I know the caterpillar is hungry but do I need to know why?

Another fun filled expedition with my Ruby to delve into the world of science. This time it was another impromptu discussion brought up by the world around us. The location was the cycle path along by Barry Buddon (army base), a lovely contrast of environments: golf and a train track on one side and gunfire on the other with a wildlife rich walk slap bang in the middle. We often walk along here to watch the trains, identifying the company names and cargo we think they might be carrying and to where. Ruby’s keen eye spotted something large and furry as she rode her horse Star (bicycle) along the path. I was welcome of the break as her four wheels move much faster than my two legs.

The following video is of her recalling knowledge, the catalyst for this being the presence of the caterpillar. Ruby appears to be hanging like a cocoon in this video and Ollie the dog is a bit out of puff (it isn’t me). My mini scientist then went on to discuss the different appearance of the cocoon and caterpillar in relation to whether the insect would be a moth or a butterfly. The brighter or greener the outside then it was more likely to be a butterfly. The darker or hairier the outside it was more likely to be a moth. Every day is a school day! Ruby deduced that our fluffy caterpillar would most likely become a moth but we would have to come back to see because it would be unfair to take it home.

As a child I learnt about the butterfly life cycle, read the Hungry Caterpillar, was able to dig and explore outdoors whenever I wanted at home and was amazed by their delicate but intimidating presence on a trip to Butterfly World in primary 1. Considering that was 24 years ago I believe this shows what a profound effect the whole topic and the teacher had on my love of creepy crawlies. Spiders are even included in that. I understood we were much bigger than them, we should care for them and they have very important jobs to do. Within the science benchmarks for early years, SCN1-01a discusses consideration of growth and sorting organisms by features. I find this a tenuous link really, which made me question why the humble butterfly’s life cycle is one regularly taught, what children gain from this and why did this work so much better outside.

Instruction from Education Scotland in the Science Benchmarks is to allow children to develop understanding and skills in a practical manner(Benchmarks, pg2). My memories are vivid due to hands on experience outside of a classroom. But does real life experience in the outdoors engage learners? Currently the Association for Science Education, a UK organisation, champions the need for outdoor education in the field of Science education. In Scotland specifically, Education Scotland have the Curriculum for Excellence Through Outdoor Learning document, that encourages “planning for spontaneous local visits when weather is favourable.”(pg13) Slightly confusing terms: having to organise something spontaneous and only head outdoors if it is sunny?! We live in Scotland. Furthermore, science education is explicitly mentioned once (pg8) in the outdoor education document and the outdoors are mentioned only once (pg2) in the benchmarks. Consider also that a recent (2016) paper by the University of Edinburgh, Outdoor Learning in Scotland:Issues for Education, identified that not enough was being done beyond policy making to insure children had true engagement in outdoor education. This was due to a lack of training, provision, awareness, facilities and accountability (pg3).

I am just doing as I am encouraged at University and questioning the didactic methods in the hope that this will help me be the teacher I want to be within the Scottish education system. I know, from experience in classrooms that last minute trips do happen whether it is a trip to the playground to read a book or wandering in the local area to discuss homes. I can’t however, help but think that maybe more teachers would feel more confident in utilising the outdoors if they felt wholly encouraged and at times told. Theorists such as Pestalozzi and Froebel championed outdoor education, an area I am passionate about. However more recently and most succinctly, Priest (1986) established outdoor education as a system that was dependent on six factors: it was a method; it utilises the wealth of knowledge from experiential theorists like Dewey and Pestalozzi; it is essential for learning; it provides learning opportunities across cognitive, emotional and physical development; it highlights that our curriculum is naturally cross-curricular and a key component is that many relationships contribute to a child’s education (Watchow, Brown, 2011, pg18). This encourages me to pursue my pedagogical stance whilst teaching science.

How could the butterfly engage children in outdoor learning? How can it not? The butterfly is just so magical! The charity, Butterfly Conservation have an interesting breakdown of the scientific and educational value the butterfly and moth hold within the UK, all under the heading Why Butterflies Matter. This got me thinking of a stimulus for a topic about extinction, migration and adaptation in the natural world. The butterfly is a prime candidate.

