#ModBio Workshop Day 6

Agenda for the day:

  1. Check Seeds
  2. Teacher Talk
    1. Parking Log
    2. HW Articles
    3. HW Test
  3. Thirsty Birds Experiments 1-3
  4. Lunch
  5. Thirsty Birds Experiments 4-6

In the parking lot for today were, as usual, a number of topics.  We discussed how vocabulary hang-ups can really be a teacher created problem.   As teachers we often feel the need to use and reinforce a particular set of vocabulary words.  I believe this phenomena can be exemplified by biology teachers because of the vast amount of vocabulary associated with the subject matter.  We need to be careful not to reinforce a vocabulary word that a student uses if they do not really understand the definition and can provide us with their own description that is not parroted from the glossary.  We have to be okay with letting the terms go until another time, when the kids have a better understanding of what the term means.  Next we discussed the process of facilitating a whiteboard meeting.  Angela stressed the importance of having a reason to run the meeting and having an idea about ultimately where the meeting should lead.  It is important to be able to guide the students to your expected outcome.  A couple resources were mentioned to help frame the big ideas of class.  One was Science for All Americans, which was revised in 2011 and is available for free online.  The second was the big crosswalk reference book that I believe ties together Science for All Americans, Project 2061, National Science Standards, among other references.  These were two resources can help us develop those big picture ideas for the class.  Finally we had a discussion about motivating the “difficult students”.  Those students who may not want to play game, they do not generally enjoy school.  Eventually Angela mentioned that often these students excel in a modeling science course.

Next we discussed each of the two homework articles.  The first, Never Say Anything a Kid can Say.  We came to a consensus that some of the big take home messages were:

  1. Create a participatory class were all students are listening and participating.  Even if a student does not have an idea to contribute, they need to ask a question.
  2. As a questioner, it is important to be nonjudgemental.  This applies to both positive and negative judgements.  The negative piece was obvious, I would never say, “Joe that was a really stupid question”.  But the positive piece really makes sense, but I’d never really thought of it that way.  If I praise a response, who is going to want to follow up that comment.
  3. Continue asking questions even beyond when the “right” answer is provided.
  4. Group work is often beneficial to build confidence in students before beginning a discussion.  The think-pair-share strategy works well for this.
  5. Patience is incredibly important.
  6. Don’t give away too much… Don’t do the thinking for the kids.  Ask them a question instead.

Next up was an ASCD article, Analyzing Classroom Discourse to Advance Teaching & Learning.  Our big ideas here:

  1. There needs to be accountable talk; the burden should be on students to listen to each other, question each other, and keep each other accountable.
  2. Students should be questioning each other.  The dialogue should be a ping-pong game between the teacher and a line of students.  In this scenario, the teacher asks a question and the student answers it, and the teacher asks a different question and a different student answers it.  Repeat.  The dialogue should be more like a dodgeball game with questions and answers flying all around.  But hopefully the kids are not avoiding being hit with them.
  3. The idea of knowledge acquisition over knowledge generation.  It is not that knowledge acquisition is bag, but knowledge generation is certainly better.
  4. Reflection is important.  Daily!  This is true not only for teachers, but also for students.  On the student end, I think the Interactive Science Notebook provides a perfect forum for the expectation of daily reflection.  On the teacher end, I think it is incredibly powerful to have an opportunity to reflect (hence the blog here).  When I was carpooling with a colleague who teaches chemistry at my school, we would often “talk shop” the whole way home and even occasionally continue the conversation in his driveway.  This was/is a fantastic opportunity to flush out idea.  If you can make the reflection public in a blog format, it will only help get more people involved and will hopefully generate new and different idea.  I put in a plug for some of the 180 Day Teacher Blogs out there.  It was enlightening to see what other professionals were doing on a daily basis.  There are a few out there although many folks appear to have used Posterous a website that is no longer being supported.  I’ve stolen several ideas from other teacher’s 180 Blogs.

On to the business of the day.  We collected and shared the data gathered from our pea seed germination experiment.  We have two more days and then we’ll tabulate our results.  So far it appears that darkness and basic environments are doing better than dry and acidic environments.

The rest of the day was spend on an activity called, The Thirsty Bird.  We started by creating a class concept map of the characteristics of life.  We focused on determining why organisms are different.  After generating a list of all the possible reasons, we decided to narrow our simulation to look at the idea of a species changing over time.  We will be attempting to use a fork to gather water from a 1,000-mL beaker into our “stomaches”, plastic cups.  We will use mass as a way to determine how much food we were able to capture.  Angela gave us some feeding etiquette tips and we were off.  We spent the rest of the day making our way through three different experiments.

  1. No competition
  2. Competition
  3. Draught

In each situation, we had a set of colored cards (either 4 gold, 2 gold/2 blue, or 4 blue).  We tracked the number of individuals each round who were either gold, gold but with blue cards, and blue.  Finally we whiteboarded our results.  I’m not exactly sure how I feel about this activity yet.  It will be interesting to see what the second half holds tomorrow. I can see the potential power of the simulation if I were going to discuss genetics after evolution, because we are keeping track of both genotype and phenotype data.  But I will have already discussed genetics by the time I arrive at evolution.  I’m thinking about modifying an existing laboratory that I do with forks, spoons and knives capturing marshmallows to be more in line with the modeling pedagogy.  But I’m not ready to make that decision yet.

