I am excited to announce that I have just completed a new book about my experiences, experiments, failures, and reflections during pandemic distance learning. While publishing is still a few months out, I will be sharing snippets of the book here. Below is the first of many:
From "Rule #2: Streamline Your Tech"
"Perhaps a quote by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke that was read at my wedding captures this concept best: 'Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest human beings infinite distances continue, a wonderful living side by side can grow, if they succeed in loving the distance between them which makes it possible for each to see the other whole against the sky.' While Rilke’s words relate to love between two individuals, the teacher in me also interprets this quote to embody a larger, more transcendent context where Rilke is referring to a relationship between any two living or non living things. In the context of Rule #2, I hear Rilke calling us, as educators, to embrace our dependence on technology during distance learning, by placing it at a distance, simplifying its use, and once we do that, we can see its purpose clearly. That clarity can then surface beautiful spaces where we can challenge our students in purposeful ways. Specifically, while many of my colleagues were creating new websites, attending Zoom workshops, and consuming themselves with learning a new way of teaching' in preparation for distance learning, I asked myself the following question: 'If I had to teach online tomorrow, what tools in my mission statement am I the most comfortable with and are the most device agnostic?' By asking myself this question, I knew I would create a system that, although on the surface would look basic, would be something that I would feel very comfortable implementing during a stressful time, would leave room for the pedagogical musings needed to maximize learning."
I was honored to give a presentation yesterday to colleagues in Utah on strategies to promote engagement in the sciences when teaching in a 100% distance learning setting.
Rather than share an exhaustive list og best practices (which are constantly evolving), I decided to give participants a snap shot of my current thinking on distance learning science pedagogy which is heavily informed by constant reflective practice.
Click here for a link to a PDF of the presentation which features my top four current strategies. I am sure these will change...but sharing reflection and iteration, I feel, is very powerful. At least for me. And it's my blog. :)
Class: Freshman Biology
Topic: The Cell Cycle
1. Engage (Hero is Called to Adventure)
While entering the Zoom room this video was played on loop. Students then worked to solve this medical case study in randomized Zoom breakout rooms. (correct diagnosis = pancreatic cancer). The goal if this phase was to engage students in the process of cell division and create an information gap about cell division specifics that could be closed later in the learning cycle.
2. Explore (Hero is Challenged)
Solution to case study was revealed using this video. Working individually, with Zoom room open for individual help as needed, students then worked through this POGIL activity on the Cell Cycle recording answers here. The goal of this phase was to provide specifics about cell division to add content and context to the case study. Slowly filling in the information gap.
3. Explain (Hero Meets the Mentor)
Solutions to POGIL activity are provided here. Students engage in informal discussion in randomized Zoom breakout rooms followed by responsive classroom discussion about correct and incorrect answers are provided via whole-class Zoom. The goal of this phase is to "trick" students into engaging in direct instruction guided by their desire to fill the information gap.
4. Extend (Hero is Transformed)
Students are placed into randomized Zoom breakout rooms and instructed to have a conversation based on this prompt without looking online for solutions: "Cancer of the heart tissue is very rare. Why do you think this is?" After returning to whole-class Zoom, this video is pushed out to students in chat to close the new information gap.
5. Evaluate (Hero Returns Home to be Judged)
Students are challenged to create a presentation about a cancer of their choice. The presentation must include reference to, and diagrams of the cell cycle, specifically tumor suppressor and/or oncogene mutations that contribute. Students are also challenged to identify gaps in current treatment and propose their own innovative treatment. The goal of this phase is to force reflection on the content revealed in the learning cycle and promote inductive reasoning about cancer treatment.
As distance learning pushes on, I keep revising and refining my list of tools. Because "tools" in many ways, represent our primary means of interacting with our students, I feel a professional obligation to always share. I'm sure this list will change in like 2 freaking days, but whatever...I'll share again :) l
Over the past decade I have been vocal about my struggle with viewing the "Flipped Classroom" as an innovative strategy.
As an educator who began his exploration of educational technology experimenting with various forms of video instruction in 2006, and who wrote his dissertation on the technique and the associated cognitive implications, my relationship with the community, tools, and discussion around leveraging video as lecture device is a strong yet dissonant one.
Over the years, as my own reflective practice has led me down a path of student inquiry, placing less emphasis one WHERE lecture happens (in class vs. video) and focusing intently on WHEN lecture occurs in the context learning cycle, my interest in the flipped classroom discussion technology began to slowly fade away.
The "Explore-Flip-Apply" model of merging Flipped classroom strategies with inquiry is a solid representation of my need to hang onto the movement as I ventured away in search of more impactful, and in my mind, more important/essential methods of teaching.
This is all a complex way of saying that, in the current climate of 100% distance learning during the COVID-19 Pandemic, I am so thankful for my the skills I developed in creating video screencast for my students during my time spent obsessing over the ins and outs of flipped instruction.
Introducing a topic and sparking student curiosity via a Zoom check in, sending them off to watch a video I have created, then gathering them back together via Zoom to reflect, has proved to be an essential skill that has made this time much less painful.
Breaking up Zoom, and creating asynchronous experiences to view a lecture in the middle of a class period is working very well, and because the practice used to be the center of my vocational existence, I have easily been able to brush off my old skills, and enjoy the act of creating asynchronous video moment for my students once again.
A simple post, but one that my gut felt was worth sharing. The below response from a student during a self reflection inspired this post.