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!

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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.

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.

Provocation: The Egg Drop

The egg drop is a well-known physical science experiment used to help students apply their knowledge about physics, materials and crash science. Often it is used midway or last in the sequence of learning as an opportunity for practice.

But what if it was the first activity of a unit, not the last?

Our first Design & Technology unit introduces the Design Cycle and its processes to Middle School students (see below).

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Image taken from IBO website.

To activate prior knowledge and provoke next-level inquiry, I had the students in my class complete a timed design challenge. They knew what an egg drop is, but I wanted them to make connections to other concepts they have been studying; the 7th graders are starting a unit on gravitational forces.

Before introducing the materials and procedures, I showed video clips of Mars Rovers landings on the red planet. The kids were asked to consider the design elements that were used to help the Mars Rovers land safely.

After showing the recycled building materials and explaining the procedure, I let the students decide if they wanted planning time and gave them 10 minutes to plan and 25 minutes to design.

This group of kids are risk-takers and sometimes impulsive, but they felt pretty confident about their designs. The ones who planned, burned through the extra time drawing goofy cartoons and chatting.

Every single one of the machines failed. No eggs survived.

And I was glad.

Why do this?

Why set up my own students for failure?

  1. Reflective practice: Instead of dragging my students through explanations of good design, I want them to actively engage in the development process and understand why different processes in the design cycle are essential.
  2. Schema activation: Design is natural in any creative process, and many of us engage in it without being conscious of how we are doing it. Expecting 12-13 year olds to be able to verbalize steps in this process during the first week of school is like pulling teeth. Giving them a hands-on experience is one of the best ways to help them break a complex process into steps.
  3. Question inspiration: Inquiry-based units begin with creating questions. By a few months into the year, children are experts at this process, but the beginning of the year presents some challenges. This active, visual experiment provides the students with a common experience from which they can begin to create questions.