1. Use a Learning Cycle Template. (click here for an example)
Lesson planning can be an empowering, but also arduous process. New teachers often fall into the trap (as did I) of lesson planning day by day, often losing site of the lesson's big picture. In my recent book, Spark Learning: 3 Keys to Empowering the Power of Student Curiosity, I note the serendipitous connection between the 5E Inquiry Learning Cycle, and then traditional cycle of the Hero's Journey as outlined by Joseph Campbell. The above template, designed with the 5E/Hero's Journey connection in mind, can help streamline and empower the lesson design process by providing a more holistic approach, empowering us to lesson plan in chunks, with a focus on student curiosity, and leveraging lecture as a responsive, rather than directive tool. The template also provides a structured space to outline necessary tech interventions at each step, promoting pedagogy, before technology.
2. Leverage a Google Slide Template to Collect Student Work (click here for an example).
As a science teacher, collecting, curating and grading student work during and after various class activities (labs, projects, etc.) can be a complicated process. Over the years I have tinkered with using paper notebooks, type written lab reports and a myriad of tech interventions to empower this process (Evernote, Google Docs, Google Science Journal, etc) . Each method has had its benefits and drawbacks, ultimately simplifying some steps in the process, but overcomplicating others for students. Although not as aesthetically appealing or as "innovative" on first glance, Google Slides allows for easy text editing, photo inclusion, table production, and video embedding, four features that are essential to student documentation of work. Moreover, upon conclusion of the year, students can then embed each presentation in a Google Site, creating a very simple, self-curated portfolio of work.
3. Teach from a Website (click here for an "in progress" example).
Much like the the collection of student work noted above, many different options for structuring how the information is presented to students in class exists. I have tinkered with teaching from slide decks (PowerPoint, Keynote, Google Slides, etc.), printing handouts (my least favorite), and the every popular, "just winging it", method that I embraced for my entire first year of teaching. As is evident from this blog post, I value simplifying the process for myself and students. Keeping this mind, I have transitioned to a system where unit plans are transported from my template (see #1 above), to a website. By using a website for class "presentation", teaching can be done using any device with internet access, and in a one-to-one environment Google Documents can be linked with various tasks and information, but sharing permissions can be altered to promote the gradual release of content that inquiry learning values.
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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.
Unlike teaching chemistry where I can quickly leverage a myriad of different demonstrations and video clips to generate student inquiry around a topic of study, I find it difficult to do the same thing in my Biology classes. Last year I decided to take a different approach to 9th grade Biology class and leverage my family background in medicine (I come from a family of Doctors, Nurses and Pharmacists) and emphasize medicine, physiology and disease as a way to frame certain topics and build curiosity.
To do this, I strategically wrote various case studies about hypothetical patients presenting specific disease symptoms and challenged my students in groups to diagnose the patients. To my surprise, this activity was extremely well-received, and from my perspective, was just as successful at opening up a window into exploring a specific topics in Biology as a perplexing demonstration or video clip would be in my chemistry class.
For example, if we were embarking on a unit of study about metabolism, I would begin with a case study about a patient with Type II Diabetes. Or when we began a unit on genetics, I presented a case study about an individual with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome. While students researched the symptoms on sites such as WebMD and the MayoClinic, they would stumble upon literature, vocabulary and processes that were, unknowing to them, deeply connected to the subject we would begin investigating in the following days. Below are links to a few case studies completed by students last spring.
Strategically leveraging clips from movies that show various phenomena (accurate or not) can be a powerful way to spark student questioning. Whether it be challenging them to point out a specific mistake that the clip embodies, or proving the accuracy of the clip, movie clips, specifically in the sciences, provide a great opportunity for engaging students. Downloading and trimming the clips locally, or using tools like Vibby or TubeChop to present portions of the clips to students online are both strategies I use often. Below are my 15 favorite clips to use as science curiosity sparks (note: most of the clips are chemistry related given that is the primary subject I teach. Apologies). All clips are taken from YouTube.
One of the most powerful ways to spark Involuntary Curiosity in students is to strategically trim a video clip to either remove content or present an unresolved representation of the content. Both of these techniques leave students with questions as to what information was missing, or what the final result will be.
Because internet speed and access to YouTube varies in schools, downloading the desired clip from YouTube, then strategically trimming the video to be played locally is a powerful technique. I often have a trimmed clip playing on repeat loop in Quicktime as students enter the room in an attempt to grab their attention and spark their curiosity immediately.
Below is a short video outlining how I download and trim video for curiosity using technology I use savefrom.net & Quicktime. In this video I am downloading a clip from the movie Fight Club in an attempt to spark student questioning around Acid-Base Chemistry.