I love teaching with manipulatives.
Whether it be scotch tape, thumbtacks, bubbles, hula hoops, balloons, cardboard, or magnets, physical objects can assist greatly in making that which cannot see, tangible.
In chemistry class specifically, one of the most difficult concepts for students to grasp is the concept of Ionization Energy.
Understood as the minimum amount of energy required to remove an electron, conceptually understanding the pull that an atom's positively charged nucleus has on the surrounding electrons is an important foundation for understanding a myriad of other concepts in chemistry.
Given that a solid understanding of Ionization Energy requires an ability to visually abstract what is happening at the atomic level, it is of no surprise that students struggle with this concept.
Below is a video of great manipulative I have been using to help students better understand Ionization Energy.
By using one magnet as the positively charged "nucleus", another magnet, wrapped in tape and attached to a rubber band as an electron, and cardboard as various energy levels "shielding" the outer electrons from the nucleus, students can easily model the strength of nuclear pull qualitatively (how "hard" it is to remove) and quantitatively (how "far" you can pull the rubber band).
Additionally, by adding cardboard layers (energy levels), the relationship between the distance an electron is from the nucleus and the associated Ionization Energy is easily modeled. Click here (scroll to #14) for an example of how I structured this manipulative in the form of a lesson in my chemistry class this year.
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 tend to miss class from time to time. I hate missing class. I love nothing more than being with my 9th grade Biology students and 10th grade Honors Chemistry students helping them to negotiate the complexities, and beautiful intricacies of science. Teaching is my hobby.
Unfortunately, missing class is a reality when trying to juggle being a parent of four young children (two being 3 year-old twin boys), managing a career as an educational consultant, and working online an adjunct profession of education, all while trying to maintain my role as a full-time high school teacher.
I am committed to this. I am sure many of you reading this can empathize. It's just what I'm dong. I'm blessed.
However, missing class means creating sub lesson plans.
I HATE creating sub plans.
I have experimented with many different models: guided reading notes, instructional videos, etc. etc., etc. I want the sub lesson to be meaningful, and not just a lesson that all to often becomes a "study hall".
Unfortunately, none of the above methods seemed to lead to anything other than the typical responses. : "Can we have a study hall?", or "Can we watch a movie?", or "I didn't know we were supposed to do it?".
Totally normal, and totally age appropriate. No matter how much I LOVED my teachers in high school, there was always something novel, something surprising, and something fun about having a sub. I get it.
That being said: How can I improve the process? Provide meaning while not being there?
These are simple questions that I'm sure many of you have answers to already, however for me, it has been a significant part of my journey as an educator.
A tangible, grass roots problem that full-time teachers often overlook. How can I be better?
Out of frustration, I sat down a few years ago and wrote down exactly what I wanted a sub lesson to accomplish:
Given that we are a one-to-one school, over the past year there is a method I KEEP COMING BACK to.
A method that ALWAYS seems to work, and checks off each of the boxes above:
Embedding short videos IN a google form with associated summary prompts.
Here's my workflow:
Here's my logic:
Click here for an example of my most recent Google Form sub lesson.
See screenshots of my most recent Google Form sub lesson below:
Yes. I am obsessed with the craft of teaching. I think about it constantly. Thus, in addition to the incredible time with family ands friends that the Thanksgiving holiday offers (mixed in with writing college letters of recommendation), I found myself using the time to revisit list of "potential ideas" I gather throughout the semester.
Things I see online, in conversation, at conferences, spying on other teachers, etc., etc., etc. Things that I want to integrate into my practice, daydream about leveraging, or need to improve upon. In an L-tryptophan haze, I spent the Friday after Thanksgiving digging through my lists, and curating 10 new ideas I want to integrate into my practice:
Recently I stumbled upon a series of videos called "5 Levels of Difficulty". In each video an expert explains a difficult concept in 5 levels of increasing complexity:
I was inspired by this video series for a few reasons. First, it reminded me how explaining a difficult concept to a novice and expert audience simultaneously requires deep conceptual knowledge and how listening to such an explanation helps to build simultaneous conceptual and mechanical knowledge of a concept. Second, it motivated me to reimagine how I assess my students.
Keeping the above in mind, for our unit on Cellular Respiration in my freshman Biology course, rather than assign a traditional topic exam, I decide to create a variation of the 5 Levels of of Difficulty videos shown above that will serve as the assessment for this topic. In short, students will create similar videos explaining Cellular Respiration at 3 rather than 5 levels of difficulty.
I have embedded a document below that explains the intricacies of the assignment. Click here to view the spreadsheet where student "3 Levels of Difficulty" scripts and videos will be collected.