Tagged: instruction

Exploring Chemistry

I’m liking the challenge and the potential impact of ‘exploring’ each concept before students actively study as I attempt to implement explore-flip-apply. My twist, though this is blatantly stolen, is to have the students reflect on &/or explain the exploration in a blog post.

My post is coming up prior to any data to support an assertion of actual improved outcomes and increased learning. However, the questions asked, exposing the interconnections between concepts, was absolutely amazing today.

WaterElectrolysisThe activity, using a 9-volt battery to eletrolyze water, is part of my first unit and I wanted it to both review and set the stage for stoichiometry. There were four questions I wanted them to answer:

  • What is the balanced chemical equation?
  • Is there qualitative evidence to support the balanced chemical reaction?
  • Could you collect quantitative data to ‘prove’ the balanced reaction? How?
  • Can you draw a particle diagram(s) that models what’s going on in this reaction?

I had the equipment out — battery, sample cups with tacks, small plastic test tubes, and two different salt solutions — and we got started. One of the first questions asked was how to capture the gas in the test tubes. This is not a question to be taken lightly, since the point was to have the captured gas push water out of the test tubes to visually see the difference in the amounts. Rather than let the students struggle, I made a mistake I think, I showed them what to do — fill the test tubes with the salt solution, invert, and quickly fill the sample container with more solution. The whole apparatus is now placed upon the battery. Immediately, bubbles begin forming, an unmistakable difference in rate apparent. The students get theirs going.

I wanted them to work alone to answer each question first, thinking about them while they watched the reaction, then using their ideas during discussion. Again, I think I jumped the gun a bit — struggling is not something they enjoyed — and I cut this time too short.

We jumped into the group discussion with the first question and a uniform response was provided, a balanced equation for decomposition of water. I jumped to the last question here, I’m leaning toward making it the second question next time, and, again, a confident reply of ‘sure’ from the group. The second question was the first divergence from my script: how can you know that the gases are actually hydrogen and oxygen? The observations also helped to push this question forward from left-field. After a bit, all the test tubes lost the apparent doubling of gas in one test tube versus the other; there was still more in one, but it didn’t look like twice as much. To try to show this, I introduced some UI to the solution and filled the tubes and sample cup again. One complication, the salt solution used sodium bicarbonate.

Shifting our focus again, during this time of waiting and watching, we jumped to the third question; surprisingly tougher than I thought. They were still focused upon how to measure the products, how to verify they were oxygen and hydrogen….I just wanted them to think how a balanced equation had to be based on an equal mass before and after. So, I kept trying to push them back to the law of conservation of mass, the law behind a ‘balanced chemical’ reaction. Again, I gave in, and just told them this.

Concluding the UI variation….

Gases are now being produced in a blue solution, but bless it, one of them begins to lighten (I won’t go so far as to say it turned yellow, but it did become less blue). This lead to what exactly this change in color meant. We take a turn into pH, the equilibrium of water ionization and baby steps to electrochemistry. Using the equilibrium equation as a new starting point, I try to encourage them to work out what’s ‘left’ when each gas is formed, pushing them to visually separate the equation in their mind and the bell rings.

I try to frantically throw information at them as they ready for the next class and assure them we’ll do a quick finish-up tomorrow, in class, and their blog post will be due tomorrow now, too.

[Follow-up: so quickly refocused upon goals from yesterday, added some explanation about self-ionization of water, rewriting the equilibrium equation twice. Without going into detail on redox, so just in terms of particles, if hydrogen is removed (or oxygen), seeing what is left behind helps to explain why the indicator changed color, why the pH is different. I’m really hoping this turns into a seed to reap from in future concepts.]


Becoming More

For all my angst with the Linchpin, Seth Godin makes a very valid point about ‘shipping.’ For those, like me before a few months ago, unfamiliar with ‘shipping:’ it is doing whatever it is we’re typically afraid to do, for whatever reason – fear, failure, fear of failure, etc.

This week I shipped. I shipped three different products. For the first time, I participated in a summer SC2 event, not just as an attendee, but as a presenter. And, for the first time, I wasn’t scared. I don’t mean I wasn’t nervous. Nor was this my first time presenting, I’ve done presentations before (one day conferences: SC2 and virtually with Teachmeet Nashville). This time was different, though. The difference is I didn’t let doubt consume and influence every decision I made about my presentations. I did not stress about each being perfect (they so are not) or needing to be perfect. I wrote down some notes to remind myself of what I had learned using the tools, resources that helped me along the way (primarily people), and shared my mistakes. Each evening, I made mental and timing adjustments to the next day’s presentation based on the previous day’s feedback. More importantly I had fun sharing ideas and techniques I know are valuable, even when my own use is flawed and not where I want it to be, and requiring myself to use a new ‘tool’ for each presentation.


