Saturday, March 29, 2014

Stop Motion Biology

I've been working on improving the Biotechnology unit for my College Biology students this year, and one of the new topics is gene regulation. While searching for creative ways to help them understand the content I came across this PhET Simulation regarding the Lac operon. I read through some of the supplemental materials that came with the simulation, and saw that one teacher challenged students to imagine how mutations in the various genes in the operons would affect its function. I loved how this idea really stretched their understanding, but wanted a more non-traditional way for students to explain their thinking. Stop-motion video came to mind.

So I began searching for an iPad app that was free and user-friendly that would allow my students to make stop motion videos of the processes in the mutated Lac operon. I also wanted the capability for students to record a verbal explanation of their mutation within the app. After a few minutes of searching online, I found Stop Motion Studio and the project became reality.

Here's the sequence of the project:

Day 1. Students worked through the PhET simulation to learn how the Lac operon functions. I created a set of instructions with limited guidance, directed observations, and analysis questions to guide their learning.

Day 2. This was a shortened class period (only about 25 minutes).  I assigned each group of 2 students a gene to mutate (there are three genes in the PhET Lac operon simulation).  They discussed with each other how their mutation would affect the whole system, and then began choosing props to represent different parts for their video. I tend to hoard items that other people might think are "junk" in my classroom, so I pulled all this junk out of my cupboards and piled it up on the counter in the back of the room.  These are the props they used for their videos.

Days 3-4: Students took the pictures for their videos, edited them, wrote a script, and recorded the audio track. They saved the video to the camera roll and uploaded it to a media folder I set up on the class Schoology account.

Students getting a good perspective to take their photos.

The student in the scarf finished early and then helped other students. She drew the diagram on the board as she was explaining a concept to the students.

Writing the script for the audio track.
Those of you who are constantly changing and editing lessons in your classes to improve student learning and update techniques will understand what I mean when I say that most of my "great ideas" are a flop the first time I try them out.  It usually takes about 2 years of adjustments and tweaks before I get a lesson to the point where I feel it's successful. However, this lesson actually worked the way I envisioned it the very first time! The students were engaged, creative, and thinking deeply. They learned the content, formed their own understanding, and were able to communicate and demonstrate that new understanding.  Success!

Some examples of the final product are below. They might not make sense without an understanding of the Lac operon, but hopefully you'll get the idea and be inspired to have your students make stop motion videos!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Motivation & Minecraft

Have you ever had one of those moments during which the disparate minor occurrences of your everyday life suddenly converge into one, cohesive revelation? I experienced one of those moments today. Here is why:

Incident #1: Last week, I went to a conference session about Gamification in Education. I have concerns about the same old "carrot and stick" approach to student motivation in disguise as badges, leaderboards, and XP. I attended the session to better inform myself before making a final decision. After the session, I still feel the same way about gamification. It might improve student engagement for a time, but the focus on extrinsic motivation bothers me.

Incident #2: I'm finally reading Drive by Daniel Pink. I know I'm late to the party here, but wow, I'm loving it. I see connections to all areas of my life: personal, professional, and for my students. If for some crazy reason you haven't read this book yet, stop reading this and go out and get it. The insight into human motivation is powerful.

Incident #3: I had "conversations" with two teachers with amazing ideas this week. I was lucky enough to get an hour of Tricia Shelton's (@tdishelton) time via GHO, during which we talked about how her anatomy students are directing their own learning in the classroom. Her students help to form the questions that drive the content, search out evidence to support or refute a claim, and then present their defense in video format. Via Twitter, I was also introduced to Jodie Deinhammer (@jdeinhammer) who also structures her anatomy class around student questions, and then the student products are included in an iTunesU class accessed by thousands of learners around the world.

Incident #4: My 9 year old son informed me this morning that he had done this in bed last night:

I apologize that it's hard to tell what's going on in these photos, so let me take a moment to explain. My two sons are participating in an online Minecraft class called "Castles and Catapaults." And yes, I know that there might seem to be a conflict between this and my previously-proclaimed anti-gamification stance above. That is a longer discussion for a completely different post. Anyway, my sons are crazy about Minecraft and think about it all the time. So here's what my son explained to me this morning. He wants to set up an alchemy shop in his class's Minecraft world so he can "sell" potions. In order to make these potions, he needs lots of different ingredients. So the blue box is his plan of the actions he needs to take, in the correct sequence, in order to produce enough of the ingredients for the potions he plans to make. The green box is the amounts of each of the ingredient he'll need to make the number of potions he wants for the shop. The orange box summarizes the three-tiered trading scheme he's set up for people to "buy" the potions. They'll trade in items (all of which fit into different categories and rankings) for points, which they can apply to the potion they want to buy. Many of the items people will trade in are things he'll need to make more potions, so the system is self-sustaining. The red box is how many points each of his potions will cost. The white box shows the information for one of the potions; how to make it, how rare the ingredients are, etc. The final photo is a flow chart that he found online that shows the connections for making all of the potions. He decided he needed to make his own copy of it, and correctly explained the entire scheme to me.

