Posts Tagged ‘teaching’

Jessica Lahey wrote an interesting piece last spring about encouraging teenagers to read. She shares her experience in getting her sons to pick up reading again, a voluntary activity that can sometimes flag as reading for academics and extracurricular commitments swell through middle and high school. She has a number of great suggestions, including “seeding” her son’s room with “literary bait” gathered from the non-YA section of the bookstore. Getting kids to follow their own interests (and to make choices on their own) can play a big part in instilling a lifelong love of reading. While her article was largely related to what kids read in their free time, much of what she wrote resonated with me as a classroom teacher who also wants his students to read.

I didn’t see Jessica’s article until just this week when she Tweeted Encouraging Teens to Read Nonfiction (With Cunning, Guile, & a Bit of Luck),” along with a link and a photo of a stack of books. (The books totally caught my eye, and I’m putting the ones I haven’t read on my ever-growing list to check out.)

So here’s why it resonated with me: This year I decided to pilot a non-fiction book project with my ninth grade biology class, and I’m excited about how it went. Students chose books from a long list of titles, and they each read a different book. It was my goal to engage their interest in a wide range of topics related to biology, including medicine, DNA and genetics, sports, natural history, zoology, evolution, endangered species, food and nutrition, the brain, music, and conservation. And really, I also wanted to expose them to good non-fiction writing and to see if they’d liked it. I didn’t make it optional, but I did give them choice and a good deal of time.

Here’s what they read:

  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Skloot)
  • Spillover (Quammen)
  • A Primate’s Memoir (Sapolsky)
  • Inside of a Dog (Horowitz)
  • Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers (Sapolsky)
  • The Wolverine Way (Chadwick)
  • The Violinist’s Thumb (Kean)
  • The Sports Gene (Epstein)
  • The Making of the Fittest (Carroll)
  • Devil’s Teeth (Casey)
  • Monster of God (Quammen)
  • Song of the Dodo (Quammen)
  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Pollan)
  • Incognito (Eagleman)
  • The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons (Kean)
  • My Stroke of Insight (Bolte-Taylor)
  • Your Brain on Music (Levitin)
  • The World Without Us (Weisman)

Some books they didn’t pick that I think would still be good choices: A Sting in the Tale (Goulson), The Botany of Desire (Pollan), Four Fish (Greenberg), Cod (Kurlansky), On the Origin of Species (Darwin), Song for the Blue Ocean (Safina), On the Wing (Tennant), The Sixth Extinction (Kolbert), What to Eat (Nestle), Musicophilia (Sacks), Silent Spring (Carson), The Log from the Sea of Cortez (Steinbeck). Let me know in the COMMENTS section if you have suggestions for other books you think might work. I’d love to have a longer list for students to choose from in September.

One of the challenges of adding this on top of any course is that our students are already plenty busy. They’re reading The Odyssey, Romeo and Juliet, etc. in English, plus history homework and papers, Spanish projects, math, and also my own assignments for Biology, reading both current articles and textbook chapters. So I spread this project out over the first two trimesters. I didn’t want them to have to cram to finish their books as they were prepping for final exams, for example. I kept the assignments simple, but I found that I did need to assign them something. They weren’t about to just read them on their own. Assignment 1 was a 50-pages-in tell me about the book, plus a quick explanation of the author’s goal/thesis, and a notable quote (this was in a round table format, explained to the rest of the class). Assignment 2 was a middle-of-the-book written explanation of a longer excerpt, a what-I’ve-learned-so-far about this topic check-in. And finally, Assignment 3 was a larger book review; a summary, notable excerpt, and a conclusion on whether they thought I should keep the book in the hopper for next year’s class.

My takeaways: the students generally liked this project, and were interested in what they found in the books. They weren’t terribly excited that I plopped this on top of their plates, but their topics did work their way into class discussions throughout the year (The Sports Gene, The Violinist’s Thumb, The Making of the Fittest, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks came up on multiple occasions when their readers were happy to chime in with something they had just read related to the class topic).

Favorite outcome by far: my students are now working through the human body systems by working backwards from diseases, and Jill Bolte-Taylor’s “My Stroke of Insight” has made its way from the girl who read it for the book project to the girl that’s researching stroke. She says, “Oh, ___, you should read the first section of my book. It explains everything you need to know. I’ll bring it tomorrow.” And she did.


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Thursday 11/12/15 brain dump

8:30 General session panel – teachers, science & societal controversy

Ken Miller on teaching evolution. 

Watch “Judgement Day” documentary on intelligent design (Nova). Read: Alan Leshner – “Bridging the opinion gap” (Science).

Bombarding people with facts doesn’t work. Information is not the key, in fact it may harden views. The problem is “cultural cognition” an unwillingness of people to identify with the scientific community because of a number of ingrained beliefs/practices (Dan Kahan).

– cultural connections to science matter.

– Is there hope? When you look at an age related breakdown, there IS. Young people are much more accepting of evolution.