The gems are probably the best-preserved fossils of any butterfly  photo credit New Scientist

Imagine the conversations and investigations that could occur from placing this image or even better an imitation of this in a small wooden crate surrounded by shredded paper and handled with white gloves delivered with a stamp from the Scottish Museum? Or bury it in the play ground or shallow trough for children to excavate. Taking the children butterfly spotting in spring, can we find any? Why not? What can we do to bring them here? You could possibly explore life cycle, adaptation, extinction and most importantly conservation. The E&O being SCN2-01a the survival and adaptation of a species. I would be interested as an adult, let alone a child.

Whilst meeting Es and Os is important and guaranteeing progression enables life long learning I cannot help but feel a prescribed curriculum could occur if sole focus of meeting E&Os is stringently followed. I understand it is discouraged within the Benchmarks and that they are not for assessment but I had to scour the Experiences and Outcomes to shoe-horn the butterfly life cycle in when I know it is covered so frequently and how exciting it can be. There is no doubt that science lends itself to inquiry-based learning, in the outdoors with field work and that is aided by interest, opportunity and passion. Not ticking of boxes.

As Ruby and I discussed her bike may well have ended that caterpillars hurried journey to safety and food. Being outside, being aware of the human role and responsibility in the world of nature is one that is dear to my heart. An area I believe science in the Scottish Primary can really uncover and have lifelong impact upon.

 

why?

Learning a new skill is sometimes daunting. Applying the skill gives you that wee bit more confidence then showing others gives a degree of confidence in the skill.

This week I learnt how to upload a video from my iPhone to YouTube then to my eportfolio, in a somewhat seamless manner. Although I am not scared of technology I think that I truly lack enough knowledge to say I’m an expert. Put it this way, I’m not scared to crash a few computers and reboot a couple more in my quest to become a techno master.

The video I chose was my daughter’s first ever book review. She is 5, an avid reader and I tend to buy her books from charity shops (Oxfam often have children’s books for 49p), eBay or TKMaxx. The book she picked for this review seemed to fit nicely with my current elective, Science. The book was Albie’s First Word by Tourville and Evans. The book is about Albert Einstein and how for being the father of relativity and scientist extraordinaire he did not speak till late into his childhood. It is an interesting read for children and adults alike, with a short biography about Einstein at the back. I feel it would encourage children to question the world of science and allow them to imagine they can be the next Einstein. No matter what. There is an undertone of Autistic behaviour described but in such a nonchalant way. Ruby picked up that, although he did not speak, he was trying. He communicated in his own way.

The way my own daughter reads has made me question the language I will use in a classroom. Why should I aim low or underestimate the children’s comprehension or grasp of language. Adams et.al (1999) discussed that teachers aim to use words they believe the children will easily understand but that if they are not stretched or exposed to more subject specific language and a  wider vocabulary then teachers are doing them an injustice(pg37-38). In saying that Moyles (2003) argues that in order for children to feel confident attempting and using newly acquired vocabulary they must be put into comfortable situations where trial and error are embraced (pg40). When a challenging word is said by the teacher, it has to in turn be explored and the children’s connotations of word meaning addressed for it to be beneficial. I find reiterating the word, adding a sing song voice to it, pretending I have forgotten the meaning, using a visual prop and also parroting the word helps it sink in.

Personally, I feel that books are the door into extension, experience and engagement with new exciting words. As a teacher I hope to provide the chance to engage with the written word as often as possible and in as many medias as possible. I understand that reading a book (even if that’s make believe), is a very personal and private experience. Reading aloud to peers is daunting and often detrimental. I want them to be Charlie Cook in the Julia Donaldson novel where all they needed was to “curl up in a cosy nook to read their favourite book.”

Adams, R., Ali, S., Bassi, K.L., Hussain, N. & Brock, A., 1999. Into the enchanted forest. 1st ed. Wiltshire: Cromwell Press Ltd.

Moyles, R.J., 2003. Just playing? The role and status of play in early childhood education. 1st ed. Suffolk: St Edmundsbury Press Ltd

Science or… Magic?

