Living collaborative planning

Time is the one resource almost every teacher is short of. I’ve heard (and said myself) “I wish we had more time to be able to plan collaboratively”.

 

The benefits of collaboratively planning and teaching are plentiful:

– it saves time as you can share the load

– it opens up new possibilities as each person brings with them unique ideas, resources, links etc

– it leads to more consistent teaching across a whole year level/subject area as all students can be exposed to similar materials

– it supports teachers who need support, and provides leadership opportunities for others

But there are also benefits to ongoing, “living” collaborative planning:

– it allows for current themes, news events or latest culture to included

– planning a week or a few weeks in advance is manageable and can be done in small time chunks

– in complex secondary sites (or even across school sites and sectors) teachers don’t necessarily have to meet face to face to still be able to collaborate

I really like using the google docs for collaborative, living planning documents.

I like to meet my team for 10-15 minutes before the start of a school day once a week to debrief on the previous week, set the theme for the next week, and brainstorm ways of presenting this in class. Teachers can all edit the planning document and add videos, resources, assessment tasks etc. Rather than a series of lesson plans, the document looks like a list of options you can pick from that suit your own teaching style and student cohort.

Feel free to use our STEMable Project template for term-based collaborative planning. Click here to access.

And see an example of what a planning document could look like while in use. Click here to access.

Student participation – update

We were recently reading about unconscious bias in the classroom. The quiet students (often girls) can get dominated by the noisier students (often boys). What results is that the boys get to respond to more of the questions, get more interaction time with the teacher, ask more questions and basically participate more in the classroom.

 

Here are 10 ideas, ranging from low-tech to higher-tech, for increasing student participation and engagement in the classroom. This is particularly relevant for increasing female involvement in STEM subjects.

10 tool smashdown for increasing student participation

We were recently reading about unconscious bias in the classroom. The quiet students (often girls) can get dominated by the noisier students (often boys). What results is that the boys get to respond to more of the questions, get more interaction time with the teacher, ask more questions and basically participate more in the classroom.

Here are 10 tools, ranging from low-tech to higher-tech, for increasing student participation and engagement in the classroom. This is particularly relevant for increasing female involvement in STEM subjects.

1. Think Pair Share

Think Pair Share and other related strategies encourages all students to participate in class. A discussion question is thought about individually, then in pairs students discuss their thoughts, then pairs are called upon to share with the whole class.

2. Name Draw

Use a system to call on every person in the class regularly – you might cut out slips of student names and pull names out of a hat for equitable question distribution. Or, you might tick off in your roll book when you or a student asks a question to keep track of participation.

3. Mini-masterclasses

Sometimes noisy students or challenging students get all the teacher attention. Try mini-masterclasses to even out teacher attention. Call small groups of students over to work with the teacher on a masterclass (could be a different activity like a demonstration, or a differentiated activity – some students may need a re-teach of a concept, others extension, or some might just benefit from dedicated attention to provide feedback on their work in real-time)

4. Jigsaw

Good for covering large amounts of information. Teachers arrange students in groups and give each group a section of a large topic. Each group researches their part, then presents to the whole group to piece together the overall picture of the topic. e.g. a complete biography from birth to death of a famous person; an overall view of a disease from transmission to cure.

5. Peer teaching

Especially fun when revising before a test. Divide up the topics/concepts covered and assign each section to a group/pair/individual student. Have students plan a short teaching session on their assigned topic to present to the class. Bonus points for board notes, worksheets, analogies, review games and interactives!

6. Poster bell-blitz

Called bell work as it happens at the start/end of lesson “when the bell goes” this is a good way to recap on previous learnings or gauge prior knowledge while incorporating movement into the lesson. Put a question/puzzle/calculation at the top of an A3 page. Set up 4-8 stations of questions around the room. Students, in groups, rotate around all stations to answer all the questions. Instruct students to write their answer on the bottom of the page, then fold it up, so that the next group can’t see their answer. Unfold the A3 sheets and discuss all the responses as a class.

7. Getting sticky

This non-threatening (anonymous) way of including all student’s voices in the class uses simple post-it notes. Give each student a post-it note. Have them write an anonymous response/opinion/answer to a question on it and stick it up on the wall/whiteboard. As a class, sort all the responses into categories and discuss themes.

8. Online collaboration

The teacher doesn’t have to stand up the front and write notes all lesson. Students can do their own research in groups, collaborating with others within google docs, office 365, padlet, pintrest or other cloud-based office suites and online pinboards.

