My Favorite Use of Wikipedia

Do your students just love Wikipedia? Do they love competitions? Do you want to see how much they know about a topic before you start and are sick of pre-tests? Are you looking for opportunities to further challenge your students that finish their work early or who are ready to move on while others in the class need another round of review?

If your answer to any of those questions was yes, then this is the blog post for you! Once again, this is not my original brain child. I don’t remember exactly where I heard about this, so if it was you then thanks. There are so many ways that you can use this technique and your students will find it strangely addicting.

I call these Wiki Relays. The idea is to get from one Wikipedia page to another in as few links as possible. Seems simple enough, right? The trick is you have to go in ahead of time and make sure there are no direct links between the two pages. This forces students to think about which links they should click that might take them in the right direction.

For example, if the task was to get from the Wikipedia page on dogs to the one on elephants:

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Here’s the page on dogs. There are no direct links you can click to take you to the page on elephants. But maybe you click the link to “Mammalia”….

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There’s no text/word link to elephants… but students might figure out that the pictures are links too! And what do we have here? A picture of elephants! CLICK.

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And in 2 clicks, here we are on a Wikipedia page on elephants. That would be the shortest number possible.

You would think that the more students know about a topic, the shorter the number of clicks because they should know which ones will lead them in the right direction. But sometimes the link they think will get them there doesn’t… and around and around they go. They get frustrated, but can’t stop. It can actually be quite entertaining to watch. And what the kids don’t see is that you are watching their every click in the name of formative assessment! Have them write down every page they click on so that you can see who did it in the shortest number of links and give that student a prize, but also so that you can see their process. Are they just randomly clicking links? Do they have any idea what the connection between the blood and iron is? Do they know a lot about that connection and can’t decide which link will be the best?

Added bonus- you can introduce students to the Ctrl+F function (also known as how I got through graduate school). Instead of reading (change that- skimming) the entire page, if they think they know a word that might connect the two pages they can just use Ctrl+F to search for it! It’s such a valuable tool that hopefully they will take into other digital research assignments too!

Have you used Wiki Relays in your classes? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Thanks for stopping by! =)

Velcro Vocab Folder Puzzle Thingies!

Last summer, my (then) 3 year old went to nature camp at our local forest preserve. As a warm up activity, they had the kids match pieces of butterfly pictures that were velcroed to a manila folder. Brilliant!

Though I thought my high schoolers might appreciate the simplicity of butterfly pictures (and maybe they’d actually appreciate the brain break), clearly I would have to make them more challenging. And what’s more challenging than scientific word parts?? So here’s what I created:

I printed out a bunch of scientific words split into two parts with the meaning next to each word.

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Then I cut them all out and glued the first part of each word to an old manila folder (I had a ton laying in a drawer from activities I no longer use and I just couldn’t bear to throw them out…. ). Then I laminated the folder and all the loose pieces.

I bought a roll of Velcro that’s sticky on both sides and cut it into small pieces. Then I attached all of the loose pieces and their matching Velcro to the folder.

 

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Yes, I see the wrong definition is attached to the last one… but it’s already summer and they’re at school so you’re not getting a new picture. 😉

 

I tore off all the velcroed pieces and stored them in the folder (make sure you paper clips the sides shut so they don’t fall out and get lost).

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I made 20 of these. You can hand kids a folder as they walk in the door to get their brains going. I have the pile sitting in a spot students can get to if they finish their work early. It’s so simple. The kids are not intimidated by it. If they get one wrong, just peel it off and fix it. Teaching kids scientific word parts is tough because they are so detached from the words. But the more they use them, the stronger their vocab skills become.

My next step- make another set for my A&P students with medical terms! You could use these Velcro folder puzzles in just about any class: English with characters or details from a book, math with numbers and have the kids create their own problems, chemistry to balance equations…

*UPDATE: I used the words from my B1 Word Parts power point. I just copied/pasted. We go over these words in class and students write them all in the notebook, so they’ve seen the words before (or at least will before the end of the year….). Feel free to use the power point!

How would you use them? Comment below with your thoughts! Thanks for stopping by! =)

Bringing in the Big Guns

This post has nothing to do with actual guns. Sorry (or you’re welcome). I’m talking about the “big guns” of information. Yes; real, live human beings that are experts in their field.

I’m a huge advocate for field trips. Any time that you can get your kids out into the real world and let them experience something for themselves outside of the classroom, do it. But I’m also a huge advocate for reality. You can’t take them on field trips for every unit of every class (man, wouldn’t that be awesome though??). Field trips take LOTS of planning, and can be expensive, and when you teach in the middle of no where (like I do) you tend to spend more time on the bus than at the intended destination. Not to mention that when you take the kids out for one class, they’re missing out on the rest of their classes. But I still love field trips.

I also love guest speakers. When you choose the right speaker (trust me, not everyone is cut out to entertain a large group of teenagers…), they can really enrich your curriculum. The kids trust that this person must know what they are talking about and therefore trust what they’re saying (dare I say as much as they trust Google?). Having a live guest speaker gives students the chance to interact and ask questions as they come up with them. It also lets students see that whatever it is they are learning about in class is also a real thing outside of your classroom! But again, there are downsides. I teach 3 or 4 sections of freshmen bio (depending on the year), and they are never back to back in the day. So it is usually not realistic to ask a speaker to stay for all 4 sections. Instead, I combine all my kids into one hour to hear the speaker. But this means they’re missing other classes again. Plus, teaching in the middle of nowhere makes it tough to find speakers that are willing to make the hike all the way out to us.

So while I still use field trips and guest speakers once or twice a year, I’ve found a way to bring in experts much more often: YouTube Live. Depending on the unit we are studying, I find 2 or 3 experts in the field. Honestly, one of the best ways to find these people is just to ask around on social media (“anyone know an oncologist?”) and you’ll be shocked how many of your friends have useful connections! Added bonus: you get to talk to speakers from all over the country/world, not just the ones that are in your school’s area (I teach in IL and have recorded with people from CO, NY, FL, and IN). video shot 3

While my kids are working on their unit project, I have them do some initial research and then give me all their questions. I tell them to ask anything that they don’t know or read, but don’t understand. Then I compile those questions into 3 to 5 categories or over-arching questions and record a Google Hangout through YouTube Live with my experts. They answer their questions in terms that my students can understand and I can ask follow up questions for clarification. I have to admit, I really love these opportunities for my own learning, too! I can record the video whenever is convenient for the experts (usually at night, though sometimes you get lucky and a zoologist wants to record while they’re working like the one seen below!) and then my students can watch it whenever is convenient for them. Think of it like a personalized, way more reliable Google search.

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You should definitely give this a try! I set my videos to “unlisted” so you can’t search for them on YouTube, but I can send my students the link. And setting it all up does take some time to learn, so I suggest trying out some dry runs with your friends or family. Make sure you’re in a space with reliable, strong internet (otherwise the sound will get…. wonky) and set your camera up at eye-level (or at least check for bats in the cave.).

Like anything else, some kids really love these expert videos and get a lot out of them. Others can’t be bothered to care. But the more in your arsenal (metaphorically, of course), the better!

I’d love to hear how you use this technique in your classroom… don’t forget to comment! =)

Science Literacy for Modern Students

When I look back at my own education, I had no intention of studying science (let alone teaching it). But what I always have loved is reading and writing. I can remember writing stories on my parents type writer, and I have no idea where they found the patience to read draft after draft after draft of these stories. I used to read next to my nightlight when I was supposed to be sleeping (huge rebel, I know). And as I got older and went through high school and college, I still loved to read and writing continued to be a strength of mine. But somewhere along the road, I ended up in science land. I wanted to know why and how the world worked. But as any science teacher can tell you, reading about science (whether a fictional story or informational texts) is tough. And it is even tougher the first few times you do it. But it does get easier as you learn to do it. And so here I am, teaching science classes but emphasizing the importance of literacy.

Science literacy has kind of become a soapbox of mine. I’ve written a few grad papers on its importance and ways to improve it. Most of the research focuses on reading, and understandably so. That’s how scientists have shared their information for centuries. I have written several posts here on different techniques I use (“But this isn’t english class.”, Updates to Biology Reading DaysMaking Biology Real) to improve students’ reading skills in science, so I won’t repeat that information here. I want to focus this post on how science literacy is different (and in some ways easier) than it was in the past and how we, teachers, can help our students.

More and more people are getting their scientific information from videos and podcasts. It’s just so easy to access. But that doesn’t mean it’s any easier to understand. Giving kids a link to a video and expecting them to be able to make sense of and analyze it is pretty unrealistic in most cases. It’d be the same as giving them a science text as saying “see you at the end”. So I created these note sheets that my students use when watching videos. It gives them a structure to follow and tells them what to look and listen for. Depending on the video, sometimes I change “Dates, People, & Places” to “Important Information”.

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After they finish the video, they write a one paragraph response. They have to include details from the video, not just address it as a whole (“this is confusing/great/dumb/interesting”). Having details right in front of them on their sheet makes this task much easier. I’ve also found that they like watching the videos individually (I’m lucky enough to teach in a 1-to-1 school) as opposed to as a class because they can pause whenever they need to.

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Sometimes I assign these as homework, sometimes I give them time in class. But either way, there’s one more important step if you truly want to improve science literacy and not just have them recite dates/events/facts. They need to discuss the video with their peers. What I have experienced is that students are much more comfortable discussing if they have their thoughts and questions written in front of them. Sometimes we do this as a class, sometimes I group them based on the questions they wrote. You could also use this discussion as a way to start or enhance a research project.

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And then there’s podcasts. I use the note sheets for those as well, but they’re a whole other beast. I will write a follow up post about that!

So  what I have found is that just like we have to teach them to read science, we also have to teach kids to listen to science. We have to give them structures and guide them on what to listen for, but they are more than capable. And most kids prefer getting their information from the videos instead of a reading (which has increased effort and work completion).  Give it a shot.

