Today is the last 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. When students come in to class, refer them to their turn in checklist document as a reminder of each piece of the project to be turned in today.
2. Allow student groups to take 10 minutes to set up their displays at their lab table. When they are done, ask them to immediately sit back down at their desks for a brief whole group check in.
3. When all students are seated, pass out the Gallery Walk self/peer evaluations to each student group. Each group will receive a packet of eight gallery walk documents stapled together, one form for each project including their own.
4. Announce that during our viewing session today, each group will walk around together to look at the projects displayed throughout the room. For each project, the team will fill out one evaluation sheet. They should save their own project for last.
5. Tell students the purpose of this activity is to give students practice in evaluating work and giving objective, helpful feedback using positive language. Each group will turn in one packet of evaluations for you to read and grade.
6. Answer any clarifying questions and then release the class to get up and circulate around the room to view each project.
1. Give students the rest of the class period to look at, enjoy, and evaluate the class created projects. You will see many examples of engaged, collaborative work during this session. Enjoy it! They include:
Looking at this student work sample of a typical team evaluation form, you will notice that students took turns in the role of the recorder, they filled in each comment prompt space using positive tone and language, and that their comments are both thoughtful and aligned with the number ratings they gave each project. I can get a good sense of the conversations this team had as they moved throughout the room viewing, interacting with, discussing, comparing, and analyzing project displays.
2. While student teams are circulating, the room will be busy but focused. There will be noise and laughter, but it will be primarily directed toward the project display experiences they are having. While they work, you can also circulate and begin to evaluate each project using your own set of gallery walk evaluation forms.
2. Reassure students that they will have time to complete their gallery walk tomorrow. If the room is open during lunch or after school for additional viewing time, I announce that as well.
3. Here is a student sample of one of our visual display projects. This project was incredibly interesting because students compared the way we derive energy from different organic sources through the lens of a Rube Goldberg contraption analogy. And then, they created that analogy as a tactile experience! This showed a high degree of content area understanding, creativity, time and care. Student audiences who experienced this project were much more likely to retain that information than for any other display type for this particular article.
Each of the sample displays you see throughout this lesson series represents a unique student approach to explaining their article content in a way that appealed to viewers. Although they all look different in terms of aesthetics and approach, one thing they all have in common is a way to engage the audience--tactile ways the audience needs to interact with the display and opportunities for audience members to use as a way to communicate their learning, understanding, and questions for the display creators and other audience members for further comment and conversation.