Finding the right scientists to connect with your students can be challenging. There are many places for teachers to find opportunities to bring the real world back into the classroom. Checking with local universities, community colleges, scientific industry in your hometown, or possibly even scientists you connect with in your own learning.
Reaching out and making those connections can be a bit frightening if you have not done it before. There are many different ways to reach out....personal contacts, emails, snail mail letters, colleagues who may know someone, even family members have contacts. Do not be afraid to ask. You will find that many scientists enjoy visiting with children and helping to further the cause of reaching out to budding scientists.
When your connection has been made and established, decide upon how you will bring your visit to life.
Next, you must decide what the purpose of your visit will be. Do you want the children to have an opportunity to interact with the scientist, or simply listen to their experiences? Both types of visits work well and children are always captivated by either.
The purpose of my lesson was to grab the attention of my students and excite them about the science of the past. The past, not being one hundred years ago, but millions of years ago. This is why I chose to have the scientist visit as the beginning lesson of the unit. Not only was it important to have the scientist act as the hook for an entire unit, he also lead the students through in explaining his connections as a paleontologist. The coolest part of his visit with my students was the photograph he shared of himself as a Second Grader in a museum with a dinosaur!!! It gave me chills to see and hear that connection.
The timing of Veronique's visit, was different. Because it was an impromptu visit, it was an opportunity that took place in the moment. It actually, occurred early on in the school year, but laid some valuable ground work that continually was referred back to all year long. Many, many times during the course of the school year, I found myself saying to the students, "Remember what Veronique said about her journals...." And I found my students continually shaking their heads and acknowledging the comment; along with implementing what I reminded them of.
Before your visit with the scientist, you must prepare your students. Meeting with visitors with students, regardless of whether it is in the classroom, in the field or even with technology need to have careful planning with the students. It is important to make sure your students are prepared and make the best use of every minute with your visitor.
It is a good idea to plan ahead the goals you want to accomplish with the visit. Possible goals might be...
All the children will want to have a turn to speak with the scientist, but sometimes that is not always possible. One scenario that works well is to have your teams discuss any questions they would ask as a group. Explain that they may come up with two questions for the group. Encourage them to choose a leader or speaker for their group and that individual can ask the questions.
Remind them about behavior and the way they can be perceived from the scientists point of view.
Finally, when the visit has been completed, it is important to debrief with the students about the learning. This can be accomplished in several ways. First, students can journal about the experience privately and quietly. Another way to debrief is to have a classroom discussion sharing out the highlights and important learning the students gathered. Lastly, and I believe, most important is to have the students write thank you letters. What better way to revisit the learning and practice the art of a thank you letter?
When our visit with Dr. Archibald was over, I asked the children to share with me what they enjoyed most about the visit. The responses were varied; many of the children enjoyed the fossils that he shared, but some were more excited about the photograph he shared of himself as a youngster in a museum next to a dinosaur. This was quite impressive to them.
We brainstormed some ideas of things that they found interesting and I explained just as in other situations during our school year, it would be appropriate for us to write letters of thanks. I used the Writing Letters power point to refresh their memories about how and why we write letters to others. (This is a power point I created to use earlier in our school year that corresponded with other times in our learning. Not necessarily for a science visit, but it was appropriate to use it again to remind the children how and what to include in their writing).
I encourage the children to include anecdotes from the visit in their writing to bring in a personal touch and make the letters more authentic.