Third year… how did that happen?!?

This year I have chosen to take Science as my elective and you will all be lucky enough to see me vlog my encounters as I rediscover knowledge and inquire further into the world of lab coats and STEM subjects. This will help me to enthuse the children I will one day teach and reflect on areas I must improve to enable a passion for science to grow. I am lucky enough to have my own child (here’s one I made earlier) and even luckier that i can ask her weird and wonderful questions that she just answers.

At university we got stuck right in conducting an experiment with various unnamed substances, water, test tubes, spatulas, safety goggles and gloves. All the fun stuff. The reactions all differed and got more exciting as we worked our way along. This evoked plenty of discussion and speculation, therefore it would be an experiment I could use with a class to judge the level of the children’s understanding and scientific vocabulary.

Crawford and Capps 2016, believe that in order for teachers to engage children in science there needs to be a level of metacognition, where the teacher challenges children’s interpretations through questioning (pg16) insuring they are thinking about how or why they think certain things. So that is where I started, asking Ruby questions to discover what she knows and scrape the surface of how she thinks, in order for me to challenge her appropriately and give a sPark to science.

I have none of the fun stuff at home, so i just asked questions as we went about our day. Ruby responded without prompts or helps and I tried my hardest not to impact her thoughts too much.

I believe she is roughly at first level regarding some materials and there is room to explore further impact upon soluble and insoluble substances, “I can make and test predictions about solids dissolving in water and can relate my findings to the world around me. SCN 1-16a”

Leading on from our discussion Ruby became fascinated with coffee and what would happen in different water temperatures. I promised her we would try her experiment, she informed me that it is of utmost scientific significance.

The next video is where we explored this concept with Ruby’s experiment about coffee, which plays a very large role in her mothers life. School days are long and she is very giggly…

To be honest, this ties in with me realising how little of the scientific vocabulary I could use with confidence. I need to brush up on my knowledge of what I want her to gain from these experiments, the learning intention if you will. As far as I am concerned I wanted Ruby to consider the effect of the water temperature on the changes in the coffee granules. From what I see looking back she understood that the hottest water gave the quickest change and from this understood that the cold water would be the slowest. Also we used mathematical language with volume and number or size of things. Inter-disciplinary learning is happening, not to any great degree but conversations allow for us to explore so many subjects. It was fun and we introduced some new words; soluble, granules, prediction.

Moving on I feel I need to further explore what children gain from science and specific lessons that I could provide them within a classroom. I think I struggle to comprehend how important and individual science as a subject becomes for each child. For every 5 children that love categorising living and non-living things there are 5 more who prefer to explore conduction. if they have passion for an area and we need experts in these fields surely I should nurture that? For me, science is all around us and it should be explored as children discover it, so I would prefer to allow children to learn through real-life encounters. These can be what I facilitate and then step back, becoming part of the scaffolding, watching and extending their discovery of magical science.  Opposed to, “oh what experiment will tick my Science Experience and Outcome box.”

What I have gained is a respect for the new world that children are constantly learning from, the more they explore the more questions they have. I think the magic of science can help open more doors and allow for many questions to be asked.

 

symbiotic is not the name of a yoghurt

Mathematics or Science, Mathematics and Science…. Mathience

For Mathematics and Science to be dictionary defined as symbiotic it would mean both subjects formed a mutually beneficial relationship due to their close proximity. (I love google dictionary)

But are Mathematics and Science symbiotic subjects? This is university so I cannot use the word Mathience and my nosiness won’t allow me to accept that both subjects were that needy of the other.

When I think of Mathematics I think of sitting in Math and wondering why the answers were all at the back of the textbook but I had to show my working out? Why could no one catch the train on time? And why did Jane need my help to buy a doll at 3p when she clearly had enough with her giant 50p? Math is everywhere and in all honesty I’ve never needed to find the negative point on a curved axis or even drawn a long division calculation on a bit of paper, but I do use math daily without even thinking. I feel I would have gained from learning about what APR is and what the dow jones is in the pretty pink newspaper but I suppose I shall just have to google that and wish for the best.

Science to me was purely a High School experience, or so I thought. Physics, Chemistry and Biology were all a muddle of periodic tables, bunsen burners and wearing super cool protective eye gear. The beauty of my childhood primary experience of science was that it was never explicit, never a set point of our week. Experiments, building bridges, growing plants, the solar system, even concocting our own flower petal perfume with just the right amount of rose petal all occurred naturally. I needed to use my Math skills to explore these things but there was never the overwhelming feeling of the right answer being no where near my conclusion. I also feel super clever when I see the O2 sign and know it stands for oxygen or an MG car and think oooh that’s the same as magnesium and it burns bright like that experiment I did in Chemistry once. It’s the little things.

For me now, as I continue on my journey to become a teacher, I see the benefits of integrating Mathematics and Science. I think this stems (no pun intended) from my experience in Early Years where there were no set subjects, the children’s interests in the world around them led to the use of mathematical calculations, language and use while also engaging in scientific processes and constant exploration. The amount of times I’ve had to prove the answers I give my daughter shows me how often I use Mathematics and Science in tandem. How do you know that puddle will freeze mum? Well Ruby…. Also who am I to tell a child the way they are scooping that mud into the bowl is not the most efficient way to get the most mud in, unless I get in that dirt and at their pace, show them another way, we can then compare and they can decide. How can they be sure that if I half the biscuit the pieces would be fair? Experiments and collecting data are such an engaging way to explore questions and make Mathematics and Science the subjects our children are enthralled by.

Curriculum for Excellence lends itself to cross-curricular use. Mathematics and Science is a perfect example, as is currently shown by STEM Central on the National Improvement Hub. There are a number of projects there that can be downloaded, showing ways in which Science, Mathematics and even Literacy can be intertwined. Does this make the subjects symbiotic in nature though?

Symbiotic relationships can be described in three different ways; Mutualism where both parties benefit, Commensalism where one benefits but the other isn’t harmed and Parasitism where one benefits at the others cost. So as Math and Science go I’d say they share a Mutualsim style symbiotic relationship. Many scientific breakthroughs could not be achieved without the logical aid of Mathematics. Calculations, data, evaluating, equations, relationships between matter, velocity required to land a rocket on the moon. Mathematics helps. However, they do differ in a way that made Science the more appealing of the two subjects to myself. In science when a theory gains supporting evidence from experiments the theory becomes true till disproved or new evidence surfaces. Mathematics is the search for the one true answer and can be done so in abstract manners. So, for all the science jargon I had to read I always thought I could add to that and explore it and naively even disprove it. There is no arguing with numbers and if I couldn’t master where I was at and was unwilling to be constantly wrong then how could I build upon it? Just like the mathematician Hankel said-

Image result for hermann hankel quotes

In short Mathematics does not rely on the tactile, real world of Science but it becomes more tangible when objects and play become part of it, especially for younger children. Science does however, rely on Mathematics as the tools of it’s trade but can lend itself to make Mathematics come alive. The world would be a boring place if we could not create, explore and engineer around us and that takes the symbiotic relationship between Mathematics and Science.

 

 

Eh ken how tae dae a poem

For being such a diverse and vast element of language and literacy, I feel poetry may not be utilised as widely as it could. Not only can poetry be instantly accessible and emotive, it also allows children to see language in a fun and concise way. Poetry allows a multitude of opinions to form and many interpretations to stem from, an often short piece of text.

In the classroom it can be used to expose children to current topics, provoke discussion and debate while showing that language can be a tool that can be adaptive and personal. If a child is given the techniques to create their own poem they have the tools to explore word use and actually (dare I say?) play with words. Roald Dahl, Tony Ross, Shel Silverstein, giants in the children’s literary world and they ALL have collections of poems. Instead of spending hours reading from a class novel, should we not be dipping in and out of poetry? Finding commonalities between poems and themes while possibly getting a truer vibe of who the authors are. Poetry can be so so personal and reflective.

