Saturday, July 12, 2014

End of School Reflections Part 5: Student-Driven Research + Blogging Bonus!

This is a continuation of a week-long series of posts reflecting on the 2014-2015 school year, and directions for next year. Previous posts include:

End of School Reflections Part 1: Flipped Learning

End of School Reflections Part 2: Project-Based Learning

End of School Reflections Part 3: 1 to 1 Learning

End of School Reflections Part 4: Asynchronous Learning

Student-Driven Research Projects
During the summer of 2013, there was a lot of buzz amongst educators about 20 Time, Genius Hour, and other similar initiatives. The uniting idea behind these discussions was that students should be given time within their classes to pursue their own passions and interests. While I was intrigued by the potential in these kinds of projects, I still had this voice in the back of my mind that kept saying, "This is all well and good, but how will it relate to the standards?" The general answer to this is that it doesn't need to relate to the standards, of course. I understand this, but being it was my first foray into 20 Time, I wanted to make sure there were going to be some science skills involved if I was going to ask students to use class time while working on these projects. So, I came up with a plan for a 20 Time-ish endeavor for the College Biology students.

First of all, I decided to only attempt this type of project with the College Biology students because in general, they tend to be better self-regulators than my other students. Secondly, although I would allow the students to choose their topics, I had two requirements of them: The projects had to be science-related and the final product that they would be sharing would be a scientific paper, so the project had to be research-based. Finally, students were required to set up and maintain a personal blog that documented their progress during their research.

It wasn't until after winter break that I finally got myself organized enough to introduce this project to the students.  I started by having them fill out this Google Form:

The form gave me a basis from which to initiate one-to-one conversations with the students about their project ideas. Once the students settled on their topics, they created their first blog entry. None of the students had ever blogged before, so it took an entire class period to help them get their Blogger account set up, share it with me, and practice writing posts. Another twist I added to this project is that I arranged for a 3rd Grade classroom in our district to be the blog "readers." The third grade teacher wasn't familiar with Blogger either, but excited about combining reading, writing, and science in a connected experience for his students. Therefore, the College Biology students had to be very mindful about their audience while blogging, and were challenged to explain their ideas so that a 3rd grader could understand them. I also asked that they introduce themselves in this first post so that the Elementary students would have more of a personal connection to the blog writers.

In the second blog post, I tasked the students to describe the procedure they would use for their research. For this post, not only were the 3rd graders reading and commenting, but I also needed to use the post as a checkpoint for my students. They were doing a lot of the planning outside of class, and a blog post was a great way for me to keep tabs on their progress.

The actual research ended up taking place out of the classroom, for the most part. I initially told the students that they could use class time for research, but many of their projects ended up needing spaces, materials, or subjects outside of the classroom, so class time ended up being mainly used for planning and blogging. Since I was not involved in the research phase, I asked that the third blog post be a summary of the students' results of their research.

When the projects were completed, I wanted to bring the College Biology students and 3rd Grade students together one more time. Instead of doing this via the blog, I decided it would be more impactful to have the students interact face to face. So the 3rd Grade students took a mini "field trip" down the hall to the high school and spent a class period in the science classroom. During this time, groups of two College Biology students (who had worked on the same project together) sat down at a table with groups of two 3rd Grade students (which ended up being 10 groups of 4 throughout the room). Each group had about 5 minutes to chat about their project with the 3rd-graders, and then the groups rotated. Some College Biology groups shared their data via graphs, others had the 3rd-graders participate in a mini-experiment on the spot. While the third-graders rotated through the groups, they also rated the projects and voted for their favorite using a Google Form on the classroom set of iPads. In the end, all the 3rd-graders were able to have an informal conversation with each of the College Biology groups about their research.

Sample of Results for 3rd-graders' ratings for three different projects:

In the end, I let the College Biology students decide if they'd rather share the results of their research as a paper or a presentation. Both formats required the same sections: Title, Abstract, Question & Hypothesis, Procedure, Results, Discussion, and Citations. Students tended to prefer writing a formal paper, but some opted for a Google Slides presentation. 

