I have written in the past about how much I am enjoying teaching Biology this year. After graduating with a degree in Biochemistry, my first teaching job, and thus the subsequent 17 years, led me to the world of chemistry education.
Upon switching schools, the opportunity to teach a few courses of Biology surfaced. Two years in, I am humbled by how much I don't know/forgot, both related to content and pedagogy of Biology instruction, and how much exciting opportunity there is in the field.
Keeping the above in mind, I have been experimenting with a "Medical Case Study" approach to teaching the course, leveraging hypothetical patient intake exam symptoms, and subsequent student diagnosis to spark curiosity, and inspired initial research, around specific themes. Click here to read more.
After leveraging case studies as points of entry for inquiry for the past two years, students appear, in general, very excited about facets of science I did not expect.
For example, in researching patient symptoms, students are exposed to medical journals and pharmaceutical research to help validate their hypothesis and gain more information on the topic.
Given exposure to applicable, and important research has appeared to inspire my students to want to conduct their own research in a way that transcends that which can be found in a traditional school curriculum, textbook, or lab manual.
To quote a few students just today (note: students call me by my first name)
"Ramsey, can we do a science fair project? I miss those..."
"Ramsey, the Diabetes article I we read was really interesting. I would like to do a similar study"
"Ramsey, have you heard of the Google Science Fair? Let's do that in our class."
I was drawn to the last quote above, re; the Google Science Fair as I had not heard of it. Turns out, Google sponsors a science fair that is incredibly well organized, and rather than motivated by poster boards or projects that mirror more "arts and crafts" than science, the Google Science Fair designed in such a way that students are inspired to turn their thoughts and ideas into a format that address a gap in the world, and thus, change it!
Serendipitously, the the deadline to submit for 2018 is December 12th, the day my final project (yet to be designed) is due in my 9th grade Biology class. The stars aligned!
So, this year (literally beginning today) I'm going to do the below with the hopes that the public audience will motivate better work, but also, more importantly, leverage the increased interest in scientific research that the medical case study curriculum mentioned above has inspired.
1. Introduce the Google Science Fair (Read rules, show past projects, etc.)
2. Assign each student the task of developing, and prototyping their own idea as the FINAL EXAM.
3. Use the format, already designed by the Google Science Fair, to guide the research process.
4. Require projects to investigate, or build upon, a concept we have explored this year from our curriculum.
5. Cross my fingers.
*Yeah yeah....there will be rubrics and stuff too. I'll share those as they are developed :)
Per #3, the Google Science Fair website includes past examples that provide great reference points for student work, and built in templates for rubrics and research design. As you can see in the screenshot below taken from a past project, the required format empowers students to truly embrace the scientific method and true research methods when conducting their projects. I am so excited to see where this idea goes. Carpe Diem!
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of working with the science educators at D211 in Chicago's Northwest Suburbs. As part of the workshop, all teachers were challenged to work in discipline specific teams to create an outline for an NGSS aligned, 5E Learning cycle. They were too good not to share! Click on the image below to access all lesson outlines. Enjoy!
1. Use a Learning Cycle Template. (click here for an example)
Lesson planning can be an empowering, but also arduous process. New teachers often fall into the trap (as did I) of lesson planning day by day, often losing site of the lesson's big picture. In my recent book, Spark Learning: 3 Keys to Empowering the Power of Student Curiosity, I note the serendipitous connection between the 5E Inquiry Learning Cycle, and then traditional cycle of the Hero's Journey as outlined by Joseph Campbell. The above template, designed with the 5E/Hero's Journey connection in mind, can help streamline and empower the lesson design process by providing a more holistic approach, empowering us to lesson plan in chunks, with a focus on student curiosity, and leveraging lecture as a responsive, rather than directive tool. The template also provides a structured space to outline necessary tech interventions at each step, promoting pedagogy, before technology.
