Archive | February 2012

International African Inventors (IAI) Museum visits Cedarbrae C.I.

What a great way to close the celebrations of African History month.  Although it should not be a closing point but an opening point that has opened the eyes and minds of students and teachers across the country.  My regular lesson was planned for the day on the atom and when I saw the museum being set up in the front lobby of our school I changed the plan and had all my classes take a 20 minute visit.  The objective was to find 2 inventors/scientists, what their contribution was and most importantly how has this shaped current products on a science, social, environmental or technological level.  The students got to see many scientists and inventors and without their contributions, many modern day products would not be the same or even exist.  Many of my students of African heritage described the exhibit as motivating and they felt proud.  Students of non-African heritage were intrigued at the range of contributions of products and technologies that they use each day and got to learn more about the history and the inventors.  This was an amazing example of connecting STSE education and the science course.

I first saw this museum when Signs of Science brought Dr. Ben Carson up from the United States to present in Etobicoke and thought it would be a great thing for all students to see.  They also have a section on African Americans contribution to space journey.  Students were able to see that many people like themselves are able to contribute to and invent great things.  I hope to see this push in the classroom for the rest of the semester and not limited to the month of February.

Links Below For More Info


Waste Audit Promotes Science Literacy, Environmental Education and Social Issues

Two weeks ago our school took place in a waste audit.  I think in a growing city like Toronto and all around the world our garbage is a massive problem.   A critical way to look at the waste is having a waste audit.  Samples from garbage and recycling bins were taken around our school to see if we are recycling properly, did the recycling have garbage and was there any unnecessary waste.  The students taking part in the audit had a first hand look at the waste the student body created by sorting every single piece and recording data.  We also invited classes down to view the process and talk about their role in the process. 

From the audit the data will be published on our wiki

We have decided to pair all garbage cans with recycling bins so students have a choice.  The students are also making signs showing common errors in recycling. For example juice boxes can go in the blue bin but the straw must be removed.  Coffee cups are often mistaken as recyclable, which they are not so the only choice is to bring them back to the store as Tim Horton’s has their own recycling for the paper cups with wax lining. 

This was a hands on lesson of science and social issues.  The students all came to the conclusion that we need to reduce the garbage in the first place, re-use where possible and recycle properly.  Planting the seed of waste minimization was important as they are the next generation and can start now buy introducing recycling to their families and be smart consumers.  Thanks to EcoSchools ( for coming in to do the audit and Mr. Tait, the admin team and most importantly the students involved!


The Eco Team sorting through the first bag!


All these recyclables were in the garbage!  



What does a scientist look like?

During my interviews for my study I asked all the participants what a scientist looks like.  This question came just after I asked if they believe learning about their own race is important to their learning.  The students describe almost everything that they were not!  Is this one of the big disconnects? That students don’t feel they meet the criteria of science?  They nearly all described an Albert Einstein looking male.  Below is the table summarized.  What is the cause of this?  Could it be the fact that Western Science is heavily taught in school?  Are cartoons to blame?  The media?  The textbooks?

ImageFrom my personal experience the media/tv shows portrays scientists as an Albert Einstein look a like.  I often watched Bill Nye growing up and I still show my students, sure Bill Nye is a middle aged white male, but the show has many children on it of all backgrounds as well.  The authority figure in the show is the white male, so this is maybe where the students get this from.  Often commercials have a medical authority trying to sell some product and they are also a white middle aged male.  The textbooks that were just released over the last couple years are phenomenal at portraying all kinds diversity from women wearing a hijab to features on key black scientists to sections on students who are researching right now at the high school level.  These books are very engaging and really making an effort to show that ALL students can be scientists. 



Below is a chart summarizing the findings.  NOTE all names as pseudonyms and races are what each student told me they identified with.  All answers are word for word transcriptions taken within an inner city high school in Toronto.  



what does a scientist look like?



S: white male about 30-50 with glasses hahaha



S: first, first picture, they would…I don’t know…honestly…probably like a white guy in a lab coat or something hahah, to be real still. But like I know there is black scientists…you know and all that stuff. But like in a book, that’s a white guy.



African American

T:probably white, puffy hair hahaha


Mixed (white/ black)

T:ahhhh someone in lab coat, beaker,

T:I guess facial look? Like someone who doesn’t take care of themselves, beard haha

T:any race.




