Thursday, 5 June 2014

#hackyrclass week 5 - blended learning/mix-it-up!

So this is the first week of the #hackyrclass challenge that I've finally felt vaguely in my element. Blended learning is my modus operandi for the most part, because I truly believe in giving students options as to how they learn, and this includes providing learning opportunities and experiences from all modalities, be they e-tools, hands-on activities and practical experiments, planning collaboratively, writing their own answers on paper, playing games etc etc. I am fortunate that I currently teach in a 1:1 laptop environment, and so this means all students have a degree of e-literacy and there are no excuses about not having access (although a 1:1 environment also raises the dilemma of using technology for technology's sake - something that is a completely backwards way of looking at learning in my opinion... the technology should be there to facilitate and deepen learning, and never be the focus in itself).

I use a wide range of e-tools in my classes, including google docs for collaborative work, google forms for effective feedback, edmodo to facilitate student voice, participation and collaboration, flipping the learning (as described in this earlier post and my youtube channel) and lately I've been playing around with making weebly's to make sites that my students can use to self-direct their learning - taking ownership of their learning path.

The most recent attempt is here: (and this also complements resources available on our Moodle pages) - this is currently the work for 5 lessons/a week.

Evidence for evolution - AS 3.5
But it is not enough to give them content! I have made a 'passport' to go with the website:

(and yes, it folds up into a little booklet, and when students complete each section, they get a little stamp - never underestimate the power of cute things even when dealing with 17yo girls!)

It has a mix of activities to complete, including written answers on paper & activities like making fossils, but I also assess their learning through edmodo quizzes, which means I can get a quick grasp on how they are going. Class time is now 'freed' up for me to check in with & help students individually, they can work at their own pace - including outside of class time, and if they ask me to, I can still do a lecture-type summary to give them confidence they are doing ok. I also set them deadlines - giving them targets in which they need to have completed so many sections.

This is also great at the moment because I have lost half my class to a 2-day field trip, so it means the students away can easily see what they have missed and how to catch up (we also have a google doc running with student key questions for each section of learning), and I won't end up having to teach the same thing twice!

As a last comment - one of the reasons I wanted to set this up was not only for student ownership, but for this topic in particular, google searching "evolution" creates a myriad of issues gathering authentic scientific information without alterior motives ;)

If anyone would like the 'passport' doc or further info, just let me know - happy to share!

Sunday, 1 June 2014

#hackyrclass - week 4: Maker culture & lab skills

I will be honest and say that I've only been able to incorporate this week's #hackyrclass challenge into my classroom in small ways this week - partly because I've had no students for the majority of it (assessment week!). However, there are aspects of it, combined with other general growth mindset approaches that I have used this week, and plan to use next week also. Firstly, my take on making:

Making experiments - making sense

So in 'real science land' experiments are always full of purpose, and sometimes more time goes into planning them than actually carrying out the experiment. 

Me, in my previous career, working with HIV in a BSL-3 lab
I noticed recently (in the lead-up to a practical internal) that my Year 11 students struggled with writing methods by themselves, in particular writing logical, procedural, detailed methods that another student could follow, to carry out a reliable and accurate experiment. This took quite a bit of intensive feedforward to help everyone up to speed, but we got there in the end! My gut feeling was that this was at least in part due to lack of practice in this area - I worry that in the haste to cover more content, we give our students pre-made (or even semi-guided) methods to use, and while this aids us in 'covering' the material in a faster time, it isn't helping the students develop the ability and skill to design, develop and write their own methods ('uncovering' if you will!).

So, this week I had two lessons with my Year 10 class, and we had no time pressures to get through any material (post-exams!), and so I took those whole two lessons to get my students to design and write their own methods from scratch, give them to another group to carry out, then debrief each other on the methods they had written. (It took nearly a whole lesson for them to design and write the methods, and then we carried out the experiments the next day - unheard of generally in junior science, but it was so nice to slow down!)

At the start, I gave them only a list of equipment and reagents/materials available for them, reminded them briefly about fair testing, and let them go. I provided no help whatsoever in the planning - questions about what volumes to use, how long to mix etc went unanswered by me - I just asked them to use their best guess, and then we would see what happened.

All groups managed to carry out an experiment, and then afterwards each group analysed how the experimental method had gone, using these two combined forms of feedback:

  • Rose-Bud-Thorn - Thanks to @GeoMouldey who prompted me to look into the Rose-Bud-Thorn method of analysing work. (Very briefly - rose: good things; bud: things to develop; thorn: anything that didn't work).

  • Helpful, specific, kind - see this link for more detail (which also links in to 'Austin's butterfly' - which I will mention later!) This is a way of peers proving feedback/forward that is actually useful and not harsh to read - no generic comments of "very good", or "this was awful!" - students have to give feedback in a way that the recipient can act on it, and they also feel empowered by the comments not belittled.

I took the rose/bud/thorn categories of feedback/forward, and combined it with "helpful, specific, kind" and asked the students to provide at least one comment under each category for the other group's method.

After they had swapped feedback, I had each group volunteer the 'buds' from their own feedback, and we wrote them all up on the board.

Amazingly (or maybe not!), the 'buds' they came up with were the main issues I had been having with my Year 11 students, which goes to confirm that hopefully doing more practicals like this can help to set students up with the right skills before they get to NCEA.

Lastly, I showed the class the Austin's butterfly video (see earlier link) - to reinforce that very rarely do any of us go from start to great in one go; we all need chances to improve and refine.

Making sense by making stuff

Last thing in this very long post! Next week, as part of the level 3 Evolution & Speciation External, I have set up a student-directed week-long 'chunk' of work around evidence for evolution, and I'm including as many practical things I can get my hands on, like making fossils (I am pretty sure that even year 13's love playing with play-dough and plaster of paris!), and using lollies and/or beads to demonstrate other aspects of evolution wherever I can.

So overall, not quite makerspace, but I'm trying to get my students out of their seats and doing stuff whenever I can (balanced of course with time to process!)