Thursday, October 3, 2013

Using #AR to teach the Nitrogen Cycle

The Carbon and Nitrogen Cycle are two important pieces of the MN state standards in Biology.  I don't think I've approached it the same way in all the years I've been in the classroom.  I just haven't settled on a strategy for teaching the cycles that I feel really helps the students understand the complexity and implications they hold. So this year, I decided to Aurasma-fy the nitrogen cycle.  This is just a piece of their learning cycle, however.  Before getting to the AR, here's the sequence of content:

  • Students brought in soil samples from various places near their homes, and tested them for nitrate using Vernier sensors.  
  • The class used mini-iPads with the Aurasma app to participate in a virtual scavenger hunt as an introduction to the Nitrogen Cycle.  (More about this below.)
  • Students watched a content video at home that initiated a connection between their lab data and the scavenger hunt, then finished the lab conclusion in class.
  • Next week, the class will set up "bottle ecosystems" to observe over 20 days.  Students describe how the carbon and nitrogen cycles are evident in the bottles via a report.
I started creating the scavenger hunt by writing out all the parts of the nitrogen cycle I wanted to cover, and divided them into nine separate steps.  I intentionally kept the steps short and simple as this was the students' first introduction to the cycle.  Next, for each of the steps I decided where I would place the clues.  I knew I wanted to run the hunt outside because then the students would be less distracting to other classes in the building.  Once I knew where the clues would be, I wrote a rhyme for each step that would lead students through the hunt.  I recorded the clues on Explain Everything and uploaded them to You Tube - these videos were the overlays for the Auras.

As the triggers, I originally thought I'd use the numbers on my signs.  When I loaded them into Aurasma, it told me they weren't distinct enough, so I had to find some pictures online that would work as triggers.  I ended up taping the pictures on the numbered signs for the students to trigger the auras.  The pictures related to the clues.  For example, in the photo below, the trigger is a picture of soybeans.

I put the students into partner groups and started each group at a different clue so that they wouldn't overlap as much.  At each clue, one student activated the aura while the other recorded the Nitrogen Cycle step in his/her notebook.  We have 50-minute class periods, and most students were able to get through all of the steps in that time.

A couple of challenges I had with the lesson:

1. Trying to find triggers that were distinct enough for Aurasma.  I knew the numbers wouldn't work, but I learned the morning that students were supposed to use the app that the first pictures I chose weren't working either.  I had to scramble at the last minute to find some replacements and redo the auras.

2. I have three sections of Biology that used the scavenger hunt, so I left the signs up outside all day.  By the time my last class of the day did the hunt, the wind had picked up and blew clue #6 away!  Next year, I'll make sure to use plenty of duct tape.  

Besides these two hiccups, however, the lesson was a success.  The students were engaged and excited to find the clues.  The diagrams that they ended up creating in their notebooks showed that they were beginning to understand the nitrogen cycle.  One student even commented, "That was a really cool app!"  Coming from a high school student, that's a glowing endorsement!

Students checking out a clue by the school sign.
*If you'd like to check out the auras I used for the hunt, my Aurasma channel is MeyerScience.

No comments:

Post a Comment