I have been imploding watermelons with rubber bands with my Year 7 science classes for over two years. The kids absolutely love the experiment. We work as a class to patiently place rubber bands onto a large watermelon one at a time and revel in being suddenly splashed by pieces of watermelon. Here is a video of our experiment. See The Big Watermelon Experiment for details on how to do the experiment.
Imploding a watermelon with rubber bands is also a great way to teach how to write explanations in science. I like to use a cause-and-effect graphic organiser to teach students how to use forces to explain what happens in the watermelon implosion experiment. It’s a great opportunity to teach how to use scientific concepts to explain observations. After the graphic organiser, I like to use an explanation scaffold to support students to write an extended text that sequentially explains how rubber bands can implode a watermelon. In this activity, they use casual connectives, time connectives and rhetorical questions. It’s also a great way to embed any paragraph structures your school prefers like TEEL or PEEL.
Use the link below to download and adapt the writing scaffolds for your students.
This year I teach Year 7 maths, year 7 science and Year 12 chemistry in a large high school. Working in a large high school means that no one has their own classrooms. Homerooms are non-existent. My school has a fortnightly timetable cycle with each 50-minute lessons. I am in at least 10 different classrooms in a fortnight. This means every 50 minutes, I am setting up and packing up in a different classroom, utilising different audiovisual equipment and working with a different seating layout. Learning time can be easily wasted if I don’t have a system and a consistent routine for me and my students as we move from room to room. So here are three ways I use Google Classroom to make it easier for me and my students to stay organised and maximise learning time.
Every lesson and every detail are on Google Classroom I post every lesson with every worksheet, slide deck, website, video and anything else I use for a lesson is on Google Classroom. This includes the lesson’s learning intention and success criteria for my Year 7 classes, and the syllabus content points for my Year 12 chemistry class. This means I can walk into any classroom, connect my laptop to the display screen and my entire lesson and everything I need is ready to go. I don’t need to waste time looking for files in File Explorer or my Google Drive. Everything is already in the lesson post on Google Classroom. This maximises learning time as it allows a more seamless lesson flow. It also minimises classroom management issues and cuts down on transition points.
At my school, every student has their own device, so I encourage my students to have the same resources opened on their device as I am going through them on the classroom display screen. This is very helpful for students who may have difficulty seeing the screen clearly for a variety of reasons. Students can also work at their own pace if we are making notes from slides that I’m using so the students who work faster can move on and the students who need more time can take more time.
Having every lesson posted on Google Classroom, lesson by lesson, also makes registrations so much easier.
Lesson starter activity is on Google Classroom
I start every lesson with Quick Quiz, which is a bell ringer activity that the class completes in silence as soon as they enter the classroom. The Quick Quiz is a series of questions based on previous content the class has learnt. I use the Quick Quiz for retrieval practice and as a classroom management strategy. The students know as soon as they walk into the classroom, they do the Quick Quiz. This gives me time to mark the roll, check uniform and set up for the lesson. Each lesson’s Quick Quiz is on Google Slides which is placed on the top of their Google Classroom Classwork. I use to handwrite the Quick Quiz on the whiteboard, but found having the Quick Quiz prepared before the lesson results in a smoother start to the lesson.
Lessons are posted on Google Classroom the day before
I post every lesson on Google Classroom in the afternoon the day before the lesson. This allows students to have a preview of the lesson before they walk into the lesson. I encourage my students to log onto Google Classroom in the evening or in the morning before school, so they know the type of learning to expect for the day ahead. I find that when students know what to expect ahead of time, they are more settled and there are fewer classroom management issues. Some of my Year 12 students like to read the slides the night before if they have time so they can better understand the content when I explain it in class.
These three strategies are not unique to Google Classroom and can be adapted to other digital tools like Microsoft Teams. The key is using technology to facilitate routines that allow you to maximise learning time and feel less frantic when you set up a lesson.
