Pushing my thinking with summer reading

Science Saturday, with Tarrant Institute research fellow Mark OlofsonWith July comes the “Dog Days” of summer – named due to their association with Sirius, the Dog Star. Sirius is the (second) brightest star in the sky, and Voyager 2 will get within 5 light years of it as long as nothing bad happens for the next 296,000 years. Anyway, centuries ago, Sirius would rise with the sun during July and August, thus associating these hot days with canines. Fun facts to share!

That’s about all the science in this post…
Continue reading

Sugaring and the community part 2: Students become teachers

Science Saturday, with Tarrant Institute research fellow Mark Olofson

Last week we looked at the sugaring operation at Essex Middle School. The students at the Edge Academy built a sugar house a few years ago, and now they produce maple syrup for their school every year. Math teacher Phil Young has intertwined the project with his mathematics curriculum, and students use iPads to support their work. By sugaring, students are engaging in the culture of their community in an authentic way. Today, I would like to share with you how these students have taken the project a step further. Not only have they learned how a sugaring operation works, they have shared that knowledge with local elementary students. This spring, The Edge invited two different classes of third graders out to the sugar house. The younger students engaged with sugaring and the math involved; the Edge students instructed them along the way, building their learning and community in the process. Continue reading

The backlash to STEM education

Science Saturday, with Tarrant Institute research fellow Mark OlofsonThere is a lot of conversation about the importance of STEM education – in the media, in politics, and among educators. With so many voices emphasizing STEM education, it is not surprising to see people raising the counterpoint. Recently, Fareed Zakaria (a journalist for whom I have a lot of respect) published an op-ed titled “Why America’s obsession with STEM education is dangerous.” With a splashy title like that, you can be certain that I clicked through. The article makes many good points; however, his arguments are based on a shallow understanding of STEM, 21st century skills, and innovations in education. Today, I’d like to break down these understandings, and show how STEM education actually can help solve the problems he presents. Continue reading

Separate Science in New Zealand

Science Saturday, with Tarrant Institute research fellow Mark OlofsonKia ora! You may (or may not) have noticed that the semi-regularly occurring Science Saturdays column has been off the radar for a little bit. This was due to my inability to keep up with my writing duties while travelling in New Zealand. I was there with a group of UVM graduate students, travelling and visiting schools. I visited five different public schools and two of their brand new charter schools. One thing that really struck me was the model of how they incorporate science into their middle schools, which is what I would like to share with you today. I think seeing how other systems do things can help us look at our own practices and assumptions with fresh eyes. Continue reading

Thinking about flipped science classrooms

Science Saturday, with Tarrant Institute research fellow Mark OlofsonHere at the beginning of the year, many people make resolutions. A new year can mean new opportunities, and offer chances to implement large changes. One change that we see teachers take on is the idea of implementing the flipped classroom. Shifting direct instruction to video in order to clear up more class time for individual and small group supported worktime sounds like both a great idea and a lot of prep work. Today I would like to dig into what it would mean to flip a science class, from both a practical and philosophical viewpoint. If it is a change that you are considering in the new year, I hope that you will find this useful. Continue reading

In support of Community Partnerships in STEM

Science Saturday, with Tarrant Institute research fellow Mark OlofsonHere in Vermont we’re lucky to have a strong sense of community spirit. Co-ops, partnerships, collectives; these concepts run through many different parts of our lives. We also happen to live in a state with a rich and developing science and technology start-up scene. These two parts of our culture can combine to grow partnerships between schools, teachers, students, and businesses. These partnerships can result in rich and authentic learning experiences, where all the parties involved benefit. Continue reading

Citizen Science: routes to collaboration on scientific research

For a lot of kids, science can be something you learn about, instead of something that you do. This is understandable – a lot of experiments that students do in the classroom aren’t exactly leading towards new discoveries. Even if it’s an amazing reaction or a wonderful simulation, it can be hard for students to feel as though they’re really “doing” science. This is where things like citizen science projects can come in.

Continue reading