Deconstructing a Science Unit

For the last five weeks, I have been running an inquiry unit in a Grade 3 classroom as a cover teacher. Having to jump into a class mid-year adds additional limitations to a unit, but I left the 6 weeks feeling refreshed and sharp.

Like jumping into an ice lake, I imagine.

 


Central Idea

Extreme weather phenomena impact individuals and their communities

Teaching Note: I broke “phenomena” down into two concepts. A phenomena is an event that is both unique and difficult to understand.

 


Lines of Inquiry

  • Scientists investigate extreme weather in different communities
  • Climate change impacts extreme weather
  • People advance technology to prepare for extreme weather


 Where did we do our learning?

We compiled our digital resources on our class’ Weebly and also activated the classroom as the third teacher. I will get photos of the finished product in my next post.

 

 

Here is a breakdown (by week) of this Unit of Inquiry:


Week 1

We started our new unit of inquiry. The kids already showed a solid understanding of different types of extreme weather but had an thirst for more knowledge and experience. We tore through a number of helpful resources on our Symbaloo, and some students added some of their own to the class Padlet.

We immediately confronted the burning questions focused on how weather occurs and how people prepare for those events. Many of the kids wondered about lightning, so we have started a focused study of lightning, including a balloon and spoon experiment!

The children were fascinated by the diversity of extreme weather phenomena around the world, and we played a few different disaster scenario games to better understand how scientist learn about weather and decide on emergency procedures.


Week 2

In the second week of unit inquiry, we are reflecting on what we have learned about the features and emergency preparation procedures for many different types of extreme weather. Grade 3 combined their knowledge of different extreme weather and natural disaster scenarios to create PHENOMENA: The Extreme Weather Game.

Much like the children’s game Shipwrecked, Phenomena is a call and response game. These are the call and response pairs designed by students.

We will be practicing the call and response pairs to help us remember how to prepare in different scenarios. Hopefully, we will be ready to demonstrate by Showcase! Come play with us!


Week 3

During Week 3, Grade 3 strengthened their conceptual understandings of the information gained in Weeks 1 and 2. This was a great week of experimentation and exploration.

The children expressed an interest in learning about different survivors, so we focused on the harrowing story of Winston Kemp, a man who just wanted to save his pumpkins. The children then spent time independently learning about other people who have survived extreme weather events.

We also discovered a box tornado simulator that we then constructed in class for Showcase. Luckily, we were able to complete some of the tornado simulators by Showcase. We had originally planned to play Phenomena, but Showcase was a rainy day.


Week 4

In the fourth week of inquiry, we tackled some complex subjects, specifically the topic of climate change and Earth’s atmosphere. We read a NASA book that explained the basics of what an atmosphere is and discussed the children’s burning questions. The Grade 3 kids made strong connections to their Grade 2 space unit, and already understood that the atmosphere protects the planet from meteors.

To learn about how the atmosphere helps balance temperatures on Earth, we conducted some outside experiments and digital experiments using a helpful atmosphere simulation. We learned that sunlight carries heat and light energy. We also learned that greenhouse gases hold heat.

The kids were able to connect rising greenhouse gases with warmer temperatures on Earth.

We ended Week 4 by looking at some new technologies that are trying to help people prepare for the more extreme weather trends in the future.

 


Week 5

In this last week, Grade 3 brought our unit to a close by reflecting on what we have learned and pursuing actions that show our understanding. We conducted interviews and created posters showing how we can organize our knowledge to create a better conceptual understanding of the challenges people face with climate change and increasingly extreme weather.

One of the types of technology we looked at that could help people coping with heat waves was the EcoCooler.

Since the temperature shot up to 30°C this weekend, I’m sure we’ll be grateful for having these EcoCoolers come Monday morning!

YouTube Collab & Innovations in the Classroom

My favorite, classroom innovations mostly come from day-to-day interactions in my classroom.

Whiteboard Desks

The whiteboard desks were a result of me needing to do something with large strips of whiteboard surfacing that I had ordered incorrectly.

I covered half of each of my tables to give the students equal whiteboard and computer/paper space. Over the past months, we have tried the whiteboards in all kinds of arrangements. They have been a huge hit amongst the students for math work and collaboration, especially. Now the rest of the middle school teachers have them, and they will be moved to the primary school next year.

Youtube Collab

At the beginning of the year, I decided to sort my students’ science videos into two experiment playlists. There I published ongoing experiments from their units. It is an easy way for me to organize our videos all together. When they reflect on their units, the videos are all ready for them.

