Today is a third 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 discuss the following prompts in their lab groups:
What was one concept mapping challenge you faced yesterday?
Name one success your group experienced as you created your map.
Think of one question you and your group need answered.
2. Using the spokesperson protocol, allow students to share out their conversations with the large group.
3. Answer each group's question and be sure to applaud their successes with our concept mapping activity. Typical questions may include:
Your responses can focus on the idea that this step needs to be done before moving on to the next project planning phase and that this map is not intended to be framed on a way but rather is more like a colorful brain dump of ideas for you to sort through. Using only pieces of the article as the focus is exactly what students should feel comfortable doing and is the purpose of the activity. Essentially, there is no way to do the map incorrectly unless it is not done at all or does not show time and care. Because you have been observing and interacting with students throughout the week, you will most likely have already spoken to any group whose map does not meet your effort based criteria for completion.
1. Announce to students that today they will be working with the concept maps their team put together yesterday to create a visual project that will be displayed publicly in the classroom.
2. Ask students to take out their planning and directions document and refer them to the following prompt:
What do you want your audience to take away with them after viewing and interacting with your poster?
3. Tell students that each group will receive a piece of large art paper. On one side, they will attach their concept map. On the other, they will write their central question from the prompt above, include their individual reflection index cards, and sketch out their display idea. Tell them to consider the following questions:
4. Refer students to the food project brainstorming day to do list on the board for support as they work through the class session.
5. This student group work sample documents for me this groups' process and highlights both individual contributions (the close read response cards) as well as group collaborative discussion (the concept map on the back and the visual display image on the front). I was pleased with this student work and my only thought for improvement would have been to have the visual display brainstorming diagram be more messy with notes and alternative ideas present for us to discuss and evaluate once the project was completed.
When I grade the final projects, I grade both this process piece as well as the final content presentation. A project checklist document helps to assist my students and I as group plan and supports students as they self check to stay on track with each aspect of this multi-part project.
1. Point to the areas around the room marked with article titles from yesterday and ask groups to move to their designated area to begin their work together.
2. Circulate around the room to assist groups in their work.
3. As students delve deeper into their project vision, check in and make sure students are addressing their central question in a way that engages their audience. Refer them back to the helpful hints listed on their directions sheet:
Now on to Day 4!