Science with gummy bears

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.

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(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.

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Formative assessment with hexagons

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.

instructions for hexagon activity

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.

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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.

 

A story in 2 minutes – a multimedia activity for all subjects

My principal shared this video with me today. It’s called Our Story in 2 Minutes. The video summarises the Earth’s history from the Big Bang till now in two minutes.

This inspired me to come up with some similar story-in-2-minutes activities where students can create a video using images only to represent the development of an event. It doesn’t even have to be two minutes. It can be one minute, three minutes, however long you and your students like. A video of images can be made to sequence the events in the evolution of life on Earth, the development of our current understanding of the universe, development of the cell theory, development of our understanding of genetics … the list goes on and on and it can be used in subjects other than science.

What I like about this activity is that it’s simple and yet allows students to create and engage in deep learning that extends from a subject area and even be part of a cross-KLA activity. It’s simple for both students and teachers as it involves searching and selecting images that represents certain ideas and events and then inserting the images into a video-editing program such as Windows Movie Maker or even PowerPoint. Technology tools that don’t require a high level of technical expertise from either teachers or students and are available to most students. The activity is also simple in the sense that it does not have to take long, which can be a good activity to suggest to teachers who are concerned about being pressed for time.

To create stories in 2 minutes also allow students the opportunity to learn about digital citizenship. Can students use any images pulled from the web? Do they have to search for creative commons images? How do they acknowledge the source of images? This activity is not only about the content of a subject area.

Finally creating stories in 2 minutes can be adapted into project-based learning or provide an opportunity to create a product that can be shared with a public audience beyond the classroom. Creating a story in 2 minutes require students to first understand the content, select and justify appropriate images that best represent the content and sequence them in a logical order. It allows students to apply higher order thinking skills.

I teach in Sydney, Australia so my school year is starting in about a week’s time. I will be definitely using the story-in-2-minutes concept this year.

What will you use it for?

 

What do students think of their learning?

Student voice is something that I really value. In the perfect world students would have a complete say in what they learn and how they learn. But in the meantime the confines of syllabuses I still like to give my students a say in the learning that’s happening in the classroom. What things do they like learning about? How do they like to learn? Is what they are learning too difficult or too easy? What parts of the classroom learning design do they think needs improvement? What can I do as their teacher to make learning better for them?

My Year 8 class gave their feedback on their learning this week as Term 2 in NSW, Australia drew to a close. Here’s what they thought:

infographic of evaluation results

 

The main topic we studied in Term 2 was called Water Water Everywhere, which is essentially using the particle model to explain the properties of solids, liquids and gases and why one state of matter changes to another when energy is added or removed from the system. This topic is probably one of the most difficult and often disengaging topic for students because it involves an abstract concept. The particle model lends itself to a lot of student misconceptions and is generally something students find difficult to understand, which I have discussed in a previous post. To overcome this the learning was designed so to involve lots of interesting hands-on experiences such as making quicksand and using technology for students to increase their conceptual understanding and allow their misconceptions to be picked more and addressed more frequently.

From the students’ feedback, scientific metalanguage was emphasised as an area they thought needed improvement, so next topic there will be more activities that emphasise the use of scientific metalanguage.

What I also find interesting is students’ decisions on whether they will continue with Science in the post-compulsory years of schooling. What I find particularly interesting is that quite a few students who consistently say they find the learning in Year 8 science fun, interesting and related to the real world, do not want to study science in Year 11 & 12 because their chosen career does not need science. There seems to be a perception with my Year 8s that science in Year 11 and 12 are for people who want to be scientists. This perception is also found in evaluations completed by Year 9 and 10 students.

So one of my challenges for the rest of the year is how am I going to design the learning for these students value science and view it as important to learn, even though they aren’t going to pursue a career in science.

Learning in Term 3

Now that Term 3 has come to an end, I am again analysing the data from Year 7’s evaluation of their learning. Year 7s complete a weekly reflection on their learning as well as an end-of-term evaluation. Their end-of-term evaluations gives me an idea on how they feel about how I structure their learning activities so that I can adjust the next term’s learning accordingly.