9. Interactive Quizzes

Kahoots and Quizizz – online interactive quiz platforms, can be used to increase formative assessment in class, reinforce concepts, increase participation (in a fun and non-threatening way) and encourage all students to engage in the lesson. https://kahoot.com/ https://quizizz.com/

10. Audience Interaction

Get audience interaction and feedback during a lesson with sites like:

Sli-do: Post polls and questions to the class for instant feedback and participation in lesson. https://www.sli.do/

Verso: Collate anonymous feedback and posts with reply functionality for safe discussion and opinion sharing. https://versolearning.com/

Forums: If you use a Learning Management System (LMS) then there may be in-built forum or chat features for encouraging participation in lesson.

So variable

Part of design inquiry is being able to deconstruct a problem and brainstorm variables that impact on each other.

The simple yet highly effective variables grid is useful across all year levels and multiple subjects in open ended investigations.

Here’s how you use it in:

In the centre square write the variable you want to measure (M) i.e. the dependent variable e.g. distance ball thrown (in metres).

Around the outside squares, brainstorm and list any factors that could change that. E.g. height of person throwing, type of ball, wind conditions, muscle mass of throwing arm, dominant or non-dominant arm, run up or standing throw etc

Once as many factors have been brainstormed as possible, use the variables grid to design a fair test.

The centre square is the dependent variable.

Pick one of the outside squares to investigate as the independent variable.

All other outside squares must be controlled, assumed to be constant or kept the same to ensure a fair test.

STEM Careers

I was so excited a few years ago when a senior student came up to me and said “I really like Chemistry. What can I do with it as a job?”. While it may be true that the jobs that today’s students will have do not exist yet, it’s still helpful to know a bit about the fields you’re interested in and see role models already working in those fields.

Here are some Australian resources to promote careers in STEM with young people that can be used in the classroom – either as printable posters, printed or online resources to direct students to, or videos to season you lessons with, to provide context and relevance to learning.

MYFUTURE Bullseye Career Posters

https://www.myfuture.edu.au/bullseyes

This website provides pdf posters of possible careers that follow on from subjects at school, at different qualification levels.

DIGITAL CAREERS

https://www.careersfoundation.com.au/ linked to here: https://www.digitalcareers.edu.au/career-information/

Similar to the career bullseyes above, this site provides an interactive career wheel for the digital/IT sector. Each link is connected to more information about the job e.g. a video with more details.

CAREERS WITH… magazines

These magazines highlight people, careers and research with their magazines, available online and hardcopy sent out to schools.

Careers with Code: https://careerswithstem.com/read-it-here

Careers with Maths: https://careerswithstem.com/read-it-here

Careers with Science: https://careerswithstem.com/read-it-here

Careers with Engineering: https://careerswithstem.com/read-it-here

The website also has career profiles in many areas under “People”:

https://careerswithstem.com/profile-category/women-in-stem/

Australia’s Science Channel – Women in STEM series

https://australiascience.tv/theme/women-in-stem/

This series put out by Australia’s Science Channel showcases women in STEM careers. From marine biology to robotics, astrophysics to architecture, these videos cover the day-today of many STEM careers from the perspective of women.

OFFICE OF THE CHIEF SCIENTIST

Reports on Australia’s STEM workforce, produced by the Office of the Chief Scientist, are often presented in infographic format, making them easy to digest and promote to students on the importance of pursuing STEM careers.

http://www.chiefscientist.gov.au/category/science-and-research/ocs_reports/

Design Inquiry Skills

We have investigation folios in many subjects within the Australian Curriculum – where tasks require students to deconstruct problems, pose questions, perform investigations, evaluate methods and write justified conclusions.

As part of our Design Inquiry Series, we highlight some tried and tested strategies for building the skills of design inquiry in class, especially in science.

Check out each of the posts in the series through the links below:

0. It’s not fair

– teaching the concept and purpose of fair tests

1. So variable

– how to use a variable grid to deconstruct a problem and plan for a fair test

2. Building critical evaluation skills

– Use a MER chart to logically and critically evaluate the method and suggest improvements.

M – method

E – errors

R – recommendations

3. Getting a good conclusion

– Use the CER format to write a justified conclusion based on the results.

C – claim

E- evidence

R- reasoning

It’s not fair

 

Sometimes it’s hard to emphasize the importance of having a fair test, when the experiments that students do are a little abstract and don’t seem to change even if they are sloppy in controlling variables.

This classroom demonstration of fair tests requires 2 tennis balls, a basketball, a blindfold and a bin or bucket (empty).

This classroom demonstration clearly teaches the importance of fair tests and will have students calling out “it’s not fair!”.

Ask for a volunteer. Tell the class you want to see who is better at throwing a ball in the bin – you or the student.

Give the student a tennis ball and have them stand about 5m away from a bin or bucket. Take the basketball and stand next to them.

Ask the class who they think will get the ball in. (But it’s not fair!)

You’re a reasonable teacher – you understand you had an unfair advantage with a larger ball. Concede defeat and take a tennis ball, but stand 1m away from the bin.

