Today is a second day of a five day lesson series connecting our organic chemistry unit to current topics in food science. I created this unit last Fall in the hopes of increasing the relevance of our biology content to my students by utilizing interesting topics and outside texts such as Scientific American. At first I was worried that the academic reading level would be a challenge, but students shared that they were highly interested in and engaged with our topics and project creation process and that this helped them to unpack the readings in a meaningful way. It was important to me to include relevant, topical articles from a current outside reading source other than the textbook. I felt I could better address our CCSS implementation goals that way while engaging students to explore organic chemistry from a fresh perspective connected to their daily lives.
During Day 1, students choose an organic chemistry topic and begin to explore their article.
When I first piloted this lesson last year, it was a revelation for me as a teacher. Even though I was working with primarily freshman students at the start of the school year when everything feels scary, unfamiliar, and difficult, my students were engaged in every aspect of the classroom work from reading to evaluating their peers. My initial idea was to do the close read together to make sure that I had not misjudged the academic reading level of the articles I had chosen. It became very clear that no matter where individual students fell on the continuum of reading skills, that reading together in our classroom space gave them to the opportunity to have the collaborative conversations they wanted and needed in order to participate fully in the project. If I had assigned the reading for homework, I may not have been able to observe quite so easily which students needed specific supports like a read-along/aloud partner, quiet space away from the other students, or the use of their personal device to access a virtual dictionary. My high level readers also expressed gratitude for the time to devote to this crucial step in our project creation--many of them live incredibly busy lives outside of their tough academic course load and they simply would not have had the time at home to dig into their subject area in a substantive way. I am interested to hear how you navigate the twin needs for more time and more content.
During Day 2, student groups meet together to create concept maps about the information contained in their article.
Throughout the school year, we have explored a number of ways to approach concept mapping as more than just an outline with bubbles around each word or phrase. Students reported that this exposure to a diverse array of concept maps helped them think differently and more broadly, to see concepts in a more connected and integrated way. Concept mapping strategies are something new for me to work with as well and I have been surprised and impressed at the number of ways I can use them in my adult life. I have added them to this lesson series to help expose my students to as many strategies they might be able to use in science class and beyond!
On Day 3, students brainstorm and document their visual display ideas.
For me, today is a very different experience than the group work of the previous session where students collaborated to confirm and solidify their knowledge of their topic. Today, the goal is for students to consider an audience and how their group can help others learn what they now know in depth. I find that this idea of considering their audience to be a critical skill for students to gain experience with through this project. Learning to strategize and focus on what the audience member sees and understands increases engagement and performance for students at a deep level. Our experience together piloting this lesson series just reinforced for me just how eager students are to learn lessons that carry through into many aspects of their lives. Here, the topics themselves as well as the structure of the project serve this purpose.
Day 4 provides students a studio time class session so that they can work on their displays.
Although I initially considered having students create their displays on their own time, I rejected that option and am very happy I did. I found that being in the room with them as they worked provided me with a formative assessment opportunity as I observed and checked in with student groups as needed. It allowed me to see which students needed assistance with content, directions clarifications, or simply a timeline check-in to help with time management. I believe that if I had chosen my first option, there would have been a larger range of quality in the final projects on the turn in date.
On Day 5 students bring in their presentations and participate in a gallery walk and peer feedback activity.
This activity gives students the opportunity to step into the role of an evaluator, to look at work from a position of neutral objectivism and to check their impressions and ideas with their team members. I find that peer feedback work builds my students' abilities to identify their own strengths and areas for growth.
This set of classroom activities has so many important skills throughout the lesson series: reading primary texts for understanding, annotation skills, written personal reflections, small group collaboration, visual mapping strategies, creative display brainstorming and documentation, display creation, and self/peer evaluation. When we finished this series last year, students told me that it was one of the highlights of our year together. I can't wait to hear about your experiences with this interesting set of topics and learning strategies!
1. Ask students to take out their food science article and their brief project description sheet.
2. Give each student an index card and ask them to write their answer to the reading and annotation prompts you shared with them yesterday:
While you were reading, what jumped out at you as interesting and why?
What questions came to mind?
After you finished reading, what did you see as the most interesting and significant part of your topic?
What do you think would be important to share with others about your topic?
3. Once students have done this, pass out the planning and directions document for today's activity.
4. Announce that today each student group will discuss the answers they wrote about their article and create a concept map outlining the information they learned.
1. Have a sign up around the room for each of the article choices. Tell students to move to the area with the sign that corresponds to the article they read so that they can begin to work on their concept map.
2. Be sure to remind students where they can find necessary supplies--markers, colored pencils, rulers, art paper.
3. Circulate around the room to observe each group and intervene with tips as needed.
4. You may be wondering why this assignment was given an entire class period rather than be assigned as a homework assignment. My goal was to facilitate a group discussion about the many points of interest contained in their shared article and this could not be done effectively at home alone. In addition, this process of using a concept map not simply to carefully outline a text in a hierarchical way but rather to view the components of the text in a non linear format that reveals areas of interest to the student group is new to students, and frankly to me! I wanted students to see that concept maps are not simply outlines with bubbles but rather they can be an effective way of surfacing questions and interests that merit further investigation--and that is what this project is about.
5. As you check in with each group while they discuss and work to represent their conversation on the map, keep coming back to the map they are creating, noticing which ideas are strongly represented with multiple bubbles/notes or connection lines. Also point out what information seems to be absent from the map and ask why that is, or if the kids have even noticed it. There is no 'correct' concept map with a specific set of concepts represented for full credit. Allow student choice to dictate the evolution of the group concept maps; you should not be surprised to find students asking if they can come in at lunch or after school to continue to work on it together as a team.
5. To give you an idea of the different ways student groups went about graphically organizing their articles, here are a few student work samples:
And now on to Day 3!