Screencasting Prezi

View the Prezi

This was the first session — just web-based tools and iPad apps to be used to share class notes and/or create short how-to videos. I used Prezi and kept the info brief. As with the rest of the sessions, my goal was to have the attendees spend time doing. I focused time on three of the tools: showme, screencastomatic, and screenr; and had each make a video with two of the three. The discussion after was where I shared links to other people and sites and resources I thought might be beneficial to a first-time screencaster. Not the best presentation out there, but, I was okay with it as a start. As an aside, this session was up against the keynote speaker at the event, Brandon Lutz (60in60), and I was thrilled a few people showed (though I think it’s because his session was full).

Next time, I’d like to include more discussion about how and when to use this tool; the backwards planning behind implementation. It would also be nice, from a purely selfish perspective, to review something like Ramsey Mussallam’s “Explore, Flip, Apply” approach with others and get their take/ideas. Not to mention, rolling out these new videos to students — website? Dropbox? URL via text, email, etc? This needs to be known before beginning.

Tweeting & Blogging

Tweeting & Blogging in Sci


For two reasons, I used Haiku Deck in this session. First, this was not my first presentation on this topic. I gave a presentation over this a little over a year ago at a one-day SC2 event. The focus that time was on the why you should do it and there was no time to get the teachers tweeting and blogging. I didn’t want to get sucked into that again. Haiku Deck forced me to be to the point, get to the essential ideas. Secondly, the aesthetics — choosing a picture to reinforce the words (or vice versa) added to the overall impact.

I did put a few public notes to several of the slides, but did not spend time on those, except in passing, as we moved to setting up twitter accounts, discussing hashtags, and talking through work-arounds due to district limitations. To effectively utilize the power of twitter in class, requires routine. Again, this is one of the shortfalls I find in my own use. As I mentioned (both in the session and here), I use it as a back channel for guest speakers and for movies/videos in class; I also threw a plug in for #scistuchat (the archives of topics was a selling point here) and a quick look at hootsuite and tweetdeck. We did not get to blogging, except to briefly visit blogger, wordpress & kidblog. And, we took a brief amount of time to see Pearltrees (especially with Google Reader going away) for compiling student blog links; the alternate possibility is having them on a website so everyone can access each other’s. The obvious negative for Pearltrees, it’s not an RSS compiler/feed/aggregator thing (my ignorance here is apparent). This also meant we did not have the opportunity to work through the purpose of maintaining the blog. I was able to share some rubrics for tweeting and blogging as well as the contracts I use in my classes, so, parents and students are clear on the expectations associated with these tools.

Next time, these will have to be split into separate sessions. This would allow more time for depth as opposed to the cursory mention of hashtags and back channels. Plus, let people converse about the possibilities they see with Twitter in class. There are a couple of changes in my own use I’m contemplating. Currently, I have students create a new Twitter handle, a ‘professional’ existence online. Yet, since it’s not them exactly, they will lack the benefits of developing a professional digital footprint. The other revolves around my sporadic use, it’s not routine. I’m thinking of coupling it with my bell ringers or as a component of an exit ticket of sorts. As for blogging, actually have time for each teacher to decide what their purpose would be in their classroom, what outcome do they want to see? Should they be an evolving document? An e-portfolio (like Chris Ludwig uses)? Is this best demonstrated through assigned writing? According to Will Richardson, assignments aren’t real blogging, but if a student demonstrates a synthesis of information, an analysis of thought, isn’t that blogging, regardless of the prompt? What about commenting? Community? Audience? These questions could lead to better rubrics, regional partnerships between classes a la quadblogging, and effective use of this tool in each class.

Popcorn Maker

Springpad - Popcorn Webmaker

View the Popcorn Webmaker notebook on Springpad

Okay, so not an expert or even a novice on this. I actually put this down because I wanted to learn to use it. What better impetus than stepping up in front of strangers and colleagues with a tool you know nothing about to force the issue? This time I used Springpad. I wanted something more structured/scaffolded for the presentation, a guided walk. Loved this! It worked exactly as I’d hoped. In fact, one of the attendees wanted to use it as his organizer for his class units – links, videos, note sheets, etc. Plus, I have to admit, Springpad seems to do everything everyone talks about Evernote doing and it’s a lot less intimidating.

