Using Technology to Deepen Student Learning of Ecology Themes

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SWBAT to investigate the biotic and abiotic ecological factors in each of the major biomes.

Big Idea

Have students use a great tech tool to create interactive webpages about the ecology of each biome!

Notes for the Teacher

Students liked our previous lesson connecting the ecology and energy flow within biomes so much that we extended the work with the use of the online tool called Thinglink.  

If you have never used Thinglink, it is amazing! Each user must set up an account, but this process is easy and free.  Kids love using the tool because it can be personalized to include images from the web, personal photos, video links online as well as student created clips, all with audio voiceover and caption options.  As a teacher,  I like it because it is a wonderful collaboration tool for students that gives them creative control, allows for technology skills and strengths to come to the forefront, and encourages and requires both partners to interact with each other and the content in ways that doesn't always happen with text/image projects in which one student can choose to take on the writing while the other draws the visual image in isolation.

This was our first time using Thinglink as a group and I designed it  so it as an extension activity building upon the last lesson.  This activity extended past the last activity with the addition of an issue piece where students described a concern/problem happening within their biome.  Going forward with a new set of skills and experiences using the tool and working with students,  I can potentially see using this lesson as a substitute to the previous one in the future.  I am going to survey my students to see their ideas about this as well.

The other piece to Thinglink that makes it especially appealing to me as a teacher specifically at this point in the school year is that students can share it outside of our classroom in a way that is meaningful and inspiring to them--they pushed it to Facebook, sharing images on Instagram, and created short Vine clips to sharing with kids from other classes as well as their families.  I am thinking I would like to enhance that larger audience aspect of this activity into a more deliberate and complex component next year.  

Thinglink is an intuitive tool and students did not require a lot of oversight to figure out its features (and neither did I).  There are great tutorials available such as this eight minute overview.  I am also especially thankful for my biology team partners, A. Geotina and J. Conley for their work with this activity.  I am looking forward to hearing about your adventures with Thinglink!  

The Classroom Flow: Introducing the Activity

15 minutes

1.  Show students a sample of the previous lesson's student work and remind them that our task at that point was to research into energy flow within ecosystems and biomes.  Tell students that now that they have had experience research specific biomes and relating organisms to their unique environments and food webs, we are going to extend our research using an online tool known as Thinglink.

2.  Show them this eight minute overview of Thinglink features.  You may also use your projection screen to show the site to the entire class and walk students through the login procedure and a basic construction of a simple Thinglink presentation.

3. Pass out the Biome Thinglink activity document and review the expectations for their team work:

  • Students will work in pairs to create a Thinklink presentation to share with you and present to the class.
  • The presentation will include a map, a graph, five organisms and adaptations.  Each of these components will have detailed descriptions/explanations, see document for support. 
  • The presentation will include a link to a video the student pair will make discussing their issue.
  • Finally, the presentation will include an MLA formatted reference page.

4.  Tell students that they have a few minutes to pick their partner, determine what new environmental conditions they wish to investigate, and sign up with you at the front of the room.

  • Note:  In this particular iteration of the project, students chose their biome by lottery.  This was a new way of doing things for me and although it worked out fine, I still prefer the idea that students choose what they want to research, explore, explain, and create. Use whatever method suits your students and you best.  

The Classroom Flow: Student Group Studio Time

30 minutes

1.  Allow students to use the rest of the class period for studio time researching and creating their project.

2.  Review the studio session guidelines for the class:

  • Students are expected to be on task throughout the class period.
  • Students may use their notes, textbook, or personal devices to access internet sources that support their work in class.
  • Students can collaborate with each other and with their teacher for deeper learning.

3.  Your job throughout the class period will be to observe student group work closely and intervene as little as possible (I know this can be hard!).  At this point in the year, students should be able to sustain their attention and focus specifically with a topic for which they have some prior experience and a high interest level.  I tend to make myself available but I refrain from going around to each group until halfway through the session so that the conversations can be about what they want to show me with pride (videos, images, ideas).

  • Note:  For this pilot activity, I did not provide a significant amount of class time in part due to our school testing schedule and other constraints.  However, after working with students, you might find this Biome Project Timeline document representing how students could structure their time for enhanced productivity to be useful.  Considering the value of the work students did and the ways it contributed to their learning, I would build in time to do each of these project pieces together in class next year.  

The Classroom Flow: Wrapping Up

10 minutes

1. On the due date, have devices available so that students can view each other work using a Gallery Walk format.  If you have more time, you can make a more formal class presentation session, but I find that at the end of the school year, students prefer more flow and less structured settings for learning.  I also find that because we are dealing with a topic of high interest for them with an interactive technology presentation tool, student engagement is high and my need to redirect behavior, attention, or focus at an all time low.  

2.  Don't be surprised at student interest in these environmental themes!  One of my students was so inspired by the conversations he and his partner had as they researched and created their Thinglink that he did more investigating on his own and put together a Turtle Conservation Through Applied Engineering slide presentation to share with parents and students at our Open House event later that month!

3.  Here is one student Thinglink work sample for you to view to get an idea about the level of detail you can expect from your students using this model.  If you allow for more class time for the research and creation of the project, you can expect more detail.  Grading for this project was a simple checklist of components based upon the original assignment document.  Due to high student interest and the growing level of student maturity, confidence, and focus as we end the school year, I was able to wean myself from highly detailed rubrics into this more holistic grading format.  This was also helpful in terms of managing student stress as the year wound down and testing season ramped up; by moving away from detailed rubrics, students focused more on their learning and less on grading anxiety which made the entire process more productive, more fun, all while keeping the focus on student learning outcomes.