Saturday, January 22, 2011

Energizing Energy - A Success Story (?)

Last year was an overwhelming year for me.  You can see past blogs to find out more.  But one issue that I felt I could work with was an increase in science curriculum we were required to teach.  Because I quickly realized that all the units we were supposed to cover were related to energy.  All I would have to do is teach a massive energy unit and I would have it covered.

So over the summer I worked and studied and fretted and talked to science teachers and finally created Energizing Energy.  This project would take my students through experiments in various forms of energy and really get them thinking about the topic.  Or so I hoped. 

I was nervous.  If it didn't work out, my students would be heading off to 6th grade with a clear disadvantage in the area of science.  The teachers would really know that I didn't cover the units - which in my district consists of a box full of experiments.  In order to help me work through the nervousness, I enlisted a partner, actually two.  David Cosand, of Oregon, and Brian Crosby, of Nevada, both willingly (or maybe not so willingly) joined in.  David, unfortunately, had to drop out early on due to some class difficulties.  Brian has come aboard wholeheartedly.  

We are now nearing the end of this project, which actually started in September.  We have a final presentation for the children to do but the end is in sight.  So as we add our conclusions, I would like to reflect back.

I remember planning this summer.  To start, I never thought it would actually work.  Brian kept thinking I had this all under control and knew exactly what I was doing.  Ha. For starters, science is not my forte.  I depend greatly on other experts to help me understand the concepts.  Good thing Brian is better at understanding science concepts than I am. For another, I have never undertaken such a massive project before.  I knew going in that I was attempting to cover 6 science units in one.  So it would take a looooong time. I didn't know if I could ever get anyone else to agree to work on a project for so long.  I should have known Brian would be up for it.

Working with a new class is always interesting.  They had very little technology experience.  So everything we did was brand new.  They were introduced to Google docs, Skype, Discovery Streaming, BrainPop, wikis, and CoveritLive just to work on the research and collaboration aspects.  Other tools will be used for the presentation part.  Teaching them internet etiquette, patience with technology, and how to work collaboratively took some time.  By now, of course, they are most comfortable with all our tools.

I remember thinking, around the end of November, that this will never work.  The research was taking forever and I wasn't really sure they were understanding their form of energy.  I was almost relieved to hear Brian saying the same thing.  We decided to meet in small groups together, skyping our lessons, to help push their understanding.  After those skype sessions, I really felt the students had a better handle on what was expected.

Once we started writing our experiments, I realized the children really had no idea how to write an experiment.  They didn't understand what a hypothesis was, had no idea about variables and constants, and couldn't write understandable steps.  More small group instruction and we got them back on track.  I think this part says a great deal about our science boxes.  I always felt I wasn't really teaching my students anything.  They had a workbook that they followed to complete the experiments.  They never wrote their own experiments or questioned the results.  For the first time, I was asking them to really behave like scientists.

We included others in our lessons.  My physical education teacher, Mike Lesak, came into the room and taught my class and Brian's class about golf clubs as levers.  We then moved into the gym to measure the clubs and test out his lessons.  My aide's son, Nick, who is on the college golf team, joined us in the lesson.  And the band teacher contributed drums and drumsticks (Nick also plays the drums.)  Once the kids got into volleyball in gym, Mike just continued the science lessons there.

The past two weeks, we have been performing our experiments.  We had to adjust our expectations a bit.  We thought all the students would perform all the experiments but materials were hard to come by, and time is flying.  So instead, each group performed their own experiment while the other children either wrote up the results in the Google doc or carried on a conversation in CoveritLive.  This has been the most exciting science time I've ever had in school.  For the first time, my students and Brian's students were talking about changing variables and trying the experiments again.  They were discussing unexpected outcomes and why it might have happened.  Conversations about mass and density, temperature and materials, even location were going on all day.  My students are so enthusiastic about their learning that I have decided to have a science day.  Next week, we will have a day where all the experiments will be set up and the children can change variables and predict the outcomes.  I can't wait to film that day.

The children will not complete group presentation demonstrating their knowledge about energy and their form of it.  I think the presentations will be fairly easy.  This is what my students have been doing all along.  But what have they learned about science?  That mistakes turn into more experiments.  That results are often not what we expect.  That hypotheses can't be wrong, so they don't need to be changed to match the results.  And, most importantly, that science is fun!  You can read some of their blogs to find out how much they loved experimenting.

I think what I like the most about this project is that it was like a science experiment itself.  I never knew if it would work. While all the other fifth grade teachers rushed around finishing up each science box, I just kept plugging away at my research and development of experiments. 

I am surprised by the results. I thought they would learn about energy.  I had no idea they would also learn so much about experimenting.

I had to keep adjusting along the way to help my students be more successful.  Thankfully, having a partner like Brian makes that so much easier.  He never once flinched when I said, "We're changing the next step."  You should all be so blessed with a great collaborative partner.

Next year (yes, next year, Brian), there will be some changes.  But for now, this has been a very successful science project.


Elvis Bonaparte said...

Thanks for sharing Lisa! It's good to hear that even though it can be difficult and scary early on, the payoff is worth it.
-Sean, @explodingbeaker,

College Papers said...

Its a nice blog.Thanks for sharing Lisa.