Truly understanding science requires my students to think in ways they might not have experienced before. Conceptualizing something that our eyes can't always see is difficult, and so it's valuable to provide graphic organizers, visual models, and other support tools as resources that my students can access while diving into content. One of the richest ways to get students to build their own methods and approaches to solving problems is to allow them to think on paper. Lessons involving direct instruction are always broken into small segments with short, casual writing periods built into the end of each one. These Quick Write Summaries are meant to focus on content construction and are free of structural analysis. I don't grade them, but I'll always help students put together their thoughts and present them with questions that guide them to the answer. Writing-to-learn strategies like the Quick Write Summary help visual learners with long-term comprehension of scientific terminology and sets the stage for students demonstrating their knowledge through writing in future assessments.
Students in my self-paced blended classroom work in groups every day to complete a series of activities we call "Learning Stations." Learning Stations provide multiple ways in which my students can demonstrate mastery and build a digital portfolio of content to draw on throughout the year. By creating groups in which my students are paired up according to their supported reading and lexile levels, I foster a collaborative culture in which students don't feel singled out and high quality products can be produced by all groups. To alleviate the stress that sometimes accompanies engagement with highly targeted, rigorous activities, I allow my students to choose Station activities that most appropriately address the Learning Targets (please see the "Learning Targets" strategy video) they might struggle with or want to improve in. Reinforcing Station Expectations with explicit instructions at the beginning of each class is a strategy that ensures that my students understand what is expected of them during the period.
We don't use text books in our class, we make them. Each student is given a binder at the beginning of the year. The binder becomes a reference book for the students as they fill it up with the lessons they have completed. Many standard textbooks have become a diluted hodepdoge of information, hard for most students (and even myself) to decipher. This binder allows me to create a resource tailored to my students.
By allowing my students to assess other students' work and then providing them with a Student Lab Development Rubric to evaluate their own work, they learn to design and refine high-quality experimental procedures. The Student Lab Development Rubric is one of the tools I use to help students build the experiments they've created and then display results and lab analyses. When students are the ones dictating how they will conduct their experiments, they invest more fully in the activity and come to realize that science involves constant critical analysis and reiteration. I like to move conversations away from "right" and "wrong" and more towards how we can improve each component of our lab activities. Initially, some students feel uncomfortable identifying that their work isn't up to the high standards of the rubric, but over time most come to realize that this process helps them improve their final products and understand the underlying purpose behind labs.