how to teach STEM so students will learn

This article from Nautilus about STEM teaching is called The Case Against Lectures, but it’s worth a read even if you read the title and think, “Well, obviously.”

Project-based learning, or designed thinking, doesn’t just help students “get” the material in time for a good grade on the test; it also helps deepen their appreciation for what they learn. “There is an enormous amount of work that has demonstrated that these (student-centered) strategies improve students’ learning and attitudes toward science,” said Marilyne Stains, the lead author of the Science study and an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry at the University of Nebraska. “It’s not just that they understand it better, but they also appreciate science more. They’re not as scared of it, and they engage more easily with it. When you see that kind of effect, it makes you say, ‘Why are we still doing it the other way?’

The fourth cottage

Ita Straz, a young woman of nineteen, was pulled by Lithuanian policemen to a long pit in the Ponary Forest. She had heard the firing of the guns and now could see the rows of corpses. ‘This is the end,’ she thought. ‘And what have I seen of life?’ She stood with others naked at the edge of the trench as the bullets flew past her head and body. She fell straight backward, not feigning death, simply from fright. She remained motionless as one body after another fell on top of her. When the pit was full, someone walked on top of the final layer of corpses, firing downward into the heap. A bullet passed through Ita’s hand, but she made no sound. Earth was thrown over the pit. She waited for as long as she could, and then pushed her way through the bodies and dug through the soil. Without clothing, covered only in mud and in the blood of herself and others, she sought help. She visited one cottage and was turned away, and then a second, and then a third. In the fourth cottage she found help, and she survived.

Who lives in the fourth cottage? Who acts without the support of normals or institutions, representing no government, no army, no church? What happens when the encounters in grey, of Jews needing help contacting people with some connection to an institution, give way to simple meetings of strangers, encounters in black? Most Jews most of the time were turned away, and died. When the outside world offered threats but no promises, the few people who acted to rescue Jews often did so because they could imagine how their own lives might be different. The risk to self was compensated by a vision of love, of marriage, of children, of enduring the war into peace and into some more tranquil future

– Tim Snyder, Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning

Digital literacy, digital equity and housing precarity in Vancouver

Suzanne Smythe writes about LinkVan, a digital equity project in the Downtown East Side of Vancouver.

Adult Basic Education is a Basic Right

LinkVan is a digital equity project led by the Downtown Eastside Literacy Roundtable and the UBC Learning Exchange. LinkVan is a local, literacy-friendly online service directory designed to respond to the service needs and contexts of community members in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. With doctoral students Sherry Breshears and Matthias Sturm I have been researching how people use the LinkVan site, and their experiences of Vancouver’s digital landscape. We have learned that social, income and digital inequality are entangled. People who are homeless or or on-the-edge-of homelessness experience particular literacy, learning and digital access needs. The LinkVan project responds to this by offering digital literacy outreach in local parks, shelters, housing associations, drop in and community settings. Local libraries and learning centres at Vancouver Community College, the Women’s Information and Safe House (WISH) and the Carnegie Learning Centre and the UBC Learning Exchange, all  strive to meet the learning needs of…

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Lesson plan–“A Single Life”

A Single Life from Job, Joris & Marieke on Vimeo.

The other day a friend recommended this year’s Oscar nominated short animation, “Negative Space.” It is a very good little film, and I thought about using it in my Fundamental English class. As I poked around on YouTube, I found more shorts from years past. One of them, “A Single Life,” is short, sweet, and funny, with a poignant message that I thought would be fairly accessible and interesting to my students. Here is the lesson plan for what I did with them today.

LESSON: “A Single Life”
LEVEL: Could be done with any level of adult learners; adjust as needed to suit your audience)
PURPOSE: to introduce students to the idea of/have them practice textual analysis
MATERIALS: online version of the film at the filmmakers’ site, Vimeo or YouTube
PREP TIME: very low


Students pair up and discuss the following:

  1. If you could travel backwards or forward in time, which would you choose and why?


1. Students watch the film all the way through the first time.

2. Afterwards, get students to summarize what happened.

3. Go back and get students to listen to the lyrics of the song on the record. You may need to pause it so they can hear each line. Get a student to write the lyrics on the board as the class deciphers them.

4. When the students have the lyrics mostly correct, give them/project the full lyrics (available here).

5. Ask students for their thoughts on the film. What message do they think it is communicating? The depth of their answers will depend on their level and personal capacity.


Students write a paragraph on the topic, “What do you think is the message of the film? Provide examples to support your point.” Adapt as necessary for lower level learners–they may just write a few sentences, or you may do this together on the board as a class.