Sunday, July 21, 2013

What I Learned While Bird Watching

How much do we learn through observation?  My family and I just took a trip to the San Diego Zoo and we saw many animals of all shapes and sizes.  At the end of the day we always ask the question, what did you like the best?  It so happened that we all really enjoyed the flamingo exhibit.  I know what you’re thinking… flamingo exhibit – why?  At first glance when you walk into the area there’s just a pond of water with pink flamingos doing various things.  Then we started to observe closer and saw tall mud nests with an egg in each one of them.  There were baby flamingos at different ages.  We guessed
what age they were given their size.  Then on one side of the pond there were two that were playing/fighting, all the birds seemed to have different personalities.  My family and I had a discussion about what was going on and came up with some conclusions together.  We laughed about the fact that there were ducks in the exhibit as well.  They also had ducklings following their parents around.  We figured that they were local ducks that found a great place to live. 

After spending some time there we started walking away and discovered information about the flamingos on a placard nearby.  We read about their circle of life as well as their behaviors and environment.  As we were reading we realized that we had already discovered most of what we were reading through our observations and discussion with each other.  We did this naturally without anyone to tell us to do it.  This is what the definition of science is all about.  According to the dictionary science is a systematic knowledge of the physical or material world gained through observation and experimentation.  These are the most important elements of science.  Science needs to be learned hands-on through experiments as well as by observing the world around us.  All knowledge shouldn’t come from just a book or a lecture.  Have you ever noticed how many toys are designed around building, creating and making?  Tinkering and the Maker Movement as well as the integration of STEM education have become a big part of how science is being presented.  It is an engaging way for students to learn the world around them not only by reading about it, but by actually experiencing it. 

Students need time to observe, discuss, experiment and reflect on their experiences.  I know it is not always easy to give students exposure to real world in the classroom, but it’s important to be creative in how to simulate these experiences for students.  Demonstrating an experiment is good, but giving students the opportunity to do the experiment on their own is even better.  Give students a chance to build or create things on their own.  For example, after learning about electricity and circuits give the students some tools and parts and see what they can create.  Give them a challenge of creating a motorized vehicle that can move in a straight line.

As the next school year approaches think about how to make science more hands-on through experimentation and observation, as well as collaboration and discussions, to make it an enriching interactive and engaging experience for all.

Contributed by Karen Wilson, Instructional STEM Coach

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