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 :)
*Note: The below lesson is only an outline meant to encourage deeper thinking about the 5E cycle.
NGSS: HS-LS2-3: Construct and revise an explanation based on evidence for the cycling of matter and flow of energy in aerobic and anaerobic conditions.
Display the below image and ask the question: What are you curious about?
Desired student questions include, but are not limited to, the below:
*Purpose: To surface content related questions without explicitly asking students.
Teach how to leverage Arduino Uno to create their own Pulse Oximeter. Click here for instructions and materials. Once complete challenge students to design and conduct an experiment to determine the impact that various types of exercises and activities (breathing through a straw, etc.) have on pulse and oxygen saturation. Students will then hypothesize the relationship between pulse, oxygen saturation and energy use. Experiment must be conducted using appropriate research design methodology. (Control, independent, dependent variables outlined clearly)
*Purpose: To challenge students to think deeper about energy during exercise and strain, as well as revisit research methodology and promote crosscutting NGSS integration such as engineering, etc. into the lesson. By not addressing "Blood Doping" directly, students are left wondering the relationship between the "Engage" and "Explore" phase further intensifying their curiosity and desire for more content.
Conduct a lesson on Cellular Respiration, clearly outlining and diagraming the process of Glycolysis, Krebs cycle, and defining organelles such as the cytosol and the mitochondria. Once complete, ask the driving question: How does the processes outlined relate to "Blood Doping". After students share their responses, play the video below:
*Purpose: To deliver basic content (diagrams, processes, vocabulary) to help students make a deeper connection between the "Engage" and "Explore" phases.
Pose the below medical case study to students and challenge them to:
A, 23-year-old, 5’ 9”, 105 lb, caucasian female presented in her physician’s office with a sudden onset of weight loss along, pain when urinating, and chronic extreme hunger. The patient also reported a strange mold-like substance forming in her toilet over the past week.
*Purpose: To facilitate connection between information obtained during the "Explain" phase and applications of content in the "real world" (note: I hate the term "real world" but application can extend beyond medical diagnostics, etc.).
This is the third year that I am teaching a course titled "Introduction to Robotics" as part of our regular curriculum at Sonoma Academy. Click here to access our class website.
The goal of the first few weeks is to answer the question "What is Robotics?" Merriam-Webster defines a "Robot" as...
...a machine that resembles a living creature in being capable of moving independently (as by walking or rolling on wheels) and performing complex actions (such as grasping and moving objects).
I have always struggled to help students derive there own definition of what a "Robot" is using standard curricular materials.
The "...moving independently" portion of the definition is not a problem initially, as most systems (Lego Mindstorm, VEX EDR, etc.) feature the ability to autonomously program the robot to perform complex tasks. Not a problem.
However, when relating a definition of the structure of robotic competitions such as those seen in FRC, and VEX I have always struggled.
Each of these competitions features a "telops" phase, where a driver is remote controlling the robot to perform a series of tasks in addition to an "auton" phase, where the robot performs the tasks individually.
Logically explaining to students that remote controlling a system is a branch of robotics is difficult.
If a human is in control, is the machine still performing a series of complex tasks?
How do we rationalize the inclusion of a human controller into the field of Robotics?
This year, I decided to tackle the conceptually challenging topic of rationalizing the role of the "telops" in robotics. Here is what I did for the first two weeks:
Student responses were fascinating. All students understood that in the Arduino Uno controlled autonomous robot, the program written living on the microprocessor provided commands directly to the motor controllers, guiding the robots movements.
The remote controlled robot "program" surfaced different, incredibly intriguing responses such as:
God programmed us to send a signal to the receiver to control the robot.
Evolution programed us to send a signal to the receiver to control the robot.
Education programmed us to send a signal to the receiver to control the robot.
Amazing questions also emerged:
Is it possible to program the Arduino to fight more efficiently than the remote controlled robot?
What happens when the intelligence of the Arduino Uno matches that provide by God, Evolution, etc.?
Is this related to the Technological Singularity? AI?
Although this unit laster longer than I would have liked, the physical motion of removing the transmitter-receiver system, and replacing it with a preprogrammed microprocessor opened up incredible discussion about what it means to be "...moving independently".
I freaking love teaching.
I teach at a school with semester long classes. I love it so much. Yes, the pace can be fast, but the ability to completely reinvent yourself as a teacher every semester, rather than each year is legit.
Literally, I have grown more in the past 3 years as a teacher at my current school than I did in 15 at my previous site. There is something so powerful about embodying the energy of course creation during the winter AND during the summer.
And...as you would expect. Creating new systems each semester (I tend to enjoy the painful process of rebuilding curriculum each year), involves creating a new syllabus.
