PBL: My WOW Moment of the Day!

Today was a particularly hectic, maddening day for me.  Senior grades were due at 9 am this morning, I taught three back to back classes with a meeting during second break, and my seniors had their Paper 1 and Paper 2 IB Biology exams at 1:00.  It was one of those days.  I am so anxious and distracted while my students are taking exams.  I just want to take it for them.  I would do really well on them and it would sure make the two years leading up to exams so much easier on me as a teacher. AHHHHH!!!

The seniors started wandering in at the beginning of my lunch period (causing me to miss our teacher appreciation lunch) in a last minute desperate attempt to close the loop on two years of learning after what I am sure was a sleepless night despite the fact that I ordered them all to bed at midnight.  "Lunch" ended at 12:10, and my grade 10 students filed in to continue their work on their independent projects that they have been working on for the past couple of weeks.  I had to make a choice, and I chose my seniors who were heading off to their high stakes exams in about half an hour.  So I told my 10th graders to continue their work in their groups and then proceeded to shut the sliding glass doors so that I could focus and calm my frantic seniors while walking them through as many troublesome topics and testing tips as we could manage in that short amount of time.  In fact, I was so focused on them, that I didn't notice the work that was going on outside of my classroom. 
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As a teacher, this was one of those moments that you never forget.  While hugging my seniors goodbye hoping that some of my knowledge and confidence would rub off onto them, I looked out to find my entire 10th grade class reviewing the cell membrane as one cohesive group.  Three of the students took the initiative to grab some whiteboard markers and lead the rest of them through a review of the topics that they are required to know for their independent projects.  Amazed and shell-shocked, I went outside and joined them, but not as their teacher. At this moment, I was an admirer, impressed by the fact that each and every one of them had made good decisions about their learning independent of my supervision.  They could have just as easily been playing games, chatting on Facebook, setting fire to each other and countless other things that I would rather not think about.  It was so fulfilling to join a discussion with a group of students that were prepared and determined to explore these concepts at a deeper level.  At the end of the day, if all they walk away from this project with are the skills of collaboration and taking personal responsibility for their learning, I would consider this a huge success.  Fortunately, most of them will also understand the mechanisms of cell membrane regulation and be able to apply them to specific functions of the human body such as lactose intolerance, Parkinson's disease, how endorphins work, starvation, why asthmatics need inhalers, weight loss and many other interesting topics.  I truly look forward to learning from their presentations at the end of the project.

After school today, one of the students posted the pics from class to our Facebook group via Dropbox! 

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 Looks pretty productive to me! 

Looks pretty productive to me! 

At 3:30, the first wave of my SL students returned to my class to report back on their exams.  The first words out of there mouths were, "You are like magic! The two topics that you predicted and reviewed with us at lunch were essays on the test! Thank God we went over gene transfer!  We nailed it!"  

I would call this a WIN-WIN! I have to say that I am most proud of my 10th graders.  I am so thankful that I work with students who are committed to their learning and motivated enough to engage without having to have someone looking over their shoulders monitoring their every move.  I am also thankful that they didn't start any fires.  I think a little celebration is in order. 

Technology Taboo: A Review Game for the 1:1 Classroom

It's that time of the year again.  IB exams are just around the corner, the results from mock exams are in, and the data tells me that I need to start reviewing yesterday!  A couple of years ago, I adapted the popular game Taboo for my 1:1 laptop classroom.  It is by far the best review game that I have in my toolbox. The students accidentally get three revision opportunities in one game, all while having a great time.

 Genetics Taboo

Genetics Taboo

Game Prep:

Students are divided into pairs to create a collaborative Google presentation of taboo word slides from a predetermined word/ topic list.  This forces them to learn (relearn, review) the definition, and then carefully select the most important aspects of the definition in order to identify their taboo words.  Revision opportunity #1...CHECK!

