Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Solardarity My Children!

Back in January, at the turn of the semester, a schedule change gave me a new class and a new prep ... Environmental Science.

Now, if you read PF on a regular basis, you may have picked up on the fact that the environment is an important issue here.
I try and show it and make connections between our actions and the natural world, without preaching "gloom and doom" ... or the "everything is rosy, let us prance among the wildflowers" viewpoint.

So you are forgiven for thinking that this new class would not be a big deal as it's pretty obvious that FC is a tree-smoochin' greenboy.

The fact is, a new prep is a lot of work and especially so when dropped in your lap midyear. The kids will show up every day whether you are ready or not, so you had better be prepared with real lessons ... not your opinions.

My job is not to spread my views, but to teach the topic according to state standards so my kiddies can form their own views.

For instance, it is not appropriate for me to step up on my soapbox and tell them why we should be "space racing" solar technology and how ridiculous it is for a sun-drenched state like Florida to be dragging it's feet with solar energy, while seriously considering near shore oil drilling.

My job is to ignite some curiosity by sharing information, creating interesting activities, and stimulating lively debate.

So, I've rambled a bit, but if we could just return to the Environmental Science classroom for a moment ...

The kids I inherited in January were a mixed bunch with mostly low level science KSA's (knowledge, skills, and abilities).

The class had about 3 do nothing, cause trouble types who apparently got away with their behavior in the previous class, but instantly ran into the WALL with me.

They are gone now.

In their absence, the class has become this very likable group of science strugglers. One or two have higher skills and really belong in a more challenging setting, but they are a little ... now this is not going to be proper educationalese .... lazy.

When I say I inherited them in January, it was really my student teacher who inherited them with me running as his wingman to keep him out of trouble. He was big on bookwork, as new teachers who don't yet know their way often are.

His term ended back in April, so I really inherited these kids around mid April ... as far as me teaching them goes.

They have adjusted to me, their 3rd teacher of this subject, this year and we are making some progress.

Currently we are discussing alternative energy sources and global warming. It's easy to assume that because they are hip and on the internet all the time, that they know about these things.

Remember that saying, about "Never assume ..."

Well, don't.

Only one of them could tell me the general concept behind a hybrid car like the Prius.
The greenhouse effect has something to do with heat, they told me.
No one in the class could tell me anything about how a power plant generates electricity.

So we started from scratch.

Eventually, in our discussion of alternative energy sources, we came to SOLAR ... and I remembered a solar energy kit I had received at a training years ago. For the last couple of years, it had sat quietly on a shelf as my course load was mostly over other topics.

Last week, I dusted it off and took it out to show the kids.

In the box were motors, propellers, wires, light bulbs, buzzers, and "student proof" solar cells.

We had already talked about different types of solar energy devices so they had the general picture of how a photovoltaic cell functioned.

I took them outside, (our class is at mid-day so solar intensity is intensinormous), and for a half hour I let them play and tinker with the stuff.

At first they worked as individuals, then two partnered up, then groups of three and four formed, and finally, everybody joined forces to create their solar masterpiece.

I just stood back and offered commentary and advice.

Mostly, I just stood back.

Watch the video...I wasn't even necessary, they were doing it on their own.

They were pretty stoked by the potential of what a few tiny, weak solar cells can do.

That was Friday.

When they walked in Monday, I told them to work together using whatever was in the room and our solar kit to create a model car that would run on solar power.

That is what they have been doing most of this week.
They can't wait to get here every day and the cars are beginning to take shape. It's a small class so it looks like we are going to have two cars and maybe a boat.

  • There's a popsicle stick chassis group that has discovered their model might be a bit heavy ... (I told them to popsicle sticks might cause weight problems, but they decided to learn by doing ... heehee.)

  • There's the top secret all girl group who I hope are successful, because I love their cohesiveness and their precautions against industrial espionage by the other group.

  • I have one shopclass oriented girl, who I can tell wants to strike out on her own from the popsicle group and make a boat. I'm not sure what she's going to do, but she and I tossed around some ideas today after she showed me a drive shaft and wooden propeller she made in shop.

My goal is to let them all go for it and build what's in their heads.

Failure is an option.

I will share more on this when the big day comes and we step outside into the sun.


Paintsmh said...

Wow, fun! Wish you had taught my guys

cndymkr / jean said...

The best part of the post "Failure is an option". That says it all. I can't wait to see what they come up with.

Florida Beach Basics said...

what a treat, for you and them. a great end-of-year activity. We have a UCF-related solar energy center here in Brevard - wandered around the web site to see if there would be anything of use to you - http://media.fsec.ucf.edu/ was the only thing I could come up with.

Arkansas Patti said...

Where were you when I was in school? Oh yea, your parents hadn't met yet. Glad you are there for the young minds out there now. Keep them thinking and keep us posted.

Felicia said...

Your students are lucky to have you! Looking forward to seeing their final projects.

TROLL Y2K said...


The real money in the education field is in writing textbooks, correct? Both the texts for the yutes and "guides" for the teachers.

Design a hybrid science/shop curriculum and write a textbook about it.

Currently, shop teachers aren't spending any time explaining the science/math/engineering behind the projects. Some probably don't even understand those themselves well enough to teach confidently. And Science Teachers, (you're an exception) aren't doing enough hands-on practical stuff to keep some of the "lazy" but smart kids motivated. Most are probably bookish citified Education Major types.

I want a CREDIT if you act on my brainstorm!

lisa said...

I defiantly have to agree with everyone else, where were you when I was in school. Or even my kids for that matter.

SophieMae said...

That is so steenkin' cool! I was thinking it sounded like a mosquito, as well. And we've had more than our share of those lately. Can't wait to see the vehicular brainchildren!

Instead of forking out all those converter box coupons, they oughta be distributing solar conversion coupons. >:\

Deb said...

Can I transfer my kids to your class? Or what would it take to have you come here and show their teachers (well, grade 4 and up anyway) how to interact with students? I guess my frustration with the local school is showing again.

Cathy S. said...

You are such an AWESOME teacher. My oldest son did a solar car project when he was in middle school. Took it to state where he was blown away with other kids cars that looked like parents did them. I am glad you are letting your kids do it themselves.

Oh, by the way, that same son started a job at Gulf Island National Seashore yesterday.

Alan said...

Failure is an option? How un-PC of you! ;)

Sounds like great fun. I completely agree that there is no excuse for the "Sunshine State" to be so far behind in solar technology. I have friends in Colorado and everything there has to adhere to very strict green standards. The least we Floridians could do would be to push solar technology.

Ericka said...

isn't it great to watch the light bulbs flickering and then brightening?

also, you made me think of one of my favorite comics:

Kittikity said...

I absolutely love science.. Environmental science and biology were my best classes..

I have some ideas about a solar power generator.. Don't have the money to start on it though.. Maybe once my youngest goes into school next year and I can get a day job..

Lynn said...

VERY cool! I love how you get them involved with what they are learning. Makes the words stick SO MUCH MORE!

I can't wait to see what they end up with. And I'm hoping the girl branches out and makes a boat. The fact that she's working in Shop class to make stuff for your class is fantastic!

Sandcastle Momma said...

Your kids are so lucky to have such a fun teacher. Having fun and being creative makes learning so much more fun - and when it's fun it sticks with you. Can't wait to see the pictures of what they come up with.

Bill said...

Hey FC,
Now if only you could get some adults to understand the science portion of the environment and not continue to run around with whatever the latest media "idea" is. There are a lot of adults who have no idea about how a Prius operates or what "warming" means. I have two middle schoolers who are hip on the internet and from the "net nanny" warnings I get, I can tell you they are not looking up global warming or anything to do with the environment, unless it is for a science report.

Keep up the great work.

robin andrea said...

That is so excellent, fc. Love the video. Little hands doing very big things. Learning. I love the way you teach.

Just the Right Size said...

You're awesome FC! You're such a laid back, practical kind of teacher, which I think are the best. I loved all my science teachers back in "the day".

Have you ever read Walker Percy's essay called "The Loss of the Creature"? If not, as a science teacher, I think you'd totally dig it. It basically addresses the sovereignty of learning through doing versus learning about something through a book or picture.

Nancy Ortiz said...

Hey, FC. Great article. My grandfather taught us about farming the same way and we all turned out scientifically inclined. My sister is now a lawyer representing a California environmental development group competing for a share of funding from the State of FL to develop solar power here. They responded to a request for proposal put out by the State some time ago. It turns out that the State had neither studied nor considered solar power in its preliminary studies. How do we spell Fla Power and Light, huh? How's that for forward thinking! The CA group is persisting, but it looks like a long haul. Meanwhile, your followers await more enlilghtenment. Carry on, FC.

Floridacracker said...

I wish it was this fun everyday.

I like it too. We learn a lot from those moments.

I know the place. Great stuff there.

Thanks, I'll keep slugging away!

We are hoping to drive them on Friday, so stay tuned.

I have been thinking the same way lately,... I will still give you credit however.
I wish I did more hands on things actually. It takes stuff to do that and stuff takes money... not big money always, but some money.

That's very kind of you. I know it happens, but the idea of boring my students is painful enough to keep me looking for new things all the time.

True, true! Send some economic stimulus money to my rooftop!

That'll be one hell of a bus ride. Hang in there and talk with those teachers, as a pro scientist, you could probably give them some good ideas.

Cathy S,
So, it's girlfriend over Hawaii then?
Glad he got the job!

If a sunchallenged state like CO can push solar, what the heck are we doing??? Good point!

Thank you for that link! Neat stuff.

I hope it's successful!

She has backed off the boat idea and decided to paint the popsicle stick group's car for them. Spilled the yellow paint in her lap and had a pants emergency today.
LOL! They are too funny.

If you asked them they would probably say I'm not always fun!
You are right on, on your point though.

Good for you and your net nanny software.
Could you imagine what we would have been like if we had "ahem..." piped into our homes when we were that age?
Scary stuff.

I really grouched about this group when they were first handed to me, but we have gelled.

Just Right,
I haven't read it, but you have peaked my interest! Must find.

Thanks for that info. It does boggle the mind for FL to drag in the altenergy fields.
Seems like we could be the Saudi Arabia of Solar Energy!
I don't understand the hesitation.

kathy a. said...

what a terrific project! and part of science is not getting it right the first time, and learning something from that. [even paint emergencies.]

i'm so excited to see kids so excited!

Floridacracker said...

Kathy A,
Paint happens! LOL!