Grade 10 Academic Biology Unit

I have a plan… and when I’m working through things and need to consolidate my plan, I turn to my blog… Hoping to get some feedback.

I’m am currently teaching Grade 10 Science. We are doing the biology unit next . I saved “my favorite” for right before Christmas knowing that my passion for the subject will help carry us to the break. I also wanted my students to have a base-level of technological skills and experience self-pacing and demonstrating their learning in a variety of ways before heading into the biology unit.

My plan for the unit involves case studies. I’m aiming for problem-based learning. At the beginning of the unit, I will do a short mini-unit on cell-division. This will involve a couple days of microscope work. After this mini-unit we will move into small groups for the case-studies. I am thinking that partners will work best, but perhaps groups of three will work as well. I have quite a few students in my class considering medicine as a career destination. Students are aware of my plan and have been given the option to provide input to the unit design.

Here is my rough plan:

  • discuss this journal article on problem-based learning at McMaster Medical school
  • have someone who has gone through McMasters or NOSMs medical school Skype in and answer questions about the process
  • review the biology curriculum expectations as a class so that we all know which ones are left to cover
  • review 10 different case studies in class. I am thinking this book will make a good resource in helping me finalize my 10 case studies. Groups will choose a case study that interests them.
  • students will work on their case study to explain the reasons for the patients symptoms and/or illness in addition to possible courses of action. Included in their case study presentation (or other format of project they decide upon), they will include:
    • ethical issues around the case
    • medical imaging used in the case
    • public health issues connected to the case
    • use a microscope to investigate specialized cells pertaining to their case (comparing cell structure to other cells types to show structural differences)
    • explain the primary function of the body systems involved and explain the interactions between them

I am hoping that some groups will formulate more creative projects other than simply presenting their case to their class, but that will be the baseline. Perhaps some groups will want to actually create a public health campaign around an issue, or a working model of something. Take action somehow. It will depend on how they relate to the case studies.

I’d love to get input and ideas on this.

Student collaborative video creation – Palm Oil

This post was originally posted here:

Our class worked with a class from Orillia to create the following video about palm oil and the Earthwatchers program. We decided as a large group (using Polycom for video conference, todaysmeet for an online chat and a google doc to consolidate) our essential research questions and then worked in small groups to complete our part. Part of the process was a critical response from our peers. We provided effective feedback to help our peers improve.

Tools for creating video clips, images, animations and audio recordings were chosen based on what we had access to and what made sense. Surprisingly, each group ended up using different tools, apps and programs.

Some students used class iPads and their animation apps. One group used an app that I have never used before to draw stop motion images on the iPad. One student brought in her Wacom tablet to draw her animated character for use in Frames (which she downloaded a trial version for use on her own laptop). Yet another group got to play with play dough. For background music, one student brought in his guitar and recorded some tunes using the iPad app GarageBand. The group who used an iPad to record a news report made great use out of some giant retort stands we had in class as an iPad stand.

Thanks for joining us on this adventure Ms. Duncan’s class from Orillia! The songs made for this video are amazing!

Grade 7 8 10 Palm Oil Video from Jac Calder on Vimeo.

Continue reading “Student collaborative video creation – Palm Oil”

My initial thoughts on the Livescribe Sky Pen

I’ve been using Livescribe Echo pens for quite some time. Most often I use them for personal note taking and for creating pencasts for my students. I teach at an alternative school for part of the day and have something like 10 different math courses going on in the same room. I then teach a science course up at the high school. Here is how I was using the pens before the Llivescribe Sky:

  • To create math tutorials and put them on our blog.
  • As an assistive device. I use the Livescribe stickers and record myself reading all the paper material in class.
  • I make tutorials that are accessible anytime and anywhere for chemistry unit. For creating any lessons, I use my iPad to create videos because I can use graphics and images. For simple skills tutorials, however, the pen rules.
  • To record all on-the-fly mini-tutorials, conferences or help sessions in class. This way I can put the pencast into the students Evernote folder after (which we use for feedback). They can then share these with other students or refer back to them at any time. It also allows me to look back and see which topics were most confusing for students and which ways of explaining concepts helped them most.
  • As general classroom support devices – my science students know that anytime they like, they can use a pen to help them communicate their understanding of a concept. Even if they simply want a digital copy of a handwritten note, they can grab a pen. We have four of them in my classroom for this purpose. Some days they are used, at other times they go for a week without being used. Most often, students choose them when they want to make a tutorial for our blog.
  • With sticky notes for feedback. When I return paper assignments (like lab or inquiry notes) there is often a Livescribe sticky note attached. It says “Pen #3” and student just grab the appropriate pen to listen to their feedback. I have also put a copy of the sticky note into their Evernote folder.