A month ago, two of my sixth graders started their own official Youtube Channel, Teenagers Life. Since then they have spent the past weeks showering the adults around them with their videos. As a result of their aggressive campaigning, I am subscribed to them on all three of my active gmail accounts. Kids today know all about the importance of subscribers. They also know about the signal-boosting power of Youtube Collabs.

When the Grade 6 started their Mission to Mars unit, by contacting Alexandria De Wolfe at University of Colorado Boulder via Youtube video, I could see that the kids were pumped about recording their project progress on video. As we pursue our study of the Red Planet, we have been building a physical model simulating Mars’ surface and assembling a rover to test out.

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Click here to see the Mission to Mars Playlist!

Early on, the two boys offered to take over filming and editing the reflection videos. To me, this is a productive use of their time. It makes them consider why we are doing these various experiments and really show off what they know for their audience. It fulfills the standards set by the IB MYP programme, while being engaging and relevant to the learning.

I have always encouraged students to develop meaningful creative projects to demonstrate their learning, and collaborating on Youtube serves this purpose. Their production value is way ahead of my own, and they are constantly finding new ways of explain the what, why and how of our projects.

Reflection on Science Teaching (Order vs. Chaos)

Unfortunately, due to budgetary concerns, the middle school I helped develop will be closing after only two school years. This news, delivered not long after we all returned from Winter Break, came as a shock–not just to me, but also to the middle school students who have been pouring themselves into making our programme great.

To say that I am heartbroken would be accurate; however, I am now moving forward, hopefully in a direction that will allow me to provide support for my students and continue the innovative, inclusive brand of education that I so enjoy.

I’d like to dedicate my next few posts to BALANCE. Balancing teacher and student control. Balancing classroom tidiness with creative chaos. Balancing new technology and old technology. Balancing behavioral management styles. Teachers deal with BALANCE all the time.

Order vs. Chaos

I work in a open learning space with one or two other classes always occurring at the same time as mine. I oscillate between teaching mathematics and science.

At any time, my students have to navigate themselves around a number of ongoing experiments for their science classes. We try to keep them out of the way, but space is finite. Currently, we have a wave simulator (giant bin of water and sand), semi-working Mars rover robot, and pinhole cameras made from matchboxes. Science is a subject based on recorded experimentation. Outside of their lab notebooks, where they practice orderly application of the Scientific Method, the kids focus on proving the various scientific theories and facts that they find in their research.

 

My classroom can look like chaos, and I like it that way. I want them to catch their moments of inspiration and run with them, even if it doesn’t directly feed my plans for the unit. For example, in our Mars unit, the kids are choosing materials to represent the types of terrain on the Red Planet. We found two bags of perlite rocks, and I asked the kids how they want to dye it.

This led to a discussion of the different liquid solvents we have in the classroom: water, ethanol and isopropyl alcohol. From our experiments making soap, candles and molecular gastronomy, the kids already know that the solvent is important.

Now, I could’ve told them how to dye the perlite best to get them back to the project, but this tangential experiment still serves the central purpose of science class. It is inspired, engaging and allows the kids to practice the application of the scientific process.

From the chaos, we find avenues of order. From the explosive forces of creativity and experimentation, we can derive meaning.

This, I think, is authentic learning. What I teach my kids rings true to my experience in lab work and field work. Science is the making of ordered thinking from observed chaos.

The science classroom should reflect that!

 

Middle School Hosted Math Fair 2017

To celebrate 2017 and a brand new year of learning, the middle school math students designed versions of their in-class math activities for the youngest students at DESK.

To prepare for their first ever Math Fair, the Middle School made connections between what a child ages 3 to 6 might be learning and the following middle school concepts:

  • Ratios and Proportionality
  • Operations (Addition, Subtraction, Multiplication, Division) with Variables
  • Geometry

The kids played happily until they had to back to their classrooms to get ready to go home. The middle school students enjoyed the enthusiastic reception to their self-designed math games and activities. Community events like this one help the children at DESK bond through action and learning. We at the Middle School look forward to hosting more subject-specific events in the future!

 

The middle school students were able to conceptualize, design, create and execute their math games effectively within a short time frame. Each child received 10 Doneillies (Mr. O’Neill’s Money) to play at the various booths.

Making Math Accessible

As the Grade 8 students move into 3D geometric space, they are learning how to use mathematical notation to transform 2D spaces. Their transformation studies include learning how to use translation, reflection and rotation.

