My STEM Units

Friday, March 21, 2014

No Child Left Inside

All across Arizona, teachers and students are ramping up for the AIMS test.  Every year, students in grades 3-12 take the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards, or AIMS.  Whereas most students take the Reading, Math, and Writing portions, 4th graders also take the Science portion.  Daily, 4th grade teachers must make a decision to cut into Reading and Math instruction in order to teach Science standards.  Unless they integrate

Integration is the concept of teaching more than one subject in a single lesson/unit.  For instance, a teacher may have students measure water in a bowl before placing it outside in the sun.  Then, hours later, the students measure the water remaining the bowl.  Not only is the teacher covering the Science concept of evaporation, but they are also using Math concepts of measuring and using appropriate tools. 

Integration is more than the sum of the parts. 

Integration shows the students that we don't move from Reading modules to Math modules in our everyday lives.  When we are at the grocery store, we read labels and compare prices in the same minute.  STEM is the integration of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math in Project-Based Learning units.  Not only do the students learn the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, but also English-Language Arts standards.  Federal mandate "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) put pressure on teachers to only teach Reading and Math.  While NCLB goes through the re-authorization process, teachers are free again to teach other content areas, such as Science, Social Studies, Art, and Engineering.  Teachers are free to take their kids outside again, to learn about nature.

Last week, our fourth graders were able to attend Science Camp at Retreat at Tontozona near Payson.  The students were bussed in from Whiteriver (about a 2 hour drive) on Wednesday morning and returned to the reservation on Friday afternoon.  In the three days at camp, the students attended 8 modules with a culminating presentation.  The modules were carefully selected to cover 68% of what would be tested on the Science portion of AIMS. 

The modules included:
  1. Changes in Environments: Students went on a hike to look for evidence of natural events (floods, wildfires) and their effects on the environment.  (AZ 3.1.1) 
      • The hike led to an area affected by wildfire some years ago.  The instructor explained that fire can be used in beneficial ways to help a forest as well.  The students diagrammed the forest and noted that all was not dead.  In fact, many trees were sprouting again.
  2. Diversity, Adaptations, and Behavior: Students took a nature walk and looked for animals with adaptations such as camouflage and mimicry. (AZ 4.4.1)
      • This hike led students to a tree who's roots had been exposed due to years of flooding.  The roots had developed bark to protect the tree. 
      • Students were instructed to look for hidden pictures along the hike.  The pictures were tacked right onto the trees but they were "hidden" because they were camouflaged.
      • Students also learned about the mutualistic relationship between lichen fungi and lichen algae. 
  3. Earth’s Processes and Systems: Students did hands-on experiments outside to observe the effects of weathering and erosion. (AZ 6.2.1) 
      • Students went on a nature hike along a river.  They found natural occurrences of rocks being weathered due to water and roots.  They found evidence of erosion in the sandy banks, muddy pools, and rock slides.  At each occurrence, the students sat and diagrammed in their Science Camp Journals.
      • When the students returned to the fields, they created sand towers to mimic erosion. By blowing on the sand towers, students could observe first-hand that wind erosion is a slow process, as is ice erosion.  When the instructor poured 3 cups of water onto the sand tower, they instantly observed that water is powerful and fast!  Since most of the water was absorbed into the sand tower, instructors were able to have natural conversations about groundwater and natural springs. 
  4. Organisms and Environments: Students used an engineering kit to make renewable forms of energy (solar, wind, etc.).  (AZ 4.3.1 and AZ 5.3.1) 
      • Students watched a short video clip to give them background knowledge of solar energy and how to harness it.
      • Students were taken outside the classroom to see a commercial solar oven in use.  The instructor had placed pineapple upside down batter into baking dish, along with a thermometer, into the solar oven in the morning.  As each class went through this module, they observed the temperature inside the oven and outside. 
      • Students were then presented with the challenge to create their own solar oven with the available materials (cardboard box, foil, black construction paper, saran wrap, and tape).  Although there was not enough time for the student-created solar ovens to bake cookies, a competition has been planned for Friday, April 4th.  The winners will be recognized at Innovation Nation
  5. Changes in the Earth and Sky: Students took weather measurements with digital tools and graphed the results. (AZ 6.3.1) 
      • Students began this module with a short video to describe the difference between weather and climate.  Then, they learned about typical weather patterns.
      • Students moved quickly through centers where they watched thermometers moving when placed in successive containers of hot and cold water, raced to find matching thermometers, and track current weather conditions.
      • Students ended the session with an experiment of mixing hot, blue water and cold, green water.  Would the colors mix or separate?  What is your hypothesis?
  6. Animal Sounds: Students took a hike at night to listen for animal sounds. 
      • Students started their lesson in the dining hall with a talk about our five senses and how each helps us and animals.  The conversation then turned to how a creature of the night might use their senses differently and which would be more important.  Before heading out, the students listened to animal sounds in the dark and identified what animals made those sounds.
      • On the hike, students were instructed to leave the flashlights off and to let their eyes adjust naturally to the moonlight.  Students ate wintergreen breath mints and observed sparks in their partners mouths.
      • After howling in response to several packs of coyotes, the students stargazed.  Students correctly identified a number of constellations and were verified with a smartphone app.
  7. Reading and Writing: Students were given nonfiction text and journal space to read and write.
      • Students chose an area to research (renewable energy sources, electricity circuits, etc.).  They relaxed by the reflection pond, reading their nonfiction texts and planning an engaging presentation.  They were given a poster, markers, and time after dinner to practice their presentation. 
      • The final presentations included such original ideas as a news broadcast, a song about the water cycle, and a human electric circuit, among others. 
      • Although students are not tested (yet) on the Common Core standards of Speaking and Listening, the presentations were an excellent way to practice these important skills.
  8. Leadership: Students engaged in several scenarios where they worked together as a team. 
      • Students were given the opportunity to step into leadership roles.
Although Science Camp was extremely fun, it was also educational. As in most educational programs, it's all about the data. So, what does the data say about Science Camp?  We gave our students a pre-test a few days before leaving for Science Camp.  We then gave them a post-test on the Monday, immediately following their return.  After three days at camp, the students averaged a 27% percent gain! 

We have proved that taking children outside, to learn about nature, in nature, and to integrate Reading and Writing into Science shows tremendous growth.  We have left the era of No Child Left Behind.  Our new slogan should be "No Child Left Inside".

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