Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Technology - The Rate Limiting Step

Edmonton Public Schools eliminated all curricular consultants during the spring of 2013. The Alberta Government was allocating less money to School Boards so consultant positions were deemed unnecessary.

I got to go back to the classroom.

To be honest, I was excited to try flipping my classroom and couldn't wait to start creating vodcasts.

When studying kinetics in chemistry, it is the slowest step of a series of chemical reactions that determines the overall rate of reaction- otherwise known as the rate limiting step.  This idea of rate limiting step will serve as an analogy to the success of my flipping journey.

I assumed that I would have a classroom with a SMART Board, easy access to Youtube, students with easy access to the internet, maybe a document camera and a webcam.

Nope.

I have a blackboard, whiteboard, projector that projects onto the whiteboard, Youtube that must be downloaded as the bandwidth can't manage the giant population of the school and no webcam. I do have a wireless mouse, keyboard and really great tech support if I need it.  I also have access to two class sets of Chrome books, two sets of laptops and two sets of net books that I can book out in advance.

I  have 35 students in each of my classes with almost no room to get around to each student. And the students are in desks of which I can't pair as there is a bar one one side of the desk making it impossible to get in and out of. So the idea of group work - a necessary part of flipping -  is physically challenging.

So, how to flip?

I've started slowly with the creation of a student website that includes Google Doc notes particular to each class I teach. I used to have an overhead projector and Google Docs represent a 21st century version that allows students access even if they miss a class. However, this is not flipping at all. Students help generate the notes during classroom discussion, however I struggle with the notes as science doesn't translate easily on the keyboard.

At this time, my classes are teacher directed but I engage students with many hands on activities where they are showing me what they know. But I know I'm not getting to every student in every class every day and that is bugging me.

So, how to flip?  The reality is that students need to have equal access to the technology to watch the vodcasts.  If they don't have access then I need to find a method for them to access them.  Will they seek out the technology and watch the vodcasts on their own time?

Rate limiting step!

In the next couple of weeks, I'm going to try to flip some lessons. Is the access to technology going to limit my success?

Welcome the catalyst of change.












However




Monday, 4 February 2013

The Flipped Classroom - finally more time!

This is the story of a typical high school science teacher who seemed to never have time.

Me.

I began my career teaching the grade 10 science classes. These classes were perceived to be the best for new teachers as there were no high stakes exams partnered with them - in Alberta, the grade 12 exams are worth 50% of the mark. I was given the textbook and program of studies and naively believed that the textbook reflected the curriculum well.

Fortunately, I had a colleague who was extremely organized and talented who set me on the right path for planning and aligning my lessons to reflect the program of studies and not the textbook material. After two to three years of teaching, the textbook became a reference book for the students and not a teaching doctrine. I began to realize that the textbook was generally a great reference but included significant material not found in our program of studies.

My teaching assignment diversified to include the grade 11 courses of chemistry, biology, physics and soon the grade 12 chemistry course. Again, I used the textbook to guide my lessons as I knew where I could find activities that aligned with the curriculum and practice problems for the students.  But over time, I found new resources, activities, labs and required the textbook less and less. Even for the high stakes courses, I didn't require the textbook. My lessons were dependent on students taking notes and then, if we had time, engaging in an activity where students would demonstrate their understanding.  Sometimes I felt that I rushed the notes just so we could get on to the "fun" stuff. I began to create more engaging activities and had students singing, writing, role playing, building, cooperating, etc. Unfortunately, "getting through the material" seemed to consume most of the class time.

After a few years, the school I was at opened its doors to grades 7-9.  So Grade 8 Science was added to my assignment.  I loved teaching those students, their excitement just entering the door was contagious.   I started to rethink how I taught my day to day lessons. I decided that I would challenge the students to develop inquiry labs from scratch and not use the labs from the textbook.  If students knew the answers, what was the point of doing the lab?

As Bob McDonald from CBC's Quirks and Quarks says, "Ask any scientist and the only thing they like  discovering better than an answer is a really good question."

So I found the time to complete an inquiry lab with the students once to twice a unit.  The students couldn't wait to get their hands on the materials and challenge one another with possibilities of how to develop their investigation. I would see groups of students completely engaged, collaborating within and between their groups (which I encouraged) and at the end of the inquiry lab there would be four to six labs created - all unique and all developed by groups of students working together (authentic, eh?).

