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Friday, March 29, 2013

15. The science fair

With autumn, rains came and spent every evening after class reading or discussing about education and science at home of my mentor, I learned to use photographs as an excuse to teach things, also I learned to use more efficiently Google to search for information and started to participate in forums about education and science on twitter and Facebook, and I were with Gaby on two occasions to conferences in which it seemed natural to address the issue of the Science in education.

At the same time the authorities of the County began to close schools and this raised a movement of teachers. Schools were added gradually, it threatens a strike if the Government does not find the way to distribute resources efficiently among schools, but if this is not possible, little by little they will be choosing and closing those schools which do not achieve certain goals. I was a little worried about the issue, but for the moment I had to focus on children and their projects.

Each team showed considerable progress, their seeds began to change and most were springing up at an accelerated pace and those we couldn’t see yet, we gave them more time. We had enough data, photographic records, measurements, stories. The writers began to prepare reports and we learned to prepare a poster of scientific communication. 

I taught them to use applications to which they had access and began to do interviews experts in Botany. Every morning we discussed any news on Agriculture and began to follow the climate reports, because our plants could not survive the low temperatures. Some of them would have to survive inside and with a little luck, would be ready for the spring.

We discussed options on presentations and after discussion decided that everyone would participate in the science fair, but that they would take turns to explain to visitors the plants. Each one knew not only the type of plant and its botanical classification; they knew the biological processes occurring within them, from photosynthesis to genetic processes. They were learning!.

A day before we discuss all and imagined the possible questions that someone could make, we were having fun!, there was tension, it  was not as a exam which we should respond to all and the end only would obtain a number; We were willing to share what they knew.

It was not strange that is granted the space farthest from school to present our posters, I assumed that children would be designated but seemed not to import them, Gaby and our mentor helped us to accommodate everything and both hugged children. We were a team of work and full of ideas!

The first visitors were Stephen´s parents, both Swedish immigrants and were amazed of the explanations, I think that children shared them a little of their passion for plants, because they could not leave to read and ask, then Mita’s parents, and Jose’s and Tisha’s mom and grandmother, gradually began to attract attention.

Some children asked if it was right to go to look at the other projects, and our mentor told them that Yes, that it was a time to learn from all, which they watched, they ask and they would learn after a while they came back and talked to us that they had seen. 

I didn't feel sure about going to see, but when I told this to Gaby she told me:
-At the same way that you must be very proud of your children, other teachers know that they did their best, Let’s go, I also want to see!, we can also invite some public  to come and see us, otherwise, no one will know that we are here. If they had given us the restroom to present the work, we would have had more public.

We began to walk and we saw mainly physics experiments, I remembered my student years, I was always nervous that my model would be well, volcano vomit enough lava at the right time, or rat run fast enough so it could turn on a 10 watt bulb. This was no different, the same faces of boredom, the same nerves if anyone asked.

We began to invite to visit us. We had set that children begin their Conference at 9:30, when Gaby and I returned to hear them because there was public, reason why children were presented, explained that his project was called "making plants" and said that they had prepared 5 Conference: Botany as a study of the plants, the climatic regions of the United States, food chain and environment, Pollination of plants and their importance in the environment, major diseases of plants. All of them were related to explain what they had done.

They explained with detailed and photographs was that its plants were growing, which all were different, explained because they grew up while they began in different media. They were not repeating explanations of book, they were using their own  words that they understood and audience could follow all your explanations perfect, such was the passion with which spoke that it was impossible to stop listening to them, always with examples, a photograph, a number, a fact.

When children concluded, almost leap when I saw that almost all of the school was present, only to listen to my children, but the best came when attendees began asking questions:
If all your plants have grown, so can you grow any plant?

Mita took the word and with enviable simplicity responded: No, we can’t, because how we see in our country's climate map, plants grow depending on the weather because it is a variable that allows them to adapt better. In addition Professor in Botany Steve Kolskov explained to us that we must not invade the space of plants with new species because they can kill native species.

Can you grow a bean up to heaven? 

