Smartphones, Inquiry, and Falconry: The Role of Technology in Supporting Science Education

(Note: This post is an approximation of the welcome speech I gave as part of the Supporting Science Inquiry With Technology Conference, a partnership between Learning Forward VA, VASCD, VAST, VSTE, and VSUP offered in Albemarle County, Virginia on July 24, 2014. Check out the accompanying presentation created with Haiku Deck.)

In considering how to get the ball rolling during a conference focused on supporting science inquiry using technology, this question came to mind: What is technology’s role in science education?

Technology in science education

I recently heard a stand-up bit by a comedian named Pete Holmes about “having Google in your pocket” that encapsulates exactly where I think we as educators tend to misstep. While I recognize that I’m painting with a broad brush, I would contend that many in the educational setting have a propensity to think of technology’s role as a highway to the internet, which students can then use as a place to get answers:

To borrow from Holmes’ bit, use of technology in this way means “there’s no time for wonder or mystery…the time between knowing and not knowing is so brief that knowing feels exactly like not knowing.” I don’t know about you, but a sense of curiosity and wonder is pretty high on my list of science education’s most valuable outcomes, so I’m not too keen on letting it get trampled if I don’t have to.

So I guess it stands to reason that my personal stance is to eschew technology’s role as “the sole provider of immediate answers.” If that’s not it, than what is? In order to answer this question fully, we have to start from the other end of the conversation. Instead of considering the tools, let’s consider the purpose: what do we believe about science education and what it should cause?

Inquiry in science education

As a big proponent of inquiry as a central pillar of an ideal science education, I refer back to one of my favorite definitions of the concept, written by Dr. Randy Bell in this NSTA article about Simplifying Inquiry Instruction:

Simplifying Inquiry InstructionThere’s something about this definition that is so simple and yet so powerful that I refer back to it often when centering myself on what to look for in science education. Unpacking the definition, what does it say?

  • Learning is a process.
  • Our students need to be active learners engaged in that process.
  • Our students need to ask research questions.
  • Our students need to answer research questions.
  • Our students need to analyze data to answer those questions.

So simple, and yet so many implications.

Full disclosure: Randy Bell was my advisor while attending UVA’s Curry School of Education. There’s a story about Dr. Bell that years later I recognize as having a huge impact on me as an educator, and it also also seems to apply to this conversation about the role of technology in science education.

Randy Bell (photo: “Curry Professor Helps Charlottesville Teachers Hone Science Skills,” Curry School of Education)

While Dr. Bell had comprehensive experience in working in all of the sciences from an educational perspective, he tended toward a “critter-focused” lens when it came to his passions. He would always point out a variety of facets of life science around us, especially when it came to hawks.

On each of the trips that our cohort group would take across the state for conferences and field studies, he would point out every one of the animals that was flying these central Virginia skies. “Look- a red-tailed hawk!” he would point and exclaim, as we chuckled and shrugged in reply. As I was a physics education major, “critters” were not exactly one of my passions, so it was only years later that I began to appreciate what I learned as a result of his interest.

You see, Dr. Bell had a pet hawk, and I always thought that was pretty strange.

I found out that Dr. Bell was a card-carrying falconer, which meant (or so I thought) that he kept hawks that he captured as “pets” at his house. While it helped me to understand his recognition of the red-tailed hawks as they soared above our heads, knowing this about Dr. Bell also made me think he was taking the whole “science guy” identity to an unnecessary new level. At its root, I guess I just thought that a hawk was one strange pet to keep.

Upwards of a decade later, I got the chance to have a longer conversation with Dr. Bell about the concept of being a falconer. I found out that in his mind, the role wasn’t really about keeping the animal as a pet, nor was it just about having an interesting “science guy” hobby. Being a falconer for him was more about serving as a trusting partner with the hawks in order to meet their life needs and ultimately help them survive.

