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!