Game On:

In the next class, partners are pitted against another pair in fierce competition.  No really,  they really get into this.  Each group of four has two laptops, one per pair.  Each pair then shares their presentation with the other group in view/presentation mode. Partners are seated opposite each other and next to an opponent from the other pair. One person in a pair, the "giver", tries to get his/her partner to guess the vocabulary words by describing the terms without using the taboo words.  Since I teach science, I require them to use science terms only, or the opposing team can assign penalty points.  This prevents them from giving hints like Coke to get their teammate to guess pepsin.  Remember this is a review game.  Revision opportunity #2... CHECK! Meanwhile the partner tries to guess the vocabulary term from the clues.  Revision opportunity #3...CHECK!  The opponent sitting next to the giver watches over the giver's taboo words looking for opportunities to call penalties, while the opponent sitting diagonal to the giver keeps track of the time. 

Once the round is over, points are tallied based on the number of terms that were guessed correctly in the time limit minus the penalties.  The teams then switch roles and the other team takes a turn with the giver/guesser roles.  When the round is over and it switches back to the first team, the giver and the guesser switch roles by passing the computer and the opponents assume their respective roles. 

For a complete list of the rules and instructions that I use with my students, check out this link

If you don't have access to laptops in your classroom, you should check out this version of Taboo that my review-game obsessed colleague, Jason Roy, posted to my Pinboard the other day.  He also has some great review game ideas on his site, CrispyMath.  My favorite so far is Danger Cards, as it can easily be adapted to other disciplines. 
You might also want to check out Jeopardy Labs online templates.  This is another big hit with my students, and all you need is a projector and a computer. 

What are your go-to review games? 

Redos and Retakes? Management Strategies for that Endless Pile of Grading

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I participated in the #sbgchat on Twitter a few days ago and the topic was redos and retakes.  It was a great discussion, and you should definitely check out the archive on Storify.  On simple grading tasks like quizzes or tests, this is a no brainer if you use standards-based approach to learning in your class.  If they haven't met the standard, how can you not give them an opportunity to reach it?  However, the waters get a little murkier when those long assessments like essays and labs start to pile up and then pile up again and again.  There is an element of time that has to be taken into consideration. After all, there are only 24 hours in a day.  In fact, I am writing this as I procrastinate grading a stack of labs that I will be looking at for the second and for some the third time before sending them off to IB for moderation.  A few people voiced this concern in the chat, but interestingly enough, when I went back to offer a suggestion to one of the participants, her tweet had mysteriously disappeared.  Was she shamed into retraction in the face of all of the enthusiastic responses championing the redo?  Perhaps, or maybe she was just having a day like I am today...drowning under a pile of labs with no end in sight!   Feeling Anonymous's pain, I am going to share some strategies that I use in class to cut back on the regrading. 

Strategy #1: Todaysmeet

First and foremost, you must have a culture of trust and collaboration in your classroom coupled with strong formative assessment practices. One strategy that has worked well for me in the past is to ask for a volunteer from the class to present their lab to the class for feedback.  Students usually LOVE to do this, as it is a safe environment to get some feedback before they have to submit their "final" write-up.  While the student presents, I have the rest of the class use Todaysmeet as a backchannel for commenting and asking questions during the presentation with me monitoring the conversation.  Since labs are divided into separate sections, we stop after each key piece and then discuss as a class, and review the chat.  I then give students about 5 minutes to make notes on their own labs.  Here is a link to the specifics of running a Todaysmeet backchannel in class, including examples from one of my lab sessions. 