Last year I trialled digital learning logs with my Year 7 maths and science class, which you can read about here. Overall, I found it beneficial as my students were given regularly dedicated time to reflect on their learning, with a focus on what work they are proud of, the challenges they faced, how they overcame these challenges and what they can do differently next time. While students appreciated the time to stop and think about their learning, time was also a barrier to this initiative. Sometimes it felt like there was no time to do this and if we used lesson time to reflect, then we will fall behind. This challenge became very obvious in the last term of the year when students had a large number of assessments and end-of-year activities that we missed some of our dedicated time for learning logs.
So I’ve created the third iteration of the learning log, which only has six weekly reflection activities and a goal setting/tracking page that is equivalent to two weekly reflection activities. So there is a total of eight weekly activities, which provides a buffer for other things that come up during the term like assessments, excursions, incursions and other disruptions. I’ve changed some of the reflection activities to embed more extended writing which may be more suitable for older students. I’ve also incorporated an ACE score in some of the activities, which is a student self-assessment on their attitude, commitment and effort. This was inspired by Trangie Central School.
In high school, the curriculum often feels overcrowded and rushed. There are just too many things to cover and not enough time. However, it is important to give students the time to stop and think about what they are learning and how they are learning, which are important for becoming self-regulated learners. Students need to be supported to set goals, monitor their progress towards their goals, identify areas for improvement and evaluate the usefulness of different learning strategies.
Using learning logs to guide student reflection
Last term, I decided to prototype learning logs with my Year 7 mathematics and science class. We dedicated 50 minutes every week where we stopped “pushing through the curriculum” and wrote learning reflections. We used the learning log Google Slides template from the NSW Department of Education.
We wrote in our learning log every Friday, for ten weeks. In our dedicated learning log lessons, we would first brainstorm as a class what we have learnt in mathematics and science this week. We did this on Zoom using annotation tools as we were in remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. I shared the following template on Zoom and students used the text annotation tools to do a class brainstorm. The template was modified from an existing Canva template.
After we have completed our weekly reflection brainstorm, I would ask volunteer students to unmute in Zoom and elaborate further on their thoughts. Students will then individually write in their learning logs.
Here are some samples of our reflections.
Benefits of learning logs to guide student reflection
I liked this learning log template because it provided students with a variety of reflection questions. This is opposed to asking students to write a reflection or journal entry as an extended writing activity, which many students find challenging because not only are they trying to think about their own learning, but they also have to learn the structure and language of reflective writing.
As a teacher, I also found these learning logs useful as a form of formative assessment. I can use the students’ self-assessment on what they are confused about or from their questions on the topic to guide my lesson planning for the next week.
Challenges of learning logs and student reflection
Some of the challenges we faced were some students wrote very little in their learning logs at first and I had to work quite intensively with them to write more for each reflection question. Some students also did not yet see the value of reflection and completed the entries with minimal thought and as quickly as possible. However, their attitude and work standard improved over the term.
A huge challenge was TIME. As I mentioned earlier, the curriculum is overcrowded and learning often feel rushed. At the start, I found myself questioning whether I can spare 50 minutes each week for learning logs. However, after persisting for a term, I think the time is worth it. Having dedicated time to support students to self-assess, to think about their own learning and reflect on their successes will help them grow into self-regulated learners.
Where to next
Next term, I am going to continue the learning log with my Year 7 class, but I’m going to change some of the reflection questions. I would like to move them towards reflecting more on learning strategies and the significance of what they are learning. There are some sample reflection questions from an Edutopia post that I would like to incorporate. Eventually I would like to make better links between the learning log and their goal setting processes.
If you are thinking about embedding student reflection in your lessons, I would highly recommend scheduling a dedicated time for it each week/fortnight. Giving it class time show students the activity is valued. It is not something they do at home or done as an extension activity. While it does take time away from continuing with content, it is worth slowing down and allowing students to think about their learning. The learning log template I mentioned earlier is a great way to start.
In Sydney, NSW, we are currently in our second round of lockdown due to COVID-19. This means families are being asked to keep their children at home if they can and students are being taught remotely. For my school, we have decided that most of our remote teaching and learning will be conducted online on Zoom and Google Classroom. I’ve blogged about this in our first round of lockdown last year, but many have asked for more details so this post is to share how I set up my online classes. Note that these practices work for my students as many were already established routines (Google Classroom routines in particular) before online learning.