Results: I was so happy with the excitement and interest that was generated for this project by simply allowing the students to choose their own topics. Here are all of the research questions that were investigated by the students:
  • What sport and gender are most prone to getting ACL tears?
  • Does bottle feeding have any relationship to food allergies?
  • What amount of time does a person need to be active or exercise for to maintain their healthy weight?
  • How does adding different chemicals to water affect the freezing point of water?
  • Does what you drink before you take a test affect your results?
  • Does being in a sport enhance a person’s proprioception?
  • If we present 25 students with an original vanilla wafer box and five different variations, a dark one, one with yellow tint, one with green tint, and one with red tint, which variation will they be most likely to choose?
  • We would like to find out if there is a correlation between being in sports activities and having ankle injuries.
  • We were trying to find out if eating Skittles before an event would make them perform better.
  • What sport causes more concussions between Professional Hockey and Professional Football?
As you can see, it turns out that high-schoolers seems to have two major interests: food and sports! I also loved the day when the 3rd Grade students visited our classroom and talked with the College Biology students about their projects. It never ceases to amaze me what awesome teachers and role models high school students can be for younger students.

Now, onto some aspects of the project that didn't go as well as I had hoped. The 3rd Grade class had some struggles with using Blogger, specifically the "password" they had to enter each time they wanted to post. It was challenging for the Elementary students to determine the scrambled letters and/or numbers Blogger had them enter to verify they "weren't a robot." Because of this, the commenting on the blogs was limited. Also, I would have liked to see more reflection from the College Biology students on their blogs, but being that they were so new to the platform they never really felt comfortable enough to simply write a post on their own. They always waited until I required a post before writing anything.

Actions: I am definitely going to incorporate student-driven research into all of my classes next year. I'd like the students to start their blogs during the first week of school so they become more comfortable with the process by the end of the year. I'm considering using a different blogging platform, such as KidBlog, but I need to do some more investigating. Whatever platform they use, it's important to me that it allows the students to have a "real" audience. I'd even like to contact some scientists to be mentors for the students and readers for their blogs next year. Another option is connecting with other high school science students across the country and arranging some sort of quad-blogging project. 

One additional note regarding last year's project: The College Biology students from the 2013-2014 school year will have the opportunity to present their research in-person during the Undergraduate Research Conference at a nearby college this fall. How's that for authentic audience?!

Friday, July 11, 2014

End of School Reflections Part 4: Asynchronous Learning

This is a continuation of a week-long series of posts reflecting on the 2014-2015 school year, and directions for next year. Previous posts include:

End of School Reflections Part 1: Flipped Learning

End of School Reflections Part 2: Project-Based Learning

End of School Reflections Part 3: 1 to 1 Learning

Asynchronous Learning 
With the introduction of PBL this year, I was able to incorporate some flexibility into the pace of learning for my students. After the class explored a topic together in many ways (intriguing questions, content, investigations, simulations, discussions, etc.), all students took a 10-pt. digital exam on the content. They needed to get 100% correct to move on. If they didn't get 100% correct, they participated in some sort of in-class remediation and re-quizzed (different questions, same standards). After 2 traditional quizzes, students who hadn't passed were able to try verbal, hands-on quizzes I facilitated.  In the meantime, students who did pass their quiz were able to work on their projects. 

I also continued to require that students reach mastery (100%) on their science notebook assignments before receiving any credit for that assignment.  This is the second year I've used this procedure. I'll briefly give a you a clearer picture of what this looks like in the classes:

1. Student completes an assignment, or "learning artifact" in his/her lab notebook. This could be a graph and analysis of the data after an investigation. It could be a "discussion" paragraph after an in-class simulation. It might be a diagram that models a student's thinking on a particular topic. 

2. About once every other week, I collect all student notebooks and look over key learning artifacts. If a student has successfully demonstrated s/he understands the concept via the learning artifact, a score of 4/4 is entered into the gradebook. If there are still some areas of confusion, I leave notes* indicating where improvement need to be made. I do not give these students any grade, I simply mark the assignment as "work in progress" in the gradebook. 

*I have a key that all students have in the front of their notebooks that I use when recording these notes. For example, "EM" means "Explain More" and "R" is "Redo." I find that using these abbreviations not only saves me time in grading, but also requires that students either (a) think more deeply about how they can improve their work or (b) prompts the student to initiate a conversation with me about how they can improve their work.

