#ModBio Workshop Day 3

Our tentative plan for the day was:

  1. Teacher Talk & Parking Lot
  2. Seeds – Question, Design, Implement
  3. Goldfish – Question, Design, Implement, Analyze, WB
  4. Controls & Variables w/ the Simpsons – Deploy – WB
  5. Experimental Design Model Summary WB
  6. What is Living?

We started with “teacher talk”.  We discussed assessment of whiteboards.  Is it necessary to grade student whiteboards? Does a grade cause motivation in students? It was a brief philosophical discussion.  Angela shared her experience that if you grade whiteboards kids often will not “take a chance”, and we want our students to take chances.  She mentioned that some teachers check for completion or grade for participation.  I think my assessment of whiteboards will fall into a new category of grade for next year, HoW (Habits of Work).  This category includes all those “being a student” components of the classroom.  I’ve clumped them into 3 main categories: Quality Worker, Collaborative Worker, and Involved Class Citizen.  In the last couple years I’ve removed the “being a student” component from my grades of class assignments by taking completed work for credit for full credit (but flagging it as late) up to the assessment.  My rationale being, what’s the point of doing the work after the assessment.  But I’ve had lingering doubts in the back of my mind about this practice.  I’m hoping the HoW grade will help reconcile these doubts.

Our next question was about grading the Interactive Science Notebooks (ISN) that we and our students will be creating throughout the year.  Angela suggested a strategy of checking them for specific items during test day.  This seemed reasonable to me if you think the fear of a bad grade will motivate kids to maintain their ISN.  I really like the idea of the ISN because students will be building this combination journal/lab notebook/3-ring notebook/textbook throughout the course of the year.  It will be the one course resource to rule all course resources.  I remember back to a program I taught 10 years ago in my second year teaching to Honors Biology students were the students could use their laboratory notebooks on any assessment.  It was an interesting idea.  It really made me think about the types of questions I asked on assessments.

Finally we agreed to (attempt to) limit the “teacher talk” to the final 10-minutes of the day.  Seeing how we accomplished our plan today, I think we did a better job of staying in “student mode”.  I think the parking lot will help.  We can park our ideas there by writing them on the whiteboard until an appropriate time for discussion.

Angela uses stories to introduce topics and she is not afraid to “play dumb” with us as a class.  She asks us questions about what we know to determine our prior knowledge.  The vocabulary is provided on an as-needed basis.  This is an interesting idea.  My school is really big on pre-instructing vocabulary.  In science there is generally a good amount of vocabulary, but in biology there is a ton of it.  I used to introduce all the vocabulary at the beginning of the chapter and the first assignment would be to define all the words.  Often it would be weeks before we got the the vocabulary from Section 4 of chapter.  Then I divided it out into the sections and that helped with retention.  But in the lab before lecture style of modeling, the just in time approach to vocabulary development is intriguing.  Angela will ask us if anyone has heard of the term and someone will respond with a definition and we’ll provide a student constructed definition.  Then she’ll ask someone else to tell her of the original student’s definition.  I really like this strategy because it forces the students to listen to each other, and that plays a huge role in MI.

In the Seeds Experiment, Angela started us with a story about being at the feed store and buying these peas.  The guy at the store said soak them overnight, but she remembered her aunt as a kid just putting them in the ground.  So she was confused about what really needed to do with these seeds to get them to grow and she was looking for our help.  As a class we determined some things that seeds might need to germinate (definition – grow little “things” from them): light, wet, dirt, pH.  Our question became “What environmental conditions are needed for germination”.  We developed an experimental design that was consistent across the class and determined our control conditions and constants.  First we observed our pea seeds and made an annotated diagram.  Then each of us then choose an environmental condition to investigate.  Our experimental design changed as worked, but the class was sure to make sure everyone was always aware of the changes.  We’ll be letting our seeds grow for 6 days.  You’ll have to wait on baited breath until my summary of Day 6 to find out what happens.

