Driving questions, thematic units

 

When I started teaching (13 years ago), I was handed a textbook and told to teach year 8 and 9 science.

There was no unit plan, no lesson plans, no instructions on what topic to teach… In those days we followed SACSA, but it was more like following the chapters in the textbook. If the textbook didn’t match up with the curriculum, you just taught it anyway.

I remember getting relief lessons with instructions like “read pages … of the textbook. Write a glossary of all the bold words. Do the questions on page….”

In the past 5 years we’ve thrown out the textbooks – we are better aligned to the curriculum, have more interesting lessons, build more skills in students, inquire deeper and have a lot more fun.

In the move to teaching-sans-textbook, the first step was to change from 3-4 week chapter units to term based long units of work. With 4 strands in the science understanding curriculum, it matches up neatly with the 4 terms. Next, we developed different tasks that encouraged inquiry, skill development, and were now possible with the longer time frames. For example, design inquiry and research inquiry tasks. Lastly, once comfortable with long term units, we started to manipulate the work to fit in with a driving question that had a real world focus. These produced our thematic units. Once that was in place, we tidied up some of the edges – checking to make sure we had a good variety of tasks, checking to make sure we still aligned with the Australian Curriculum, using a common assessment rubric on all inquiry tasks no matter what the topic.

For more benefits of teaching without a textbook, read our Keep Calm and throw out your textbook post.

Have a look at collaborative planning and BYOSTEMA posts for examples of thematic work.

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.

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/

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!