If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do

Although this post is coming a little late, this is a reflection about our work in our MPX program for the second week of the school year. Not surprising, most teachers spend some of the initial time with their students setting the context for what they are doing. We take time to establish our norms, have students understand our routines and rhythms of the class so that we make it possible for them to work efficiently and to stay on task when they are with us. In our work with MPX, we did a few things that set the context for our work. It struck me that the quote that the title is based on (which is from Lewis Carroll) kept coming up as we were working with our students in these first few weeks on our mini project on conflict resolution in society. Let me give three examples of how this played out in our work this week.

Class Norms

We took time in our class to have the students consider what are the kinds of behaviors, attitudes and beliefs we bring in when we work as a class. We did a co-construction activity where the students offered ideas, and then we distilled those over 100 thoughts down to 19 key statements that they made about what it means to learn in our class. The key thing was to make sure the words were theirs, since our goal is to give them feedback and hold them to these agreed-upon expectations.

One of the beautiful things about having these posted clearly in the room is that we can proactively challenge and point out to the students that these are the things that powerful learners do. It acts as our roadmap to a class culture that will move us forward productively.

Assessment Criteria

When we ask students to produce quality work there are really a few ways for us to get there:
– looking at models that we admire and can use to help us set the language for what excellence looks like
– a process for feedback that allows learners to look at their current states and to know where they need to move next
– and lastly clear criteria that we have agreed on about what the end should look like.

One of our artifacts from the society conflict activity was a two minute video that the students made in news story format that would tell a story of conflict and resolution in society. In order to help the students get there, we needed to know the language of good storytelling, and then we needed a tool to help us operationalize our ways to look at our work and to judge whether it was of high enough quality. The rubric we used for this project is here:

The language from this came from our own research, from looking at quality examples, and by using expertise to help us make decisions about what goes into good storytelling. The students used this rubric to give each other feedback multiple times, and it was used in the final assessment as well.

Project Sheets and Descriptions
At the start of any project, we give the students a map out of what that project will unfold like with clearly defined goals, an essential question, an outcome that is important and challenging and the steps that are required to get there laid out with enough detail that they know what needs to happen to get from the start to the finish. When we do our professional work with teachers around the state, this is the key thing that we tried to instill in those teachers – that without a roadmap and clarity around the means by which students will have time to understand, give feedback and reflect on their learning, the likelihood of getting to the end is drastically less. We have seen many teachers talk about how they have implemented projects, and only a few or some of the students “got it” and produce a product that they had hoped for. More often than not, it is not a fault of the students, but lack of clarity of the roadmap on how to help them get there.

As we continue to move on into the school year we hope to continue to provide clear guidance for our students so that they do the traveling, but they have the support they need to end up in the right destination. It’s

Now We’re Cooking – Really!

“At its most basic, cooking is the transfer of energy from a heat source to your food.” from the wonderful resource Serious Eats

yes, we ARE having fun!

My friends and my family know that I spend way too much of my expendable income on dining experiences – not casual affairs, but going to interesting places and trying out new chefs in town when I can afford them. I also love cooking and my own kitchen, constantly playing with new recipes or adapting old ones.
**By the way – if you haven’t been to Scratch in downtown Honolulu, put it on your must do list.**

It’s no big surprise then, that I’ve always had it in my mind to figure out how to bring cooking into my students’ experiences. At so many levels this is such a important experience – research shows that families that cook and eat together have deeper relationships, healthier diets and also save money at the same time. Were living in a society in which “prepackaged” and “to go” are the main means that many of our students understand eating, and yet for most of society’s history food and cooking has been at the center of culture, interaction, and identity.

Moreover, the science of cooking is deep and powerful and cuts across many disciplines – physics, biology, health and nutrition, chemistry, sustainable science, environmental impact… the list goes on. So how do we make this happen in our classrooms? How far can we go with this to both engage our students and still have a safe learning environment?

