Sunday, January 25, 2015

Creating and Inventing

Ethos of Creation and Invention 

I am convinced that creating something new requires a group of people to embrace a cultural ethos of creativity and invention and not much else.  Historically, creativity was deemed one of those 'innate' capacities that individuals either had or didn't. Genius - individuals such as Mozart, Michelangelo, Da Vinci - was exalted and revered; a gift from God bestowed upon the selected few and denied from the masses.  In my experience, nothing could be further from the truth! As an educator, I marvel at the products of such individuals and I am beginning to wonder how my pupils can become creative.  Is there a formula or technique I can implement that might allow more of my students to have the opportunity to create and to invent something?  I believe the answer is very simple: embrace a cultural ethos of creativity and invention with your students!

At no other time in human history has human culture embraced creativity and invention as deeply as this time.   Not only is access to the knowledge and experts publicly available - through libraries, schools, the internet, - but also tools - makerspaces, internet tutorials, garages, community resources - are also widely available. Indeed, one need only to have an idea in mind and a little energy to ask some questions, enter a query, or surf the social media landscape, to get more information and they are off toward the invention!

Let me give you an example from my own attempt to invent something.  I recognized a need for an app that could be used to collect specific information from a variety of individuals using their personal devices.  I knew what I wanted the app to do, sketched out the data I wanted to collect, how I wanted the app to function and look.  Then, I used my search engine and web browser to find instructions about writing code for apps and designing an app for phones. I discovered that using Android coding was within reach, free and had the robust support of a Google environment. Within 6 hours, I had learned enough about coding language that I have a fairly functional mock-up of my idea.  While it isn't ready for deployment, I am certainly going to refine it to a point where it will be functional for a pilot.

Can anyone do what I did?  I believe that it is possible.  I just benefit from the current culture of creation and invention already present in our world.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Increasing Participation in the Classroom

Increase Participation in Classrooms with TALK MOVES

Today's blog post is going to be short. I am interested in simply sharing a resource that I have found helpful in facilitating classroom discussion.

I have to say for the record that watching a seasoned educator structure and facilitate a classroom discussion can be an extraordinary experience when it is done well.  (I hope that you have the opportunity to do so in your school!)  Here's a video to get you thinking about it, as well as what to look for in your own teaching.

Here's an additional source from TERC. Happy Teaching!

If you know of additional resources about this topic, feel free to post a comment!

Friday, December 5, 2014

More on Assessment - Climbing a Mountain: student anxiety and event-style assessment

Climbing a Mountain: Student Anxiety and Event-Style Assessment

Recently, I was approached by a colleague that indicated some students were concerned about an upcoming exam for a course they felt was challenging. Their anxiety was palpable, my colleague noted, and my colleague was concerned that there would be some backlash from parents once the test was administered.  This got me thinking again about assessment, but this time I contemplated a separate aspect of assessment.  Is an examination of knowledge a mountain to be climbed that a teacher places in front of students?  

Student anxiety derives from their perception of whether or not they are prepared to "climb the mountain," as well as the "supportive" approach the educator assumes when showing them the challenge.  Do students feel prepared for an event-style exam?  What purpose does the event-style exam serve? How much accuracy did students demonstrate prior to the exam regarding the use of the skills, concepts, knowledge necessary for success on the exam?  Was there sufficient practice and feedback given to each student about their level of mastery of the skills, concepts and knowledge? What will be the consequence for success or failure on the exam?  These questions, when thoroughly addressed by the educator, can do much to alleviate some the anxiety experienced by students.

Event-style examinations can serve a function in classrooms. They can mark the distance or the height we climb intellectually. With adequate practice and feedback, students can climb the mountain.  Yes, there still may be anxiety, but over time, the student will grow accustomed to the anxiety level and begin to perform at a level commensurate with their abilities or desired outcome.   My recommendation to teachers, however, is to use event-style exams sparingly during their instructional time with students.  Unless real-time feedback can be provided to the student, it is my contention that event-style tests can have more detrimental consequences, than positive effects on learning and study skills in the long term. In addition, challenging topics, concepts and knowledge - those most useful to both students and educators (in which higher-order thinking skills are engaged) - are best approached (think performed) with the support and presence of other learners and the educator themselves, rather than all alone by the learner. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Self-directed learning


We've discussed self-directed learning in our school for some time.  Many of my colleagues have a variety of interpretations of what this means for their class. Students should have a voice in what they learn and how they demonstrate they have learned it. Unfortunately, this is rare. Students rarely have a choice in a traditionally structured secondary school.

