STEM students live in a digital age—an age where they can look up any fact within seconds. Gone is the constant memorization and regurgitation of information. Students now need to know how to practically apply the knowledge that is at their fingertips in order to be successful in a project-based learning classroom. My ultimate goal as a science teacher at The Village School in Houston, TX, is for my students to see the real-world applications of the curriculum. Reading scientific news articles has always been a great way to do this.
Exploring Beyond the Walls of the Classroom
Students love seeing topics from their textbooks referenced in published studies. When we start our lesson on the most basic animal—the sponge—many students don’t realize the purpose of studying such a “lifeless” creature. But, I bring up the article, Sponge Bacterium Found to Encapsulate Arsenic Drawn from Environment, and we learn about a way that sponges could benefit us. We also learn that coral reefs actually have the ability to “eat plastics,” and that, “researchers in Australia have found that corals…will eat micro-plastic pollution. Microplastics are tiny fragments of plastic in the environment and are a widespread contaminant in marine ecosystems.”
When we move on to chemistry units, students begin to understand—through the aid of recent publications—that the Periodic Table of Elements is not a poster that should ever be laminated, but rather an ever-changing chart with new discoveries each year. In recent times, for example, a UT physicist discovered four new super-heavy chemical elements. Having my students read news articles allows them to look beyond the walls of the classroom for connections to real-world solutions and problems, guiding them seamlessly into ExploraVision.
Turning Scientific Breakthroughs into Creative Solutions
Every year, we start by reading and analyzing current events, and I instruct my students to research the newest scientific innovations that interest them. After studying these breakthroughs, we identify today’s problems that need to be addressed. Students study issues such as:
• The impact of plastic pollution in our oceans
• New forms of bacteria that can become resistant to antibiotics within minutes
• The rise of childhood obesity levels
Finally, students think about how they could apply new science and technology to solve a current issue and help society. For example, they might contemplate how plastic eating corals could address our ocean pollution problem. Or, how the discovery of new elements could lead to new products such as safer cars or more affordable nanotechnology.
This year the article, “New Type of Soft, Growing Robot Created” was our jumping off point for the competition. We discussed its potential uses in medical fields and on search and rescue missions. With Hurricane Harvey still fresh on my students’ minds, we thought of ways that the robot could be used in the future to find people trapped in their homes during disasters.
ExploraVision flows naturally in a science classroom which focuses on real-world problems and solutions. Students connect what they learn in class, read in news articles and watch on YouTube to help change the world by implementing higher-order research skills and analyses.
About the Author
Jodie Brivic is a passionate science teacher at The Village School in Houston, TX. She utilizes current events to explore real-world issues with her students and encourage them to find exciting and innovative solutions to these problems. Follow Jodie on Twitter and learn more about other ExploraVision ambassadors.