Saturday, November 2, 2013

Low-Tech Learning

I love using technology to enhance student learning and make my life easier whenever possible.  But it's always a pleasant surprise when I stumble across a low-tech way of helping my students grapple with a topic that produces positive results as well.  It's like meeting up with an old friend that you haven't seen for awhile and thinking to yourself, "Now I remember why I like this friend so much - why is it that we don't spend more time together?"  Here are some methods I've been using in my classes lately, mostly on the fly as I adjust to student learning on a day-to-day basis.

Students needed a way to understand the connection between the results of their flame test investigation (different salt solutions will give off different colors of light when heated in a flame), excitement of electrons, and the quantum mechanical model of an atom.  Working together, the other Chemistry teacher and I came up with a model in which we drew out three levels of concentric circles in sidewalk chalk outside our building (no photos of this, but you can see my drawing below).  Students represented the electrons in the various levels.  Different elements had different numbers and locations of electrons.  The electrons were given Monopoly money, which allowed them to move up to a higher energy level, grab a colored dodge ball that was waiting for them, throw it in the air, and then return to their original level.  Students observing the process reported on what color dodge balls they saw, which represented the flame color for that salt.  This was a short, simple simulation, but it stuck with the students and helped to facilitate a later discussion about what it means for an electron to become "energized."

Not all electrons were energized in every simulation, and not all electrons moved to the same energy level.
As I've written about before, my group of Sophomores this year is really struggling with the Carbon Cycle and the Nitrogen Cycle.  I decided to make some manipulatives for them and have the students practice the cycles using these manipulatives (this was after various investigations and other activities that just weren't quite doing enough to "make it stick").  So I printed off the steps and vocabulary words associated with each cycle on small rectangles.  The students color-coded some of the steps based on if they added or removed the element from the atmosphere.  They then cut out each of the rectangles and kept them all in a plastic bag for review.  I posted videos (Carbon Cycle video sample here.) showing the use of the manipulatives on the Schoology class page.  Students are expected to be able to use them to show and discuss the cycles for their summative assessment for this topic.  They have unlimited attempts to get this correct.  I do something similar to this for mitosis later in the year, and I love that every student will be able to explain these concepts to me verbally, one-on-one, at their own pace.  Students started these about two weeks ago, and just this week while they were reviewing some of the topics for a new project, it was easy to recognize that the content had stuck with them

I have gotten lots of great ideas for formative assessment from Page Keeley's book,
Science Formative Assessment: 75 Practical Strategies for Linking Assessment, Instruction, and Learning.  I highly recommend purchasing it - even if you're not a science teacher.  One of the methods I have used with success is an activity called "Justified True/False."  For my College Biology students to review phylogenetics, I created 10 challenging statements for which they needed to determine if they were true or false, and then explain why.  This year, I wanted a quick, simple, and interactive way to get an overview of the class answers so that I could review the questions that many students were struggling with.  So I tore 10 sheets of paper off a large desk calendar, put a large number on the back of each one (1-10), and spread them around the room.  Students and their partner (they worked on the Justified T/F in groups) traveled from paper to paper recording their answer to that question - True or False - and an explanation.  If their answer was already on the paper, but their explanation was different, they only needed to write their explanation.  If both their answer and explanation were already on the paper, they would move on to another paper.  Once all groups had circulated to all the papers, I quickly scanned them all to find which ones had the most contrasting answers (3 of the 10 papers), and spent the rest of the class period reviewing those topics.  It was a great, simple formative assessment that got the students up and moving and helped me to focus on what they really needed.

Although you can't read the student writing on this very well, it shows the answers and explanations for question #3.  I believe three groups thought it was true and two groups thought it was false.  From these results, I knew right away that the class needed some review on the topic of this question.  
I think the lesson learned in the last week is that we as teachers need to be able to discern what is the right tool for the right situation.  Technology tools are wonderful, but sometimes there are low-tech ways to accomplish the same goal that are easier and more effective.  To put this in more concrete terms, I might have an electric screwdriver in my toolbox, but there are some jobs that are better-suited to the old-fashioned manual screwdriver.  Teachers are constantly sorting through that toolbox to find what is best for our students at any given moment.  

No comments:

Post a Comment