Strategy #2:  Collaborative Team Docs

When I have students work in groups to design a lab, I have them peer edit in teams.  If I have three groups then Team 1 shares their collaborative lab with all of the members of Team 2, Team 2 Shares with Team 3, and Team 3 shares with Team 1, and of course they all share with me so that I can monitor while they are working on their peer edits.  All students are required to comment on the docs.  I give each team a lab checklist and a series of question prompts to guide them through their peer edit.  Then as a group they read through the other teams lab and make suggestions using the comment function on Google docs.  While monitoring, I will occasionally pipe in if necessary to redirect, or point out something that they have missed.  Though it is great to get feedback from a fresh pair of eyes (or three or four), the real benefit of this strategy is that every time they find an error on another group's lab, they reflect on their own lab and secretly (or so they think) they make edits on their own lab as they go through this process.  I also strategically pair up a model group with one that seems to be struggling so that the weaker group can see what a well written lab design looks like.  Here is a screenshot from one of these CTD sessions. 

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Strategy #3:  First Come First Serve

...or the early birds get the feedback :-)  I take the first five labs submitted before the deadline and give them a once over.  I then hand them back with my comments for revision, but in addition, I create a general comments list comprised of common mistakes and omissions that I share with students on Google docs.  I then take about fifteen minutes in class to walk them through some of the general errors that I found and give them some time to make notes on their own labs. I then extend the deadline by a couple of days and direct the students to our Facebook group if they have any questions while they are working through some last minute errors that they discovered on their own labs.  By doing this, student are forced to start to recognize errors on their own, which pays off in the end when they are writing up subsequent labs.  I find that if they only correct errors that I point out while grading, they tend to make the same errors over and over again. This helps to cut back on this recurrence. 

Regardless, I still do my fair share of regrading.  In fact one of the labs in my dropbox at the moment is labeled "Final, Final, FINAL Hydrilla lab".  I guess I better get back to it.  

A Shout Out to Awesomeness

About 13 years ago, I met a fellow biology teacher, Alfred Olivas, while working at Escuela Campo Alegre.  We were introduced by a mutual friend at a conference shortly after I started working in Caracas. He worked in Valencia at the time so he shamelessly started using me for a place to stay when he came to the big city.  Luckily I didn't hold it against him that he used more hair product than I did and it took him  twice as long to get ready.  I guess the fact that he was a fellow Texan helped his cause a little.  Our paths crossed again a few years later in Shanghai where he is still teaching today.  Thirteen years later, we are still in touch and after what he shared with me today, I am so glad that we are.  Allow me to introduce Alfred in all of his awesomeness with his SAS -SY productions movie trailer for his incredibly adventurous unit on weather and climate:

I totally want to be in his class!  Oh to be a 6th grader again!   Imagine what the full length film would involve!  Before each unit, Alfred and his partner teacher, Lisa Fung-Kee-Fung, create these unit trailers using iMovie '11 to amp up the anticipation of their students for the new material.  As soon as he shared this, I immediately went to check it out. I was even more excited to read in a post from Mac Life, "You’ll be pleased to know that you don’t actually need to think too much about this: iMovie ’11 comes with its own trailer-making factory. Just add the clips in place, type in some information, and you’re good to go."  There are 15 different types of ready made themes complete with music and all.  Check out the instructions on how to make a trailer at this link

The possibilities for this sort of technology are endless.  One application would be that students could create summaries of their learning using this movie trailer format. Another possibility would be to propose this as an option for students to introduce their designs for my "Save Earth" competition in Physics.  I am definitely adding this to the plan.  This would also be a great project for students preparing for their Week Without Walls trips as their is a significant amount of preparation and planning that occurs prior to the experience.  I CAN'T wait to start experimenting with this tool.  In fact, I am going to cut this post short. 

Dear Fredo,

 I am currently accepting applications for my science teacher crush of 2013-2014.  There is some tough competition out there, but you have jumped up to the top of my list.  Keep those amazingly creative ideas coming.  Oh, and just out of curiosity, when do you think you will manage to make your way to India so that we can actually work together in the same department?  I would even be willing to let you use my hair dryer from time to time, if you promised to share some of your awesomeness! 

P.S.  If you want to learn more about what Alfred is doing in science, you can check out his site or just send him an e-mail.  

P.S.S.  If you can think of any way to enhance learning in your classroom using movie trailers please share in the comments session.  This is just too fun to pass up!