3. When the students get their notebooks back, they check areas where notes have been made and complete corrections. When I collect notebooks again, I look over old assignments as well as new ones, giving grades to only those that meet mastery levels. Students have until the end of the quarter to complete corrections on all of their notebook assignments.

Result: I feel more confident of what my students learned this year, because they were held accountable for every learning target (standard) via the 10-pt. quizzes. They couldn't just "pass" the quiz and move on. I actually had one student complain, "But why do I have to retake the quiz? I got an 80%. That's good enough for me!" Some students are solely focused on the grade they feel is acceptable, and have forgotten that the whole point of them being in school is to learn. Students did appreciate the verbal quizzes, however, and it was amazing to me how much they knew that they just couldn't get across on a traditional multiple choice quiz. Many students were able to work at their own pace for the first time in a science class and work soared as a result. There were days when students were ahead of their peers in class, had finished their projects, and were asking for more work to do in class.  However, those students who took longer learning also took longer on their projects, which caused the projects to stretch out longer than I intended. 

In general, I feel like the methodology we use for notebook corrections pushes the students to do their best work and not "settle" for fuzzy understanding. Again, however, a handful of students every year are resistant to doing notebook corrections. They don't care that they will eventually earn full points on their assignments if they keep working on them - they just want to get them DONE with as little work and hassle as possible. There were a few students at the end of each quarter who still did not complete their corrections and received "Incompletes" for grades until finishing everything.

Actions: Based on the subjective data collected by the verbal quizzes, I need to find more varied ways to assess what my students know, and I need to create more frequent assessments. I'm probably biased here, but I've always felt like Biology teachers have the most challenging job of all the science teachers when it comes to assessments. Chemistry and Physics teachers can create loads of assessments on the same topic by simply shifting a few numbers in the problems they use. I saw this first-hand while teaching Chemistry last year! For Biology teachers, it's a little trickier to come up with 10 different versions of a question that determines if a student understands the difference between a hypertonic cell and a hypotonic cell. But, I will continue to search for better ways to understand what my students understand. I also feel a little uncomfortable that the students who learned faster had more time to work on their projects in class than the slower-learning students. I'm trying to figure out a way to restore that balance.

Regarding the notebook corrections, this year I'm going to find ways to incorporate more peer review in the process, as well as self-assessment. I want to get the students to the point at which they are fairly certain that their assignment achieves mastery before I even see it. They need to be able to judge the quality of their own work more accurately.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

End of School Reflections Part 3: 1 to 1 Learning

This is a continuation of a week-long series of posts reflecting on the 2014-2015 school year, and directions for next year. Previous posts include:

End of School Reflections Part 1: Flipped Learning

End of School Reflections Part 2: Project-Based Learning

1 to 1 Learning
Although I have had a classroom set of lap tops for about three years, this year I had a cart of iPads in my classroom during the last few months of school.  This was intended to be a "trial run" for our 1:1 initiative for the 2014-2015 school year. Students used the iPads regularly for research and accessing Schoology. However, I was determined take advantage of the unique features that the iPad offers to help extend my students' learning to a deeper level. In two months, here are some of the things my students did:

Stop Motion Operons: Students used Stop Motion Studio to film how different mutations would affect the function of the lac operon (control area on a chromosome). This was THE ONE project this year that worked exactly as I envisioned. The students were engaged, thinking deeply, and the technology helped them to understand the process better. And it took as long as I thought it would! Win!

Augmented Reality (AR) Scavenger Hunt and AR Lab Equipment: The technology for both of these projects worked okay (with a few hiccoughs like wind blowing away the triggers and insufficient volume on the videos), but what I need to rethink before using this tool again is if it really encourages deeper learning. Engagement - yes, but I did not see any better understanding of the topics because of the use of AR.

Biome Movie Project: Student groups created "Mystery Biome" videos for each other and then we watched them as a class, trying to guess which biome each movie depicted. The students used Loopster to edit their videos. I left the format of the video completely up to the students, but they had to submit a storyboard before filming. Almost 100% of the students struggled with the storyboard. In the end, two of the eight videos were really excellent. I think I need to show examples of student work next time I do this.

