Brainstorming ideas for my potential COETAIL final project was certainly more challenging that I had at first anticipated. Finding a project that is manageable, realistic, and at the same time challenging enough to provide a real opportunity for professional growth was quite a challenge!
Generating the Idea
In planning for the COETAIL final project, I realized just how limited I am in implementing the kinds of changes that I would love to see in the classroom. In the coming year, four out of the five courses I will teach will be IB DP Chemistry courses. IB DP courses in general are very content-heavy, requiring students to assimilate a tremendous amount of content knowledge during the two-year academic program. Between the content that I need to cover, and the mandated laboratory experiments/requirements, I feel that there is little time left for the kind of experimentation and inquiry that true project-based learning requires. In a perfect world, there would be no obstacle to implementing a more project-based, inquiry approach to teaching and learning in the DP Chemistry classroom. Of course, I strive to teach for deep understanding and knowledge of chemistry, but at the end of the day, the primary driver behind the course is the successful attainment of high exam scores. As much as I am not necessarily thrilled by this, I do accept the reality of it. Students (and their parents!) expect my IB DP Chemistry courses to adequately prepare them for the exams, which will then determine their university acceptances, especially important for those off to European universities. And with these high stakes, for me to implement new projects and units is, simply, a bit too risky for my tastes. For better or for worse, I will leave my DP chemistry courses alone for now.
This leaves me with the other course that I will be teaching next year – IB MYP science, grade 10. This course allows me a higher degree of freedom to experiment and try new things, as the stakes are lower should the outcome not be what I had planned. The MYP curriculum in general allows for more time to be spent on processes like inquiry, project-based learning, making connections between subject areas, etc.
Looking at our grade 10 science curriculum, I realized there was ample room to continue to cover scientific content/concepts, while simultaneously also implementing a more student-centered project-based learning approach. Additionally, I also wanted to implement a more structured and explicit approach to teaching some digital literacy skills, as these will help students across a wide array of courses, not simply their science classes.
In addition to being able to apply the scientific method to solve problems, real-life scientists are successful communicators. Scientists need to communicate their results, and what these results mean, which is especially important when translating/explaining scientific findings to non-scientists. Many times, scientists will present their findings at a symposium, usually summarizing their recent research in a poster format. I thought about this real-world situation, and decided that we can perhaps digitize this so that instead of creating a physical poster, students can summarize and communicate their findings digitally. These digital “posters” can contain various forms of media, and be shared easily not just with the school community, but with a potentially global audience of other classrooms as well.
(One of the Ways that Scientists Communicate Their Findings. Photo Credit: U.S. Food and Drug Administration (ORSI Symposium 2015 – 4831) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.)
I don’t have all the details worked out quite yet, as this is still very much in the “idea” phase of planning at the moment. I also need to discuss with with the two other teachers who are teaching grade 10 science next year and make sure that they are on board with this as well. But, currently, my thinking is that our Grade 10 students would produce something like you see in the video below, though the idea would be to host all of the projects on a website and not have students physically standing around holding iPads.
Current Grade 10 Science Course
Currently, the grade 10 science course is composed of six units to be covered over the course of the year. These six units are divided up between biology, chemistry, and physics – two units of each. During each unit, students are given at least one summative or formative assessment that fulfills one of the MYP’s four criteria (A, B, C, or D) for science. (In the interest of space and time, I will refrain from explaining the MYP criteria system here. Those interested can explore further here.)
The goals of this project redesign are to explicitly add 21st-century skills to the grade 10 science curriculum. (While there are elements of 21st century skills already embedded into the grade 10 MYP science curriculum, the aim of this project is to make them more robust and prominent.) This will include the addition of project-based learning into the course, as well as digital technology and information literacy. Students will culminate their learning in semester 1 by working on a scientific investigation of their choice on a topic related to the curriculum for the semester. Students will then plan, carry out, and evaluate their investigation, and present their findings in a digital format that includes various forms of digital media (videos, links, summarized data/graphs, photos, etc.). These projects will be shared with the school community, as well as other classrooms globally, and students will have an opportunity to provide feedback for others, as well as receive feedback.