Back to the Grade 12 high stakes Chemistry 30 course.  After a few more years, the school opened its doors to the International Baccalaureate program and its additional high stakes exam. Now I had less time to reach into my collection of engaging activities as I had two masters to satisfy. Notes and lecture became the mainstay of  lesson delivery and I became more exhausted each day as I was doing the "show" all day - the provider of knowledge.

Thankfully, the IB Sciences curriculum requires students to design their own experiment so I was able to resurrect the inquiry model periodically.  But the demands of teaching two programs forced this to be very occasional and not collaborative in nature.

So, notes and lecture seem to be the method of information delivery that most science teachers use.  We were taught in that manner and feel that it is the only method that will get the job done.  That may have been true even ten years ago.

However, with the ubiquitous nature of digital technology, science teachers finally have a choice.

WE DON'T HAVE TIME! may finally become "WE FINALLY HAVE FLIPPEN TIME!"

Science teachers across North America have begun to "flip" their classes so that the lecture is watched at home (or at hockey practice, the bus, the gym etc.) and once students arrive in class, the teacher can spend the time engaging with students however they see fit!

Read my previous posts to see how you can flip your class to afford yourself more time to engage students, develop inquiry labs, and teach students to the mastery level. You may notice that your high stakes exam marks also increase as real learning occurs and not just cramming for the test!







Friday, 7 September 2012

iPads in Science Class

So your school has purchased a class set of iPads and you want to be able to use them in a meaningful way. And, finally, the school administration has lifted the ban on personal devices and cell phones are allowed in the classroom under the supervision of teachers.  What do you do?

Panic? No.

First, begin considering how smart phones and ipads/tablets can complement what you do in the classroom.  Students are engaged by the technology and, if well managed, the devices will become an incredible learning tool.  You need to demystify the cell phone.  If you are planning to use cell phones in class, ask the students to place their cell phones on the corner of their desks in full view.  This is where the phone stays unless it is being used for educational purposes.

Second, consider your teaching style and what is it that you want to achieve. Does your teaching style primarily make use of lecture or do you focus on collaborative activities or are you somewhere in the middle?  Your teaching style will determine what types of apps you will choose to use. The three types of apps are generally "productivity apps",  "interactive apps", and "reference apps."

Productivity apps allow students to create.  Interactive apps require students to work with the app to receive feedback. Reference apps provide information but don't require the students to interact or input anything.

If your style is more lecture focused, then you will probably use reference apps periodically where as if you use collaborative activities you may find the productive and interactive apps more appealing.  It really depends on your style.

Third, limit yourself to two to three apps per course.  Don't underestimate the learning curve of the app; always allow the students to play with the app for homework before working with it in class.  Ensure the app is used for meaningful learning not just playing with technology.

Fourth, after you try the app out as a learning activity, be sure to assess its use.  Ask the students if the app provided a beneficial learning experience.

So, pick an app, test drive it and determine if it can provide a meaningful learning experience.  Here are some mostly free subject specific apps from iTunes:

Biology: 

3D Cell: Learn about the cell and all its structures using our new 3D Cell iPhone application tool. Enjoy the ability to rotate the cell 360 degrees and zoom in on any cell structure. Visit the cell structure screen and learn more about how each structure functions. In this application you can also watch videos from our live cell video library as well. (Reference)

iCell:  Compares animal, plant and bacteria cell.  (Reference)

Genetic Code:  Genetic Code is a handy reference tool for students and researches. The application visualizes standard genetic code as well as provides information about 20 amino acids and their abbreviations. (Reference)

Instant Heart Rate:  Determines heart rate (Interactive)

Mitosis:  Cell division (Interactive and Reference)

Virtual Cell Animations:  The Virtual Cell Animations app includes an animation, still images, narrative, and content quiz. Version 1.0 contains the Photosynthesis and Electron Transport modules.

Frog Dissection:  NOT FREE, $3.99 for iPad (interactive)

Lab Timer:  LabTimer is a count-up and alarming count-down multi-timer. (interactive)

Skeptical Science:  Ever heard someone claim Global Warming isn't happening? Did their explanation seem wrong but you didn't know why? Be careful with this one as you need to consider both sides of the discussion. (reference)

Earth Observer:  ($0.99) Explore your planet as never before with the mobility of EarthObserver. Use your fingertips to travel through terrestrial landscapes and across the ocean floor. Visit frozen icecaps, study geological maps, scout mountains to climb and trips on coastal waters and exploit a rich atlas of other earth and environmental imagery. (reference)