Albert Einstein



L: nerds

L: yea, guy, get paid good

L: white, but mostly guys


Light Skin

K: just um lab coat, some beakers,

K: unisex



J: most shows they put them with a guy with classes or something, lab coat,

J: mostly like white



J: an old white guy hahah



E: usually white, for the most part



M: like a nerd, glasses, lab coat and something like that

Eureka TDSB Secondary Science Teachers Conference

This years conference was very successful and teaches us the importance to come together every once and a while and share.  This is the 3rd one I have been to and first one I have presented at.  There is always something for everyone from things as small as nano particles to as large as global warming and black holes.

Alan Nursall (@alannursall) did an amazing job opening up the conference.  He engaged us with unique demos that got us all thinking of how to further open the minds of our students to science.  He discussed the importance of shared learning and understanding science.  This is modeled in his show on Daily Planet.

My presentation “Not another boring brochure! Using Wiki’s for STSE projects” went extremely well.  This was my first time presenting at a conference as I have hosted demo classrooms for groups no larger than 10 in my class.  (See here for the wiki we collaborated on and the handouts and power point notes  The most important part of my session was to have each teacher leave with a functioning wiki, a better understanding of using STSE education (Science, Technology, Society and Environment) and a list of their own wikis so we can collaborate in the future.  I really enjoyed presenting and made me think that if someone has a good idea its best to share it as we have seen people who like to keep ideas to themselves.  Within a public education board, we are all paid on a grid not on what lessons we produce.  So why not help other teachers as I can only support my 90 students a semester and they shouldn’t be the only ones benefiting but if I help 35 teachers, do the math!  We should all be collaborating, working on fluid projects that look at how to make ALL students successful.

I attended two other sessions, one “Incorporating Literacy, STSE and Co‐operative Learning in Gr. 10 Science” by Leila Knetsch, who I have had the pleasure to work with before.  She did a great job sharing and modeling a wide variety of hands on activities to explore STSE components.  The other session was about a site with online lesson plans and virtual classrooms. is a site about climate change and science.  The subsite Cool 2.0 allows for collaborative, rankings and submissions of lesson plans and activities.  This is a great way to share resources that are approved and classroom ready.

All in all, great conference and now with one conference complete I will be looking for ways to share at other events!  Thanks to Nandanee Sawh one of the instructional leaders of science from TDSB for organizing such a successful event.


Yes this is a picture of my slide, I know i could have uploaded the slide but wanted to put you in the conference 🙂


Bit Strips


All Ontario teachers have access to  This is one amazing tool that engages students and has a perfect place in the science classroom as well.  We have a class set of netbooks that our school can sign out and use in our class.  A great way to start off is with safety and Bit Strips has built in lessons you can assign to classes.  It


took under 10 minutes to set up a class and my personalized avatar and one class period for the students to create themselves as well as make a comic on safety.  This is a great tool that can be used in other classes or


projects as well.  This is also a great form of expression for students where they can look into social justice issues and express feelings and really put themselves in another person’s shoes by building dialogue.  Story telling can be used in all classes and for all grade levels.  I will use this tool in my other classes as it’s not the end of the day and both my grade 9 applied and academic really loved the activity.  They had really meaningful posters with science lab safety guidelines that we could download, put on our class website and print out. 


Success with Applied Level Science Students and QR Codes

Something that has been bothering me the past 2 days was a conversation I was listening to from another teacher.  They were talking about applied level classes and the conversation turned shocking super fast.  There are so many great teachers doing amazing work but when you hear something like this it is horrible.  The teacher was discussing how dissections in applied level classes are not worth doing as the kids will tear apart the specimens and not learn and therefore will not be doing dissections at all.  The teacher also mentioned that it is just easier to have overheads and worksheets to get them in their seats.  Furthermore they mentioned that they should not have applied level kids in the nice classroom because they will ruin it.  I couldn’t hide the look of shock but decided not to take part in the conversation. 

Applied level students may not be doctors, chemists, researchers but maybe they will!  Who knows!!! They may become inspired, go back and take academic level and go into university, or go into college science and work in a lab that cures cancer.  How can we turn our back on any students?  It is sickening.  To have success in the applied level courses the best thing is labs and hands on activities which gets the students thinking and excited about what they are doing.  Yes worksheets are used sometimes but to use that as a main method of teaching is not good practice.  Have them use technology and get them doing something interesting as if you assume they will ruin everything and not learn then they probably will!

An example of an awesome activity is have the students use QR code creators and have them use it in the science class, for example make one QR code for each element of the periodic table and get them to print them and arrange them in a periodic table. is a free generator and the students can type up to 250 words and it works!