For Term 3 our project based learning focus has been on newspapers. For 8 weeks, students deconstructed the language features of news articles and put together a range of articles on the Olympics, the Paralympics and other newsworthy items. Some of these articles were written in groups and some were written individually. Year 7s then selected some of these articles to put together a newspaper using Microsoft Publisher. Each news article involved students revising the article at least twice using the goals, medals and missions structure of feedback. In Term 3 we also did science experiments on Tuesdays that were based on sport science under the theme of the Olympics. For half of Term 3 the class worked with Year 6 students from Merrylands East Public School on Murder under the Microscope, an online environmental science game where students acted as forensic scientists to solve a crime involving the pollution of a catchment area. One new activity I introduced in Term 3 were weekly revision quizzes. These quizzes were essentially thirty-minute pen-and-paper-exams that tested Year 7’s understanding of concepts we have learnt during the week. However, they were allowed to refer to their books if necessary (I just think this is more realistic of real life. When in your life do you come across something you can’t do and force yourself to sit there for 30 minutes without makin any attempt on finding out how to do it. I also think it gives a purpose to students’ book work and instil in them a routine of what revision and studying looks like and feels like.) With these weekly revision quizzes, students mark each other’s work. The quiz is divided into concept areas such as algebra, language features of newspapers and scientific investigations and marks are awarded separately to each concept. Students then look at their performance for each concept area and write a short reflection on what they are good at and what they need to improve on.

So this week, Year 7s completed an end-of-term evaluation of their learning on Survey Monkey.

Term 3’s evaluation consisted of these questions:

  • What is your favourite subject?
  • What makes this subject your favourite subject? What do you like about it?
  • Rate how much you enjoy the following activities (students choose from “I enjoy it”, “I find it OK” and “I don’t enjoy it”
    • Project work
    • Science experiments
    • Maths and numeracy
    • Murder under the Microscope
    • Edmodo homework
    • Rate how much you learn from the following activities (students choose from “I learn lots from it”, “I learn some things from it” and “I barely learn anything from it”)
      • Project work
      • Science experiments
      • Maths and numeracy
      • Murder under the Microscope
      • Edmodo homework
      • Do you want to continue doing project work on Mondays and Fridays?
      • What are 3 things you have learnt from the newspaper project?
      • List 3 things you want to improve on next term.
      • If you were the teacher of 7L, what would you do to improve learning for the class?

So here are the results:

What is your favourite subject?

A pie chart of Year 7's favourite subject

I’m going to conclude by just saying it takes a lot to beat PDHPE as students’ favourite subject.

Reasons why integrated curriculum is their favourite subject

Below are some of the responses from students who chose integrated curriculum as their favourite subject:

Because we get to have fun in those classes and do interesting stuff.

 

The experiments we do and how all the subjects are put into one class.

 

It involves technology.

 

There are so many opportunities to do fun activities and showing people my work.

 

Some of the major themes from this question are that students find integrated curriculum classes “fun”. They also like using technology such as laptops and tablets for their learning, as well as having 5 subjects embedded into one class.  Some students enjoy having their work showcased on the class blog.

Rate how much you enjoy the following activities

A sector bar graph showing year 7's enjoyment rating of different activities

Rate how much you learn from the following activities

A sector bar graph showing how much year 7s learn from different activities

What are 3 things you have learnt from the newspaper project?

 A word cloud was created for students’ responses to this question where the larger the word in the word cloud, the more frequent that word appeared in the responses.

A word cloud showing what students have learnt in the newspaper project

List 3 things you want to improve on next term.

This term was the first time students wrote features of effective team work for their improvements for the following term. In previous end-of-term evaluations, students often listed relatively superficial things they’d like to improve on such as write faster or finish work faster. For this term’s evaluation, the majority of students listed features of team work skills such as listening to other students, working as a team and self control. Many students also identified specific areas of content they’d like to improve on such as algebra or types of scientific variables. This is in contrast to how they listed their improvements in previous evaluations where many students wrote umbrella terms such as numeracy or literacy.

For me, this shows an increased level of maturity in the way they assess their learning. While I can’t attribute the cause of this change to any particular strategy I’ve used, I do have a strong feeling it is to do with the goals, medals and missions structure of providing feedback in their PBL tasks and also their weekly reflections on their revision quizzes. Over a term I think most Year 7s have increased their self-awareness of their own learning.

What have I learnt?

For most of this year I have been experimenting on strategies on guiding students to become more effective learners. The PBL initiatives, the goals-medals-missions structure of feedback, the weekly revision quizzes and weekly reflections of learning have all been things aimed at allowing my students to further develop into effective learners. While I always knew that features such as working together and being self-aware of your strengths and areas for improvement are equally important as understanding subject-specific concepts, I think teaching my Year 7s for 5 different subjects have really made that clear to me. When I think back to how I structure my learning in previous years for my science classes it has always been more focused on content rather than developing students into effective learners. When I do eventually return to teaching science classes only, the way I will structure learning for those classes will be very different to how I used to structure them. Teaching an integrated curriculum has so far been one of the best professional learning I’ve had.