Monday, October 27, 2014

#ObserveEverything October

2nd graders complete an #ObserveEverything challenge.
This month's work was inspired by one of my favorite programs on National Public Radio-- Science Friday. Science Friday has a Science Club online. For one month, they asked people to OBSERVE EVERYTHING... and Maury students did!

Observing our newly emerged Monarch!
My goal was to provide a context for students to work together to observe phenomena and draw conclusions based on their observations. I also wanted to make the data derived from these observations as REAL as possible, to have students not only observe but live the thing they were observing. For example, who wants to use a print out of last year's weather data when you can live the data anyway? Who wants to watch a time-lapse of food decomposing when you can live it happening each week?

                                      Lucy explains her observations about decomposing foods.

At all levels, students have been honing their observation skills! More importantly, they have used their observational findings and applied them to finding patterns, analyzing data, asking questions and working together to find solutions to problems! Each grade level has been involved in different projects so here are a few highlights.

                                          Kindergarten, 1st and 2nd Grades:
With the Next Generation Science Standards,  K-2 are expected to understand are that scienti

sts use different ways to study the world, look for patterns when making observations, and use drawings, sketches and models to communicate their findings. In Think Tank, students have had the chance to practice these scientific skills in various ways.

Kindergarteners have set up an experiment to see if worms make a difference in how fast a banana peel decomposes and predicted which of three foods would decompose fastest. Each week they make observations and check back at their original predictions.

Students are able to rotate around to various Sci-Centers in my class. Each center allows students to explore some aspect of science and engineering and boy do they love it!

In addition to our weekly class, students are tracking daily weather conditions. They made predictions about what kind of month we would have and we are watching closely to see if our predictions were correct

 1st grade students have continued observing changes in their Wisconsin Fast Plants over time but have also started a classic Habit of Mind Think Tank Challenge: Contribute Positively to the Group and Inspire Teamwork to create a single structure. This is harder than it seems, but our 1st graders are up to the challenge.

They are practicing using positive words and voice to communicate their ideas and resolve conflicts surround design through discussion. Each week they improve. While they work, I pull groups to meet and do close observation of our plants so it's the best of both worlds: practicing the PRACTICE of problem solving in a group and working on a scientific phenomena in a small group.

As noted in my last post, this group has spent a lot of time looking very closely at their work and the PROCESS of that work. Last week they completed an #ObserveEverything Scavenger hunt. We were supposed to go outside to explore our schoolyard ecosystem but it was raining...again! Not a problem though, students were asked to look past the obvious in the classroom and OBSERVE EVERYTHING!
Students explore the classroom documenting their findings.

 Students each had a role: Researcher, Recorder, Photographer. They rotated jobs every 3 observations.

Their observations were detailed and interesting. I always find it fascinating to look through the "eyes" of my students. This challenge allowed for that with this group. Just check out their eye for macro photography!

This group continues to work with the amazing Toni Burnham of DC Beekeepers on exploring the fascinating world of honeybees. During our last class students got to use ALL 5 senses to explore the hives! 
While Ms. Toni was away last week we finally had a chance to delve into our weather wall. We have been recording air temperature at the same time every week since the 1st week of school. Students looked for temperature trends and then used those observations to make predictions for what the temperature will be like in 5 weeks!
Our data since the first week of school. Two classes = two data points!  

Student journal since week one.
                              Individual student predictions and the RANGE of our our predictions.

This grade has spent the last month collaborating to explore levers and conducting experiments with them. 

They have conducted a fair test to determine if fulcrum placement in relation to the load and the effort makes a difference in the effectiveness of their catapult.
Students then used that knowledge to design a catapult from scratch that would send "Lego Ford" the farthest! 

 We will be finishing up this unit in the next week and after that.... ENERGY!

 5th Grade continues to work hard to get themselves to SPACE CAMP! In fact, Astronaut Don Thomas visited us October 20th to share what it's like to live and work in space. His presentation was AMAZING and the students were enthralled! 4th and 5th got to participate:)

"We are never washing our hands again! They shook the hand of an astronaut!:

This visit really helped students add context to what we are studying in class too. They are finishing up an exciting Space Systems unit. In this unit they have explored the phenomena of day and night by traveling the globe using EarthCam.

