Grade 9’s owning their own consolidation

If I had my way, I’d rarely do lessons in class. We’d do labs and inquiries, and research and fun things that keep me engaged. Yet…it’s not all about me. I know how important consolidation is. We can do all the great learning activities in the world, but eventually students need to consolidate all that fun new knowledge.

I’ve come to the conclusion that for the combination of my specific students (after spending a few weeks getting to know my grade 9s as learners), my strengths/weaknesses and the nature of our content, that we need to have choice in how we consolidate. Many of my students have they told me that they learn best by writing things out. Fair enough. That is a valid learning technique. Other students have said that they HATE taking notes and that they never refer back to them. Some students say that they can learn from taking notes, but tend to lose them and never refer back to them later on.

In our class, for chemistry, we decided to do short, consolidation pieces every so often to make sure that we are all on the same page. Yesterday we did a consolidation piece (about half an hour) about the structure of the atom and an introduction to the periodic table of elements (the one thing that every student said that they wanted to demystify).

Some students have chosen to write their notes on paper and keep a physical notebook. Other students have chosen to keep all of their notes in Evernote. They type on their phones or laptops. When I questioned one guy about how he was going to do the diagrams (in that way a teachers questions when they think that they already know the answer and assume the student will do as I assume and grab a piece of paper), he showed me that he ALREADY had found similar diagrams online and copied and pasted them into Evernote. Wow. Ok. Great. I just checked this students evernote now (we have shared folders) and he has gone above and beyond what we did in class. He found more detailed diagrams. He found an extension piece of content (about how molecules act in the different states of matter). I’m thoroughly impressed. If he was using pen and paper instead of his phone, it never would have happened.

One other student used her wacom tablet and turned our lesson into a piece of art (that I of course, stole and posted on our class blog for others to use). Many of the students wrote their notes on paper and then took a picture of it to put into their evernote folder.

Its all about what works for them. I told them that they are responsible for proving to me at any time that they have an organizational system to be able to quickly, on a dime, pull up the information they need to know about WHMIS, Lab Safety, Online Safety and the structure of an atom. It makes me giddy with excitement to see them taking the initiative to choose what works best for them. Those skills will take them well beyond the content we will cover in grade 9 science that well may end up insignificant in their daily adult lives (but of course, I will never tell them this). 🙂

Have you had students who found an alternative method of organizing course materials or summaries for future reference? Maybe one that I could share with my students?

Models of technology integration and potential downfalls #educ5105

We’ve spent some time looking at a couple different frameworks supporting the implementation of technology into education in #educ5105. In my mind, each framework has merit, but they are not all encompassing. Change is personal and what drives it and what is needed to support it will be different for each person. I do believe that having an understanding of a variety of frameworks is helpful to help understand reluctance to change and to help plan for situations in which you are expecting people to change. For example, in professional development. However, I do think it is naive and hazardous to only focus on one model with the assumption it will provide all the answers.

Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by
Reproduced by permission of the publisher, © 2012 by

As an example, I could use the TPaCK model to help explain what I needed as a teacher to change my grade 10 science biology unit into a case study learning activity. I certainly required a knowledge of the content. I needed to have an understanding of the human body and cell specialization in order to create appropriate case studies and to anticipate the pathways of learning that students would take. I also needed a strong understanding of the possible technologies students may use to support this. What tools could they use to collaborate on their research? What tools to create digital archives of their learning to share with classmates? Lastly, I needed a strong knowledge of pedagogy to create the framework of learning to ensure all learners were engaged, met at their current level of understanding and able to move forward.

What the framework is missing however, is WHY did I change? What motivated me to use the technology to change how I addressed the unit? Why did I not choose to do a lesson about cell specialization? Just because I have the knowledge in these three areas does not mean that I will always implement the technology. On the flip side, as long as the personal and motivation aspect is being looked at I most certainly do need to have those three areas of knowledge to make it happen.

Image Credit:
Image Credit:

The SAMR model would classify how I used that technology to change the teaching and learning in my classroom. I fully agree with the premise that we need to use technology as a catalyst for change in education. These tools can be transformative instead of simply allowing us to continue to teach the same way with technology infused. For example, the sheer act of using a SMART Board or interactive white board, does not transform my teaching. If the board is still at the front of the room and the teacher is the one with their hands on it, the learning activity is still the same from the students point of view. However, the same tool could be used transormatively. I have seen SMART Boards being used to change how learning happens in a classroom.

