
What worked? What didn't?  etc...
The write up also includes a section for students to explain three topics in physics that are demonstrated through the Lou-vee Air Car.  I typically due this project the first three class periods after the Christmas Holiday break.  This allows students to review the concepts of motion, Newton's Laws and Friction covered before the break.

I am always pleased to hear from students that they appreciate the project even though their car may not have worked as well as they had hoped.  They are usually most proud that they were able to get a car to the starting line.  They often mention a greater appreciation for following directions and reading carefully.  But. most often they write about how the process helped them to see the value in making mistakes and correcting them, thinking through  a process and using knowledge to create their own success. 

It is so important in a world that becomes less and less demanding of our students to figure things out by trial and error to provide those opportunities in a manner that allows students the ability to make mistakes and find solutions in a safe environment.  


Friday, February 11, 2011

Tests, Quizzes and Homework, Oh My....

Providing Opportunities for Success.

I failed the first two quizzes and the first test in my sophomore Geometry class in high school.  I was doing all of my homework and I could complete problems on the board in class, but for some reason I could not pass the quizzes and tests.  Fortunately for me, my teacher was Brother Donald Mansir.

If it were not for Brother Donald, I probably would have failed that geometry class. After seeing the disconnect between my abilities and my test scores, Brother Donald formulated a plan to maximize my talents and allow me to succeed.  There were three juniors in that class who were also failing tests, but they were also not doing their homework nor could they answer questions in class.

Brother Donald's plan was quite simple.  On days of tests and quizzes, I was to sit with those three juniors in the library and guide them through the exams.  If I could get them to complete enough of the work to earn a C, Brother Donald would give me an A for my quiz or exam grade.

Brother Donald recognized my ability and my difficulty in testing.  He treated me as an individual and provided me with an opportunity to demonstrate my knowledge without testing. While, also providing an opportunity to assist other students who were in need.

I have always appreciated Brother Donald's wisdom in providing me with an alternative avenue for success in his classroom.  I have tried to emulate the way Brother Donald treated me with my students.  Trying to treat them as individuals with uniques sets of abilities and characteristics, providing all students with alternative avenues and a variety mechanisms that provide for and encourage their success.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

There is Value in Being Wrong

There's a common story that circulates about "success and failure".

The story goes that "Thomas Edison failed more than 1,000 times when trying to create the light bulb".  When asked about it, Edison allegedly said, "I have not failed 1,000 times.  I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb."

The idea is that -- even if you try and fail, it doesn't mean that you didn't learn something.

Education, like everything else since the industrial revolution is a product driven system. High stakes standardized testing has only served to perpetuate this, in valuing only correct responses as opposed to placing value in the process of determining that correct answer.  How can students, learn to appreciate
the skills of critical thinking if they are not encouraged to value porcess?

One method I have incorporated in my classroom, is to focus on the incorrect answers.  I will use scenarios and multiple choice questions to ask students not only to find the correct answer, but to explain why the other possibilities are not acceptable solutions or how other students may have determined the incorrect choices.  When students have to deconstruct the solutions they really begin to think about the process involved in finding the solution.  As students become better at evaluating the incorrect answers, they also become more effective at correcting their own work when they make a mistake.  Students also find it easier to assist other students when they make mistakes.   

An example in math might be:

What is the product of  34  x 12?

a)  46     b)  102       c)  308     d) 408       

   34      The correct answer is d) 408.    
x 12

a) 46  A student would have added instead of multiplied to get an answer of 46.    34 + 12 = 46

b) 102  A student would have calculated an answer of 102 if they did not place a zero in the ones column when they began multiplying by the tens value. 

x 12
_ 34

c) 308  The student did not carry the one after adding the 
6 and 4.  

x 12

A chemistry example might be:

From the following, choose the correct balanced chemical equation.  Explain why the other choices are not correct.

a)   H2    +    O    ----->     H2
b)   2H    +    O    ----->     H2
c)   2H2    +    O   ----->     2H2C is the correct equation.
d)   2H   +    2O    ----->     2H2

Each of the other equations are balanced.  They are incorrect because Hydrogen and Oxygen are diatomic molecules in their gas state and must to be H2 and O2. (H, O, N, Cl, Br, I, F)

When students are engaged in the critical thinking process of deconstructing incorrect answers, they gain a greater understanding and appreciation for the process of learning. Incorrect answers can sometimes have a far greater value for learning than simply being correct.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Lessons From Geese

I use the You Tube video "Lessons From Geese"  in all of my classes to introduce the concept of collaboration and cooperation in my classroom.  I stress the importance of developing a teaching/learning relationship among the students in my classroom.  I try to eliminate the concept of competition for grades.
I want the students to help each other to learn and encourage the idea that all students can achieve success. The teaching/learning concepts of Dr. Gary Phillip's are further developed in understanding that when students teach each other they actually improve their own understanding of the material. 
I go to great lengths to explain the difference between cheating and actually assisting students to understand as a means of improving the learning process for everyone.

