Earth Day and Interdisciplinary Projects #scichat #engchat

 

On Earth Day my students were lucky enough to Skype with Dr. David Haskell, author of The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature.  Over the course of the school year the students have adopted their own mandalas, a square meter of forest space, and made monthly observations.  I work with my biology colleague and the students have been learning how to communicate scientific knowledge to a general audience through informational writing, narrative writing, and poetry.  It’s been a magical experience and one I can’t wait to continue next year.

How did this all come together?

In October 2012 my former colleague Jon Olsen and I read an article in The New York Times Science Times about Dr. Haskell with our freshmen.  The article struck a chord and we reached out to Dr. Haskell on Twitter.  He spoke with the students and eventually we set up a brief Skype session so he could talk about the overlap between the humanities and science.  The Skype session went so well that we decided to use his book as a touchstone text between English and biology this year.  We placed an order for 80 copies of the book and started planning.  We knew we wanted a field study and writing component to go alongside the book and we worked on ideas for the next few months.

In September we introduced the book to our students.  They were a little unsure at first because we were telling them that biology and English would work together during the year, combining our classes at least once each month.  Thankfully, my school embraces interdisciplinary work so they “saw the light” very quickly.

Over the course of the year our current freshmen have read a variety of essays in Dr. Haskell’s book.  In September we broke them into 2 groups of 40 and within the groups broke them into triads.  Those triads worked together all year, finding mandalas close to each other and relying on the buddy system during our field studies.  They observed organisms, practiced using specialized vocabulary, wrote poems, and sat outside during the polar vortex.  We’ve been rained on, sleeted on, snowed on, and now it’s finally starting to warm up.  We’ve seen the circle of life, complete with a dead deer carcass in one mandala and a fierce cardinal defending its turf in another.

Before each class we settled on a seasonally appropriate focus and the students read at least one of Dr. Haskell’s essays.  You can see our schedule below:

  • Sept – perception / selecting & mapping mandalas (preface, April 14th & Sept 23rd): Mike and I chose the same readings and challenged the students to figure out why an English and Bio teacher chose the same ones (without planning it that way).
  • Oct – respect  / identifying a resident organism (March 13th & April 22nd), writing a descriptive paragraph modeled after Dr. Haskell’s.
  • Nov – ecological succession / change / spectrophotometry & color / wavelengths (Nov 5th), writing a poem modeled after a few nature poems we studied in class.
  • Dec – adaptations (structural & behavioral) / breathing / your response to cold (Jan 21st & Dec 3rd,) writing a description of the way the cold infiltrates the human body.
  • Jan – patterns / Kepler’s snowflakes (Jan 17th), studying snowflakes and writing haikus.
  • Feb – habitat / food + cover + water (Nov 15th), creating a photo slideshow and brief description of their mandalas
  • March – equinox / seasonal change, preparing for Dr. Haskell’s visit.

 

You can see a sample of the instruction sheet here.  Each month it changes based on the focus.

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This is one of the best projects I have ever been involved in.  The biology and English combination is pure magic and I love having the opportunity to teach a bit of science communication.

Dr. Haskell took an hour out of his day earlier this week to read some of the students’ writing, look at their Flickr group, and share his expertise.  It was fabulous and I couldn’t ask for anything better as an English teacher!  Thank you to Dr. Haskell!

Interdisciplinary work is the best.  The world isn’t divided into neat little subject boxes like the constructs we model in schools.  Life is messy, subjects mingle together.  But communication, reading and writing, is vital regardless of the field students may choose to pursue. Appreciating the environment that surrounds them is also vital to our wellbeing as a species.

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Weekly Diigo Posts (weekly)

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Thrive-The Book Every Teacher Should Read

I’ve known Meenoo Rami through Twitter for a few years and we have worked together on #engchat for the past couple of years.  We met in person at NCTE Las Vegas (despite the fact that we live only an hour or so away from each other!) and I was blown away by her passion and dedication to the teaching profession.  Needless to say, when her new book Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching was published a few weeks ago I read it cover to cover. (Ok, to be fair, Meenoo also asked me to write a few paragraphs for the book, so there were a few reasons I wanted to read it immediately…haha)

Thrive  is a book I want to send to every teacher I know.  I want every teacher education department to give it to their teacher babies.  I want to hand it out at every PD session I attend.  It’s just that amazing.

