Planting The Popcorn Seed Of Learning

In college, I took a course called “Teaching Science” where we spent class time creating our own scientific journals and carrying out experiments that our teacher created and that we created ourselves. While these were happening, discussions happened of how we can apply this to teaching our students about science, and how we can incorporate science into different aspects of our curriculum such as writing or math in order to see more of it in our school year. 

My professor for the course was truly one of my favorite professors throughout my entire college career. He reiterated over and over as often as possible that the goal with science was to be so influential that students picked it up and continued to use the scientific method on their own, beyond school. He told us that if we were teaching science correctly, students would be excited by the subject and want to know more, their learning would go well beyond the walls of the school. 

While I respected him greatly as a teacher, I never believed that I could be the type of science teacher to instill this in my own students. My emphasis for my degree was in language arts, and I had a hard time choosing between that and reading. Math and science were so far off of my radar. I knew it was something I would have to teach, but science wasn’t a subject I saw myself being so excited about that it shone through to my students. 

One day in class we were studying our long term science experiment, a flower we had planted. A colleague of mine brought up a childhood story of her sister and herself planting popcorn kernels made for air popping in their sandbox, and how they would grow tall enough that their mom would rip them out of the sand. My professor looked at us with a confused look and told us this was impossible. He said that the popcorn kernels we buy from the grocery store is processed and wouldn’t grow in soil, let alone sand. He claimed she must have been given corn seeds or some other type of seed because having any result from popcorn kernels was not possible.

The popcorn kernels I planted

Maybe it was the stubbornness in me, maybe it was my growing love for science, but whatever it was, there was a burning fire in me to prove him wrong. That night I went home and found a bag of popcorn kernels in my pantry, planted them in a pot of soil, and left them in the kitchen window. I didn’t tell him about it at first, because obviously I wasn’t about to be embarrassed if he was right and the popcorn seeds didn’t yield anything. Days and weeks went by with no sign of improvement, but I continued to water them and wait for the day they grew into something. 

One day I woke up to one little green leaf sticking out of the soil, it was incredible! It was actually working! I continued to take care of my plants until they grew bigger and stronger, strong enough to take a trip up to campus with me during my class. 

I walked into class that day holding my pot of popcorn seeds that had turned into real plants with the biggest smile on my face. I plopped it down on my professor’s desk and after he looked down at the plant, he looked up at me waiting for an explanation of what this was and why it was on his desk. 

“You told us popcorn kernels wouldn’t grow anything, you claimed that they were processed enough that they wouldn’t turn into anything when planted. Well, here you are, this is what happens when you plant popcorn kernels.” 

Immediately his eyes lit up and I distinctly remember him jumping up out of his chair in excitement. I was waiting for his praise on what a great plant caretaker I was and how right I was. I was also waiting to hear those precious words come out of his mouth, I was wrong. But that’s not what happened next. 

“You get it! You did it! You see what I’m saying now, this is genuine science, this is the ultimate goal as a teacher! You wanted answers about popcorn kernels and instead of going to the internet or accepting my answer, you conducted an experiment using the scientific method yourself! You did it!” 

At the time I was somewhat dissatisfied with his reaction, I wanted him to admit how wrong he was. But later on, when I looked back, I realized the full impact of what had happened. He knew from the beginning that popcorn kernels would grow, he just wanted to test us. He wanted someone to prove him wrong all along, and that ended up being me. 

That semester I may have planted popcorn kernels, but a seed was also planted inside of me. A seed that helped me understand why we teach science and how we teach it. I grew up thinking science was memorizing vocabulary and mixing vinegar with baking soda once in a while, but now I know that teaching science has evolved into inquiry and wonder of the world around us, how it works, and why it works the way it does and putting it to the test when we want to understand something deeper.

It took until my senior year of my undergrad education before I could grasp this concept, so my only hope is that I can inspire students to learn it much younger than I did and to plant the seed in them as well. 

What If Inquiry-Based Teaching Isn’t Always The Right Answer?

Inquiry-based learning has become more of a common practice throughout schools. It encourages asking questions, thinking deeper, and applying the material to personal lives. Inquiry-based learning is flexible because the student is the leader for where the conversation and learning leads. It can have higher engagement because the student can take the material where they want it to go. 

This type of learning is so beneficial in some studies. However, are there times when inquiry-based isn’t best? What are the parameters for inquiry-based versus direct instruction? 

Teamwork and group projects are where inquiry-based flourishes, students can collaborate, ask questions, and use the skills developed in inquiry learning to look deeper into the subject. 

Science lessons based on experiment and discovering new ideas is also a great platform for inquiry. 

