Helping Students Write Scientific Explanations

February 16, 2011

This year science teachers have been concentrating on honing the scientific writing skills of students. The middle school teachers have identified data analysis as one inquiry skill that students need to practice. After all, constructing explanations are an important scientific practice that brings meaning to what scientists, both young and old, do. We have had the opportunity to field test some of the ideas in a new publication:  Supporting Grade 5-8 students in constructing explanations in Science. Students have been moving beyond reiterating data by using the exploration framework of: claim, evidence and reasoning in their notebooks. The book has been helpful in outlining the hows and whys that teachers need in order to implement a successful program of scientific inquiry. While there is not a specific role for media specialists offered in the book, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that in this inquiry framework of claim, evidence and reasoning, opportunities abound  for librarians to help students in each of these areas enrich their ideas and findings. For instance, I'm helping the teachers think about using a web log for students work rather than a traditional notebook. Incorporating different types of media, not to mention the organizational benefits for middle scjhool students, might tip the balence for the move from paper to web.

At the high school level, I’ve outfitted teachers with copies of Writing the Laboratory Notebook which provides clear reasons and examples for keeping an accurate science notebook. One of the more successful suggestions in the book encourages students to record witness’s observations as well as their own. Students interviewing and synthesizing each others work has sharpened their ability to explain scientific phenomena in common terms. Being aware of other’s work and the ability to paraphrase is a skill that needs practice. The science journals serve as an application to the Advanced Research class senior year. Science faculty and research mentors from U-M .assist with the reading of the journals and students selected for the course are given the opportunity to work on research over the summer at the University of Michigan. Proving for the about the billionth time more readers can make better writers


Calling All Budding Scientists

January 12, 2011

Google is sponsoring an online global science fair in partnership with CERN, LEGO, National Geographic and Scientific American. The competition is open to kids around the world ages 13-18 and the prizes are amazing. Submissions are due April 4, 2011. For more information, visit the official web site. The resource section of their web site has some great materials related to their partners, using Google tools, and STEM education.

As I looked through the science fair web site, I couldn't help but think that this might be a great opportunity for teachers who are interested in working with students from other classrooms around the world. Individual students can enter, but teams of 2 or 3 students are also allowed. Wouldn't it be fun if teachers found virtual science fair partners and worked to complete projects using online resources?

Intoducing Culturomics: Cultural Trends @ Google Labs

December 16, 2010

A searchable database of more than 500 billion words from millions of books published over the past four centuries is now online. The tool, which is a collection of words and phases stripped of all context except the date in which they appeared, is a powerful way to study cultural change say researchers from Cultural Observatory, Harvard, Encyclopaedia Britannica, the American Heritage Dictionary, and Google.  Type in a word or a short phrase, and the database produces a graph — a curve that traces how often an author used those words every year since 1800. The story on NPR offers a summary of the findings which were published in the journal, Science.

Looking at how a word or phrase is used over time could be an addicting exercise for both english and social studies teachers. It would be cool to compare things, too; whether its people, facts about grammer, or even pieces of music. The browser allows you to search different collections of books (called 'corpora').  The website says "corpora are available in English, Chinese, French, German, Hebrew, Russian, and Spanish, so you can examine effects in many different cultures and compare them to one another ('feminism' in English vs. 'féminisme' ) in French, for instance." Students can search and analyze results based upon their knowledge of cultural and historical trends. 

Short Update on Short Stories

Coming soon to iTunes from the The Guardian's short stories podcast, in which leading authors - including Jonathan Franzen, Margaret Drabble, Julian Barnes and Helen Simpson - pick their favourite short story by another writer, from Raymond Carver to Angela Carter.

They talk to Lisa Allardice, editor of Guardian Review, about why they've chosen that particular story, and then read the story in full.

The series begins on 11 December 2010.

The 350 project: Polar Bears, O Polar Bears, Wherefor Art Thou Polar Bears?

I know I'm still a hippie because I  still believe that art and music can change the world; well, along with a good librarian.  Last night I happened to be listening to PRI's "The World" and caught an interview with founder Bill McKibben. The back story is that 350 ppm is the ideal proportion of CO2 in the atmosphere to sustain live. Currently, we are at 390ppm here on mother earth.