Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Start of school craziness

Wow! I can't believe it has been almost a month since my last post! I really have struggled with what I want to blog about but have also been extremely busy with prepping 3 classes, getting used to my schedule (floating lab periods through the week), and a busy family /business life. My son is now at the high school as well. I am so excited and he is starting out so well!

I have also spent considerable time helping a few colleagues use wikis and think differently about their classroom. Linda Wolfgang is an educator that I work closely with as we both teach Academic Biology. I am so proud of what she is doing right now and our two heads together will create a great class! She is an excellent critical thinker which helps in creating a new kind of class to stretch our students! She is committed to using the wiki as a vehicle for student centered learning. She has spent the last year listening to me talk about what cool things we were doing and made the big jump to join me!

I have thought back over the last two weeks that started our school year. this year I decided not to hand out textbooks. Really, I have not used them in years, even before using technology. I always pulled from what was going on outside and created assignments that did not necessarily need a textbook. I do have a class set for use (The one time we needed textbooks due to the server being down, we did not have enough left over!). We actually use them from time to time but do not use them for all the information.

Finally I have all my students on the wiki and we have created team pages and individual pages. I gave them the lecture about my philosophy and goals and my expectations of their behavior. Really letting students know what they have to lose by abusing this service has kept problems to a minimum. Making it clear the penalties and how I monitor is worthwhile time.

Academic Biology
In Academic Biology, students were given safety topics (glass safety, electrical safety...) and asked to research what students in lab need to know to stay safe. They were to create a 3 slide presentation with specific requirements on each slide. We used google presentations to create the slides and then ordered them. Each group presented their slides briefly and created accompanying questions entered on google docs for students to take notes. A different way to teach safety but the real goal was to have students use google docs, manage files and images, maintain and cite sources, etc. The assignment and powerpoints can be seen here.

Next, students created Inspiration graphic organizers of what they know about the scientific method and then researched to fill in the holes. From there, students followed a scientific mystery called Blackout Syndrome. They answered questions I posed and at the end of each segment use the discussion tool on the wiki to discuss the cause of the mystery. Following the assignment, they were given a conclusion that reflected upon the use of the scientific method. One of my goals this year is to continually use reflection with all students.

Science For Living
Students brainstormed the top environmental problems of today, what they knew, and what they did not understand. They also generated a list of materials that they had used, consumed, or touched already today (I will get them to my point about that later this week: 90% of what we use comes from petroleum). As a class, they identified the number one: Climate change. We focused on four possible solutions to reduce the amount of fuels burned. Each group used a decision-making model that identified short and long term positives, short and long term negatives for economic, recreational, and environment. We will use these lists to create a KWL chart and research these areas to gain a better understanding of the issue. I really want to make this class student driven in nature and allow projects to come from the students. Traditionally, these students are the most disconnected in school.

Students in this class researched how Biology has impacted Society in some way. They created Comic Life posters and converted them to a jpeg image which I used to create a slideshow here. Again, managing files and using programs are the key of this assignment. We learned basics about the scientific method by identifying the cause of frogs dying in Croak Mystery. Students answered questions (we were not on the wiki yet). Now we will work in groups to discuss how this related to the scientific method. Students are also working on biodiversity facts to understand the need for a vvariety of organisms. We are working towards discussing biodiversity here in our area by discussing the white-tailed deer population.

A great two weeks. Students are more comfortable now with the technologies we are using. Hopefully we are all adjusted to school schedules soon!


  1. Hi Louise,
    I like your Safety assignment--I had to whip by the one slide on sharp objects though :( It's such a great way to accomplish your two goals of reviewing safety and getting the students to use technology. I just LOVE the 'Blackout Syndrome' and the way you had the students make predictions after each episode. Thanks for sharing what you do with your students!

  2. Louise, what is computer access for students like at your school? Are you a one-to-one school?

  3. Claire,

    Thanks for the comments. I am a classrooms for the future teacher - we received state grants that outfitted our rooms (we must take online classes for 21st century learning, etc.) We are about 100 laptops away from being a one-to-one school and that purchase would be up to our school board. I would love that as it would make a pretty good situation great!

    My students love wikis and I do all I can to be paperless and not provide assignments that are low level and spitting out knowledge.

  4. Loise, after looking at your examples, I can see that I'm going to have to take some more time to try and understand the full potential of wikis. Thanks again for sharing!

  5. @Claire: Any time you want to talk about wikis, let me know. I am not an expert, but have used them in a variety of capacities.

  6. @Louise,
    Thanks for the offer to talk about wikis. I'm going to spend some time this month checking out wikis and seeing if they will suit my needs and the needs of my students. You'll be hearing from me :)