Every lesson is posted on Google Classroom
Even before online learning, I post every lesson on Google Classroom the day before the lesson. The lesson post would have the learning intention and success criteria for the lesson, the class activities we would be doing and all videos, slides, worksheets and other resources would be attached. This is so students can preview the lesson if they wish and it allows me to be more organised in class. At the start of a lesson, I put up Google Classroom on the interactive screen and everything is there.
For online learning, I still do the same thing. However, instead of posting the lesson as a Materials post, I post it as an Assignment post with a due date as the day of the lesson. This is because an Assignment post with a due date will make it appear on a student’s Google Classroom homepage. At my school, we have a whole school process that every lesson is an assignment post with a due date and all lesson posts for the day need to be posted before 8:45 am. So when students log on in the morning, they can see a summary of all of their lessons for today. Most of our parents have also signed up to Google Classroom Guardian so making every lesson an Assignment post allows parents to receive a daily or weekly email summary of whether their child has submitted the required work.
In my online learning Google Classroom posts, I also include Zoom details if there is a live Zoom lesson so everything a student needs for that lesson is in the one Google Classroom post. Many students are already overwhelmed with suddenly transitioning to a completely new mode of learning, by themselves at home, so I try to minimise their need to click on too many different things and potentially getting lost.
Live Zoom lessons
I run live Zoom lessons for almost every lesson, but not all. My live Zoom lessons always start in the same way. Students are admitted into the meeting room at the start of the lesson where they will see a holding slide with today’s lesson outline or a quick quiz, depending on the class. The holding slide replicates our classroom whiteboard set up when we weren’t in lockdown so it offers a sense of familiarity. The slide has a YouTube countdown music timer clip so students know when the live instruction will begin. This allows three to five minutes for students to enter the room. The countdown video lets them know their audio is working. I also let them use these three to five minutes to use the Chat function to say hi to each other.
In the first week of online learning, I teach my classes how they should behave on Zoom. We go through expectations and consequences so everyone has a shared understanding of how we act on Zoom.
In the first week, I incorporate activities where students have many opportunities to practise our Zoom learning routines including:
raising their Zoom hand and waiting for me to ask them to unmute before speaking
having a choice of asking questions by raising their Zoom hand or in the Chat
using the Yes and No reactions in Zoom to respond to regular questions to check their understanding to determine if we can move on (I use to ask them to type in the chat, but using the Yes and No reactions is much more efficient as you can easily see a tally of who is saying Yes and who is saying No in the participant list)
expecting to be randomly selected to respond to questions (before online learning, I used Class Dojo for a ‘no hands up’ approach to responding to questions, which we have continued on Zoom)
taking turns to use the shared screen annotation features, which is particularly good for maths and chemistry
Integrating other apps
While the annotation tools and whiteboard on Zoom are sufficient for most of the activities we do, sometimes I find it easier to connect a second screen such as from a document camera or an iPad. I find an iPad with an Apple Pencil are really good tools. I particularly like the Microsoft Whiteboard app on the iPad with the Apple Pencil to teach maths and chemistry as it feels more like writing on paper and makes my digital handwriting neater.
We have also used Quizlet Live on Zoom to practise our vocabulary. I think playing synchronous games like Quizlet Live allows the class to maintain their relationships and enables them to have experiences they use to before lockdown. Running games like Quizlet Live or Kahoot via Zoom works better if students have a second device. So they will view the Zoom lesson on their laptop and play Quizlet Live on their phone or tablet.
In face to face learning, a lot of my formative assessment and feedback processes happened with student interactions. This included checking their work books in class, speaking to them and being able to gather an overall sense of how they are going. Most of these practices require all of us to be in the same room and these have been the most challenging to pivot to online learning.
