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.

video shot 1

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! =)

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.

poster 1

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).

poster 2

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!

poster 3

How do you review for finals?