Tag: science

NIU connects Downers Grove with eighth-graders in Taiwan

The view from Taiwan: Students from National University of Tainan Affiliated Primary School returned late in the evening for the Skype session.

The view from Taiwan: Students from National University of Tainan Affiliated Primary School returned late in the evening to Skype.
Teacher Chen Jin-Ting is on the left.

It opened with simple hellos before the conversation turned to favorite foods and hobbies.

Peering into webcams, the strangers made small talk across oceans through the power of Skype. This was only Day One, though; the real conversation would come 48 hours later.

And when that began – at 7 a.m. Wednesday, March 22, inside an eighth-grade science classroom at Downers Grove’s O’Neill Middle School – hour-long scientific argumentation between U.S. students and their Taiwanese counterparts proved lively and educational.

For the next hour, they argued this question: If funding were limited, which form of alternative energy would you select as the best to promote and advance?

“Everything went well. The students were really engaged, and we got lucky – we didn’t get into any technical issues,” said Pi-Sui Hsu, an associate professor in the NIU Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment.

“They really enjoyed the opportunity to talk to students from a different culture – that’s a really big thing for them – and they were glad to learn some Chinese,” she added. “They were so excited. They kept repeating phrases they learned from me.”

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The view from Illinois: Eighth-graders arrived early to link up with their Taiwanese counterparts.

Meg Van Dyke, an eighth-grade science teacher at O’Neill, is grateful for her classroom’s involvement in what she calls “a wonderful opportunity.”

“The research project allows students a unique opportunity to receive a global perspective on alternative energy. For example, the students in Taiwan don’t have as much exposure to nuclear energy as students in the United States,” Van Dyke said. “It also forces my students to think about how small Taiwan is and what alternative energy would work best for them.”

O’Neill’s international collaboration with Taiwan’s National University of Tainan Affiliated Primary School is part of Hsu’s research project on scientific argumentation, a process which enhances understanding of science, sharpens critical thinking skills and aligns with the “Science and Engineering Practices” dimension of the Next Generation Science Standards.

“Scientific argumentation is a process that scientists engage in by talking and presenting different perspectives to reach consensus,” she said. “We don’t teach science as a mere learning of facts. Our students need to engage in reasoning, just like professional scientists.”

Pi-Sui Hsu

Pi-Sui Hsu

Darby Sawyer, a senior in the College of Education with a contract major, joined Hsu in the early-morning trip to O’Neill.

Sawyer walked around the classroom, checking in on the groups and keeping them on track. Further help came from Lucidchart, a web-based diagramming tool with real-time collaboration that allowed the students to put (and point to) their ideas in flow charts.

“The students were definitely excited to talk to their counterparts in Taiwan,” Sawyer said. “I definitely learned a lot about the scientific argumentation process by watching them engage with the different culture and seeing them put their heads together.”

Hsu’s work is funded by the Taiwan Ministry of Education, which now has put three rounds of money behind the project. She returns to her native Taiwan each summer to provide training in scientific argumentation to teachers there, something that continues online during the fall, winter and spring.

“My goal is encourage collaboration, and I’m interested in cultural differences,” she said. “We train students in the concept of scientific argumentation, and we give them a global view of what goes on in different countries.”

Principal Hsu Chih-Ting and Research Division Wang Hsin-Chang

Principal Hsu Chih-Ting and Research Division Wang Hsin-Chang

The recent collaboration continues her work with Van Dyke, an NIU alum.

In the summer of 2014, Hsu and Van Dyke welcomed 26 young students from Taiwan to DeKalb for the College of Education’s three-week “Argue Like a Scientist” academic summer camp. The two also have published research together.

Students in Hsu’s NIU College of Education classes also are benefiting from the work. The college values and prioritizes research as part of its vision and mission.

“As a researcher, I like to see how technology supports students in their learning,” she said. “In my doctoral-level classes, I share with them about my research design and the successes and struggles. I share project ideas with them, and this gives them ideas about how to use technology to design international collaborations.”

Research Division Liu Hsin-Chi

Research Division Liu Hsin-Chi

Hsu and Sawyer plan to co-publish and/or co-present the results of the project; meanwhile, Van Dyke’s students are writing essays on what they learned.



Alumni profile: Meet Mina Blazy

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Mina Blazy

If you had asked Mina Blazy if she aspired to be a teacher back while she was a student at Proviso East High School, she would have told you “no.”

But the fond memories of a 10th grade chemistry teacher at that high school continue to inspire her hands-on approach to teaching – teaching science especially — today.
“You’d go by his class and he’d be lighting something on fire,” she said. “We made candy from a chemical equation in his class. I had the most fun in that classroom. He made science come alive.”

When that teacher retired and learned that Blazy (B.S. Ed. Elementary Education ’99) was teaching, he sent her all of his lessons.

Earlier this year Blazy opened the Gus Franklin Jr. STEM Academy, in Victorville, Calif., where she is currently principal.

“The academy is a huge success,” she said of its launch. “We have students from kindergarten through sixth grade learning and exploring engineering concepts through project-based learning.”

Blazy’s passion for teaching and learning through science is infused into every aspect of the school. Her students are learning about flight in space in third grade, and how to use software in fifth and sixth grades, plus the elementary school has engineering and science labs. This year, the school will launch a new project where students will manipulate a radio telescope as part of the Goldstone Apple Valley Radio Telescope (GAVRT) Program. The project is a partnership between the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Lewis Center for Educational Research. In addition, they will look at space for signs of extraterrestrial intelligence. The data they study will be part of the Juno Project, which is named for a satellite that was launched towards Jupiter and will go live next summer.

“It’s another hands-on science project, where they will get to manipulate it from the school site,” she said.

Blazy’s path to becoming a classroom innovator didn’t happen overnight. After growing up in Broadview, Ill., she attended the University of Dubuque and learned to be a pilot.

“I flew planes for a while, got married, had kids, and just decided to go into education,” she said. “My husband was actually the one who pointed out to me that I had a natural ability to teach.”

Blazy’s mother – a registered nurse – and uncle had attended NIU, so she applied. A counselor told her that she should focus on teaching science or math, so she minored in biology.

After graduation, she taught high school science in the Chicago suburbs for a few years, before moving to Ohio and then California to continue her career. Soon, Blazy will begin pursuing her doctoral degree in STEM education.

“Science helps you think about your thinking,” she said. “That’s why I decided I wanted to focus on STEM.”

Throughout her career, Blazy said she has worked with and observed educators at all skill levels.

“What I have learned is that NIU gave me a true foundation in the education arena, and the necessary skills to help guide teachers to become extremely successful,” she said.