I don’t ask my students to take photos of their exercise books and upload it onto Google Classroom. I use to but found this practice to be unproductive and too time consuming for effective, timely feedback to occur. It also didn’t allow me to make adjustments to future lessons quickly enough. This is particularly important in maths as mastery of concepts are often required before moving on. So instead of asking students or post blurry photos of their work, I set quizzes every 2-3 lessons. For maths, I use Stile. While this platform is officially for science, I create maths quizzes in Stile because students can use their mouse or touch screens to easily write their working out and mathematical processes such as fractions that are difficult to type.
Overall, I try to make online learning include as many live Zoom lessons as possible where they involve explicit teaching with lots of worked examples. Google Classroom routines are set up so it offers familiarity to students and allows them to access everything they need in one place, reducing cognitive load as much as possible. However some practices in face to face teaching have to be adjusted for online learning.
I have a STEM class this year again. Yippee! The last time I had a STEM class was in 2019 and their first project was the cardboard games challenge, which I have previously blogged about. This year, my class is different (every class is different) and according to their pre-tests, needed more support in working effectively in teams and more guidance in designing fair investigations and communicating their findings. So we decided to dive into some mini challenges to launch into STEM, before settling into longer-term projects. The series of mini challenges are low prep, low cost, quick to do and are designed for students to consolidate the skills they need for more complex projects. The processes, scaffolds and success criteria are repeated with each mini challenge and are designed so there is a gradual release of responsibility.
This blog post contains an outline of each mini challenge and the resources I used. I used them with my Year 8 class, but they can be adapted to younger or older students. This post also contains a brief reflection on what worked well and what can be done differently.
Launch into STEM
Our project outline is shown in the graphic below.
Mini challenge one – rotocopters
The first mini challenge was rotocopters. This is a very easy challenge so students can focus on developing their skills to identify independent, dependent and controlled variables, selecting and using appropriate equipment to make measurements, using basic statistics to analyse results and writing an investigation report. When students have done this challenge once, they can start changing the design of the rotocopters to have it fall slower, spin faster, etc. To support students to brainstorm on ideas and negotiate on an agreed idea, we used a PMI chart.
I used the following scaffold and success criteria to help students design a fair investigation and to write an investigation report.
Our second mini challenge was straw rockets from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The NASA website has everything you and your students need, from written and video instructions on making the rockets to explanations on how rocket propulsion works. While this challenge seems easy, the extension opportunities are endless. We used the same scaffolds from the rotocopter challenge so students can get another go at improving their work. They can implement the feedback they got for the rotocopter challenge. For the air rockets, I introduced the following reflection questions for students to complete at the end of the challenge.
How much did you know about air rockets before this experiment?
What problems did you have with this experiment? This may include working in a team.What did you learn about yourself in this experiment? This may include working in a team.
Did you do your work the way other people did theirs? Explain.
What is one thing you would like to improve on if you did the experiment again?
If you were the teacher, what comments would you give to your work?
Mini challenge three – parachute challenge
Everything we did for the rotocopters and air rockets led to students being successful at this final challenge – to design a parachute for space exploration. Again, NASA has great resources for this. Check out their Eggstronaut Parachute Challenge.
We used the same processes, scaffolds and success criteria as the previous mini challenges. Students have done these processes twice and have received feedback twice. The parachute challenge is the time for them to become more independent learners. Instead of me pacing the students and releasing scaffolds as they are needed, students were given a project booklet and were allowed to pace themselves within a provided timeline.
When all three mini challenges were completed, each student had multiple samples of work from each challenge that showcase similar skills in designing fair investigations, communicating the results of investigations, and reflections on working in a team. Students can use these work samples to explain how they have grown over the term and how they implemented feedback to improve their work with each mini challenge.
So, what did the students think?
The class did an evaluation of the project. Here are some of their responses to what they liked most about the project.
I enjoy that we are given freedom in our projects to work creatively and not just writing in books.
I really love how our teacher is really understanding when it comes to our work because she does not pressure us like other teachers.
[I like] The rocket experiment, the parachute experiment and filling out the report.
What to do differently next time
Even though the project was designed so it accumulated to a portfolio in the end, many students ran out of time to document their learning progress. I also did not explicitly teach how to create a digital portfolio and articulate learning growth as well as I wanted to. Again the term got away from us.