DNA Comics: This was actually a project designed by my student teacher. Students had to show their understanding of DNA replication, transcription, or translation in a comic. They used various iPad apps to make their comics. Many students struggled with the concept of a comic not being just a diagram and/or text. Some comics were nothing more than a duplication of their textbooks. If I do this project again, I'll need to be more specific in the description of what a comic is so that students actually have to think about and communicate what they know in a different way.

Non-Mendelian Genetics Videos: Students researched different inheritance patterns and made tutorials using Educreations to teach each other about the topic. Each video also included a sample problem. To make these more effective next time, I need to do a better job having conversations with the students to critique the videos before they are posted.

I really enjoyed seeing the students exercise their creativity during these projects, but next year I need to be watchful that the iPads aren't relegated to a tool solely for research and word processing, or a method of filling time, or a shiny new toy. I don't feel like that happened this year, but I want to continue to strive for uses that allow my students to think critically, communicate, create, and connect. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

End of School Reflections Part 2: Project-Based Learning

This is a continuation of a week-long series of posts reflecting on the 2014-2015 school year, and directions for next year. Previous posts include:

End of School Reflections Part 1: Flipped Learning

Project-Based Learning
I was sold on the importance of Project-Based Learning a while ago, but this past year was the first time I really researched it and thoughtfully designed projects. I was able to fit two major projects into the Biology classes. One project was about food webs, energy pyramids, and populations. The other was about immunity. In both cases, the students had choices for their project topics and the format of the final product. I tried to embed the unit targets into the projects as well. Finally, there was an authentic audience for each project.

Result: These projects were a good opportunity for students to direct their own learning. But for some, this was challenging. Time management and motivation were a problem for a handful of students. Even though there was student choice in the projects, some students still didn't seem very interested in their projects. Maybe I need to incorporate more student choice?

The projects tended to drag on forever because the students had limited research skills. When I decided to let the students choose how they would create their products, I thought I would see all sorts of creativity. Although some students completed products that were really inventive and learned new skills to create those products, others just wanted the easiest route to get the project done, which meant they fell back on what they knew: posterboards and Power Point presentations. I created a rubric for grading the projects, but I feel like it still needs to be clearer so that students have a better idea of what quality work looks like.

There were some projects that never had an audience because of time issues. Again, despite all of these wrinkles, I need to remind myself of the great things students did: creating YouTube videos, designing websites, hand-drawn children's books, stunning infographics. With a few changes next year, I hope to get a few more students to that "great" level and a few more projects completed.

Actions:  First, I'd like to incorporate a day at the beginning of the year to teach students how to be productive and efficient researchers. I'm considering breaking the large projects I did this past year into smaller projects to help with time management a bit. Also, I may take away Power Point presentations and posterboards as options for products, unless the students can explain to me how they will use them in a different way. I want to incorporate more peer assessment throughout the projects. Also, I'm going to look at connecting my students with larger projects that are already happening in the "outside world," such as those found at Challenge Based Learning and the Center For Interactive Learning & Collaboration. I took pictures of all the student projects this year, so I now have work exemplars to use next year.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

End of School Reflections Part 1: Flipped Learning

When I first sat down to write this blog post, I thought it would just be one entry. I started brainstorming, sketched out my ideas, and typed...and typed...and typed. Staring at multiple pages of text I thought, "Why would anyone else want to read this?" But also, "I really need to write this for my own professional growth!" Finally, it hit me: A series of posts instead of just one. Perfect. Here it begins with Part 1:

I have been out of school for about a month now, and I'm starting to feel reflective about last year, as well as excited to start planning for next year. When I first thought back to last year, I remembered all of the things that didn't go so well: students I never felt like I was able to connect with, projects that we started and never finished, new tools that I used for the first few months and then simply forgot about as the school year progressed. Then I sat down to look over my planbook from last year and made a list of all the new things I had experimented with in the classroom. This is when I realized that I did grow as a teacher last year and my students learned some amazing stuff.  Not everything we did was perfect, but there are certainly aspects of each initiative I'm hoping to keep, refine, and try again.

