Sunday, August 18, 2013

Braving the Rapids

One of my favorite topics to teach in Ecology class during the fall is Aquatics.  Students get the chance to muck around in our local river and collect aquatic macroinvertebrates - insects that hide out in the water.  The students soon realize that the rockiest areas of the river support the highest variety of insects.  It turns out that the churning water produced by all of these rocks mixes in oxygen from the atmosphere, creating an ideal environment for the macroinvertebrates.

Tomorrow begins my 13th year in the classroom, and as I ponder the beginning of the school year, this image of rocky stretches of water continues coming to mind.  I envision my past 13 years as a river, each year propelling me further along in my understanding of teaching, learning, and scientific inquiry.  Some years, I have coasted along straight and wide shallows of the river, untroubled by snags, making forward progress.  But other years, I have braved the rapids, and it is one of those moments I want to write about here.

This summer, I participated in an online class for Flipped Learning, and so began my tumultuous ride.  I began to expand my PLN via my class, Twitter, and the Flipped Learning Network.  Just as the rapids in a river mix much-needed oxygen into the water, my PLN contacts provided nourishment, inspiring me to change, adapt, and improve my teaching.  Each day this summer, I pushed myself to master new technology, teaching techniques, and resources that could have a positive impact on my students' learning.  

So, here's another interesting ecological tidbit about the areas of a river near rapids:  the invertebrates that live there have to be able to hang on tightly to some sort of surface, or they risk being washed downstream.  There were moments this summer during which I was worried the steady stream of new information and ideas would overwhelm me.  There was so much to learn and so little time!  Living in the rapids can be overwhelming!  But as I sit here on the evening before classes start and reflect on all the new adventures I'm taking on this year, I can proudly say that I am still hanging on with all my strength.  Here is a small sample of some of the initiatives I'm incorporating this school year:

  • My lessons will be reorganized into the Explore, Flip, Apply model.
  • I'll be using Remind 101 to keep in contact with my students.
  • My students will be using Aurasma to identify lab equipment.  They'll be making their own videos to pair with triggers for next year's class.
  • I'm using Schoology to organize videos, assignments, forms, and links for all of my classes.
  • POGILS will be used in my Biology classes as a formative assessment tool.
  • Scientific Argumentation models will be incorporated into each student investigation.
  • Each of the "flipped" videos for my classes will be accompanied by a Google form to assess student weaknesses in understanding prior to instruction.
  • Students will bring their own devices to the classroom.
  • PhETs will be used as a form of initial engagement.
  • Flipped videos will be made in response to student questions and need with a variety of tools, such as Knowmia, Touchcast, Explain Everything, and Videoscribe.
  • I'll record answers to student questions in the classroom using Educreations to create videos "on the fly" that all students can access.
  • This blog will be updated weekly, sharing all that I experience and learn throughout this pivotal year.

Many of these changes involve increased use of technology, but I truly feel like the adjustments I'm making are bigger than the tech itself.  The technology is allowing me to reshape my classroom in a way that helps more students learn at a deeper, more relevant, more personal level.  This has me excited.  I am more anxious for the start of this school year than I have been in a long time.  Those years of easily floating down the river were not bad.  In fact, every teacher needs years like this to hone their craft.  But I don't want to float for too long, and I don't want to get stuck in one of the pools on the bank that goes stagnant.  I need to brave the rapids every once awhile to get that energizing surge of oxygen that propels my classroom and student learning forward.  I am not naive enough to imagine that a year in the rapids will be easy or free of failure, but I am eager for the adventure to begin.

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