I’m a scientist. I feel like I need to sit in a circle like group therapy and admit it. “I’m Kym and I’m a scientist, I’ve been one for 43 years”. Scientists seem to be the target of all evil in the world both academic and real world. We’re the ones who have ‘created’ global warming, destroyed cities with bombs and both created and treated a number of deadly viruses. We’re recognised as being unemotional, socially impaired and importantly for this terrible spellers! Stereotypical views of scientist are nerdy and not to likely to be reading anything other than a textbook. However I love reading and not only that it’s something I wanted for my daughter and for my students.
Why do I love reading so much? Oh my goodness there is nothing like the smell of a book, whether it’s old or new a book smells amazing! There is of course a problem when you are an avid reader and like ‘real’ books. You have to have a lot of book cases or a really good access to a second-hand book shop. It was a discussion with the English head of department that sent me across to the dark side and I purchased my first Kindle®. I like to be kind to the environment so a Kindle has the benefit of not using up all that paper but I still love the classics! So what did I read on my Kindle for the first time? ‘Pride and Prejudice’ of course! Since then I have downloaded books of all sorts: textbooks for school, instructional manuals for art and novels from a massive variety of authors and genres. The whole point of this blog and course however is not about my personal experiences but how it can be used in classrooms. You see I am most definitely a digital immigrant and easily excitable about using technology to do things of my past but how to get my digital native students to feel the same?
Each of the major educational publishers have an electronic version of their textbooks however they require a site licence and individually cost more than their paper counterpart. The difference is often difficult to explain to those in charge of budget especially given that many of the early gen options were merely electronic copies of the original. Now they have so many different components to them a classroom teacher is almost a redundant entity…..almost! They have interactive games for fun, interactive tutorials to help with difficult content, many have assessment tools and finally they have the text. The pages are brightly coloured and provide plenty of opportunities for the students to participate in their own education. However like all resources in a school they do have their negatives. As I have already mentioned they can be expensive. Some have open access on the net placing students at risk (some publishers have since addressed this issue). Importantly though they require the digital native to remember to bring their device to school! Yes this has been an issue for paper versions as well however when text were cheaper it was more viable for schools to have spares. The obvious solution is to purchase both the digital and paper versions and in a perfect world where budgets are huge wouldn’t this be great! It is early days in schools for electronic texts and hopefully this is where we will eventually be.
I teach in a small metropolitan school however we are in a low socio-economic region. My students tend to struggle to bring the basic equipment to school let alone laptops. I dream of a situation where devices are provided for them (by who no idea it is a dream just like winning the lotto J) and where text books can be accessed on mobile phones (there are some apps and that’s not too far off). For a digital immigrant I’m happy to embrace the ‘new fandangled things’ for obvious reason, happy and engaged students want to learn and are happy to be in class!
Like many ‘kids of the 70s’, I grew up with parents who limited my access to television and was sent outside to play. I was given a certain amount of time per week that I was allowed to watch, how I divided it up was up to me: I could use it all up on one day or I could spread it out over the week. Inevitably I was attracted to shows that meant I spent time with my dad, like many of his generation my dad was not big on words but he was big on Dr Who®. Part of the fascination was the fact that through all the craziness that was tripping around the universe and through time, there was real science in what the Dr was doing. My dad left school when he was 12 years old but he never stopped wanting to learn. As a teacher, I wanted to be able to harness that same excitement in my students.
As a teacher you very quickly learn that students love anything that appears to not be ‘normal’ schoolwork. When I first started teaching Mythbusters® was a way to get students interested in what they thought was off task work but was actually teaching them something. Unfortunately students are very perceptive little creatures and switched onto the fact that was what we were doing. Like many before me I accepted my defeat and when the need occur to distract my students I would resort to using science fiction movies in class, justifying it in that I could explain their link to the content in any topic and in that my students were able to identify what was real science and what wasn’t. However there had to be a better way and not just one solution but a variety presented themselves. The publication of the science focused magazine, Cosmos that linked amazing articles to teaching resources and to weekly email newsletters. One such article was one on superheros and the activities including reading activities as well as practical experiments. The best thing was that it covered super heroes that every student has heard of. Just as many other things in science evolve so did Cosmos, it now has an online presence that is so cool even my students don’t mind that they’re learning. Below is a screenshot of one of the question pages with a collection of interactive methods for the students to use to complete the quizzes. There is a collection of different articles related to each year level and different types of activities for each article to give students the variety that they crave.