Changes to Flipped Learning
I had flipped my classroom for a little over two years prior to this past school year, but I still feel like I'm tinkering with a model that works best for my students. This year, I decided to "explore, flip, apply" by starting with a hook, question, or curious event, and then delivering the content to my students when they were ready and wondering - via video.  Sometimes the hook was an investigation, such as the nitrogen lab in which students tested soil samples from around town (their choice) and then used the N cycle to explain the data. Sometimes the hook was a video clip, like when I played a segment of "Osmosis Jones" before starting the cell unit to ask, "What do cells do?" Or having the students watch a clip from "Avatar" before learning about biomes and biodiversity. Or filming myself and my fellow Chemistry teacher down at the local pool to introduce the importance of scientific units and dimensional analysis.

Result: I think these hooks were somewhat engaging for students, but I need to continue to search for various formats of hooks that dig more deeply into student thinking. What I think was especially powerful was when I was able to take the data from an investigation the students had just completed the day before, incorporate it into a video for the students to watch that night, and then discuss it the next day.

I need to keep providing skeletal notes outlines for my Biology students longer into the year. They are supposed to take notes while they watch content videos, but so few have actually practiced this skill prior to my class. I need to link the notes outlines more closely with the learning targets for the unit.

My classes were polar opposites in the their acceptance of flipped learning this year. A couple of the classes were great about asking questions, watching videos, and participating in non-traditional classroom activities. A couple of other classes complained ALL THE TIME and constantly asked, "Why can't you just tell us the answer? Won't you just lecture today?" After talking to other teachers about these particular classes, it sounded like their attitudes toward learning weren't limited to the Biology classroom.  Looking back, I'm happy that they were challenged to think deeply and differently in Biology class, but while the school year was in progress, their complaints were very stressful.

Actions for Next Year:

  • Spend more time at the beginning of the year practicing note-taking with my students. Give them guided, target-based outlines all year.
  • Find resources for more engaging hooks, appropriate for each unit.
  • Generate other resources students can use for content instead of or in addition to a video. This could be iBooks or other websites.
  • Embed formative questions in the videos (not afterwards) to give students mental checkpoints in their learning.
Tomorrow's Reflection: Project-Based Learning

Thursday, July 3, 2014

ISTE Resources

I took one day off after ISTE ended to recuperate, rest, and spend time with my family. Today I felt like I was mentally ready to organize all of my resources. When I go to a conference, I prefer to take workshop notes in Notability, with a separate note for each session. I also take a lot of photos with my phone and iPad to document information, and of course there are always handouts. This means that when I get home, artifacts from the conference are in four different places.  Not ideal for reference later on.

While following #ISTE2014, I noticed a lot of people sharing their session notes and thought it was a great idea. Also, Hassan Wilson (@wilsonsbiolab), my fellow #biochat moderator, is always good about sharing workshop notes and links, and he asked if I had anything from ISTE to share. This was all good, because it held me accountable to share my learning, like any responsible teacher should!

So, today I sat down and organized all of my artifacts into one Google Doc. My resources tend to fall into a few different categories, mainly because I'm a teacher of varying interests! Because I'm a science teacher who teaches using the principles of flipped learning, and starting to dabble in Project Based Learning, you'll find lots of ideas, resources, and words of wisdom about those topics.  But, I'm also a rookie Tech Integrationist for my district, which means I'm always on the lookout for good K-12 pedagogy in all subject areas. So you'll see some Social Studies, ELA, and Elementary resources, as well as lots of information about professional development and coaching.

If you don't want to take the time to read through the entire document, below I've listed the one resource from each section that I'm most excited about:

English Resources: Google Story Builder

Social Studies Resources: Zoom In

Science Resources: The Concord Consortium

Elementary Resources: Blog, Tweet, and Skype in Elementary Classrooms

Professional Development/Coaching: This one's an idea - Create individualized PLC's around interests.

Flipped Learning: Zaption

PBL: National Lab Network

Miscellaneous Tools: AwesomeStories

General Ideas: Iron Chef-type competitions and Student-created Digital Citizenship PSA (both ideas are great - I couldn't choose just one!)

I did my best to make sense of my notes so that they were clear to outside readers, but if you have any questions, please contact me!