Introducing……Full STEaM Ahead!

Full STEAM Ahead

As a humanities teacher in a STEM-based school, I frequently hear from students that they “hate English” and “will never need to write papers or do research” when they become engineers or scientists.  After I count to ten, I always list off the many examples of friends and colleagues who work in those fields and are responsible for reading and writing more than they ever imagined back when they were high schoolers.  For the past few months I have been brainstorming ways to show my students that the world isn’t divided into cubicles and that the real world combines math, science, reading, writing, language, health, speaking, listening, social sciences, history, and so much more.

Take me, for example.

I am a reader, writer, teacher, blogger, social media user, therapy dog handler, and citizen scientist.  I wouldn’t be happy if could only work in one field. And in the 21st century, we need to prepare our students to be more than paper-pushers and solitary worker bees.  Another issue I frequently think about is the need for our students to be innovators.  STEM- science, technology, engineering, and mathematics- is the new buzzword for schools around the country.  I love what my colleagues and I do at our school and I think the cross-curricular opportunities we provide our students with are priceless .  My students need to be innovators and thinkers, brave enough to try fail and then try again, over and over. And they need to learn how to fail in school.

For a few months now, I have been working on a new series for the blog.  I am a STEM-loving English teacher who often feels caught between my love of science and my love of literature.  While I have managed to find a job that allows me to embrace both, and hobbies that do the same, I meet far too many students, teachers, and parents who believe that life must be lived within the confines of either/or scenarios.  Either you are a scientist or a writer.  Either you are a linguist or an engineer.  Either you are a mathematician or a reader.  While I know that this could not be farther from the truth, it is still a stereotype I butt heads with on a  regular basis.

That’s when I started reading about STEAM.  I spent a lot of time exploring STEAM-notSTEM and found myself agreeing with almost everything they stand for.  As they say on their website, “creativity enables innovation”.  We need innovators and that’s a skill that needs to be cultivated in our students.  If we want to succeed as a country, we need to encourage and incubate innovators. So what is STEAM?  It’s a call for the addition of a national arts curriculum to the science, technology, engineering, and math focus that is the focus of many educational institutions right now.  The arts are proven to be a key to creativity, which in turn leads to innovation.  According to  STEAM-notSTEM

The future of the US economy rests on its ability to be a leader in the innovation that will be essential in creating the new industries and jobs that will be the heart of our new economy…STEM is based on skills generally using the left half of the brain and thus is logic driven. Much research and data shows that activities like Arts, which uses the right side of the brain supports and fosters creativity, which is essential to innovation. Clearly the combination of superior STEM education combined with Arts education (STEAM) should provide us with the education system that offers us the best chance for regaining the innovation leadership essential to the new economy.

I’m not an artist by any means.  I can barely draw a stick figure, bubble letters leave me frustrated, and my coloring leaves something to be desired.  But I love doodling, sketchnoting, and writing. I completed a NaNoWriMo novel, writing 50,000 words during the month of November.  My art is usually related to writing or reading, with a infrequent Pinterest-inspired craft thrown in the mix.  But that NaNoWriMo novel I wrote last year? It is focused on the migration of the monarch butterfly.  Science informs a lot of my writing and my teaching, and I realized that many of my favorite books also include real science.  This was a eureka moment for me and I had an idea.  Why not reach out to writers who delve into real science in their books and have them share their stories?  Those authors, of books that I would classify as lablit, as this NYTimes articles details, have become experts in a STEM-related topic in order to write the story they needed to tell.

Science and art have not always been relegated to separate corners.  Leonardo Da Vinci and the renowned Persian polymath Omar Khayyám, both of whom I study with my freshman humanities students, were readers, writers, poets, astronomers, inventors, designers, and scientists. . One of Carl Jung’s mythological archetypes was the artist-scientist, for heaven’s sake!  The artist-scientist archetype represents builders, inventors, and dreamers.

Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci, Galleria d...

Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci, Galleria dell’ Accademia, Venice (1485-90) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

And according to Scientific American, “Nobel laureates in the sciences are seventeen times likelier than the average scientist to be a painter, twelve times as likely to be a poet, and four times as likely to be a musician.”   It’s time for us to recognize these geniuses and those who are among us today, moving effortlessly between poetry, science, design, math, and much more.

I reached out and a fabulous group of authors agreed to share their experience with STEM as part of my new blog series, Full STEAM Ahead.  It’s time for the STEM world to embrace the arts, and reading and writing are a great way for teachers to bring STEM and STEAM together in the classroom.  The feature will be running weekly, with the first author scheduled to share his story on Thursday.  Eliot Schrefer, author of the National Book Award nominated Endangered (one of my favorite books of the year!) will be sharing how he researched bonobos and spent time studying them while working on his book.  Please be sure to come back on Thursday to read the first entry in the Full STEAM Ahead series here on TheReadingZone!

Real Revision: Authors’ Strategies to Share with Student Writers by Kate Messner

Real Revision: Authors’ Strategies to Share with Student Writers by Kate Messner is a must-have book for any teacher of writing, regardless of grade level. I can not recommend this book enough!

First of all, Kate gets it.  She is a full-time author, full-time seventh grade teacher, and full-time mom.  She teaches and actually uses the strategies she shares.  And as a writer, she is a revision expert. She knows that revision is hard work and she understand the difficulty of giving revision enough time in age of timed tests and standardized writing. I am thrilled that she decided to write this book and share her wisdom with us!  (And the wisdom of many of her author friends).  Kate understands the current climate of testing, she gets middle school minds, and she knows how much pressure teachers feel in this day and age.  Yet she still manages to make the book accessible, practical, and conversational.  You can read Real Revision: Authors’ Strategies to Share with Student Writers straight through or a few pages at a time and you will learn something every time you sit down with it.  My copy is flagged and I know I will be pulling it out constantly this year.

I read a lot of professional books about reading, writing, and general literacy.  Kate’s Real Revision: Authors’ Strategies to Share with Student Writers by Kate Messner  is the first book in a long time to grab me and make me want to continue reading long after I should have put the book down.  She doesn’t just share her own classroom experiences, but also includes interviews and essays from various children’s and YA authors.  The authors share their own methods of “real” revision and ways teachers can apply those methods in their own classrooms.

And teachers will love, love, love the “try it” sheets that are included throughout the book and in the Appendix.  Many of the “try it” sheets are invitations for students to try a revision strategy shared by an author in the book. Because these are authors thats students are familiar with, I imagine they will love having the chance to “try” what their favorite author suggests.They can actually learn about the real revision work done for the books in our classroom libraries.   How awesome is that?!

Highly, highly recommended for teachers of grades 2-12.  There is something in here for teachers at all grade levels!  Pick up a copy before the school year starts!

My iPhone and Reading

Last week I finally upgraded my #dumbphone to a #fancyphone!  It’s been a long time coming, but I waited (im)patiently for the iPhone to come to Verizon.  I am a Mac girl through and through.  Finally, my time has arrived!

Having my iPhone with me all the time has made for a lot more reading time.  I carry my iPad with me a lot, but not back and forth to school because my computer is with me then.  So that meant I was sometimes out of luck when I got stuck waiting somewhere without a book.  But I never travel without my cell phone, and over the past week I have been pulling it out constantly to read.  I am reading more over lunch, during breaks, waiting in line at the bank, and anywhere else I find myself waiting.  It is so convenient!

Have you found yourself reading more now that it’s so easy to carry a lot of books with you at one time?

 

 

(No worries- I am still a paper girl through and through.  I am not going all pro e-reader here.  I just like the convenience of having a back-up book with me at all times, on my phone.)

Voices from the Land Workshop

A few years ago I participated in the Voices from the Land project through EIRC/Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.  Since then, I have been unable to participate in the training for a variety of reasons. But this year, my district sent me to the two day workshop because the project fits in with our curriculum so well.  I was ecstatic, even though it meant driving north, towards NYC, during rush hour. (For the record, a 50 mile journey took me almost 3 hrs this morning.  It took me 1 hr and 10 minutes to get home this evening. Ridiculous.)

Today I spent the day at the offices of the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation.  First of all, their LEED-certified building is amazing!  They have a living biowall, which purifies their air and it just awesome.

 

Inspired by Andy Goldsworthy, the Voices project combines poetry, art, ecology, biology, digital photography, design, collaborative group work, and performance.  We are walking our way through the project, just like our students would.  Today we spent 3 hours in the woods, creating ephemeral art.  Here is my group’s art:

 

Then we did a gallery walk, listening to the other artists’s describe their process and work, taking notes on words and concepts that struck us.  Afterwards, we spent the remainder of the day listening to poetry and writing our own.  Tomorrow we will come together and perform our poetry.  I can’t wait!

My New Job

I love, love, love my new job.  I promised updates here on the blog and I have been terrible about keeping everyone informed.  Here’s a quick summary of my year so far:

I teach freshman and seniors.  My senior class is a new curriculum focused on 21st century literacies.  I teach two modules (one marking period each)- The Environment and The Human Condition.  We just finished reading Shakespeare’s Hamlet and my students created Twitter accounts for a particular character and tweeted the major events of the play through their eyes.  The projects were AWESOME!  I am having so much fun that it shouldn’t even be allowed.  We have also been reading Janne Teller’s Nothing as a class and it fits with our human condition theme perfectly.  The students enjoy being read to and the book really shocks them over and over.  They have been referring to it during our Socratic Seminars and in written responses.

It does take a while to get a read aloud done, because I only see my seniors 3 times per week, for 70 minutes each time.  It’s easy to fit the read aloud in most days, but the continuity isn’t always there.  I haven’t started doing the read aloud with my freshmen classes yet because I team teach and I haven’t figured out a way to fit it in yet.  (Yes, it kills me that we don’t have a read aloud, and I do notice the difference in the sense of community-reading, but I will get to it!)

My freshman classes are great, too.  I team teach, as I said, teaching in-sync with the history teacher.  We have two rooms that share a dividing wall, which has not been closed all year.  My curriculum follows the history curriculum, which is World Cultures/World History.  For example, I just taught excerpts of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales while my students studied the Middle Ages in history.  I am still finding my footing re: the team teaching, but I love it so far.

Technology-wise, my new school is unreal.  We are a math, science, and technology-focused so all of the students expect us to use a lot of technology.  I use Edmodo to post homework and host backchannel chats while we view movies/hold Socratic Seminars.  It’s fantastic.

I also had all of my students sign up for Goodreads.  So far, my students are just posting books for their 40-Book Challenge and friending each other, but I plan to host book discussions and much more soon.  I will also have the students posting reviews of books they read.  A few have already done so on their own!  Right now I am enjoying watching my students post their books and commenting on them.  I see my students 3-4 times per week and the Goodreads group is a great way to  continue talking about books outside of class.

My new job is absolutely amazing.  I am constantly being challenged, I love my students, my colleagues are brilliant, and love being able to use technology all the time.  :)

Books I Brought On My Cruise!

E-books, that is!  Here is a sampling of some of the books I brought along on my iPad.  No guarantees which ones will be read;I like to have choices and pick whatever strikes me at the moment, :)

Listed in no particular order:

A chose a variety of genres because who knows what I will be in the mood for when the time comes!

    iPad, uPad- Why I, a Teacher, love my iPad

    I got the best birthday gift ever this year.  My husband bought me a 32GB wireless Apple iPad!  I was floored when I opened the box. Just a few days earlier I had finally started to consider getting an e-reader.  (I love my paper books.  I was very anti-e-reader. Still prefer my paper books).  I had watched many of my students start using e-readers in school and I was attracted to the ease of carrying more than one book when I travel.  I read very quickly and when I travel I need to bring a huge pile of books.  The airlines are not a big fan of that. I had decided on a Nook (which I still highly recommend!) so I did not expect to get an iPad!

    It’s been about two months now, and I know some people are interested in my thoughts.  I absolutely love, love, love my iPad. It’s been a life changer for me.  First, I use it a lot as an e-reader.  I still prefer to read paper and ink books, but the iPad is awfully convenient.  While I can’t add the books in my iPad to my classroom library (like I do with all my paper and ink books), it has been a great way to read more adult books.  I tend to buy all YA and middle grade books because I can use them in my classroom library.  Otherwise, I would have so many books that I would end up living in a house made of books, and that would probably be dangerous.  I can just see myself grabbing a book that catches my eye and just knocking everything down.  Bye bye kitchen!  Anyway, back on the subject- it’s great to have an e-reader because I can read adult books and not worry about what to do with them afterwards.

    I can also carry lots of books around at once. When I finish one book I can immediately begin another one.  This is very convenient.  As I said before, I read quickly and I hate getting stuck without another book after I finish one.  I also love that I can carry books around everywhere I go.  I find myself reading at the dog park, at lunch, waiting to meet up with friends, at the beach, in the car, and in waiting rooms.  I am reading even more than I already was.

    Now, the iPad isn’t perfect as an e-reader.  The biggest issue I have is the glare.  The screen has a big glare whenever I read outside.  I make sure I read in the shade, and I use the Apple iPad case (that protects the iPad) as a sort-of shield and that helps a lot.  I also changed the iPad’s settings so that the screen isn’t as bright and the background of the pages is a yellowish color instead of bright white.  I haven’t had a single situation where I haven’t been able to read due to glare.  It just takes some juggling sometimes.

    I don’t just use the iPad as an e-reader, though.  That’s the beauty of the iPad- you can do so much with it!  I find myself downloading new apps everyday.  I have an amazing Astronomy app that helps me locate constellations and planets.  I love downloading the newspaper and my pictures.  Most recently I downloaded Flipboard after hearing an interview with the developer on NPR.  Flipboard is a personalized magazine using your social networking contacts.  It takes links, photos, and updates that your friends post on Twitter and Facebook and puts them into a magazine layout.  It’s clean, crisp, and looks just like an issue of your favorite magazine.  I can’t recommend it enough!

    I have been doing some research into using the iPad in the classroom and I am brainstorming ways I might use it.  One idea I have is to use it during conferencing to take notes (with a stylus).  The iPad could serve as my notebook with notes uploaded every time I sync.  Do you have an iPad?  How do you use (or plan to use it) in the classroom?

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