Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The Five Senses and Why LEGO?

As I was browsing through my pictures of my recent Arctic trip today I am brought back to one specific day when I decided to be fully aware of my five senses as I observed the natural environment.
Drip Castle?
Photograph by Julia Sheldon
As scientists and teachers we know these experiences are vitally important to our student's ability to learn and connect to the content yet we can take an experience like a an owl pellet dissection and make it into a paper activity by asking students to complete a packet related to what they found in the pellet. It is the experience of dissecting that has the most profound impact in the end.
We also need to get out of the classroom! We need to emphasize that the five senses we taught about in first grade are not an elementary topic but a habit that scientists use continually. Whether we are confident or not in the teaching of science, we need to display this willingness to touch and experience and even more importantly model curiosity and exploration to our students. I am reminded of a recent visit to Rebecca Cumming's class at Pelham Elementary School. Rebecca's students were building composting units with worms. She had no problem reaching into the dirt and pulling out piles of worms so her students could see what those little composters looked like. Her best line of the day was "Poop matters" as she emphasized the important role they critters play in the soil.

Squish of the Arctic Tundra
Photograph by Julia Sheldon
How does this relate to my love of LEGO and building in the classroom you might ask? Building with any material is a kinesthetic experience that allows children to cement their learning and display what they know. Building utilizes the senses. While learning can be communicated with writing it is important to provide our students with other methods of assessment. A model can instigate a conversation about the observation made, the habitat, or even the thought process in scientific inquiry. Students can build representations of a living creature in their natural habitat or a scene that depicts a predator/prey relationship. What about a model that represents curiosity in the natural environment or the changing nature of the fragile Arctic environment? When we ask children to build, it needs to be without judgement. Too often students are asked to build according to directions or steps. The types of models and builds that I advocate for in the classroom, encourage creativity and instigate conversation about issues in our environment and solutions. Please keep tuned to Brick Trips as I continue to share ideas for classrooms and promote collaborative brick trips for classrooms to join!
Polar Bear swimming between the pack ice.
Photograph by Julia Sheldon

Thursday, July 10, 2014


The first glaciers I saw in Svalbard were from the plane window as we descended into Longyearbyen.

On the second day of our expedition aboard the National Geographic Explorer, we entered Hornsund Fjord. This was the the very same area I viewed from my plane window with multiple glaciers feeding into one spot. A Fjord is a valley that is carved by a glacier and is a deep trough. This trough is fed by tributary glaciers. The glaciers form from snowfall. If there is constant cold and a build up of snow, then over time the snow compacts into ice. There needs to be 10-15 meters of snow to form glacial ice and once this piece of ice is big enough to move it is officially a glacier.

While I have always lived in New England and witnessed snow year after year, I had no idea that different types of snow have different names. A glacier begins as regular snow but as it compacts it goes through stages. Stage 1 is fresh snow. Stage 2 is Corn Snow and is defined as snow that goes though repeated melting and freezing. The snow resembles large-grained rounded crystals. It is the type of snow that forms a nice crust that you can walk on top of. Stage 3 is firn. Firn snow has the appearance of wet sugar. It is the snow that has been left over from previous seasons and has recrystallized into a denser substance. Finally, there is the glacial ice.

Try this LEGO Activity: Build up the four layers one brick at a time and then have the students compress their "snow" into a glacier by exchanging the four bricks into four plates. As students replace each layer discuss the transformation from regular snow into glacial ice using the terms corn snow and firn. This model will help cement the idea of how a glacier is formed. Don't be afraid to write labels on the LEGO bricks with a Sharpie and keep the model around for future lessons. In addition you could talk about how glaciers calve into the ocean revealing blue ice.