In preparation for creating my syllabus for my Honors Chemistry course this semester, I read this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education called "How to Create a Syllabus".
The article sent me down a spiral of more articles, videos, and blogs about syllabus creation.
The more I read, the MORE DEEPLY INSECURE I FELT about my own syllabus process. I have always been a total minimalist when it comes to creating syllabus.
Or am I just too lazy to build an complete one?
Either way, here is my Honors Chemistry syllabus for the current semester. Description...Topics...Grades...done and done. I have always prided myself on getting that info on one page! Something simple about the basics...or lazy?
Anyhow, it has always felt good.
Then I read the above article. I mean...man. Am I really supposed to include all of that stuff? I guess so. So the reflection and self critique began. Enter The Imposter...
In other, less self deprecating news, the syllabus research hole I was falling into quickly forced reflection on something deeper, and more meta that simply the content of the syllabus: what the syllabus communicates beyond words. The culture that it embodies.
For me, clarity, simplicity, and my grad school days of obsessing over limiting the extraneous cognitive load of written materials for students, all contribute to my syllabus structure.
I am not lazy. I value brevity, and yes...I have found myself in tricky situations with parents, students, and even counselors over my lack of behavior policy, etc., on my syllabi.
Then I stumbled upon this copy of a syllabus from a Literature course taught by one of my academic heroes, the late David Foster Wallace.
A genius by every account, the above syllabus might be one of the best pieces of writing I have ever seen. On first glance, it couldn't look more different than mine.
Not one, but five pages long, Wallace accounts his pedagogical structure and course expectations in excruciating detail.
Despite the length...when you look closer, Wallace's candor, and honest comments do not create larger sense of structure and clarity around expectations, but rather, paint a picture of the teacher you will and the course.
Serve as a metaphor for what you will experience, rather than how that experience will be measured or quantified.
Highlights from my reading of Wallace's syllabus include the following excerpts:
"The final'll be essay questions, probably."
"No question about literature is stupid."
"Don let any potential light weightish-looking qualities of the text delude you into thinking that this will be a blow-off-type class."
"Don't quote like 40 lines a time."
I encourage you to read the whole thing. Read it again. Then read it a third time. It's beautiful, and at its core, reminds me that teaching is indeed, art. Creation.
My entire class is based on streamlining systems for students, to maximize content acquisition in the context of inquiry. To leave space for thinking in simple, open, structured ways. My syllabus embodies this.
Wallace does the same. He does not leave you with just course rules and expectations. Wallace, reserves the right to change those when he says:
"Instructor reserves right to make changes and additions."
Wallace uses simple language to tell a complex story about his pedagogy...not about his rules and regulations.
I don't say anything in my syllabus.
Wallace says everything. .
Both tell a story.
Yes, in the end, my syllabus is too short. By reflecting on WHY it always is, and why I can't get myself to follow what the "rules" require, has been a deeply powerful exercise in reflective practice.
The casual nature of Wallace's voice, combined with a dry sense of humor and insight reflect who he is as an author and I'm sure, and educator.
I want to learn to take more risks with my syllabus writing.
I want to say the right things, the right way, and leave the right things out.
Wallace reminds us that writing...great writing....is about withholding information, and building connections. In that order.
"Great writers, comedians, and magicians share a lot in common. Both depend on a certain quantity of vital information withheld, but evoked in such a way as to cause an explosion of associated connections within the recipient"
As a science teacher, I often get the following statement when working with other educators: "Sparking student interest in the Sciences is just easier. You get to show cool demonstrations and stuff...".
Yes, this is very true. It can be easier.
BUT, I recently had an incredible conversation with a Humanities teacher at my school, and she shared some incredible great resources for leveraging data visualization a method for sparking student curiosity in the humanities.
If you are not familiar with data visualization, check out this talk.
By finding a visualization, downloading it, removing specific information (titles, legends, keys, etc.) and displaying it to students, questions emerge.
For example, this visualization of drought patters over the course of the past 100 years in America can be a powerful spark to build student interest in the Dust Bowl.
Show students the image, say: "What are your curious about?".
Questions will emerge that will vary but ultimately, because of the nature of the visualization, students will not only ask "What does the orange region represent?", they will also notice that similarities exist between the the 1940s and parts of the 2000s.
Questions will emerge related to differences in farming practices, the economy, polities, etc.
Suddenly a conversation related to the core causes of the Dust Bowl emerges without even discussing the Dust Bowl directly.
THEN, the next day (or for homework) show Ken Burn's documentary on the Dust Bowl. Delay the instruction. Delay the mentor! It's how the Hero's Journey operates.
Below are some excellent Data Visualization Resources: