Learning science through poetry

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A Poetry Club for Science

by Celia Berrell

It’s National Science Week – 12th to 20th of August. Schools and communities are celebrating with a myriad of science events. But they don’t all need to be sensationally explosive or super-techy … in fact poetry can be perfect!

Sharing snippets of science in poems is a great way to befriend physics, chemistry and biology. And encouraging students to write their own poems helps focus their science understanding in a memorable way.

Since 2011 I’ve run lunchtime Poetry Clubs at Whitfield SS – mostly with Year 5 and 6 students. Our topic this year is The Science, Nature and Poetry of WATER – to complement National Science Week’s theme FUTURE EARTH.

A PowerPoint presentation of weird science facts with specific Science Rhymes was the foundation. We then recited classic and contemporary poems that touched on our chosen topic. During this phase, we identified poetic tools and techniques enjoyed in those poems. Not all students want to write their own poems. Half the group are happy reciting and appreciating the message and music in poems written by others.

For those creating their own poems, most learn it’s possible to rearrange lines of poetry to make improvements. Poems can be changed before reaching their final form. Students mostly work on their poems away from our informal lunchtime meetings. This allows (via email communication with a parent) busy students to still participate.

As the poems roll in, our recital for National Science Week is born. Poems are practised in the Poetry Club setting, published on the Science Rhymes website, and then delivered to an audience of Year 4 students during National Science Week.

Parents appreciate reciting poems in front of an audience can lead to a newfound confidence for their child. Some students become published poets and a few have the exciting experience of promoting National Science Week on a live radio broadcast! I enjoy the whole process, particularly receiving their descriptive poems and knowing we have all learnt a little more science.

I hope you enjoy reading Evie’s poem about capillary action, which causes liquid water to escape from plant stems and wood, which can freeze in cold air to create ICE FLOWERS.


Ice Flowers

by Evie

 

Such complexity and beauty

In a simple form

But only cold conditions:

Winter or Autumn.

The sap in the stem escapes

Thin cracks will form

Then water is drawn

It touches the air

Ice petals will form.

That is how an ice flower is born.

 

Ravishing and rare

Not found everywhere

Of course green plants can create

Yet also on wood, a fence or a gate

Where water comes through the gate’s pores

The forces push this delicate cause.

 

So tempting to touch

But wait, don’t rush

Ice flowers will break

Don’t make the mistake

Instead snap your lens

For the longest keepsake.

 

Isn’t that a lovely way to celebrate National Science Week?

Some links to images and information about ice flowers:

http://my.ilstu.edu/~jrcarter/ice/flowers/  & http://my.ilstu.edu/~jrcarter/ice/

My World of Ice    

Dr James R Carter, Professor Emeritus

Geography-Geology Department

Illinois State University

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photos: Dr James R Carter http://my.ilstu.edu/~jrcarter/

 

 

Word play with class

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Poetry in the Upper Primary Classroom

by Patrick Dower

‘Just as many PE teachers say “don’t use physical activity as punishment” to prevent students associating negative emotions with being active, I try my best to ensure students associate poetry with fun.’

The process of introducing in-depth poetry study to my class was gradual and – at least initially – incidental. As with any teaching approach, it was only once I recognised student interest that I began to consider the potential in a poetry focused Literacy unit. Prior to that, I had embedded the study of song lyrics and poems into Social & Emotional Learning lessons as a stimulus for discussion and personal reflection. These lessons helped create relevance in text from which the students had previously appeared detached. Discussing and comprehending the poems with a personal focus also assisted them in gaining the confidence required to study and compare a variety of poems in-depth and, most importantly, find enjoyment in reading and creating works of written art.

Poetry in Social & Emotional Learning

I regularly use songs as the stimulus for discussions in my Social & Emotional Learning lessons. I will generally read through the lyrics of the song prior to playing the music, particularly if it is a song they are unlikely to know. To ensure the primary focus is placed on the lyrics, I will often play the song on my guitar and sing, rather than use the recording.

Songs which I have used include, but are not limited to, The Road by George Harrison, focusing on the different paths students may take in their learning and progress, and Second Best by Hudson Taylor, which prompted a discussion on not accepting the putdowns of others and striving to achieve your best. Whilst these messages are not necessarily what was intended by the artist, they take on this form as the students relate them to their own lives.

The most powerful example, however, was the first time I used a song of my own. Addressing a specific social issue which had arisen in the class, I played a song I had written several years prior entitled Burgundy & Grey. The underlying theme of the song is that regardless of how well we think we know our acquaintances, we can never be entirely certain what is going on in their lives and how this may be affecting their behaviours. The class dissected it to within an inch of its life and were highly sympathetic towards the central character – a young girl named Keeley. It remained a regular topic of conversation throughout the year. The most powerful aspect of this class, however, was when they found out it was my own work.

After sharing my own writing, I noticed an increased willingness to experiment in their own and seek my feedback. They were more willing to share with the class and refer to their own experiences within their writing. It was an incredibly powerful moment in the context of our class and for me as a teacher.

From here, I was able to write poems specifically for use in the class – such as one entitled Sadness, which explored the difference between emotions and mental illness through the eyes of child whose Father had depression.

Poetry for Fun

Just as many PE teachers say “don’t use physical activity as punishment” to prevent students associating negative emotions with being active, I try my best to ensure students associate poetry with fun. We will regularly play rhyming games and re-write song lyrics as a class. One highlight was altering the words of Fight Song by Rachel Platten to be our ‘Year Five Song’ and performing it in assembly. Similarly, as part of a focus on the work of Shakespeare, the class enjoyed altering the lyrics of pop songs to fit into the format and style of a Shakespearean sonnet.

Poetry in English

My year level partner and I also implemented two English specific poetry units.

The first involved the performance of paired poems by Paul Fleischman. These are fantastic for getting students up in front of their peers reading poetry.

In the second, which lasted for most of Term 4, we used A Children’s Introduction to Poetry by Michael Driscoll to introduce the class to a variety of poetic styles, including villanelles, sonnets and limericks, as well as the work of specific poets, such as Poe, Blake and Shakespeare. After reading about the style of writer, the students would either respond with a poem of their own in that style or through other means, such as creating a film version of The Raven.

Poetry Club

This year I am in the process of starting a lunch time poetry club for Year 5 and 6 students. I hope to only facilitate this group, as the students – many of whom were part of my class last year – use their own interests and experiences to direct their writing and study.