The framework of SAMR rings true with me on many levels, however, I worry about those times any framework or model is taken too far. It is necessary for us to be cognizant of the differences on how technology is used. When we start thinking that every situation will fit neatly into this little graphic, there is a problem. And, yet again, the question of WHY needs to be addressed. Why do I need to transform my classroom? What proof is there that learning will improve if I transform?

Take a look at this poster created to classify a variety of iPad apps into the levels of the SAMR model. This is incredibly problematic for me. It is not the tool that transforms the learning, but how it is used. For example, iMovie could be used by the teacher to create a video version of the lesson and played for students in class. Is that anywhere near as transformative as students creating video representations of their own knowledge? When models or frameworks are taken as gospel instead of as intended (a framework) I begin to worry.

Please visit this link to see Greg Swansons' post, original file and comments to his post.
Please visit this link to see Greg Swansons’ post, original file and comments to his post.

How my relationship with the space unit is changing (love/hate)

I normally hate the space unit in grade 9 science. I mean, HATE. In my personal life i have no interest in astronomy, even though many a canoe trippers have tried to engage me. I know very little beyond the curriculum requirements of grade 9 science, which makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. In the past it has been used as a way to put scientific notation into action. The last time I taught it, years ago, I had a few color overhead slides with neat images and a few websites and magazine articles to help engage.

This time however, I have Chris Hadfield and the Canadian Space Agency. We have a bubble detector in our classroom that is the same as @Cmdr_Hadfield has on the ISS, being used to measure radiation. We are sharing our results with people all over Canada and beyond. We have access to photos each day that show us what the Earth looks like from the ISS that are being tweeted out in real-time, not released years later. We have videos showing us how they wash their hands in space. We caught a live stream of Chris Hadfield talking from space with William Shatner, and tweeted with people from all over Canada about what we were watching. My students self-imposed homework was to learn about William Shatner and why those tweets between him, @Cmdr_Hadfield, Buzz Aldrin and Nimoy were funny (if they were not already Star Trek watchers). They have taken an inquisitive stance to learning neat facts about space travel and the International Space Station. Brainstorming a list of pros and cons of space exploration left them with more questions than facts.

We have been archiving tweets from the CSA, Chris Hadfield, NASA, etc. Students are actually looking at them on their own time and reading, following links, etc. Students are asking me questions that I have no idea how to answer. One googled the size of the space station and then with a small group, likened each dimension to something familiar to them.

I used the media as an engagement factor during the first week of grade 9 science and expected to quickly move on and still resort to the space unit as the last thing we do in science (knowing that time would be short and it would be rushed – it always is). What has happened, is that through student inquiry and passion, tweeted links and resources we have found a way to make space exploration the over-arching theme for the whole course.

Our research project with Chris Hadfield and other schools has us measuring neutron radiation. What is a neutron? Is a neutron always dangerous? A student with a vague understanding of the atom asked me “aren’t there neutrons everywhere?, why is the radiation detector not picking up those?”. And, so we go into chemistry next monday while doing a research project with the ISS and studying neutron radiation data.

Then, as I’m procrastinating and trying to avoid round three of digging myself out from under all this wonderful snow, I get a tweet “check out this video”. Its a video about space exploration and how our view of the earth has changed. It talked about viewing the world as one big ecosystem when looking down on it. And, with a flash a light bulb went off in my head. We can use space to lead us right into the ecosystems unit as well.

Now, I just need to find the perfect connection to get us into the electricity unit and we’ll be set. We’ll start by looking at energy consumption and balance in the thrust portion of take-off and then solar energy and the ISS.

This unit, which I have always secretly feared, has quickly taken over my grade 9 science course. The students passion and inquisitiveness has inspired me to feed that passion. They will each take a part of our space curriculum that speaks to them and share what they learn with the rest of the class. I am excited to see what they create and share.  I am forever indebted to the Canadian Space Agency for making education and public engagement a priority this year. They have greatly impacted my ability to teach a topic normally so far out of my comfort zone. They’ve also given purpose and a context for me to really focus on digital citizenship with my students this semester.