Skills focus

We can translate, reflect and rotate points, lines and shapes on a coordinate graph.
The spatial reasoning involved in learning transformation skills is difficult to communicate on a worksheet, so we started thinking outside of the box. By building two coordinate planes, we created a flexible, 3D graphing space in our classroom. The students have been practicing graphing on this structure, and it has resulted in better performance on worksheets and unfamiliar problems.

The process of building forced learners to break down complex math scenarios into basic parts. Knowing how to transform means understanding how to plot an (x, y) point. Knowing how to plot an (x, y) point means knowing how to build a coordinate graph.

Collaboration means showing understanding and receiving feedback from other classmates. By working together, the Grade 8 students support and enhance one another’s learning.


Math is a universal language that the students at Deutsche Schule Kobe are becoming more fluent in each day. Stick around for more updates from Grades 6 and 7.

Summer 2016 Updates

Short update:

It’s over a 100° F and humid in Japan, so I have been making camp under the A/C in my apartment. This year I will be finishing my graduate courses at Boise State University for Educational Technology and continuing development of the new middle school at the Deutsche Schule Kobe / European School Kobe.

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Thank you @satyadamours for making sure I had a productive summer! Now I’ve got my eye on that Google Innovator Program.

I also just passed the Google Educator Certification, Level 2. So now I can proudly display my new badge for the world to see. Using Google Apps for Education in my daily teaching practice provided me with enough experience to whizz through the test itself, and passing has given me more confidence in my Google skills.

Funnily enough, I learned a lot by taking the test. I am already applying some of the tools and skills that were introduced to me through the test-taking.


 

 

Looking at this next year, I will be working my professional development after a frantic year setting up a middle school program.

To that end, I am wading through the piles of teaching resources I bookmarked to look at “when I have time”. In that mix, I found some great stuff to use this year. I will be sharing my finds here.


Recommendation: ProDivas for Inquiry-based teaching

ProDivas is a resource that provides short, sweet resources for educators. A colleague at work recommended it to me at school, and I came across it today while creating my teacher planner for the year.

One of the areas I am looking to improve on is incorporating inquiry more effectively into my subject-specific teaching. Since I will be moving into more and more specialized levels of science and mathematics with Grade 8, I need to hammer out a plan for balancing higher level concepts and content with the project-based learning my students are familiar with.

This chart by Natasha Hutchins lays out a helpful breakdown of Inquiry Cycle steps into easy to digest, action-oriented parts. I will try to be doing the same in greater detail before the school year starts.

Combining Tech to Adapt Down

Teaching technology skills to the early grades can seem intimidating. The research is out, but it’s inconclusive as to what is “appropriate” for different age levels.

I approach technology differently (and you can too!). Tech should be a means to an end, not the goal itself. After all, most of us learn how to use technology because we want to do something, not “just because”.

One classic limitation we hit in the early grades is literacy. What can you do with students that have variable reading and writing skills? What about your ESL students?

For their units exploring world cultures, Grade 2 teacher Miss D’Amours and I developed a student-centered website combining Weebly, Symbaloo, Youtube and the Google Cultural Institute.

What we created connected students to museums around the world and gave them a platform to show their learning!

To start, the kids and I created their Weebly for their class together. This means, I had the editor open and projected onto their whiteboard. We voted on the name of the website, the layout and header design–a process that gave the students a sense of ownership.

 

 

The students already had some experience with Symbaloo (thanks to the work of Miss D’Amours), and we love it because it allows students to connect safely (no related videos to click) to Youtube and other media resources. For this unit, we added videos, simulations and custom-made galleries made using the Google Cultural Institute (each filled with art from a designated country). Click below to check out our Symbaloo below!

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After discussing what we were going to be looking for in the galleries (colors, shapes, materials, subjects), we released the children to explore their galleries and tell us what they were finding. Many of the children are of mixed race and/or cultures and were delighted to find authentic art works from their countries.

After a couple of sessions using just the Symbaloo and having kids write down their ideas on bubble organizer type worksheets, we decided to try integrating a Padlet as a Wonder Wall for the students to add their ideas and discoveries.

Here is an example of the Padlet the students used in their classes. The best part of Padlet is that it doesn’t require a login and anyone can add notes to it.  Go ahead! Play around! Leave me a comment.

Padlet was the perfect next step in sharing information. The students were motivated to write and show their learning because they could see what they and their friends were writing in real time! In the following weeks, some students even accessed the website from home with their parents and left comments to show off in class.

In my practice, I aim to make technology seamlessly integrated into the students learning journeys, but that doesn’t always happen. Experiments can succeed or fail. Luckily, this project really took off. It is a testament to the potential of team teaching and open-minded, future forward thinking.