Friday, May 17, 2013

This Little Piggy...Dissection with a Twist of Technology and Splash of Tradition

One portion of a biology curriculum that always faces questions is dissection. There are feelings of extreme support and extreme disapproval and everything in between.  Fortunately, I teach at an institution that fully embraces the exposure of students to dissection.  My syllabus includes a week long dissection study of the fetal pig. We use this organism because it gives students the best small size model of what their bodies look like on the inside. The fact that they can actually hold a four chambered heart is fascinating to them. Seeing and feeling all that we talk about is so much better than just accepting that these tissues and structures exist.  Knowing that not all of my students share the same enthusiasm for this type of lab, I do make sure I have parameters and options for all levels of interest. 

1. Knowing the anatomy and physiology is mandatory for the course; touching the pig is not. This is a real worry for some students that needs to be put to rest sooner than later. Virtual dissection is always an option for my students.

 2. Dividing kids into groups based on comfort level makes for smoother lab time. I have students fill out a questionnaire based on 1-3 scale; 1 being ready to "fly solo" and 3 being "I need oxygen to get through it" option. Honestly though by week's end, they are almost all at the "I want to do this again" level.

3. Providing virtual dissection options helps for at home review.  My favorite options for out of class study tools are the Pig Dissection App from Kids' Science  and the Whitman College VPD and Biology Corner Pig Review websites.

4. Requiring a comprehensive assessment gives a defined goal. I set up a practical test where kids rotate through stations to identify structures, functions and systems of selected organs. This gives them the feel of a "gross anatomy" exam and encourages groups to look at other specimens besides the one they are using for their work.

5. Having a relaxed atmosphere with fresh air is a definite bonus!  This may not apply to everyone, but it works for us (disclaimer: be ready for extra lab attire if the weather isn't ideal). We set up a tented area outside for dissections that allows kids to step away if needed, but also provides a great opportunity for all levels of science to be exposed to different organisms. Our life science students were studying worms, grasshoppers, squid, crayfish and frogs, while our advanced biology students were examining cats, sharks and rats, and our biology students were in the mix with fetal pigs.  It is always enjoyable to see our 7th, 9th, 11th and 12th graders all together in one place learning science!
To learn more ways in which I am using technology in my classroom, follow me on Twitter @eglassman757.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Putting My Students in the Driver's Seat of Assessment

One of my goals as a teacher is to make sure my students know that they are in the driver's seat during the year. I try to be the teacher who rides in the passenger seat to help provide directions, offer input, and of course hit the brakes if they are ever steering out of control. I want them to realize that their achievements are earned and not just given for jumping through hoops.

A few weeks ago I lived up to that goal, more than I have in the past. I gave up the control of a traditional assessment and left the design of a project to my students. Over the course of two days, they came up with the parameters, requirements, and content of a project covering the respiratory and circulatory systems.  It all started when a group of students approached me about doing a project to help them study for exams. They weren't looking for bonus points, just an opportunity to use the iPads to explore ways to help them study. This then manifested itself into a project for the current chapter rather than a paper and pencil test. I must say, I was little apprehensive at first. I didn't want my students to think that doing a project would be an "easy A" or simple task.  I have never completely replaced a test with a project. However, I figured I would give it a try. So I put on my seat belt and off we went!

Class discussion lead to brainstorm lead to replacing chapter test with iPad project.

Here are five suggestions if you ever decide to take the same risk....

1. Set guidelines, but not rules. The more specific the details are, the more likely your students will have projects that resemble one another. Had I said that everyone needed to use the same app or work on the same topic, the results would have been much different.

2. Give time in class to work. Since I have a shared iPad program, students can only work on filiming the projects at school. I have been very flexble to having a "working deadline" that was not set in stone. Some kids needed extensions for athletic dismissals, coordinated study hall time, or to add more to the project. I had kids asking for more time because they wanted to make their projects better. 

In the project featured above, extra time was given to make an iPad holder out of ring stands

3. Regardless of the project style, capture it on the iPad. I loved the fact that boys were dancing, girls were sculpting, and kids who are usually quiet in class were proud to show what they learned.


4. Provide a solid rubric for grading. Shawn McCusker's blog post, "Blow the Top Off Your Rubric" was a fantastic starting point for me. My favorite suggestion that he gave was to allow for failure and correction. When my students brought their projects to me, I often said, "This is good, but how can you make it great?"

5. Be patient, anticipate roadblocks and be amazed.

Bottom line, the projects were awesome. I am still amazed at the results. I have learned that whatever bar I set for my students, they will measure it and jump higher.....every time.

To learn more ways in which I am using technology in my classroom, follow me on Twitter @eglassman757.