2. Leverage a Google Slide Template to Collect Student Work (click here for an example).
As a science teacher, collecting, curating and grading student work during and after various class activities (labs, projects, etc.) can be a complicated process. Over the years I have tinkered with using paper notebooks, type written lab reports and a myriad of tech interventions to empower this process (Evernote, Google Docs, Google Science Journal, etc) . Each method has had its benefits and drawbacks, ultimately simplifying some steps in the process, but overcomplicating others for students. Although not as aesthetically appealing or as "innovative" on first glance, Google Slides allows for easy text editing, photo inclusion, table production, and video embedding, four features that are essential to student documentation of work. Moreover, upon conclusion of the year, students can then embed each presentation in a Google Site, creating a very simple, self-curated portfolio of work.
3. Teach from a Website (click here for an "in progress" example).
Much like the the collection of student work noted above, many different options for structuring how the information is presented to students in class exists. I have tinkered with teaching from slide decks (PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Slides, etc.), printing handouts (my least favorite), and the every popular, "just winging it", method that I embraced for my entire first year of teaching. As is evident from this blog post, I value simplifying the process for myself and students. Keeping this mind, I have transitioned to a system where unit plans are transported from my template (see #1 above), to a website. By using a website for class "presentation", teaching can be done using any device with internet access, and in a one-to-one environment Google Documents can be linked with various tasks and information, but sharing permissions can be altered to promote the gradual release of content that inquiry learning values.
If you found the information in this blog post useful to your practice, I invite you to learn more about becoming a site member! Launching on July 15th, site subscription include, but is not limited to, monthly distributions of detailed online video courses, lesson plans, and access to video webinars all exploring the world of curiosity, inquiry and technology in the classroom.
Slowly but surely, my Biology class has transitioned from a typical high school class with a focus on the "Double Helix" and mechanics of "Mitosis" to a class that leverages such structures and processes to tackle human disease and illness. Essentially, a Medial Biology class. I am blessed to teach at a school that allows me this freedom. A huge focus of the course has been leveraging student diagnosis of medical case studies as entries into inquiry cycles. For example, our unite on Cellular Respiration began with students diagnosing a patient with Type II Diabetes. Click here for our class website which contains templates for all case studies.
Given this approach, it is natural that our typical class text book does not serve my/our needs anymore. Although images and vocabulary related to such things as Cellular Respiration and DNA are nicely represented in the text, my current pedagogy catalyzed more questions about the current state of diagnosis, research and disease pathology. To this end, I found myself curating journal articles for students to read rather than assigning reading fro the text. Although the literacy skills of 9th graders makes this process challenging, feedback from them has indicated that they enjoy the challenge and actual scenarios so long as the reading is not "too long". I love 9th graders!
Next year I plan to structure and pre-curate articles for them to read. I have played around with many different ways of doing this, and have decided that including them in one spreadsheet would be best. This way, students can make a copy of the sheet, share it with me, and then in ONE PLACE they can have the article link, a place to summarize their reading, and a place for me to offer feedback. Although a google form submission, or a website with embedded pdfs for example, sounds nice, the accountability and simplicity associated with all work being in one place, in my mind, will decrease Extraneous Cognitive Load while also creating a single, easily visible resource. Click here for the current template. Note, it's a work in progress and the plan is to stock this sheet with all the readings. See a screenshot below.
Unlike teaching chemistry where I can quickly leverage a myriad of different demonstrations and video clips to generate student inquiry around a topic of study, I find it difficult to do the same thing in my Biology classes. Last year I decided to take a different approach to 9th grade Biology class and leverage my family background in medicine (I come from a family of Doctors, Nurses and Pharmacists) and emphasize medicine, physiology and disease as a way to frame certain topics and build curiosity.
To do this, I strategically wrote various case studies about hypothetical patients presenting specific disease symptoms and challenged my students in groups to diagnose the patients. To my surprise, this activity was extremely well-received, and from my perspective, was just as successful at opening up a window into exploring a specific topics in Biology as a perplexing demonstration or video clip would be in my chemistry class.
For example, if we were embarking on a unit of study about metabolism, I would begin with a case study about a patient with Type II Diabetes. Or when we began a unit on genetics, I presented a case study about an individual with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. While students researched the symptoms on sites such as WebMD and the MayoClinic, they would stumble upon literature, vocabulary and processes that were, unknowing to them, deeply connected to the subject we would begin investigating in the following days. Below are links to a few case studies completed by students last spring.