Lately I have been obsessed with simplifying my curriculum. That is, drastically decreasing the Extraneous Cognitive load of all materials, technology, etc.
Perhaps I'm just maturing as an educator? Perhaps I'm just EXHAUSTED by all the options out there. Or perhaps I'm just developing a much deeper love for the content I'm teaching rather than the tools used to teach it?
I'm sure it's a combination of all things. Either way, I find it fascinating, and somewhat paradoxal, how attempting to deeply simplify the tools I and my students are using poses as a greater instructional design challenge than leveraging a system of complex tools.
Either way, this coming semester (classes at my school are a semester long) I am going to be transitioning all of my class websites from traditional Google Sites to simple Google Documents.
I use our class website to not only curate resources, but also deliver all instructions (link documents, practice problems, activity templates, etc.). In transitioning to a Google Doc based system I plan on having one document, that is broken into individual learning cycles where students will access all class materials.
I will use one hyperlinked bookmark to identify where we are in the document for that particular day so students feel a sense of flow and organization to the document. Students will click on the link at the top of the page and be shuttled immediately to the portion of the document for that day.
Click here for an example of an old website using Google Sites, and here for an example of the beginning (2 of 6 units have been completed) of my new system.
I will also be including a "Teacher's Corner" (under construction...apologies) link at the top that will outline how each unit is designed according to the 5E/Hero's Journey learning cycle format.
I do not explicitly indicate the curricular jargon to students, rather I want them to experience the journey authentically. However, I want you, and other fellow educators, to be able to access my thinking.
Not sure if this post makes any sense, but I am SUPER excited about the challenge in simplifying my curricular materials for both learning and instruction. I will be updating this process as I progress over the next few months under the "Projects" tab.
Albeit corny, I don't think a blog post goes by where I don't allude to the beautiful connection between the 5E Learning Cycle and Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey.
Our students are HEROES and our standards are their JOURNEY. Why not!?! It certainly makes lesson planning more fun...meaningful...etc. Click here, here, and here for past writing and literature about this connection.
Keeping the above in mind, I was planning for parent Back to School Night last week. Teachers at my school are challenged to design a 20 minute lesson, for each section, to model their pedagogical style, content, etc. Not an easy challenge.
A few days before the night I began preparing my typical "Coke vs. Diet Coke" activity where parents engage in an inquiry activity around why a can of Coke sinks in water and a can of Diet Coke floats. See image below:
Normally I begin the activity by showing parents the above demo, then asking: "What questions do you have?". Subsequent discussion leads to definitions of mass, volume, density, and if time, quantitative measures of the mentioned variables.
This year, I set out to do something else: Model an entire 5E/Hero's Journey Cycle, in just 20 minutes.
At least scratch the surface of each anchor point in the cycle to take the activity beyond the simple density example, to questions surrounding chemical structure, sweetness, biochemistry, etc. (note: this desire was primarily catalyze by the need to begin lesson planning for a Medical Biochemistry advanced elective I will be teaching next semester. More on that later for sure...)
Below is the outline of the lesson that I will be expanding into a full learning cycle using this template in the next month or so. Stay tuned!
PHASE 1: EXPLORE (Call to Adventure)
Pennies made after 1982 are ~ 95% zinc with a plated copper exterior. Thus, a penny contains two metals and can, if manipulated properly, be converted into a battery. See video below:
This video is LEGIT, and upon seeing it, my gut was to provide students with this video, the materials, and let them go at it as an introduction to our unit on energy in Biology class. (Mitochondria metaphor, etc.).
Then I remembered the research on curiosity! The goal is to intentionally withhold the IDEAL amount of information.
Peak interest, but create suspense. Provide enough information as to not demotivate, but leave enough out as to keep the learner guessing.
The below "inverted U" graph of Curiosity vs. Knowledge (knowledge confidence), provides a great visual.
Inspect it carefully.
Have all the info. Not curious. Have no info. Not curious. Withhold the ideal amount. Curious.
So, back to the initial activity. I fear that if I give students the above video, as awesome as it is, the activity will transition from science to "arts and crafts".
I fear that by providing the video, I will provide too much information, push students to the far right of the "inverted U" and minimize curiosity.
DESPITE how engaging the activity is!
The engagement lies not in the video quality, or the task, but the anticipation of what will happen.
The frustration in not knowing exactly what will happen, or how to do it.
The tension that is built when the instructor perfectly provides and withholds.
The cognitive reward the learner receives when that tension is revealed.
We all love solving riddles.
This is the true "Call to Adventure".
So here is what I'm going to do instead.
Step 1: Tell students that electrons can flow spontaneously through a material when two different metals are connected through a conductive solution.
Step 2: Tell students that pennies after 1982 are platted with copper.
Step 3: Provide students with the exact materials shown in the screenshot from the video above. Include the video title "How to Make a Penny Battery from Start to Finish" in the below image as a strategy for pushing students directly under the "inverted U" shown above.
Step 4: Challenge students to light the LED using only the materials provided in the above image. Remove internet privileges to ensure that information is strategically withheld and students do not look up the above video.
Step 5: Play the above video.
Step 6: Treat this as the first two"Es" (Engage and Explore) in the 5E Learning cycle. Continue on with lesson. Etc., etc.