The downside to site like Cosmos is that it has a cost linked to it and for some schools this may be more than a school can budget. There are fortunately other methods of teaching science through science fiction. Julie Czerneda is a science fiction author and has published a number of short stories that are appropriate for use in classroom. She also has links on her official website for educators to access resources. Importantly she has also published articles in ‘The Science Teacher’ that have analysis activities linked to science fiction designed to promote literacy and science knowledge.
Science fiction in all its forms, television, movies and text, may still be riddle with scientific inaccuracies and it is still important for teachers to make students aware of these. However it also provides teachers with wonderful ways to engage students in topics and to achieve academic success as well. Significantly it is important to note that many stories under the science fiction genre have a high moralistic point as well so even those students who aren’t going on to become rocket scientists will learn something.
Years ago I had the privilege of teaching a year 9 English class. It’s not unusual in small high schools for teachers to have to teach outside of the curriculum area that they have trained in however a scientist teaching English is definitely unusual. Scientist do everything they can to remove emotion from their reports wanting the data to speak for itself whereas writers need to use their words to make the reader emotional, to feel the story. Worse than that like many scientists I simply can’t spell. So how was I going to teach these students at an age where they already hate school, heck they ‘hate’ the World. One of the issues for me was the books they had to read, many were yellowed, smelt a little funky and to be honest they had little in common with the students who were expected to read them.
Fast forward to a World where NAPLAN has taken over the basic structure of schools and data linked to that is important. Reading is one of the areas that has been considered a concern for this cohort, so reading has become a focus and not just in the English classroom. So the question become how do I get my students to want to read? There was no way I could ask them to read the novels I had taught back then! My amazing daughter who has on more than one occasion been my inspiration to attempt different things in my classroom suggested that ending of a particular movie we had watched was wrong…..why? Because on Fan Fiction they had decided that certain aspects just weren’t going to work. Why couldn’t I use Fan Fiction in my classroom to prompt reading?
Fan Fiction are stories written by fans of a particular movie, show and sometimes even games using the same characters as the original. Sometimes it’s to give a different version of the story, so for example the Twilight series by Stephenie Myer is told mostly from the point of Edward and Bella however a fan fiction may be written solely from the point of the remaining Cullen family. Obviously Twilight is not something I can use in science to teach science however if the goal is to promote reading in schools to improve NAPLAN results than reading is reading. In any given timetable, lesson time is finite and the curriculum to cover much greater than that, so what? ‘Wasting’ time reading something like Twilight, whilst it might improve reading would be something that would need some explanation for the other teachers. The plan is to start with Twilight and move on to further fan fiction that is linked more directly to the curriculum and eventually get the students to write their own. Wait, doing writing in Science to help with NAPLAN, what a unique idea and better yet if we don’t tell the students that it’s linked to NAPLAN we might just be able to get them to enjoy it as well. There are a number of sites that host fan fiction (actually there’s hundreds) but a very common site is FanFiction.net. It is an open access site and therefore would put students at risk however it is a great source for teachers to locate stories from. For students a blogging site, www.edublog.net allows students to post with some security requiring an email to access them.
A concern that many English teachers have with Fan Fiction is similar to that of any popular culture text in that it doesn’t have the characteristics in language of the classics such as ‘Pride and Prejudice’ what it does have though is an already established following within our student population. Giving students the opportunity to be more involved in their learning, to promote a participatory culture, can only be a positive!