We have been blessed over the last four years to work with a wonderful community partner: the Culinary Arts program at Kapiolani Community College (KCC). We have coordinated projects with them dealing with sustainable agriculture, food to table and cooking classes – but in the past these were focused on life sciences as our primary core standards. Our wonderful friend and colleague Daniel Leung from KCC helped us to design a project this semester that centers on cooking and thermodynamics. The underlying science of this includes heat and temperature, radiation, convection and conduction, and the first and second law of thermodynamics. Additionally, there is a wealth of information about the chemical phenomenon that happens around the process of cooking food including the way that plant and animal cells behave differently, how proteins work at different temperatures, and even the important Maillard reaction.

We mapped out a set of experiments and activities, readings and hands-on work that would allow our students to investigate this deeply and tied to our energy standards in our physical science curriculum. Over the four weeks of this project, our students will visit the KCC kitchen classroom/lab to prepare both Tuscan bean soup and a dish to be still decided – but something that involves braising and the three different types of heat transfer. In class we are doing things as simple as looking at the effect of different metals in the way they transfer heat, to the way that cooling happens, through looking at the heat capacity of different materials including food. In the end, two of the outcomes will be our students cooking a meal for their family and explaining the science behind it and the creation of a five-minute video in which they explain the science behind a particular cooking technique – modeled after the widely known show “Good Eats” with Alton Brown.

As usual, I’ve been posting pictures of our work on our Flickr site here

This first four-week unit we designed is the starting point for us expanding on this idea next year to create a deeper look at food, science and culture. We are excited to see where this will take us but we know it’ll be fun and powerful!

Here’s to good food, good science, and powerful learning! Cheers!

cooking the soup

Tasting our final product: Tuscan Bean Soup

We received training on prep use of knives as well!

Prepping the vegetables at KCC

Cooking away in our classroom

Working in Our classroom lab with cooking meat and vegetables

Ka Wai Ola – Water for Life

One of the great pleasures and challenges of doing real deeper learning work is finding real challenges in our community and community partners that can help us become part of the work in working towards a healthier, safer community. Some of our classwork this year centered on science standards in chemistry, which lend itself to looking at the water issues in our community. The island of Oahu is really a perfect water catchment system, and in particular almost all of that water resides under the island in aquifers that hold freshwater that filters down from the 1.8 billion gallons of rainfall that occur on the island every day. Many of us that live here sometimes take this water for granted, but if we go just a little deeper into this resource, we see that there are important challenges that are facing the island, and a real need for stewardship of these critical resources for us to enjoy the quality of freshwater that we have become accustomed to.

On December 2 our class of 10th grade MPXers visited the Board of Water Supply (BWS) to learn more about when, how and what gets tested to ensure the safety of our water.




**A quick note about the difference between field trips and community partners. Our Deeper Learning Hawaii Network group ran some community partner workshops a year ago and we developed the language of distinguishing one time visits (just to get some information) and an extended interaction with community experts in which students become part of a process in supporting the work of an organization or helping design solutions for that organization. There is a much more detailed version of that here: http://deeperlearninghawaii.weebly.com/community-partnerships.html. In this case, we are looking at a much deeper relationship and an extended investigation about water quality here on the island of Oahu**

Before we visited the site, we spent time reading through the resources about what the board of water supply does, and in particular some of the challenges that they face. I shared slides from a community meeting in October that detailed one of the most pressing issues in Honolulu, In particular, there is a situation with the water that comes out of the Halawa shaft (http://www.boardofwatersupply.com/community/tours-education/halawa-shaft-underground-pumping-station) which feeds water to one quarter of the island’s population. There are large jet fuel storage tanks that hold upwards of hundred 87 million gallons of jet fuel just 100 feet above the aquifer. There is already evidence that these tanks have leaked, and there is continuing tension between those who feel the tanks need stay where they are because of security concerns, and the community that feels that it endangers its water supply.

Our visit to the BWS allowed us to observe, deepen our understanding and ask questions about this key issue. The folks at the BWS were gracious in opening up their labs and sharing the process they use to test and ensure water quality for Oahu.




What role can we play? The Honolulu City Council has met with us and asked us to help them better understand the ins and outs of this issue. They worry that they don’t have a good enough understanding of the science of the water and what and how it might be tested and treated. Our class will be diving in to understand this problem and helping the city council to better see the issues and what they can do. The goal is to present our findings to the council in April and share our learnings and recommendations. It should be an exciting exploration in an important actionable issue in our community!