It’s a tough time to be a teacher.  We all see it and sometimes it’s hard not to feel beaten down.  But Meenoo’s book is a bright light in the darkness.  She learned early in her career that teaching can be a lonely career if you don’t reach out to the community around you.  In Thrive she shares the strategies that she uses in her professional life and the ways that teachers can apply them to their own.  I’ve seen this firsthand through Twitter and Meenoo was one of the first teachers who reached out and walked me through community-building on the network.  When I stumbled upon #engchat I knew I had found one of my tribes and I’ve been a fixture in the chat ever since.  There are days when my Twitter PLN keeps me sane and I’m so glad Meenoo has captured the importance of that community in her book.

But it’s not all about social media.  No!  Meenoo shares ways that teachers can reach out to colleagues in their departments, their buildings, their local and national professional organizations, and much more.  Teaching is a profession that works best when we mentor others and allows ourselves to be mentored. Thrive is perfect for first-year teachers who are just entering this crazy world of education, and it’s also the rejuvenating spark that veteran teachers need! We should be reaching out and helping our colleagues while also recognizing that teachers are life-long learners who can learn from their colleagues and students.

Thrive will help you (re)discover the joy in teaching.  I can’t wait to give a copy to my student teacher. And my sister. And my best friend.  I imagine Thrive sitting on the shelf next to Harry Wong’s First Days of School and other vital teaching resources.  It’s that important.  Be sure to pick up a copy today!

Make sure you are following Meenoo on Twitter because she is always sharing ideas and inspiration. And check out her  blog!

Be sure to check out some of the other stops on the Thrive blog tour!

Yesterday: Kira Baker Doyle at Kira J Baker-Doyle, Ph.D.

Tomorrow: Christina Cantrill at Digital Is (National Writing Project)

 

 

 

 

Meenoo Rami is a National Board Certified Teacher who teaches her students English at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia, PA. Mixing moments of joy, laughter, risk and encouragement, Meenoo pushes her students to think critically about their connection to the word and the world. Meenoo did her undergraduate work at Bradley University in Illinois in areas of Philosophy and English and completed her Master’s degree in Secondary Education at Temple University.  Meenoo also contributes to the work of school-wide events and professional learning communities at SLA. Meenoo works as a teacher-consultant for the Philadelphia Writing Project. She has shared her classroom practice at various conferences  such as: NCTE, ISTE, ASCD, EduCon, Urban Sites Conference for National Writing Project, and #140edu. Meenoo also runs a weekly twitter chat for English teachers called #engchat which brings together teachers from around the country to discuss ideas related to teaching of English. Her first book, THRIVE  from Heinemann will be out in March 2014. In her free time, Meenoo can be found on her bike, on her yoga mat or in her kitchen tinkering with a vegetarian recipe.  

To connect with Meenoo, you can find her on these social media networks:

Thrive

meenoorami.org

Twitter

Facebook

Google Plus

 

 

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MA or MFA? What Do You Think?

I think it’s time for me to start thinking about going back to school.  Ok, I’ve really been thinking about it for a while, but now I’m getting restless and I want to start in the next few years.  But I have questions for you, readers!

 

There are two low-residency programs that I am interested in and I’m not sure which one I should pursue.  Both are at Fairleigh Dickinson University here in NJ and both focus on writing.  The first program is the Creative Writing and Literature for Educators MA.  It’s specially designed for teachers and focuses on the pedagogy of writing along with literature.  I love that it’s the first of its kind to focus specifically on high school teachers and I know it will be useful going forward.  I also know I will learn a lot and I will enjoy it.  The residency is very short, only requiring a weekend stint on campus followed by online work during the semester.

The other program that intrigues me is FDU’s new YA Concentration in their Creative Writing MFA.  The MFA program is obviously more focused on the craft of writing and specifically YA writing.  The faculty is awesome (Coe Booth!  Eliot Schrefer! Donna Freitas!).  It does require 3 10-day residencies, which can be split between the NJ campus and Wroxton, England.  I could not attend the Wroxton residencies because they take place n January, so that means I would have to do all three residencies in NJ, which would result in it taking me longer to graduate.  But it’s such an awesome program!

Seriously, can I combine the two programs?  I want to do a semester or so of the MFA workshops and all the pedagogy for the MA!

Any ideas? Advice?  I don’t plan to leave teaching and I certainly don’t plan to go into administration.  I do plan to continue writing, so both the MA and MFA would be valuable.  I think I know which way I am leaning, but I would love to hear from others.  I do know about some of the other low-residency MFA programs but FDU is close and much more convenient at this point in my life.  But if you know of a program that combines the best of the MFA and MA program, please feel free to let me know!

 

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