A recent TEDx video got me thinking more about student passion, self-direction and student voice.

Next, I visited a website that had a great deal to say on the topic. Here's the website containing some information worth reading through: Student Voice by Jackie Gerstein, Ph.D.

Science education, where curiosity should be a primary objective, seems to set an opposite objective. Facts predominate the K-12 instructional and curricular landscape.  How many facts are really necessary post secondary school?  Which facts will each student need?  Many of the facts learned may be irrelevant (some may turn out to be wrong)!  Almost all students can access the facts, as well as some phenomenal explanations regarding it, through reliable sources on devices in students' possession.  With a web-enabled device, students can move at their own pace and in their own preferred style - video, verbal, print, visual.  Here's a great, free Biology text. 

I have relied a great deal this year on making Science Research Projects a significant portion of my instruction.  The students worked on brainstorming, collecting and evaluating reliable resources, and now, writing a Research Proposal on a topic of interest to them.  Students received personalized feedback and guidance.  They will be re-writing their proposals several times, relying on Peer Editing Feedback for a variety of aspects to the proposal.

I have also relied on using Google Forms as a student survey tool (here's an example) and as a pilot assignment that allows student voting on student work (such as pictures using a microscope).  It has been especially helpful to get individual as well as class-wide patterns from student learning (here are analytics for survey).  

Last year, I implemented a Socratic Seminar using the final chapter of Darwin's On the Origin of Species.  Socratic seminars in Science reinforce evidence-based argumentation.  Using Darwin's text, rather than summaries written in textbooks, allowed students to appreciate the words put to paper by the author and originator of what has been dubbed the single greatest idea ever proposed.  The following link provided me with some important guidance on carrying this out successfully.  I plan on using this format to address other concepts.

I hope that this post will motivate others to experiment within their class.  Know that you are not alone.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Assessment - is it an event or a process?


Welcome to the first entry for my blog, Musings on Science Education.  First off, I am not going to pretend to be an expert on the subject.  But, I can add few anecdotes from the 'front lines,' as a seasoned Science educator and provide a glimpse into what I have been keeping an eye on to improve my teaching. In addition, as a new administrator, I hope to shine a light on ideas that come from lots of areas, so that generative discussions between teachers, where ever they might be found, can occur.

My first post is about Assessment.   I am going to get right to the point, I don't think I do a really good job at this.  Yet, it can be the most powerful tool in my teacher's kit!  My new motto is assessment is a process, not an event.  The ideal learning scenario is one in which students are continuously preparing, rather than cramming for an event-style test.  We know, both through academic research and through our own personal experience, cramming for an exam is not learning. So, what tools can a teacher use to accomplish this?  Here are my suggestions:

1)  Use your class opener and exit tickets to check understanding/knowledge you targeted to plan your lesson. Tier the questions (or use Formative Assessment Probes - see P. Keeley publications at bookstore) so that you can pinpoint problems in student thinking.  Provide feedback at every step to as many learners as possible.
2)  Tell a story, rather than lecture on definitions and rote application of formulae.  Use data and experiments from the topic you are studying to illustrate science as a process AND the central idea of your lesson.
3)  If you are solving problems, such as it happens in chemistry/physics classes, use the I-We-You framework.  Here's a video from a great English LA teacher explaining the tool.
4)  Frequent checks for understanding are great! Socrative is a great tool, if students are allowed to Bring their Own Devices to class.
5)  Give students an opportunity to generate questions and answers based upon their own knowledge prior to giving them an explanation.
6)  Turn your questions into a game!
7)  Make sure that your assessment items cover more than remembering factoids, or rote memorization. Take a bite from several of Bloom's levels, rather than just remembering.
8)  Remember, if you are doing a review game before the test, then all you are testing is what students remember from the day before. Ask yourself whether or not this is really an effective use of students' time.

Well, these sound like rather mundane suggestions, but used together, they may really improve your assessment strategies and student learning outcomes.  I know that I would really love to get away from the Friday is Test day mentality! Take care and happy teaching!