Scope and Sequence and …

Here in my 35th year of teaching, I think about some of my early experiences in my role as a teacher there was a lot of emphasis on What (scope) I taught and how it fit into the learning path of students (sequence). Most curriculum documents and textbooks are structured to map out the scope and sequence of a course of study. What often is left as an afterthought, or at least as a secondary action is How (pedagogy) that Scope and Sequence is delivered and by what means we assess success.

In 2012 I gave an Ignite Talk that was titled “Mobile Technologies & Personalized Learning: A quest to make thinking visible and technology invisible” (Slide Deck here). As a part of that talk, I emphasized that technology and pedagogy play an important role to move learners to a more personalized, powerful and lasting learning experience. The overlapping of Content, Technologies (tools), and Pedagogy is the place where where learning can be shaped.

In our work in the Mid-Pacific eXploratory (MPX) program we spend as much time planning for how students encounter their learning as we spend looking at what they will be learning. For example, in our recent work, we have our students designing and building trebuchets for a project we call “Santa’s Little Helper”. Although the underlying content is from the Integrated Science 1 in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), our goal has been to create the conditions under which the students have an opportunity to create, make decisions, iterate, explain their work through real world activities and build in design and engineering as a part of the process.



This gives us a chance to create a classroom environment that has a strong culture of learning. In his recent wonderful book, Cultures of Thinking, Ron Richart lays out 8 Forces that must be part of learning to really transform classroom practice:

time, opportunities, routines, language, modeling, interaction, physical environment and expectations (more information here).

Note – none of these forces are the scope and sequence. However, they are just as important a component in the instructional design process for learning. In an earlier blog post, I discussed the “Pebble in the Pond” which is an instructional methodology that looks at whole problem learning. There are other frameworks that are structured like this – whether it is Wiggins and McTigue’s Backwards Design in UBD, the Buck Institute’s Gold Standard for PBL, or the TPACK framework for 21st-century learning.

Back in the 1990s when I was working with the ASU modeling instruction program for science education, it was impressed upon us that we were not learning a curriculum, we were learning a pedagogy of scientific inquiry. In much the same way, the work that we continue to do in our MPX program reflects that idea – that it isn’t just about what we learn (scope and sequence), but it is also important to consider how we learn.

Pebble in the Pond: Thoughts on PBL and causing ripples

One of the things we strive for in our MPX work are the effects it has on our larger educational landscape – both on campus and off. Somewhere in the last couple of years we adopted the language “pebble in the pond” to both encourage us to think both small and large about our work and the effect it has as it spreads out through the people we touch, the students we work with, and the artifacts that we share. For example, at the Schools of the Future conference (http://sotfconf.org), our MPX led a session Titled “The Devil is in the Details” which was designed for teachers to both learn about and to start applying some of the simple but powerful ideas we use to bring our project-based work to a higher level. Specifically, in the workshop, we had teachers both look at examples of, and then try and develop a means to increase their active exploration in their work, as well as making it more authentic – both in terms of the work they do, and how they share this with their larger community. This terminology comes from the work from 20 years ago by Steinberg on the 6 A’s of project-based learning (http://www.gsn.org/web/pbl/sixa.htm) – one of the many excellent frameworks we use to help us strengthen our work. Our session had a standing room only crowd of at least 80 teachers and the feedback was really powerful. It is clear teachers appreciate and desire more contact, conversation and understanding about how to move towards this deeper learning work. (See more about Deeper Learning here http://www.hewlett.org/strategy/deeper-learning/)

The teachers at our "Devil is in the Details" Schools of the Future presentation.

The teachers at our “Devil is in the Details” Schools of the Future presentation.

What is interesting about the phrase “pebble in the pond” is that it didn’t initiate with our PBL work, but instead came from my doctoral work in educational technology, community building, and instructional design. One of the privileges I had over the time I was working towards my dissertation was to take a class with and get to know Dr. David Merrill, Professor Emeritus
Utah State University. His “First Principles of Instruction” is a thoughtful, deep, powerhouse work that goes very intricately into best practice instructional design principles for learning. One of the articles we read when we worked with him was “A Pebble in the Pond Model for Instructional Design” (http://mdavidmerrill.com/Papers/Pebble_in_the_Pond.pdf).