At some point today we ended up discussing pedagogy reform and reflection.  This brought up the Reformed Teaching Self-Assessment Inventory (RTOP self-assessment).  I had previous experience with a modified version of the RTOP by Drew Isola called the Inquiry-Based Teaching Self-Assessment Inventory.  At some point in the last year or so, I completed the self-assessment.  The self-assessment provided a nice framework for personal reflection.  Angela provided us with a 1-page version that the Modeling Trainers use.  I feel like the two tools together might be a powerful addition to my Professional Learning Group at school.  Another participant shared the Critical Friends Group – Reform Initiative.  This group apparently has protocols for examining different aspects of professional practice.  This information should be found at nsrfharmony.org  I have not investigated this group yet, but the night is still young.  I like the idea of having a simple protocol to use to help guide the reflective and collaborative processes.

About ryanwoodside

I help students learn science. I teach at Windham High School in Maine.
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5 Responses to #ModBio Workshop Day 6

  1. Jim Nugent says:

    Reflection is critical as one seeks to implement a modeling pedagogy. I have found that my discussions with colleagues in this program have been essential as I seek to introduce modeling in my High School.

  2. Emily Hayes-Rowan says:

    I really appreciate your identification of vocab hang-ups as a “teacher created problem.” The vocab is important to US so we make it important in class. But why? Why is it important to us? Is it because that’s how we were taught (not necessarily how we *learned*)? Or because “that’s how it’s done”? And why are we making it important in class? Does it help our students? Is is important to their learning? I’m struggling with constantly assessing my teaching through the lens of these last two questions. I must keep reminding myself: It’s not about me. It’s about them. It’s not about me. I am not the star of this show. As in so many things, awareness is the first step. Even asking ourselves these questions makes us better teachers. This is one of things modeling does so well; it forces us to ask the hard questions of ourselves and to put the focus where it belongs: on our students.

    • ryanwoodside says:

      I absolutely agree with your idea of focusing on the students. It goes right in line of my philosophy of teaching kids… I think one of the hardest things about being a teacher is taking something that we know very well and making it understandable to a young adult. I think vocabulary can be one of those stumbling blocks for some students. These complex words get in the way of understanding the concepts. So I’ve been thinking about vocabulary a lot over the last couple of days. On the surface it seems like such an important idea, but in our sessions it has become very secondary. I think I’d like to get to the point where I can let it go, but I don’t think I’ll be there this year or next year or the year after. But I’ll get there someday. The framework that I’ve settled on for the moment is; if the kids come up with the idea, then I’ll say something like “Biologists have noticed that also and they call it…” and provide the term with their idea. I hope that this will help move the conversation forward towards conceptual understanding.
      As an aside, I distinctly remember a blog post by Chris Lehmann were he talks about NOT teaching your class to the 10% of kids who will major in your subject. Teach your class towards those 90% of kids who will never take another Biology class in their life. How will these kids understand and interact with the incredibly difficult policy/ethical decisions they will be asked to make during their lifetime?

  3. Emily Hayes-Rowan says:

    I love this: “Biologists have noticed that also and they call it…” and provide the term with their idea.

    My first concern when you talk about getting away from vocab is whether that does them a disservice. I keep coming back to the idea that some of our students will pursue higher degrees and careers in science. I worry about leaving them behind and not meeting their needs because I was that kid and because this currently a major question at my school. I know that there is no one-size-fits-all but I don’t think that knowingly doing any group of students a disservice with our pedagogy is ok. And I know this goes against the current fad for fully inclusive classrooms, but I don’t think it’s realistic. There is no way that any teacher, no matter how good, can meet the needs of all students in a classroom with exceptionally diverse needs. It’s unrealistic. The problem I’m thinking about is how to scale modeling up for the science-minded students, to use it as the foundational pedagogy for an honors-type class.

    • ryanwoodside says:

      I do think I’m going to get a lot of milage from the “Biologists have noticed this also…” comment this year. I can completely understand your concerns as reaching as many kids as we can is a concern of good teachers. I think it is totally doable to “scale up” the modeling curriculum by providing more depth to or additional content. I think in a year or two I’ll be moving my AP Biology course to a modeling style course. If it were me and I had those concerns, I’d go talk with a bunch of university professors from your area. I’d be willing to bet that they’d rather have kids with a good conceptual framework for science and an understanding of how science works than kids who “know” a bunch of vocabulary but can’t think critically, communicate, learn in diverse ways, solve problems, and work in collaborative teams. I really believe the modeling program does a fantastic job of teaching kids these skills. At the end of the year, I’d rather have a class of kids with these skills a class of kids who can get 100s on vocabulary quizzes. A friend of mine went out to California in the late 1990s to work for the computer company Oracle. We chatted about how Oracle really liked to hire students from Harvard, Brown, Dartmouth, Princeton etc… regardless of their major. The theory being if you were successful at these institutions, than they were capable of learning difficult and complex material. Oracle was perfectly willing to supply all the information that they would need to learn. In the end, I’m hanging my hat on skills over content just about every time.

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