Wednesday, March 22, 2017

A Model Lesson

The best professional development I have attended this year was a day-long session on Modeling Education. For years I have seen information about the summer workshops offered by the American Modeling Teachers Association. I have wanted to enroll in one, but they often last several summer weeks and I haven't found one close enough to home that means I wouldn't be away from my family. That's part of why I was excited when local experts Holly McTernan and Jeremy Secaur shared their modeling expertise with many Northeast Ohio Science Specialists on March 1st.

If you are not familiar with modeling, I created the infographic at the left to sum up its big ideas. The basics include showing students a demonstration or problem or phenomenon and use it to set up an experiment, conduct the experiment, and then present results to the class. The teacher facilitates group activities and provides instruction as needed, often in small groups and through questions.

We worked through this cycle at a rapid pace so we could experience several sample activities. Here is a brief rundown of what we did:

1. Water height vs Volume: Each group of 4 were provided with a glass of a different shape (think tumbler, margarita, martini, wine glass, and so on). The instructions were to collect data about how much water we put into the cup and how high the top of the water was off the table. We had to collect 10 corresponding values, including our glass' minimum and maximum amount of water. Then we graphed it on a whiteboard. Then the whole group formed a circle, with whiteboards in hand but without the glasses. We were peppered with questions about our graphs. Does anyone see a place where the graph looks like the height increases by the same amount each time a certain volume is added? Why don't the best fit lines go through the origin on some graphs? What does your graph tell you about the relationship between water height and volume?

After this presentation of our results, we put our whiteboard graphs against the wall and were challenged to get a glass that we didn't use and try to match it with one of the graphs. Now I recognize that we were all science teachers (read: dorky by nature), but it was very difficult to get the group to stop talking about the graphs and glasses as our presenter tried to switch gears to the next activity. The engagement was incredibly high. Seriously, it was like a great date that you don't want to end!

2. Mass vs Cup + Objects: Each group is given an electronic balance, a cup, a set of similar objects (marbles, washers, wrapped candies, etc). There are two rules: You can't mass the empty cup and you can't put objects in the cup one at a time. Acquire 8 corresponding masses and number of objects in the cup. In my group, we put the cup with two objects in it on the balance and recorded the value. Then we added objects two or three at a time and recorded masses.

Then we had to graph our data and draw a best fit line and find the equation of the line. Then we had to circle up for questions again. What do we notice about our graphs? Why do our graphs look more similar this time? What do we think the y-intercept represents? What does the slope tell us? I was giddy as I realized that the slop was the mass of one of our objects!

3. Who wins the race? Our instructor posed a problem about two students who run a race at different speeds and one of them starts 1 second before the other. Who wins the race and when will they pass each other? We solved the problem, we graphed the solution on whiteboards, we presented our findings. My group solved the problem using a chart and a graph so we showed both. More questions.

4. When will they collide? Our instructor showed us a constant speed buggy. She also showed us a trick. Take one battery out and replace it with a wooden dowel covered with aluminum foil. Then replace it. This slows the buggy down and will make all the buggies go a slightly different constant speed. Genius! She let us make some measurements on her buggy for about 5 minutes. Then we made measurements on our own slower buggy for 5 minutes. Then she took the buggies.

She asked us to figure out if both buggies were released from opposite ends of a 2 meter track, where would they collide? We had to mark our prediction on the track and eventually we all tested it. Here is the video of one group's test run:

This was really fun. Our instructor suggested we graph it, but it made sense to me to use formulas, so I solved that way while other people used graphs. It was interesting to see several ways to attack the same problem. It was also exciting to watch the buggy test. Students would love this challenge!

My takeaways: I came home from this day exhausted and inspired. I realize that I do not use my whiteboards effectively and I want to change that. In fact, I bought a class set of these whiteboards so that I can start using graphs more. I don't have students graph or solve problems and share solutions enough. That's on my to-do list now too. I gave it a shot with a solubility inquiry lab, but it was only mildly successful. I need to keep working on it! More posts will definitely follow up on this!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Flipgrid or Recap: Which Should I Use?

This year I have tried two great, and similar tools, for asking students to make quick videos of themselves and submit them for viewing. Last month I blogged about using Flipgrid to record students as they demonstrate a chemical experiment and then explain it using a gas law. You can watch a sample here. Earlier this year I used Recap to record the members of the Speech and Debate Team as they read something of their choosing so I could get to know them better at the beginning of our season. You can see what a Recap video looks like here.