Next up was the Goldfish Experiment.  Angela was out walking by the pond outside school after class yesterday and she noticed at the goldfish in the pond were opening their mouths very often [it was a sunny day yesterday for the record].  She thought that was odd because the goldfish in the classroom open their mouths less often.  She was wondering what was going on there.  Why was there a difference in the two groups of goldfish.  We agreed on a possible question, “Does temperature affect the rate of mouth opening?”  As a class we designed an experiment and choose different temperatures to investigate.  We made observations about our goldfish and produced an annotated diagram, collected data, and constructed our whiteboard.  At the beginning of the whiteboard session we produced a graph on the classroom whiteboard of the averages for each temperature.  Instead of presenting our whiteboards like we did in previous sessions this time each group was expected to ask a question of another group about their white.

As a class we now have a pretty good conceptual understanding of experimental design.  It was time to exercise, because we are biologists after all, our model in the deployment phase of the modeling cycle.  The first exercise in this model was Controls and Variables.  In this exercise characters from the Simpson’s cartoon are engaged in different scientific experiments and students are asked questions about the scenarios.  I’ve used this worksheet in my own class for the last several years so it was nice to be able to play student with some of my questions and responses.  After working individually we discussed our answers with our lab partner.  Each group then whiteboarded their situation.  I may actually use this worksheet as a pre-assessment with my classes to find out were my kids are before conducting the isopod, pea, and goldfish investigations.  My sophomores have a pretty firm understanding of the basics of experimental design, so I may not need to do as many model development laboratories.

We finished the model deployment phase with a reading, The Way Science Works from the textbook Exploring the Way Life Works: The Science of Biology by Mahlon Hoagland, Bert Dodson, and Judy Hauck.  There is an additional assignment Experimental Design Model Review that we did not complete.

At the end of each modeling cycle the students will be producing a model summary board.  This model summary board will serve two important purposes; 1. it will be a representation of everything they learned, and 2. it will be the review sheet/study guide for the assessment.  The Model Summary Board will be concise and use multiple representations.  Angela recommended assigning the model summary board as a homework assignment to the students.  On the next day the students would share with a partner and then collaborate with a group to make a group summary board that would be presented to the class.  These are our model summary boards.  The next unit would be introduced and the students would have the assessment the next class.  Our homework for tonight is to take the test.

Finally we began our next model.  Angela started the discussion by reminding us that we’ve studied isopods, peas, and goldfish.  She inquired about what these organisms had in common.  We developed a list of characteristics that living organisms share.

My Reflections:

Most of my reflections I incorporated into the summary, but there was one idea that didn’t fit anywhere.  Angela provided us with a list of Socratic question stems to assist us with asking questions of our students.  Starting tomorrow we will be asking each other many more questions.  From my experience helping another group during the Playing the Game of Science Activity, the stems will be helpful because good questioning is hard.  The stems are organized by topic: conceptual clarification questions, probing assumptions, probing rationale/reasoning/evidence, questioning viewpoints/perspectives, probing implications/consequences, and questions about the question.  I’m also thinking of writing each stem out on a small colored index card, using different colors for the different types of questions, punching a hole in the pile and sticking it on a key ring so that I can refer to it during the year or even just practice by using them as flashcards.

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#ModBio Workshop Day 2

Our tentative plan for the day was:

  1. Discuss HW
  2. Reach a consensus on the definition of a model
  3. An activity called Playing the Game of Science
  4. Isopod Investigation
  5. Lunch
  6. Seeds
  7. Goldfish

As pairs, we shared our definitions of a model after reflecting the night before.  The first group shared out their definition.  As each subsequent group shared, we revised the definition.  Eventually we came up with:

 A model is a revisable understanding about concepts and their relationships      that can be used to explore, predict, or explain and develop new ideas about the natural world.

This definition was considerably more wordy than my own, but it was a thoughtful process to continuously revise our definition.

Next we discussed a post by Rhett Allain were he argued (potentially tongue in cheek) that science should do away with the 3 terms hypothesis, theory, and law because they are generally misunderstood by the general public and this can cause problems in the classroom.  He argued for replacing all three of these terms with one term to replace them all – model.  Intellectually, this makes sense to me; practically I think it may be difficult to leave behind the term hypothesis from my course.  We had some very productive intellectual banter, but we did not reach a consensus about this article.

