Sunday, September 27, 2015

Week 5 for SHS Biology

My original goal for blogging this year was to reflect on my classes each week. Well, the last time I blogged was for Week 1 - how quickly a month passes by! So this post will be a summary of what's been going on in the Springfield Biology classes over the last month, instead of the last week.

Things that have been working well:

  • Leveled Assessments: A change to this year's standards-based format is students completing different assessments for each level. A Level 1 Assessment of a standard is the most basic content knowledge. It serves as a baseline for me to see where the students are starting, and the scores aren't entered into the grade book. A Level 2 Assessment is similar to the Level 1 Assessment, but has less supports. It isn't entered into the grade book either, but students must retake this assessment until they reach proficiency. A Level 3 Assessment is an application question related to the standard, and to reach a Level 4 students have to perform additional research or tutoring for a peer. So far, I'm very happy with how the assessments are working. I like getting that initial information from the students, and I feel more secure that they understand the basics of a standard before we move on to higher-order thinking.
  • Note-taking in College Biology: In past years, I've struggled with assigning students to take notes from their textbook readings. It takes a lot of time to teach them this skill, and it's very challenging for students. However, I've had many past students say they were unprepared for college text reading once they started their degree programs. So this year I used a version of Lee Ferguson's (@thebiospace) notes document to teach note-taking to my College Biology students. We worked on an entire section together, and then they practiced on their own. Another change I made is that they don't read the book for all of their content - sometimes I provide a video instead (for which they use the same notes format). So far the balance has been about 50/50 between textbook content and video content. When they are required to take textbook notes, I keep the length of the section short and make sure the topic is fairly straight-forward. 
  • Climate Conference: I've always felt guilty about the lack of attention I've dedicated to climate change in Biology class. It often gets discussed briefly as a side-note at the end of our discussions about the Carbon Cycle. This year, I was determined to wrap the entire unit about the Carbon Cycle, Photosynthesis, and Respiration around the topic of climate change. The students started by generating questions about a video I showed regarding global temperature changes over time. They then planned and executed their own greenhouse effect investigations, learned about the carbon cycle, investigated photosynthesis & respiration in snails and elodea, and are now in the midst of a Climate Conference simulation, pulling everything they've learned together. I designed this activity to mimic the UN Climate Conference that will take place in Paris in a couple of months. Each of the teams in the class chose a country to represent. Based on that country's needs and limitations, they are designing a plan for their country to cut 10 billions tons of carbon emissions by the year 2055. Plans will be shared and analyzed at our "official" Climate Conference this week.
Things I'd like to improve on:

  • Because I started the topic of climate change with student questions, I need to weave those back into the discussion at the Climate Conference. I haven't quite figured out how I'm going to do this yet.
  • I need to be more clear with my College Biology students about when an assignment is for practice and when it is for assessment. These students are typically very grade-conscious, so I need to lower their stress level by being more transparent about points. It's challenging to use standards-based grading in my 10th grade Biology class and traditional grading in the college-level class. So much of my communication about assessment has been in "SBG" world over the last year, so it's hard to switch back into the traditional mode.
  • Argumentation in Biology: Many of my Biology students are still struggling with portions of the Claim, Evidence, Reasoning framework we use for the scientific argumentation standard in class. They were introduced to this last year, but they are especially confused about dissenting evidence and further research. I need to have more one-on-one conferences with students to help clear up confusion.
There have been lots of great things going on in the classroom, but a month of great things is hard to sum up in one blog post. I'll do my best to write again next week so that I can provide a more detailed account. Until then, enjoy some photos of Springfield students in action.

Where does the mass of a plant come from? Pre-assessment results (A = nutrients in the soil, B = sunlight, C = gasses in the air, D = water). Fascinating outcome; lots of learning yet to happen!
(Clockwise) Working on the greenhouse investigation, watching videos of their classmates' lab results, making banners for the Climate Conference, "choose your own adventure" carbon cycle with QR codes, and diagramming results from the plant energy investigation.