Taking the Plunge!

All Too Quick!

Course 5 is already upon us, and I am SO ready to take the plunge into our Final Project! I have thought A LOT about this project since the beginning of Course 4, and now, I am finally going to put it into practice 🙂

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The Planning Began

My unit planner has changed quite a bit since the end of Course 4, and it will continue to change as my team and I work through this unit. I am a member of the three-teacher grade 9 science team at my school, so I had to make sure that what I had originally planned for our upcoming unit was acceptable and feasible for the other members of our team.

The Unit

The unit I will be using for my Final Project is called Systems and System Models, which is a cross-cutting concept of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Our high school adopted these standards this year, and they are first being implemented into grade 9 science. Each of our units is based upon a different cross-cutting concept, and we explore the standards that relate to each of these concepts within life science, physical science, and earth and space science. Below is a picture of the NGSS that will be explored in this particular unit.

Screenshot by: P. Rampley

The unit description for our Systems and System Models unit is as follows:

Students will investigate the various systems and system models present in the different scientific disciplines. In life science, students will investigate the interacting systems within multicellular organisms and the role of photosynthesis and cellular respiration in the carbon cycle. In physical science, students will investigate how a change in energy in one component of a system may affect other components. And in earth and space science, students will investigate the relationships among Earth systems and how they’re being modified due to human activity.

The Planning Continues

This is a completely new unit for my team and I. The structure and the standards for our units this year are very different than what it has looked like in previous years. For this Final Project, I hope to plan a unit that is student-centered and abundant with scientific exploration, as well as technology that’s meaningfully embedded into our curriculum. Some of the ideas/strategies that we plan to incorporate into this unit and that I have learned about through COETAIL are: identifying technology standards and using interactive games, infographics, videos and video creation, and reflection. I hope to implement my new learning through careful planning of the unit and through the support of my team.

Why These Strategies?

The above ideas/strategies that I mentioned seem to have a natural fit into this unit, and I believe that they will further promote student learning. Identifying technology standards is important to me because it keeps me focused on what technology I plan to embed and why. Our grade 9 students really get into using interactive games like Kahoot and Socrative, and those types of games seem to be really engaging for them. Creating infographics will get my students using, not only their science knowledge and understanding, but also their artistic and creative skills, which they don’t seem to get to do in science as often as we’d like. And as for the video creation, we are planning on having the students create a short documentary about how Earth’s systems are being modified due to human activity. Creating a documentary would be a very difficult task for a ninth grader without the aid of a computer and/or editing software 😉  Earlier this school year, during our Cause and Effect unit, the students watched the documentary, Before the Flood, and they were very intrigued by the concept of a documentary and what it had to offer!

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Getting Ahead

It’s a lot to consider and include into a single unit, but that is the tentative plan as of right now. I think we can get there with careful planning and implementation. During this unit, I am hoping to see our students more excited about science while using technology in a productive and meaningful way. Time to get started! I warmly welcome your comments below 🙂

Course 4 Final Project: Models & Systems

Wow! The end of Course 4 is here 🙂 As usual, these courses seem to fly right on by! I really can’t believe that our final course, Course 5, is upon us in the very near future.

Why?

The unit you see embedded below is a great possibility for my Course 5 project because I have never done this unit before EVER!  At our school, we are in the midst of switching to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), AND we are continuing to create science units that are truly integrated. We are not going to teach just chemistry, just physics, and just biology separately in the same academic year, but we are going to teach all of the scientific disciplines, including earth and space science, in the same unit, at the same time, in a more meaningful and seamless fashion. Instead of breaking up the scientific disciplines into their neat little categories, we are attempting to fuse them together, which is much more representative of how science actually works in the real world. So, not only have we never done this unit before, it seemed like a good unit to incorporate many of the concepts and ideas that we have learned throughout our Coetail journey. For this unit, I will be specifically focusing on incorporating project-based learning (PBL) and incorporating technology in a more effective manner.

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Concerns

Honestly, I don’t have any concerns about redesigning this particular unit as all of our units this year are due for review and redesign. I do have some reservations about how I can begin to achieve the Modification and Redefinition phases of the SAMR model in this unit and in my general teaching practice. I have completed a basic plan for this unit (embedded below), but I still think there’s a lot of room for improvement. I still, sometimes, feel that certain tasks are better off without incorporating technology. Or, I could achieve similar goals without the use of technology. Of course, that is not always the case, but I do have my doubts about making this unit “tech-y” enough.