While listening to my son describe all of these things to me this morning, bouncing up and down with excitement to share what he had done last night, I had that moment of clarity. This is what I want for my students. I want them to have the time and space in my classroom to unleash their intrinsic motivation and pursue personal questions. I need not fear that they will miss out on the "content" by following this path. When I look at what my son produced, I see the amazing cognitive skills that were used in designing his trade system, developing and planning his next steps, and deciphering models. This is the type of learning I want my students to participate in. I need to change my classroom so that students have more control over the direction of the class and their own learning.  Do your students learn via intrinsic motivation? How do you facilitate this in your classroom? I value your insight and opinions as I continue to plan changes for my own classes.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

And For Today's Tech Tool....Publisher?

This semester, I find myself in the unique position of having a classroom set of lap tops and a classroom set of iPads for students to use.  I know, it's an unusual situation and I feel extremely fortunate.  Students have been using lap tops in my classroom all year, but the iPads are a new addition.  Our high school students will be 1:1 with iPads next year, so this cart is an attempt to begin to sort out some "bumps in the road" before then.

So far, I have been surprised to find that quite a few of my students are resistant to using the iPads.  They don't like the lack of a keyboard, and I think many of them just aren't enthused about the challenge of learning how to use something new.  However, I've felt internal pressure to find ways to incorporate them into lessons since my room is supposed to be a test trial for everyone else.  

I decided the best way to approach this dilemma was to give my students options.  For the Biology classes' most current project, students are creating informational "products" for local daycares, workplaces, the clinic, a nursing home, and other local establishments to help people become more informed about bacterial and viral infections. I told the students they could make any "product" they wanted to convey the information required, as long as it fit within the project requirements and was appropriate to be shared with their audience.  I gave them some samples of infographics that could be made on the lap tops or iPads, as well as showing them Tellagami and Story Creator on the iPad.  From there, I let them decide what they would create.  

Many students were in awe of Tellagami and immediately drawn to the app.  I still have some Prezi and Google Slides hold-outs, and a few are experimenting with infographics.  So they are fairly evenly dividing themselved between iPad and lap top usage.  What I found most interesting of all was a conversation I had with a student who wanted to make something for an office.  It went something like this...

Student: I want to give the employees something they can read, like a paper.
Me: Do you think that's going to draw them in?  Would you want to read a whole paper about this virus?
Student: Probably not. I'd probably want some pictures and things.
Me: And do you want them to be able to take this information with them, out of the office?
Student: Yes.
Me: Have you ever thought of making a tri-fold brochure?
Student: I'm not sure what that is.
(I demonstrate a brochure for the student.)
Student: Oh yeah, I know what you mean.  Yeah, I think that would be good.
Me: Well, you can make one with Publisher.  Have you ever used that before?
Student: No, I haven't even heard of it.
(I open Publisher on a lap top and give him a quick overview of how it works.)
Student: I get it...I think this is what I want to do.

Now, when I envisioned this project, did my grand vision include students using Microsoft Publisher?  No way.  It's archaic.  It's PC based.  It has to be printed on a color printer for distribution.  Not what I had in mind at all.  But for this student, in this moment, it was perfect.  I suited his vision and filled his needs.  He is going to learn how to use a program he's never used before, and it was his choice.  More and more as I explore the possibilities of technology use in my classroom, I begin to understand how the principles behind good teaching need to be applied here as well.  Number one: Differentiation is key.  Students come to us with varying technical abilities and experiences.  We need to design the classroom in a way that acknowledges this.  Number two:  Allow opportunity for student choice when possible.  High school students seem to be especially engrained to take orders and follow instructions in the classroom.  We need to give them more choices in their education, and if choices in technology use help them to feel more autonomous, all the better.  We as teachers need to help guide those decisions so that students are challenging themselves and making progress toward their goals.  So, in this one instance, am I satisfied with a student learning how to use Microsoft Publisher?  You bet.