Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Photo Essay: Week Three

The grade nine applied science students have decided that they like the class because “we never do any work”. Well! Let me tell you about what we did this week and you decide!
Step One: Initiate and Plan (ENGAGE)
Our school, St. Pius X High School in Ottawa, had a solar panel array installed over the summer months as part of our board’s commitment to renewable energy the solar array is used to capture the sun’s heat as a means of heating the hot water used throughout our school. Since we are currently studying the ecology unit, I told the students about this initiative and arranged an onsite field trip for them to observe this process from beginning to end. The students were encouraged to use their digital cameras, cell phones and other electronic devices to take photos of the various stages involved in the creation of our hot water.
Step Two: Perform and Record (EXPLORE)
On the first day of our “field trip” the head custodian took us up onto the school’s roof. This was fairly time consuming since we had to climb up a ladder and, in the interest of safety, only one person could be on the ladder at a time. Once we were all on the roof we observed the solar panels, what they looked like, which way they were oriented, the angle they were set at and the two large pipes attached to them. These two pipes were clearly labeled “glycerol in” and “glycerol out”. After much discussion and many photos we descended the ladder and now class was over. So no work? Any learning?
On the second and third days of our investigation to observe how our school uses the sun’s energy to generate all of our hot water, we followed the path of the glycerol pipeline from where it enters the school building to a small room tucked away at the back of our library. Here we checked the temperature gauges that showed the temperature of the glycerol prior to entering the tanks. Inside the sealed tanks, we were told that the glycerol pipe encircles a central core containing water and the heat is transferred from the glycerol to the water. By comparing the temperature of the glycerol as it left the tanks, to return to the roof, we realized that there was a temperature differential of 21 degrees C. Again we took lots of pictures before proceeding to the schools’ basement where we observed the boiler where the water that was heated by the glycerol is held until it is needed, at which point it is mixed with cold water, if necessary. These students have only been attending this school for less than three weeks so it was thrilling for them to go behind the scenes in the out-of-bounds areas of the school that are the domain of the custodians! Two more days with no work! Boo hoo! For the first time ever there was homework however! The students were told to email or forward the photos they had taken to me.
Prior to the next class I collected all the electronic photos that I could and posted them in my mailbox, which is available for the students to see on our school computers.
Step Three: Analyze and Interpret (EXPLAIN)
Day four we went to the computer lab. For all but two of these grade niners this was their first visit to the computer lab since entering high school. First I had to teach them how to log on to our network and then show them how to retrieve the photos from my mailbox and import them into Microsoft Photo Story. Although none of them had used Photo Story before they actually figured it out before I had time to show them. Any technical questions they had they asked each other and I was just along for the ride. Another day with no work! Yay!
Step Four: Communicate (EXTEND)
Day five we continued creating our photo essays of “How Hot Water is Produced at St. Pius”. About half way through the day one of the new comers to my class asked me to review his understanding of the project with him. He explained the whole system to me starting with the glycerol circulating through the solar panels in the roof and ending with the hot water coming out of the taps. “You mean to say that all the hot water for this whole school is made just from the heat of the sun?!” he clarified. “Yes, yes it is”, I replied. “So it doesn’t cost the school anything to make all the hot water for this whole building? The cafeteria? The washrooms? Everywhere?” his eyes were widening! HIGH FIVES ALL ROUND! They got it! Sadly, another day with no work. I wonder when they will realize they are learning?

To read about one of my senior super stars click on this link:
HYPERLINK ""St. Pius X student’s keen interest in science leads to summer camp - in California!__

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Week Two –Engage, Explore, Explain, Extend

This week brought a lot of unexpected occurrences to the grade nine applied science class that I teach including an unprecedented number of new students which has put the total at 27 and over the tipping point, an ugly bullying incident, an allergic reaction (to boys’ cologne) and an exciting field trip up to the school’s roof to observe the newly observed solar panels (more on this next week).
1. Initiate and Plan
On Tuesday, I decided to engage the students by pulling out my bag of magic beads, aka beads that react to ultra violet light, and we investigated some of the aspects of scientific inquiry – starting with predicting. Each student was given what looked like an identical white plastic bead and as a large group we addressed the question; “Predict what will happen to these beads when we go outside?” Suggestions ranged from:
“They will melt.”
“They will disappear.”
“They will start to hop.”
“The colour will change.”
After this brainstorming session we went outside and stood with the beads on our outstretched palms for a couple of minutes of sun exposure. Of course, we could have done this in front of the classroom windows but this is an energetic class that benefits from controlled movement throughout the 75 minute period. There was a certain amount of excitement amongst the students as the colour change in their beads was almost instantaneous but naturally some were too cool to react much.
Here is a picture of what the bag of beads look like when exposed to UV light.

