Monday, November 10, 2014

Reflecting on my Arctic Experience and Infecting Students with the "Explorer Bug"!

The magic of new stories came to life for me and while not necessarily matching Philip Pullman’s Golden Compass world or Odd and the Frost Giant’s journey in Norway, these experiences left me with a new appreciation for what the Arctic is and who it is home to. The reality of the summer Arctic has been instilled in my memories and my own stories that I will be able to talk about with students. 

While an initial goal before the trip was to impress upon children why this is important, I now, more specifically want to impress upon children the diversity of a place that initially or in our imaginations appears to lack diversity. Finally, I had a goal to integrate building and STEM challenges. These are still in formation, but I was able to come back with at least four concrete building/STEM challenges related to the Arctic that I will integrate with this blog and Brick Trip Web site.

I  initially hoped to gain knowledge of the people, animals and underwater world. I also was excited to learn more about the changing nature of this environment. Once on the ship, I primarily focused on the wildlife while on board. I spent many days lacking sleep but still wide-awake and ready for the next sighting. There were very few views of the underwater habitats but we did see many whales. I now have a greater appreciation for the smaller inhabitants of the Arctic. The flowers, the trees, and the birds. These seemed less significant before my trip and upon returning I have so many new understandings and pictures of this life that I can share with my students. 

On the day I returned from my trip, I had to drive up to Maine to meet my family who had already started their vacation on Peaks Island.  I instantly began to draw similarities and differences between the two environments and couldn’t help but educate my own children on every little thing I noticed. Small huddled arctic plants versus the large trees and flowering bushes in Maine, the animal species that were native to both places like the puffin, the humpback whales, and even the geology that had surprising similarities. 

I did keep a map journal but not with specific coordinates as originally planned. I also kept a daily journal on my iPad but found as the week progressed it went from full sentences to first impressions due to time constraints and a busy agenda. I was able to jot down ideas for my Brick Trip site  including a building challenge for students to try building a ship that can stand up to the freezing ice and not be crushed like the FRAM that we saw in Oslo. Pictures and video were my main source of logging each day and I got into a daily habit of downloading and reflecting on the sights of the day when I finally hit the pillow around 12:30 am. Listening to the daily speakers and soaking up all that the naturalists had to say was my primary means of building my geographic knowledge. I continued to read some of my self-chosen books while on board. 

What surprised me was the fossil record and the geology lessons I was able to take advantage of through Joe, the naturalist and geologist on board. On our beach hike in the Palanderbukta fjord, we came upon a surprising amount of fossilized sea creatures. Rather than walk with my head up, my entire walk was a beach combing activity with finds every 5 feet. I was excited to be able to help write the Daily Expedition Report that day with the other fellows. In it I wrote, 
“The hills and beach were steeply sloped and covered in rocks of various sizes. We discovered small plant life including lichens of various colors and tiny plants like the Purple Saxifrage. Fossil evidence in the limestone rocks we were walking upon included brachiopods and crinoids. Paleozoic shells were common, while the find of the day, discovered by our youngest explorer, Gwendolyn, was an ammonite. The long hike group even took advantage of belly sliding on a snowy slope, instigated by the children but enjoyed by all ages.” As a child, I collected shells and fossils. Even today, I take out my collection each June and spread it throughout my house. As teachers we must act like children more often, not forgetting how to play and how to discover. Later, on a more photographic hike is Seelisberg Bay, I used all five senses as I made an effort to touch the ground and place my hands in the sands along the side of the river with an attempt at a dribble castle. We need to offer students more opportunities to experience science through their senses.

In Longyearbyen I was able to learn about their interactions with the environment and Kenneth was a great resource and did a presentation about trapping with his wife for a year in Svalbard. It was interesting to see people walking with sticks to keep the terns from dive-bombing their heads. While originally planning to focus equally on human and wildlife interactions I actually learned more about the interactions between animal species than between humans and species. The fact that Arctic fox enjoy living close to bird cliffs for an easy meal or how bird cliffs encourage fertile tundra with blossoming saxifrage and buttercups, and the interactions between polar bear and seals and the importance of sea ice to their livelihood. I have a newfound interest in these areas and have chosen several books to extend my learning. 

When I first reflected upon how this would change my classroom instruction, I approached this question with the thought of teaching climate change and the controversy surrounding the topic. I believe now that we need to teach equally about the diversity and  the beauty that exists in our world. We need to infect our students with the “Explorer Bug” and create problem solvers. It is the positive that I will choose to focus on while always asking students to look at all sides of an issue.

As I get back to work, I will be continuing work on my Brick Trip project with a focus on the collaborative nature of the project and empowering students as explorers and problem solvers. The project is in constant change and evolving each day. One of my main goals is to not just make this fun and connected to a map but also make this true project-based learning where students can work on an existing global/local problem. Brick Trips also offers that ability to expose students to areas they might have otherwise never discovered.

Our classroom walls expand each day. We do not have a choice when it comes to creating geo-literate citizens. Geo-literacy addresses more than just locations. Students need to understand the issues our globe is facing and understand the impact of geography around the world.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Gaming in the Classroom

(This blog post is an assignment I had for a MOOC I am in about Minecraft in the Classroom.)
How might you incorporate video games in general into the regular school curriculum?

After watching the TedEx video from JaneMcGonigal and reflecting upon some of my own difficulties with the incorporation of gaming in the classroom I have some ideas on ways to better proceed.

I have recently been mentoring another teacher in my school with our Minecraft club so these experiences have also given me a context for thinking about this.

In the case of a club, we wrote a grant proposal with the hopes that by beginning a club with interested students we could eventually branch into classroom and make it more applicable to the curriculum and a truly integrated project. The club allows us to learn more about the technical aspects while having a group of students who are willing to beta test our ideas. 

Our minecraft club has fell prey to chaos on a couple occasions with chickens raining from the skies. What I proposed to the group with that we proceed with a purpose that they define. 
Once a purpose was established everyone had something they could contribute to. While this was not tied to a specific curriculum, for these students it helped to form a group bond and an environment where they could work cooperatively together.  There goal now is to create a challenge for other Minecraft clubs to try to work through with a link to geography and continents. It is an constantly changing environment and it will be exciting to see it evolve.

So I think a club can be a starting point to work out the kinks, build some experts in the game and teach others how to use the game. It allows teachers and students to build challenges and test them.

I think it is also important for the novice teacher to understand that it is the meat of the challenge that matters and not the ability for the teacher to understand every facet of the game.

In the beginning, it is important to set ground rules. If students have played the game or a similar game at home they may not be as willing to conform to the rules at school or they could be very eager to play knowing what they already know about the game. 

Finally, I do think gaming should have that connection to real world problems. Kids have amazing idea and thoughts and games give them the creative flexibility to share these. The idea of Brick Trips could take on a totally new flavor with games like Minecraft.

For a great way to infuse Minecraft into the elementary classroom check out this amazing blog post!