Ask the class who will be the better shot now. (But it’s not fair!)

Fine, you say, the ball size has to be kept the same and the distance from the bin has to be kept the same. Let’s make this a fair test.

Move to stand next to the student, but blindfold them.

It’s fair, you say. We’re the same distance away, we have the same ball. (It’s not fair!)

OK, you admit. It’s not fair. I’ll take the blindfold off. Now is it fair? (Hopefully, yes!)

This is a reminder to keep the way you measure (the distance from the bin), the equipment you use (size of ball) and the conditions (blindfolded or not) of the experiment the same to be a fair test. Only change one variable and aim to keep all others controlled or the same.

Thanks to the creative Mr Culley for this teaching strategy.

Student participation

We were recently reading about unconscious bias in the classroom. The quiet students (often girls) can get dominated by the noisier students (often boys). What results is that the boys get to respond to more of the questions, get more interaction time with the teacher, ask more questions and basically participate more in the classroom.

Here are some ideas, ranging from low-tech to higher-tech, for increasing student participation and engagement in the classroom. This is particularly relevant for increasing female involvement in STEM subjects.

Think Pair Share

Think Pair Share and other related strategies encourages all students to participate in class. A discussion question is thought about individually, then in pairs students discuss their thoughts, then pairs are called upon to share with the whole class.

Name Draw

Use a system to call on every person in the class regularly – you might cut out slips of student names and pull names out of a hat for equitable question distribution. Or, you might tick off in your roll book when you or a student asks a question to keep track of participation.

Mini-masterclasses

Sometimes noisy students or challenging students get all the teacher attention. Try mini-masterclasses to even out teacher attention. Call small groups of students over to work with the teacher on a masterclass (could be a different activity like a demonstration, or a differentiated activity – some students may need a re-teach of a concept, others extension, or some might just benefit from dedicated attention to provide feedback on their work in real-time)

Interactive Quizzes

Kahoots, Quizizz, Quizlet and others are online interactive quiz platforms. They can be used to increase formative assessment in class, reinforce concepts, increase participation (in a fun and non-threatening way) and encourage all students to engage in the lesson. https://kahoot.com/ https://quizizz.com/ https://quizlet.com/

Audience Interaction

Get audience interaction and feedback during a lesson with sites like:

Sli-do: Post polls and questions to the class for instant feedback and participation in lesson.

https://www.sli.do/

Forums: If you use a Learning Management System (LMS) then there may be in-built forum or chat features for encouraging participation in lesson.

Verso: Put up a question, image, video and collect anonymous student responses – the teacher can see the author, but students cannot. Students can like and comment on others posts. https://versolearning.com/

Building critical evaluation skills

 

Critical thinking is a key life skill that is important to teach students, not only to improve their employability prospects, but to be a critical elevator in life generally.

Within discussion sections of practical reports or investigations, students are often asked to list any errors and suggest improvements or alternate models. This could be within science, or health, maths or any other subject with a critical evaluation report.

Without scaffolding (just providing the usual question prompts), this is the sort of response in a discussion I would get (this is a genuine student response):

Discussion:

1. Errors present in the experiment:

none

2. Suggested improvements for the experiment:

less hot fire because I burnt myself.

The question prompts alone are not enough support to encourage logical and critical thinking and evaluation of the investigation.

Enter MER. MER stands for Method, Errors, Recommendations. It is a scaffold for logical and critical evaluation (reflecting on and addressing each step where applicable in the method). Having the structure in place also, I find, helps students be creative in thinking up improvements (or recommendations) for reducing errors.

Here’s what a discussion response to errors and improvements looks like using the MER (another genuine student response from the same experiment).

See how using such a simple scaffold can provide for greater depth, support critical thinking, provide scope for greater improvements and technological improvement, and a logical analysis of an investigation.

Getting a good conclusion

In my early years of teaching I would give students a practical report assessment task and tell them to write a conclusion that relates to the aim. I thought this was a reasonable expectation.

However, I would get conclusions handed up that read like this (this is real student work):

The prac was good. It was and well planned. The end result was kind off what I was expecting but it was still good.

Enter CER. CER is a simple yet highly effective strategy for scaffolding a conclusion that gives a logical evaluation of results with a justified conclusion. This is a strategy that works from middle years through to senior years. If used in primary years, students may only use a CE (if they do not have enough science knowledge to do the R). It can be used in science, in maths, in heath/PE or in any subject where a justified conclusion is required.

CER stands for Claim, Evidence, Reasoning.

Under Claim, students restate the hypothesis.

In Evidence, they say if the hypothesis is supported by the evidence, and summarise the results or trends in the data that provide this evidence.

Reasoning is where students give the “why” or the scientific explanation of why that evidence may have been found.