Both tools were great - easy to use and provided valuable information about my students. So which one would I recommend? That's an impossible choice because they offer different features. In fact, so many different features are offered that the only way I can keep it all straight is by creating a data table. Here it is:

Hopefully this chart will help you determine which one better meets your needs. No matter what you're looking for, I hope you'll try Recap or Flipgrid out before this school year ends!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Memory Game: All Grown Up

As a kid, I loved to play cards. I have many fond memories sitting around the kitchen table with my grandparents, playing Go Fish, Rummy, and Cribbage. Once I got to college, my game of choice became Euchre. As a mom, I have gotten to revisit many card games, including the first one I remember ever playing which was the memory game.

On a recent trip to Target, my kids began squealing when they saw small figurines that go with a Basher Science card game. Longtime fans of all things Basher, they were very excited to see figures of the characters in the books they love so much. I was immediately attracted to the card game and told the kids that I was buying the chemistry version for my classroom. Of course, they each picked out a figurine too.

The cards feature the delightfully drawn Basher characters that represent science concepts, like catalyst or element or reaction. Each card also has a sentence about the science concept. It might be a definition or similar information. For example, one of the element cards says "all matter is made of me" and the other element card says "there are 118 variations of me." 

The card game has two variations. There is a battle game where two opponents flip over cards and determine the winner based on the point value on the card and the power listed on the card (think "War" meets a strategy card game like "Magic"). We played that one and I thought it was ok, but I liked the second version, a variation on Memory, much better.

In this grown-up version of Memory, the cards are placed upside down. On your turn, you flip over two cards but do not reveal them to your opponents. Instead, you read aloud the informational sentence on the card. If you find a match, you keep it. If you don't, you replace them, but your opponent has to think about what the card might have been based on what you read. This is harder than regular Memory because you have to pay attention to where the cards are on the board, but you also have to think constantly about the vocabulary words on each card. This would be a great activity for a center or station rotation and would give kids great vocabulary practice.

My son and I enjoyed playing the game so much that I created a polygon version for my daughter. Her fifth grade class is working on quadrilaterals right now and we have done a lot of dining room table talk about when is a rhombus a square and when is a quadrilateral a parallelogram. There are so many vocabulary terms that it seemed like an excellent occasion to introduce the game. I created a Google document of the cards if you'd like to take a closer look or even try it out.

When we played, my daughter found it to be pretty challenging (but she DID beat me!). She asked if I would draw all the shapes and label them so it would be easier to think about what the definitions told her about the shapes. My son also thought it was challenging but fun. I like the gaming aspect of learning vocabulary this way. With the game, the definition, the picture, and thinking and talking about the words, using it will hit at least 4 of the 6 Marzano vocabulary strategies.

I am going to keep buying booster packs to add to my Basher card game. I will use that one in my classroom for sure. In the meantime, I am also going to work on a chemistry vocabulary game that has one card with its chemistry definition (a tier 3 vocabulary word) and one card with its traditional definition (a tier 2 vocabulary word). For example, there might be Compound with a definition of "a pure substance made by at least two elements chemically combined" and a second definition of "made up or consisting of several parts." This will help students learn chemistry vocabulary but also help them apply that knowledge to words used in similar ways outside of chemistry. When I finish that set, I will write about it and make it available here. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Keeping Our PBL Relevant: A Wrap-Up

I spent several hours today [finally!] grading the PBL that my students completed in January. If you haven't read the previous 4 posts, here is a quick summary. In groups, students created an infographic about a topic related to chemistry because people don't like chemistry because it doesn't feel relevant to their lives.

I'd love it if you'd take a look at the final products. All of the infographics are housed at this website. If you don't want to sift through all the projects (my students' projects are there, but also my the projects of my PLC partners too), take a look at my favorites: Chocolate Chip Cookies and Ice Cream. If you feel compelled, please comment.

When I return from spring break, I will be working through the PBL reflection protocol with my PLC. To prepare for that, I asked the kids some reflective questions. What did they like? What didn't they like? What was the value of each step of the project? Here is the one that really jumped out at me:

Students selected "the option to choose our own topic" as "it was the best part of the project." If our goal was to show that chemistry is relevant, this feedback seems like we may have accomplished that. Or at least that our effort was not in vain.

A couple of students said they loved the project. One student said s/he hated the project. It would be interesting to see how the feedback might change after they see their grades (I asked for feedback before I graded them). The scores on the project were pretty good - an average of 35 out of 40.

Here's what I hope to change for next year: 
  • Students need encouragement to work on the project outside of class if they cannot finish inside of class. I need a better system of checkpoints to help them see if they have made good progress and to ensure that everyone is finished on time. 
  • I think the projects each need a driving question rather than a broad topic. This might help focus the projects and keep them from being a retread of material that is already available online.
  • I'm thinking about assigning groups rather than asking them to form with an eye toward what they need in a group expertise-wise. I need to think more about this.

Overall, it was a different approach to chemistry. I'm glad I tried it. Have you tried PBL in high school science? What can you share about how it went?