Sunday, November 16, 2014

Cross-Country Science Collaboration, Part 2

In the previous post, I described the nuts and bolts of a collaborative unit between the Anatomy classes of Trish Shelton (@tdishelton) and myself. In this post, I'd like to delve deeper into the pedagogies that truly made this unit unique. I need to preface this by saying that the majority of the innovation was driven by Trish's expertise in NGSS, and much of the time I was simply soaking up the "sciencey-goodness."

I've attempted to break up the pedagogies into four major themes that have had profound impacts on how my students experience science learning.

1. Student Questions
We started the unit with a video about water intoxication that was intended to introduce the driving question. However, immediately after showing the video, we solicited student questions. We emphasized to the students that these questions would help to determine the direction of the unit, and they did. The students were also given multiple opportunities to revisit their initial questions and consider new questions they were forming as they learned more content. We checked back on previous questions to make sure they were making progress on those, and researched new questions. All of this research was eventually used in the final Claim, Evidence, Reasoning (CER) discussion addressing the driving question.

Here is an example of a question prompt in the middle of the unit, intended to help students reflect on prior questions and consider new questions:
  • We are wondering about _____ because _______.
  • We think that if  we knew _____, it would help us to explain _______.
A student response:
"We were wondering about why the liquids didn't flush out of his system because we now know that that should have happened through filtration of the kidney. We think that if we knew his kidney failed, it would help us to explain why he died."

2. Content via Processes
Although students learned specific content throughout the unit, this wasn't the focus of the assessments. Three main science processes were stressed throughout the unit, again based on previous work Trish had done in this area: Argumentation & Explanation, Evaluating Models, and Constructing Models. Based on rubrics that Trish initially built, here is an example of the guides I designed for assessing student work (I incorporated suggestions on making single-point rubrics based on this blog post):

Argumentation & Explanation

Areas that need work.
Standards for this performance.
Evidence of exceeding standards.

Claim is clearly stated.

Multiple pieces of evidence are present.

Evidence supports the claim.

Scientific ideas are used as reasoning to relate the evidence to the claim.

Evaluating Models

Areas that need work.
Standards for this performance.
Evidence of exceeding standards.

Identify the model target (purpose) and the core scientific principle or idea represented by the model.

Describe how the model addresses the target with evidence from the model.

Base the evidence on an analogy between the target and the model related to structure, function, or both.

Identify the limitations of the model.

Identify the merits of the model.

Constructing Models

Areas that need work.
Standards for this performance.
Evidence of exceeding standards.

Identify the purpose of the model (predict, explain, test a process, generate data).

Assess if the model reliably achieves its purpose. Provide evidence.

Compare the model with alternate models. Evaluate merits and limitations of each model.

Identify model revisions that were applied and the rationale for those revisions.

All of the student work was evaluated based on one of the three rubrics. Other than identifying anatomical structures during the kidney dissection, students were never strictly assessed on their content knowledge. They were instead asked to use the content they had learned as evidence for a claim based upon a phenomenon. Or the students were expected to pull upon their knowledge of content to evaluate and/or create models. This is a much deeper type of scientific thinking and more challenging for students than simply regurgitating facts on an exam. Employing the science processes as your assessment of student learning places an emphasis on application of content to solve problems and explain observations. And I would argue that my students learned the content in the initial unit as well as, if not better, than they had in previous years. This is "science learning" at its best, helping all students to "think like scientists," an essential skill for their futures, regardless of whether or not they pursue science as a career. Even more important, perhaps, than the content.

3. Modeling Progression
Throughout this unit, students worked with models in a variety of modes. They created their own whiteboard models describing their thinking about the driving question three times throughout the unit. They worked with and evaluated three different pre-set models to understand content: the bean and rice filtration model, the dialysis tubing investigation, and the kidney dissection. They also created their own model for the urinary system to demonstrate their final understanding of the processes they had learned.

The progression of whiteboard models to show student thinking was an especially powerful aspect of this unit. Not only did their whiteboarding help me to better understand the changing student perceptions around the driving question, but they also made the student thinking more clear to the students themselves. Each of the models was the result of conversations within student teams, and the discourse that occurred amongst the team members helped them to more succinctly organize their own thoughts. They were also able to reflect back on their learning as they looked at Model 1 vs. Model 2 vs. Model 3. This reflection on change in thinking emphasized how scientific ideas can evolve over time.

4. Student Connections
One of our goals in this unit was to explore ways for our students to interact with each other. Although our thinking on this goal is still developing, I'm excited about the possibilities based on what we have accomplished so far. Trish's students use Twitter quite a bit during their class time to communicate with each other, their teacher, other students, and even scientists. Twitter is blocked in my school district, but we do use Schoology as an LMS for all courses.  I thought that perhaps a joint Schoology course for Anatomy students in Minnesota and Kentucky would be a good substitute for Twitter for now. And thus "Biofeedback" was born. In this Schoology course, so far students have participated in a brief introductory activity and shared questions around our second unit focused on energy. As the year progresses, we hope to continue to find more uses for the Biofeedback course.

Our students were also able to connect via Google Hangouts at the end of September for a simple introduction activity based on the common icebreaker "Two Truths and a Lie." For this version though, groups of students from both schools were asked to find two Anatomy "truths" and one Anatomy "lie." They took turns presenting their research to the other school via GHO, and then the students had to determine which of the facts was a lie. Although there were some audio and lag issues, the students enjoyed the interaction and requested that we try again in the future.

The dominant form of interaction recently between the two schools has been the coaching of video artifacts. Trish has worked with Benchfly in the past to introduce video as a medium for students to explain their scientific thinking. Benchfly is also a service to house all of the student-made videos. In previous years, Trish's students had coached each other's videos, looking for claim and evidence and commenting on various aspects of video formatting, such as lighting, sound, and framing. Now that our classes are connected, we have been trading student videos between the students at the different schools and asking that the students coach their cross-country counterparts. We have found that even though our classes are working through the same unit, because student questions drive the learning, the classes sometimes move in different directions. Therefore, the video products the students create are never identical. This sets up a unique situation in which the content and experiences in which the students are immersed is the same, but the discussions and thinking about those experiences is different. So when students coach each other's videos, they have the background knowledge necessary to evaluate them, but the videos are not replicas of their own. They often take the learning in a new direction.

An example of this is the "Make a Better Model" videos. The Minnesota students had a lot of questions about the removal of drugs and toxic substances, based on the beans and rice filtration model. Trish's students had a lot of questions about the brain and it's role in water regulation. When students shared their "Make a Better Model" videos with each other, these differences were clear in the videos. The students' approaches were completely different, which made the coaching more challenging, but also more realistic. I explained to my students that this is why clear communication in science is so important. Not everyone has the same experiences, so it is essential that when you're explaining your thinking that you do so in a way that is accessible for anyone.

Trish and I have continued our collaboration and are currently in the midst of Unit 2 focusing on Energy. We're using the same pedagogies that were so successful in Unit 1 and are constantly revising and learning as we move forward. I will make sure to continue to document our progress on this blog. Please feel free to share any questions or comments!

1 comment:

  1. WOW!!!! I am going to share this with some very cool K-5 educators. Maybe we can do this beginning in VT and then spread out!