From the same experiment as the above example where “the prac was good”, now students (from the same class and year level) produce a conclusion like this:

The food with the most energy will be the cheese ball followed by the biscuit then by puffed corn. The claim is supported by the evidence. The cheese ball has the most energy with 588 kJ, whereas the puffed corn has the least energy of 42 kJ. This may be because the cheese ball and biscuit were larger and had more sugar than the puffed corn, so had more energy.

Slime Wars

One of the most searched terms in 2017 was how to make slime. Let’s run through the versions of slime, suitable from early learning to high school, and how it might fit the Australian science curriculum (we don’t just do things for fun, we do things to learn!)

 

SCIENCE INQUIRY

Making slime can be applied to building science inquiry skills at almost any level. From Foundation level in making observations with the senses (how does it feel, how does it smell, how does it look?), to Year 5 and beyond in changing variables and recording data (e.g. changing the proportions and seeing the impact on the texture of the slime).

SCIENCE UNDERSTANDING

Foundation – slime can be used as an example material that has observable properties (slimy, viscous, jelly-like, cool, runny, squishy).

Year 1 and 2 – everyday materials, like water, glue, psyllium husks, can be turned into slime, which has a different set of properties to the original ingredients, through the process of mixing or cooking. This is for the purpose of creating a gooey substance to play with – this fits in with the chemical sciences strand.

Year 4 and 5 – the chemical sciences strand again addresses observable properties and how this determines use. Slime can be made and its unique properties observed, in order to work out its use and application.

Year 6 and 8- irreversible reactions and changes to materials can be investigated through the conversion (cooking or mixing to make a chemical reaction) of the raw ingredients to the resulting slime. The chemical changes involved can be explored at year 8 level.

Year 9 – the oobleck recipe below can be used to demonstrate Non-Newtonian fluids, and how this relates to liquefaction and plate movement in the Earth and Space Sciences strand.

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SLIME RECIPES

1. FIBRE SLIME

The simplest, most non-toxic and safe recipe for slime involves 2 ingredients from the supermarket and a microwave. Recommended for Foundation/Early Learning and above.

1 tablespoon of psyllium husk powder (the finer the better)

1 cup of cold water

optional drop of food colouring

Put in a big bowl, stir and microwave for 2 minutes. It will be hot when it comes out, so allow it to cool or pop it in the fridge before playing with it.

 

The finer the husk, the smoother the slime. Blitz the husk in a blender or food processor before if you wish.

You can investigate different ratios of psyllium husk to water, or different cooking times, to see the effect of these variables on the texture of the slime.

2. PVA CROSS-LINKED POLYMER SLIME

The “traditional” science laboratory slime, this has good chemistry behind it (relating to polymers and bonding) but the borax and PVA glue you may want to leave to the older (upper primary or middle school) students.

PVA glue

borax solution

food colouring

Add 2 parts PVA glue to a plastic cup or bowl.

Add 2 part borax solution and food colouring and stir with a paddle pop stick.

Keep stirring until it clumps together and you have slime.

Go here for a simple explanation of the chemistry behind this slime.

3. PUFFY SLIME

All the glittery internet rage at the moment! It contains glue, but is less”chemically” than the polymer slime above. Suitable for mid-upper primary and beyond.

PVA glue

contact lens solution with boric acid

shaving cream

food colouring

bicarb soda

Add one cup of PVA glue to a large bowl. Add about 2-3 cups of shaving cream. Mix it up with a plastic spoon and add food colouring, glitter, sequins or other as desired. Add the contact lens solution, one tablespoon, and a teaspoon of bicarb. Mix it up and play!

4. POLYMER WORMS

Great for an open day activity or quick group demonstration, this, like the PVA slime, relies on cross-linking polymers for the change from liquid to jelly-like slime. Suitable for any age, with adult supervision and appropriate hand washing after.

sodium alginate solution, coloured with food dye, in dropper bottles

calcium chloride solution in a big plastic bowl

Squeeze drops or lines (“worms”) or sodium alginate into the calcium chloride solution and watch as the jelly-like worms form. Pull them out with your hands and play with them, then wash your hands after!

Go here for instructions on how to make up the solutions, for your laboratory technician.

5. OOBLECK

Another type of “slime”, this mixture behaves as a droopy gooey liquid at times, and as a solid blob when more force is applied to it. It will ooze through your fingers, or you can roll it into a ball. When you stop rolling, it will melt back into a puddle. Totally messy, would recommend for older students just because of the mess!

1 cup of water

2 cups of cornstarch

optional food colouring

Add water and food colouring to a large bowl.

Add the cornstarch slowly, mixing as you go. You will need somewhere between 1 1/2 cups and 2 cups of cornstarch to get a gooey consistency. Use your hands and get messy!