Today is a fourth 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. Announce that today is a work day for student groups to use as they see fit to prepare their visual display.
2. In order to ensure that this is a productive session for all student groups, ask students to talk briefly at their desks with their project team to create a plan for the day based upon the following prompts:
What needs to be done before this project can be turned in?
What tasks can we get done today in class?
What supplies do we need?
As student groups are talking, circulate, observe, listen, and support as needed. Students may ask you about specific supplies available in the room, time to see the librarian, or about computer or printer use during the session.
3. Point out to students their designated work space as shown by the signs that list the name of each project article and the location of classroom art and office supplies for general use.
4. Once you have connected with each group briefly and see that they have a plan for the day, tell students to go to their work area and start on their project work. Remind them that you are available for any type of assistance, from finding supplies and brainstorming project displays to discussing content and editing written work.
1. During this class session, you will see many examples of positive and productive group work including the following:
3. Circulate around the room and check in with each group as needed, referring back to their plan for the day as a focusing tool.
4. As the class session comes to a close, ask students to return all materials to their designated place in the classroom and sit back down at their desks.
5. Check out this creative honeybee project display that one of our student groups put together after reading their article about our current beehive collapse crisis and the scientific theories as to why our native bee population is dying in such large numbers. These students created a honeycomb/hive and place specific questions in each geometic space. The questions are about bee hive collapse and contain information related to the question/topic on the back of each hanging card. There is also a space for students to take blank cards provided by the group and write their own questions for the group to answer. Throughout the class presentation session, I would see members of the group flitting over to check the question honeycomb area, confer together to answer them in writing, and place their answers in the labeled honeycomb shape!
On to Day 5!