I always thought that competition is an excellent way to motivate kids. Many times, I made contests in the class, competitions, etc. I always found it that extra bit more fun when I was a student, if I had to compete against some other students. That’s probably why I really like games. My friends always tell me that I am very competitive and some friends even tell me that I’m overly competitive. It’s true. I make a game out of everything. Even with myself. With anything I do, I try to improve myself, get faster, get more efficient… win.
Just like my life, I run my classes as a place to improve, a place to get faster, to understand best, to get more efficient – and what better way than a friendly competition?!
I am reading an awesome book on Cognitive Sciences and how it applies to teaching students in the classroom: Schools for Thought – a Science of Learning in the Classroom by John Bruer. I will write more on this book later, but I wanted to focus on an idea I got from it to teach in the classroom. One chapter of the book relates to teaching science, and specifically, teaching Newtonian Physics… exactly what I’m teaching right now to my grade 11 physics class.
A long time ago, I heard this awesome story/analogy for time management. Here it is:
One day teacher was speaking to a group of students about time management. He pulled out an empty aquarium and set it on a table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen large rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the container. When it was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this container full?” Everyone in the class said, “Yes.”
As babies, if we never learned to walk, could we still survive in this world? I think so. In fact, it is much easier to keep your balance on four legs rather than two. It is hard to learn to walk, with all the falling down, the trial and error, and mostly error at the beginning, all the bumps and bruises, the tears. Why do we even bother to teach our children to walk? Well, walking does make life a lot easier, and maybe in the long run it’s worth it. For instance, it is much faster to get around on two feet, rather than crawling. When getting around in the street, all of our clothes and hands don’t get dirty, only the soles of our shoes do (again a convenience created for “walking people”). Also, it is much easier to carry something while walking rather than crawling (multi-tasking).
Recently a reader posted a comment on one of my blog entries about Teacher Pay Scale Across Canada where I compared salaries of teachers across various cities.
She writes: “Sure, we are paid fairly well but our working conditions are difficult. I know for a fact from several teachers from Quebec that we, in Alberta are expected to put in all sorts of after school time. I don’t get to walk away when my school day ends. And let’s not even talk about the fact that I could by 3 houses in Quebec for the cost of my ordinary bungalow in Calgary! GRRR.”
Yesterday I gave a science workshop to my younger group of kids: 6 – 9 year olds. I am typically a high school teacher, but this school year I am trying a different thing: workshops for homeschooled kids. And yesterday was one of those workshops.
I have a really great group of 6 to 9 year olds. At first it was challenging to understand really how small these kids are, how little they know about the world, how easy it is to surprise them with the simplest science experiment. I taught kids, but never this young before. I had to revamp my whole way of thinking about the class, about the kids, about science!
Growing up, children have a plethora of experiences that have to do with the concept of force. Even before they start talking and knowing the word “force” they have an intuitive understanding of the concept of push and pull. It doesn’t take long for a child to figure out that pushing their brother will result in him moving in the same direction. Babies realize from very early on that things fall down. (A common game among babies and parents is the “baby drops toy – parent picks up toy – repeat many times until parent loses patience”.) This environmental input of the force of gravity acting on an object, thus accelerating it towards the earth gets absorbed by the child’s awareness, and becomes second nature to the child. Most children will ask a parent about these phenomena. The parent then tries to explain these phenomena in terms of sophisticated words such as force, gravity, energy, power, and push / pull. The adult might go in depth or just quickly dismiss the inquiry, depending on the adult’s actual knowledge of the phenomenon, the parent’s interest in scientific principles, or even the time and place of the question. Based on these explanations, and the instances of hearing the words of force or gravity in context, children start to associate what force actually means in terms of their world around them. Their understanding however might not be in alignment with the physicist’s definition.
There is a steady increase in environmental issues in the curriculum every year. The environment is important and we must take care of it, thus teaching about it to students that will one day take care of the world is a necessity.
But whenever I learned about it or taught it, I found it to be more of a “social studies” subject and not a science. There’s a lot of descriptions, definitions of concepts, discussions of alternatives, debates. It never felt like a real “science”, with numbers, predictions, experiments, etc. I know that this is not the case. I know that environmental sciences are very much scientifically based and hard core, with lots of experiments and empirical data supporting phenomena, but the way the curriculum has the “environment” presented wasn’t at all interesting to me thus far (since I’m one of those science geeks).
A while back I was in a situation where I had to teach evolution to some grade nine students. I am more of the physical science/math teacher, and biology is not my cup of tea.
In physics, there are also unproven “theories” that we follow. In fact, all of Newtonian physics is pretty much “false” and yet we teach it all the time as fundamental physics. Light is both a wave and a particle… how can that ever be possible? Either it can travel through objects (like a wave / energy) or it is stopped by objects (like a particle)? For some reason, the physical theories don’t affect people in the same emotional way as the theory of evolution. We have a way of dealing with the physics theories on a logic / thinking level. No religion is offended (although ~400 years ago, Copernicus’ theory of planetary motion around the sun was dissputed by the Catholic church). Nobody’s extreme beliefs come under fire with all these silly physics theories.
I had many requests for a step by step instruction of making the “Hydraulic Crane”.
Although this wasn’t my construction (one of my brilliant students did this one for a project that I assigned), I can figure out the basics from what I saw.
Note: The following is only meant as a start for anyone that wants to try this project. However, everyone has their own twist to every assignment, every design. Use your imagination to make the crane better, and your own!