Currently my freshman Biology class is concluding a unit on cell division.
Rather than the typical unit where students memorize the phases of the "Mitosis" (Anaphase, Metaphase...blah, blah), I decided to take a more applicable, perhaps controversial perspective, and teach the unit through a lens of the Cell Cycle checkpoints, and in particular, cancer biology.
After acquiring parent and administrative permission, as I wanted to be sensitive to student personal experience with Cancer, we embarked a 5E/Hero's Journey, learning cycle. Click here for the entire learning cycle.
For the "Application" phase of the learning cycle, rather than have students research and present the current state of cancer detection and treatment. I challenge them with the below prompt:
After reflecting on what we have learned thus far about cancer treatments, and assuming unlimited resources, develop your own comprehensive cancer treatment idea. Click here to share for details on your submission. (groups of 2-3).
With a basic understanding of the Cell Cycle, regulatory proteins, immunology and cellular respiration (The Warburg Effect), students came up with incredible ideas that combined not only information we have learned this year, but also mirrored many of the current cancer treatments without zero prior knowledge of the treatments themselves.
Today in class (12/10/2018) we will crowdsource individual team ideas, with the goal of developing a comprehensive treatment plan that students can choose to further develop. Our modo: If Jack can do it, so we can we!
Click here for view only access to today's document that contains team idea summaries and a space for our collaborative solution (in progress).
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!
"Cognitive Load Theory works on the assumption that the students are fully engaged and fully motivated...Cognitive Load Theory has nothing to say about students staring out the windows and not listening...When I say CLT has nothing to say about, I'm not saying its unimportant. It's just not part of theory."
Click here or on the image below to view the entire video:
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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: