Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Science Picture of the Day: A Small Way to Make a Big Difference

When I read end of year surveys I’ve given to my students (see the second page of this survey for an example), they often site the picture of the day as the thing they liked most about my class.  Yes—it stings a little that all of my efforts to create meaningful labs, carefully aligned assignments and field trip opportunities are trumped by a 1-minute discussions after our Do Nows. However, they have provided me with a way to incorporate the current events of science into my class and build strong relationships with students by allowing them to create some of the curriculum. 

How I Create the Picture of the Day

Initially, I found Pictures of the Day to present to students myself. As an Earth Science teacher, I used the Earth Science Picture of the Day website to pull interesting pictures connected to the content I was teaching. Any subject matter teacher can easily find pictures connected to their field: ChemistryBiology, and  Physics (well, Astronomy).

I would quickly copy and paste the picture into my PowerPoint template, including a sentence or two and, to stay true to my plagiarism rules, the link (sometimes correctly cited when I had the time!) I often started a timer to ensure I did not spend the whole class period in a discussion about the content and on very busy days, I did not entertain questions about the slide. Students were excited by the photos and it took self-control to limit time discussing these events. Occasionally I allowed us to get side-tracked for some time, but wasn’t that the point of teaching science?   

One day a student emailed me a picture she had seen connected to Earth Science, suggesting I put it up as a picture of the day.  I did, crediting her for finding it.  Soon, students started sending me pictures of the day all the time! When there was a lunar eclipse or other event connected to class, I asked students to take pictures and send them in. Eventually students sent in their own pictures and videos connecting Earth Science to all aspects of their lives (I got a lot of sunset pics!). Students also sent in news clips and photos they had seen online. I did not offer extra credit or any other incentive for participating, simply a credit to that student. Of course, not every student participated, but it was a fast, easy way to have students make meaningful connections between their world and my class. Also, many of the most active contributors surprised me—students who showed little signs of interest in class would send me pictures and videos. Providing these students a safe way to participate in class greatly helped our relationship and hopefully their love of science.


To jump-start students sending you pictures, you can start by including your own pictures of science. My co-teacher and I include pictures we have taken over the summer of us with something science-related (i.e., anything, since you can make lots of connections to science), and then I’ll include a great picture of the day from a former student. I started receiving pictures of the day by the end of the first week of class!


Freezing Friday: A Way to Incorporate a Science Narrative Over Time
In 2011, I applied to be a PolarTREC teacher (for the third time) and was finally accepted. I was invited to go to Antarctica for two months to work with researchers.  This experience was life-changing and I wanted to find a meaningful way to share such cool science (literally) with my students. However, like many of you, I was overwhelmed by content standards and could only devote a day or two to the topic. My solution was to slowly tell the story of my research in Antarctica one day a week through the picture of the day. I called these pictures: “Freezing Friday”.


If you are passionate about a topic that you can’t afford too much class time for, I strongly recommend devoting one picture a week to the idea. Trying to post a picture every day might be too much, so I recommend starting with one.


I’m Going Back to Antarctica—Let’s Share the Experience Together!

Or, better yet, let me involve you and your students in some cool, real-time science!  I have been invited back to Antarctica in November to work with my old research team (I will be posting journals about my experience).  I will be sending out “picture of the day” slides (with explanations) through my Twitter account: @MsBrownTeacher and Facebook page. You can post pictures daily or weekly.  Also, we will be conducting a live webinar from the ice on December 1st, and I will be sharing more ways I can interact with your class in future posts!

Below are some more sample Earth Science Pictures of the Day slides:

Students would sometimes write out the description for me too!

Teachers sometimes shared pictures of the day with me too!

Sometime I would receive pictures that don't connect, but I always posted them to connect with students.

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