global warming

Science Fair Reflections

“I have to admit, as we walked out the door, I was really dreading the evening” a parent confided, “I thought it would be so boring, but then I was so surprised. The students knew what they were talking about and I actually learned something.  It was really good.” 

Due to my absence at the Science Fair, I have had to rely on colleagues, judges and parents for their input regarding the final product of the event itself.  Only positive responses have been relayed to me.  Basically the words “huge success” are repeatedly echoed.  Additionally, the student reflections have been insightful.  All pupils were required to ponder on all aspects of the project from start to finish:

  • Choosing a topic
  • Researching (Finding articles, understanding articles)
  • Transferring information from the Internet into their own written words
  • Blogging
  • Combining all written work into one piece
  • Constructing the Poster
  • Presenting at the Science Fair

Thus were they queried:

What did you enjoy most?  What was most challenging?  What did you learn? What are you most proud of?  How hard did you work? What would you do differently?  How could the teacher have supported you better?

Each student found different aspects of the project most challenging, whether it was the researching, blogging, poster construction, or the presentation.  However, many students found the researching difficult and especially the task of reading and extracting pertinent information. 

On the Science Fair itself:

“I could see how curious they were and when I presented it, it felt good to see them fascinated”

“I am most proud of my presentation during the Science Fair”

“…it was exciting to see all of our hard work come together and make something great.”

“I was surprised by how much I had learned and how well I could communicate it to others”

“Understanding the information made me really proud, then being able to teach others about it also made me very proud”

On other aspects of the project:

“I also enjoyed having my own blog and posting my research on the blog”

I learned that I need to tell my parents to begin to be a bit more green in my house.

Overwhelmingly the students responded with “3”, providing reasoning, to the question below:

How hard did you work on this project? Estimate your personal input on a scale (highlight the option) and explain why you selected the option.

  1. I did the absolute minimum and could have done much more. The quality of the project doesn’t at all represent my ability level.
  2. I worked on the project but sometimes I was distracted or off-task. The quality of the project doesn’t fully represent my ability level.
  3. I worked on the project and stayed on task, I think that the quality of the project fully represents my ability level.
  4. I worked harder than I ever have before, I stayed focused on the project at all times, I did my absolute best. I think that the quality of the project exceeds my own expectations.

When thinking of what they could do better, many suggested that they would start sooner and not get behind.  Others would have practiced their presentations more.  Yet others would have worked on their posters more. 

Half way into the project my colleague and I realized how unequipped the students were for this type of research work.  We floundered to help them.  Many felt adequately supported, yet there were several who felt similarly to this student:

“I think the teacher could help me get started off. The teacher could give me a good piece of information on the topic so that I can get an idea of the work I can do”

We did have to help some students find appropriate articles and we had to help many understand the articles and extract the information. In the future we envision a more collaborative effort with English and History on such a project as students still need to learn the process of research.

However, in the end, the hard work paid off.   Students learned about global warming and were converted to the need for change and definitely communicated this to visitors that night.  They also learned about the process of research and public presentation.  There is an overwhelming sense of accomplishment.  Surprisingly, community members also walked away from the evening with new knowledge.  The judges were impressed with the amount and depth of understanding that the youngsters had acquired.  I do attribute the success of the evening to the fact that the theme had such real world application and it carried meaning for the students. As a result they, indeed, had acquired abundant knowledge and conveyed genuine enthusiasm. 

How I yearn to fill every class with such purpose.  What gives the students you work with meaning in learning?

Balance as students, teachers, people

My 6th grade class is currently completing a unit within the International Middle Years Curriculum (IMYC) titled “Balance”.  The big idea of the unit is  “Things are more stable when different elements are in the correct of best possible proportions” (1).

Coupled to our global-warming themed Science Fair, these students are investigating an animal that is threatened by global warming and analyzing the ramifications of the given animal disappearing from the food chain.  In preparation for this task, they viewed a short video (see below) on the impact of wolves in Yellow Stone National Park (2).

After watching the film I opened up a general discussion with “So what did you think?”  Immediately, a student responded with “It’s like the wolves provide balance to the entire ecosystem”.  As always, my 6th graders were duly impressed and expressed appropriate wonderment.  I love that about them.  In any case, it jump started them in their own research about their threatened species.

Furthermore, it gave them perspective on the exit point they are doing for the IMYC unit: Working individually, they are to create a “person web” (kind-of like a food web), with themselves at the center.  Branching out from themselves will be all of their classmates.  They are to identify a characteristic of each classmate that brings balance to their learning environment. It will be a surprise to the group when each presents.

This idea of balance is such an important concept.  We also teach it at the IB level claiming that IB learners are “Balanced” and that “we understand the importance of balancing different aspects of our lives – intellectual, physical, and emotional- to achieve well-being for ourselves and others.  We recognize our interdependence with other people and with the world in which we live” (3).