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Mindshift

There are 2 main shifts in pedagogy that this new unit will require from me. The first is a shift from a content-focused unit to an almost completely concept- and skills-based unit. The second is a shift from incorporating tech as it suited me, as the teacher to incorporating tech in a more meaningful student-centered way. Moving to a more concept- and skills-based approach to learning will come easy for me. I have been thinking about and wanting to move in this direction for a longtime coming, and now the switch is finally happening, and my team is completely on board with this, which is AMAZING! But moving to a classroom where there is more Modification and/or Redefinition phases of the SAMR model happening, that’s going to be a challenge. I understand the benefits, but I am not completely sold on the fact that I am capable of doing this well.

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Skills

Because I don’t use tech ALL of the time and because, to be honest, tech is, sometimes, a bit superficially incorporated into my classroom practice, I’m not really sure what skills and/or attributes this new unit will require from my students. It’s pretty tough to say. My students will, oftentimes, surprise me with what they already know about incorporating technology into our learning. My plan, for this first time around, with my newly redesigned unit, is to keep an open mind. Some things won’t take as long, whereas other things may take much longer than I originally anticipated because I made a certain assumption.

In the end, I am really excited to finally devote some more time to incorporating tech into my classroom in a much more meaningful way. I’d love for you to take a glance at my unit plan and offer any advice/feedback/suggestions/etc. that you may have for making it my best unit yet. I warmly welcome your comments below 🙂

Reflecting on Tech

In my classroom, I, primarily, use my laptop and flatscreen during class time. I rarely use my phone or iPad. I use the flat screen as a projector, although it is interactive like a SmartBoard.

I use my laptop for almost everything else: organizing my lesson plans and other documents, slides, and spreadsheets, checking and responding to emails, projecting data, instructions, quizzes, slides, videos, etc. for my students, updating Moodle, using other online resources, communicating to students and parents, and the list goes on. I make good use out of my laptop, and I don’t typically use my phone or iPad because everything I want to accomplish can be done on my computer.

1:1

Our school is a 1:1 school, so every student is required to bring a device with them to every class every day of school. It’s convenient, and easily manageable. Students are used to using their devices during classes, and it seems to happen seamlessly. Of course, what students use their devices for in each class varies, but our expectations for their technology use seems to be the same across the board.

Finding Balance

In my class, we use technology, but we don’t use it for EVERYTHING. In fact, I don’t let my students take notes on their laptop. Whenever we take notes in class or for homework, I require that my students take notes by hand. How torturous, right? And maybe you are wondering about the pushback I get from my students on this. Before I tell them that they can’t take notes with their laptops, I’ve countered any resistance that I might have gotten with having them read an article from Scientific American titled A Learning Secret: Don’t Take Notes with a Laptop.

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Limits

And of course, many teachers put limits and structures in place to aid our students in using technology in an effective manner. Maybe I am a bit controlling. Maybe this is something that I could loosen the reins on with my students. Maybe I could give them a bit more freedom. BUT. I’m not ready to do that just yet! In my classroom, all devices (phones, laptops, etc.) are out of sight unless a student has asked me to use their device for a specific reason, or I have instructed them to use their device for a particular reason. I find it too distracting for my students, and then, it’s distracting for me because I am trying to manage or control what they are doing or not doing. It gives me peace of mind, and I can be a more effective teacher. And everyone can stay focused on the task at hand 🙂

Can better tech protect us from distraction? I’m a little skeptical…

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Multitasking

Multitasking? You’re not actually good at it, therefore you are not actually multitasking, right? No one is. If you’re trying to multitask, you are missing out on life and it’s stressing you out according to this article found in Health magazine. It’s good for no one, not you, not your kids, and most definitely, not your students. Make a list of tasks you’d like to accomplish, focus on one at a time, and you’ll actually get more done than if you were multitasking. This is especially true when we are on our phones and/or computers, as I am sure most of you know 😉

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Tech Breaks

This leads me to my final thought for this blog post: tech breaks. Apparently, they work, according to one of the readings for this week titled The Amazing Power of “Tech Breaks” from Psychology Today. And I am willing to try such breaks in my classroom. We all need a break once in a while, right? Teachers know this all too well, especially after having been in a long meeting. It’s nice to move around, focus on something else for a minute or two (at least), and then, get back to work!

Using technology in the classroom is a process, and it is an ever-changing process. I don’t foresee that changing anytime soon. It’s time to embrace technology, learn it well, and use it to the best of our abilities as classroom teachers. How are you effectively using tech in your classroom? I warmly welcome your comments below 🙂