Jacquelyne Gill – paleoecology at University of Maine

How did ecosystems respond to climate change in the past, and how can that inform what may happen in the future. (Forensics for the environment)

Communication requires an empathic connection. As scientists, we’re trained in factual defense, and this isn’t really the best way to go about it. Many people tend to reject the Consensus Model (statements like “97% scientists agree”). It’s not going to convince anyone. In fact, it’s important to recognize that many ideological differences are really about government and how much regulation we’re comfortable with.

In talking with people, “make an incremental push in the realm of trust.” This was a terrific talk.

Seth Mnookin – on vaccination – Putting his book “The Panic Virus” onto the stack

Do you make decisions based on emotions or truth? Both. First, find out the truth, the reality (as a journalist)

Emotions run the opposition. And the way to counter that is not by attacking it, but by an empathic connection. You can’t convince the conspiracy theorists. This connects with what Jacquelyn said. Make “I” statements about what works for you based on research.

I’m going to read this book.

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A few reflections as I read through Suzie Boss’s book “Bringing Innovation to School” (reflections that I think are fairly in line with what she’s saying so far, but applied to my particular setting in school and in my science classroom):

First, in order to TEACH and coach the ability to innovate (which has future potential in the world, for kids to be ready and willing to MAKE something, or to make things better), we have to BE innovative ourselves as teachers. This idea of teaching the importance of innovation strongly resonates with our school’s mission, in that we’re charged with preparing students to go out and “make a positive contribution to the world.” This is not a light charge, nor one that will be easy for some who are used to delivering information, used to doing things the way they’ve always done them. That’s not to say that ALL are doing that.  How are we innovative? Many teachers are doing terrific things in their classrooms, asking students to come up with new ideas that have value (Ken Robinson’s definition of creativity), and to solve real world problems, and to demonstrate proficiency in various areas, by practicing and using skills in math, languages, writing, communication, and science. But, many teachers are comfortable simply delivering content. Sal Khan can deliver content, and his reach is MUCH wider than yours. Khan Academy provides an important role in the universe (because so many children on the planet have not previously had access to that kind of information), but if that’s the only thing that you’re doing as a teacher, you can be replaced by the Internet.

The only way to effectively teach what have been dubbed 21st Century Skills, we must innovate. We’ll also have to collaborate with colleagues. The only way to train students to do the things we want them to do, in the limited time that we have them, is going to be to come up with creative ways to check multiple skills of the list, preferably while checking off multiple disciplines as well.

What I like so far about the book is that she provides great examples of what’s going on in dynamic classrooms around the country, with teachers that are pushing the envelope in different disciplines, thinking big, and asking a lot of their students. She also presents how to APPLY these kinds of projects to your classroom, or to consider how you might do something similar. 

Now with a bit of a an airport layover, I’m going to take in another chunk…

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As part of the wrap-up for this course, we’re looking back at some of the first things we wrote in June (Introduction to WebTools, Setting the Stage, and Guiding Principles for Tech Use in the Classroom).

I don’t know that my thinking/philosophy on using technology has changed dramatically in the past two and a half months. I was on-board with tech use in the classroom with the goal of improved learning and connection, and I was excited to try out some new tools and learn from a new and diverse group of educators. I still am. I do have a clearer picture of some specific tools that I’d like to implement this year in my classes, and I am happy to have made many new connections in my continually-expanding PLN. What has changed for me is a renewed focus on the idea that the best web tools allow us to do something completely new. I find myself coming back to three points from Jeff Utecht’s article “Evaluating Technology Use in the Classroom”:

  • Does the technology allow students to learn from people they never would have been able to without it?
  • Does the technology allow students to interact with information in a way that is meaningful and could not have happened otherwise?
  • Does the technology allow students to create and share their knowledge with an audience they never would have had access to without technology? [my emphasis]

I’ve been focused primarily on the second bullet point (which isn’t horrible). If that’s all we do with new technology, it still represents movement in the right direction. I’ve made some progress on the third point (through student blogging), but I don’t think I’ve tapped into the full potential there. My students were very excited to keep track of their blog’s Page Views counter, and they broadened their readership by putting their new biology blog posts up on Facebook. (Which, come to think of it, is actually a pretty significant step. I wonder if they were sharing any of their history essays, Spanish translations, or math problem sets on FB?) But I want to try to find some ways to have them interact with people outside of our classroom, outside of our state and country, if possible. That’s a new goal of mine for the year.

Lastly, we should recognize that we’re going to ask our students to jump into this whole using tech in the classroom in new ways thing along with us. They’ll get their own crash courses in web tools in the coming year (in many of our classes), and they’ll be fine. They’ll learn the content (most of it, hopefully), and there will be some tools they like better than others (just like us). And all we can hope for at the end of the day is that they’re willing to try new things, that they work hard, and that they’re curious. It is science, right? What’s not to be curious about? In the process, hopefully they’ll understand more about themselves as learners. And as many have said before, the tech is not the point, it’s just a tool, but if it improves learning then we’re moving in the right direction.

