No.6 - Spicks
in Stone and Bronze
Science of Toys
Welcome to Issue #6 of The Creative Teaching Space.
This edition – Spicks and Specks – focuses on a range of creative strategies and ideas applicable in science classrooms or across the curriculum.
As always take the ideas with a grain of (NaCl) Sodium Chloride, better known as salt. (Now you could explore the history of the word ‘salt’ and its connection to ‘salary’). Don’t let me dictate the space, the pace or the place with what you do in the classroom or training room. Rather experiment and see what happens. The ideas and strategies are pointers or ways of opening up learning. I am a big believer in an open approach to education. We live in very ‘reductive’ days where much is numbered, labeled or categorized. As a highly structured approach looks great on paper and in a financial domain it is also highly lacking in the practical and flexible space of the everyday classroom or training room. Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. Teaching and learning are still full of mystery. I’ve been listening to a live radio recording of the Irish singer/songwriter Paul Brady lately and I think he sums it up very well when he sings:
Nobody Knows (Paul Brady)
Good luck with what you are teaching. Hope that these ideas spark new ideas and approaches.
Recently at a conference in Burnie, Tasmania, I came across this tried and true educational strategy. A student writes a sentence on lined paper. The following student writes a response to the previous line and folds the paper to hide the previous sentence. The next student responds to the line that has just been written. This continues until all lines are filled. The last student writes on a thin folded strip of paper. Finally the paper can be unfolded to reveal the combined sentences. This can look and sound surprisingly like poetry. Here is a response from the session I was in – one where we were only able to read the previous line.
happened this morning that
Alternatively students could write a comment on a line and cover it so that it is not seen by the next person. This will generate quite random responses where connections can be later explored. Students can also be divided into groups. Groups collaborate to build a sentence. They may like to write a question and the next group has to answer the question as well as ask one for the following group. Experiment with the many ways that you can generate ideas, random comments or questions via this system. Create random or secret responses that can be discussed at the end.
Take any object or concept that you are studying. Compare it to something else. The more abstract the comparison the greater and more imaginative the thinking: Shakespeare and an atom, geometry and art, pollination and business. In this activity students have to recognize characteristics of each object, person or concept and find links that can be emphasized or exaggerated for serious, comic or satiric effect. Below is a lovely example I received via email. General Motors responded very creatively to a comparison between Microsoft and their cars.
See what comparisons you and your students can come up with. Experiment with ideas across curricula.
A blindfold is always useful when working with students. I like using those that one gets on an aeroplane.
There are many ways of using a blindfold with students. Play Greetings Your Majesty in which a blindfolded student has to guess the person who is shaking his or her hand and saying ‘Greetings Your Majesty.’ Place objects gathered from within the room or outside, into the palm of a blindfolded student. He or she has to guess the object. Use objects within your curriculum area e.g. science instruments.
Ask students to partner. The partner puts on a blindfold and the other partner, having moved elsewhere within the room, gently calls his or her name. This is a great exercise involving careful navigation as one moves between others and selective hearing – the blindfolded student has to identify the partner and navigate in that direction.
A blindfolded student can also be asked to gently feel another person’s face to identify who they are – a good introduction to the sensitivity of the fingers and the skill in reading Braille. A person can also direct their partner to an area in the room through careful directions or a coded language (word or phrase) previously arranged – e.g. each caller assigned a German word, scientific element or animal sound.
A student can also tap in code on the back of his or her blindfolded partner to indicate direction and move him or her to a particular spot: tap on left shoulder means move left, tap on right shoulder means move right, one tap in middle means stop, rate of taps alters speed. Students can work out their own tapping system. What does this tell us about language?
A student can play the role of the hunter and the other the hunted. Everyone plays. The hunter calls a sound and the hunted must reply with his or her particular sound. Students have only five calls and replies to find their prey.
A student, or those standing nearest, can also direct a blindfolded student through a maze of chairs or people. I like it when the nearest person has to direct – "take two steps left." Why not blindfold a student and he or she has to throw a soft ball at the students? Whoever is hit is out. Continue until the last person standing.
Students can also direct their partners around the building – a great introduction to how it must feel to be blind. Another fascinating experiential technique involving the senses is to put boxing gloves on students, or other impediments, e.g. rulers down the sleeve. The student must then e.g. pour a glass of water. This can show how hard it must be to carry out ordinary tasks when one has a disability due to inheritance, age, or an accident.