One of the other goals of this project is to give students an opportunity to develop and hone their research skills. Being able to use a search engine and/or article database effectively is a skill that is sometimes assumed and perhaps never explicitly taught. Additionally, students can always benefit from the practice of evaluating sources for reliability and relevancy of information, which is a skill that is becoming more and more necessary in the era of “fake news” and the deluge of information we are all bombarded with daily. Additionally, students will practice the proper citation of information/ideas from a variety of sources, including articles, blogs, websites, or books.
This project will be completed with the help of our secondary school media specialists, and our school’s digital coach. Each of these colleagues can help me and the other grade 10 science teachers to successfully plan, scaffold, instruct, and evaluate student progress throughout the semester.
There is certainly a lot more work to do before I feel like I have a full plan in place for this redesign of grade 10 science. This is still a work in progress, but even the act of getting this far has helped me clarify my thinking and focus in on some concrete next-steps. I will finish the post with responses to the COETAIL final question prompts. The UbD plan can be found embedded below these.
As always, thank you for reading, and please leave any feedback below!
1. Why do you think this unit is a good possibility for your Course 5 project?
I think that this plan to introduce digital technology explicitly into our grade 10 science course will not only improve the course overall, but also increase student engagement and motivation. This plan will cover a number of the ISTE standards, including communication and research skills, which will be important for all students moving into the DP program in grade 11. Furthermore, students will be given an authentic audience for their final product, and have the opportunity to connect with other students globally, as these projects can be easily shared.
Organizing and teaching this unit will also stretch my own boundaries as an educator, as I have never facilitated the creation of an online digital multimedia presentation as the final product of a scientific investigation. (Traditionally, these exercises result in a “lab report”.) Giving students more freedom in their choice of how they present their investigation and results will (I hope!) produce high levels of engagement and motivation.
2. What are some of your concerns about redesigning this unit?
I have some concerns about how this may be viewed by colleagues, especially those that are teaching grade 10 science with me. For this to be successful I need the support from my team, and I wonder if there are some who may struggle to see the value in a more student-centered approach to learning. I am empathetic to their concerns, as I too was skeptical of how beneficial project-based inquiry can be in the science classroom. (I am not skeptical any longer, btw) Inquiry activities have the potential to be messy, and not go according to plan, which makes the traditional approach of emphasising the teaching of scientific content somewhat more appealing.
I also wonder if I will get enough student buy-in for the project to run successfully. Will students step up to the challenge of running their own investigation, and being open to learning how to use some of the Google apps more effectively in the process? This is especially of concern for those students whose data collection don’t support their hypothesis – students may not see the benefit of presenting “bad” data. (However, no data is “bad” data, as scientists learn what DOESN’T work. However, getting students to see this can be a challenge…..)
3. What shifts in pedagogy will this new unit require from you?
This unit will require me to open up the classroom to a more student-centered approach. I have done this before with a number of smaller projects and lessons, and each time I have been pleased with the results, especially in terms of student motivation and engagement. The desire to increase student engagement in the grade 10 science course is a major driving factor for this redesign, and I am looking forward to the kind of positive results I have seen previously. This will require me to give up a certain level of control over covering content, but the hope is that students will learn even more when given an authentic task and placed at the center of the classroom.
This unit will also challenge me to explicitly teach the use of search engines in research, and a number of other digital tools. Students will have to be instructed in the use of a number of Google apps (such as Docs/Slides for collaboration, Forms for data gathering/surveys, and Sheets for data analysis/presentation) as well as screencasting or video-making tools. I plan on learning from the expertise of our school’s secondary digital coach, who is a wonderful person to collaborate with, and a fantastic resource for me to learn from.
4. What skills and/or attitudes will this new unit require from your students?
My students will have to demonstrate high degrees of organization and time-management to complete the process. This will be a long-term project, spanning most of the first semester. Additionally, this will not be the only thing that students will be working on in Grade 10 science – they will still be learning specific science content knowledge in biology, chemistry, and physics. Approaching an inquiry task can seem daunting at first, and the hope is that the assignment can be sufficiently scaffolded to help students break the process down into smaller chunks. Students will need a growth mindset to deal with setbacks, especially laboratory methods that do not work as planned, or results that do not match their hypotheses or expectations.