3D Brain:  Use your touch screen to rotate and zoom around 29 interactive structures. Discover how each brain region functions, what happens when it is injured, and how it is involved in mental illness. Each detailed structure comes with information on functions, disorders, brain damage, case studies, and links to modern research. (interactive, reference)


Project Noah:  Project Noah is the best way to share your wildlife encounters and help document our planet's biodiversity (interactive, reference, productivity)

Leaf Snap:  Leafsnap is the first in a series of electronic field guides being developed by researchers from Columbia University, the University of Maryland, and the Smithsonian Institution. This free mobile app uses visual recognition software to help identify tree species from photographs of their leaves. (reference, interactive)



Chemistry: 

The Chemical Touch Lite:  periodic table (reference)

Organic Chemistry Nomenclature:  The Organic Chemistry Nomenclature Quizillator has been designed to help you master organic chemistry by practicing the identification, naming and recognition of organic molecules and their functional groups according to the IUPAC guidelines. (reference and interactive)

Lewis Dots:  Lewis Dots allows the generation and manipulation of chemical structures depicted as their Lewis dot diagrams. Start by adding individual atoms to the canvas and adding them together, matching their lone electrons to others' lone electrons. Dragging and dropping electrons to match them, bonds will be automatically created. (interactive)

Video Science:  A growing library of over 80 hands-on Science lessons that are great for home and the classroom. These short videos demonstrate inexpensive and easy to recreate experiments that are designed to inspire and excite kids of all ages. (reference)

Elements Test:  The Elements Test helps you to learn each chemical element's name and symbol as in the Periodic Table of Elements. (interactive)

OChem:  O-Chem was made for you so you can spend your time studying organic chemistry instead of making flashcards. Makes learning functional groups easy. Plain, simple, and FREE! (interactive)

Chem Lab:   NOT FREE!  $0.99. Chem Lab offers high school students a chance to build simple chemical compounds in an approachable game-like environment. (interactive)

Chemistry Formula Practice Lite:  Chemistry Formulas Practice stimulates students’ mastery of the fundamental skill of naming compounds and writing formulas. The practice categories include ionic and molecular compounds, acids, bases, polyatomic ions, hydrocarbons, and organic functional groups. Students may choose their pace as they work from formula to name or name to formula. (interactive)

Titration Simulator:  ($0.99):  Beginning chemistry students can use this app to get a feel for conducting an acid-base titration and solving for unknown concentration. (interactive)

iCelcius:  Not an app but a sensor that attaches to the iphone or iPad. (interactive)

Physics:

Physics Pro: Tired of struggling with Physics? Let “Physics Pro” ease your pain. This application covers six topics. (interactive, reference)

iPhysics ($0.99)    Find and prioritize formulas in groups. (reference)

Physics Formulas for High School ($0.99)      Physics Formulas for High School puts at your fingertips all the constants and formulas you need to know to ace High School Physics, SAT Physics subject test and AP Physics B and C. (reference)

iProfessor!-Physics ($1.99)     A quick reference guide for physics students that include physics concepts with definitions of common terms, formulas and illustrations. (reference)

Physics I ($0.99)     This app consists of about 20 simple physics calculators covering many concepts from high school physics. (interactive)

Phy-phys. formulas and calculator ($1.99)      Phy is the perfect companion for physics students. The more than 120 formulas cover the topics mechanics, relativity, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics and electrodynamics. Phy also consists of a scientific calculator. (reference)

Physics Quiz ($1.99)      This application will help you revise for your final Physics exams. It is based on the A-levels curriculum, but can also be helpful for those studying for other equivalent exams. (reference, interactive)

Newton’s Laws ($0.99)      Study and understand Newton’s Laws of Motion right on your favorite mobile device. (interactive)

Physics Formulas ($0.99)   This application can provide every possible formula for anyone who studies Physics. It can be used to build your own formulas reference in Physics. (interactive)

Physics Bites!-Lenses ($0.99)       The purpose of Physics Bites! is to give the user a chance to better understand certain concepts in physics by playing with tiny simulations (or “Bites”). Each Bite allows the user to change several parameters but is designed to be simple enough to not overwhelm the user with controls…

Laws of Physics ($0.99)      Learning physics has never been so much fun. “Laws of Physics” app satisfies all the needs of physics. Gone are the days when you have to browse through big fat physics books to search for Newton’s formula or Snell’s law. (interactive)

Wind Tunnel ($1.99)    Turn your iPad/iPhone into a wind tunnel simulator!(interactive)


WolframAlpha ($1.99):  Wolfram|Alpha has rapidly become the world's definitive source for instant expert knowledge and computation. (Interactive)

Vernier Video Physics ($2.99) *2012 CODiE Awards Finalist - Best Educational Use of a Mobile Device*
Video Physics brings physics video analysis to iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. Take a video of an object in motion, mark its position frame by frame, and set up the scale using a known distance. Video Physics then draws trajectory, position, and velocity graphs for the object. Share video, graphs and data to facebook, your Photo Library and to your computer running Vernier's Logger Pro software. (interactive)


This is a start.  Please comment if you know of other great science apps appropriate to high school science!