Let all the students be blindfolded. They have to all make their way back to a line or put on their own shoes from somewhere within a pile.
Blindfolded students can also stand within the room. A person is assigned as the monster. When he or she taps a student the student has to place his or her hands on the monster’s shoulder. This should build into an eventual line of everyone winding through the space.
Have two teams facing each other. A blindfolded person comes forward and must shake hands with a student stepping from the other side. An optional greeting can be made. A point is given to the advancing team when their person guesses whose hand has been shaken. See how you can vary these rules.
Blindfolds allow for lots of fun in learning. Above all see how the activity can tie in with the curriculum. You can explore shape in mathematics or the feelings associated with being blind.
How good are we at describing things? Police often comment on the different perceptions in witness statements.
Let your students observe everyone within the room. Then ask a student to leave. By getting into groups, or individually, ask your students to describe to the best of their ability the student who has left the room. This must of course be done with sensitivity. Compare results once the student has returned.
Take apples, lemons or similar objects and get your students to describe the object clearly and precisely. Put all the objects back in a box. By reading out the description let each student's partner find the described object.
Let students bring an object, a painting, a picture or a photo into class. It then has to be described in precise verbal detail. The rest of the group has to follow the instructions and draw this object. How accurate was the description? How accurate are the drawings? What problems were encountered in this activity? This can lead into a good discussion on how we instruct. Students may even like to describe in detail what their house is like.
Find a biological or detailed description of a plant or animal. Read it out to the students. Let them draw and name it.
Students can even rewrite a set of instructions using humour to convey technical information. Here is an example on the operations of a photocopier:
Take a sport and describe it in a funny way. Here is an unusual description of cricket:
Consider the relationship between mathematics and art. Explore mathematics from an artistic perspective. Where is the beauty in maths? Here is an excerpt from an ABC radio National interview with a sculptor.
How can you use toys to stimulate students? Imagine getting a set of farm animals with fences. Your students could construct a simulated landscape from which you could develop stories and discussions. You could take dolls and convert them, as I saw recently in a primary school, into astronauts in the study of space – creating accessories in line with the needs of space.
Get students bringing in their favorite toy. Even adults, by digging in the cupboard, should be able to bring interesting examples. When was the toy received? What memories do you associate with it?
Look at the physics of toys. Look at silly putty, gyroscopes and other novelty toys. Discuss how they work. What does this tell us about the physics of movement? Explore how many toys that ended up in toyshops may have once been a result of experiments in science labs: The Physics of Toys. This could lead into discussions on how everyday objects operate. What principles are at work? Here is a really interesting website on How Things Work.
Place a toy on a table. It has been left behind. Whose toy was it? Why do they no longer have it? Use the evocative nature of toys to stimulate stories.
Interview a toy. If a toy could talk what would it tell us about its life or that of the household in which it lives? Look at toys such as Barbie and GI Joe and discuss the ideologies and meanings underlying such toys. Design, create and market a toy. Look at the history of toys through the ages. What would children have played with in ancient Greece?
One of my favorite photographers Jacques Henri Lartigue has a delightful photograph in which he places his racing cars on the ground and having photographed them from a low angle makes them look strangely surreal. Lartigue was a photographer since being given a box camera as a child. With an offbeat edge he photographed into his nineties. His photographs capture a generation and have a beautiful charm that can easily be explored with children and adults. He seemed to retain a child-like view for most of his life – he grew into photography and was not educated or trained in the medium.
How are the sexes represented in toy culture? How do manufacturers view childhood? Explore a toy catalogue. Imagine a world where toys are different.
Read about the time that a Ken Doll arrived in a dress – Cross Dressing Ken.
View your subject from a utilitarian perspective.
Utilitarian: "The ethical theory proposed by Jeremy Bentham and James Mill that all action should be directed toward achieving the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people."
This means that you are always asking the questions about how this will benefit mankind. This looks at the area of study from a much larger perspective, sometimes beyond the framework of the specialized area so that it can be seen for its broader human impact. These questions will make students even more sensitive to the questions being asked in genetics and other forms of technical development. What benefits does the computer give the human race? Does it help to feed the starving millions or is it part of an apparatus that can shift wealth and contribute to the suffering of millions?