Explanation texts is another aspect I would like to have taught more explicitly. Each mini challenge required students to explain the forces behind the rotocopter, air rocket and parachute and use forces to explain how their design changes worked. If I had my time again, I would have provided more scaffolding for students to express cause-and-effect relationships and how to move their writing from spoken-like to written-like.
Last year I started prototyping with teaching and learning strategies based on cognitive science. I was particularly interested in how to design and structure learning to support students to consolidate knowledge and skills into long term memory. Some of the things I did were:
Prototyping promising practices with retrieval practice, goal setting and metacognition with the science and HSIE faculties at my school
This year I want to prototype knowledge organisers. A knowledge organiser is an A4 template that succinctly shows the reader (student/parent/teacher) what is essential to know for a particular topic. Knowledge organsers are not new. I’ve seen them on UK EduTwitter for a number of years but I think they are not that widely used in Australia. For a really good post on knowledge organisers, see Joe Kirby’s blog on how knowledge organisers are used at Michaela Community School.
For me I’m trialling knowledge organisers with my Year 7 maths/science class. I’ve made these knowledge organsiers so far for the introduction to high school science topic.
This is how I’m going to use them:
Students to use the look cover check correct process to learn one section of the knowledge organiser at a time. Students choose one section of a knowledge organiser to focus on, read the information, cover that section, write what they remember, check their retrieved version with the knowledge organiser and then correct it with a different coloured pen. This will first be done in class and then moved to homework tasks. Students will receive a copy of the knowledge organisers in their homework folders so that their parents/carers know what they are learning at a glance and can use them to quiz their children.
Use the knowledge organiser to develop low-stakes quizzes. Students can also use the knowledge organiser to quiz each other.
Once students have practised using knowledge organisers in a range of ways and have these routines automated, retrieval practice using knowledge organisers can become the class work students do when the regular teacher is absent.
I make the knowledge organisers in PowerPoint. Click on this link to download the PowerPoint files and make a copy if you’d like to edit the knowledge organisers to suit your needs and the needs of your students.
The new school year is about to start in Australia. This year my school is starting a new middle school initiative where Year 7 science, maths and some aspects of geography will be integrated and taught by the one teacher. And I am lucky to be one of these teachers. Since almost three subjects will be combined and taught by the one teacher, I will see my Year 7 class A LOT for a typical high school teacher. I’ve done this type of middle school/integrated curriculum before at my previous school and I always kick off the year with a project that allows each student learns about learning. This year the driving question for our first project will be ‘How can I learn effectively and achieve my personal best in maths and science?’
So I wanted a hook activity to launch the year and this project. It needs to be an activity that captures the excitement of the project (and the year’s learning) and allows me to see their existing group work skills. I played around with some ideas and thought an escape room will be good.
I have thought about escape rooms before but they seem to take a mammoth effort to create. But I thought I’d give it a go. I used the general guidelines from Bespoke ELA’s blog and was inspired by her use of Super Mario as the background story (Super Mario is one of my favourite video games series). I am using the introduction to Super Mario 3D as the background story for the escape room. If you haven’t got the time to view the video, the gist of the story is that Bowser has captured seven Sprixies (fairy-like creatures) and each time Super Mario and his pals complete a world, they rescue a Sprixie. For my escape room, a world will be a challenge and each time students complete a challenge, they rescue a Sprixie.
I also followed Bespoke ELA’s instructions on using Google Forms to create a digital escape room, using the section and validation features in Google Forms for students to enter codes to unlock rooms.
Students gain the code for each challenge by completing questions in small groups. The images below show each challenge. Challenge 1 was inspired by an activity in Stile, which currently has two online escape room activities. They are definitely worth checking out if you’re interested to see what other educational escape rooms can look like. I used Discovery Education Puzzlemaker to create some of the challenges.
All of the challenges are designed to be quite basic for this particular escape room as the purpose is to see how a group of new Year 7 students work together after knowing each other for a few days. However, escape rooms can be used as retrieval practice activities. I am planning to use this same escape room structure for my Year 12 classes, but have sample and past HSC exam questions in the challenges.