In that model, the critical components include making sure the learners know and understand the whole problem before launching into their learning, that components skills and knowledge need to be broken into a series of scenarios or events that help the deepen their understanding of the parts that will move them towards the whole problem. He also talks about phases of instruction that are very similar to the mantra “tell, show, do” which is the basis of most kinds of powerful learning, but the “do” often gets left out in traditional education.

Centered around the problem, what are the elements of effective instruction. Note that the PROBLEM is in the center!

Centered around the problem, what are the elements of effective instruction. Note that the PROBLEM is in the center!

Dr David Merrill's "Pebble in the Pond" Instructional Design model

Dr David Merrill’s “Pebble in the Pond” Instructional Design model

If one looks carefully at the pebble in the pond graphic from his paper that I’ve attached here, you can even see a considerable similarity to the design process that is become such an important conversation in education today (see IDEO https://www.ideo.com)
So where does this take us?

A few thoughts:
– Good design is good design. It isn’t enough to teach component skills. If we want learners to be able to utilize what we are teaching them, we need to put problems in their context, have them understand the whole, and build up the component skills they need in order to successfully utilize that information.
– This kind of pebble in the pond design work is highly compatible with deeper learning practices like PBL.
– As we design our work in our MPX program we should stay mindful of these core ideas since it is highly compatible with and a core set of ideas that we can all agree on

Water, Water Everywhere…

There is a quote from the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge: “Water, water, everywhere, Nor any drop to drink”. One of the continuing investigations for us this year is the issue of water. It ties nicely with some of the physical chemistry work that we are trying to do. Water has so many wonderful properties that make it special, including life on earth itself. The chemistry of water and its role in society provide so many different ways that we might approach it. Today, our work centered around our community water supply, where it comes from, how it is distributed, what are the ways that the Native Hawaiian people viewed this, and probably most pressing: is it safe to drink and is it secure?

We took a field trip today to the Waihee Water Tunnel (info here). We were ably guided by Arthur Aiu, community relations specialist for the board of water supply. After a 1.5 mile hike in, we entered a tunnel that extended into the mountainside for over 1/4 mile (1500 feet) and came upon the water that is directed to most of the communities on the windward side of the island. The graphic below gives you a sense of where the water comes from.

Info graphic that explains how water comes to the islands and is stored through a natural process

Info graphic that explains how water comes to the islands and is stored through a natural process

The purpose of this post is not really to teach you about where our water comes from, but it’s worth mentioning that Hawaii is really a special place in how the conditions of weather and mountains produce large reserves of water that are located both in compartments in the mountains called Dikes, as well as aquifers below the island that hold water. The students learned about how the water gets there, how it’s removed, why it’s handled the way it is and even what safety concerns there are about water quality and how the board of water supply manages that. For example, Arthur mentioned that all water on Oahu is treated with small amounts of chlorine to control for bacterial growth – that’s something that I had not been aware of, but we know from our chemistry work the reactive nature of chlorine and students should have been making the connection to why chlorine is such an ideal substance to interact with living matter to break apart contaminants. In other parts of the island where the water has become more contaminated from organic pesticides, activated charcoal is used. Another example of chemistry helping keep our water drinkable.

As you can see from the pictures posted below, and more here (Flickr account here) the water literally filters down through the rocks and drips through the fissures that have occurred through different volcanic events that have happened over time. The water that we were observing only takes about nine months to filter from the rainfall down through the mountain to these caverns, although it takes 25 years or more for the water to filter all the way down to the aquifer located below the island. The challenge for the students was to really consider how do we protect and ensure this precious resource since all we can plan to use is the water that we have here on the island.

