Sunday, August 30, 2015

Week 1 for SHS Biology

Every year, I change my Week 1 strategy a bit (or a lot) in an attempt to meet the following goals:
  • Get to know my students a little.
  • Help my students begin to know me.
  • Begin building classroom culture.
  • Give the students some information about what to expect from class.
  • Allow the students some input regarding the class.
  • Solidify routines and procedures that are important to student learning.
  • Do some science.
And do all of this in an efficient way so that I don't drag the "intro to class stuff" on so long that it's October before students actually start digging into the content! So much to do in so little time...

This year, I decided to organize all of these goals around "themes" that I felt were important to learning in Biology class: Persistence, Teamwork, Problem-Solving, and Curiosity. Here's the low-down on what the students did to explore these themes.

We had 20 minute classes on the first day of school (and my first hour Biology class was even shorter), so we only had time to do the following:

"Warm-Up." This is one of those procedures I want students to get used to. Every day when they come into class, there is something on the board for them to do. Today, they had to write their name on a popsicle stick. I'm old-school and use these for calling on students or making lab groups throughout the year. I like them better than any digitized name-picker I've come across.

I showed an Intro to Biology Video (below). This one gets my adrenaline racing every time.

I explained how to access and interact with the Course Overview video. I created a video of me talking through the Course Overview. I put it into Zaption and added various interactive questions to it, as well as places where I asked for student feedback and comments. The students had the whole week to find time to watch this 10-minute video, and we'll discuss it more on Monday or as the need arises. Personally, I really dislike talking through the course overview in class.

The "Warm-Up" for the day was to complete the "Get To Know You" survey from Panorama Education (click here). This is only my first year of using the survey, but I'm kind of digging it so far. I took the survey first, and then after the students took it, the survey gave them information about how their answers were similar to mine. And I received analogous information about the students as well. I like the instantaneous connections.

Students worked in partners on this "Saving Sam" activity (click here). Themes that this addressed are Persistence, Teamwork, and Problem-Solving. After the activity, student teams brainstormed what this activity indicated to them about learning in Biology class. I recorded all of their answers on a huge Post-It note.

"Saving Sam" success!
The "Warm-Up" today was to sign up for Remind for the class. Then students received their science notebook and started getting it organized. I've had the students use composition notebooks for science for many years now. This is definitely an integral procedure for my classes. Lee Ferguson has a nice set of videos on how to set these up. Here's the first:

Students explored ice balloons as a way to generate questions. This is an activity I've done for quite a few years. I picked it up at an inquiry workshop and modified it to fit my needs. Students get a tray with a frozen water balloon, some dissecting probes, a thermometer, food coloring, salt, sugar, and corn starch. They have approximately 10 minutes to explore the ice balloon using the tools (and keeping it in the tray). While they're experimenting, each student has a stack of small papers they use to record their questions about the process - one question per paper. When they're done, a team of 3-4 students should have a large stack of questions generated. I then briefly define open vs. closed questions, students sort their questions into open and closed, and finally record a few examples of each in their notebooks. Themes this activity addresses are Teamwork, Problem-Solving, and Curiosity. It was also a good introduction to my expectations for materials use and clean-up in the Biology lab.

Once again, when the activity was done, I asked students to reflect on what this experience indicated to them about learning in Biology class, and I recorded their ideas on a second giant Post-It note.

Exploring ice balloons.
For the "Warm-Up," students practiced changing questions from closed to open and open to closed. This is getting them prepared for the Question Formation Technique we'll be using in class, based on the book,  Make Just One Change, by Rothstein & Santana. (Click here for a link.

The students started on an activity I have never done in the past, but feel is becoming increasingly important in my classes: how to evaluate online sources. I try to emphasize in my course that students have unlimited information at their fingertips and I am not the sole provider of knowledge. However I've realized that students don't know how to find and/or evaluate digital content. So I put together a series of short exercises to help them with this.

1. Establish the need. I asked the students to all put the question "Are vaccinations safe?" into the search bar on Safari. (My students all have iPads.) I then assigned each student a site from the list that was generated. I did this by number: student 1 had site 1 at the very top, student 2 had the next site down, etc. Their task was to skim the site and decide how it answered the question - yes or no. Students then pasted a copy of their site's url and the "yes" or "no" answer onto a class Padlet to share the results. As you can see below, the sites ranged from .gov to .org to .com and more, and students found both yes and no answers. I used this as a springboard to point out the fact that different sites provide different answers, so our job as question-askers is to sift through for the most credible resources.

Padlet results for top 20+ online hits: Are vaccinations safe?

2. What is credible? Students were then given the titles and urls of 11 different websites and asked to rank them (based on name and url only) in order of credibility.

Like many of my new ideas, this one went longer than expected, so we stopped here for the day.

I introduced the first homework assignment of the year - what I called a "practice assignment." Instead of lecturing in class, students access content outside of class via iBook, video, website, or traditional textbook. Students choose which learning tool they prefer. I provide them with guiding questions to write about as they move through the content, and then students fill out an online feedback form. To practice this type of assignment for the first time, I put together some resources on Ebola. We won't be discussing the content for a few days, but I always try to give students multiple days to get assignments like this done so that they can plan around wifi needs and busy schedules.

The "Warm-Up" today was only possible thanks to this great spreadsheet shared by Alice Keeler (click here) designed to collect and organize student ideas for tweeting. I asked the students to tweet (using the shared spreadsheet) about one thing they learned, still wondered about, or something that just stuck with them from class this week. I'm planning on asking the students to do this every Friday as a warm-up. Research on memory shows that if learners wait a while after learning something, and then go back to access that information at a later time, they're more likely to remember it long-term. By the way, you can see some of my students' tweets from this warm-up at @MeyerScience.

To continue the credibility evaluation from the previous day, student partner groups were assigned one of the 11 sites to actually visit and determine everything they could about the author of the site. Was it one or more authors? Was there an editor? Were the authors restricted? What was the educational background of the authors? Did the authors have a bias or affiliation with a particular cause? Was the author monetarily sponsored in any way?

Students reported back what they found and then re-ranked the sites as a class (with very different results from the initial ranking). 

I still have one more activity related to credibility of online sources that I'm going to present to the students on Monday (it's all about using Wikipedia correctly), and then we'll create one more giant sticky note about the experience. The themes that this one addresses are Problem-Solving and Curiosity. After this last activity is done, students will participate in a "chalk talk" to summarize all their Post-It note ideas under three topics: What can I expect of my teammates in Biology class? What can I expect of my teacher in Biology class? What can other expect of me in Biology class?

More than any other year, I feel like the time spent during this first week was a nice balance of my goals. The true test will be the outcome of the chalk talk on Monday. I'll report back next week!