Recently I stumbled upon a series of videos called "5 Levels of Difficulty". In each video an expert explains a difficult concept in 5 levels of increasing complexity:
I was inspired by this video series for a few reasons. First, it reminded me how explaining a difficult concept to a novice and expert audience simultaneously requires deep conceptual knowledge and how listening to such an explanation helps to build simultaneous conceptual and mechanical knowledge of a concept. Second, it motivated me to reimagine how I assess my students.
Keeping the above in mind, for our unit on Cellular Respiration in my freshman Biology course, rather than assign a traditional topic exam, I decide to create a variation of the 5 Levels of of Difficulty videos shown above that will serve as the assessment for this topic. In short, students will create similar videos explaining Cellular Respiration at 3 rather than 5 levels of difficulty.
I have embedded a document below that explains the intricacies of the assignment. Click here to view the spreadsheet where student "3 Levels of Difficulty" scripts and videos will be collected.
When reading the research on Curiosity, Involuntary Curiosity is of particular interest to us teachers.
Defined by Loewenstein (1994) as curiosity that "...arises spontaneously as a result of a curiosity inducing stimuli", it isn't difficult see how honing the art of curating such moments is a powerful lesson planning tool.
Specifically, editing a video to reveal only a specific portion of a clip is a useful technique.
Often times a powerful video, if showed in its entirety, can simultaneously engage AND demotivate students by "inducing" curiosity, while also explaining the content that underlies the phenomena.
Rather than showing the entire video, the goal is to strategically curate the perfect portion of a video clip to tunnel students into asking the question you want them to ask.
To intentionally withhold the perfect amount of information.
Below are a few examples from the past two weeks in my chemistry class (note: videos are downloaded using savefrom.net and trimmed using Quicktime)
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
Before every major assessment I like to facilitate review activities in class. That being said, I can only handle the Kahoot theme song so much, play so many games of "Chemistry Jeopardy", or figure out another variation of Periodic Table Battleship to satisfy review of the whatever skills we are learning that topic.
Not that there is anything wrong with the above games, or the myriad of variations. Indeed, if I played Kahoot everyday my students would be STOKED!
However, the above review games, in my mind, always fall short in one area: student creation/invention.
This is where Google Forms is a powerful tool! During the past unit on Formula Analysis, distributed a different problem to each team of students.
I then asked each of students to input their solution AND a Youtube video of them solving their problem on a whiteboard into a Google Form.
I then made the output spreadsheet public, and students spent time solving one another's problems, and watching one another's solutions when they were stuck.
Although not as superficially engaging as Kahoot, watching students invent videos to explain their problems, and negotiate not only the problem, but also how to teach it, was incredibly inspiring, and IMO, much more engaging from an outside perspective.
Although this post is represents an extremely simple application of Google Forms, one I'm sure many of you have already done before or experimented with in the past, the power of immediately sharing the output formula with students, containing live links to the videos THEY created, was worth sharing.
Click here for the Google Form and here for the output spreadsheet. See screenshots below as well.
I have written many times before about the connection between the 5E learning cycle and Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey. Click here for a diagram that pairs the two processes together well.
Perhaps the most important part of the shifting one's instruction to an inquiry learning cycle approach is challenge of "Calling Students to Adventure", engaging them by strategically sparking their curiosity. The goal of this process is to STRATEGICALLY elicit spontaneous questioning about a topic in such a way that students begin to ask question about the lesson plan you have already created.
Yes, you could ask them the questions directly.
However, I find when the questions come directly from the students they are markedly more engaged and empowered.
Below is an example of a "spark" I recently found that I plan to use in my chemistry class during the 2018-2019 school year:
Electrochemistry, specifically the intricacies of oxidation and reduction tend to be challenging ones to engage students in. The process of electron flow can be a challenging one to visualize, and beyond making batteries with lemons, nails and pennies, finding a simple, tangible, and engaging way to created a window into the topic and spark spontaneous, natural intrigue about the topic is something I have yet to do successfully.
Keeping this in mind, this summer I spotted one of my 5th grade science camp students dropping a AA battery and watching it bounce. When I confronted him he said:
"If it bounces it's empty. If it doesn't it's full".
At the time wasn't yet aware that this "bounce test" was a viral internet phenomenon.
After sitting there watching this young camper test battery after battery I found myself asking questions:
"Why does it bounce?"
"Why does it not bounce?"
"Is this real?"
"Is this a hoax?"
After contemplating the process, and scribbling the inner workings of an electrochemical cell on the adjacent whiteboard in search of a personal explanation, I finally resorted to the internet and found a few articles on the topic. This article was the most comprehensive and successfully quenched my curiosity.
I also found this video on the topic, which gave me an idea of a potential student activity on the topic.
After spending a few hours reviewing all of the videos on the topic, I decided to create my own battery bounce test curiosity spark on the a few day ago. A simple video that gets to the heart of the issue, and makes the information gap as salient and as clear as possible with the goal of tunneling students into the same questions I asked above.
Click here to see the video or view below:
Essentially I had gone on my own Hero's Journey..Embodied my own 5E Learning cycle..Lived the metaphor that I speak of so much when working with other teachers or writing blog posts (like this one!).
The young 5th grade science camper ENGAGED me with his battery bounce test.
The subsequent information gap forced me to EXPLORE reasons for this by accessing my prior knowledge.
My lack of ability to resolve this perplexity led to a need for a mentor (the internet) to help me EXPLAIN the concept.
I am now EXTENDING this concept, converting it into a lesson plan for the upcoming school year, and will EVALUATE the lessons efficacy when done.
If you found the information in this message useful to your practice, I invite you to learn more about becoming a site member. Monthly membership includes, but is not limited to, frequent distributions of detailed online video courses, lesson plans, teaching websites, curricular resources, and access to webinars exploring the world of curiosity, inquiry, and technology in the classroom. Additionally, you can find a copy of my new book, "Spark Learning: 3 Keys to Embracing the Power of Student Curiosity", by clicking here.