Falconry as a metaphor for education

Many falconers, he explained, capture younger birds of prey in the late summer / early fall who have not yet fully developed their hunting skills. During the colder winter months, the falconer keeps the bird safe from the elements, while also helping it develop these important life skills. When falconers take these birds out into the wild, they’re not just doing it to have a good time- they are bringing the birds out in order to rustle up prey that the bird can eat. Ultimately, it is a partnership between the young bird and the falconer.

During trips into the wild, the falconer’s job is to find places where “food” for these birds might be living: small rodents, amphibians, insects, things like that. By rustling around in piles of leaves and brush, the falconer “flushes out the game” by moving some of the ground cover that might be obscuring these small animals. Once the would-be prey emerges from its hiding spot, the hawk spots it, catches it, and eats it.

Randy Bell with an American Kestrel, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia, January 20, 2006 (from http://george.loper.org/trends/2006/Jan/961.html)

Over the course of their partnership, the falconer and falcon repeat these trips together, helping the bird develop both its strength and its hunting skills. As the bird builds its capacity for self-sufficiency, it then learns to live independent of the falconer, and eventually flies back out into the wild. Ultimately, without the falconer’s assistance, the hawk may not have survived the winter. In fact, research shows that up to 60% of juvenile raptors do not make it through their first winter.

Once I finally understood the role of the falconer, Dr. Bell’s interest in the animal finally made sense to me. It wasn’t being a “science guy” that made him into a falconer- it was being an educator.

This image of the falconer flushing out game for the hawk learning to fly reminds me of the role of the teacher in science education, with one key exception. It’s not game we as science educators are flushing out: it’s understanding.

Our job is to try to identify what it is that obscures understanding for our learners. With our questions, we poke and prod at the barriers and obstacles that cover up students’ understanding until one of those questions is able to force the “would-be prey” out from its hiding place. Consequently, the developing learner can now see the understanding, which allows them to catch it and swallow it whole.

Over the course of a relationship together with a trusted educator, the student starts to learn how to uncover that understanding for themselves. In their metaphorical spring, they fly away, now skilled enough and strong enough to hunt for understanding on their own.

Now that I have recognized this approach to teaching and learning, I can’t help but see that it surrounds me. It’s central to the tutorial process within the AVID system for learning, within which I have found myself as a tutor trainer and district supporter. It’s central to the process of instructional coaching, within which I have found myself as a model designer and “coach of coaches”. And as it relates to this context, it’s central to inquiry-based learning in science instruction, within which I have found myself as a “lead learner” and district team facilitator. When I think about the metaphor through that lens, it looks to me as if Dr. Bell has been a falconer in many more ways than just that literal card-carrying sense.

Technology in science education…redux

So how does this story help to answer the original question: What is technology’s role in science education?

If science education is, at its heart, an active learning process where students answer research questions through data analysis, then technology needs to serve as a tool to help in all aspects of that process. Not just access to others’ discoveries, but also to tools that help us make new discoveries. Not just in the providence of answers, but also in development of wonder. Technology needs to help our students to ask better questions. Technology needs to help our students plan and conduct investigations. Technology needs to help our students evaluate and communicate information. And of course, technology needs to help our students construct explanations.

To borrow the falconry metaphor, these tools need to help our students become better hunters, and not just do all of the hunting for them. Using the tools to circumvent the learning process means that those students may not be equipped to survive those metaphorical winter months on their own.

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Flip On the Tube! 5 Made-for-TV Video Sites for Science Instruction

This is the third in a series of blog posts, collecting links to websites that contain some interesting videos for teachers looking to “flip their classroom” without starting from scratch.  (For more on what it means to flip a classroom, see Monday’s introductory post.)  For each site below, I have tried to summarize by including information about

  • content areas collected on the site,
  • the intended grade level/age of viewers, and
  • the type/style of video (e.g. lecture with written notes, music video, made-for-TV)

There should also be an example video posted along each title.  Between the description, the links, and sample video, you should end up with a pretty good idea of what you’re getting into.  (Note: after being organized into categories, these sites are listed alphabetically by title, not based on any evaluation of relative quality.) 

