Day 53: Body Systems Wiki

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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).