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I do this, well, a lot. I look for professional opportunities to push me as an educator out of my comfort zone. So, when we started talking about adding robotics to the curriculum, I was off to Connecticut to learn with the American Radio Relay Team. More about astronomy? Space Camp in Alabama. Get those students out of the classroom? No Teacher Left Inside in Northern Wisconsin. Learn more about our Great Lakes? A week on an EPA Research vessel on Lake Superior. Want to incorporate more history? WWII Museum in New Orleans.
Why? Why do I spend my winter searching out these (free) opportunities and writing applications for these programs and then my summers going to them? For one, I learn - a lot. Each of these has enhanced not only my content knowledge about an area, but I also come home with hands on activities to translate that knowledge into interactive, exciting lessons for my students.
Second, each of these opportunities has pushed me to grow. It isn’t easy to travel away from home and immerse yourself into a group of people you have never met and into a topic you may be feeling insecure about. I cried when I couldn’t understand the physics behind a radio telescope, re-soldered my circuit at least three times in the robotics class and I was deathly afraid of the water challenge at Space Camp. But I did it- I get the Physics now, my clock’s LED’s lit up and I did the water challenge. How? Well, with a new friend who walked me through the Physics, new friends who sat with me in the hotel lobby as I soldered (and re-soldered) and with a friend who literally held my hand during the Water Challenge. I learned a whole lot more than Physics - I remembered what it was like to be the student. It is good to be a student - to feel the insecurity of not knowing what to do or the fear of being wrong. It is amazing to feel the sense of accomplishment when your robot makes it through the course or when you finally identify the macro invertebrate you’ve been looking for. It is good to be in a situation you don’t control. If nothing else, you learn empathy for what our students feel those first days of middle school and you remember what it feels like to conquer something you tried.
But from these experiences, I also have gained an invaluable group of colleagues, mentors and friends. I have friends across the globe with whom I have shared rooms, meals, laughs and tears. I have friends who help when I am stuck, offer suggestions and criticisms and cheer me. These are people who may teach in a different town or part of the world, but who “get” what it is like to teach science to middle school students.
We all have responsibilities to our students and our schools, but we must not ignore the responsibility we have to ourselves to continue to grow. I love the Yeats quote, “Education is not the filling of a bucket but the lighting of a fire”. Keep your fires burning and you will find you have stoked your students’ fires as well.
A look back on the 2017 NMLSTA/NSTA Meet Me In The Middle Day, by Kathy Biernat: http://nstacommunities.org/blog/2017/06/07/nsta17-meet-me-in-the-middle-day-re-cap/
Take a look at Kathy Biernat's interesting blog about the relevancy of science fairs in today's education @ http://www.sciencetakeout.com/science-fair-relevant-or-ridiculous/
In the spring of 2016 I was selected to participate in an On the Farm STEM Experience sponsored by the American Farm Bureau. I came away with a fundamental understanding that decisions made by farmers are done so using a STEM-based approach that requires critical thinking and knowledge. This approach is one that is driven by economic, environmental, and health factors.
Many students have little knowledge of where their food comes from and lack an understanding of how it is raised. Students often harbor misconceptions that range from the impact that the farming industry has on environmental health to the amount of hormones that an animal may receive. In reality, agriculture is a pioneer industry when it comes to using science to make informed decisions. For example, today’s tractors contain GPS software that allows farmers to farm precisely through actions such as “farm planning, field mapping, soil sampling, tractor guidance, crop scouting, variable rate applications, and yield mapping” (http://www.gps.gov/applications/agriculture ). Techniques related to applied genetics, such as selective breeding and in-vitro fertilization, have been useful in reducing the amount of fat in meat and increasing milk production to feed a growing world.
If you are interested in having your students become critical thinkers, I suggest letting them research the misconceptions related to the agricultural industry so that they can come to their own conclusions. If you are in search of misconceptions, the American Farm Bureau website discusses numerous misconceptions at http://www.agfoundation.org/resources/addressing-misconceptions.
Investigating misconceptions related to agriculture easily lends itself to a project-based learning approach. Indeed, vocational agriculture students are often tasked with solving problems that require knowledge of STEM subjects, like those discussed in a post by Ken Messersmith http://www.edutopia.org/vocational-educators-get-it). Messersmith suggests that such an approach, which engages students in critical thinking and communication, may be beneficial to all students.
For more information on Problem-Based Learning see the Following Resources:
Buck Institute for Education (contains a searchable data base of projects)
GMO’s Go Global: Should They Be Labeled?
Managing Nutrient Needs in Agriculture
2017 Meet Me In The Middle Day Sponsors
Interested in sponsoring NMLSTA? Email President Mary Lou Lipscomb
National Middle Level Science Teacher's Association
"NMLSTA" is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.