Made-for-TV Videos

Mythbusters http://dsc.discovery.com/videos/mythbusters/

Content Areas: Scientific process skills and engineering around a variety of topics

Intended Age Group: Most clips would be all right for ages 8+, though be sure to screen topics accordingly

Style of videos: Problem-focused vignette as two (or more) people try to design a solution

Sample video: Dimpled Car MiniMyth

 

Description: Mythbusters Jamie & Adam are at it again!  As most know, these two (and their newly-formed team) challenge widely-held beliefs of all shapes and sizes, using science to debunk myth.  Discovery.com has collected over 1,000 clips from the show on their website.  The clips- ranging from 60 seconds to 5 minutes- could serve a great purpose as a focusing tool, or as a model for engineering, problem-solving, or investigation.  The downside: the clips on this site are not really organized in any way.  To find something of value to you in your classroom, be ready to do some searching and some bookmarking.

NBC Learn http://www.nbclearn.com/

Content Areas: Physics (Science of NFL Football, Science of the WInter Olmpics), Chemistry (Chemistry Now!), and Earth Science (The Changing Planet)

Intended Age Group: I’ve used these resources with students as young as 3rd grade, as old as 12th.  

Style of videos: What you might expect in a feature story on the news- interviews, stock footage, telestrated explanations over video.

Sample video: The Chemistry of Chocolate

Description: The team at NBC News got collected, produced, and archived these resources for the K-12 classroom.  The subject matter of each collection puts the content into a context that matters to kids.  (My pesonal favorite: Science of the Winter Olympics!)  A select few videos (about 100 altogether) are free for use in classrooms, while the rest of the collection require a subscription.

One interesting tidbit: NBC Learn uses a media player called a Cue Card™ that supports various media besides video.  It is also “flippable”:  like a flash card, the media player provides bibliographic information, clickable keywords and a citation generator on the back, and a full transcript along the side.

SportScience http://search.espn.go.com/sports-science/videos/6

Content Areas: Mostly physics, though several touch on biology- or chemistry-related topics

Intended Age Group: Like NBC Learn, I have used these with all ages of student.

Style of videos: TV scientists pose a question, and measure data from athletes’ performance in order to answer the question

Sample video: Jayron Hosley – Reaction Time and Speed

Description: John Brenkus and the SportScience team mix Mythbusters with SportsCenter to bring SportScience, a show that digs into the science behind the world of sports.  In most situations, the clips consist of Brenkus posing a question about an athlete: “How does Rory McElroy drive the ball so far off the tee?”  “How fast is Jayron Hosley?”  “Can Chicago Bear Devin Heser outrun a real bear?”  The team then goes into data collection mode, strapping high-tech probes and tracking equipment to the athlete in order to study his/her movements.  The data is then analyzed in order to try and answer the initial question.

ESPN has collected about 100 3 to 5 minute clips on their website.  Unfortunately, like the Mythbusters site, the organizational structure of this site leaves a bit to be desired- teachers will need to be ready to spend a little time digging here to find just the content they need.  (Be sure to bookmark it in some way once you find it!)

Time Warphttp://dsc.discovery.com/tv/time-warp/time-warp.html

Content Areas: Bit of a mixed bag, though there is a lot of physics.

Intended Age Group: Generally for older viewers, though I think everyone could be easily awed by the super high-speed camera.  Given that explosions and fire are often a topic of conversation, be wary of the clip in its totality before assigning it.

Style of videos: Hosts Jeff Lieberman and Matt Kearney pose questions, and then film subjects with a super high-speed camera in order to see events in super slow motion (which hopefully helps to answer the question at hand).

