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The image above is the home page for a new wiki space:  Relevant Science!  Are you a Science or Math educator following the guidelines of 21st century education?  Do you feel that collaboration enriches all of us in our quest for meaningful and relevant K-12 education?  If so, please contribute to Relevant Science and use its resources.

This is a work in progress and you are invited to share your expertise.  Request your free membership and become part of our growing community of educators.  Check us out using this link.

TRANSPARENCY is a virtue!

“Transparency is a Virtue”

In the words of media literacy researcher Renee Hobbs, “Transparency is a virtue.” This statement led me to explain: Why is there a need for Relevant Science Wikispace? What can “Relevant Science” do for the future of science education for elementary students? First, a bit of background to explain my personal philosophy of elementary science education:

The Thinker Recently Rhode Island, along with 14 other states and the District of Columbia, has adopted the newly published Next Generation Science Standards or NGSS. An obvious advantage of having standards, according to educational researcher Diane Ravitch, is that they provide a way to assure equitable goals for education despite differences in geographical location, gender, race, or socioeconomic status. However, if we now have standards to ensure equity and high conceptual and performance goals in elementary science, what is the problem? As Dewey stated in his work, “The Child and the Curriculum,” in order for learning to take place, “the student must have an organic connection with a personal experience that he sees, knows, and loves.”

I teach science and health to grades K through 8. I began to realize that the “science identities” of my students changed as they progressed through grades. Kindergarteners were all scientists!! In older grades, students began to divide themselves as “scientists” and non-scientists. I began to ask, why is this so?


Part of the reason, I fear, is cultural. After the Russian launch of Sputnik, government officials panicked. The emphasis of personal relevance of education gave way to vocational relevance. Education became a way of producing a workforce needed to make our country thrive. However, Bruner tells us the “education is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.”

Added to the culture of vocational relevance, science standards became linked to high-stakes testing by the Department of Education and local school administrations. Personal relevance in education became even more devalued. However, can true academic growth happen if a curriculum is standardized to the point of becoming impersonal and irrelevant? I would guess that Dewey would give an emphatic “no!”

The challenge for elementary science educators is to break free of the outdated printed text and to see the outside world. Science education should be a way to help students make meaning of the world, both locally and globally, and see their place in it. Let’s use science standards as a framework for learning, but allow students to drive the curriculum. Let’s use digital media to engage students, but more than that, let’s use digital resources to increase science understanding.

With time and other constraints, this task may be difficult for educators! So let’s combine resources for the mutual benefit of science educators and students. Science education is too important for our society to be practiced by a few elite or personally motivated students. Skills learned in science class are helpful to all citizens in daily life Collaboration is powerful.                   search

When Gauntlett claims, making is connecting, he points out that the mere act of creating a product connects us to our culture. Today’s student comes to us full of information from many sources. In a democratic society, educators need to model how to research and evaluate this information. My digital resource collection is only the start of what could be a dynamic and relevant resource for science educators, and a way to make science relevant to the lives of our students. Welcome to our shared mission!

I invite you to share resources in a digital space for science educators to encourage relevance in science education through real-world resources and digital authorship.  To request membership and add resources, visit:

Pecha Kucha: Heady experience! Lack of oxygen?

imagesTeaching keeps us humble.  So does digital media.  One minute I was up!  Or maybe I was just punch drunk from reciting a script several times without time to breath between slides.  (After several false starts recording slide-by-slide audio and producing unexplainable gaps in sound I took a big breath and went straight through!)  Whew!

Good news:  I have a finished product!  No longer a virgin, I have pecha kucha-d!  It feels good.  I can’t lie.

Bad news:  Six unsuccessful upload attempts to different addresses in e-land yielded no audio.  Now my pecha kucha is finished and converted to many types of files.  I have published it on my new wiki space, but as of now, you will need to download before viewing.  My apologies!  I will keep trying tomorrow…Peace out!


Bruner, J. (1961). After John Dewey, What? Saturday Review (pp. 58 – 59, pp. 76 – 78).

Dewey, J.  (1902).  The child and the curriculum.  Chicago:  University of Chicago       Press.

Gauntlett, D. (2011). Making is connecting. London: Policy Press

Mills, K. & Exley, B. (2014). Time, space, and text in the elementary school digital writing classroom. Written Communication, 31(4), 434–464.

Digital authorship and science “…a more tasty and a more nourishing diet.”

I have been teaching elementary school science for nearly 13 years.  This was not a planned career choice.  However, after witnessing many people confess that “science is just not my thing” or “I was never really good at science” I felt compelled to change my little corner of the world for the better.  So I began teaching science.  You see, science is endlessly captivating and stimulating to me.  I simply could not accept that there were so many who were missing the feeling of wonder that I had when thinking or talking about science.

imagesReadings from Digital Authorship (EDC 534) class have provoked thoughts about why I first began supplementing printed texts with digital media about eight years ago, and how digital authorship has enhanced the education of my students.

