It’s officially summer! The school year is finally over and unless you’re teaching summer school, you’re looking at some time for genuine R&R. In fact, you’re probably already a couple weeks into your well-deserved vacation.
But if you’re like a lot of teachers, and contrary to what the general public seems to think, summer is when you finally have time to reflect, take stock, and plan for next year. During the year, you barely have time to breathe, summer is your time to do the things that are important but not urgently pressing for your attention, to do the things that will make the coming school year easier and more fun for you and your students.
Summer is also a good time for lists … you know the kind. “10 Great Beach Reads.” “The 5 Best Short Trips from Chicago.” “7 Quick and Easy Summer Dinners.” In fact, there are all kinds of summer lists floating around on the Internet. I don’t know about you but I’m a bit past “play tag in the rain” and “have a water balloon fight.” Even “catch fireflies” seems a bit suspect to me in the fun category, although when I’m outside gardening during the day and happen to see a firefly sitting still on a leaf, I always smile and move in closer to observe it, knowing how beautiful it will be in the early evening.
In that spirit, I’d like to offer a brief list of some summer activities to consider. Each one will prime you for the coming school year of facilitating great science in your classroom and may even light a spark of excitement as you consider the cool things you’ll share with your students come September.
1. Get pinning! According to Wikipedia, “Pinterest is a visual discovery tool that people use to collect ideas for their different projects and interests. People create and share collections (called “boards”) of visual bookmarks (called “Pins”) that they use to do things like plan trips and projects, organize events or save articles and recipes.” Teachers are well represented on Pinterest, where they collect and share fantastic resources for activities and ideas for the classroom. If you haven’t swan-dived into Pinterest yet, summer is a great time to get started. The learning curve is nonexistent and even five minutes spent on the site will yield a lot of resources. And if you’re already a “Pinner,” summer is a great time to explore other boards, create some new ones of your own, and reorganize the ones you already have. With an iPad or your smart phone, you can even catch some rays while pinning. The iTEAMchicago Pinterest boards might be a good starting point for cool inquiry activities and resources. Why not plan some of your lessons by creating boards on the science topics you will cover during the school year?
2. Start a collection of spheres. Frequent garage and yard sales, thrift stores and flea markets to start (or add to) your sphere collection. ISI faculty member Wayne Wittenberg has an extensive and fun collection of spheres of various sizes and materials that makes it easy for him to engage his students in a wide variety of inquiry activities from teaching physical science concepts, such as Newton’s laws, to standing in as models for lessons on the solar system or the seasons or wherever else they might prove useful. And what is more perfect for a summer day than hitting all those sales with a goal in mind? Happy hunting!
3. Read! Reading is on almost everyone’s summer list. Why not add a book or two that will inspire the science teacher in you? We highly recommend Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. It’s a great read! Louv’s website contains some inspiring ideas you can use with your own children and with students. There’s also an extensive list of organizations providing resources, professional development, and citizen science opportunities for you and your students. Another excellent read is Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything. It’s a long, luxurious, fascinating read, the kind of book summers were made for. And in reading it, you’ll come away with an appreciation for how we came to understand our world and a deepened sense of how scientists think.
And while you’re at it, you may want to take a look at NSTA’s list of recommended books for kids. Who knows? You might even find some of these for your classroom library at those garage sales and thrift stores you’ve been going to. (See above.)
4. Watch TV. This is a trick item. But why not spend a little time this summer boning up on the Next Generation Science Standards in the most entertaining and palatable way around? You know you want to. Teacher Paul Anderson (Bozeman Science) has created 60 short videos that offer a thoughtful and concise crash course on the NGSS. And they are all available on YouTube. For an investment of less than 15 minutes each, you can review the science topics you plan to cover in the coming school year. Some of the videos include links to related activities and resources. And Paul spells out what’s appropriate at the various grade levels. During the school year, it’s sometimes difficult to find that spare 10 minutes, but hopefully in summer you have the luxury of a little more time. And if you can’t watch the entire series, why not focus on the Science and Engineering Practices and Crosscutting Concepts, where you’ll find some good ideas, and that will save you time when you’re in the midst of the fast and furious school year?
5. Spend time in nature. What is science, after all, but attempting to better understand the world around us? Try to see the world through a child’s eyes. Play with water. Watch the clouds. Look at bugs under a magnifying glass. Time spent like this can jumpstart creativity and lead to ideas for activities you can do with your students. Take a walk in the woods. Volunteer by hooking up with Chicago Wilderness. There are some great opportunities for helping in habitat restoration projects from wetlands to grasslands and prairies. You’ll get exercise, soak up some healthy Vitamin D, meet new people, and learn some science in the process.
I’d love to hear your suggestions for other things to add to the list as well as hear about how you’re spending your summer vacation. Did you find anything useful on the list? I hope so.
I hope you’ll check out the Golden Apple website to learn more about the Inquiry Science Institute.