Sunday, October 1, 2017

Scientific Modeling

I didn't really understand what a scientific model was, or its importance, until I started diving into NGSS a few years ago. Each year since, I've continued to try to refine and improve how I teach and assess this practice with my students. Currently, I assess their ability to create a scientific model and their ability to evaluate a preexisting scientific model.

This week, I started with my Honors Biology students on the "designing a scientific model" journey. We began by discussing a model they were already familiar with - the Rutherford atomic model - and sharing thoughts about what that model explains to us about atoms. Luckily, one of the students piped up and reminded the class the Rutherford model is no longer considered "correct," which led us right into a discussion about how as scientific explanations change, models will also change.

Last week, the students collected data on heart rate associated with various cardiovascular activities. Although they had already completed a scientific argument based on the data, next I wanted them to design a model to show their explanation of the data. We worked together as a class to create a model for the results of one of the independent variables, and then they practiced making a model for a different independent variable on their own. Finally they self-assessed their model based on this rubric:

This rubric is a screenshot from Schoology. It's definitely a work in-progress. If you have any feedback, I'd love to hear it!
Now it was time for them to try to create a model with new data on their own. In order to continue down the path of our guiding essential question, the students completed an investigation into muscle fatigue, which involved squeezing a tennis ball under different temperature conditions. Once they had the data, and watched a short video introduction to anaerobic respiration, it was time to see if they could make a model to explain the differences between two different temperatures. I have not yet looked over their work, but I'm hoping to see some growth. As a warm-up at the beginning of the week, I had the students create a model of how a rainbow is formed, and then they did it again at the end of the week. I saw improvements in this task, so I'm optimistic for their muscle fatigue models.

Honors Biology students collecting data for the Muscle Fatigue investigation.

Anatomy & Physiology students creating 3-D tissue models for peer-to-peer instruction.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Reconnecting & Reflecting

Although last year was an amazing adventure as my first year teaching in Seoul, it was a dismal year for my blog as I only posted a handful of times. One of my goals for this year is to reconnect with my PLN, and being more active on this blog is a part of that. Beyond all the transitions involved with an international move last year, I think part of the reason I didn't blog as much was because I didn't have any big ideas I felt like sharing. But I've realized many of the blogs I like to read aren't necessarily about "big ideas" - they're just a peak into the day to day life of a classroom.

So, with all this in mind, my blogging plan for this year is to post one day a week, focusing on reflections from the past week's classes. I'm teaching Honors Biology (9th grade), Honors Anatomy & Physiology (11th & 12th grade), and AP Biology (11th and 12th grade) this year, and I may or may not write about every class each week.

Without further ado...Here's what we did this past week!

Honors Biology
I introduced the idea of scientific argumentation to my 9th graders during the first week of school. The CER framework was brand-new to them, so I had them practice it in pieces. They put all of those pieces together in a full written argument last week, and the results were daunting. It was clear the students were still struggling with data analysis and applying science ideas to explain data. I needed to hit the brakes and revisit CER.

Since we're in the middle of exploring a phenomenon associated with healthy diet and weight (involving NGSS standards on biomolecules and cellular respiration), at the end of last week the class worked together to design an experiment that required them to collect heart rate data for various cardiovascular activities. I then worked with them step by step to analyze the data, modeling how to sort on a spreadsheet, how to account for outliers, when to average data, how to judge whether data is reliable, and how to discuss trends and patterns in data. Students worked in partners and used their whiteboards to write a Claim and Evidence for the cardio data. Using whiteboards was great for this because as I circled the groups and gave them feedback they needed to make lots of changes, which is easy to do on a whiteboard. Also whiteboards are easier for me to read than a lap top screen or notebook page when I'm on the move around a classroom. Many groups filled two whiteboards as I prompted them to fully and specifically support their claims.

I used a similar strategy for the Reasoning section - student pairs working on whiteboards. During this time, most of my prompting was asking, "why?"

Student: Jogging increased heart rate more than playing basketball.
Me: Why?
Student: Because you're moving more when you're jogging.
Me: Why does moving more increase your heart rate more?
Student: Because you need more oxygen.
Me: Why?
Student: Because you need more energy.
Me: Why do you need energy to jog?
Student: To move the muscles.
Me: How are energy and oxygen related?
Student: Oxygen is needed to make ATP in cellular respiration.
Me: And what does heart rate have to do with that?

I think you get the idea. Initially, this student's Reasoning would have simply begun and ended with, "You're moving more when you're jogging." I'm working to help them better understand how deeply they need to dig to truly justify their claims.

