Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Raising the standard

It never occurred to me while a student that I could become a scientist. I loved reading about animals especially and always headed for the 636 section when entering a library. But the science education of the time was all about memorizing facts, not in any way emulating the process of discovery that real scientists engage in. Apparently, there still is room for improvement. According to a recent issue of Science (9.18.2009), the current biology curriculum has been widely criticized as having “...a flawed approach to teaching science: too much emphasis on facts and memorization and too little attention to the underlying concepts and how science is actually practiced.”

Fortunately, the Advanced Placement (AP) biology curriculum for high school is being revised and will likely trickle down to all grade levels. Among other changes, the following four “big ideas” in biology that the program will be based on are:

1: The process of evolution drives the diversity and unity of life.

2: Biological systems utilize energy and molecular building blocks to grow, to reproduce, and to maintain homeostasis.

3: Living systems store, retrieve, transmit, and respond to information essential to life processes.

4: Biological systems interact, and these interactions possess complex properties.

A summary and link to the draft copy of the new biology curriculum can be found here.

There are also seven science practices that will be covered, including “The student can use mathematics appropriately” and “The student can plan and implement data collection strategies in relation to a particular scientific question.”

With that in mind, I’d like to mention my picture book that addresses a fundamental pursuit of science, collecting and interpreting data*. Graphs are found in many classrooms, and can be quite creative with just a little extra effort. The scene below from the Great Graph Contest shows a bar graph made from real cookies. As a bonus, it’s always fun to clean up after making food graphs.

*Math Standard: Data Analysis and Probabililty / Formulate Questions That Can Be Addressed With Data and Collect, Organize, and Display Relevant Data to Answer

Graphs can be made to explore virtually any subject, such as:

What birds fly into your yard?

What is your favorite _____? [Shape; number; color; planet; continent...]

What types of food did you eat today? [From Food Pyramid groups]
How many countries have you visited?
What job would you like to have as a grown-up?
What is the most dangerous animal?

Below is a sort of a pie chart that showed how much each grade was contributing for a food drive. It probably inspired some constructive competition.
The graphs that use student-made artwork, photos, or real objects are especially appealing. The ones using computer-generated graphs are a tad dry, though it is a necessary skill to be able to interpret those as well.

Who knows... if hands-on experience to learn how scientists make discoveries had been a part of my educational experience, maybe being a scientist would have entered my mind. On the other hand, it’s also quite fulfilling to spread the word about all sorts of interesting topics as a picture book author-illustrator, so no complaints here! For a project hand-out with ideas for using all of my picture books in the classroom, click here.


Christina said...

My children (ages 7 & 4) & I have really enjoyed your books, especially Mapping Penny's World. I'm excited that there are so many others to explore in our library system.

The science curriculum notes in this entry are interesting to me. My oldest is homeschooled, and right now we are studying prehistory, from the beginning of the universe to early man. It's so exciting to share the "big ideas" with her. Steve Jenkins' book Life on Earth: The Story of Evolution has been very helpful, as has Our Family Tree: An Evolution Story and the Universe Tells a Story series by Jennifer Morgan.

Anyway, I just requested your graphing book from the library as well as the 2x2 = Boo. Thanks so much for the books, and for the blog entries!

Susan E. Goodman said...

ssIsn't it amazing how using real objects (and photographed ones instead of drawn ones) totally transforms the mathematical idea.

Loreen Leedy said...

Thank you, Christina, that’s so nice to know. I’m working on a book right now about prehistoric life with poems, jokes, and amazing facts. It’s been fun to catch up on some of the more recent discoveries.