Hiking into the valley

Hiking into the valley

Arthur AiuExplains the way that the water collects in Hawaii's mountains and aquifers

Arthur AiuExplains the way that the water collects in Hawaii’s mountains and aquifers

Our happy group before entering the tunnel

Our happy group before entering the tunnel

Arthur Aiu Explains both the Hawaiian legends around the water, as well as the structure of the compartments in the bulkheads

Arthur Aiu Explains both the Hawaiian legends around the water, as well as the structure of the compartments in the bulkheads


This leads us to the bigger question that were going to explore over the next couple of months. Our visit today was water that feeds the Windward communities, but there is a bigger problem brewing in Honolulu because the main source of water there at Halawa is in danger of serious contamination from fuel tanks that were placed above the source of water by the Navy in the 1940s (short history of that here , excellent presentation slides from Auguust 2016 meeting here ). Our next steps for the class are to understand this problem more deeply, attend the October 6 public hearing that will have presentations by both the Navy, and the board of water and start working with our city Council to figure out ways that our students might be able to be helpful. Our ultimate goal is to present information to the City Council in November to have them better understand the issues that are affecting our community and this problem. As always, our good work continues as our learning gets deeper…

Information about the October 6 meeting about the water situation at Red Hill/Halawa

Information about the October 6 meeting about the water situation at Red Hill/Halawa

Science, Inquiry and Habits of Mind

I have been challenging myself in my work in MPX to think more deeply and purposefully about how to move my learners into habits of mind of their discipline. Last year when math (Alg 2) was part of my work I really tried to drive in to the habits of mind of mathematicians. This year we realigned our curriculum and my focus has been in NGSS (Next Generation Science Standards) – particularly Integrated Science 1 which has topics in physical chemistry. The work I have been developing harkens back to my first year teaching (1982 – was it really that long ago?) when I was working with 8th grade students teaching a program called IPS (Introductory Physical Science). In the summer of 1983 I attended a 2 week workshop run by Haber-Schaim on the pedagogical approach to teaching IPS. I was too green a teacher at the time to appreciate all the depth and complexity of learning theory they moved us through that summer, but I know it left a lasting impact on me because now I know what to call it – constructivist learning. I realized while I am writing this I still have that lab journal somewhere and I should go and pull it out because I am sure it is full of gems that I could rediscover and still use in my students’ work. Let me take a few key ideas that I learned form that experience that still are part of MY DNA as a teacher, though reinforced, elaborated and creatively redesigned in my new “Hines 3.0” teaching framework as we develop our MPX program.

Discrepant Events:
One of the ways to drive an important question or to gain attention is by exposing something we don’t understand well or at all. In the words of the modeling pedagogical approach that came out of the work of Wells and Hestenes ( http://modeling.asu.edu) we need to displace learner’s naïve theories with more complete ones and one of the ways to expose that is by showing them an event that doesn’t play out the way their naïve model shows. In the IPS curriculum, the first event the students are exposed to is the decomposition of wood splints into its constituent matter (solids, liquids, gasses) which drives a semester long investigation into understanding better what wood or truly any matter is fundamentally made of.

Essential Questions and Modeling:
At its core, the entire course was based on a critical essential question that came from the discrepant event mentioned above. In a sentence, it was “what is matter made of?”. All of the experimental designs and all the community building that happened after that was to come up with a high fidelity model of matter based on experimental work that the class conducted day by day, and week by week.

Inquiry, Discovery and Constructivism
In so much of traditional curriculum including science, there is a focus about memorizing the answer from experts, whether it is Newton’s second law of motion, or what events led to a important historical juncture. The role of inquiry at a deep level is to allow the students to form the questions and reach their own conclusions – certainly scaffolded or shaped by the expert (teacher) knowledge and experience, but in a well-designed learning environment, it is the learner who constructs the knowledge, not dished to them by a teacher, text, or other expert. Ultimately, that is what displaces their naïve theories, because it is formed and informed by their experience and active decision-making.

Habits of Mind:
As a learner moves from a naïve thinker to an expert thinker, they inherently begin to own the habits of mind of that discipline whether it is scientist, mathematician, historian, writer, etc. This is not taught passively, the learner needs to walk the walk and do the work of the discipline. No more than you would want a medical doctor treating patients who had not gone through a series of apprenticeships in which they were with actual patients under guidance challenging themselves to address many patients’ health needs to build the right kind of thinking and decision-making that is inherent in their discipline, we need to put students in our classes in those same shoes – developing the essential questions, designing the experiments, making meaning of the data, coming to generalized agreements and reporting it in a way that indicates a deep satisfactory understanding of their research.