Sample video:  Nucleation in a Soda Geyser

Description: Like SportScience, Time Warp digs into the science behind that which happens too quickly for our eyes to see.  Through the use of a high-speed camera, the hosts are able to capture many more frames per second than your average video camera, allowing us to receive much more information about what really happens in the blink of an eye!  The site has two different video sets.  One set of 20 videos from HowStuffWorks.com goes into more of an explanation for phenomena like bubbles, rockets, and fire walking.  The other is a collection of interactive videos where the user controls the speed and direction of the playback- perhaps to answer a question of his or her own!  While these vids may not be of enough substance to fly as flipped videos on their own, the interactive videos might cool enough of a resource to be used in the classroom during application time.

Twig Science http://twig-it.com/

Content Areas: Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science, and Physics

Intended Age Group: These have different videos for all ages of students.

Style of videos: Most I have seen are documentary-style, with a single speaker scripted over archived footage from the BBC, NASA, etc.

Sample video: How Hot is the Earth’s Core?

Description: Twig Science is a company based out of the UK advertised as providing “outstanding short films on science…made with teachers, for teachers.”  They are not lying.  The videos I have seen are short (usually no more than 3 minutes or so), and outstanding in quality and clarity.  As described about BrainPop in yesterday’s post, Twig Science also offers several supplementary resources that could be used in conjunction with these videos, including sample lesson plans, checks for understandings, The organizational mindmap is an impressive feature, as well.  Also like BrainPop, Twig Science is a paid site.  The free videos give a taste of what’s inside (including a nice categorization between “Core Concept” videos and “Extension” videos), but to get full access, there’s a fee involved.

 

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If you know of any other resources that fit this description, please share them in the comments boxes.  Happy flipping!

Still Ready to Flip? 4 Lecture-Style Video Sites for Science Instruction

This is the next in a series of blog posts, collecting links to websites that contain some interesting videos for teachers looking to “flip their classroom” without starting from scratch.  (For more on what it means to flip a classroom, see Monday’s introductory post.)  For each site below, I have tried to summarize by including information about

  • content areas collected on the site,
  • the intended grade level/age of viewers, and
  • the type/style of video (e.g. lecture with written notes, music video, made-for-TV)

There should also be an example video posted along each title.  Between the description, the links, and sample video, you should end up with a pretty good idea of what you’re getting into.  (Note: after being organized into categories, these sites are listed alphabetically by title, not based on any evaluation of relative quality.)

Lecture-Style Videos

Hippocampus http://www.hippocampus.org/

Content Areas: Biology, Environmental Science, and Physics, as well as several other disciplines

Intended Age Group: These videos seem to align to high school textbooks, though most students of any age could probably follow along.

Style of videos: Predominantly one speaker over animated slides of information

Sample video: NOAA: Plate Tectonics

Description: As described in the last post, Hippocampus is a project dedicated to providing multimedia content on general education without charge.  I included it both here and in the Animated Video Explanation sections, since most of its videos are still lecture-based.  All in all, still a pretty solid ‘first stop’ on the road to finding the right content for a flipped classroom concept.  Don’t forget about the ‘new look’ webiste, still in beta version as of August 30, 2011.

Khan Academy http://www.khanacademy.org/

Content Areas: Earth, Life & Physical are all represented, as well as anything else they can find a speaker to talk about.

Intended Age Group: While focused on high school and college content, the language is such that most anyone interested could understand, regardless of age.

Style of videos: Lecture-style over an individual drawing in real time.

Sample video: Photosynthesis- The Calvin Cycle


Description: Like it or hate it, Khan Academy is a force when it comes to flipped classroom resources.  Sal Khan has collected seemingly thousands of lecture-style videos on his website, and made them free for the masses.  Most are anywhere between 10 and 20 minutes in length, using relatively straightforward explanations for interested parties to “sit and get” the requisite content.  In many ways, this resource is an audio textbook with a written video complement.  While it’s personally not my style, I wouldn’t hate on anyone using it.  After all, what is it that Ben Franklin once said…?

