As 2013 draws to a close and we reflect on events and accomplishments of the past year, it's also a good time to challenge ourselves to think differently. With this in mind, I put together a list of 7 items that I propose can inspire teachers and learners (of all ages) to consider alternative ways to address a problem. Each of the links featured suggests that the best solution to a problem doesn’t always emerge from a straight forward approach. This list of questions introduces 7 ways to inspire changes in teacher and learner thinking.
1. How can NASA scientists learn about human tolerance for living in space by first studying plants in space? Is it possible for humans to live and work on the moon for years at a time? Why not first send plants as surrogates for humans? Plant seedlings are as sensitive as humans to harsh lunar environment that includes extreme daily temperature changes, no protective atmosphere, and exposure to high levels of radiation. This is a first step in a long-range plant that NASA has for sending humans into space. If plants can germinate at a normal growth rate in a sealed container with five days rations of oxygen and water, human colonization of the moon or other astronomical locations has a highly probability for success. Read more about the LPX Lunar plant growth experiments at NASA... LPX First flight of Lunar plant growth experiment
2. While most of us are impressed by 3-D printing, what do we need to know about 4-D printing before it totally rocks our material world? 4-D printing breakthroughs in material science… “4-D printing employs dynamic materials that continue to evolve in response to their environment” Just imagine that instead of fixed three-dimensional items created from printed layers of plastic or metal, a 4-D printed object represent a dynamic material form that continues to evolve in response to its environment. This new technology is being researched and marketed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Self-Assembly Lab. The MIT lab director, Skylar Tibbits, and his team who are experimenting with these programmable 4-D materials print first substances using a 3-D print technology and then watch as time, the fourth dimension, transforms the object shape or the object automatically reassembles into a new shape. A movie embedded in this links shows how a flat 3-D object transforms into a cube when immersed in water (http://vimeo.com/64926672).
3. How do strategies for teaching math vary around the world, and what approaches are most successful? Eighth grade mathematics teaching in all seven participating countries shared many common teaching strategies and approaches. The figure provided here (at right) shows how mathematics teaching across countries generally differed. Figure 1 copied from the TIMSS 2011 International Results in Mathematics report (http://timss.bc.edu/timss2011/downloads/T11_IR_Mathematics_FullBook.pdf) provides an interesting way to compare how time is spent in the classroom. As educators are guided into more data driven decision-making, perhaps asking teachers to reflect on their classroom time spent on reviewing, introducing new content, or practicing new content would be valuable. As a learner, the Hong Kong (HK) distribution looks most appealing—I’d miss a lot if I missed one day of class, and that also would keep me interested.
4. How are U.S. teachers sharing ideas about revising their curriculum so that it addresses the Common Core State Standards? Achieve, the non-profit organization that led the development of the Common Core State Standards development, is now working with school districts to help implement the standards. The Achieve website includes Open Educational Resources that are available for educator review and comment. Here are links to the rubrics available for teachers to use to guide their review process. The EQuIP review process includes rubrics for English language art and literacy history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. Taking time to use the rubric tools available on one or more of the curriculum materials available for review is a great way to get a new perspective on the common core standards and what is expected of teachers in their implementation of this new curriculum. Teachers may want to share the EQuIP resources with their parents who express concern or questions about the new standards—these tools can direct discussion to specific attributes of the standards and can steer the discussion to productive topics about curriculum content, approaches, and strategies.
5. What is digital citizenship, and how can an infographic help me teach it? At what age should educators and parents discuss digital responsibilities with young people? Perhaps this discussion should begin as soon as a child can use a computer to search the Internet for information and create content of their own that they share with their family and classmates. Digital citizenship is also a topic that grows in complexity as a person’s usage of and access to digital tools expands. Working with students to establish agreed upon classroom rules of etiquette should be consistent with workplace and public online personal and community sharing practices that are both legal and safe. The ISTE organization is also a good resource for additional classroom tools and resources for teaching digital citizenship that comply with 21st Century technology skills and practices. Read more at: http://www.edudemic.com/teaching-students-digital-citizenship-skills/
6. What resources are available to help make the teaching of statistics more engaging? The Annenberg Learner series Against All Odds presents key probability and statistics concepts through a series of 32 video units. Each unit includes student and teacher guides for more in-depth study and interactive tools for data computations. The videos show statistics in engaging, real contexts and begin with a problem posed that is solved by the most applicable statistical tool. Read more at: http://www.learner.org/courses/againstallodds/
7. Climate science is a complicated, multidisciplinary topic—are there alternative assessment tools available that I can adapt and use with this more complex content? A Week of blog posts focused on climate Education evaluation from December 8th through 13th, the American Evaluation Association blog (http://aea365.org) will feature a series of posts focused on climate education evaluation. This series is sponsored and provided by the tri-agency evaluation working group, and will be full of thought-provoking and actionable ideas on evaluation within our community. Each day, a post will go up on AEA365.org dealing with some issue relevant to the evaluation of climate/climate change education projects. I'd encourage our entire community to check out the offerings. And if you're at AGU, you might take the opportunity to track down some of the authors to learn more and keep the discussion going.