Adventurous Teaching: Taking Science to the Next Level

Baker teachers are a curious, adventurous group. In this centennial year, teacher orientation week began with this question: How can we design an integrated science study for the whole school that engages students in a real-world problem and engages students with field study and community partnerships?

Four Baker teams head out into the city for a day of science exploration.

Opening Week

The week unfolded from there. We formed groups with teachers from each developmental age represented in order to maximize our cross-school, interdisciplinary connections. Next we jumped into inquiry mode with this question: What do I notice about the interactions between water and the natural environment? Teams chose different locations: the lake, the canal, the indoor plumbing at Baker, the puddle in the preschool playground.  Together, we played, experimented, observed, and discussed. In the next task, each team researched and designed a field experience around a unique theme. Teams were charged with answering another question:  will this field experience explore the rich interplay between science and society? Midweek, teachers traveled by public transportation to different parts of the city. Teachers took public transportation on this day to better use the system for later trips with students. On Friday of orientation week, all four teams gathered in the auditorium to pitch their theme to their colleagues for consideration for the whole school’s science inquiry theme.

How did it Get There? team measuring sound and air quality (and playing) at the Argyle stop.

Projects Themes

The final project needs to be expansive enough to allow for a strong science thread from preschool – 8th grade, including physics and chemistry, as well as interdisciplinary connections.

The four projects proposed from the Baker faculty follow:

  1. How Did it Get There? From Linden, this team made stops on the purple line at Howard, Argyle, and then hopped the Green Line at the the Loop. Starting with an interest in the science of transportation, this team considered all of the questions that this theme might prompt in children: How did the train get from Linden to Howard? How does the light travel from the lighthouse to the lake? How did my avocado get to my plate? How did x bacteria get into the water system?
  2. The Cycle of Stuff – Intrigued by the closed-loop cycle modeled in the Southside’s Plant Chicago–an innovative group of restaurants and businesses finding a use for waste in their production–this team proposed a study of cycles. There are many scientific cycles that can be studied with this theme – life cycles, water cycles, cycles of matter and energy transfers in ecosystems, cycles of waste and recycling, just to name a few.
  3. Light and Color – Inspired by their trip to Pilsen where they viewed murals and mosaics and visited the National Museum of Mexican Art, this team proposed the school-wide study of color and light. The theme would allow for an exploration of the science of shadow, light, and reflection as well as the chemistry of color. This team proposed many interdisciplinary connections, including a framework for how individuals in our community identify culturally.
  4. Reimagining NatureSpace – Inspired by the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pool in Lincoln Park, this team proposed creating an accessible, sustainable outdoor classroom space from recycled and repurposed materials. The group proposes that our students design, engineer, build, and share the process with others all the while studying all aspects of science that relate to the project.

What is Science?

After the start of school, Natasha Itkin, Baker Middle School Science teacher, led a session with faculty that posed the question: What is Science? She facilitated a conversation in which teachers explored the nature of science; its importance in the lives of children; and, the limits and possibilities of the projects our Baker teams have proposed. What we know is this – science, at its heart, is a way of thinking about the world. It is a playful, curious habit of mind that we want to develop and flourish in all of our children. Whether they become chemists, physicists, doctors, violinists, or historians, we want for their education at Baker to instill a strong scientific literacy, one that engages their curiosity about the workings of the natural world throughout their lifetimes.

Inspiration

Want some inspiration? Take a look at this TED talk, Science is For Everyone, Kids Included, describing the science inquiry of one of the most widely read student science publications, and this beautiful manifesto featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson on science and its importance in our lives.

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