Lab Practicals:
One of the things I loved most about teaching IPS were the moments when students were given a challenge that was based on them applying the skills and knowledge they had acquired. Certainly the most significant one was the culminating “sludge test” that students were given at the end of the first semester. Given a flask with a mixture of solids and liquids, the students were challenged to separate and identify all of the materials in their solution. Typically, no two students got the same mixture, so there was no way to game the system and look at what someone else was doing. That kind of real application of knowledge by applying your understanding to a novel situation is the kind of culminating experience I aspire to organize for my students.

As I write this, it strikes me even more so how fundamentally my first teaching of IPS has affected my long-term view of science learning in my classroom. I certainly don’t win that battle every day, but I know the direction I am pointing, and that is already a better place to be rather than just following off-the-shelf curriculum.

So, to that end, this week our MPX students were designing an inquiry lab into properties of matter, not too much unlike IPS. Instead of using the IPS framework, I borrowed some inquiry labs from Vernier Software. I’m using these as a starting point for our students to design experiments to investigate properties of matter that will broaden and deepen their understanding of the properties of matter which are critical for them over the next month as they work on their chemistry and conflict projects. Our good work continues…

Students generating questions about their research project should be able to address

Students generating questions about their research project should be able to address

Students generating questions about their research project should be able to address

Students generating questions about their research project should be able to address

Students generating questions about their research project should be able to address

Students generating questions about their research project should be able to address

Goal of the board is to summarize and to inform the class about experimental results

Goal of the board is to summarize and to inform the class about experimental results

Students reporting out on experimental results

Students reporting out on experimental results

White boarding as a means of sharing results to their community

White boarding as a means of sharing results to their community

Some thoughts on knowledge construction

As we continued our work this week for our project on chemistry and conflict, our science class launched into a series of investigations into the properties of matter. Instead of everyone doing the same activity, which does insure that everyone gets to the same place, but limits how far we can go, we started the investigation of eight different inquiry labs that looked at reactions, physical properties, and other investigations about chemicals. All of these came from the excellent Vernier resource “Investigating Chemistry through Inquiry” click here.

Three broad goals frame this series of investigations:
– Understanding the process by which we asked questions about the nature of matter
– Considering the experimental designs that can deepen our understanding of the nature of matter
– Developing a common set of terminology about properties of matter that we can construct together and adopt into our language

This work will take a couple of more weeks since we only have a couple of class periods each week to work on, but there is already been the starting of questions about what were seeing in the nature of matter which is a good place for us to be. We have also been having the students continue their research and build their outlines now that we have settled on either a podcast or a “TED”-like talk for their final presentation.

While we have been working on this, I have been ruminating about some of the work that was part of my doctoral research. In the process of thinking about how learning happens, one of the phrases that I found valuable was the idea of knowledge construction.
As Scardamalia says: “Following the definitions of Garrison et al. (2001) and Gunawardena et al. (1997), knowledge construction … is understood as the process whereby students undertake social exchange with their instructor or peers in order to create and apply new understandings that resolve dilemmas and/or issues they are facing. The closer the students are to resolving their issues, the more advanced their level of knowledge construction.”

It is of note to me that knowledge construction is conversational and therefore an observable phenomena. One of the things we’ve been talking about in our work recently is the ways by which we can observe and assess students progress towards skills, competencies and even knowledge. Scardamalia researched and developed 12 principles to help examine the kinds of ways that knowledge building can and should occur. This list isn’t hierarchical, nor is it a checklist, but it provides insight into the different ways that the dialogical way that knowledge construction happens can be observed. The 12 are

Real Idea, Authentic Problems
Improvable Ideas
Idea Diversity
Rise Above
Epistemic Agency
Community Knowledge
Democratizing Knowledge
Symmetric Knowledge Building
Pervasive Knowledge Building
Constructive uses of authoritative sources
Knowledge building discourse
Concurrent, embedded and transformative assessment

The description for each one of these principles is located here. (It would be a little bit long to include all of that on this post). A couple of examples may help explain what I’m thinking about.

