Saturday, September 24, 2016

Making Progress

After a three-day high school retreat and week-long vacation thanks to the Korean holiday called Chuseok, I was anxious to get things in class back into a rhythm this week. Now that the week is done, I can say with confidence that learning was happening and students are making progress!

I'm still getting used to teaching Biology to 9th graders (as opposed to 10th graders) who haven't yet been exposed to the CER framework or any modeling exercises. For a warm up this week, I asked the students to draw a model (explanation) of what happened in their greenhouse investigations from before break. It was a train wreck. However, it did give me insight into (a) their lack of understanding of what a model is and (b) their shaky conception of the greenhouse effect and its relation to the carbon cycle. What to do? Scaffold, scaffold, scaffold.

So I put everything else on hold for a day and a half, and the students practiced designing models, with help from me along the way. I started with direct instruction and gradually released the task to them. They probably created close to ten models in the course of 2 class periods. Afterwards, I assessed them again with a warm up: "Diagram a model of how rice cooks." (I wanted something that all students were familiar with and wasn't overly complicated. The results were amazing. One student drew the steps for how rice cooks instead of an explanation, but was able to make corrections once prompted. Otherwise everyone was on target. Whew.
Practice models for the Greenhouse Investigation. Getting better!
AP Biology students finished their first CER poster session this week. I didn't want to assess their posters this time for 2 reasons: They created the posters in groups, which makes individual assessment tricky, and with this being their first attempt at this type of work, I felt it would be unfair to penalize them while they're still novices. Instead, I required the students to complete peer reviews on each others' posters. My classes have had a less than stellar track record with peer review in past years; students don't take it seriously and/or they just aren't very good at assessing work. These AP classes, however, did some great work. I gave them the rubric below to record their assessment. For most of the students, their feedback matched mine almost exactly. I was especially focused on their understanding of statistical analysis (Evidence) and natural selection (Reasoning) and very happy with the outcome.

By the way, I designed this CER on a real-life data set of lab mice at the University of California, Riverside. The mice were artificially bred to run for long periods of time. I got the idea from this site,, and reworked it a little to make it more CER-friendly. The students developed their own research questions and method of measurement. They were able to incorporate standard deviation and standard error of the mean into their calculations. It ended up being a very robust investigation.

In Environmental Science, students are working through a unit I decided to call "Principles of Ecology." I had them complete a pre-assessment to see what types of Ecology topics they remembered from Biology, and then designed the unit around what they had forgotten. I've wanted to have students build Winogradsky columns for many years, but it never fit perfectly into any of the standards. However, range of tolerance is one of the Ecology topics my ES students are learning about, and the columns fit in perfectly! It was a challenge to find mud from a stream or pond in metropolitan Seoul, but I successfully trekked down to the local canal before school one day and dug up a bunch of sediment. With no buckets or trowels to be had, I used a plastic storage crate my sons keep LEGO in and a soup ladle. I got some strange looks from the elderly Koreans and commuters on the bike/walking trail. The sediment was pretty sandy, so I'm hoping it works okay. The ES students had fun mixing in the newspaper and egg yolk for carbon and sulfur resources. One student had never separated a yolk from the egg white before, so he even learned a new baking skill - bonus!

To model limiting factors, ES students did some "hunting" of yellow, puffball mice with pipe cleaner owls. Kind of reminded me of the "ring the bottle" game I used to see at county fairs. The class will be writing CER arguments based on their results in class next week.

One final accomplishment for the week: I found a bike and rode it to work a couple of times (not on the day when I had to collect canal sediment, though!). It feels good to be getting into a rhythm and feeling comfortable in my new city and new school.

1 comment:

  1. It sounds like you are rocking the world over there. I appreciate that you haven't lost anything in translation! Mark