For example, Gauntlett (2011) expressed the need for school culture to move from “sit back and be told” to “make and do” which allowed for consideration of moving away from teacher as “expert” to teacher as “learner.”  I began teaching as an expert who spent hours of preparation on preparing lectures for middle school students.  Students were empty buckets.  It was my job to fill them.

When I opened my classroom up to the world of digital media, I began to participate along with students as we made meaning of new ideas and experiences.  Early authorship in my own science classroom included interactive software and the manipulation of variables to explore science concepts.  When students asked, “What will happen if we add the same amount of weight but moved it farther away from the pivot point?”, my answer could easily be “Let’s try it and find out!”  There were endless possibilities of data gathering and analysis based on manipulation of software.  Science through digital authorship became “a more tasty and a more nourishing diet.” (Willet, 2005, p.6)

Energy Skate Park: Basics

Click to Run

I could see in my students’ faces the joy of autonomy in education and the freedom to choose their own path to learning.  Bruner (1961) advised that education should change with changes in students’ lives. In my science classroom, we were no longer constrained by activities based mostly on printed text.  We could see scientists at work in the field from Antarctica to Galapagos, archaeological digs in Africa, robotics in Massachusetts!

Exposure to digital media brought with it Bruner’s assertion that “education is a process of living and not a preparation for future living.” (p.58) Students and parents reported newly emerging science identities as students constructed new meanings after engaging in authentic media activities.  I was more content as a teacher.  No longer was I tailoring curriculum based on what students should know for high school or career. With digital media as a way to engage science students, there was hope that all students would gain skills relevant to their daily lives.

For the past three years, digital authorship opportunities have increased exponentially.  My students regularly create digital products for assessment in place of more traditional paper and pencil tests.  As a result, I get a clearer picture of their understanding of science concepts.  We review products together, I have an opportunity to ask for clarification, and students are welcome to revise until they are satisfied that the final product reflects their learning.

How did development of digital literacies through digital authorship blur spaces between school and community for my classroom?  Buckingham (2003) has suggested that teaching literacy skills is a way of connecting and collaborating with others in a critical, not negative, way.  In fact, in my sixth grade classroom, media exposure to Edible Garden movements all across the US sparked a service learning project two years ago to grow fresh produce for community members who did not have access. Reflections by students about this process in both visual and digital forms have demonstrated considerable growth in awareness of surrounding communities and their economic and social needs.

produceAs a final project for EDC 534, I will extend this project to write a grant proposal for video equipment.  Grade 6 was enthusiastic when asked to document their story for our school community. Hopefully, authorship and collaboration skills will grow as we continue this project into next school year.

Continue reading

We collaborated! We connected!

Leap 4 was quite an interesting experience!  I approached it with a bit of trepidation…would my style “gel” with my partner’s style?  Would we be able to agree on a message?  In the words of Neil Patrick Harris, “Challenge accepted.”

The process was respectfully approached and smoothly executed. Whew!  The adventure continues.  Stay tuned for link on Twitter…

p.s. Storify was cool!  It was a new experience for both Ed and me.

We all bring our own context when viewing video.

Deconstructing a YouTube video was an interesting experience.  I chose a well-viewed video (over 10 million hits in the past year).  As I viewed it, however, I found myself wondering how many viewers interpreted the video as I did (highly entertaining and captivating)?  How many viewed it from a drastically different perspective?  As a digital author, is there a way to give more contextual cues in order to “prevent” misunderstanding on the part of an audience?  When would this be an appropriate goal?  Is it even a reachable goal?

In my video, the stakes are not so high for humans, since the subject is a family pet.  Considering that Americans spent over 5 billion on our pets last year, the anthropomorphism of a family pet would presumably be a relatable situation for many.  Cooing to a pet like a mom does with a small child, dressing the pet in costume (granted, it’s an animal costume, but still…), allowing the pet to be part of an ordinary household ritual such as dinner prep are all signs that this pet is truly considered by the author to be a full-fledged family member.  Again, many could relate to this sentiment.  However, the possibility that viewers could become offended by the assumptions of this video, or at least hold them in contempt, gives me pause to think about the awesome responsibility of digital authorship.

What do you think?

I agree with Gauntlett- “Making Is Connecting”

From the time we were young we needed to connect to others in order to survive. We needed food, shelter, protection, and validation of our own worth. Gauntlett captured the joy of connecting with others when he said, “Making is connecting” (Gauntlett, 2011, p. 2).  He described everyday making as “crucial.”   search

Dewey (1902) in his work “The Child and the Cur-riculum” would have agreed, for he believed that only by making connections do we make meaning of our world.

Bruner (1961) pushed this idea further by advising that “…[d]iscovery favors the well-prepared mind.” This statement implied that the process of making connections is an active one.  Bruner proposed that a child seeks autonomy and control over the environment, and that perception of control is rewarding. Bruner visualized the institution of school as a place where knowledge could be gained by constructing

Buckingham (2003) emphasized the concept of social and collaborative nature of creativity.  How are we creating meaning without considering the social setting from which meaning arose?  These constructs apply to 21st century learning because fundamentally, the idea of meaning-making is still centered at the core of creativity.

search-2Jenkins (2013) drew parallels between shared works of other centuries, i.e. oral storytelling, folk tales, reading aloud and quoting from printed text. He implied that borrowing from digital property is basically no different from borrowing from oral or printed text in order to create.  