The principal called Improvable ideas we often see in our classrooms where students develop an idea or a notion that they want to act on, and as they try and implement they shape it and refine it through feedback from their peers and their teacher.

Real ideas, authentic problems is centered in our work for MPX since we try and locate all of our essential questions around a real or authentic problem.

Community knowledge matters greatly to us because it emphasizes the value that a community brings to understanding an idea and adopting it as a group.

Considering all of these principles affirms and challenges the work we do in how we design our learning, and the ways that we observe how students construct and co-construct their meaning through transactional exchanges with each other. Over the course of this year, it is my hope to develop better systems to record this as it happens so that it can become a more powerful part of our assessment in the service of learning.

Scardamalia, M., & Bereiter, C. (2010). A brief history of knowledge building. Canadian
Journal of Learning and Technology, 36(1).

**Since this was a short week, I surprisingly and somewhat irresponsibly didn’t get any pictures of what happened in class to document and support the summary.**

A Sense of Wonder, A Sense of Scale, A Sense of Humility

Three themes ran through my work this week – two of them centered in our MPX classroom work and one that was a broader professional wondering and conversation.

A Sense of Wonder
In our MPX work we dove into our Chemistry and Conflict Unit. The students were given their groups and we talked about the power and challenge in the way humans extract and manipulate the earth’s resources. We looked at a short 10 minute clip from the excellent NOVA show “Hunting for the Elements” which focused on the extraction of gold (clip here: https://youtu.be/G04h9kK3ZJs?t=4m). It both showed the Chemistry involved in materials and their access, but also left us wondering about the ways we do this – the use of Lead, Cyanide and other dangerous materials arise in possible conflicts – health and well being, social and economic forces and environmental impacts. Their project will be focusing on one compound (cotton/cellulose, sugar/sucrose, caffeine, gunpowder, as examples) and they will be investigating the chemistry, history and the conflicts that are part of that compound’s use.

A Sense of Scale
In order to start the real understanding of the nature of chemistry, we started with a lab designed to measure the size of a molecule. To launch we first looked at the classic “Powers of Ten” from Eames https://youtu.be/0fKBhvDjuy0. I saw this 40 years ago when I was in school and I still think it is one of the best short science films ever made. If we are to truly understand the natural world around us we must have a sense of scale and wonder about the very large and the very small. We then conducted an experiment to actually measure the size of a molecule: in our case the classic Oleic Acid Chemistry lab. What is fascinating is that Benjamin Franklin conducted an experiment much like this over 200 years ago. Conducting this experiment will give us a sense of scale and help us move from the visible to the microscopic and “nanoscale” measure that molecules are found.

Planning for the measurement

Planning for the measurement

Setting up the apparatus

Setting up the apparatus

Measuring the size of a molecule

Measuring the size of a molecule

A disclaimer: as a science teacher for over 35 years, I have very strong feelings about science education. Although my secondary school science experience was primarily a bunch of facts I learned, I believe strongly that the real task of science education is to have students DO the science. The goal is not to “cover” science. To cover means to “obscure from view”. The real goal is to UNCOVER science through well planned and coordinated discovery and consensus that happens for real scientists, which I want my learners to be. In science if we already know the answer, why conduct the experiment? In our classroom our investigations better be designed to uncover a need to know and an agreement about what it helped us better understand.

A Sense of Humility
Lastly, a couple of great reads from this week that com to me from my Community of Practice that loves talking and sharing about Deeper Learning in schools. The first was from one of our parents, Adrienne who understands MPX and shared an article “Tackling the ‘soft’ skills gap
How you can prepare STEM students for employment” https://t.co/Dj4aDzbQX7. A wonderful read that emphasizes how important the “soft skills” like communication, collaboration and planning are so critical to develop in students, and how poorly prepared most are when they go to higher ed, enter the workforce and life in general.

The second was from good friend Melissa who shared an article in the Washington Post from Carol Black “What the modern world has forgotten about children and learning”. https://t.co/TXtpLzGx4Y This was too long an article to summarize effectively and do justice to but she explores the intersection between schools and learning and what history, native peoples, cognitive science and experience tell us about allowing children to learn the way they were meant to. One example of a marvelous statement from her: “This is when it occurred to me: people today do not even know what children are actually like. They only know what children are like in schools.”

The two articles give me a sense of continued humility about the work we do in schools in general and in our Mid-Pacific eXploratory program in general. I hope to always keep a sense of wonder, hope and humility in this marvelous learning journey.

Moving from Impossible to Trivial

In the front of my classroom, I have a quote that is attributed to Ernest Rutherford:

“All of physics is either impossible or trivial. It is impossible until you understand it, then it becomes trivial.”

Those who know me, know that I am a lover of great quotes – perhaps I interject them too much, but that’s another story. More than physics, I think that learning as an entire journey is moving from things that we think are impossible to understand or do to making them trivial because we have correctly understood them to the right depth, or practiced to the point of ease. In my work, I find it critical to hold to the mantra “know – do – understand – reflect”. I would argue most of us in our past educational experiences mostly spent most of our time memorizing and practicing lower order thinking algorithms, rarely getting the chance to do something with that information we learned, and even more rarely moving to understanding the core idea underlying the knowledge. To understand something means more than just know it at a different level, it means being able to put it in context of a simplified model, being able to view it from many perspectives, to be able to synthesize, articulate, apply and explain in powerful ways through our expert lens. It is my goal when we start investigating any kind of learning objectives that we want to move students to this kind of understanding and to be able to reflect on what that means and how it works for us.

So with that in mind, we begin this week with our quarter long project on “Chemistry and Conflict”. In order to create the need to know, I started the week with a few short demonstrations of phenomena that did not behave the way students expected. In science education we call these discrepant events. The value of the events is really multi-purpose. It elicits attention, as it creates excitement and questions around something that surprises us. It exposes our naïve understanding of some physical phenomena and hopefully asks us gently to consider what were missing from our understanding that would move us to a more expert view. And at some level, it guides our inquiry to try and look at what we can understand better about the natural world.

On Monday, I started with four discrepant events:
– putting ice cubes in two different beakers of liquid – where one floated and the other sank
– putting 50°C water into a container and watching it boil even though it was well below 100°C
– starting an instant ice pack, and watching the temperature dramatically fall
– setting a piece of metal on fire, and watching the result turn into a white powder
For each of these events, I had the students use the thinking routine See Think Wonder which comes from the marvelous resources on visible thinking http://www.visiblethinkingpz.org

In our next class, we investigated more deeply the phenomena of phase change. My colleague Gregg had designed a wonderful apparatus in which the students lower the temperature of water down to -5°C, then heat it up until it is boiling. We used our brand-new Lab Quest Streams ( another blog post I should explain the value of using real-time data collection tools to strengthen our scientific research), which enabled us to connect real-time data to our iPads wirelessly – powerful and easy technology. As the students took the data, it became clear that some things behave the way they expected, and then there were surprises in the data. Sometimes liquid water was found to exist under 0°C, sometimes temperature increased while we were cooling, sometimes temperature stayed the same while we were heating.

2016-06-25 - 1

2016-06-25 - 2

2016-06-25 - 3

After all this experimental work, we spent most of the next class period analyzing and unpacking what had happened. It gave our students a chance to be part of a scientific conversation – practicing the habits of mind scientists do when they look at data, draw inferences, and reach consensus. Over the next six weeks we will continue to investigate the properties of matter that are embedded in our standards: why does the periodic table the look way it does? In what ways does matter interact, combine together, and give off or consume energy? What are the structures of the atom that make it reactive or not? How do we know the model of the atom is an appropriate explanation of the way nature behaves?

2016-06-25 - 3 (1)

2016-06-25 - 4

2016-06-25 - 1 (1)

2016-06-25 - 2 (1)

Lastly, as a part of our work over this project our art teacher Erin is having the students learn a variety of photographic techniques which has its own embedded chemistry in it. After some initial investigation, and talking about the physical, visual and social aspects of all art, our students started their exploration by creating a set of cyanotype photograms in class. In order to do this, we needed to turn our classroom into a dark room – not an easy task but as you can see from some of the photos below we succeeded! I’m excited to see where we go next with this in the upcoming weeks. I hope you follow along.

2016-06-25 - 5

2016-06-25 - 6