Utilitarianism proposes the making of the world into a better place where good intentions are authenticated by good practice. Of the writers most famous for exploring the concept of utilitarianism – at least presenting the discussion of it in a written form to the western world – are Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) and Mary Wollstonecroft (1759-1797). As a testimony to the number of philosophical works available on the web you might like to check out Classic Texts in Ethics. The Project Gutenberg site is also an excellent gateway to the many texts available on the Internet as date of publication means that they are out of publication. You can, for example, use examples of these texts in learning whether it is a section from a novel or the writings of a philosopher.
How much of our world is utilitarian or is it "U - Til - I - make a loss?"
I can recall characters in a play who measured everything. They walked around the space and measured, entered results onto clipboards and came to conclusions. This struck me as an interesting premise. While satirical I wondered what would happen if we gave students tape measures and asked them to measure the room. What interesting relationships could they find in the data?
As in the book Counting on Frank by Rod Clement, students may like to look at quantity and mathematical relationships within the room. What is the average size of a desk? How many can fit into the room? What is the most common number we are discovering in our measuring? What are the ratios? Is the smaller table a similar ratio to the larger table? What angles can we find in the room?
Measure the heights of students. Record the findings on the wall. Take Olympic statistics and let students see how the figures look in the room – the actual distance of the world record high or long jump. Let students measure with a variety of objects. How many hands high is the door? Is this a stable unit of measurement? What is a stable unit of measurement?
Walk around the buildings. Where do we find numbers written? What do they refer to? Where do we encounter numbers in daily life? Is there a pattern to the birthdays or student street addresses in the room?
Let your students explore mathematical perspectives. Apply this to the analysis of a text. How many major and minor characters? List events and count them. How does this compare with another text? How many lines does your average character speak? How many words per page? What is the average length of a short story, a novel, or a newspaper article? How many lines are there in poems? Is there a mathematical formula that can be identified? This is a great opportunity for students to discover the rhyming patterns and systems in poetry.
Arithmetic (Carl Sandburg)
is where numbers fly like pigeons in and out of your head.
A Maths Poem (Andrew N.)
it a decimal or is it a fraction,
Explore poetry that looks at aspects of science.
The Atom (Thomas Thornely)
not the imprisoned power that sleeps
may she start and desperate strain,
power that warring atoms yield,
last dread secret, Nature! keep;
E = MC2 (Morris Bishop)
What we have known,
we know not,
You may like to take a mathematical perspective on the use of words. What are the most common words used in texts? Students could enter their own data into a computer. Guess (competition) and look at the results below. The most common words used in texts, according to the area of study called Stylometry, are:
DK Factastic Book of 1001 Lists , Russell Ash, Dorling Kindersley, 1998.
*These vary according to texts.
Compare statistics between countries. Compare weather statistics, or the length of television programs and the length of adverts. What relationships can be identified? How do these relate to media regulations? What is the average length of a movie? – see the Internet Movie DabaBase. What is the longest movie ever made? Keep a copy of the Guinness Book of Records handy. You may discover that 60 Minutes is in fact 37 Minutes.
Use the mathematical perspective as a tool for engaging more mathematically inclined students into the area of study or simply mathematics in general. Students may like to find old newspapers and compare football statistics – how have they changed over the years or how do they vary between current matches?
Take the area of knowledge and view it as if from a microscopic perspective. See it in all its intricacy and detail. How would it look from a very close perspective?
Imagine that you are teaching a novel. How can it be viewed in microscopic detail? Take for instance a small part of the text – it can also be a small part of a film or non-fiction text – and look at it in intricate detail. What do you learn about the characters, the words and the letters themselves? What do they reveal about the rest of the text and the way the author writes? What themes, even at a microscopic level, inform the rest of the text?
Imagine studying bridges within physics. Take a small detail of that bridge and look at in microscopic detail. What is its shape, what is it made of, what forces are at work?
Look at the microscopic detail of a character within the novel, or simply a person within the room. What is occurring at a microscopic level? The character has just been informed of a tragedy. How does the heart rate change, how does the body temperature rise? What happens to the skin? Guess what may happen. Conduct experiments in the group. Explore the actual truth.
