In my never-ending quest to simplify my instructional process, I created this template for my students to record their activity (laboratory) investigations for next semester. Make a copy for yourself! Below is a GIF of the template in action.
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.
About three months ago I did something I often do but I am embarrassed to admit:
I assigned a "sub lesson" when absent, asked students to submit evidence of completion, and then...
...wait for it...
DIDN'T EVER LOOK at the document!
Yes, I suppose it's a combination of my confidence in the accountability created by having students submit images via a collaborative google doc, and the pure hecticness during the school year. More of the later.
Anyhow, here I am, sitting at some random cafe enjoying my summer and cleaning up my Google Drive, and I stumbled upon a Google Doc that contained a sub assignment I had asked my students to do when learning about balancing ionic compounds.
I have been striving to incorporate more inquiry into my sub assignments, and this was my first stab at it.
A little bit about the lesson:
My 4-year-old twin boys were gifted a set of HUGE, generic legos, and I had a thought! See image below:
While my kids quickly realized that they were not "real" Legos and went on to doing whatever 4-year-old twin boys do, I saw a potential sub lesson!
In my chemistry class we had just got done learning about the Periodic Table of Elements and how positive and negative ions form. I had yet to introduce the idea of ions transferring electrons to form balanced ionic compounds. Hence, the entry point for inquiry!
I was to be gone the next day of class, and I decided to cut all the legos into blocks of 1, 2, or 3, bumps (not sure what the correct term is?), that, in my mind, represented the +1/-1, +2/-2, and +3/-3 ions. It is a common activity to have students form ionic compounds by fitting them together correctly.
But, my students did not know this. Hence, the entry point for inquiry!
After placing all the pieces in the center of the room, I emailed my sub the following prompt:
Ask students to model the formation of Ionic Compounds using this document. Ask them to insert images of their models into the document.
To be honest, I had know idea what they would produce, as the prompt was very open-ended in general, let alone for a sub assignment.
Back to the point of this post. When I looked at their responses...today...I was blown away. They completely nailed the activity. Shame on me for not even following up with them the next day in class...It is so easy to lose track of the most important things as a teacher at times.. Embarrassing, but true.
Below is screenshot from the shared google doc where they uploaded their responses:
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.
As I continue to 5E Lesson Cycle examples, I thought I would share a short example of a game I play to make the often boring "Explain" phase of the cycle, not so boring.
The "Explain" phase is characterized by the delivering of lower Blooms Taxonomy type information to help students fill in knowledge gaps intentionally surfaced during the "Engage" and "Explore" phases. Spackle, not paint.
Think of Daniel Larusso in the Karate Kid painting his mentor's fence, or waxing his car. Lower Blooms information that the learner returns to, despite its monotony, because the student has been Called to Adventure. The menial tasks have a meaning. They have context. The mentor is delayed.
After a laboratory on Flame Test colors with my Honors Chemistry students, where they were challenged to predict the relationships between electrons, energy, and light, I was challenged with boring task of teaching them how to write proper Electron Configurations. The "wax on, wax off" of chemistry.
The skill is quick, but requires a lot of repetition to master, before we can move onto the "Extend" phase of applying their knowledge to more complex, and applicable content domains such as Photoelectron Spectroscopy. It is a perfect candidate for my favorite game: Lower Blooms Hoops!
Here is how I do it:
My kiddos literally solved 100 electron configurations today. Not sure what I'll give them, but that's not the point. Shh....
Check out a quick video of the process I took today. Apologies for the quality and informal style of the videographer :)