Discussions on subjects are where inquiry-based can blossom. Promoting questions with long or different answers can assist in deeper inquiry, instead of direct, one-word answer questions. 

However, are there times inquiry-based learning isn’t the best way? Where does direct instruction fit into the school day? Here is a great rule of thumb- throw out inquiry-based as soon as you see a student struggling. It’s important to note that struggle is good when using inquiry because it can lead to more learning breakthroughs for the student. The struggle that causes red flags is the kids who are constantly struggling, the kids on a lower reading level than their peers, or the ones who cannot seem to grasp the concept enough to participate in these discussions. This is where direct instruction needs to happen. 

Imagine a struggling child who is constantly poked and prodded with questions about letters and sounds in order for them to inquire more about it, eventually leading to them knowing what the letter names and sounds are. If they are already behind, more inquiring isn’t going to help them. It’s a powerful tool to directly tell them what something is and how it functions over and over until it clicks. Once they can grasp this complex concept, they can continue to move up and work on each concept until eventually, they can participate in inquiry discussions. 

Sometimes, kids don’t need more questions, they just need direct information. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge advocate for inquiry-based learning, and plan to write more on the subject matter. But I am also an advocate for doing what is best for the student. 

What is your rule of thumb for direct versus inquiry learning? 

I Am Not a Crafty Teacher and I Accept That

During my long term substitute teaching job, the first-grade team I was working with had started Fun Fridays. This is becoming a more and more common practice in schools, where the students who are caught up on work can participate in fun activities on Fridays, while other students take that time to work on assignments they may be missing. 

The four classes were intertwined and mixed into four different groups from all of first grade, allowing everyone to be with friends and peers from other classes. The doors to our rooms were opened up, and every Friday, chaos ensued. However, no matter how chaotic it seemed, it truly was a fun Friday to switch everything up just a bit and have a change of schedule. 

Each teacher had a responsibility to come up with a game or activity for the students in their classrooms for that week. We would repeat this every week with a different group until we made our way through the four groups, then move on to the next activity of teacher choice. 

On my first Friday I took over the class, the teacher had left me with the moving fish craft she had done the last two weeks prior, leaving me with two more groups to finish it with. 

Moving Fish


They are cute crafts and fun for kids to make! However, from a teacher’s standpoint, it’s actually a nightmare to conduct this craft with 30 first-graders, each needing individual help with 80% of the steps. Maybe I’m just not a crafty enough person, but this was not working out for me. I needed a change. I tried the fish craft for one week before I gave up and switched to a new craft for the last week of the month. This is what I chose: 

Origami Flowers


Why did I think for one second that I could pull off an origami craft with 30 students when I couldn’t pull off the moving fish craft, to begin with? That’s a very good question, because needless to say, I failed yet again. 

There are probably countless teachers that exist in schools all over the world that are great at crafting and teaching students cute origami and paper making crafts. I am not one of those teachers. I tried to be, I gave it my best effort, and I even felt obligated to because teachers are supposed to be crafty, aren’t they? I felt like they were known for that, and I was failing if I wasn’t crafty as well. However, at the end of the day, it wasn’t me. 

The biggest takeaway from my long term sub job was that being genuine as a teacher is the key to success. I had to fully accept that I was not a teacher that provided fun paper folding activities but instead prompted creativity in other ways. 

I found success in my Fun Friday activity the day I handed out a two-foot piece of yarn to every student and left a bowl of fruit loops on each table. I left no instructions beyond that, turned on classical music, and watched the magic happen. 

Many students walked away with fruit loop necklaces. Others with multiple bracelets because they cut the string into smaller pieces. I saw different weaves with the string and cereal pieces from kids, as well as some who simply just played with the string in their fingers and munched on dry cereal while they talked with friends. No one did it the right way, no one did it the wrong way, they simply just did it their way. 

This is the teacher that I am, and as soon as I learned and embraced it, it made the rest of my teaching experiences much smoother for myself and the students. All it took was a little life lesson from a simple cereal and string activity. 

How did you find yourself as a teacher? What helped you to create the culture in your classroom that flows and works for you and your students? 

Featured Image: pexels.com

Inquiry Into Symbiosis

Today’s inquiry post is by Melissa Sosa. Melissa is a mother of 2 young boys and a firm believer that life is a constant learning process. She currently lives in Humacao, Puerto Rico with her children and cat Quenepa.

I’ve always considered symbiosis to be a pretty interesting concept. Different species of animals and plants not only coexisting but collaborating together? I thought only humans did that! Well it turns out animals and plants are experts at maintaining symbiotic relationships that are crucial to the survival of our ecosystem.

