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!
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: