Saturday, November 15, 2014

Cross-Country Science Collaboration, Part 1

About a year ago, I "met" Trish Shelton (@tdishelton), a high school science teacher from Kentucky via Twitter. We immediately recognized that we share similar thoughts about science learning and teaching, and continued to communicate via Twitter and Google Hangouts. Through our conversations, the decision was made to connect our Anatomy classrooms during this 2014-2015 school year. So far, this adventure has entailed planning units together, utilizing a joint Schoology course for our students, exchanging student work between classes, a Google Hangout between the classes, and constant communication between Trish and myself.

I hope to share the experiences of our collaboration throughout the year, so this post is the first of many reflections on this unique experience.

Trish had an idea of where she wanted to start the year - a unit on the urinary system and homeostasis that had been successful in the past, although she had never started the year with this particular topic. Being a science teacher in an NGSS state gives Trish a very specific lens through which to view planning and instruction, and she felt this unit in particular would be a great way to immediately incorporate NGSS. My home state, Minnesota, does not use the NGSS, much to my chagrin. However, I hadn't taught an Anatomy class for two years and was looking for curriculum changes that would better reflect my own evolving thoughts regarding science instruction. In other words, when I heard Trish had this unit she wanted to try out for our first topic, I was all-in!

After some "beginning of the year" activities focused on asking questions, learning in teams, mindsets, and scientific explanations, we were ready to start on Unit 1. What follows is a general sequence of how the students approached the driving question: If water is necessary for survival, how can such an essential substance hurt us?

*By the way, no, I don't teach in an all-girls school as the photos and videos below may suggest! My class consists of 16 Junior and Senior girls, and 1 Senior boy.

1. Students watched a YouTube video (link here) of a news report about a high school football player from Georgia who died of water intoxication in August. They recorded their questions on a Padlet.

2. Teams created whiteboard models of what they thought happened to the victim's cells. They used their iPads to take photos of the whiteboards and posted them to Schoology.

3. Urinalysis Investigation. I mixed up four different "urine" samples from four "patients," and students tested the samples for sugar, protein, pH level, clarity, and color. They were also given information about the presence of blood cells and other debris. Based on their results, they needed to determine what, if anything, was wrong with the patients. For each patient, they structured their diagnosis in the following way:

  • Claim: State your answer to the following question: What condition does the patient have, if any?
  • Evidence: Use multiple pieces of evidence to support your claim.
  • Reasoning: Explain how or why the evidence is connected to the claim.
Students then recorded videos in which they shared their "diagnoses" with the patients. They also created a class model of what "normal" vs. "abnormal" urine looks like.

4. Students watched a YouTube video about the general structure of the kidney. They then participated in a simulation of kidney filtration, timing how long it would take to separate rice, beans, and staples using different methods. The beans represented the blood cells that stay in the blood vessels, the rice represented wastes that enter the glomerulus, and the staples represented drugs and other toxins that are actively transported into the filtrate.

5. Whole class discussion on the difference between structure and function. I brought in a football helmet and a hat I wear when I run. I asked students to brainstorm in their teams the structures that made each head covering unique and how the structures contributed to the overall functioning of the hat.

6. Students reflected on their learning by writing a tweet, "What I know about the kidneys so far..." and posting questions that they still had on Schoology. They then researched to see if they could learn more about the questions they had.

7. Dialysis Investigation. Students filled dialysis tubing with various types of solutions, such as salt, sodium bicarbonate, sugar, and starch. They placed the tubing in distilled water overnight, finding the mass of the dialysis tubing before and after adding it to the water. They also tested for the presence of the solutions inside and outside of the tubing.

8. Students watched a YouTube video about the structure and function of the nephron. Based on this new information, they evaluated the dialysis investigation as a model for nephron function as the assessment for the investigation.

9. Sheep Kidney Dissection. A verbal "practical quiz" on the structures of the kidney based upon the dissection also included questions about movement of urine and blood through the kidney.

10. Urinary System Claim, Evidence, Reasoning (CER). Students submitted a written reflection of what they had learned from the three models (Beans, Dialysis, Kidney Dissection) using the following format:

  • Claim: State your answer to the following question: How does the urinary system work?
  • Evidence: Use information from the three models to support your claim.
  • Reasoning: Explain how or why the evidence is connected to the claim.
11. Teams created whiteboard models of their new thoughts of what happened to the victim's cells (from the beginning of the unit). They used their iPads to take photos of the whiteboards and posted them to Schoology.

12. In teams, students evaluated one of the three models (Bean, Dialysis, Kidney Dissection) based on its merits and limitations in explaining urinary system structure and function.They recorded videos of their model evaluation to share with the class.

13. Make a better model challenge. Students were tasked with using what they had learned thus far to create a better model of the urinary system. They were given random supplies from the classroom and recorded their model and explanations to share with the Kentucky anatomy classes.

14. Homeostasis Simulation. The player in this simulation needs to adjust various internal conditions of a runner as she speeds up, slows down, and traverses up and down hills in a virtual race. Students begin to understand how the body reacts to changing environments in order to maintain relatively constant internal conditions.

15. Students watched a YouTube video about negative and positive feedback loops. They worked through sample scenarios of feedback loops in the human body, identifying sensors, effectors, and whether the loop was positive or negative.

16. Students read articles about water balance in athletes' bodies.

17. Cheek cells observations. Students collected their own cheek cells, stained them with methylene blue, and observed them under a microscope before and after being flooded with salt water. They connected these observations to results from the dialysis investigation.

18. Teams created final whiteboard models of their new thoughts of what happened to the victim's cells (from the beginning of the unit). They used their iPads to take photos of the whiteboards and posted them to Schoology.

19. Whole-Class CER. Students worked together as a class to develop a claim as to why the football player died of water intoxication. They were able to anything they had done or learned in class as evidence, and they related their explanations back to to "big ideas" of osmosis and homeostasis.

20. Summative Assessment.
Choose ONE of the following explanation prompts and respond based on your understanding of:
  • The Urinary System.
  • Osmosis.
  • Homeostasis & Feedback in the Body.
1) Explain why the composition of urine could change throughout the day.

2) A ship sinks off the coast of the United States leaving its passengers stuck in life rafts. After several days, the passengers begin to notice the darkening of their urine, decrease in urine output, and the symptoms of dizziness, weakness, and nausea. Several passengers decide to drink the seawater. All the passengers that drank the seawater died of dehydration. Provide an explanation for the “seawater poisoning.”

**Whew, that got a lot longer than I anticipated! 
In my next post, I'll share my reflections on student learning during this unit.**


  1. This is awesome! I want to join you guys if you repeat it next year! :)

  2. We're continuing to define what the cross-country student interactions look like, so having you join us would be a great addition in my opinion! Maybe we can make something work this year even.