MIT OpenCourseWare http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm

Content Areas: Much of MIT’s undergrad course materials is available here on the web, though not all courses have audio/video available.

Intended Age Group: These were generated for the use of college students, though I am sure they would be applicable to certain high school science courses.

Style of videos: Most I have seen are lecture-style videos of a professor engaging in demonstrations, explanations and derivations in front of a group of students.

Sample video: Work, Energy and Universal Gravitation (fast-forward to 45:40 for the start of the famous conservation of energy demo involving a 15-kg wrecking ball, and 48:10 for the actual drop)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Description: MIT has released video lectures and other course content for free via OpenCourseWares.  This means exactly what it sounds like it means: you and your students have access to a plethora of lectures by a variety of renown science professors at one of the most prestigious technical colleges in the whole world.  You can download them from iTunes U, watch them on YouTube, or view them at the website listed above.  The downside: finding the content to which you wish to direct students can be a chore, like finding a needle in the proverbial haystack.  Given that most of the lectures are 40+ minutes long (likely longer than you would hope students to watch on their own), you will have to be ready to scan through the vids to find exactly the content you wish for students to see, and then bookmark it in some way for future use.  (Pretty cool having Prof. Lewin in your living room though, right?)

Twig Science http://twig-it.com/

Content Areas: Biology, Chemistry, Earth Science, and Physics

Intended Age Group: These have different videos for all age students.

Style of videos: Most I have seen are documentary-style, with a single speaker scripted over archived footage from the BBC, NASA, etc.

Sample video: How Hot is the Earth’s Core?

Description: Twig Science is a company based out of the UK advertised as providing “outstanding short films on science…made with teachers, for teachers.”  They are not lying.  The videos I have seen are short (usually no more than 3 minutes or so), and outstanding in quality and clarity.  As described about BrainPop in yesterday’s post, Twig Science also offers several supplementary resources that could be used in conjunction with these videos, including sample lesson plans, checks for understandings, The organizational mindmap is an impressive feature, as well.  Also like BrainPop, Twig Science is a paid site.  The free videos give a taste of what’s inside (including a nice categorization between “Core Concept” videos and “Extension” videos), but to get full access, there’s a fee involved.

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If you know of other sites that would fit this criteria, please share them in the comments section below.  Happy flipping!

Ready to Flip? 3 Animated Video Sites for Science Instruction

Recent posts, tweets & articles have anointed “reverse instruction” and flipped classrooms as the wave of today’s future.  (See The Flipped Classroom Network for a short video description, and Dan Pink’s article on Karl Fisch‘s reverse instruction techniques for more examples of this type of instruction.  Or just Google ‘flipped classroom’.)  Teachers across the world are turning their instruction upside-down, delivering knowledge-focused content that would normally comprise class time as video homework instead.  Generally (though not always) lecture-driven, these videos open up opportunities to bring the application of content knowledge into the classroom, skills that had previously been saved for “drill & kill” homework.  It’s an interesting concept- one that I expect would appeal to those looking for ways to get more authentic learning opportunities through the classroom door, or others trying to shed the label of “sage on the stage” in favor of becoming the “guide on the side”.

Of course, in order to offer “take-home” exposure to content, one must have access to quality videos about the topics at hand.  As with anything else, you can either make them or find them elsewhere (or some combination of the two).  

Hence this series of blog posts, a collection of links to websites containing some interesting videos of all styles and subjects, any of which could potentially fit a teacher’s “flipping” needs.  Over the next week, I’ll publish posts where I have sorted video sites into one of four categories: Animated Video ExplanationsLecture-Style VideosMade-for-TV Videos, and YouTube DIY-Style Videos. For each site, I have tried to summarize by including information about

  • content areas collected on the site,
  • the intended grade level/age of viewers, and
  • the type/style of video (e.g. lecture with written notes, music video, made-for-TV)

There should also be an example video posted along each title.  Between the description, the links, and sample video, you should end up with a pretty good idea of what you’re getting into.  (Note: after being organized into categories, these sites are listed alphabetically by title, not based on any evaluation of relative quality.)