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In addition to the Virtual Urchin simulation, I’m interested in a few more that were mentioned in Technology in the Secondary Science Classroom (Bell, Gess-Newsome, Luft). And as we understand that online and computer simulations don’t replace first-hand experiences, they do represent great supplemental material.

I teach a seventh grade class that includes Life Science and Environmental Science components, and a 9th grade Biology class. I’ll talk more about supplemental materials for my 7th graders with online data sets (post forthcoming). But there are quite a few that I’m looking forward to exploring more with my biology students.

The pbs.org You Try It pages contain the relevant content areas: Atom Builder, Human Evolution, and DNA Workshop.

I’ve found Cells Alive very unseful in the past when discussing (and illustrating) cell organelles, cell cycle, mitosis, and meiosis. The interactive portion of the website, including the animations and schematic diagrams, are clear and helpful to students.

For other topics in biology, I might consider trying ExploreLearning.com, although this is a commercial website, and I’d have to balance the benefits of its simulations with the cost of subscribing. It does look like they have a ton online. Here are the selected topics in Heredity and Genetics that they offer. I might consider trying the 30-day trial during that unit to get a feel for it. Does anyone have experience with this site that they can share?

Lasty, the Cell Biology Animations at www.johnkyrk.com look incredibly detailed. I plan on using those.

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I mentioned a new collaborative blog a few posts ago, HowToUse65, that a few teachers at my school started last month in order to foster communication and collaboration as we move to a new Master Schedule this fall. The new schedule will incorporate some longer periods (65 min) every 7 days. So, rather than just talk for an additional 20 minutes when that block comes around, what’s the best use of that time? That’s how the blog was born, and I’d love to hear any input you have on that topic (here in Comments, or at HowToUse65).

But it also got me thinking about how to collaborate with other educators (beyond my department, building, and school), and we’re all working to expand our PLNs to widen the net that we cast. And then I came across this post at TeachPaperless Collaboration and Lesson Planning by Andrew Coy, about summer planning and collaboration. Has anyone used this new Common Curriculum software? It looks really interesting. The four steps outlined on the opening page are:

  • Create Curricula
  • Publish Globally
  • Share Internally
  • Connect With Educators

This is what we’ve been looking for. I’m going to try it out.

Other teachers in Andrew’s post above mentioned Planbook.edu, OneNote, Edmodo.com, and wikispaces as ways that they plan (and sometimes collaborate) online. Are there others that you use?

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“Therefore, the technology cannot be discussed in isolation—it must be com bined with a description of the teaching strategy. A description of the manner in which a pedagogical strategy is combined with technology to teach specific content is crucial” (Bull, Bell).

At this point it’s become a little cliche to say that we don’t want technology to drive curriculum; we want technology to support curriculum, but it’s absolutely true. This is part of what Bull and Bell are saying above. The next step obviously is to say that the point is not to use computers to do the same old things (show pictures on a screen, type a report), but to find ways of using computers to allow kids to do things that they couldn’t do before (the internet helps with this, of course), with the goal of learning something useful (whether that’s science, math, French, or History). The tech is not the end product (we don’t really even need to teach them to use PowerPoint anymore so much as help them use PowerPoint effectively to show what they know, for example). But even that is fairly limited use of technology in the classroom, and doesn’t even qualify as Web 2.0, since it’s fairly static.

Our kids all use computers. In our school, incoming seventh graders next year will all have laptops as a part of their school “kit.” This presents some challenges in the area of classroom attention, focus, and work habits (keeping kids on target, working on the task at hand instead of browsing, etc), but it also presents some opportunities that did not exist before. The access to information is unprecedented. Students still need guidance on what to do with that information, and more and more, they need help sorting through and prioritizing the information that they find. They’re not so good at Googling yet.

There’s a ton of untapped potential in the area of collaboration and communication with the help of technology (as authors Bull and Bell point out). Having partners in a classroom use Google Docs to share research for a project allows them to do things they are not able to do with pen and paper and hard-copy notes (unless they were faxing each other copies of their notes each night, reading, and comparing. Does anyone fax anything anymore, outside of doctors’ offices?). The SHARING of their research (in real time) lets them divide and conquer topics more effectively, note the progress of a partner, and share their work with a teacher all at the same time (by inviting that teacher as a Collaborator as a new way of “turning in” work, another real time way to see work that also happens to be paperless!). They can also share information on the cloud, and work together while each in their own home. The time stamp and revision history features of Google Docs are also useful from a teaching and assessment perspective.

Friedman refers to the availability of information and the “flatness” of the world now, thanks to changes in technology infrastructure, speed of communication, and the subsequent leveling of the playing field. This matters in the classroom as well. How important are “recall of facts” skills relative to the ability to connect those facts with meaningful relationships? Where does learning happen? Are we still disseminators of information? (The sage on the stage model?) I think not, and since we’re in the thick of things, right in the midst of all this change with a number of new tools at our fingertips, it’s an exciting time to be in education.

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