Personally, I always put any important notes into Evernote. So, the transition to Sky for my own pen just makes sense. That being said, I predicted (and was right) that the Sky pens would be useless as school devices. I got a 2GB Sky pen to replace my own personal pen and simply put my previous pen into my collection of classroom devices.  Here is a summary of the pros and cons of my Sky pen. Overall, I quite like it as MY pen. I would not, however, get any for my classroom as shared devices.


  • pages automatically go into Evernote – no work involved
  • don’t have to use the very unstable and frustrating Livescribe desktop software
  • pencasts now work on any browser (even iOS), so you can simply share an Evernote link and anyone can view them without any special apps
  • pencasts simply update if you add more to a page. The next time it syncs, it simply adds new material to the Evernote note


  • no way to embed pencasts (that I know of). This is a big deal for e-Learning.
  • pens cannot connect to any network that requires a website to connect. This means that school, hotels, hotspots are all out. The only networks I have connected it to so far include my house and iPhone hotspot
  • no way to change the title of the Evernote notes created by the Sky. They are automatically titled with book and page number of the page and will not let you change them within Evernote
  • not working with any other programs yet. The only way to share a file is to share an Evernote link. No direct to Facebook, nor Google, etc.
  • no way to create offline files. Unlike the Echo, you cannot save the files onto your computer for offline use. You cannot put files onto a USB drive to give to folks to use offline. I have a high number of students without internet access. This is a barrier.
  • no easy way to connect pages into one note. If an audio file goes between multiple pages, you can access all the pages from one Evernote note, but you cannot (or, at least I have not figured out how to) combine different pages into one note after. This makes for messy Evernote organization, and more difficult when sharing pencasts to students. Especially because you can’t change the title of the notes.
  • doesn’t work with the sound stickers

I quite like the pen for my personal use. Mostly because I’ve had a love affair with Evernote for years. However, there is still a lot of work to do. They are truly not educational devices as of yet (very much like the Echo pens, there are large barriers). They would be great if owned by the student personally, but they do not make very good shared devices.

To be honest, I’d much prefer my students or school save up and purchase a $200 netbook opposed to a $140 pen. I’ve read a post saying that smart pens could make 1:1 more attainable. I struggle to see the value in having 1:1 smart pens over more robust creation devices at a lesser ratio. As a student, I would personally want a Livescribe Sky pen to support my learning, however they simply to not make sense for the school to be purchasing as a shared device yet.


Choosing our own tools

Today I am incredibly happy with the progress in my science class. Some students have decided to take on the task of creating tutorials for our blog page on ionic and molecular compounds. A few students completed this in class after ensuring they were totally comfortable with the concept. Some students spent the time solidifying the concepts and reviewing material. Students who created tutorials in class choose either iPads or Livescribe pens to make the tutorials. Those reviewing concepts used pencasts, video and written content as desired.

For students who wanted to make tutorials over the weekend (with no access to livescribe pens or iPads), I told them that they could make written tutorials and include pictures of their atoms and formulas. Apparently, this wasn’t good enough for a few of my students. One has emailed me today and chosen to draw hers out using a wacom tablet she uses at home for drawing. Another couple of students surprised me by creating a voicethread and sending it to me. We have used voicethreads in class, but students have never created their own. This time they just went and figured out how to create their own. Using that tool just made sense to them.

We are officially at the point I’ve been striving to reach this semester. Students are choosing tools that work for them. Tools that are appropriate for the job. Tools that make sense based on the hardware they have access to.

I am slowly trying to build the skills to complete one of our units in an almost entirely inquiry-based way. This is a great sign that we are getting there. Students have developed the critical thinking, communication and research skills they need in previous classes and in ours. They have now had the opportunity to be exposed to a variety of tools and have begun selecting their own. Sometimes they like to shock me and come up with tools I have never even thought of. Its great.

Its crazy that two emails from students on a Saturday afternoon could be so energizing.

Thank you grade 10 students!