If you are like me as a science teacher, you simultaneously live the acronym "STEM" and are exhausted by its overuse in nearly every blog, set of state standards, or professional development seminar that comes to town (Full disclosure: I often facilitate those seminars).
That being said, the more I dive into the world of Robotics (second year as an FRC Mentor and long time Summer Science Camp facilitator), the more potential I see in leveraging that which we often write off as "trendy, and that which we hold dear.
Tools common to enrichment programs (MakeyMakey, Arduino, MicroBit etc.) can potentially be powerful tools in my/our Biology and Chemistry classes during the school year, while also engaging students in a disciplines they would not normally see embedded in traditional physical and life science courses.
Below are links 5 activities I have done, or plan to do, that merge coding/electronics and biology/chemistry. Enjoy!
#1: MakeyMakey Interactive Eukaryotic Cell
#2: Lego Mindstorm Natural Selection Simulation
#3: Modeling States of Matter with the MicroBit
#4: Drop Counter Hack with MakeyMakey
#5: Arduino Conductivity Probe
I have written before about my use of medical case studies as entry points to inquiry cycles in my Biology class. Although a powerful way of forcing awareness of an information gap on various topics and bringing, "real life" problem solving to the classroom, this process also forces students to confront their fear of public speaking and ability to create a concise, clear, and engaging presentation to their peers.
In the past I leveraged student presentations sparingly. Here and there when it was appropriate to share but nothing that formal. Medical case study diagnosis in Biology has forced me to think about the how I how I train students to give good presentations. I LOVE my students, but man...sometimes sitting through a challenging presentation full of overused animations and bullet points [God forbid Comic Sans] can be painful.
Enter "Death by PowerPoint" by Comedian Don McMillian (see below). I stumbled across Don's incredible comedy sketch accidentally and found myself laughing hysterically! Then it hit me...Don's presentation was the RUBRIC I WAS LOOKING FOR! Simple, clear, and a fun way to share my expectations with students before class presentations in a way that wasn't me yapping at them about what a bad presentation looks like.
I took it one step further and converted Don's bit into a "Dead or Alive" scoring Rubric. Click here for your copy!
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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.
In her lecture, The Hungry Mind: Origins of Curiosity, Susan Engel of Williams College beautifully explains the benefits of curiosity not only on student motivation, but learning. See Engel's talk below:
Corroborating Engel's conclusions, Min Jeung Kang and his team at Caltech concluded via fMRI, in an article titled The Hunger for Knowledge: Neural Correlates of Curiosity, that when an individual is curious, they are able to negotiate complexity in the content domain they are learning, as well as unrelated content domains! Perhaps it is the Biology teacher in me, however I do not think it is a reach to say that Kang's observations can be extrapolated to a Darwinian hypothesis. That is to say, increased curiosity = amplified awareness = survival fitness.
After reflecting on Engel's video and Kang's research, I slipped into a nerdy state of reflection regarding the relationship between curiosity, health, survival, etc. I have always been a very curious person (to a fault at times...), and was immediately "curious" about any direct experiences with the relationship between curiosity and "fitness" to survive. After reflecting, it was clear that my current obsession with curiosity isn't by accident. Without exaggerating, my curiosity has indeed saved my life. Below is a workflow of thoughts that emerged from this reflection. TMI warning:
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.