I see my students experimenting with combinations of images, video, and audio files to promote an opinion or defend a science argument. As a teacher, I understand that my students wish to create an authentic product that reflects their position about a topic. They want to make their own meaning to create knowledge. I walk a tenuous line as I move from the role of moderator to the role of censor. This is an uncomfortable position for me. How I perceive a creative digital product or collection of products may very likely not be the same as the digital author’s perception.

Patricia Lange (2014), in her book about “Kids on YouTube,” discusses this dilemma.  As students and their parents are creating and posting on YouTube, does the meaning of the digital product change with different sets of perceptions or audiences? What is the role of the adult moderator in this situation?  If meanings are misinterpreted or misconstrued, who decides how to rectify the situation?  What are the rights of younger children or those who may not fully understand what happens when a YouTube gets posted?

Think about these questions as you view the video below:

 How would the subjects of the video feel if viewing themselves in this context?

Recently, one of my eighth grade students shared a YouTube video with me and asked me to share the video with other faculty.  First, I was enormously flattered to be trusted with her creative product.  However, almost immediately what came to mind was how uncomfortable other faculty members would be with the concept of sharing between students and faculty members.  Most, if not all, would consider that accepting the students’ invitation to view her video as “crossing a line” of propriety.

To make matters even more uncomfortable, the student was sharing her views on student-teacher relationships.  She was giving advice for both parties on how to improve respect and trust.  As part of her everyday language, she included some words that were not rated G!  I did not want to harm our bond of trust, nor did I wish to stifle creativity.  However, I knew that sharing the video’s “first draft” would be perilous at best for her as well as myself, especially because of language choices.

I asked her to edit for language, under the guise that her choices in language may obscure her message. However, to be perfectly honest, she and I both knew that censorship had another purpose. Censoring my student’s work protected both her role as student and my role as faculty from coming under scrutiny within this new setting of digital media sharing.  To clarify, I truly feel that censorship in any form competes against digital authenticity.  But where do we draw the line so that the message is accepted?  I am still not sure about my attitudes about this issue. Perhaps they change within the context of each situation.

I did not share the video directly, but instead asked other faculty to send an email if they wished to view it.  Predictably, and sadly, nobody did.  Patricia Lange’s book entertained many questions about authentic representation in digital authorship. These questions made me even more certain that we still have a long way to go in our attitudes and decisions concerning digital authorship!

Are you asking me to learn?

This is a question that we see in students’ eyes from time to time.  Sometimes it is because they are wondering how we are simultaneously asking them to learn and preventing them from learning by throwing obstacles in their way. Check out my Animoto based on a Miller (2013) meta-analysis entitled “Lessons in multimodal composition from a fifth grade classroom.”

Across the threshold…

Picture a ninth grade girl intently working on a visual representation of a frog dissection, using charcoal pencil on sketch pad, art gum to remove stray marks, and color pencils to highlight and emphasize anatomical structures.  I was that girl.  And there was no one interfering with the process.  For better or worse, I owned this visual art form for the moment, and I was dedicated to doing my best work.  Science class was one of the highlights of my day, visual arts the only competition for my interest.  I was driven to be accurate with each detail of anatomy.  But I was striving for beauty, and passionate about form, color, and accuracy.

Why was I so lucky to be given this opportunity, I ask myself today?  Why did I have the privilege of adequate time to complete the task?  I suppose to my observant teacher, her desire to guide, correct, and suggest took a back seat to my obvious obsession with my work.  She, in all her wisdom, would not get in the way.

I no longer possess this masterpiece.  If I did, it would be an amateurish attempt at best. However, I will never forget my teacher’s words when she saw the finished product. “Have you ever considered studying to become a medical illustrator?,” said she.  “You have a passion for science as well as art. Medical illustrators use both talents to do their work.”

This simple statement changed my young life in many ways, and influenced my professional journey. Why?  Most important, my science teacher gave me license to create.  But more than that, she opened a door to creativity for me.  I was stunned to realize that we do not simply set out on one life path, leaving others behind.  We can mingle our passions when we create, so our creations are truly personal.  That is how the value of our life is measured- not by reaching perfection, but by creating our own reality from our perceptions of life around us and how we fit in. 

Later, after studying the illustrations of the great Dr. Frank Netter, I left the world of anatomical drawings behind (and rightly so!).  However, my teacher’s words gave me permission to explore passions in unconventional ways.  They allowed me to reach beyond convention and grow wings and fly.  I am about to embark on my fourth career.  My heart has been engaged in the process of creation throughout this journey.  I took an unconventional path, but it was mine. Thank you, Claire, for setting me free!