Animated Video Explanations

Brain Pop http://www.brainpop.com/

Content Areas: Earth, Life & Physical are all represented, as is Engineering (and several other disciplines, too)

Intended Age Group: In the site’s Standards Search, there are related videos and activities PK-12.

Style of videos: Animated cartoon characters responding to e-mail questions

Sample video: http://www.brainpop.com/science/energy/windenergy/ 

Description: These videos are usually between 3-5 minutes in length (something common among most of the more effective sites), making the point clearly and concisely.  Following each video, students have the option of completing an activity, taking a online quiz, or going into the FAQs to learn more.  The stories in the videos themselves bring some context upon which students could build within class time.  There’s also a nice little Educator’s Corner with some resources (including those for the IWB) that might be of interest.  One downside: This is a paid site.  While there are several “freebies” available on the site, those only help you out if they apply to your curriculum.

CommonCraft http://www.commoncraft.com

Content Areas: Organized into 4 categories: “Green”, “Money”, “Society”, and “Technology”.

Intended Age Group: Generally a site intended for adult learning, though I’ll bet kids grade 3 and up could follow just fine, depending on purpose.

Style of videos: Narration over cut-out images and hand gestures that visually represent the narrative text

Sample video: CFL Light Bulbs in plain English

Description: These videos are intended as “plain English” explanations of normally complicated Web 2.0 buzzwords: RSS, Cloud Computing, Blogs, and Social Media in the Workplace are but a few of the topics addressed by the site.  This is the first place I go when looking for ways to explain technically complex IT topics.  Fear not, those looking for non-tech content: the folks at CommonCraft have also created a couple of explanations around more people-centered topics such as Electing a US President and CFL Light Bulbs.  If nothing else, it’s worth looking at this style of video to give you some ideas of ways to present content to your own students.  And if you’re looking for a little laugh, check out Zombies in plain English.  “Remember, zombies don’t eat candy.  Only brains!”

P.S. Commoncraft also has a YouTube channel.

Hippocampus http://www.hippocampus.org/

Content Areas: Biology, Environmental Science, and Physics, as well as several other disciplines

Intended Age Group: These videos seem to align to high school textbooks, though most students of any age could probably follow along.

Style of videos: Predominantly one speaker over animated slides of information

Sample video: Water & Life: An Overview

Description: HippoCampus is a project of the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education (MITE). According to the website, “the goal of HippoCampus is to provide high-quality, multimedia content on general education subjects to high school and college students free of charge.”  All in all, this is a pretty solid ‘first stop’ on the road to finding the right content for a flipped classroom concept.  While other paid websites may house more ‘engaging’ presentations than some of those available here, this site is so dense and full of great info that it would be a shame to pass it by.  Hippocampus is also in development of a new look for their site to serve more as a curator of free online digital content– as it fills out, the site would be another great place to kick-start ideas for your classroom.

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If you know of other sites that would fit this criteria, please share them in the comments section below.  Happy flipping!

Rising above the mess of RSS

(Note: I read about this method of organization on a blog someone tweeted out several months ago, and have only recently begun to try it out.  If this story sounds familiar to anyone reading, and you have a source site where you read about it before, please share it in the comments, as I truly want to give credit where credit is due.  Thanks!)

A few months ago, I started using RSS feeds (aggregated through Google Reader) to subscribe to blogs and news feeds that I want to know about on a frequent basis.  Prior to that time, I relied on my twitter PLN to tweet out interesting posts (which I still do, though it has its limitations).  That method of relying on tweets left a lot to chance- if I happened to catch the right spot in the stream, I received all sorts of ‘goodies.’  At this point in time, however, as one colleague put it the other day, “I need information to seek out and find me, not the other way around.”  Hence the RSS subscriptions.

