Back again, with a quick review of my last three days at Cornell University’s Institute for Biology Teachers Summer Workshop (#CIBT2015)!
Day 3 of #CIBT2015 was spent mostly in Snee Hall exploring various biology labs such as The Tooth Kit, The Spice Lab, DNA Modeling, and a fun CSI activity called “The Case of the Missing Diamond Maker”. I liked all the labs, but I think the biggest take-away was to encourage more thinking skills by using more of these hands-on open-inquiry labs. They all pique student curiosity and encourage students to design investigations around their own questions.
On Day 4 of #CIBT2015, there was a field trip to Cornell’s Department of Animal Science. There was a short presentation on animal careers, and then we teachers bravely donned on gloves to collect rumen microbes from Rosie, a fistulated cow, to observe later for our microscopy lab. Note my look of mixed excitement and terror on the photo below. (Ignore the crate.)
The Holey Cow presentation is one of the community outreach programs offered by Cornell’s Dept. of Animal Science. If you can get your kids there, the presentation is free. Don’t forget to bring them over to the Dairy Bar and taste the latest ice cream flavors created by students from Cornell’s Dept. of Food Science!
On our last day, we learned about Cornell’s Naturalist Outreach Program. Local schools can request presentations from undergraduate and graduate students to share their work and talk about a variety of life science topics. Kristen, an entymologist, shared her own personal collection of insects with us. She also answered all of our curious questions about all things bugs. For example, I asked her what happened to all the fireflies–they seemed to have disappeared over the last few years! This was an actual question investigated by researchers over at Tufts University and Fitchburg State College; your students can join their citizen science program, “Firefly Watch”.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed my time with the CIBT staff members, presenters, and fellow summer workshop teachers. It was good to have a group of people with similar teaching backgrounds to share ideas and resources with, and to learn about a variety of different biology labs to bring back to class.
Lessons learned from #CIBT2015:
- Get involved in one or more citizen science programs. Students have to do actual science to learn science. Citizen science in the classroom builds a sense of connection to the community and the world around; it emphasizes the 3C’s– critical thinking, collaboration, and communication; and it also gets the idea across that science and research is for everyone, not just scientists alone. One particular idea shared which I loved is using students’ collected data for graphing and analysis practice.
- Don’t be afraid of guided– and open-inquiry labs. Bring back that sense of curiosity and exploration by letting your students pursue their own questions. One of my biggest hang-ups as a middle-school science teacher is having to make sure everything is “under (my) control”. If my goal is to help grow independent life-long learners who are not afraid to take risk, then I must be able to let them try things on their own and make mistakes. The slug and spice labs were great examples of how I can do this in the classroom. Start with a topic (ie. food preferences of slugs, effect of spices on bacteria) and let your students do the rest. Scientific inquiry? Engineering design? Success!
- Use models, models, and more models. Hands-on activities > 3D science models > paper cutouts. We teachers talk about differentiation all the time. I personally am a visual learner; it makes sense to me to include a huge variety of visuals, diagrams, and 3D models in class. Looking at models of various molars, canines, and skulls (tooth lab and comparative skull lab) actually helped me learn more about the feeding habits of local animals and trophic levels than reading from the textbook or looking at pictures. Obviously, money and access to available models may limit these types of activities in the classroom, but it may be worth it to write a grant or look into local colleges and their lending libraries.