Here are some of the videos that I love to use. If you have suggestions of video or podcasts, I’d love to hear them!

Bad Blood (PBS)

In the Shadow of Ebola

Ted: The Case for Engineering our Food

Ted: Let’s Talk Crap. Seriously.

Updates to Biology Reading Days

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A while back, I wrote a blog post about my Biology Reading Days. When I started this project, I wasn’t quite sure where I was going with it. I now love it. You can read the original post here.

I will admit, not all my students share my enthusiasm for scientific literature. And that’s fine. What I really want them to get out of it is an exposure to this type of writing. Some of the books on the list are fictional stories (that are scientifically accurate). Some of the books are non-fiction explaining scientific ideas and events. Some of the higher level students actually struggle because they have never read something like this before. I don’t need them to have a Ph.D after reading the book, but just want them to come away with a greater understanding of the concept than they went in with.

So here are my updates:

1. Updated Book Lists: I now use this project with my freshmen bio and my jr/sr A&P….so two lists. I am always looking for new books to add, and taking off any I feel are too hard/boring based on student feedback. I post this for the students as a GoogleDoc, so I put positive student reviews in the comments.  AandPReadingList      BiologyBookList

2. Final Project: I still use the weekly reading sheets (found in the original post), but at the end they have to choose one of the following projects. This is a great way for me to see what their take on the book really was.  FinalBookProject

My final word of caution when doing this project: it is very much about you. This school year, I had a baby. I left reading days as a project for my sub thinking it’d be the easiest one. They pick a book, read it, and answer questions. Easy, peasy…. WRONG. I didn’t realize how important the conversations I was having with the students along the way were. When I returned the last week of the project, a lot of them were so confused, frustrated and bored with their books. They didn’t see the real world connections. And this is not a slam on my sub; she was great! But she hadn’t chosen and read the books (I’ve read about half). Those discussions about how awesome the author/story/concept is weren’t happening. Students weren’t getting productive feedback. And so a lot them felt lost. My point is don’t use reading days as a chance to catch up on grading/paperwork/endless other tasks we have to do. At least not the whole period. This is a chance to make real connections with your kids and get them excited about science (and maybe even reading!). I hope you AND your students love it as much as I (and most of my students) do.

Questions? Suggestions? I’d love to hear them n the comments! And don’t forget to Like me on Facebook!

Collaboration Concept Maps

We just finished final exams at my school (though my grading is far from done….). I usually dread the days leading up to exams because I find that the kids are as bored with reviewing as I am, though it is a necessary evil. I’ve tried review games, but find that the kids don’t really get as much out of them as I’d like. But this year I found an activity that I really like!

I’m always shooting for the application end of my content, not just memorization of facts. So on those review days, I handed each student an index card as the walked in. I had marked each card with a colored line (I had 4 or 5 colors). Then each student chose 5 words to write on their card. They had to choose words from the section of the study guide that was due that day (I had not collected the study guide yet). I advised them to choose words they understood since they were going to have to use them.

Then the students were grouped according to the colors of their card. They compared their lists and replaced any repeats. Then each group was given a posterboard and created a concept map using their words. Creating the map itself is tough for them when it’s from scratch and there are no bubbles to fill in. But the struggle is worth it.

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The next day we started the same way with new cards for everyone. This time they were in different groups, so when it came time for the concept map they had to choose a random one that was started the day before and figure out how to fit today’s words in it. This was a lot harder for them since they may not totally understand the words that were already on the poster, but it was beneficial for them to see what they really did and did not understand. They also had to not only know the meaning of the words (memorization), but be able to relate those words to other words (application).

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The third day was the same routine; card, 5 words, groups, concept maps. By the end, students were comfortable explaining words or concepts they understood to their group members that didn’t. And I always feel like they’re more willing to learn from their peers than from a teacher. This was, in my opinion, a much better use of review time!

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How do you review for finals?

By Popular Demand!

A while back I wrote about turning my classroom into bakery. Here’s the original post: Let Them Eat Bread  Since then, I’ve had a lot of people ask for the document I used for the yeast lab. I apologize that it took me forever to post it, but better late than never. So here it is: YeastLab. I have my students do a formal lab report with this one. Their initial hypotheses are usually all over the place, and someone always says the salt will kill the yeast.

This year I used both the yeast tube lab and the bread baking in our cellular respiration unit. I started the unit by having them write in their journals in response to “Why does bread dough rise?”. It was important to emphasize to them to just write whatever they thought. This gave me a good idea what their pre-conceptions were, but also allowed me to show growth throughout the unit. After baking the bread, they had a one question quiz. “Write one paragraph explaining why bread dough rises.” They had to include the words cellular respiration, yeast, glucose, and carbon dioxide. I graded them not by marking their answers right or wrong, but by asking questions. Then I put them into pairs based on their scores and had them revise together to raise their scores. I feel like they got a lot more out of it this year.

If you try it out, let me know what works and what doesn’t. I really appreciate your feedback!  Happy Baking!!

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