Zeeshan Pervaiz 4/9/2017
My goal for the second semester of the school year was to research methods to engage all students in my classroom. I initially thought that to do so I would have to create activities that would be both general (enough to cover the topic to standard) and specific to certain learning styles. This quickly became overwhelming. In conjunction with the extra work load for me, most students did not respond well to this method stating that they felt that the activities were too "random" and "weird" and lost interest in the lesson entirely. I suppose this could have been the result of my own hubris. The activities that I came up with integrated aspects of at least 2 learning styles. This led to students being very confused as to how to complete the assignment. More time was spent explaining then actually doing and even then the quality of the work submitted would vary greatly. Some students liked the activities but these were also the students that could be classified as overachievers. These students have no issues learning by just absorbing content and applying them to novel situations. My goal was to reach the other learners. I pondered this conundrum for some time. I wanted to create my own lessons and activities as opposed to finding material online since I would have control over what needed to be learned and how to go about learning it.
It wasn't until I went to the NSTA conference in L.A that I found the answer. Prior to leaving for the conference, the science department met with our new principal to discussing a uniting theme that we wanted for the department. One of these themes was project based learning and alternate assessments. Our principal, since she arrived, has actively pushed us to integrate more active learning elements into our lessons and she wanted us to find new methods to do so at the conference. At the conference, I sat in on a workshop by a Physics teacher from Colorado who has built in individual unit projects into his core curriculum. The strategy follows the 5E model but with 2 additions. The 5E model is well known to educators ( Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate) but this teacher added 2 additional E's that serve to elucidate prior knowledge and application of concept. The first E is Elicit and it comes before the Engage. At this initial step students use prior knowledge to tackle an issue or problem. This step allows the teacher to assess where each student is individually. The second E that he added was the Extend and that is placed right after Evaluate. The Extend step is when students apply the concept to real world situations. Obviously, this is another method of assessment and provides more information to the teacher as to how well students are progressing. The entire process is a project for each individual student to complete at home and in class over the course of the time allotted for the unit.
An example project from his own curriculum was the unit he has on Force. The following is taken and quoted directly from his workshop;
Elicit prior understandings
· Students are asked, “Suppose you had to design seat belts for a racecar traveling at high speeds. How would they be different from ones available on passenger cars?” The students are required to write a brief response to this “What do you think?” question in their logs and then share with the person sitting next to them. The class then listens to some of the responses. This requires a few minutes of class time.
Engage
· Students relate car accidents they have witnessed in movies or in real life.
Explore
· The first part of the exploration requires students to construct a clay figure they can sit on a cart. The cart is then crashed into a wall. The clay figure hits the wall.
Explain
· Students are given a name for their observations. Newton’s first law states, “Objects at rest stay at rest; objects in motion stay in motion unless acted upon by a force.”
Engage
· Students view videos of crash test dummies during automobile crashes.
Explore
· Students are asked how they could save the clay figure from injury during the crash into the wall. The suggestion that the clay figure will require a seat belt leads to another experiment. A thin wire is used as a seat belt. The students construct a seat belt from the wire and ram the cart and figure into the wall again. The wire seat belt keeps the clay figure from hitting the wall, but the wire slices halfway through the midsection.
Explain
· Students recognize that a wider seatbelt is needed. The relationship of pressure, force, and area is introduced.
Elaborate
· Students then construct better seat belts and explain their value in terms of Newton’s first law and forces.
Evaluate
· Students are asked to design a seat belt for a racing car that travels at
250 km/h. They compare their designs with actual safety belts used by NASCAR.
Extend
· Students are challenged to explore how airbags work and to compare and contrast airbags with seat belts. One of the questions explored is, “How does the airbag get triggered? Why does the airbag not inflate during a small fender-bender but does inflate when the car hits a tree?”
I believe that this method can be very effective for individual students. I say this because this method affords them the freedom to tackle the issue at their own pace and in a manner that is most comfortable for them. This tackles my goal of creating individualized activities for each student. There is only one activity that is created but each student can complete it in the manner that they see fit. Secondly, it also engage different learning styles. Students that are visual learners can use visuals to complete the assignment, auditory learners can listen to videos and lectures to gather their information, kinesthetic learners can go and fiddle with the seatbelts in their car, etc.
The next challenge is to incorporate this strategy into my own classroom for chemistry. I am currently brainstorming ideas for next year but the one unit that I have planned already and am excited for is the unit on physical properties of matter. The project that I will assign my students is to use chemistry to create movie special effects. Students will use physical properties to either explain how studios create special effects or to create a special effect of their own. An example of an effect that they can create is levitation. Students can use the densities of water and alcohol to levitate an item in a mixture of water and alcohol. For example, If students wanted to levitate a pen cap they would create a solution that was 3 parts water and 1 part alcohol. The pen cap would sink below the surface but not hit the bottom of the beaker. It would float in the middle. They can use any item to the same effect the only difference would be the composition of the solution. This would integrate and apply their knowledge of density to create a special effect. The possibilities are plentiful and students can work on them however they choose. Next year will hopefully be very exciting.
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Gerald ArditoZeeshan,
I am really glad to read what you have been up to and working on. And I am very glad that you made that connection with the Physics teacher at NSTA.
I am also really impressed by what your principal is doing and clearly providing support for your own professional development.
It looks like this is a good set up for your work for the rest of the course. I very much look forward to seeing what comes next.