I hope that we, as teachers and adults, also teach this principle of balance by our examples.  It is an area that I have personally struggled with but am improving in.  Here are ways I seek balance in my own life:

  1. I prioritize time with my family.  We eat together and we do things together. 1:1 time with each person in the family involves date-nights with my husband, roller-blading with my 12-year old, dog walks and market visits with my daughter, and watching the “Walking Dead” series with my teenage son. 
  2. I exercise.  I run, especially when school isn’t in session.  Biking to and from work is my main mode of commuting.
  3. I write!  A few times a year I attend the Amsterdam Writer's Workshop (4) and I've committed myself to writing everyday.  I’ve started this blog.
  4. I read.  I find time to read novels and literature pertaining to education.

If I don’t do these things, I spend all my time on lesson planning, grading, and trying to make things better for the next time.  Since every lesson can always be better in some way, this could become a completely obsessive habit.  There have been times when I have worked from 19:00 – 24:00 every night.  And that is not balanced.  

My 2014 resolution was to break that habit and I have! 

How do you keep balance in your life?  Add your comments below.








What motivates Students? - Real Purpose

A scene from last year's science fair, which was a more traditional event in which students presented data and results from self-conducted experiments.

A scene from last year's science fair, which was a more traditional event in which students presented data and results from self-conducted experiments.

This year we are trying a new idea for the Science Fair.  In conjunction with the Going Green initiative at the school, students will be presenting an evening on the topic of Global Warming.  Each student has selected a specific aspect related to one of the following subtopics: evidence for, causes of, results of, or solutions for global warming and/or climate change

This week I probed whether the middle school students understood a “big idea” of their own topic as well as the overall theme of the Science Fair.  I was pleased to hear that most of them (not all) did, indeed, understand their own topic and how it fit into the bigger picture of the science fair theme.

Furthermore, I surveyed the middle school students in different classes to determine what they thought the purpose of the actual science far was. To my surprise the following three purposes repeated themselves in each class:

Last year students also presented to the greater school community.

  • “I want to “Wow” them with my  knowledge”


  • “I want to inform them”


  •  “I want to inspire them to live green.”


Wow.  Seriously?  Could I ask for any better self-defined purposes from a set of 11 – 14-year old students?  I think this explains the scene during my last middle school class on the last school day before the break:

It was gorgeous and sunny outside. The students entered my classroom directly after lunch during which they had been playing wall ball and running around out of doors.  Their flushed faces exuded joy and anticipation of the upcoming Spring Break.  I immediately regretted not having an experiment for them to do.  How would they ever settle down and become focused on their science fair blog?  I debated a last minute change in plans but knew we needed to press forward with the projects.  Minimally my plan was to determine the progress of each student  before the 10-day hiatus from anything remotely academic. 

To my surprise, these little 6th graders whipped out their computers and immediately accessed their blogs.  First came the exuberance over the statistics, “I’ve had seventy-five page views!” “I’ve had over a hundred!” and so on until everyone had shared.   Then, to work they went.  By the end of the class every single student was current with our science fair timeline and had worked ahead, nearly completing the research required for the blog due three days after our return from the break!  Not only that, but the blog posts actually look pretty good!  I was thrilled.  Literally thrilled.

The last two weeks before the science fair will still be a crunch, especially helping them to get all their information into poster form, however, as of now it seems manageable! 

We will have judges this year like we did last year.  Bringing in experts from "the outside" raises the bar.

I attribute the momentum to their intrinsic motivation to “Wow people with knowledge”, “inform”, and “inspire”.  Where does this come from?  I think it has to do with the fact that they have truly been swept into the reality of global warming and perceive it as an actual problem that relates to them.  They sense that they can potentially make a difference in the world.   Additionally, they were allowed to choose the specific topic they will focus on for the science fair.  Finally, they feel responsibility in anticipating their roles as teachers of the greater school community at the science fair.   This project has real-world application and their presentations on the night of May 13th will be real-time with real people (other than their teachers) resulting in the process being a bona fide learning experience in every way.  

"Chasing Ice", Global Warming, and Teenagers

To launch our Science Fair project on Global Warming we showed the 9th and 10th graders the film "Chasing Ice".  I could see their eyes glaze over when I used the word “documentary” to prep them for the experience.

However, that film is so captivating right from the beginning that they were instantly engaged.  Occasionally I’d scan the room to study their expressions as we were watching and their eyes seemed to never leave the screen.  I’ve seen it already three times and am still amazed myself watching it again. 

James Balog is an incredible human being with a passion for something meaningful.  The students clearly caught the idea of what that man is all about and were impressed.  His journey, determination, and work are inspiring.   The photography is stunning and absolutely breathtakingly beautiful.   I highly recommend the film to everyone.  Additionally, the message that comes about from the photographical evidence is undeniable and definitely convincing. 

Later a student said to me, “That movie was SO AMAZING” as her face lit up with the pure excitement of sharing appreciation and discovery.  There is something so wonderful about having moments of equality with students in the shared joy of science.

"Chasing Ice"  for teenagers preparing for a unit on Global Warming?  Definitely a win.