Thursday, May 26, 2011

Skype in the Classroom -- Posting #33

Every good teacher knows that is in retelling of the concepts that reinforcement of learning occurs. Retelling allows the learner to rethink and synthesize the concepts they are talking about. It also allows the auditory learner an opportunity to hear the content and thereby reinforce it. In short, retelling is critical to building comprehension in any subject area.
Building retelling into a lesson by having a student talk about what they have done and discovered also provides a wonderful opportunity for formative assessment. It allows the teacher to hear what the student truly understands, pick up any misconceptions that the student may have and recognize any gaps in the students’ learning. Skilful questioning will aid the learner in organizing their facts into the correct order and allow for clarification of concepts. 
This semester I have stepped this “retelling technique” up a notch by having a colleague from across the province, who is also a science teacher, Skype into the classroom.  Prior to each Skype call, my colleague and I discuss what we are currently up to in my science room so he is aware of what to expect of the conversation and can therefore provide appropriate prompts for the learner.
At regular intervals, my colleague from Smarter Science has Skyped into my classroom. Because he is a teacher himself he knows how to speak to the students in a respectful and appropriate manner. He is skilled at using higher order questioning to draw answers out of the students. When he hears a misconception he gently corrects it with an age appropriate example. The students look forward to his calls. On days that I announce that we will be getting a Skype call in class there is great anticipation. The students determine whose turn it is to talk first. They get their projects ready to show our Skype caller. When the now familiar “Blip-blip-blip” of an incoming Skype call comes in they cheer! Eureka! Another way to engage the 21st century learner!
My experiment with Skype in the classroom has also provided me with another, unexpected, teachable moment in class. The students have questioned me about how I know our Skyper. This provided me with the opportunity to talk about how I met him in person before ever going online with him, how I was sure he was really is who he says he is and how easy it is for people to present themselves as someone other than who they really are online. Online safety can never be stressed too much with our vulnerable youth!
An extension I can see arising from the learning opportunity of Skype in the classroom is to have a pool of retired teachers who would volunteer to engage in these conversations.  As teachers they would be comfortable talking with youth, skilled at questioning techniques, and knowledgeable of specific subject areas. 

How have you used Skype in your classroom? Leave a comment below or send me a tweet @EurekaTeacher to let me know.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Solar Panels -- A Photo Essay

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 labelled “glycol in” and “glycol 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 glycol prior to entering the tanks. Inside the sealed tanks, we were told that the glycol pipe encircles a central core containing water and the heat is transferred from the glycol to the water. By comparing the temperature of the glycol 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?

Here is a sample of one student's finished product. Send me a tweet @EurekaTeacher and let me know what mark she deserves.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Special Education Students Get to Meet Canada’s Astronauts

St. Pius X students pose with Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques.

On Friday, May 13, 2011 two students in St. Pius X  High School’s High Needs Program, had the opportunity to accompany their science teacher, #EurekaTeacher, to the newly renovated Canadian Aviation and Space Museum where #EurekaTeacher was participating in a live tweet-up with five of our astronauts.

After some carefully placed phone calls to the Canadian Space Agency and with the blessings of her principal,  #EurekaTeacher was able to make arrangements for the two students to attend the event with her. Canadian astronauts Steve MacLean, Bob Thirsk, Chris Hadfield, Jeremy Hansen and David Saint-Jacques spent an hour on the stage participating in a Q & A session withschool students from Ottawa. Their questions ranged from how you shower in space to what happens if a meteorite hits the space shuttle.

After the Q & A session the two St. Pius X students spoke privately with David Saint-Jacques who graciously answered their questions on a one-to-one basis, signed souvenirs for them and posed for photographs with them. This is one Friday the 13th that brought Good Luck to our students. Thanks to David Saint-Jacques and the Canadian Space Agency for making two students dreams come true!

Monday, May 9, 2011

People's Choice voting Now Open in Google Science Fair 2011

Recently I had the pleasure of being the only Canadian judge in the Google Science Fair which is open to all 13 - 18 year olds worldwide.

The thousands of entries have been narrowed down to the top 60 and the public can now judge them for themselves.

You do not have to be a science teacher to be impressed with the awesome entries you will see here:
Be sure to vote in each age category!

Send me a tweet @EurekaTeacher and let me know what you think of the entries.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Of Spiders and Butterflies -- Posting #29

So, not only was the launching of the space shuttle STS-134 delayed yet again but all of our spiders have escaped from their carefully designed and constructed habitats!  See blog post #25. Just another day in the life of a classroom teacher! These circumstances have brought an untold number of teachable moments.

While we have been waiting for the space shuttle to launch to launch so we can compare our spider webs to the ones spun in microgravity we have been learning about butterflies. All this information on arachnids and insects will eventually tie together in our Ecology Unit. Since these students have no prior knowledge I am using these circumstances to teach them some.
By combining the overlapping units on space and ecology we have had the opportunity to study:
  • Insects vs arachnids
  • Requirements for life in space
  • Habitats
  • Incomplete and complete metamorphosis
  • Food chains and food webs
  • Spiral tongues
  • Technical glitches at NASA
  • Space shuttle disasters
  • Use of Twitter to monitor NASA launches

In the meanwhile I have also ordered Painted Lady Butterfly larvae from one of the biological suppliers. Once these arrive we will be able to witness the wonder of Mother Nature up close and personal! Stay tuned for more information!
How have used insects or arachnids in your classroom? Send me a tweet @EurekaTeacher