When I created this provocation post I wanted to find fun resources that illustrated a fresh perspective to symbiosis, encouraging kids’ curiosity and understanding.  These resources have some examples of symbiotic relationships that may not be so common or well-known.

Resource #1: Symbiosis: A surprising tale of species cooperation by Ted Ed via The Kid Should See This

Resource #2: The Wood Wide Web by BBC News via The Kid Should See This

Resource #3: Butterflies drinking turtle tears!? via The Kid Should See This

Resource #4: Vanishing of the Bees trailer by Bee The Change

Resource #5: Carl & the Meaning of Life by Deborah Freedman

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Provocation Questions:

  • Why is the connection between humans, bees and flowers so important to our ecosystem?
  • How does symbiosis work like a partnership?
  • Can you think of an example of a symbiotic relationship in nature?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Miscellaneous Thought-Provoking Goodness for Students

My curation doesn’t always fit neatly into broader themes and concepts. Sometimes I squirrel away videos and resources that are just plain fascinating. I hope you can find uses for these to inspire thinking & wonder with your students this year!

Resource #1: The Icebreaker. Short flim by Timlab.pro

Which makes me wonder…

…How quickly does the ice form over the water?

…How does the crew deal with all the snow?

…What kinds of jobs take people out to these dangerous waters, and why?

Resource #2: Changemaker Quiz by Obama Foundation

Which makes me wonder…

…How can our personalities impact our communities for change?

…What kinds of change do we need and how can communities find out what they are?

Resource #3:

Which makes me wonder…

…How do our environments impact the way we move? The way we live?

What makes a place interesting to visit?

…How is movement and travel part of the human experience?

Resource #4: What Have You Changed Your Mind About? by SoulPancake

Which makes me wonder…

…What makes it hard for people to change their minds about things?

What makes people change their minds over time?

Resource #5: The true story of Mary Anning: The Girl Who Discovered Dinosaurs by BBC via The Kid Should See This

Which makes me wonder…

…How does our upbringing impact our interests and what we’re able to achieve?

…Why have women been excluded from science and most other fields over time? Why/how has this changed today?

Resource #6: These items worn down over time tell pretty interesting stories

Which makes me wonder…

What are other ways humans can observe change over time?

…How is critical thinking needed to tell the stories of change over time?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry into SDGs: Zero Hunger

This is a series of provocations designed to provide resources for students to inquire into the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. For more, click here

Zero Hunger. It’s a bold goal. But if we work together to wisely use the tools and abundance of our world today, it is possible. Share the resources below with students to help them inquire into this important global goal.

Resource #1: World Food Program Quiz on Hunger

Resource #2: Michael Pollan’s Food Rules by Ant House Studio

Resource #3: An Oasis in the Midst of a Food Desert by Great Big Story

Resource #4: Tweet from the World Food Program

Maria Rita says food has never been a problem for her family before #CycloneIdai. They used to grow tomatoes, cucumber, pumpkin, beans, maize and never ran out.

A joint seed & food distribution with @FAO is helping smallholder farmers in #Mozambique return to the field. 🌱🌾👇 pic.twitter.com/layeL3iQbG— World Food Programme (@WFP) April 17, 2019

Resource #5: The Good Garden: How One Family Went From Hunger to Having Enough by Katie Smith Milway & Sylvie Daigneault

Provocation Questions:

  • Why does hunger exist?
  • What efforts improve hunger?
  • How can we more wisely use the food we grow?
  • What are the different perspectives on food shortages?
  • Whose responsibility is it to ensure everyone has enough to eat?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry into SDGs: Decent Work & Economic Growth

This is a series of provocations designed to provide resources for students to inquire into the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. For more, click here

A good summary of the Decent Work & Economic Growth global goal is as follows:

“The SDGs promote sustained economic growth, higher levels of productivity and technological innovation. Encouraging entrepreneurship and job creation are key to this, as are effective measures to eradicate forced labour, slavery and human trafficking. With these targets in mind, the goal is to achieve full and productive employment, and decent work, for all women and men by 2030.”

United Nations Development Programme

Below are resources intended to help students think about how they might make personal connections to this goal. How does it impact their local areas? How might their choices help?

Resource #1: PeopleMovin: interactive online graph of migration flows across the world


Resource #2: Fair Hotels advertisement by Naissance

Resource #3: My Brother by Audrey Yeo

Resource #4: One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Big Difference by Katie Smith Milway & Eugenie Fernandes

Provocation Questions:

  • What is “decent work” like?
  • What are the benefits of a human having a job?
  • How is job availability changing?
  • What are the effects when a person is unable to work? For themselves? For their families? For their communities?
  • How is work connected to healthy economies, communities, and countries?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto