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.
This year I have a Year 8 STEM elective class. It is a new course that my school is running where we build on existing syllabus outcomes in Stage 4 science, mathematics and technology mandatory. Students learn (and master) the core content in their traditional timetabled science, mathematics and technology mandatory classes and then apply it in their STEM elective. The STEM elective takes a project based learning approach with an emphasis on the design process.
In Term 1, we did the cardboard games challenge. The image below shows the project outline.
We used Caine’s Arcade as our hook activity.
I chose the cardboard games project because I wanted to emphasise to my students that STEM isn’t about fancy gadgets or coding. STEM is about solving problems within parameters, with ongoing prototyping. Making games out of cardboard is also a very low-cost project, which means students can create lots of prototypes and go through many feedback cycles. This was really important in our first STEM project.
The photos below show the cardboard games the students made.
So what worked well?
The project unpacking template that was inspired by Bianca Hewes. I found this template worked well in enabling students to engage with the project outline, identify their strengths and ask any clarifying questions. Students shared their completed templates with their team members so they can work out their group strengths and negotiate tasks based on their strengths.
The overall project allowed lots of differentiation and student voice. Students chose which cardboard game to create. Some students chose mechanically complex games like pinball while other students chose simpler games like skeeball. I had to guide some groups in adjusting their games throughout the project when they were not able to carry through their initial ideas. Eg. the group who wanted to make a cardboard claw machine had to adjust their game quite a few times after each prototype.
The ongoing prototyping and feedback as part of the design process. The project allowed students to provide feedback to each other and help each to solve problems.
The project presentation – We ended up presenting the project to a Year 7 group of students. While the original plan was to run the games room for the whole school, some of the cardboard games were not going to be able withstand over 1000 students playing them so we decided on one Year 7 class as this was our first project.
What would I change next time?
Strengthen the use of a consistent feedback protocol. For this cardboard project, I used the What Worked Well/Even Better If feedback protocol. Students gave their feedback verbally. Next time, I would have students write down their feedback so that each group can further reflect on it.
Strengthen the digital portfolio. I originally planned for each student to individually create a digital portfolio to record ongoing evaluations of their prototypes and how their were working as a team. This did not happen in this round of the project. We still did feedback, reflections and evaluations but it was more disjointed (done via verbal feedback and Google Doc templates) than I would’ve liked. Next time I want to test the use of a digital portfolio. I’m thinking of using SeeSaw.
The project presentation – Next time, I’d like to bring in an arcade games expert or someone who runs carnival games. Next time, I’d also have each student group provide a short presentation on their game and the design process they used to make each prototype before having students play the games.
Overall I am really, really proud of the effort, prototypes and end products from the Year 8s. The project gave me an opportunity to test some processes in a new elective that I can tweak for their upcoming projects, which will include pixel art, interactive posters and propeller cars.
Tomorrow I will be starting another chapter in my teaching journey. I will be starting a new role as Head Teacher Secondary Studies at Concord High School. It is the first school I will be moving to where I’m not an early career teacher but as an experienced teacher and leader. However, all job changes come with challenges regardless of experience. I will have new relationships to establish with students, colleagues, parents and the community. There are new administration processes to get use to like roll marking, printing, new timetable times to remember, etc. These are some of the more specific teaching challenges for me at my new school.
Moving to a bigger school
My previous school was at just the size where all the science teachers had their own classrooms. Many of my learning routines and teaching strategies has been developed with the assumption of having my own learning space. My new school has a much larger student population so learning spaces are shared and I will be in multiple spaces each day. Things like scaffolds and project timelines on the wall will need to be adapted. I’ve already created new sets of formative assessment cards that are smaller and easier to carry around the school. At my previous schools, I used traffic light cups and A4 sized multiple choice cards that stayed in the classroom.
Teaching a new subject
At my new school I will be teaching Year 11 and 12 chemistry. I’m approved to teach chemistry but did not teach it at my previous schools where I mainly taught physics and senior science. I’m really looking forward to this as I love learning new content.
I am really looking forward to this change but also a bit nervous. What are your tips on starting at a new school?
This year one of my roles is to support teachers in using technology to further enhance teaching and learning for their students. I feel very privileged to have such a position because it is one of the best professional learning experiences I have; I learn so much from the teachers I support.
So here’s a summary of what I have learnt:
1. It’s not about me; it’s about them and their students
Those who know me knows that I like to try new things, especially with technology. I like to take risks with designing learning new experiences. I often go into the classroom with “this can go really well or it will blow up in my face” (Don’t worry. The usual result is option A). This doesn’t mean that other teachers have the same attitude and that’s OK. Some teachers like small steps and others like giant leaps. I have learnt that the best way to support a teacher to shift their practice is to find out what they and their students’ needs are. It’s not about how I would teach the class.
2. I do. We do. You Do.
The “I do. We do. You Do” strategy is one that many teachers use to teach students reading comprehension and writing. It’s otherwise known as “Deconstruction. Group Construction. Independent Construction”. When teachers teach students how to write or read for understanding, they would first model the process, then students do the process as a group then students do the process independently. Basically the aim is to make the teacher redundant. This is what I’ve been doing with the teachers and classes I’ve been supporting. My aim is to make my role redundant. For example, in Year 8 French, students and their teacher have been using Google Apps to enable a more efficient feedback model. My role was to teach students how to use Google Apps, teach the teacher how to use comments, editing modes and revision history to give students feedback and show students how to act on this feedback in Google Apps. Towards the last few weeks of the term, I wasn’t needed in the room. The kids knew what to do. The teacher knew what to do. In fact, the student starting using Google Apps for feedback with her other classes, without me helping her at all. The kids are now using Google Apps in their other subjects without their teachers directing them to and are showing their teachers how to use the technology. So I have made my role redundant.
3. From little things big things grow
In the beginning, I was supporting the classes with “little things” like resetting students’ computer and internet access passwords, helping them connect their devices to the school wifi, showing students how to access Google Apps, things that I considered “little” as they were basic technical steps. However, I’ve realised these “little things” are absolutely essential for many teachers and students. It enabled the teachers and students to get over hurdles that switch off a lot of them from trying new ways of teaching and learning with technology.
So I have one more term in this role of supporting teachers. I have loved every minute of it so far. While teachers have thanked me for teaching them, it is them who are teaching me new things.
Gummy bears are not only a delicious treat, they also have multiple uses in science. This term my year 9 class are completing a project called Project Mars. Project Mars is a joint project with the Powerhouse Museum where students can remotely control a Mars Rover to perform experiments on a recreated Martian surface to find out whether Mars could support life.
To collect and analyse the data from these experiments on the Martian surface, students need to learn about atoms and waves, and this is where gummy bears come in. Gummy bears have come in really handy for two experiments showing the properties of light.
(1) Gummy bears and laser experiment
Gummy bears can be used to show how light is absorbed, transmitted and reflected. This activity show why objects have different colours.
Students shined a red laser light onto red gummy bears and green gummy bears. The red light will transmit and reflect on the red gummy bears, but absorbed by the green gummy bears. Students then shined a green laser light onto red gummy bears and green gummy bears and compare the observations. This experiment makes the concept of absorption, transmission and reflection of light more real to students.
(2) Gummy bear wave machine
I came across this experiment on YouTube. Gummy bears, skewers and duct tape is used to make a wave machine to demonstrate a range of properties of waves. I really like this experiment as it is a hands-on and visual way to show students properties of waves and works a lot better than skipping ropes and slinkys.
Formative assessment is something I’ve been putting a lot more emphasis on over the past few years. I’m so sick of just relying of end-of-topic exams to gauge what students have learnt. I want my students to continuously question how they are going and make changes to their learning accordingly. This is one of the reasons that my faculty has embarked on a Structured Observed Learning Outcomes (SOLO) journey this year. One of the ways that many teachers using SOLO use to assess student learning is with SOLO hexagons.
SOLO hexagons involves the major concepts or ideas from a topic to be placed individually onto hexagons. Students then work individually or in groups to connect the hexagon concepts together and they must justify why they have made these connections. It is the justification where both the teacher and the student can assess the student’s learning. It is how students have connected the hexagons and their justification of WHY they have done it that way that allows their learning and thinking to then be assessed using the SOLO taxonomy (or not; the hexagon activity still works with no understanding of SOLO).
Here’s a video showing one way of using the SOLO hexagons in a UK science class.
Here’s an explanation of how to use SOLO hexagons from the SOLO guru, Pam Hooke.
I changed the hexagon activity slightly to suit the needs of my students. The picture shows the instructions that my students received.
And here are the hexagons my students used (note that the hexagons were pre-cut for students and placed into zip lock bags with the above instruction card). My students worked in groups of 2 to 4. I used the SOLO hexagon generator to create the hexagons.
Here’s some samples of the hexagons my students made.
Some things I noticed was that:
My students were all fantastic at explaining each hexagon concept
Some groups connected all the nervous system concepts and the endocrine system concepts together, showing they had an understanding that the nervous system and endocrine system worked together. However all the groups had the immune system concepts separate altogether. I did spend a lot of class time making it explicit that the nervous system and the endocrine system work together to control and coordinate the body. And while the students’ project was to make a fact sheet about how a particular disease/health issue affected the nervous system and the endocrine system, they seem to think that the immune system works on its own and is completely separate from the other systems.
From this activity we discussed their SOLO levels of understanding and how they can use their hexagon connections to see whether they were at a unistructural level, multistructural level, relational level or extended abstract level. Most students concluded they were at a relational level for most concepts and some thought they were extended abstract for some parts of the topic.
The SOLO hexagon activity is definitely something I will use again with my students. Now that they have done it once, the next time will run even better. Feedback from students was that they enjoyed talking about science with each other and that they learnt a lot from each other just by listening to what others had to say about each concept.
This is probably not new but this term I’m trialling a different way of doing homework with Year 9s.
I try to make homework so it doesn’t become a workload burden for myself and my students. A lot of my students have extra-curricular activities like sport and I have had quite a few parent phone calls raising the concern between balancing their family lives and homework. I’ve also had the issue of different access to resources from home. A lot of my students love doing homework activities online, but not all of my students have internet access. To create a set of online homework activities and then another set of offline activities, for all four of my classes became too labour-intensive that there was very low return-of-investment.
So this term I’m doing something different with Year 9s. They will be given a choice in what kinds of homework they want to. The topic is on the nervous system, endocrine system and immune system.
I’ve made sure there are activities that are quite basic (like completing a table) to activities that are higher-order that require the creation of products like video. I’ve also made sure that students can choose HOW they complete their homework. They can do things electronically or on paper.
Not sure how this will go, but is worth trying. I’d love your thoughts on this, whether you’re a student, parent, teacher or anyone else.
Today was the first day where all students were back at school. I had my first lesson with most of my classes today. I never launch into content in the first day. I like to get to know my students first. This year however I want to go further than that and kick off the year by allowing my students to get to know each other as learners. Many of my students know each other socially, but not how they like to learn.
While I don’t have any hard data, I’ve always had the inkling that high student achievement not only depends on individual students, but how the whole class works as a group. My higher-performing classes are where individual students apply themselves more but they also get along with each other and help each other. These classes have a sense of community. Each student has a sense of belonging. They work as a team. I want this for all my classes by design, not by random luck.
So this year I used the first lesson to kick start the establishment of a class community. Students did two activities: (1) Getting to know you as a learner in 3-2-1 and (2) My perfect classroom to learn in …
Getting to know you as a learner in 3-2-1
Students paired up and interviewed each other on 3 of their favourite things about science, 2 things they find hard about science and 1 thing they want the teacher to know to help them learn the best that they can.
For larger classes, I asked some students to share their responses and then collected their interview sheets to look at later. For smaller classes, all students shared their responses and they were tallied so that students can see what they have in common with other students in terms of learning. Here’s an example from my Year 11 Senior Science class.
My perfect classroom to learn in …
This activity is used to establish classroom expectations where all students get a say. In pairs students brainstorm what their perfect classroom is like. In their perfect classroom what are they doing as students? What are other students doing? What is the teacher doing? All responses are collated on the board and classroom expectations are established.
I know some teachers will think this is a ‘soft’ approach and that I should lay down the law instead and let students know who is boss. But I much prefer this way. I really want to focus on developing positive learning relationships amongst students as I strongly believe this will lead to better learning and achievement.