T  -  Together
E -   Each 
A -   Achieve
M -  More 

Once a coach, always a coach.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Don't Be A Zax

The Zax
by Dr. Suess

One day, making tracks
In the prairie of Prax,
Came a North-Going Zax
And a South-Going Zax.

And it happened that both of them came to a place
Where they bumped. There they stood.
Foot to foot. Face to face.

“Look here, now!” the North-Going Zax said, “I say!
You are blocking my path. You are right in my way.
I’m a North-Going Zax and I always go north.
Get out of my way, now, and let me go forth!”

“Who’s in whose way?” snapped the South-Going Zax.
“I always go south, making south-going tracks.
So you’re in MY way! And I ask you to move
And let me go south in my south-going groove.”

Then the North-Going Zax puffed his chest up with pride.
“I never,” he said, “take a step to one side.
And I’ll prove to you that I won’t change my ways
If I have to keep standing here fifty-nine days!”
“And I’ll prove to YOU,” yelled the South-Going Zax,
“That I can stand here in the prairie of Prax
For fifty-nine years! For I live by a rule
That I learned as a boy back in South-Going School.
Never budge! That’s my rule. Never budge in the least!
Not an inch to the west! Not an inch to the east!
I’ll stay here, not budging! I can and I will
If it makes you and me and the whole world stand still!”

Of course the world didn’t stand still. The world grew.
In a couple of years, the new highway came through
And they built it right over those two stubborn Zax
And left them there, standing un-budged in their tracks.

I know far too many teachers who have their curriculum planned before they even meet their students for the new academic year.  They have the yellow handout for Monday and the green handout for Tuesday.  They give this quiz for this section and that Fall 2006.  Never changing from year to year semeser to semester, class to class and student to student. 

If we as educators remember that the learning process is about the students entrusted to our care, how can   the path of learning be determined without knowing the characteristics, strengths and weaknesses of the those students.  While the basic framework can be outlined, it is impossible to know what is the best way to make the learning real for those students. Students cannot be expected to value learning that that is not authentic and valuable to them. Therefore, we as educators cannot take on the process of educating students, the way the Zax approach moving through their world.

Embrace change, not for the sake of change, but for the chance to connect to the new students who will share your educational domain each new semester. Change should not only invigorate the students you teach but you as an educator as well.

Don' t be a Zax!!!   

Monday, February 07, 2011

Subject Poetry - The Diamante

Simplicity is underrated. 

Today's students chat with Facebook friends all over the world, play online games with  groups of people located in different states, transfer money from their savings to their checking while standing in line at a food truck, and enter movie theaters by scanning a barcode on a cyber ticket they purchased while traveling on the Metro across town.  All of these activities take place through technology that was not available less than a decade ago.

Their world shrinks with the same frequency as the technology they use. The entire world has become their neighborhood. There has never been a generation that is as interconnected as this generation. 

And yet, our educational system is based upon compartmentalization.  We spend fifty to one hundred minutes with twenty-five to thirty students in a twenty by twenty room isolating subject matter to a single topic.  We are now going to study Biology.  It is now time for Geometry.  This is History period. In a completely interconnected world, why do we spend so much time and effort disconnecting the subjects we teach? 

This system of pigeon-holing the curriculum makes it excessively more difficult for the students of today to understand the links and overlaps in the curriculum they are exposed to. As a science educator I have noticed an alarming trend in the last few years, of students being resistant to the idea that what they learn in every classroom is pertinent across the curriculum  They do not always see nor do they always understand that the math they do in algebra is the same math they will use in chemistry and physics.  The grammar rules and essay patterns in English are basically the same as those used in writing a paper in biology or environmental science.  The analysis and understanding of cause and effect in history is the same as the skills necessary to understand cause and effect concepts in any science subject.

How can we discontinue this disservice to our students and discover methods to incorporate the values and lessons of all subjects across our curriculum?

Simplicity is the key.  We must find ways to consistently integrate cross curriculular activities into our classrooms.  A very simple method I have incorporated, is the use of a poetry style called a Diamante.  Students in my science classes write diamante poetry to demonstrate the interconnections and cyclical patterns of the information we teach and learn. The diamante follows a simple 1-2-3-4-3-2-1 pattern

Adjective   Adjective
Participle   Participle   Participle
Noun           Noun             Noun           Noun
Participle   Participle   Participle
Adjective   Adjective

The diamante can be about any topic and can be written for any subject.  It provides an opportunity to integrate English poetry into science or math, history or physical education.  I ask students to take two nouns that are opposites or unrelated and create a diamante.  The middle four nouns are the link between the topics.  The completed diamante can be read from top to bottom or bottom to top and should still make sense. 

Students then write their poems on two sheets of different color construction paper with the four linking nouns written on the seam.  They then tap into their artistic side and decorate the poem and share them with their classmates.

Blue    Yankee
Marching  Shooting  Charging
Father    Brother     Brother     Son
Yelling    Fighting    Attacking 
Rebel     Gray

The idea is quite simple but offers an opportunity to create discussion points about the importance of understanding the integration of not only the different academic subjects but of all people, processes and  things. 

John Muir
"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe."