Engaging with the written word

Have you thought about how you engage with the written word?  Sometimes, it is words combined with pictures on a screen – Instagram, memes, blogs, etc.  Sometimes, it is a personal experience with paper and pen.  Sometimes, it is a tactile experience with a magazine, book or newspaper.  The written word can appear in a glance, or can be deeply pondered.  But, it has become apparent that how we engage with the written word is very different that it used to be.  And, may be highly dependent on how the information is presented.

Blog post graphic book

During the past week, I have encountered numerous stories discussing how reading has changed.  How we as learners, educators, and consumers of the written word interact with the messages and ideas being conveyed.  Our society has changed.  We read mostly in snippets, brief interactions.  And, this is driven by our devices: computers, smart phones, tablets, billboards, ads, etc.  We may or may not actively engage with a more complex reading format: a longer article, or a book.

This change in reading behavior presents a significant challenge to educators, how do we get students engaged with the text to think more deeply about an idea?  How do we get individuals to really comprehend the information being presented? How do we encourage an imagination?  There is obviously no clear answer.

Add to this the fear of the summer time reading slump, i.e. not reading over the summer; and we have to consider how individuals engage with reading.  For parents, there are some resources that are available.  Local summer reading programs at the public library.  Many school systems send home summer reading lists.  And, then there are organizations like Reading is Fundamental or Unite for Literacy. So, access to reading is available.  The trick is to engage in the activity.

Reading is a skill that needs practice.  We also need to engage in different types of reading, because our comprehension skills are different based upon method of interaction with the words.  It is time to encourage some quite time with a physical book in addition to reading an e-book.  We also need to engage in the act of writing, note taking, and pondering.  Perhaps if we do that more ideas and solutions may appear.

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Are you science adverse?

You are facing the new school year, and you know that you need to incorporate science into your curriculum; but you probably feel like:

science storm

There may even be a few reasons that you have put into words.  But, mostly, the underlying fear of science is due to the perception that science is “hard” and you had to be really smart to understand it.  This fear is experienced by parents, teachers, and students.  The only people who seem to like science are those who are “smart.”

Of course, this may or may not be the case, but in the United States there is a resistance to teaching and learning science.  Which is really funny if you think about it, as each and every one of use does something that involves science everyday – and we don’t think twice about it.  Do you play a sport? – Most sports involve lots of physics.  Do you cook? – Cooking involves chemistry.  Do you drive, walk, or cycle to work? – Lot’s of science and engineering are involved here, every thing from judging speed (physics), to the types of roads (asphalt, specialized paint for the line) you drive on involve science.  The list is endless.

There was a very good opinion piece in the Washington Post earlier this year about Americans’ aversion to science.  In his piece, Michael Gerson wrote:

Science has its own explanation for why people are resistant to scientific beliefs.  … Our intuitions about the physical world are generally accurate on a human scale, but on matters that are not immediately related to our survival – say on quantum motion, or the effect of physical phenomena on DNA – our intuitions are pretty much useless.  Science has often advanced in an uphill fight against common intuitions.

Fundamentally, this means that people view science as something that is not easily explained and doesn’t make sense to them.  And, to add to that the specific language or terminology used by scientists, it is enough to make you want to just throw your hands in the air and do something else.

But, now you are faced with the task of actually teaching science.  What are you going to do?  First, take a deep breath.  Then, throw out the fear.  (Remember, most of the time you are scared of something it is because you have never tried it before)  Take it one step at a time, and tell yourself that you can do it (or, at least you can find the right resource to help you do it).

So, here are some recommendations that can help you:

1) Pick an age appropriate curriculum.  There are lot’s of choices.  For younger children, science is usually observational such as watching a plant grow, or looking at how simple machines work.  Check out your catalogs for something that looks like fun.  For preschoolers, I always go back to what do scientists do – they observe, they measure, and predict what will happen next.  It is a very simple statement of the scientific method.

2) Look for resources in your area to support your curriculum.  This could be the library or local museum.  They may have programs that relate to your specific curriculum or you can tailor your curriculum to correspond with what your local resources are doing.  Don’t have a local science or natural history museum  – then look a virtual opportunities on the internet.

3) Look for ways to incorporate science via other topics.  For example: in your art curriculum, you might be able to incorporate the mixing of colors, the chemistry of paints, or the balancing of objects in a mobile. There are lots of places where science intersects with art.  Similarly, sports are another area where you can investigate science doing hands-on activities.  Remember, you as the parent or teacher don’t necessarily have to be the expert , all you have to do is connect the appropriate resources – like the library, internet or a local person who knows about the topic.  (I remember a high school teacher in my area for her high school chemistry class gave an assignment that was to interview a person who works with some type of chemistry.  Most of her students tried to find a chemist or a chemical engineer, but her list of potential interviewees included the person at the hair salon who dyed hair, the lawn care person, a mason, a water treatment plant operator, and an artist.)

4) Ask questions.  There are lots of people who have been where you are.  Lean on your support groups.  They can provide some additional resources.

5) Be safe and have fun.  Science is really fun, if you don’t make it a huge mountain.  One of the reasons that people are afraid of science is because that feel they have to tackle high level science first.  You can start off with fun activities.  Get excited about trying new things.