Asked a teenager with tone of mockery, but Jose replied in such a way that it could not continue the joke: No, we can’t! Because the height of the plants depends on geographical conditions, for example if you look at the height of the trees on the West Coast it is different from the height of the same species in Hawaii.
A distant voice asked what will they do with your plants?, are you going to put them in the trash  now that the science fair is concluded?

Kathleen said almost cheerful voice: Of course not!, we’ll keep in a protected environment until they are sufficiently strong to withstand outdoor weather, then we number them outside and cross your fingers that rabbits do not eat them. 

Thousands of questions from other children, adults and at the end various people, including several experts that the children had been interviewed came to congratulate them, we were the most popular at the moment. The children came to hug me and relatives thanked me, but I could not take all the credit, so I asked the children to submit to all those who had helped us, including our mentor, finally she had given us not only time, but the seeds that made us to shine.

It was Trisha who did the honors: first grade group has much to thank, first of all to our teacher, then all those who agreed to talk with us, of course our mentor who taught us how to make plants.

Director and other teachers were there and I thought that they would judge me severely, but instead, the Director offered to create a space in the school for children planted all their plants when they could be ready to grow during spring and that the Group initiated a project in which teach other children to planting and care for them, when she finished her speech all children jumping and laughing so much that I thought that they would have a collapse. Everything was much better I could have imagined.

At the time of the award for the best project, children took all hands and hugged around me. I reached down and I told them that if we gained something, it was just the beginning of something better, but if we lost, we would try it again and next time would do it much better.

Award granted by direct vote of the public and they favored us!, we won the blue ribbon which we named as the group with the best science of the school project. I asked Gaby to take a picture of our precious Blue Ribbon, which I posted on Facebook and Twitter with a note that said: my children achieved what I never got: not only to understand science, but make it funny!, education, everything is possible in education , when we believe in  the talent of our students.

Friday, March 22, 2013

14. Children intelligence

How are your students doing with their science projects, David?, I heard the question that almost made  me forget my own thoughts while I was trying to understand how to print a page in the teachers room. It was Sonja, fifth-grade teacher, she didn’t let me and she continued saying: one of my students has a brother in your classroom, he says that his brother takes photos of plants and makes observations daily, but when my student ask him his brother just  responds that they are “making plants”.
Yes!, they have a project about  the development of plants which they liked very much.

-I guess you thought about their level of intelligence, since I do not believe that their parents can support them much in matters of science, right?.

I found very racist and offensive her question but I decided to ask about concerned before accuse her not having respect for minorities.

-Well, you know, not all understand physics. My students will explain about physics.

Sounds great all are doing the same experiment?

-Of course!, what other way could be done?.

That’s reminded me that first encounter: there are many myths in science and are taught that there is only the physics and chemistry but also that there is a scientific work.

When the printer finally spat the desired page, I left the room saying that surely her experiment would be a success. 

While I was walking to my classroom I sent a message to my mentor and asked her if she could accept a visit after class. Her answer took a while but agreed to see me.

When she received asked me just one second, as she was photographing a squirrel. When she finished, looked for a glass, and served lemonade as equal as before It had no sugar, so she asked me to add as much sugar as I wish. I didn’t have enough confidence to ask her why she didn’t add sugar to lemonade.

I told her that I didn't want to take her time but an idea had assaulted me and it was the feeling that other teachers did not believe in the abilities of my students, they were apparently labeled below the standard of intelligence and that perhaps, I was harming them by making them think that I could do things like any other student.

Her face changed her usual smile by sadness, I thought perhaps she had not understood well, but after a second, she  gave me this explanation:

-Dear David, I don't know if you know that I do not understand anything about education, I do not understand why education is not able to focus on the learning of students, and even less on how it was adopted the idea that there is something like intelligence and that it is possible to classify students. Socially, there are three groups that are children: with talent or high capacity to do something, then come the children who can do things at a usual pace and finally the children with special educational needs. Each group has its characteristics and no doubt their own ways to adapt to the environment.

