Ask and Tell

The best way to get someone’s attention is first by getting to know the person. - Abbi Williams

Let's start by stating the obvious. I'm a nerd. Information of all sorts makes me happy in some way or another. If I am not learning then what am I doing with my life? Thankfully the iPad has a couple of fantastic apps for pulling together all the information that I could ever want on any subject. One of my favorites, Zite, will create a magazine for you based on any subject. So, like any nerdy teacher one of my Zite magazines is devoted to education. Every couple of days I check it out to see what thinkers are saying about the topic. Without fail, one of the most common topics is "student engagement." Many a great mind wax poetic about what it takes to engage a student in one subject or the other. My question is, why not go straight to the source?

You see, one of the most unexpectedly enjoyable parts of my Kenan Fellowship has been the maintenance of a focused blog. Periodically we were asked to write a post in response to a specific question. Some of the questions were more interesting than others, but in general each asked me to think about a topic that I had never considered in enough depth to write about. I've taken this idea and applied it to my AP Biology class. Each student built and is in charge of maintaining a blog. Every week or so I ask them to write a post in response to a specific topic or idea. Over the past month and a half I have started to get to know them well enough that I was comfortable tossing them the following question: "What can teachers do to get students more interested in science?"

The results were far better than anything that Zite could ever pull in for me. I received posts long and short. Some incredibly deep and other straight to the point. Some of the common themes included an inviting, engaging, safe classroom environment, hands-on-activities, and games/fun of all sorts. No matter the writer, though, each had some interesting point to make. When I originally conceived of this blog post I intended to take their comments and weave them into some deep/thoughtful/self-important post elaborating on my ideas about how to get students engaged in science. This post, however, is not that. I was humbled by so many of the quotes that I decided to record them here and let you take them at face value. Here they are, the words of students who are begging to be engaged in the science classroom.

We encounter science everyday and in order to capture the minds of students we must make this evident starting when they are young children. From kindergarten to high school students, we should incorporate hands on activities into lesson plans. Students don’t like sitting down everyday and writing down notes. Science is probably the only class that allows us to discover and be creative. -Jarrett Bumidang

I think its important that teachers realize that an interest in science usually starts at a young age (when curiosity levels are high), so teachers should make an effort to make elementary and middle school science class fun by feeding into that natural curiosity. -Yaa Ofori-Marfoh

We all possess a streak of hyper activeness in each of us, some greater than others, and all we want to do is let it out! What better way to grasp our attention than to let us set this suppressed hyper activeness free? - Toni Madugu

I can say from personal experience that labs have helped me out more than bookwork has because labs require you to DO what is required rather than just read what has happened, such as you would do from a work book. -Justin Quimbo

In response to our newly "flipped" (I hate cliches) classroom.

As soon as students get home, they are eager to check their Facebook and Twitter accounts to see new updates, so while they’re online, they might as well head to Youtube for a quick 10 minute video and take their notes, that’s like killing 3 birds with 1 stone:) - Asia Johnson

One of the most challenging statements.

With students you just can’t teach us, you have to interact with us. Taking notes isn’t going to fill a students interest, work WITH us and make sure we’re learning hands on. -Iris Sullivan

Likely the most creative response. Sci-Fi Me by Alana Lee

As students we have these chapters filled with things like ever-afters,

It’s just the imagination of our minds that create all these wonderful disasters.

We like the mind-blowers, things that make us ask, “what does that possibly mean?”

We like the words from our teachers mouths that don’t leave without a sting.

We want to know what’s happening, who’s rapping—- the scientific theology of hymns,

We want to just understand the flow and  soon after,

We’re hooked.  And we knowingly know how to show it,

The truth revealed of our intellects, is consistent with our ammunition that’s smoking.

What only leaves us heart broken is sometimes what’s left of the remains;

Nothing but chunks and pieces,  nothing new, but who would be there for the blame?

We are the next leaders, so fill our lives with experiments that will make us achievers.

Our scientific adventures will take us further than the curb, we’d be more than just succeeders.

Let the scientist autonomy be the quest and  science  our sky–

Filled with more options where our minds are employed,

And  possibly at the rate of overload where we might actually happily die.

I don't know about any of you, but responses like that make me want to work just a little harder on behalf of my students. How might your students respond. Let this serve as a challenge to ask them. If you feel so inclined I would love to hear what they say.