Have you created or used escape rooms before? How did you find them?
I’m big on learning routines. I’m a strong believer that predictable lessons that follow a similar structure every time allows students to learn more effectively. I started at a new school last term and learning routines have been particularly important in establishing my expectations with my students.
I always start the lesson in the same way. Every lesson kicks off with a “Quick Quiz”. For most of my classes, the Quick Quiz involves me writing three to four sentences on the board with missing words (key vocabulary or concepts for the topic). These sentences are based on the concepts of the previous lessons or topics. The Quick Quiz is always on the board before students enter the classroom. As soon as they enter the room, they have to copy and complete the quiz. The quiz takes about 5 minutes to complete. I’ve been doing the Quick Quiz in 3 different schools now and have found it to be effective. I really like the Quick Quiz routine because:
Students are regularly revising the key concepts.
It’s a great settling routine. It encourages students to take out their equipment immediately as they enter the classroom.
It gives me sufficient time to do administrative tasks like mark the roll, check uniforms, lend pens to students who need them and settle students who need additional assistance.
It’s accessible to all students. If they don’t know the missing words, they can still copy the sentences. I also encourage them look back in their books to search for the answer if they don’t know.
It’s a form of formative assessment. I end the Quick Quiz by randomly selecting students to provide their answers (I have a no hands up rule for answering questions and use the Randomly app to select students to answer). It lets me gauge how well they have remembered the key concepts from previous lessons.
I have had to adjust the Quick Quiz routine at my new school for my Year 9 class who told me they found the filling in missing words too easy. The limitations of using a cloze passage style quiz is that it mainly allows revision of key terms and concepts based on recall. So I’ve changed the Quick Quiz for Year 9 to be on a worksheet with a combination of multiple choice questions, cloze passages and open ended questions. I place the worksheets near the door so as the enter the classroom, they take a worksheet and complete it. I still use the Randomly app to randomly select students to give the answer to each question. So far the Year 9s have said they prefer the worksheet version of the Quick Quiz.
This version of the Quick Quiz requires more effort and preparation from me and I don’t think I’d be able to do this for all of my classes on a long term basis. But so far it has worked really well for Year 9s.
How do you start your lessons? Do you have lesson starter routines that you find particularly effective?
Last term I had the privilege of team teaching with a colleague who is teaching a Year 7 class this year for English, Maths, Science, Geography and History (at my school Year 7s are taught these subjects by the same teacher as a middle years strategy). This class, like many classes, consisted of students of varying ability levels and were learning English as an additional language. We wanted to utilise technology in a way that enabled more differentiation. personalised learning and more opportunities for teachers to help students one-to-one.
So we decided to use OfficeMix to flip the classroom. We didn’t flip the classroom in the traditional sense of getting students to watch video tutorials at home and then do activities in class. Instead, we did a brief introduction of the lesson (eg. brainstorm, linking the lesson’s content to previous learning, pre-loading metalanguage) then students watched an OfficeMix presentation on their own devices with a follow-up activities (eg. quiz or a worksheet). Students were told they can watch the OfficeMix presentation as many times as they need to in order to complete the follow-up activities successfully. This meant some students only watched the OfficeMix presentations once or twice while other students watched it many times. When students found the follow-up activities challenging, they were able to watch the OfficeMix presentation to work out how to do it. This allowed me and the teacher I was team teaching with to offer intensive one-to-one support to the students who needed it most.
Here’s an example of one of the OfficeMix presentations we used for this class:
Using video tutorials is not new but what I like about OfficeMix is that it utlises PowerPoint. PowerPoint is a software that many teachers are familiar with so it is an easy step-up for for them to use the OfficeMix add-on. Many teachers already have many existing content presented in PowerPoint so they can easily turn them into video tutorials with minimum workload. What I personally found the most useful is that OfficeMix presentations works on all devices. The class I was teaching in had students bringing Surface Pro’s, Windows laptops, Macbooks, iPads, iPhones and Android phones. OfficeMix worked on all of them.
My next step is to have students making their own OfficeMix presentations to show their learning.