When the Grade 9’s Outsmart me (again)

The hazards of insisting students do what works for them in terms of choosing their own tools became a reality for me today. The network went down and so I asked them to draw the WHMIS symbols into their notes while I quickly formulated Plan B. On cue, half the class takes out their iPods or phones, take a picture of the symbols into evernote and say “done!”. Well then… I can’t argue with that. I would have done the exact same thing. So, instead, its time to quiz your elbow partner on what the symbols mean… Have a group discussion on how they are different from household product symbols. I just need five minutes to put plan B for today into action…  🙂

Teaching Biology in Paradise

I am incredibly lucky and have landed myself the opportunity to teach Grade 11 and 12 Biology in Fiji this summer. I am setting up the framework for the programs and would love some input from anyone willing to help me plan.

Here is what I have so far:

  • each course will have an online component through Moodle. This will be the “understanding basic concepts” component of the course. This part will basically be lesson content (all in written and video to support most learners) and then a few very straight-forward assignments
    • I will create videos for each lesson so that I can share my passion for the topic, but I will also link to good graphical animations and interactive modules that are already out there.
    • This material will simply cover the bare minimum, the basic “need-to-knows”
    • This material will be available for students way before we leave for Fiji (during which time I will be available via adobe connect or email to help if needed). If I had my way, they’d all get this part out of the way before we left, but that is asking way too much of students likely already in a semester full of courses.
  • In Fiji, we will do all the communication, critical thinking, applying of concepts and inquiry. This will be the “meat” of the course and will include;
    • labs at the University of South Pacific (fruit flies, helping with marine biology research, DNA analysis, etc.)
    • field trips (homeostasis in coastal regions, rainforest for diversity, fisheries for population dynamics, nurseries for plant units, remote villages for population studies, ocean-side resorts for dolphin studies, the local medical school for human biology and homeostasis labs, etc.)
    • interviews with local experts
    • research of local case studies (Fiji-specific flora, fauna, restoration initiatives, evolution studies, diversity studies, etc.)

So, with the learning opportunities starting to come together, I started to ponder how on earth to assess all this. I don’t want to be tied to a classroom in Fiji. So, doing a series of field trips and activities following by tests and strict written reports aren’t going to work.

My current plan is as follows:

  • assess the online learning assignments as a small component of their course work
  • have each student set up a blog
    • for each overall expectation I will provide a few blog prompt options and students can blog about what we’ve learned through various learning opportunities (labs, field trips, research, interviews, etc.). Students will choose which ones to complete and we will conference 1:1 (likely on buses) to ensure they are meeting all the expectations. There will be enough structure for these that the expectations are hit, but be flexible enough to allow students to direct their own learning a bit while in Fiji.
    • students will be encouraged to use media created on-the-go (images, video, audio) along with the written word on their blogs.
    • we will hold “blogger cafe’s” throughout the trip (on the road, in residence, in the airport)
    • we will try to comment on each others postings as much as possible
    • we may invite guest bloggers from Fiji to join us
    • we may write blogs individually, in pairs or in small groups (and cross-post to each students blog)
    • some blogs may take the form of an essay, some may be a narrative, others poetry. We will discuss choosing appropriate forms for purpose.
  • as a final assessment we will do two things
    • write summary reflections on our blogs that wrap up our blogs as a learning portfolio
    • co-create an e-book as a class about “Biology in Fiji”. Students will choose topics that are Fiji-specific and write chapters about these (could be specific flora, fauna, initiatives, issues, etc.). Students will draw on their knowledge of the biology and experiences in Fiji to write these. Again, these could include media components integrated into the e-book as well. My thought is that this will not only help me assess their understanding of concepts and ability to apply their knowledge but also provide students with a great “take-home” from the trip.

So, within that overall framework, I have some work to do in gathering some knowledge of Fiji-specific examples and case studies. I’m very lucky and the company organizing this trip have someone at the University of South Pacific who will be organizing the trips and labs with me. He will set the itinerary and schedule labs. He is currently going around to USP departments and staff to find good learning activities for us that fit within the curriculum.

My questions to anyone willing to help me are;

What would you include?

Do you know of any resources? Case-studies, examples in Fiji?

How can I fine-tune the assessment?

Would you, as a parent, be happy with this balance between “prepping for university” and getting the most out of being in Fiji (experiential)? Remembering that you are paying an arm and a leg for the trip.

Thanks for any input!