Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Week of Science Professional Development

We made claims about why the lightbulbs lit up when we
spun the dowel or handle.
First, did you know you can get paid to go to professional development workshops?! I'm not going to lie, I've gone to and presented at a number of workshops in my career, but I've never received a whopping $1,000 check for attending one until this past week. But the funny thing about the week is that I feel like the check was just a bonus to what I actually took from the workshop! I guess that's how you know it was successful! It was funded by the NSF, put on by the Earth and Space Science department and held at Penn State for those interested. Next year there are ones about Climate Change and Plate Tectonics! Join me for the Climate Change one next year!

I'm going to spread some unrelated photos from the workshop throughout this post for visual interest!

We tested different windmill
designs and made claims about
why they were more or less
efficient than the standard design.
The workshop had two components, the first was to develop content knowledge in teachers in the area of energy and energy transfers. I've mentioned before on my blog that I went to schools growing up that were pretty low on the socioeconomic scale, and quite frankly were kind of scary and didn't have the best teachers. Most of my science content knowledge was gained in college or independently when I just wanted to learn something. I'm more of a biology guy, so my understanding of the complexities of energy and energy transfers was admittedly limited. I feel like I left the workshop with a MUCH higher level of understanding, so that was a definite gain there.

We visited a "net zero" house and made claims about all
the various energy transfers that were occurring.
The second component of the workshop was truly the best part though. It could actually be argued that energy simply served as a vehicle to deliver this part. It was the pedagogical piece. As we were being exposed to the content, we were also learning about the concept of writing a "Content Storyline" that had students making claims and then providing evidence and reasoning to support those claims. 

We made claims about how this steam
engine is able to produce electricity.
I don't want to oversimplify it, but basically the content storyline consists of two parts. The first is a phenomenon, and the second is a causal story to explain that phenomenon. We had to try hard to get away from teaching about "topics" or "standards" because those aren't a phenomenon. 

We built calorimeters and BURNED food! (for science)
So to give an example, one (admittedly not engaging) phenomenon might be flicking a switch and a light comes on in the room. Or Diet Coke sinking to the bottom of a cooler while original Coke floats. Even, "He who smelt it dealt it" is a phenomenon that can be explained scientifically (diffusion.) 

The causal story would be a gapless explanation of the science behind what exactly is happening. Once you have both pieces, activities can be created to help students put the puzzle pieces together and build a really clear understanding of all the science behind the phenomenon. The whole time the kids are using claims/evidence/reasoning to develop their thinking. And more than just the standards are being met through these activities.

We played with toys and made claims about what
energy transfers/transformations were happening.
To me, the big place this differs from using a discovery/ investigation/inquiry approach to teaching science is that the whole "storyline" is built up around explaining the science behind a truly engaging phenomenon. A lot of times I think we tell kids how science works and then show them. Or we do disjointed hands-on science experiments that explain one concept. This approach has you planning out a sequence of activities that helps kids learn a multitude of interconnected science concepts while explaining the phenomenon that has them so intrigued.

I was able to work with some colleagues to begin working a bit on a mini-unit I'll be able to use this year when we study Electricity and circuits. The phenomenon we're using is this set of nighttime photos from NASA. (I'm not about to type out the causal story!)

Another phenomenon my causal story would explain would be one of those amazing Christmas light displays. Anything to get the kids excited, right?

I'm excited to see how it goes!


  1. Ok, I liked looking at all of your pictures, but your post just reconfirmed that I am so not a Science Girl. LOL!! It's all I can do to cover what my kids need to know... except for animals/adaptations. That's fun. :-P
    ideas by jivey
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  2. Do you have a link to the workshops so I can check them out for next year?

  3. I need help with Science and the amount of time I have to teach it, I have no idea how I am going to fit it all in!!

    Ms. Chae Charges In

  4. Wow! What an awesome workshop. I don't teach Science but it seems like this was really beneficial.



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