Upon returning to the classroom it was quickly observed that despite the fact that a variety of colours had occurred while we were outside everyone’s bead had now returned to its original white colour.
We then moved into hypothesizing. After a brief discussion of what a hypothesis was the students were each given a post it note and asked to jot down their hypothesis of why the colour change occurred. Random students were called upon to share their answers once the post it notes had been jotted upon. As the students shared their ideas I recorded the key word from their sentence on the board, ie. temperature, wind, sun, etc.
Next the students all brought their post it notes up to the board and stuck them under the appropriate category heading.

This gave us a quick visual of the breakdown of each hypothesis into the categories that had been determined by the students. From there it was very easy to count up the number of individuals who shared the same hypothesis. (This had also allowed for another opportunity for some controlled movement.)
2. Perform and Record
Next we moved into exploring which of these hypotheses were correct by doing some simple experimentation. Wind was quickly ruled out by the process of blowing onto the beads. Temperature was ruled out by holding the beads tightly in our fists while they warmed up. Sunlight was determined to be the correct hypothesis when one of the disengaged girls at the back of the room held her bead up to the window to use it as a mini telescope. Much to her surprise the colour changed and as soon as she exclaimed on this fact everyone else rushed to windows to confirm her report! (Resulting in a disengaged girl daydreaming at the back of the classroom became our science super star!)
3. Analyze and Interpret
Now that the mystery had been solved we reviewed how we had predicted, observed, hypothesized and experimented. Discussion of the importance of making a testable hypothesis, even if it ultimately proved to be wrong, ensued. Because we had so many lovely hypotheses categorized so neatly on the board we turned our attention into making a bar graph of them as a method of conveying the information without having to do a lot of writing.
This was my opportunity to lead them through the process of drawing a bar graph as a way of explaining the scientists’ ideas.

4. Communicate
As a final extension to our exciting day we discussed the use of having beads that changed colour in UV light. One of the girls quickly came up with the idea of making jewellery to sell at tanning salons’ that would be “so funky” to wear while you were in the tanning bed. Other girls quickly jumped on the designer bandwagon and shouts of: “bracelets, necklaces, belly button rings” were ringing out when the bell rang and I sent them on their way!

Coming next week: Our field trip to the school roof and the resulting photo-essays on solar power.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

First Week Back

I have taught grade nine applied science many times, because it is one of my very favourite courses to teach. This semester I decided to shake things up a little. I would continue to embed literacy into an inquiry based curriculum but I would also use the Smarter Science framework to direct the students’ thinking throughout the inquiry process.
So here I am on day one of a brand new school year. I am ready! I am full of plans and ideas. When the bell rings for the students to move to the next period there is the usual excitement and nervous tension in the halls, students getting lost, students screaming with glee at seeing each other after being parted for a summer, a week, a day or even a minute. Of course it is only the girls who scream the boys are more likely to grunt and do some variation on what passes for a handshake nowadays – perhaps their shoulder bumping satisfies some deep primal need for a hug yet maintains their macho image?

Eventually we end up with the right students in the right class room and most of them even manage to sit down. Interestingly, although they just received their agenda last period, three of them have already lost it! Typically there are more girls than boys in the class, which appears to be a hangover of the “girls can’t do science” myth. (Not a battle for me to fight at the moment.)

When all else is said and done it is on to a nice diagnostic literacy activity which allows me to observe the students working in small groups, their ability to follow instructions, their metcognitive abilities and even leaves me with sample of their hand writing and sentence writing skills. In order to achieve all this wonderful assessment information I put Chris Hadfield’s official NASA photograph, which shows him in his full space suit regalia, on the LCD projector. The students were each provided with a “Question Starter Template” and each group given a pair of dice that had the words from the question Starter Template on them. As they took turns rolling the dice they wrote sentences into the appropriate box of the template using the Chris Hadfield photo as a cue.

Although they were clearly instructed to write complete sentence that start with a capital letter and end with a question mark here are some examples of what was submitted: (sic)

“go to an astranot”
“his jod be handy”
“When will he pass off.”
“This picture remember”
“Who is?”
“When would he get in the suit before departure.”
“What might happen if you go to space without a suit?”
“When can we go to space?”

So, not big surprises here! There is a wide range of writing and thinking skills in this group of students. It is promising to be a fun semester!