We then Played the Game of Science.  In this activity pairs were provided a game board and a series of moves by both players and who won the game.  It was our task to use this information to determine the objective and the rules of the game.  There were three different games; Delta, Gamma, and Psi.  Each pair started with one game.  One pair was able to determine the objective and rules for two games.  This provided an opportunity to see two white boards for each game that allowed for good conversations.  The trainer asked, “What do these games have in common?” and a discussion ensued about prior knowledge of other games, determining how to win, ideas tried and revised, starting over when errors were made, some groups played their own game after determining the rules, and finally we shared, communicated and collaborated during the white board session.  Our trainer then asked, “What does this remind us off?”, and we immediately concluded the process of doing science.  We were then asked to reflect on how this activity Playing the Game of Science relates to the process of experimentation.

The understandings we developed about the games were based on observation.  We briefly discussed two questions: 1. “What does it mean to make an observation?” and 2. “Is there a way to get information other than observation?”.  This segued into our Isopod Investigation.

Our Isopod Investigation was introduced by Angela as a story about finding these organisms at a school campus.  We were asked to observe the organisms and describe them in words, draw and label a diagram, research about them, and develop some questions that we might investigate.

After breaking for lunch we discussed the possible questions as a whole group.  If you’ve done an isopod lab before the familiar -light vs. dark, dry vs. wet, acid vs. base, and warm vs. cold.  We designed our experiments, collected and analyzed our data and had a white board session.  This was followed by a discussion about how at this point in the year with our students (first week or so) the white boards may not look like the ones we produced.

My Reflections:

  1. Playing the Game of Science was an incredible way to get the students to think about how the process of science works.  At two points during the game, Angela asked participants to help another group that was struggling.  She asked us to ask questions and then give ONE hint to help the group.  It is difficult to ask the right questions to find out were a group is struggling so that you can give them the “correct” hint (one that helps, but not too much).
  2. The point of the isopod investigation was to have a simple experiment for the students to develop a question, testable prediction, design an experiment, collect data and construct a graph.  This had me thinking about what I would like to see on my students’ white boards after this experience.  I’m thinking:
    1. Question
    2. Hypothesis
    3. Annotated diagram of experimental design
    4. Data Table
    5. Graph
    6. Conclusion
  3. As a group I think we are still struggling with being in student-mode, we seem to “break character” and end up asking questions and discussing ideas that may be best saved for teacher-mode time.


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#ModBio Workshop Day 1

At the beginning of the workshop we did introductions; names, where you teach, who you teach, what you teach, and any experience you’ve had with Modeling Instruction. There are 10 of us in the workshop from around the country, NY, NJ, PA, DE, TX, MI and ME.  I was really impressed and envious of the number of people who already had Modeling Instruction implemented in their schools.  We made a plan for food during the week, including a couple tips on good local places.  We biology folk are generally concerned with the input portion of the digestive process! Then it was on to business.

Our trainer Angela Gard introduced us to the difference between “teacher mode” and “student mode”.  We will be alternating between “student mode” were we will think (and hopefully not act) like the students in our classes as we work through the #ModBio curriculum.  We will periodically break into “teacher mode” to discuss questions and concerns.   I think this is a great way to conduct a workshop and it appears to fit with the modeling instruction pedagogy nicely.

Angela provided the storyline to the #ModBio curriculum which is built around seven units.  I’ll be going into more detail about these units in subsequent posts as we work through them, but briefly they are:

Model 1 – Experimental Design

Model 2 – Classification of Life

Model 3 – Evolution by Natural Selection

Unit 4 – Energy and Matter in Ecosystems

Unit 5 – Cell Structure and Function

Unit 6 – Growth and Reproduction

It occurred to me that after the initial unit about experimental design and the characteristics of life, all of the other models could really be deployed in any sequence. I think this flexibility is really important.  I currently teach ecology in the fall because the weather in Maine is the most predictable during that time making it easier to get my classes outside.  Angela agreed with my observation but she reinforced the importance of having idea of a thoroughly developed storyline as the sequence of models are developed.  I’ll need to do some thinking about what my model sequence will be and what my storyline will be to tie together the sequence.

We all then took the Biological Concept Inventory, a 30 question multiple choice exam.  It was interesting to read the possible answers.  I can see how the questions and answers were constructed to tease out common student misconceptions.

We began construction of our interactive science notebook by sequentially numbering both sides of a 100-page grid ruled composition book.  I’m really excited to use the interactive notebook because it is one of those ideas that I’ve been thinking about implementing for a couple years.  I purchased a copy of Teaching Science with Interactive Notebooks by Kellie Marcarelliand I’ve read through it, but have not put it into practice.  I really like the idea of students building their own combination textbook and laboratory notebook as the course progresses.

We had a philosophical discussion centered around two questions: What is a model? and What is Modeling Instruction?  After discussing each question with our partner (we are arranged as five groups of pairs), we reported out the whole group.  We then did a jig-saw activity about several articles relating to models and Modeling Instruction.  We then discussed our two questions again.  One of our homework assignment is to develop a one sentence description of a model and a couple sentence description of Modeling Instruction.

Angela provided several tips about whiteboards:

  1. Brake fluid makes an excellent cleaner for removing shadows left behind after   erasing with clothes.
  2. Alcohol is a good general cleaner and it is important to clean with alcohol after the brake fluid treatment because the brake fluid leaves a chemical residue.
  3. Butcher’s brand Bowling Alley Wax is a great treatment for maintaining the finish of clean whiteboards.
  4. You can make a nice whiteboard holder by using a 2″x4″ or 2″x6″cut to the length of the whiteboard with a 3° bevel cut down its length.  The saw blade width of 1/8″ is perfect for holding the board securely and the bevel makes for a good display angle.

I can see that I’ll have a little prep work to do on my existing whiteboards because some of them have definitely seen better days.

My reflections on what we did today:

  • It is interesting to take on the role of a student and to think like a student.  Our experiences as students can dramatically shape the teachers we eventually become.  Chris Lehmann wrote an interesting post about this topic last fall.
  • One of the criticisms I often hear about reform of science teaching is the content vs. science process dilemma.  Teachers feel like they can not teach the science processes because they can not give up the class time because they have a curriculum to cover.  Angela reminded us of what to “cover” actually means.  Think about that one…
  • Modeling Instruction is the HOW, not the WHAT.  This makes a ton of sense to me because I’ve been discussing with my colleagues for the last few years about the science practices not being an add-on to teach, but rather the way to teach.
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Modeling Biology Workshop Day 0

I’ve arrived at my home away from home for the next 3 weeks, Rowan University.  I’ll be commuting daily to Clearview Regional High School, where the training will take place.  This Biology cohort is a small group, 7 of us, our believe.  I’m very excited about this opportunity and  I’d like to thank Boeing for suppling funding to help make this workshop very cost-effective.

My journey into Modeling Instruction has been several years in the making.  I was introduced to the pedagogy by Frank Noschese (@fnoschese) through either his blog or his TEDx Talk.  I was immediately captivated.  I thought the idea of students learning science by doing science just made so much sense.  I began to research the pedagogy and a quick “ask Google” search brought up several websites: the Modeling Instruction Legacy Site out of Arizona State University, the new American Modeling Teachers Association website and several teacher’s websites including Kelly O’Shea’s Physics! Blog!  Even though I am not a physics teacher, I found Kelly’s descriptions of the modeling building sequence in her class fascinating.  I was sold.  How could I incorporate this pedagogy into my classroom.  I continued my investigation into Modeling Instruction.  While the physics and chemistry model sequences were very throughly developed, I found the biology model sequence was still very much a work in progress.

Last summer I really wanted to attend a Biology Modeling Instruction workshop, but I could not fit it into my schedule as I had already committed to attempt a summit bid on Mt. Rainer with a great non-profit organization Climb for Cancer Care.  So I joined the AMTA and downloaded the Modeling Biology “curriculum”.   I attempted to implement some aspects of the curriculum in my classroom this past school with varying degrees of success.

When I saw the opportunity  for this workshop online, I knew that I’d be there.  Although I’ll be away from my wife and two young daughters for 3 weeks, I’m really looking forward learning and reflecting on the Modeling Instruction pedagogy.

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