The culmination of all this practice was a chance to go back to their original argument that was initially so challenging for them and, redoing and revising it with their improved understanding of the process. I have yet to look over their work, but if their questions during the process are an indication of their new thinking, I believe some positive progress has been made.

Pre-assessment in Anatomy: Outline a body and draw a list of structures where you think they are located. Structures from different systems were drawn in different colors.

AP Biology students started out their year by designing an investigation of ant behavior.

Anatomy students participating in a model for homeostasis: "Homer-ostasis" requires them to keep the yellow "Homer Simpson" cup full, yellow, and at the correct temperature, despite a hole in the bottom.

First attempt at a scientific argument using the CER framework with AP Biology students. This is new to most of them as well, so we've got some work to do as a class.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Yes, Science Is Still Happening!

A collection of photos to highlight some of the things happening in the APIS Biology classroom recently. I know the blurred faces are creepy, but it's a school policy when sharing pictures of students...

LEGO League in Seoul! We weren't quick enough to get registered for the official competition this year, but the kids made up their own obstacle course. They're currently programming the robot just as they would if they were competing and will share their work at the school's International Fair at the end of March. The student in the back is my 12 year-old son, Egen, so no face-blurring required, which is awesome because I love the fact that I caught him mid-laugh.

Cell membrane bubble model. I really love this activity, not only because the students enjoy it so much, but also because they truly understand membranes better afterwards. I had them write a model evaluation after the activity, and the amount of learning they exhibited was astounding.

Building water filters in Environmental Science. This was their first engineering challenge of the year. The activity I based it on had restraints in material usage and cost, and the student teams all took different approaches to those constraints.

Another favorite: The sinking leaf disk assay. The students all perform the protocol the same way once, and then choose their own variables. This year, I asked them to write a scientific argument for their results and create mini-posters. There was much deep thinking when they started working on the Reasoning section of their arguments, trying to understand and explain their results. They also did some pretty sophisticated statistical analysis with the data this year.

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.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

A Trip To Singapore

During my first week at APIS this fall, all staff were presented with the opportunity to apply to be on a team of teachers and administrators that would travel to Singapore, visit some international schools, and bring back ideas and inspiration for APIS. The focus of this trip was to be, "personalized learning."

I was fortunate enough to be chosen as one of 14 staff members to go on the trip, and at the beginning of September we took off for a 4-day whirlwind visit in Singapore. Two of the days were spent traveling, and on the other two days we visited schools.

The first school we visited was Singapore American School, the focus of this blog post. It's a huge international school with a stellar reputation. However, recently they decided that they needed to start thinking more about the future of education and adapt their instruction to fit 21st Century Learning. Over the course of a year, they sent teachers to many schools around the world to gather information about advances in education, and then a core group of staff members worked together to develop plans, based on what inspired them, for the future of SAS. They are just now in the first years of some of these changes.

Several teachers had conversations with us about the SAS Advisory program, and we also got to see their cutting-edge Early Childhood classrooms. The two initiatives I was most interested in, however, were in the high school. One program that was piloted last year and has been extended to include all Seniors this year, provides time, resources, and mentors for every Senior to complete a "project" of their choice. These projects might be writing and performing a play, starting a business, or completing long-term scientific research. Along the way, the students have classes to support their goal-setting and people skills, but also have some flexibility in their schedules if they need to leave campus for their project.

The other intriguing program we were able to visit was for those Seniors who have already completed all their requirements for graduation and have potentially reached their limit for AP courses. As Juniors, these students can apply to a special group of approximately 20 students who meet as a "class" all day every day to experience a truly interdisciplinary, personalized curriculum. The class has 3 teachers (one ELA, one Math, one Science) who are in the room all day as well, and the students receive various English, Math, and Science credits for taking the course. There are short, direct-instruction sessions for those students who need them, as well as large-group discussions, but there is also plenty of time for students to explore individual passions. The space they spend every day in is pretty amazing too. Check out some photos below:

Central work area. Kitchenette in the back.

Cafe-style booth seating for more intimate conversations.

A glassed-off conference room within the larger room. Plenty of whiteboard space for ideas.

Comfy seating in the conference room.

Project board with standards the students are working on, as well as a timeline for daily goals.
I would love to teach in an interdisciplinary, passion-based, personalized environment like the class I saw at SAS, and I'm excited that APIS is looking in this direction! I feel so fortunate to have been able to visit these schools and see the creative ways they're thinking about education.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Classes Begin!

Week one of classes at APIS is officially done!

