Leonisa Ardizzone: Science-Not Just for Scientists!

Aug 11, 2014 by

Science-Not Just for Scientists!

An Interview with Leonisa Ardizzone: Science-Not Just for Scientists!

Michael F. Shaughnessy –

1) Can you first tell us a bit about yourself regarding your education and experience?

I like to think of myself as an interdisciplinarian because of my varied education and professional experiences. I’d always loved science so that’s what I studied in college, getting an undergrad degree in Biology from Ithaca College. After a brief stint in a lab, I started teaching science in the Native American community and taught biology, chemistry, physics and environmental science, among other things. During these initial teaching years I received my Ed.M in science education from Western Washington University.

After teaching science for seven years, primarily in under-served communities, I decided to pursue my doctorate at Columbia University, Teachers College. I deliberately chose an interdisciplinary field that brought together my interest in the arts, education, geography, global policy and social justice. I received my Ed.D. in International Educational Development with a specialization in Peace Education.

I should say that while I love science and teaching, I feel closest to my work as a Peace Educator. Everything I write, every time I teach, all the advocacy I do, comes from the place of wanting to create a more equitable and just global community.

After my doctorate, I followed the academic route and was a professor for five years. I left that world to run a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) – primarily engineering and math – not-for-profit in NYC. After five years of that, I thought it was time to put my 20+ years of education experience to good use and go out on my own. In 2012, I opened my own science-exploration space/program “Storefront Science” that offers informal science education (camps, after-school, parties, kits) as well as curriculum and professional development.

2) Leonisa, you have just published a book on science. What brought this about?

I’ve been working in the field of science education for more than 20 years. Over the past few years, I began to focus on science explorations with very young children. I run an Early Explorers program in my NYC neighborhood and as a result of that experience – and numerous conversation with parents and educators who were yearning for ways to do science with young kids – I decided to write Science-Not Just for Scientists!. I wanted to show practitioners and non-practitioners alike that science teaching is not scary. That you don’t need to have all the answers. That really, you just have to want to play and explore alongside of your children or students.

3) What age and grade is this book for?

The activities in the book are quite varied so although my initial aim was to create a guide for children ages 2-6, I do believe that many of the activities can also be used with older children as well. I also think the book works well in both formal and informal settings, as well as in non-traditional education settings and in communities of learners with special needs.

4) Can parents use it with their kids or is it strictly for the school setting?

This book is absolutely for parents too! I attempted to make the book accessible to both educational practitioners and non-practitioners by including some educational philosophy, pedagogic explanations and clear “tips”. And the activities are written for non-scientists, or folks who need more support when trying to teach science.

5) Your book is neatly divided up into sections. Let’s take each section one at a time- The first chapter is on patterns-why is it important for kids to see patterns?

First, I should say that I based the books sections for the most part are based on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). It seemed logical to me to give people an educational tool that will ultimately help them frame their work in a manner that is consistent with national science education goals.

Now about patterns. Patterns are everywhere and children notice them at an early age. Through their play, children seek order, they create groupings, they are in essence classifying. In this chapter, I encourage parents/educators to go beyond the traditional idea of patterns (blue-red-blue-red) to include a broad notion of patterns – what we see in nature, in the sky, in the stars. And to encourage scientific classification from an early age.

6) Cause and Effect is the next chapter- what are you trying to teach kids here?

All phenomena obey some form of cause and effect. Kids bang a drum and it makes sound. They fall down, and they cry. They knock something off the table and they watch it fall to the ground. We should capitalize on their innate curiosity of these relationships and expand upon them. Understanding cause and effect is central to scientific study, and dare I say, it is central to most of the choices we make as we navigate the world.

7) Size and scale is the third chapter- seems to me you are teaching concepts- or am I off on this?

There are in fact more “concepts” in this chapter, and through those conceptual activities, the aim is to have children begin to understand size relationships. Scale is an abstract concept, and I have found it best to concretize it with children: have them build block houses for different sized toys, have them compare themselves and grown-ups to the height of doors, etc. Another reason I included this chapter is because I have seen far too many students – in middle and high school – not have a decent understanding of measurement. We need to start young with this!

8) Change and growth is the fourth chapter -with an emphasis on chemical change. Why is this important?

This is another area that has a lot of inherent meaning for children. They watch themselves change and grow and have many questions about those changes. Their bodies, the seasons, the weather, etc. are topics ripe for exploration. This chapter includes chemical change, biological change, physical change and changes over time. The explorations are based on phenomena children are already curious about. For me, this chapter is an accessible way to guide children through “change explorations” that will help them make sense of the world.

9) Chapter five is on energy- in its myriad forms—why do kids need to learn about energy?

This was an interesting chapter to write. The NGSS don’t explicitly state that young children should explore energy, but I felt they should and I developed different ways to get kids thinking about energy. We throw the term around a lot. Kids hear it from their parents (“eat breakfast so you have energy”), at school (“turn off the lights to conserve energy”), and on the news (“fossil fuels and the energy crisis”). They inevitably have questions and even misconceptions about energy which is an abstract concept. The activities in this chapter are designed to simplify and contextualize different ideas of energy.

10) The next chapter is on “systems”—what key ideas are you trying to get kids to master?

I think the main idea I want children to master is ‘inter-connections’. I want them to see how systems are collections of parts which by necessity have to work together. From a scientific standpoint, systems thinking helps us to think critically and to solve problems. Frankly, I think that if we, as citizens had a better understanding of how everything/everyone is connected and we applied “systems” thinking, we would make better decisions for our planet and all its inhabitants.

11) How Things Work seems to be basic physics to me- or am I off on this?

This chapter is the physics meets “maker” theme. My dad was a plumber when I was a kid and so at a very young age I learned how things worked. I remain fascinated by how things work and most of the kids I teach feel the same way. This chapter – which is not part of the NGSS – is really about getting kids to ask questions and then find ways to unlock the secrets of machines or toys or tools. I think this is a playful chapter and a great place for parents/teachers who are “afraid” of doing science to start.

12) Where can parents get a copy of this book?

The book is for sale directly through the Gryphon Press website http://gryphonhouse.com/store/trans/productDetailForm.asp?BookID=10053 as well as Amazon http://www.amazon.com/Science–Not-Scientists-Explorations-Young-Children/dp/0876594844/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1407456615&sr=8-1&keywords=leonisa+ardizzone and hopefully, you can also find it in your local bookstore (if they still exist)!

13) What have I neglected to ask?

I think we covered it all! But, I’d like to add that I am available for readings/demos/professional development so anyone interested should reach out.

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