I feel it also allows children to vocalise and experiment with a wider vocabulary. When they have to search for a word that conveys a statement or emotion in one word, opposed to using a few. I know from my own primary experience (over 18 years ago….) that getting up to recite poetry may not have been the most anticipated event but I did feel I had achieved something. Of course all children would relate to performing poetry differently but equipping them with coping techniques and cultivating an environment that celebrates the confidence and self assurance it can take. The process of practice, repetition, allocating time in class for peer input and support. The children could be allowed greater personalisation and breadth when choosing their poems.

You know yourself that when you are asked, while sat at your desk, to read a page from the class novel there is NO WAY you are actually taking in what you’re reading. You nervously wait your turn trying to guess what page you will be reading, you read as fast as you can and have no idea what you’ve read to the class, take a few minutes after to check your cheeks are not too red and return to breathing normally, by which point some other poor child is reading faster than you did about who knows what? Poems can enable a child to understand comprehension and exploration of texts in a more manageable way.

The following two poems (that took me, the computer illiterate fool that I am, over 20 mins to put together), would be a perfect introduction to a topic on War, present struggles and from two viewpoints . The view point varies from a young Syrian girl (left) to a soldier (right). Both are current, relevant and emotive.

 

poem

Discussion central above!!! For an upper years class I feel this could bring relevant news stories into the class without having to watch the news or relying on playground fears.

In short, as that’s what poems do best…. Poetry is for all. For the now. For local dialect. For topic, discussion and engagement. Literacy =  language, talking, listening, writing, reading and poetry brings it together, let’s have a blether and allow poetry to untether, our passion for poetry, now and forever. BOOM.

 

Internationally Inspired

Back to the grind.  Watching numerous TED talks is the grind yeah?? This year is set to bring about a whole new plethora of knowledge and interests. I have chosen to take the International Baccalaureate elective and my reasoning for this is to broaden my own approach to teaching while also increasing my experience in a classroom. At 28 I have in no way learnt all I can from ‘life’ but I feel I would gain more from a school based placement than a work or community based one. Especially at this point in my own journey.

I would have loved to go abroad and see the IB in an international context, unfortunately my motherly duties dictated I pursue a more local route. Therefore I am on my way to a local IB school next March. Knowing where I’m going has allowed enthusiasm to grow and enabled me to embrace the international mindedness at the IB’s core. Indeed, the more I read and inquire into the Primary Years Programme (PYP) the more I draw similarities between their ethos and my own personal teaching philosophy, a predominantly constructivist approach.

I would be outside learning and engaging with the local environment every day if I could. Teaching children more about taxes, inflation, seasonal foods, local wildlife, budgeting, questioning and local industry. When a child’s inquiry is given adequate time and genuine response then a child can build their own set of beliefs and values. This is not because there’s not room for it in the classroom but learning within REAL context and genuine interaction will surely help it to stick better. Children can then attach their emotional state/environment to the information in order to recall or build upon this when needed. This is all a very personal view point into how I believe all children and adults are individuals, however I have also experienced these benefits first hand. It is also  Children are more than capable of discovering links and applying their growing knowledge when they are given opportunity and challenge.

I cannot help but compare and contrast the Curriculum for Excellence with the PYP programme when we first inquired into the IB. I couldn’t help but assume (never assume people!!) that the CfE wanted to possibly emulate the well established, ever evolving IB (1960s). The PYP’s focus on child led inquiry may have the equally floral jargon but the CfE ultimately lacks the specific trait of: investment. Not just constant financial investment (invigoration) but emotional investment from all involved. The IB was a philosophy created through necessity, for an international curriculum that met the needs of those who embraced the international approach to life and work. Parents/carers choose the IB schools as an alternative to the local schools and their curriculum, not just because it suits their lifestyles. The CfE wanted to breed excellence and prepare Scottish children for the world, however it wasn’t deemed a needed leap by all within the education system or those who use the schools. The choice and investment is not as universal.The IB also has 40 odd years on the CfE, that’s a wealth of hiccups and triumphs leading to subsequent and on-going development of the curriculum and approach.

Inquiry is key to the IB and that is allowing children to question the world around them, delve into the possibilities that arise from mistakes or success and reflecting upon the whole process through a peer and self-reflecting lens. The whole international aspect is not just physical it is about the willingness to adopt another’s viewpoint and respect the world we share. Yes, it does sound idealistic in the way I’ve written it but I think that’s my favourite part. The IB helps children foster clear self-image, allowing them to attribute their success to the whole journey not just the outcome.

I’m looking forward to learning more about the IB approach and allowing it to inter-link with my current teaching philosophy, driving it forward.

 

Me, Me, Me or more importantly not Me

Due to recent bombardment of both placement, house moving, toddler parenting and essay writing my E-Portfolio has taken a back seat. I am here to rectify that, while also igniting debate on one of my favourite topics (mainly because it’s up for debate)… learning styles.

During my placement at a local Dundee school I was able to see children absorb aspects of subjects in varying ways, then all be “tested” in one general manner. That “test” may come in different forms dependent on subject but this, lets check to see if they understand assessment will happen regardless. It is how we see as teachers that we are doing our job right. So when it comes to teaching a child about that subject do we approach it in all of the supposed learning styles, Kinaesthetic, Auditory, Visual and Read/Write? I beg to say that it’s just not possible. There will be elements that allow factors to be more prominent but then every child’s certain style isn’t being met for all lessons or all assessments.

I think the disadvantage to approaching learning styles as a credible and prominent feature in the classroom is the uncertainty of knowing what each child’s “style” truly is. Just like a child will maybe one day embrace their inner Emo or even go down the route of fashion blogger extra-ordinaire, we are not to know or predict. That’s not to discredit the extensive research, I know myself that I retain information I say aloud and recite better at times than if I were to just read it. But that’s the crux, “at times”, my style is so inconsistent and varies that even I struggle to keep up with it.

I was taught in a very read/write way, with times tables and spellings being rote learned. What David McNamara states as an ability to learn regardless. “Despite what they are offered the vast majority of children learn to read”. The critical analysis needed to decipher an approach different to what comes naturally, in itself, is a skill that children should acquire, scientific literacy. There is no harm in allowing children the space and time to speak with their peers and learn how others have approached testing aspects of a subject. However, that should never come at a cost or at the possible confusion of another. The skill of being scientifically literate should enable the children to analyse and question the world, the learning, the teacher, their learning style.

The increasing use and impact of ICT in schools and at home throws the debate up for further analysis. Children are being catered to in a much more visual and auditory manner when they use iPads, computers, apps, Interactive White Boards even. The step from books and one teacher with only so much knowledge has leapt to having a room with upwards of one computer, an interactive white board and a teacher who can utilise the internet and all it’s knowledge. Does this mean we have more to help us or is it information overload and we then stretch our own knowledge so thinly? Allowing our knowledge to not meet prior neccessary depths because “google” can answer it.

I set a group of children on my placement a challenge to research a Roald Dahl word from the “Giraffe, the Monkey, the Pelly and Me” , geraneous…. Now the children automatically said “Miss. Muir can I search it on my iPad”, to which I replied that they could with their carer/parent or they could check if it’s in a dictionary. “We don’t have dictionaries” was the resounding response. I grew up with more than one and I needed it for homework etc but they don’t have such archaic needs. They have the internet. So they came back with no answer, it’s a made up word. But around the “Geran” section of the dictionary is the word Geranium. A flower, a sometimes pink flower, which is the only plant the Giraffe in the story eats. It’s also a fantastically made up word from Dahl!!

Children will utilise and explore what they deem the best route to a solution, the best style. But as a teacher it will be my job to give them options to apply this to variety of contexts. A style all their own.

The teacher sits at the core to the debate. A teacher is one person with up to 33 eager (or not so eager as the case may be) children looking to them for help, guidance and empathic engagement. They way they pull those children to them speaks volumes. A child who has as many approaches as possible may feel overwhelmed or confused. A child who has only been reached by one method may feel like they can’t do something or anything. Growth mindset is about the ability to do one day. Learning styles are about children taking information on board when they are taught a specific way.

My argument is that we should believe all children can learn, all ways. Back in October last year I said teachers should, “Take an onus for their holistic learning,” and I stand by that.