Like many experienced teachers when I first started teaching it felt like all the experienced teachers were stuck in their ways and frowned upon my ‘radical’ new approaches. What it was, was a group of teachers who had had far too many pre-service and young teachers tell them their way was wrong so they had become cynical. I did learn that both sides were WRONG! Experienced teachers may not be ‘hip’ to the next generation but they’ve tried many different strategies both curriculum and behaviour and young teachers come with an innate insight into the thoughts of the younger generation, together they make magical teachers.
As the first of these bogs was published and our lectures focused on popular cultural activities we could use in our classrooms, I went into work being reminded that I am now one of those experienced teachers. Like many HODs I arrived at work to find my young first year elbow deep in lesson preparation, he was eagerly laminating (my idea!) his QR reader activity!!! No Way not exactly what we had just been discussing in our lectures. With a gleam in my eye I asked if I could use his activity as part of my blog. He smiled and proceeded to give me the web address for the site he’d used.
Class Tools is one of many different sites to host similar content. The site has QR readers and applications that can take generic worksheets and turn them into QR code hence even the most experienced teachers can look ‘cool’. There are timers that can be used to support flow of activities in the classroom and best of all was a link to PAC-MAN. For the too young at heart, PAC-MAN is a video game of the 80s where a little round shape chases ghosts, so as a teacher it was intriguing how I could use this in my classroom. To be able to move around the board you need to answer questions correctly based on specific topics, this particular website has over 75 history based quizzes.
So as you can see I become a bit ‘teenagerish’ in that my attention span was limited and I was jumping from one idea to another in things I could use in my class to improve the engagement of my students. My initial point about loving first years is that energy they have and their genuine belief that they can change ‘the system’, a system this generation in particular cannot relate to as it continues its textbook driven curriculum. It takes a significant influx of money to increase technology availability in classrooms and to meet the security necessary to keep the students safe from predators. QR codes in classrooms can achieve this without having to have access to large amounts of technology, either students can use their own phones or inexpensive tablets can be used as readers. The codes can be printed and placed around the school, students working in groups which allows for increased socialisation (something very popular with students) and gets them up and about moving. Activities linked to QR readers are freely available online for teachers too busy to create their own and cover all curriculum areas. I can’t wait to see the response of my maths students as I hand out their homework sheet as nothing more than a collect of QR codes!
I have the luck of being the mum of a 23 year daughter who is studying her Masters in Ancient History and like all students of her generation she’s happy to leave assessment to the last minute. She is the queen of procrastination. Now don’t get me wrong she’s an amazing kid, having never gotten in serious trouble at school and avoiding the big concerns of most parents now that she’s older but study has never been her bestie. At high school she discovered ‘fan fiction’ which distracted her from her study and like a lot of parents this segment of popular culture was foreign to me. So I asked her what is was and like all good humanities students she answered it but in such a way that I was even more confused, you see I’m a science teacher and not an expert in languages unlike my child. For those of you out there like me who don’t know fanfiction Bronwen Thomas defines them as: ‘stories produced by fans based on plot lines and characters from either a single source text or else a “canon” of works; these fan-created narratives often take the pre-existing storyworld in a new, sometimes bizarre, direction’. Her excitement for it however reminded me of the books of my generation where you chose the ending of the story. ‘Chose your own adventure’ books become popular during the 70s and 80s with R A Montgomery being one of the most prolific of the writers of this genre. In these at the end of each section you were given two options for where the character could head and then given a page number to proceed to. The best thing was that you could read the book multiple times and because of your choices the story could be different each time and as an avid reader getting multiple books in one was pure heaven!