They have started tracking monthly daylight changes over time and have started graphing their findings in their notebooks. Stay tuned for their observations and conclusions about the cause of these changes!
 They also took on a fun inquiry where they had to work together to graph stars based on their brightness and temperature. This week we will be analyzing our chart! ( They will soon figure out it is a

Now if it would only be sunning on a Wednesday we could conduct a fun shadow experiment. It hasn't been sunny on a Wednesday in 5 weeks!
SCHOOLWIDE MONARCHS:Lest we forget the many flying friends who emerged over the last month. In total, Maury sent off 25 Monarchs this year! Students watched each step eagerly and with anticipation and we had many beautiful send offs.
                                                     Monarch emerging. AMAZING!


Our youngest students are just finishing up exploring all of the exciting sci-centers Think Tank has to offer. We studied Monarch's in-depth and last week all students told me what they wanted to learn about next. From dinosaurs to space, oceans to plants and princesses to buildings, our 3 and 4 year olds are eager to learn. Our next study begins this week! We are studying HOW THINGS MOVE! This was the best way I could integrate their varied interests. Stay tuned to see us learn about how animals move, how the ocean moves, how people move and more!


Thanks to the amazing work of all your students, Science Friday asked me to come on their show on October 24th and discuss how we use observation in the classroom and why it's so important!  You can listen to the interview HERE! It's a great segment, but if you want to here me talk about your children, I start around the 11min20second mark:)

In the quietest place I could find for the interview... my car! Waiting for the call!
Until then,
Mrs. Ford

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Photography + Science = Inspiration!

                                                             A focused pollinator....
                             ...and the student photographer who documented the learning.

I love seeing moments of beauty in learning and on this day, my wonderful 2nd graders from Ms. Hipps and Ms. Fox's classes provided it....and then some. One might wonder what it's like  in a science class with 28 7 year-olds, and I'd tell you it's usually great! However, today was even better than great.... it was inspirational! Today I provided them with newly granted iPads so they could document their learning process and they were able to capture the essence of why I love this content!


Students have just finished a three-lesson unit with The Anacostia Watershed Society in which they learned all about native grasslands. They held seeds, collected seeds and dispersed them, all while gaining a greater understanding of the impact DC area's grasslands have on our environment.


Exploring seed dispersal with AWS and collecting native grass seeds for dispersal on a field trip.

         Students dispersed their collected seeds in our front gardens to help with storm water runoff.

Through their learning, question kept popping up... " How do we GET seeds anyway?" Students knew that seeds make plants and plant makes seeds, but the exact science behind it was a bit foreign. Now that the Next Generation Science Standards have pollination right in 2nd grade, the transition from the great foundation Anacositia Watershed Society created was simple! What a day we had!

       A young photographer documents her team member cross pollinating with a bee-stick.

Combining the Wisconsin Fast Plants that the 1st grade are growing with bee knowledge from our 3rd grade partnership with DC Beekeepers, I developed a lesson that allowed students to physically take part in seed creation and document each step! After learning about the important reproductive parts of plants, they cross-pollinated our plants using real dried bees ( also thanks to Wisconsin Fast Plants).

 I photograph my class all of the time, however, I have never handed the lens to my students. Now, I'm not sure I'll ever take it back!

This photographer fully captures the engaged intensity with which his classmate is ensuring pollen is transferred to the stigma.

The true reason I introduced the iPads today was because we will be using them on a biodiversity scavenger hunt next Wednesday and I wanted them to have practice, but what I found was that once in their hands, they could see aspects to this process, capture focus and learning, in a way that I often miss with my snapshots.

Please enjoy these images that my students captured today. I believe that through their "lens" we see the essence of STEM education: exploration, observation, engagement, focus, collaboration, questioning.... it's all there!  ENJOY!

Until next time!
-Vanessa Ford
Twitter: @maurythinktank