The Power of Simple Ideas

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It is difficult to find ways to address higher level thinking while helping students understand difficult concepts. The complexity of some topics can be debilitating, so much so that teachers will cover them superficially or avoid these concepts altogether. However, this is not how our brightest minds see difficult content.

MythBusters‘ Adam Savage makes a living out of demystifying the great enigmas of our time. In the TED talk below, he attempts to demonstrate how we can understand complex scientific concepts by incorporating simplicity and a bit of creativity…

Consider how the inertia example might play out in class. Without even defining inertia, students could try to explain what they think happens to cause the ball react as it does. Can they recreate the same phenomena using different materials? This builds a basic foundation for later understanding a concept as complex as inertia. Then, one might introduce the terminology to match whatever definition the students discover. The simplification of such a scientific concept allows students to grasp it on their level.

Even by simplifying scientific knowledge, we don’t dumb it down. The three simplified and creative scientific discoveries Savage describes in his talk require some higher-order, abstract thinking. Simplifying science really just makes it more accessible for our students.

What scientific concepts have you been able to break down into their simplest forms in order to help students understand better? How can simplifying science not benefit student understanding? How can you use this TED talk to help your students better understand difficult scientific ideas?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.

HD_Links: Today’s Five

eMINTS staff are in meetings all week. So, these posts are being written before, during, and after these meetings. For today’s list of links, we present five interesting and useful resources for your perusal. Enjoy.

  1. Daily Inforgraphic‘s graphic today is “Most Targeted Books.” The titles featured in this inforgraphic are those most targeted by parents for concerns over questionable content. Some old favorites like Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird still worry parents, while newer, popular titles like Twilight cause concern. The infographic originates from the “good” folks at Good, also a great resource for infographics in their own right.
  2. The Learning Network blog at The New York Times has a post today that asks some interesting questions about how we identify ourselves ethnically on college application and financial aid forms. The questions are paired with a Times‘ article on the same topic and stir up some interesting issues that don’t provide black and white answers.
  3. Edgalaxy features The Science of Cooking‘s cooking candy resource. Not only is candy making a fun (and sweet) art, but there is some science involved that will either make or break yummy treats.
  4. For those looking for new ways to share documents with students and colleagues via your website or blog, Embed.It has the answer. You can upload up to 20 MB in the following formats: Documents (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, WPD, ODT, ODP, ODS, PDF); Images (GIF, JPEG, PNG, TIFF, BMP, PSD); Vector Graphics (API, EPS, PS); Text (TXT, RTF, CSV); Code (HTML, SQL, JS); Web (Web pages or other URLs). Just upload your file and Embed.It will give you a handy embed code to plug into your site’s HTML.
  5. Finally, here’s an end-of-year video for one fifth grade class that looked to have a pretty fantastic year of learning. Gifted teacher Jason Smith of West Chatham Elementary School in Savannah, GA has pieced together a pretty slick look back on his year. Maybe it will spark some ideas as you plan for the coming fall.

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center.

Thursday’s Tip: Wallwisher in Science

Wallwisher: What do we want to learn about the Winter Olympic Sports?

This past school year, I used a great free website with my students to practice their skills with experimental design. On Wallwisher you can post a guiding question and have students responses appear as sticky notes across the “wall.”

For example, I posted an experimental question such as “How does the salinity of water affect the rate of evaporation?” Students used Wallwisher in pairs or individually to post their hypotheses to this question. They can even embed video or images into their posts. I think it’s a great online tool with lots of possible uses in the classroom!

For more on Wallwisher and other virtual cork board tools, check out our earlier post. (Zac)

Julie LaConte is a sixth grade science teacher for Ritenour Schools here in Missouri.

HD_Links: Making Sense of Measurement

Here are some links to support students of all ages by giving visual references to help make abstract measurements more concrete.

The Learn.Genetics site created by The University of Utah has created a Cell Size and scale visual that allows visitors to view the size of cells from a coffee been down to a carbon atom. Use the slide bar to zoom down from 12 ml (millimeters) all the way down to 340 pm (picometer = a trillionth of a meter).

Let students compare themselves to other animals by measuring their ear, height, and foot length and see where they line up in size to other animals with similar dimensions. The Lawrence Hall of Science has created the Measure Yourself and other measuring activities such as “Jump Start” which has students jump as far as they can then measure the distance they covered to compare it to their friends and other living organisms like a grasshopper or rabbit.

From the BBC’s Math files, Animal Weigh In, has students balance a scale with weights that equal the same amount as the animals sitting on the scale. Student will practice adding and converting weights in pounds, ounces, grams, kilograms, stones, and tons.

eThemes, your source for online resources that are content focused and are safe for students, has 4 “themes” on measurement that might include additional links to help your students learn about this topic. Check out Math: Metric Measurement, Math: Customary or Standard Measurement, Math: Telling Time, or Science: Temperature.  If you are an eMINTS teacher and still can’t seem to find the exact resources you are looking for resources, you can always request a new eTheme and get what you are looking for and save yourself the time searching Google.

Brooke Higgins is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center. You can read more at her blog Higgins Helpful Hints Blog. Diane McCormack, a PD4ETS Graduate and Instructional Technology Facilitator with the Affton Public Schools, shared some of these and other great resources.