The problem comes when we think that intelligence determines what can or cannot do. I think that you should say: I do this at this way, and you?, or how would you do this?, I think this would can be this way, what do  you  think?, in my opinion that make us all less fearful of learn to think that we all do things in a single way is one of the many social paradoxes of which one day will be able discuss.
The school says:  things should be made and will  be made as I say, when, where and why I say, but we admire those who are different, for example, 10 years ago the Iphone was a revolutionary thing, now everybody  talk about  innovation and technology, but is not allowed from the school. Creativity is wiped out, but worse still, they reproduce myths that become false truths. 

An example is that science is only for privileged minds or that in science there are laws, when that truth is that science changes, evolves, just like our brains, you  know now today, things that you  didn't know 10 years ago. If you can do something today, you may make it in 1 month or a year. 

If you ask me to children and teachers are fearful of making a mistake, that's that they cannot focus on learning, This is why they don’t ask although they have doubts, "You will think that I am stupid" or that "I don't think like you". That consumes us!.

I don't drive a car but have no doubt that one day at least I will move the wheels!.

My question will get you angry, but I don't want to continue tormenting me: Can children of minority groups learn in the same way as other children?.

Her eyes shone and she looked at me in a way that knew that his answer would change my life.

-David, if you ask me from the education point of view, then the answer is NO, because they do not understand the culture of programs education, this children must  go against understanding the language or the opportunity of environmental tools because their parents work 12 or 14 hours per day, they have no time to help them with their home works and even if they do, they cannot resolve difficulties related to issues that they do not  understand, children will have swim against the waves!.

From neuroscience point of view, all children can learn because learning is a necessary process for conservation of the species and this principle is related to the ability to adapt to the environment. Evolutionarily, we have survived for this ability to adapt to the environment and for human beings the ability to adapt the environment, but this principle is shared even by the proteins, which you give to understand that don't need a brain to adapt. The principle is simple, you adapt, or you go. This applies at work environments and even in technology, which evolves at a rapid pace.

I think that I like to see the brain as a natural prototype able to acquire applications each which requires them, delete them which does not need, develops, invents, creates.

So what I can say is that your children have everything to learn, but the main ingredient in all learning is to believe in them. 

Yesterday I heard no silly question and their knowledge is exciting. I have no further advice to give you except:  give yourself the opportunity to marvel at their skills, without waiting for them to do this or that, because if you close your eyes, you will never be able to hear the music, since you'll be afraid to fall or hurt you. 

Children believe in you, parents trust and look in their eyes a desire to know. For your question, I think that you need you trust yourself.

I realized that the school closed us eyes, was facing a different principle. When he was ready to go home I asked her to one day explain me her idea about education.

-With great pleasure!, I promise that we'll have this talk. But for the moment, I have something for you, I collected some magazines about science pedagogy and some others. You don't have to load them all, you can leave them here and come whenever you want, because now I know that you take this trial to go home. 

I felt as if they give me a Lamborghini!, I promised visit her after class, and while I took my backpack asked her how come her dog not barking at me if it didn't know near to it.

-Simple, she does not see or hear but it can smell you, she knows who you are in the same way that you can recognize it, only uses different mechanisms. That is an example of adaptation.

I ran home and when I arrived, I was not only happy for my physical effort, by very first time I was able to close my eyes and listen to the music and I am going to find the way to share it with everyone!.

Friday, March 15, 2013

13 Planting seeds

I could not sleep after my conversation about science, I couldn’t stop thinking of how children would take the task, what would they think of visiting a garden, what would parents think about this?, what would be the attitude of the Director?, I had been lucky with the night of art but this seemed to be more academic. 

I got up and I wrote a note to the parents asking them that they would let go to children after school on Friday and if some of them could join them, I write down the address, printed the note and I put all the sheets on my backpack. Perhaps that helped me because I slept until the alarm echoed in my ear.

On my way to school, I recognized her house, I was sure I had seen it before, and I had seen this woman walking with two dogs in the morning. One of the dogs walked slowly and the other moved forward strides, so she was in the middle of the two dogs. 

While I was busy with my thoughts, I heard a voice saying: good morning master!, when I went looking I saw Jackie small walking towards me. 

We walk together to school and when I found several known parents so I started to give out the information and asked them to help me to make it public. All were very kind and when they saw the address, children and parents said that they knew the place well. 