My path in navigating this data stream has been similar to many others, I’m sure- after finding myself reading certain blogs on a frequent basis, I would decide to subscribe via RSS.  Once I got up to a dozen sites or so, I would feel the urge to organize those subscriptions, and started by putting blogs together based on similar content (e.g. EdTech, SBAR, Leadership, Music, Sports, etc).  While it ‘cleaned up’ my reader feed, those folders ultimately did not help me to read through the mass of information- I simply found folders full of dozens of unread posts.  As the numbers of unread blogs continued to increase, I tended to put off trying to read them.  (Human psychology at its best, right?)  I needed a new way.

Thankfully, I ran across a blog post that has changed my RSS life.  The author’s advice?  Don’t organize your feeds by their content, organize them by the day of the week you will read them.

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Suddenly, I have been able to get over the information paralysis.  When I logged on to Google Reader this morning, I didn’t feel the need to read every post- only the ones in the Friday folder.  I no longer ask myself, “What am I interested in reading?” as it’s a given that I am interested in all of it.  (After all, I was the one who willfully chose to subscribe to these feeds in the first place.)  Instead, I now ask the question, “What day is it?”  This question is much easier to answer (most of the time).  So long as I am comfortable not having seen these posts at the nanosecond of their publication (which, in all honesty, is not a concern for me), I now have a method of keeping up with the posts.  What’s great is, I do still use some level of content organization on the daily feeds…now, I just happen to read them all, too!

In honor of 4/8’s #followfriday, I’ll list a few of the blogs in my “Days of the Week” folders here (along with Twitter contact info, in case you’re interested in following these brilliant folks as well).  Happy reading!

Sunday PM: Ed Leadership – Starting tomorrow’s work today

Monday: A Mix of Perspectives Around Teaching & Learning

Tuesday: Tech Tuesday!

Wednesday: Book Learnin’ & Leadin’
Thursday: From the STEM & SBAR Classroom
Friday: Instructional Coaching (Looking for more…suggestions?)
Saturday AM: The Sports Blogroll – Golf tips & Fantasy Sports info

Saturday PM: The Music Blogroll – Pitchfork Media, SPIN, & all things Radiohead

Sunday AM: A place for politics – Factcheck.org, Politifact.com, local OpEds 

If you have any suggestions of feeds to follow related to these topics, please share them in the comments sections.  Also, mad props to anyone who can share with me other places where they have seen this idea…I really want to track down the impetus for this process and give credit where it is most certainly due.

Finally, thanks to all of you teachers, authors, bloggers and tweeters mentioned above.  By making your thoughts & practice public, you help me to learn and grow as a leader, as an educator, and most importantly as a human walking his path.

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Editor’s Note @ 6:14pm: Since posting this message earlier today, I have made some great connections w/new blogs: Lyn Hilt’s The Principal’s Posts, Connected Principals, TEDucation, Engaging Educators, The Nerdy Teacher, and Full-On Learning, among others.  Thanks everyone for sharing the feeds you love to read & write!

Lesson Design using Wordle: A Pre/Post Class Assessment for Learning

I have run across many posts in the recent past explaining varied uses for Wordle in the classroom.  (See this post from the Tech Savvy Educator, and this one from Clif’s Notes for some examples that come to mind.)  While I appreciate the springboards that these many examples provide, I did notice that most posts collect many ideas together as opposed to describing the use within the context of a specific lesson design.  Below, I describe the process my students used as an assessment for whole-class learning in my physics classes, where Wordle played an integral part.  I hope that making my practice public can inspire each of you to improve on what I’ve tried- every time one of you shares how the lesson design works in your own classroom, we get a new opportunity to grow and learn from each other!