Train your students to look at the world from this perspective: to see the subtleties and intricacies that occur at a microscopic level. In a world focusing on larger detail we tend to ignore smaller details and the many forces and almost magical processes at work. We too often look at the surface of everyday life without realizing the extraordinary things happening at a microscopic level.
The text called "The Secret Family": Twenty four hours inside the mysterious world of our minds and bodies is part of an excellent series written by David Bodanis that connects the reality of the everyday with the world of science.
The book moves consistently from an exploration of a family into that of science. Perhaps you can buy it, or create your own examples. Let your students create their own science stories.
Get your students to create stories from a microscopic level – the story of a family of microbes that live and feed on the skin. How do they relate? How do they live? What do they do?
How can the area of study be seen from a macroscopic perspective? Imagine looking at the subject from a much larger perspective, seeing it in relation to a much broader range of connections.
The novel being studied is seen in relation to larger themes, the history of novels, or even the history of language. Even when students can’t fill in the connections it is important to adopt this mindset. It allows us to see an area of study in relation to other areas of study – an opportunity to cross boundaries and to find similarities and differences.
Take, for example, a study of volcanoes. How may a volcano and its activity affect others? Students may even be able to see connections with the earth’s core and how this of course connects to other volcanoes. Here we have the famous analogy of how the flapping of a butterfly’s wings can affect events across the globe.
Look at the issue or subject in a much broader perspective. How does it relate to our planet? Think of the possible connections even if you are dealing with maths, science or characters in a novel. Surely there must be an impact on the world surrounding. Perhaps other characters are disturbed. How will this affect others? What will be the effects on the property or the location? An angry person can cause all types of ripples within a family, a set of colleagues, spreading into the outside world. We can tend to carry our anxieties with us. What connections can be found with the surrounding environment?
Think of the world as a system. If all things are connected then there are lots of connections to explore. This will move the students from perceptions that isolate people and events. Even something two generations ago can be rippling through a family or a community. Think of how events from hundreds of years ago are still being played out.
Explore the history of the Uncertainty Principle.
Let students view the area of study as if they are scientists. Imagine that you are all scientists and that you are viewing the area of study for the first time. How would it look? What are the elements, what do you start with, what are the consequences of the experiment?
Your students can analyze what a character, or person, has done in a text and the consequences – the results of the experiment. How does the information look from a cool and calculated perspective? Why is this occurring? What has caused this phenomenon? Take a template from a scientific experiment – your students may be able to take this out of a science folder. Ask your students to transfer the information that they are currently studying onto this template.
You may be studying an historical event. See it as if from a scientific perspective. So, this is a famous civil war battle. What are the effects? What are the statistics? What are the causes? What data can be found? How is it recorded? How is the data verified? What patterns are discernible? What impact is my research having on this data? Imagine that you are present at this event and are recording information – this creates many new possibilities.
Here we have the experimental problem cited by Fritjof Capra in The Tao of Physics – the Uncertainty Principle – the instrument of measurement can affect the outcome! One wants to measure the temperature of a cup of coffee. As soon as one places the thermometer in the cup one conducts heat away from the liquid. The truth of the temperature is altered.
I can remember a British television series that showed major battles from the perspective of an onsite current affairs film crew. Like Pasolini’s film on the death of Christ – Gospel According to St. Matthew – a documentary style with hand held camera can allow us to see an event in new ways. Can your students imagine the area of study from this perspective? Can we see events from new perspectives if we shift into scientific analysis?
The scientific perspective opens the possibilities for students to look at information within the rules and skills of a scientist. What are these skills? What are the rules? How important is imagination and guesswork in reaching scientific answers? Where does a science perspective merge with the arts?
The arts and sciences do not have to be separated. Nowadays we see more than ever the ways in which the scientific perspective is informing the arts. Look at the new scientific analysis of ancient bodies, or the analysis of Shakespeare’s language by the programming of it into computers. Many areas of scientific pursuit, such as anthropology or archaeology, allow your students to look at issues and topics in a new light. To what extent can scientific analysis inform the arts? To what extent can it detract from the experience of art?
Take areas of Science and represent them cryptically. Here is an example:
h,i,j,k,l,m,n,o, is H20 - water
The theremin is an extraordinary example of a musical instrument ahead of its time. It influenced electronic music, has been used widely in modern music and is also the subject of a great documentary called Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey. See also Theremin History.
© Copyright In Clued - Ed 2009