Everyday Classroom Tools
This year, nine of the Bishop teachers volunteered to be a part of the Spirit of Inquiry curriculum designed by the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory's Everyday Classroom Tools project. Participating teachers are from all grades represented at Bishop school.
Linda Cohn -- ACE Resource Teacher
Sharon Edgar -- Kindergarten
Betsy Hale -- 5th Grade
Betty Mottola -- 2nd Grade
Liz Pedrini -- 1st Grade
Judith Pooley -- 1st Grade
Jim Stanger -- 4th Grade
Caroline Thom -- 3rd Grade
Jeanne Wall -- 3rd Grade
Sara Waters -- 3rd Grade
Astronomer is bringing science to classroom
By Jerry Taylor GLOBE STAFFArlington -- Five-year-old Owen Howard wanted to know: "What is a shooting star?"
His kindergarten teacher at the John A. Bishop School, Sharon Edgar, seized the moment. She asked Owen and his 17 classmates to draw their concept of a shooting star with Magic Markers.
"We start with questions," Edgar told a visitor a few days before Christmas vacation. "We do journal writing. Is a shooting star real? Where does it come from? What does it look like? I found these 'star facts' on the Anglo-Australian Observatory's home page. I'm looking for more information on the Internet."
Tania Ruiz, 25, an astronomer with the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, was in Edgar's classroom at the time, on her weekly day-long visit as part of a new program at the Bishop School. On a computer screen, Ruiz called up a photo of a shooting star from the Smithsonian's [ECT's] World Wide Web page, inviting Owen and other children to take a look.
"We're seeing it in our mind's eye," Ruiz said. "Then we're going up in space and seeing it from another perspective."
Science has become an exciting exploration at the Bishop school. Ten of the 16 homeroom teachers are participating in the second year of a three-year program "using science and the Internet as everyday classroom tools," funded with a $200,000 grant that Smithsonian obtained from NASA.
Parent volunteers extended Internet access to seven additional classrooms in November by drilling holes in walls and connecting wires.
"It's cool to see a scientist," said Emma Kazarian, a student in Caroline Thom's third grade class. "She tells us about the earth and stuff. I like observing stuff outside."
"It's not teachers imparting knowledge," said Stephan Carme, principal of the Bishop [School], a classic red-brick school on Columbia Road, with 363 children in kindergarten through fifth grade. "It's teachers and kids investigating together. A lot of the curriculum is integrated -- writing, math, history, geography, geometry, computer science, art. All the kids keep journals."
The Bishop School was chosen for the science-Internet effort because [Dr.] Christine Jones, the mother of a first grader at the school, collaborated in writing the grant with another Smithsonian colleague, Eric Mandel.
Jones' daughter, Miranda, is not taking part because her teacher did not volunteer. Three teachers volunteered in the 1995-1996 school year, Carme said. He said he hopes all will choose to take part in the third year of the grant.
The Center School in Petersham, near the Quabbin Reservoir, is also part of the program. Students in both schools will soon be communicating by e-mail.
On the corridor wall outside their classroom at the Bishop School, Jim Stanger's 25 fourth graders display the measurements they made of a shadow on the hour from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. one day in October. Casting the shadow was a 1-meter stick standing amid stones in a coffee can placed on the school's parking lot.
Last fall, using observations of shadows in their schoolyard, data secured from the 'Net and the principle of similar triangles, these children recreated the experiment of 2,200 years ago by Erastothenes, the Greek scholar who made the first accurate measurement of the earth's circumference.
Stanger's students, among other projects, made individual bar graphs showing seasonal changes in the duration of daylight in various state capitals. For Dec. 13, for example, Daniel Buonaiuto recorded 9 hours 23 minutes for Denver, Amanda Ruston noted 10 hours 51 minutes for Honolulu, and Connor Bishop had 6 hours 28 minutes for Juneau Alaska.
Stanger's class tackled large numbers. When Bud Hanes said the sun is 93 million miles from Earth and Julie House said that light travels at 186,000 miles an hour, Stanger asked students to write those numbers on the board.
Judy Pooley's first graders, having painted what they imagined the earth would look like to an orbiting astronaut, got to see actual color photos taken from space, plucked by Ruiz from a NASA Web site in Arizona. [Note: This is not a NASA site]
"From kindergarten up to second grade," Ruiz said, "kids drew something round when they did an astronaut's view of Earth. We hold up a paper plate [and ask], 'What do you mean by round?' They have different thoughts about that. Now they're getting Play-Doh to make three-dimensional models."
In Liz Pedrini's first grade class, everyone had molded white Play-Doh into spheres, to harden overnight and be painted with continents and oceans the next day. "I'm making dots with my pencil so I'll know where to color," Katie Wah said.
Sara Waters led her third graders in an exercise on identifying geometric shapes by using an overhead projector to cast silhouettes on a screen. When a small round image appeared, Waters asked, "What are the possibilities?"
Ideas bubbled forth. A hemisphere? Sphere? Cone? Cylinder?
"What could we do to help identify it?" Waters asked.
"Rotate it!" Most of the 18 children replied. Waters did, and a cone appeared, accurately identified by Peter Baynard.
Caroline Thom, with help from Tim Baker, was slowly rotating a tilted globe while facing a projector's beam to simulate sunlight striking the earth. She stuck a pink straw at Boston's spot on the globe. "As the earth rotates, watch what happens to the shadow," Thom said. Inside her classroom's door was a vertical bar graph done by her students showing daylight durations gleaned from the Internet.
In September, children in most of the participating classes were asked to draw pictures conveying their ideas of a scientist. Nearly all portraits were of bearded, pipe-smoking men in white coats, some of them causing explosions, teachers said.
"When Tania came in wearing jeans and a T-shirt with her hair down, those images were shattered pretty quickly," Thom said. "I heard a lot of kids say, girls in particular, 'I'd like to be a scientist.'"
Student journals here....
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Author/WebMaster Tania Ruiz
Last updated January 14, 1997