Pre-Assessment (The ‘Before’)

Before beginning our studies of magnetism, we had a quick class discussion around one question: “When you think of ‘magnetism,’ what comes to mind?”  Using a little “write-pair-share” strategy, we made a list- as they shared aloud, I collected their responses in a Word doc projected on the board.  After all three of my common preps completed this activity, we had three different classes’ “pre-assessed” knowledge around magnetism.  Copying all of that text into a Wordle, we could now find the commonalities in our ideas:

Picture_3

This cloud gives the class a picture of what ‘we’ think in relation to magnetism. As the last conversation was a “class-ending” conversation the day before, the word cloud became a “class-starting” conversation the next day.  We began class by examining this word cloud, questioning what it was that we would likely want to learn next about magnetism.

Learning Time (The ‘During’)

During this 2nd class period, several of the students who had experience in chemistry had a sneaking recollection that there was some relationship between electrons and magnetism, and became the leaders in a short class discussion around the concept of magnetic fields and magnetic domains.  At that point in the lesson design, we had our “do some stuff with magnetic fields” time.  Around the room were several demo stations related to the relationship between electricity and magnetism, where students had a central question to consider- “What Happens When I Do This?,” and “Why Do I Think It Happens?”  

Following these experiences- which led students in all sorts of WHWYDT kinds of directions (both expected and unexpected)- we came together as a class to discuss what we had seen at these stations, and what questions had developed from the experiences.  As a closing activity to the day, each student responded to a 1-question Google Form that asked the same question as their pre-assessment: “When you think of ‘magnetism,’ what comes to mind?”

Post-Assessment (The ‘After’)

The next class period, students entered class with this picture in front of them:

Learned_magnetism_wordle

By taking the student responses and pasting them into a Wordle, we were able to see what “we” now think about magnetism.  As a class, we compare this new word cloud to the first Wordle: by analyzing the similarities & differences between these two Wordles, the class is now examining what we have learned, and how our thinking has changed.  

The unintended consequence- many students noted that our new responses went farther down the path of “induced” magnetism (that is, magnetism brought on by electric current), and farther away from the more typical concept of naturally magnetic materials.  They wondered how we would connect these two ideas, as they still seemed disconnected in our thinking.  This connection just happened to be the planned topic of study for the day, not only because it was part of our original pacing guide, but specifically because now we have noticed this trend in the “data” that the Wordle had presented.  The students noticed that the dots were not connected, and the students wanted to connect them, which made the day’s learning much more authentic.  It was not just something I was supposed to teach them: it had become something that they wanted to learn.

Generalizing for Lesson Design:

While not a flawless design, these six steps seemed paramount in increasing students’ desire to learn:

  • Students pre-assessing their own knowledge and understanding – “What does _insert topic here_ mean to me?”
  • Students using Wordle to analyze the pre-assessment responses
  • Students “doing stuff” to experience _insert topic here_ in real life – “What happens when I do this?”
  • Students responding to what they now know and understand – “What does _insert topic here_ mean to me today?”
  • Students comparing the Wordle of their current thinking to that of their pre-assessment responses
  • Students asking the question, “Given what I first thought, and what I now think, what do I think of next?

Without the use of Wordle, we lose out on a central piece of this lesson design puzzle.

Have you used Wordle as a class assessment for learning with your students?  Please share ideas, questions, and suggestions in the comments.  If you decide to try out this lesson design with a topic in your class with your students, please consider sharing how it goes in the comments- learning from your experiences helps us all grow!

Radiation Dose Chart: Prezi version

Randall Munroe of xkcd published a blog post yesterday that included a poster/visual entitled, Radiation Dose Chart.  In this post, he displayed comparisons of the levels of ionizing radiation that a person can absorb from various sources, so as to provide some relative context to the most recent events in Japan.
While I found the poster to be extremely informative and interesting to view in its own right, I was curious as to what a Prezi version of this poster would look like.  While i do prefer the original xkcd one, I thought I would let you all decide.  To get to the fullscreen version, follow the link below and choose “Fullscreen” from within the “More” menu.