As can be seen in the notebook, I showed a before/after video of Beau Lotto’s TED Talk; let them see a finished interactive video; get an idea of what could be done. My goal was to have them leave with two products: a 6 word memoir & an interactive video to be used in class. A bit audacious for the time, however, if all that had gotten finished was the 6 word memoir, I believed each person would be far more likely to do the second one on their own; success breeds success; playing leads to less fear of failure. After this intro, I directed the participants to find a YouTube video they could modify. I had figured most folks would kinda know of a video they used and would tend towards the known, but I included a couple of channels just in case (see the list). This, actually, was a much slower process than I anticipated. The flaw here was placing it in the beginning; this should definitely have been a last step; the step after producing the 6 word memoir. The second hiccup was the google forms Screenr video I included and had them watch. Shouldn’t have done that; should’ve simply referenced it: here’s a quick rundown for creating a google form and you can review it later as needed. While it was only 5 minutes, it was 5 minutes not spent manipulating Popcorn Webmaker. I also needed to push it and the Polleverwhere info to the end to separate the tools for the two product goals I had in mind. This would have provided more time doing, more time making, which was the whole point of the presentation; and was also the most common theme of the feedback I received. Overall, most seemed to take to the possibilities and some needed more guidance, needed to be nudged to mess up and try again. Hopefully, many will play on their own during the summer and/or will introduce it as a project to their students. One of the possibilities for me is to use this to create a narrated claymation video of a playdoh brain. My anatomy class alredy builds the brain, but adding the claymation, narration and interactive video, the project becomes so much more (and I stole that idea from the gal I worked with in the claymation session).

In essence, going in the midst of colleagues, risking rejection, and finding others willing to go down a similar path of discovery was worth it. The best part, overhearing conversations here and there where people were discussing the tools and the possibilities in their classrooms; that people did find something useful. It also was nice to know I wasn’t being completely self-delusional, that helps, too.

[Link to my google.doc with notes and resources; I tend to leave out vowels but it can generally be figured out.]

Flipping Anatomy…Again

A two week, intensive, majorly modified instructional attempt is being made with my Anatomy class.  Here’s the gist: continuing the flipped (sort of, maybe?), but changing when it occurs; continuing the case studies, but changing their emphasis.  This is on the fly.  This may blow up in my face.  The students, though it’s their idea, may rebel.  But the idea…kinda cool.

Anatomy physiology was, in my mind, easily separated along just those lines, when I decided to flip last fall.  Hence, the plan I came up with, and put into effect, was to use the flipped medium (via Screencast-o-matic…Love it!…though intrigued by possibilities with Camtasia…) to post the anatomy lectures online, saving class time for the physiology components.  My reasoning was/is twofold.  First, anatomy is visual; you have to see it; you have to draw it (several times); you have to see parts in context of the whole.  Second, anatomy is based on knowledge loops.  For example, you probably know the femur is the large bone in your upper leg.  So, it would not surprise you to know that is the femoral region.  Nor, would it surprise you to know that the major vessels in this area are the femoral artery and the femoral vein.  Plus, two of the larger muscles in your thigh are named the biceps femoris and the rectus femoris.  See what I mean?  Looped, layered, whatever you want to call it.  All of this meant anatomy could be started, and practiced, individually.

The form and function of anatomy would be intertwined (and reinforced) with the lecture and discussion of physiology; with the system by system study of homeostasis.  Additionally, case studies (primarily from University at Buffalo) would be used to reinforce and expand on each system through small group discussion.  The elegance of most of the case studies lies in their comprehensive presentation of the body.  Though they are system focused, the knowledge, background, and questions produced require a whole body approach and reinforce a core understanding that no system operates in isolation.  This is why I use them; this is not always what my students get from them.

Conclusion: I still need to improve my use  of case studies; they’re still too tangential.  The big change, therefore, is to use them as the focus and the vehicle of understanding.  This means the questions generated by student discussions, focused and guided by the case studies themselves, will determine the flow of information.  I think this is more constructivist in its approach (this definition limited by my own understanding).  The students then identify the information they need to know.  Now, they ‘research’ (they have to know something precisely to gain insight into what’s happening).  This means my current flipped lectures need to be adjusted; perhaps a reinvention.  This could mean shorter, more focused and specific content; it could mean broader, more holistic presentations of a system; it could mean the elimination of flipped lectures except as reviews after the fact because I actually give mini-lectures in the midst.  Either way, the students will get the content in tandem with the progression of the case study itself, guided by what they need to learn in order to solve the problem and inform their discussions with each other.  This, I hope means, the lectures will have a greater impact because they have a purpose defined by the problem needing solved.