It seemed that everything would be easy at this point.

When I was in the classroom, I began to talk to children about my encounter with plants and told them the challenge, the first thing that we were going to do was going to talk to who would support us in the entire process of making plants, then we would do teams and some would plant the seeds and then some would measure the growth and they would make daily, as in a diary while others would take photos, some would do the writings and others would expose the information at the science fair.

I told them that we would be like bees, which each has a specific job to ensure that all should continue upon the face of the Earth. I made drawings on the Blackboard and at one point looked at the faces of the children who were smiling and listening to everything what he said with such care that I think I could listen to the respiration of each.
When I finished I asked them to do questions and if your questions has been rain drops, it would have been able to document a flood: can I plant popcorn?, can I plant tomatoes?, can I water the plants with milk?... my mom says milk makes me grow faster!, Can I take pictures of the seeds when they are in the dirt?, but how will I see them if  they are under the dirt?, Can I... can I... can I...?. In 10 minutes I counted 56 different questions, which was discreetly scoring.

Friday at the end of the break I asked them who can go after school to our special garden and everyone raised their hands. Some said that their mother could not take them, but they had already organized.

When we left the school we went to our appointment, children surrounded one of the plants received a fun and simple explanation about the work of bees and pollination and the role of the butterflies in the growth of plants and learned that there are different types of plants, those funny thing is that they were not classical explanations of books they were answers to the questions of the children that looked like they would never end. Some were about the plants, other about bees and returning to questions about the plants and finally one focused on one of the dogs, which were peculiarly quiet and seemed that they enjoyed the children: why do your dog just has a black ear?, and the answer was: what is your theory?. 

I counted 12 different explanations from: you paint the ear to differentiate it,  or her mom did not reach you paint so that it was completely white,  but one almost  made me cry: because Tisha, who is an african-american girl said: God had taken the dog from her ear  to paint it so  her ear still had traces of God...

When they asked if they could pet that dog, which all the time had been in the arms of our lecturer, she told them that she was blind deaf and that they should be very soft to pet it. How come  didn't I realize that?, I pet  it when I was here, when we were outside she had her harness, it looks so normal… when did I lose my ability to observe?.

At the end, she explained to children that she had found that dried seeds work best, so she gave them seeds from her little bottles and asked to each one to remember that they were. Mothers just observed everything, not asked, but definitely enjoyed all the time of all questions from their children.

When the children left she invited me to her Office and I told her that I felt sorry for her dog, but she told me that Bubu was an intelligent creature and even deaf & blind she adapted it to the environment at the same way as any other dog, there was no reason to pity her.

I started giving my report about the number of children's questions: I counted 56 questions in the classroom and you 72 during her explanation, taking into account that they were made in a period of 70 minutes gives us an average of 1.82 questions per minute and if we divide among 20 children then we have a total of 6.4 questions per child...

-The next step is to analyze the questions and divide into questions that have been able to hear from other talks, which have been developed during the explanations and questions with no sense or just by asking. With it, you'd be making a cognitive research. But don't worry, so you need to record the children to make a further analysis of the sessions.

Really?, do not need a post doctorate to do research?.

  -No, just need a question or need to solve a problem. Simpler than Facebook!.

The weekend I looked for more information and made a plan of action which surprised me because everything was perfectly clear. No more fear!, I gave myself the luxury of jogging in the afternoon, I felt relaxed.

On Monday morning, children told me that they had already sown the seeds that had given them and others said that they would dry more seeds. They decided to work under two environments, some would use dirt and others a cotton with water, they would compare the growth and as the teams were already formed each one perfectly knew his work.

Some told me that they had gone the weekend to the Botanical Garden, and received notes from parents thanking I was doing something for their children. Joseph’s father wrote me a note saying that his son was the grandson of farmers in a little town in Mexico and that this would make them very happy that his son learns the love for the land and plants.

We were reading articles we Googled about plants that complement perfect with their book, and all of them appreciated very much some photos that our guide had given me to expose the issue.