Overall, it was a great week and it made me happy to interact with students again. I think the biggest teaching adjustments I will be making this year will be in regards to school culture, not necessarily Korean culture. Like anyone who changes to a different school district, you ask all the questions you can think of before classes start in an attempt to be fully prepared, but you don't completely get a "feel" for the school until the students arrive. Only then do you finally start to get an idea of how things work and what social norms exist. Here are some observations of similarities and differences between week one of classes at APIS and my former school in MN:


  • The first week was HOT! Above 90 degrees Fahrenheit and humid every day.
  • Students not knowing where to go because of schedule changes.
  • New students joining my class rosters each day because of schedule changes.
  • Working out a few small technology kinks: my printer stopped working, the SmartBoard wouldn't connect, the grade book was being temperamental.
  • I spent the first week focused on getting to know my students, building a class culture, and starting to introduce some science practices.
  • Locker issues: Some students don't like to use lockers, some students don't lock their lockers, students with the lockers that are the farthest away from classrooms are stressed.
  • Started the week with homeroom, going over the student handbook.
  • Weekly staff meetings, with snacks provided!
  • Crazy daily schedule changes. Day 1 had shortened classes to fit in an assembly and homeroom.
  • Students and teachers alike excited to be back and happy to see each other.


  • Air conditioning units in each classroom. Thank goodness!
  • Wonderful use of Google Forms for all sorts of administrative needs (facilities requests, technology help, time-off requests).
  • A lunch period of FORTY-FIVE minutes! Can you believe it? Students have time to play soccer, hang out in the library, and get some class work done - as well as eat their lunch. Amazing!
  • No composition notebooks to be found in the local stores. Needed to change my game plan for class notebooks.
  • Using Edmodo instead of Schoology. So far, I'm sorely missing Schoology. (Sad face)
  • Students carry their backpacks (and sometimes multiple other bags) to class. What???
  • Students wear uniforms, which I did experience at a previous private school in MN, but there are so many variations as to what that uniform can be at APIS it makes my head spin.
  • High School students are expected to provide most of their course supplies, such as highlighters, scissors, colored pencils. Ordering classroom supplies is a tricky, time-intensive process.
  • Staff gets together regularly after school to play basketball, ultimate frisbee, and just have snacks in the park. Teachers' families are welcome!
  • Weekly Science Department meetings with the High School principal.
  • I've already received welcomes from the parents of three of my students in response to my weekly email.
  • I get to walk to school and back each day - love it!

I could probably add quite a bit to those lists, but I think you get the general idea. A few photos will help to round out what the experience has been like so far. First, some photos of my classroom. It's smaller than my room in MN, but my biggest class here only has 15 students, so it fits our needs perfectly. After that, a glimpse into some of our "Week 1" lessons. I can't share photos of my students on my blog like I did in the past, but I was able to take some pictures to represent their work this week.

My Desk: Butterfly decals on the wall traveled all the way from MN, as well as the "365 Days of Wonder" book on my cupboard and big, pink Post-It notes tucked against the wall.
Front of the room. Whiteboard space is minimal, so I laminated some white papers to make more writing surface on a bulletin board.
One side of the room. Another item that traveled from MN - my "questions" poster.
Back of the room with my Mindset reminders on the back bulletin board.
Fume hood, storage, and a couple of windows on the final side of the room.
NHS students brought us rice cakes the day before classes started. They're a traditional Korean dessert. I have to say they they are much too starchy for my taste. Kind of like eating very lightly-sweetened, thick, raw bread dough. I appreciated the very kind gesture, though! 
One of the first week activities to highlight teamwork and science processes: LEGO Build. Each group builds a structure with provided LEGOs and writes instructions on how to make the set. Then another team of students gets the exact same LEGOs and has to build the structure based on the instructions. Great student descriptors came out of this activity, such as the importance of seeing something from someone else's point of view and how working on a team can produce more creativity than working alone.
Another "first week" activity to introduce the "Question Formulation Technique." Students did the classic Milk Fireworks Activity with different types of milk. (At least, I think they were different types of milk. The packaging labels were all in Korean, so I had to guess a bit...) The activity was their question prompt, and then they were able to discriminate between open and closed questions through a sorting exercise. Hoping to incorporate even more PBL this year, and the QFT will be integral to that process.
Have started AP Biology with animal behavior in the past, and decided to take that approach again. In MN, I was able to gather lots of pillbugs for this, but although they can be found in Seoul, I couldn't locate as many. So my first idea was to use cicadas, which are amazingly huge and loud here. The local kids can often be found creeping around with nets attempting to catch them. I figured my family and I could capture enough to use in the lab, but we were foiled; we only caught one! So I made some insect traps with local melons and Asian pears. I have been able to capture tons of ants, a few crickets, and a couple of earwigs. The students have been designing some really interesting investigations based on ant behavior. So far, I've been very impressed by their scientific thinking and insight.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

A Week in Seoul

The Meyer family has been in Korea for over a week, and it's hard to believe how much has happened during this time. I can tell already that I need to be more prolific in my blogging while I'm here, considering that we seem to experience something new every day. To prevent this post from becoming a novella, however, I'm going to try to sum up the highlights in a few areas.