Wednesday, 30 May 2012

UDL, Science and Flipping!

UDL again.  Flipping again. And, if you keep reading - a great Google Doc!!

Universal design's focus is that barriers to learning are removed and all students have equal access to the curriculum.

Reducing the number of students in the margins.  Sounds good.  Hard to argue.

The flipped classroom affords time to teachers so they can spend more time with students and have more of an opportunity to discover the barriers to learning.  When you teach high school science in a full year school (one that is an IB school for example) it is hard to get to know the 200 students you teach.  So time is gold.

Flipping gets you that time.

Flipping to me is way more than vodcasts.  It is strategically using "out of class" activities (vodcasts, interactive simulations, screen-casts, case studies, virtual labs, etc.) to motivate students to become engaged during the "in class activities." 

So some tools to assist the science teachers in the spirit of UDL and flipping can be found in this Google Doc I have started. Please comment if you can see how I can make this a better working document and share share share.......

UDL Applied and the Science Classroom:  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1III6JxvJgyjzJuUr9gV2WTLfZt_HDMjICL2e-feXeeQ/edit

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

UDL and Science and the LECTURE

There is interest in Universal Design for Learning in our district. Principals and district leaders are initiating conversations around Universal Design. This conversation is of particular interest to me as I consider that the most frequent method of delivery of information in the secondary science classroom is the lecture.

The term "universal design" was coined by the architect Ronald L. Mace to describe the concept of designing all products and the built environment to be aesthetic and usable to the greatest extent possible by everyone, regardless of their age, ability, or status in life.

According to the Centre for Applied Special Technology (CAST), “Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a research-based framework for designing curricula—that is, educational goals, methods, materials, and assessments—that enable all individuals to gain knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm for learning. This is accomplished by simultaneously providing rich supports for learning and reducing barriers to the curriculum, while maintaining high achievement standards for all students.”

 So……back to the secondary science classroom.

Science teachers overwhelmingly agree that to successfully prepare students for the grade 12 Alberta diploma exam the only method that would seem to present itself as an option to finish the course is LECTURE. Finish the course….

 Let’s look at the course.

 In many Edmonton high schools, students are provided with the option to take the “regular” stream, or International Baccalaureate stream, or the Advanced Placement stream. Regardless of which stream they take, students have to be prepared for the Alberta Diploma exams based on the Alberta Program of Studies- http://education.alberta.ca/teachers/program/science/programs.aspx. So, if students are taking either of the additional programs, the amount of material required to learn is almost out of reach.

 I have worked with many creative, enthusiastic science teachers that have felt beaten down by the sheer volume of content. So how does UDL help with this?

To wrap my head around it, I began by thinking about the UDL phrase, “reducing the barriers.” What barriers are there in the secondary science class? Just off the top of my head, here are a few:

• Attendance
• Punctuality
• Completed homework
• Engagement
• Prior Knowledge
• Methods of acquiring understanding
• Demonstration of understanding
• Student readiness
• Teacher readiness
• Physical Layout of the Classroom
• Social structure

 UDL focuses on three main guidelines http://www.udlcenter.org/sites/udlcenter.org/files/updateguidelines2_0.pdf:
1. Provide multiple means of representation
2. Provide multiple means of action and expression
3. Provide multiple means of engagement

The CAST website http://www.cast.org/index.html offers tutorials, supports and examples of these guidelines. It’s hard to argue with the philosophy.

I’ve had many discussions with secondary science teachers who also find it hard to argue with the philosophy but at the end of the day can’t see how make this work with the demands of our reality.

I’m going to offer a beginning solution. Start slow and remember that the guidelines are just guidelines meant to guide the teacher in planning for all students in an effort to reduce the number of students in the margins.

Now let’s consider the secondary science class. If the content in the lecture was included in a vodcast, rather than lecture during class, then the teacher would have time in class for multiple means of representation, action and expression, and engagement. The vodcast could be either watched at home or if students didn't have the time, then it could be watched first thing during the class. I know from experience that the amount of time it takes me to lecture is at least doubled when I lecture in class. There are distractions, announcements, punctuality issues, behavior issues etc. that reduces the amount of “usable” time for the lecture. So, to take the lecture out of the class, affords me time I thought I never had. I could use the class time for the engaging, creative ideas that have been storming in my head! I could get to know the students way faster so that during parent teacher conferences in November, I wouldn't have to struggle remembering what the name of the child was! (Consider that high school teachers in full year schools may have 200 students).

What is this magic?

It’s called the “Flipped Classroom”. Read my last post. I’m dying to try it.

Monday, 5 December 2011

To Flip or Not to Flip

I have been reading a lot about flipping high school classes. I have read that it is the next "thing" in educational technology: papyrus to flipped classroom

I would love to see this in action so I invite you to use my assignment on the light reaction of photosynthesis as a means for students to demonstrate their understanding. Here are the steps:

1. Create a webcast that teaches the light reaction. Use Screenr (http://www.screenr.com/) to make your webcast. Create a free account, buy a microphone and then use whatever website or presentation you need - where you can start and stop - to effectively teach that one topic. Must be 5 minutes or less.

2. Assign the webcast for homework along with about two reflective questions and a diagram. I think that the whole "homework" experience will be less than 10 minutes (unless the student chooses to rewind).

3. As students walk into class they will find table groupings and will sit in groups of 4-5. On each table will be the following handout. As a group they will choose which assignment they want to complete or they can move to other tables and sit with like minded individuals. You decide.

4. If students missed the homework, before they sit down they will pick up the homework assignment and watch the 5 minute lesson either on a screen, SMART board, or personal device.

5. Students begin the work.

6. You, the teacher, will facilitate the work. You will get to every group and have conversations with every student in an effort to uncover misunderstandings.

7. Depending on the time you have in your class, students will demonstrate their understanding to their classmates.

8. You will then come back to this post and comment on your successes or failures with the intent of determining whether we should flip or not.

Thanks for trying!!

Photosynthesis flip assign1

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Notes Notes Notes: The Sound of My Heart Breaking

I asked my niece in high school, "What did you do in Science Class today"? She said, "I took notes, then answered some questions from a booklet, and then recorded some data from an experiment my teacher was doing for us".

My heart is breaking.

The teacher has a prepared booklet containing the entire course with "fill in the blank" questions stemming directly from the textbook. The laboratory investigations are truly not investigations as the outcomes are predetermined, and the teacher only does the investigation once for three classes so he doesn't have to waste materials. Talk about sucking the curiosity and wonder out of students.

A robot could teach the course.

Why does this happen and what can be done to fix this?

The front matter of the Alberta Program of Studies in Science clearly articulates that curiosity and wonder are fundamental to science education. Somewhere this message is lost on some educators. I am not blaming the teacher; I'm sure that this science teacher is doing the best job he can. He may not realize that his methods are not effective in the classroom and that the learning will be short lived.

Students must DEMONSTRATE their understanding to the teacher. Filling in blanks and writing notes is not understanding and means nothing to students (or their parents).

There are so many great teaching practices that could be used to teach for understanding. Here are a few:

1. Understanding by Design: http://jaymctighe.com/wordpress/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/UbD-in-a-Nutshell.pdf
2. Performance Assessments: http://www.aac.ab.ca/assessmentmaterials.html
3. Inquiry Circles in Science: http://pacoaching.wikispaces.com/file/view/Notes+from+Lit-Inquiry+Circles%5B2%5D.pdf
4. Using music in the science classroom: http://www.scienceinschool.org/2007/issue5/music
5. Science Song Links: http://faculty.washington.edu/crowther/Misc/Songs/links.shtml
6. Lesson and Tools ideas for Science Teaching: http://sciencenetlinks.com/
7. Role Play in Science Education: http://www.nationalstemcentre.org.uk/elibrary/file/776/sept_2000_73_82.pdf

Watching students generate their own songs to demonstrate why the line spectrum of hydrogen has four distinct colours is a beautiful thing. It is greatly satisfying to have discussions with the students after they perform their song; far more satisfying than marking "fill in the blanks" where really you have no idea if they understand or can just copy a glossary.

When students are knocking down the door to get into class asking, "Are we singing today?", or "Do we get to build with our playdough?", or "Are we becoming the protein again this class, because I need clarification as to the difference between secondary and tertiary structure?" you begin to feel like you have really made a difference in their understanding and motivation for learning.