Day 53: Body Systems Wiki


Science 8 – As part of their unit on body systems, the science 8 classes had their own inquiry project to work on.  It was inquiry in terms of them crafting their own question and answering it, but it wasn’t really an extended study into a inquiry question. I think that once the students settled on a question, their actual research went quite fast.

Most students had difficulty in coming up with a question that was on-topic and could be answered.  Lots of questions were really too broad, such as “what happens when an organ no longer works?”  I’m partly to blame for this, as I didn’t scaffold it as well as I could have.  However, the students had to go through the process of fine-tuning and modifying their questions, and ultimately I think this was very valuable.  The art of wondering and asking is something that can be beaten out of kids in school, and it’s something that we should pay more attention to.

Not too surprising to me was how terrible kids were with using wikispaces.  There is a huge myth about the digital native and how good kids are with technology.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Kids are accustomed to using one-touch buttons to install apps that do things for them.  Even with something as simple as wikispaces, over 1/2 of the students had a lot of trouble. Signing up, responding to their email, joining the wiki, and then finally adding a page were difficult for many kids.  I had also created a screencast that should have helped with the process, but that was a wasted effort.  Students simply did not bother to look at the video, they were quite content to admit defeat (“I couldn’t sign up”).  Many kids didn’t even quite understand the idea of the website.  They thought that wikispaces was my own website, and had problems with the concept of signing for the wikispaces service, and then as a separate task they had to join the class wiki.  I’ve used wikispaces before, 3 years ago.  The students then were much better working with websites.  3 years of IOS and Android have really had an affect on people.

Day 52: GIST Readings


Science 8 – Students were introduced to the GIST summary literacy tool today.  The idea is that for each paragraph or section of text, the student summarizes the main ideas using exactly 20 words.  This helps the students focus on what is really important, as well as requiring them to find out what each new word means.  The need to summarize forces the students to not guess at the definition of new words.  Grammar gets a little wonky, but that’s totally ok.  The importance is in comprehension, not in the re-writing.

Day 51: Extracting DNA


Science 9 – Today in science 9 the students extracted DNA from strawberries.  The lab is fairly straight forward and is well known in education.  With not too much prep, the students are actually extracting DNA – every time I think about this, it blows my mind!  Most of the students find this pretty interesting too.

Of course, this lab is one of those black box type investigations. I have thought about following up the quiz with an experimental design lab.  Some type of investigation that determines how to maximize the quantity of DNA extracted.  Perhaps I will go over an experimental design next class, using the Smarter Science framework.

One of my blocks had several boys that really struggle to stay focused.  Some of them are super interested in this topic and what the lab is about, but have absolutely no desire or compulsion to write something down on paper.  It’s a puzzling thing for me to figure out – I feel like I’m doing all of the things that need to be in place for an engaging environment, but several kids just aren’t in the right head space.

Day 50: Force Diagrams and Balanced Forces


Physics 11 – I tried this problem with two blocks of physics 11.  The first block I had the students work individually and the second block they were put into random groups and did the problem on whiteboards.  As I’ve seen in other situations, the whiteboard groups had much more success. I don’t think it was a case of the strong student doing all the work – there was definite dialogue and sharing of ideas. However, the class ended soon after this question and I didn’t get the chance to do much formative assessment with individual students.

I love this question though, as it hits many topics covered in the past few days:

  • weight is the force of gravity
  • scales measure normal force
  • springs can support a surface, which exerts a normal force (equality of forces, reasoning)
  • you should draw a FBD when solving problems

Day 49: Body Systems and Key Questions



Science 8 – We are doing a short unit on Body Systems.  For this unit I have come up with 3 Essential Questions (called “Key Questions” for the students).  The key questions are:

  • Why does an apple look different when it goes in your body than when it comes out?
  • How are our body systems organized to ensure good health?
  • How do the circulatory and respiratory systems work together?

The unit plan (student version) can be downloaded from here: Body Systems Unit Plan

Students are showing good progress in creating answers to the first question.  However, when I ask the students to reflect on what they’ve learned and how it pertains to question 2, they get stumped.  Like, really stumped.  With a lot of prompting I started to coax answers from the students.  “Well, what happens if your small intestine is shortened?”  They finally decided that this would decrease the amount of nutrients that are absorbed.

While working through some new material on the circulatory system, I asked the students to come up to the side wall and add a sticky note to the key questions whenever they discovered a new idea that seemed to fit.  I think this activity is worthwhile, but we didn’t get very far before it was the end of the class.

Day 48: Balanced Forces


Physics 11 – Here are two props that tend to get used a lot while investigating forces.  The bowling ball and the hover craft / frictionless soccer disk.  They both play an important role of demonstrating an moving object with balanced forces on it.

The discussion starts with observations and descriptions of the ball as it rolls across a level table.  How would  you describe the motion? How can you tell? Can you confirm that the motion is constant?  What forces do you know are acting on it?  Every student thinks there are at least two forces.  Some students say there are only two, some say that there are three or four.  Some students intuitively have a good grasp of Newtonian mechanics and sometimes it’s required to get them to not shout their thoughts – a strong and confident voice and silence other dialogue prematurely, especially when other students accept the other voice without critically thinking about it.

The importance of identifying forces acting on the object is not fully developed with this demo.  The students need to elaborate on their ideas, particularly with drawing Force Diagrams.

I also introduced the idea of inertia with them, as a way to describe an object’s desire to keep doing what it’s doing (its resistance to change of motion).

Day 47: KWL Chart on Reproduction


Science 9 – Today was one of those really productive and useful lessons, almost insidious in fact.  Instead of doing an individual KWL sheet, I put students into random groups and had them whiteboard their work. It was a significant improvement over any other KWL activity I have done.  Not only were students able to summarize a fair bit of detail of previous knowledge, the real winner was in the great questions they wondered about and asked about.

I started off this unit with one primary Essential Question: “Why are both meiosis and mitosis required?”  A more thorough inquiry is based on the idea of finding out what meiosis and mitosis are, and what roles organelles, DNA, genes and proteins play.  I’m don’t think I’ve been transparent enough with them about these underlying questions (and they don’t ask), but next day I’ll try to get them to tie these ideas together.

Some of the questions the KWL generated include:

  • What are all the organelles?
  • What do genes do?
  • Why am I different from my parents?

There were many others but I forgot to take pictures of the whiteboard!

Day 46: Hooke’s Law


Physics 11 – After a few classes of thinking and discussing concepts, it was time to do some concrete work on forces. The students examined the relationship between spring force and spring extension.  They were tasked with designing their own test procedure, gathering data, and graphing it to come up with a model for springs.  Several groups didn’t measure spring extension but measured the total length of the spring.  While they could have subtracted the initial length, they didn’t.  This is the problem with verbal instructions – there will always be students that miss out on details.  From their perspective, there would be no obvious reason why they want to use extension data rather than total length.

I haven’t gone over their labs yet.  My general plan is to give feedback to each student, including a checklist of things to look for such as: titles and headings, data table and observations, repeatable and understandable procedure, graphs and data analysis, and a decent conclusion and discussion.  They already have a report format sheet and I’ll hand out an exemplar for this lab.  The next time they hand in a lab report, they can be graded against a similar checklist and there will be no questions about expectations.

Day 45: What Affects Gravity?


Physics 11 – The classes continued with their examination of things that affect gravity.  In this lesson, we went through how gravity between two objects results in equal forces acting on each object, regardless of the mass of the objects.  I closely followed the outine from Preconceptions in Mechanics, and how Frank Noschese worked with his classes.

I opted to have up to three students pull on spring gauges, with each of their gauges hooked onto a gauge of another (fourth) student.  What we saw was that the total force of the three students (3 x 3N each) equaled the force experienced by the fourth student (9 N).  Students verbally expanded on this idea, but commenting how if there were a billion students pulling with 3 N each, the total of their pull would be 3 billion Newtons, as would be the pull of the singular student.  This was our model to represent small particles, where the Earth is made up of billions of small particles.

We followed this lesson by looking at normal forces. I was surprised that almost all the students immediately saw what a normal force was, and that it balanced against the force of gravity.  In our discussions, there seemed to be very little misconceptions.  Students were also interested in extending their idea of force equality in pairs.  I still zoomed through some demos of a chair spring, foam and vehicle suspension spring (increasing spring constant), and ended with the deflected laser on the desk demo.  They found the laser deflection to be interesting albeit not surprising.