As an educator I am keenly aware of two things when it comes to getting students to do reading in my class. Firstly they need to be able to choose what they read! When I tell them we are reading a particular article regardless of how much they love the topic there are groans galore however when I offer them free reading time I have complete silence within minutes. Secondly that the books and images in many school libraries and classrooms are older than the students we’re trying to get to read them! There’s nothing wrong with the classics but if you’re trying to get resistant readers to read then the book or text needs to be much more recent. (Resistant Readers in Secondary Education) I really want to introduce “Choose your own adventure” novels to my students as it gives them the chance to control the novel however I really wanted it to be interactive to make it attractive to my students. After a fairly quick internet search I discovered that there was an option called game books. Many of these are online options that have sophisticated graphics and popular music in the background to prompt the reader and for schools with budgets there are many that are free online to download or access. (See my resource page for just some of the titles)
Being a lover of print text I still wanted to be able to share my love of reading with my students and therefore wanted a print version as well. Whilst searching for game books I discovered that there was publishers producing modern versions that were attractive to students. Even more importantly there are a number of education related options with McGraw Hill now publishing over 500 titles aimed at the school market.
Mind you all of this is pointless if it doesn’t make it to my classroom. So where to? My plan is to introduce a game book with a science content to my class as homework for this term and follow this with further books in the future, possibility of even having the students write their own story as an assessment piece once they’ve read a few! Let’s see how my students react to this…….
With an increased focus on reading due to NAPLAN results it has become every teacher’s role to promote reading as part of their curriculum regardless of their field of expertise. The benefits of increased reading is obvious: if students can’t read the test questions they simply can’t answer them even if they know the correct answer. However promoting reading for student’s in subjects that haven’t traditionally been seen in that area is the challenge. How does a maths teacher promote reading in a subject so heavily number focused?
My students seem to be quite happy to read comics in class, even when they’re supposed to be doing their other work, so could this be a way to bring reading into my classroom? Initially this made me think of some of the English teachers I had as a child and my first thought was ‘hell no would that have happened!’ This thought was followed quickly by a flashback to an episode of ‘The Big Bang Theory’ where the girls (Penny, Bernadette and Amy) ask the boys (Leonard, Sheldon and Howard) why they like reading comics. The boys in absolute disgust respond with ‘graphic novels’. This seems to be the key distinguisher for many of the educational researchers: the difference between a comic and a graphic novel. There doesn’t seem to be any disagreement about either being a great way to introduce reading into classrooms. Yet a quick poll around the English teachers in my own school resulted in 100% resistance to the idea, similar to the cartoon below (which is part of an entire article written as a graphic novel and way cool to read!!)
Like all teachers who meet resistance to a new idea I went to the internet looking for examples and some research to support my idea. To find that not only are there peer reviewed research articles like that by Gene Yang there are also both fiction and non-fiction options for teachers to use! Yang used graphic novels as a means to communicate content for his students whilst he was on leave to ensure that the work was covered. With some of the non-fiction novels covering the American Civil War in a manner that is attractive to students. Both methods are ones I can’t wait to use in my classroom however unlike Yang my artistic abilities are a little limited (as you can see). Who could help me? Again my good friend Google helped me out with a list of websites that provides programs for me to put together my own comic/graphic novel AND even better for my students to use to make their own!
Having the students write their own novels leads to the thoughts of how to use the idea and meet curriculum requirements. Constructivism has students develop their own knowledge using tasks to build on their own previous knowledge. In science there are topics that have very limited practical activities linked to them therefore students and teachers alike find them boring, by having students develop their own graphic novel on these topics they could construct their knowledge and then use the novel to share that knowledge with the other members of the class AND better yet they would be reading!
Disclaimer: For some teachers they will find the use of Wikipedia as a professional reference difficult to assimilate but hey it’s popular media and it’s where our students go, we need to be able to model how to use it well. I did cross check each reference I used.
A little about myself: I’m a high school science head of department completing my masters of Education (Leadership and Management) for the purpose of extending my skills in the area. So why am I taking a subject that is about text? The youth part is obvious however the text part intrigued me as reading continues to have an ever increasing importance in schooling, not just in what the students can do but in the focus put on it by administrations. As an avid reader I struggled for a long time to understand why people didn’t read more however in the low socio-economic areas in which I teach many students simply don’t have access to text in their homes in any other form than that on their phones. Therefore these students never learn to love reading in a way others may.