We arrived at MSP Airport around 11:00 p.m. on July 24 and didn't arrive in Incheon until 5:30 p.m. on July 26 (Korean time). We started with a flight to Los Angeles (about 4 hours) and then flew to Seoul from there (about 12 hours). Being stuck in an airplane seat for 12 hours is a form of torture I hadn't previously considered. My feet were so swollen by the time we landed, I almost couldn't fit my shoes on. Positive note: The food was good, especially the bibimbap for our first meal.

Played some travel Scrabble to pass time in the airport.
 Getting Acclimated
Andy, the high school principal at APIS, picked us up in the airport, helped us get my cell phone up and running, and then drove us to our apartment. He lives in the same building, so he was kind enough to go through some of the confusing parts of our apartment for us. The apartment has a lot of appliances/amenities that are digitized, and of course all the instructions are in Korean. Here are some of the digital controls in our apartment: electronic card entry to get into our building, keypad to get into our apartment, washer, dish washer, air conditioner, wine chiller, kimchi refrigerator, electronic lights panel, hot water for appliances, sinks, shower, and in-floor heating, and the bidet. I'm pretty sure I accidentally hit the buttons for the in-floor heating on our first morning here because things were getting pretty warm, but I think I figured out how to turn it off again by pressing some random buttons.

It didn't take long for the boxes we had shipped to arrive. Number one priority for the boys: playing Magic the Gathering.
The morning after we arrived, Jodi, a counselor at APIS, and her daughter, Katrine, stopped by with baked goods and an offer to take us around the neighborhood. We were just about to go out to search for a market, so it was perfect timing. Besides a small grocery store, we also have coffee shops, a bakery, a stationary store, and multiple restaurants in our neighborhood. Oh - and a McDonald's across the street (Dan and the boys have visited - I'm determined to never cross their threshold!). There is a large stream with bike/running/walking trails along it only a few blocks from our apartment, and APIS is less than a mile away. I've been walking there and back every day. It's mostly a residential area, though, with quite a few schools in the vicinity. I've run on the trails early in the morning (to beat the heat), and there are all sorts of people up and active at the same time.

This looks like playground equipment, but it's actually exercise equipment. It shows up periodically along the trails. Older Korean men and women pause along their walks to work out. The boys thought it was pretty fun too!
Stepping stones across the stream.
One of the first things APIS did for all of us new teachers and families was to take us around Seoul on the busses and trains so that we would get practice using the transportation system. I love not having to drive anywhere! Busses, subways, and taxis are all fairly inexpensive, clean, and easy to use. Our first taxi trip was to EMart to pick up some groceries we couldn't find at our local store. Our first bus/subway trip was to Costco. Hoping to travel to IKEA Korea tomorrow.

Keeping Busy
To start the school year, APIS planned three days of Incoming Faculty Orientation and a three-day retreat for all the staff. There were traditional "workshop week" activities, such as going over the school handbook, procedures, and a school tour, however these were accompanied by some pretty amazing additional experiences: Eating a traditional Korean barbecue, a trip to Insadong (an "arts" neighborhood in Seoul), Shabu Shabu dinner, whitewater rafting, dinner at Todai, and a Korean baseball game. The food here has been delicious so far. I'm going to need to do a separate post on all the wonderful dishes we've tried - and the fun Korean snack foods we've discovered. Even the school cafeteria food has been yummy!

The boys have been very open to trying all sorts of new foods - and they've found some they surprisingly enjoy. Egen likes this type of mushroom you can find in a lot of dishes here, and Quinn loves octopus.
Painting ceramic figures - one of the activities the boys did in Insadong.
Dan at Korean barbecue. So many side dishes! You grilled your own meat at the table and then built it into a lettuce wrap.
Eating snacks at the Korean baseball game.
Panoramic of the field.
Hot and exhausted while waiting for the subway after the ball game.
If you can't tell from my descriptions, I am loving Seoul, and so is my family. Despite the heat and humidity, we feel very much at home here, and a lot of that has to do with the warm welcome we've received from the APIS faculty and staff. There is so much more I could write about, but I think it's time to wrap up this post for now. I'm hoping to write future posts about Korean food, my classroom, and my walk to work, so keep checking in!