I still had so much to do, but I think that we were on the right track. In addition this would allow us to use the numbers, of course reading and writing and graphic skills of expression. They would develop the capacity of observation, analyzing and solving problems, comparing results, doing research, but above all, the children were in direct contact with the science... and without any pain!. They may learn to love it more than I did when I was student.

Friday, March 8, 2013

12 Learning science

As soon as I got back home, safe and complete fortunately after another trip with Gaby and her Super Prius, I sent a message to whom so many advices had given me and my direct question was: how can I teach science to children?

Her answer made me almost fell from the chair even if I I was sitting on the bed: 

- Dear David, I think that your question is a little more complex, because I believe that at this age, you should not teach science to children, but how love the science.

In the following message I asked her phone number because for a moment I had a feeling that this talk was going to take me several hours... when I replied, I asked her to explain me that in a easy way because my head couldn’t understand that statement.

- David, you should not look children as an empty bucket that you going to depositing knowledge, if you think that pouring water to a plant makes it bloom, just because you are giving enough sun and land, you will find that eventually your plant won’t grow anymore. Children are scientists by nature, they have a process that, at some point in our school life, we lose and this is the urgent need to ask about the world.

Children ask innocently because they want to know, an adult asks to know if you know. I have an example of this: When you were here, while I was giving you the explanation, you didn’t ask anything. Maybe you were thinking that your questions could be silly or wrong, but if you come tomorrow with your children your task will be to observe the attitude of them and count the number of questions they will make, and at the same time you should see adults accompanying them and then we can discuss your results. 

I believe that children will have more questions than adults, that is my hypothesis.

Can I teach science if I ask them all plant the same type seed and see it grow?

- That is an option, but you'll be falling into the myth that all scientists do the same thing and even in science there are different jobs, there are those who do basic research with the kinds of questions that save lives, sold millions of dollars in the pharmaceutical industry or  respond to questions about the universe. 

Then there is another group of people who translate this and explain it in more understandable words and finally are those who apply all that knowledge in a less flamboyant way.

It is currently scientifically educated citizens who are people who love science but are not scientists, can be either journalists or just people who understand and give conferences about science.

At the same time, in science there are experts to ask, or to do mathematical analysis, others write and others may report their findings in a simple way for people, so if you ask everyone to do the same, are focusing only on a part of the scientific work.

I suggest that you ask children different types of seeds, and they decide who wants to sow seeds and care for it, others can make comments that includes measuring the growth of the plant every day, others may take photographs to keep a visual record, others can write about what they find, and some may finally provide lectures about the experience. 

You may have teams where children decide what  they like the most and thus everyone can understand that there are different facets of being a scientist, similar the work you did with your play, you had writers, stylist, singers, actors and each found his talent, because in science is the same.

What happens if the plant does not grow? Should I give Fs to the entire team?

-Dear David!, YOU are talking as teacher already!!... But that’s what makes us hate science!. There is no reason to be so violent with the children, because science will learn from both the successes and errors!.

If a plant grows, being that they are on the lookout for everything, the children will learn that there are four variables: type of seed, amount, and type of land, amount of water and light. Some seeds will grow faster than others, for example my cantaloupes sprouted before than hibiscus seeds, and some seeds need more water than others,  some prefer the morning light and to some others it’s better the light at noon. The children can see the differences and learn from them.

If the plant dies they will begin to wonder what did go wrong?, Perhaps more light was needed; perhaps I should not put juice of orange juice  instead water. Next time I'll put more seeds instead of just one... 

Am I dumb or I just feel so?

-None of that, you're a teacher who learns and who will be able to teach the children.

Will I see you tomorrow afternoon?

When I hung up, I felt that I just sow the seeds of curiosity and research that never grew on me, but it scared me to think that in a few years other teachers of children were going to kill that like if they are killing an Ant...

I finished replying some email that included several of my friends who asked me if I liked to exercise my authority over children and gave me tips on how keep them quiet in class. If that was to become a teacher, I understood why I hated school so much.
Querido David, yo creo que tu pregunta es un poco más compleja, pues creo que a esta edad a los niños no se les debería enseñar ciencia, sino como amar la ciencia.