The Ripple Effect —

This change will also act as impetus for the modification of my Web 2.0 use.  One in particular, the glog assignments.  A bit of background:  these assignments, one per system, require students to research a disease to explain how it works, how it is treated, and include national, regional and/or gender statistics presented as infographics.  (Ultimately, I really want the students making their own; not sure where to find the time for this.)  I wanted my students to recognize the long term homeostatic imbalance inherent in the existence of the disease.  This was not always achieved.  So, these assignments need a new approach, i.e., again, a problem to solve.  If the problem to be solved is now the disease and how homeostasis is altered, then these will augment the case study.  This medium is no longer collateral, but one of the major avenues for student learning (the original goal).  Maybe assign a couple of diseases to each group to go deeper?  Make them collaborative in nature?  Maybe this can be the foundation for a wiki project?  The blogs…do I change them, limit their scope?  I’m convinced of their importance as personal expressions of understanding.  Their role is crucial to learning, not just the specific material, but the role of evidence and support in communicating ideas.  Maybe make them a formative assessment?  Maybe structure comment dialogue through some form of peer-grading?  Make this slightly adversarial, debate-like, to foster critical analysis?  This will require more class time; more time than the initial walk through, semi-training session we go through in a couple of days.

All of this means what now?  (Note to reader: enter my delusion of grandeur…)  The case study will define the goal, yet there’s flexibility to pursue tangents, to go deeper.  The students will work in small groups, collaborating and providing peer-tutoring, coming together as a class to build a consensus of understanding, making sure everyone is on the same page.  To contribute, each student has to (I think they have to) embrace their personal responsibility to learn.  To learn, each student has to (again, I think they have to) challenge unsubstantiated statements, blithe responses without evidence, expecting more from each other and themselves.  This could, in turn, provide the students the opportunity to define the limits of the course, define the order of study; which in turn really kinda freaks me out.  But again, the idea, kinda cool.

The Re-Test

By pianetatschai (Valentina Pasquale)

I’m ambivalent (greatly ambivalent) about the whole idea of a “retest.”

Yes, I absolutely want my students to learn the material.  Should it matter whether they learn it in the designated time frame or not?  If they learn from their failure, that is success; that is an intangible goal of perseverance.  Part of ‘school’ should be the development of skills for success: perseverance, focus, diligence…grit.

Yet, it is these very same skills, if applied in the first place, which make the need for a ‘retest’ unnecessary.  So, within me, there’s this battle.

Previous experience with retests and test corrections adds to the side against it.  The only students who would leverage these opportunities to their advantage were the ones that did not exactly need it.  Truth be told, I wanted the struggling students to have another shot; a chance for the late bloomers to shine.  This just wasn’t the case.

So a month or so ago, surfing through the myriad of blog posts in Google Reader, I found an older post on Kelly O’Shea’s Physics! Blog! discussing the retest and using an application process.  Students apply for a retest?!  What a thought!  A glimmer of hope arose.

Blatantly stealing her ideas, each student has to do Test corrections (for multiple choice an explanation of elimination needs to be provided; for calculations or short answer problems, an explanation of what went wrong the first time has to be included).  Within each course’s Dropbox, a folder has been created, each with practice problems and concept review questions.  The students do not have to do the entire worksheet or all the problems;  they should pick and choose the concepts/skills needing practice.  Though I cannot set aside a day on the weekend for the actual retest, lunch or after school are available.

A few kinks will need worked out based on the initial run with my freshmen classes.  Right now, I’m semi-requiring a meeting with each student to review their test corrections, practice problems, and try to reexplain any concepts that still seem shaky.  Time will be a constraint.  Additionally, student awareness seems to be the biggest obstacle; awareness of what actually is confusing or difficult (common answers still circle around ‘everything’ being confusing or ‘nothing; I just didn’t study’).  Genuine self-analysis should improve with doing.  It does take time to develop.

This, unfortunately, has not completely alleviated my ambivalence.  The extra time investment required now, had it been applied initially, would preclude the need to do the test over again.  I keep coming back to doing things right the first time.

Ultimately, if it helps them figure out how to study better, it’s a good thing; and with better study skills, fewer retests should result.  It boils down to the students figuring out there’s no shortcuts.  They have to be diligent and put in the time required to understand.  I can’t learn for them, but I can give them opportunities to do so.  Here’s to my retesting the retest.  We’ll see how it goes.