Saturday, November 26, 2011

Twelve Hour Field Trip is Eleven Hours Too Long -- Blog Post #44

In Ontario our Ministry of Education has a relatively new initiative called Specialist High Skills Majors (SHSM) in our high schools. SHSM is designed to allow students to focus their learning on a specific
economic sector while meeting the requirements to graduate from secondary school.  At our high school, in addition to teaching science and math,  I also run the SHSM Program in Justice: Community Safety and Emergency Services which is aimed at students who may be interested in pursuing a  career in policing, fire fighting, paramedicis, law, social work, child youth worker, border patrol, security, park ranger, etc.
Last Friday the students in our Specialist High Skills Major program had the opportunity to participate in a 12 hour field trip with me. Looking sharp in our black SHSM tee-shirts, we started at Algonquin College where we visited the fire fighting, paramedic and police services labs. After a nutrition (?) break at MacDonald’s we travelled by public transportation to a local rock climbing gym where the students  participated in over 2 hours of training and participating in rock climbing.
Rock climbing is, for the most part, a buddy activity and students who do not normally interact with each another quickly buddied up in order to maximize their participation time. I had no idea that so many of our students are part monkey, or possibly related to Spiderman but they were all extremely adept at climbing and very proud of their accomplishments. I hesitate to describe the “happy dance” that one chronically depressed student did upon reaching the apex of a cliff because it was so graphically disturbing, there was however, pure joy on his face!
By now it was 3 o’clock in the afternoon. All students were respectful and orderly all day.  Five of our students had to leave the group due to either employment or family commitments. The remaining ten went onto “volunteer time”.  Together we taxied over to one of the local elementary school s where our students were the facilitators for the Grade 6 Leadership Camp. If you knew the stories behind the students that were participating you would completely understand why I may be considered, by some, to be a risk taker.
During this camp I made some observations of our students as they interacted with the 11 – 12 year olds.
1.       A new Canadian hesitant to speak English in public and a young lady who has been “thrown away” by her family
An amazing pair who were in charge of an “Agree- disagree” Activity Center.  They came up with amazing topics for the youngsters to debate and asked great questions to keep the debate going! They couldn’t believe how engaged the children were in what they considered to be a boring activity!

2.       An weak academic grade 10 student and a hyper-active grade 11 student who has had to raise himself
A fantastic partnership that ran a “parachute” Activity Center. They both spoke with authority but respect to the students.  They modelled learning and improvised on the fly. At one stage, the ADHD student asked permission from his partner to move over to the adjacent Activity Center where he could see his peer was struggling with a rowdy group of students!

3.       Tiny little gymnast
Single-handedly (until ADHA guyn offered to help) put small groups through their paces as they passed hula hoops around a closed circle. Came up with lots of variations on the theme! Her height may be instrumental in bringing out the caring and compassionate side of people.

4.       Grade 12 girl who keeps her nose clean and flies under the radar
So calm and in command with the tee shirt Decorating Activity that after she had explained the concept to the first group no other group needed instruction and each became calmer and calmer in her presence!

5.       Grade 10 boy, anxious to please!
OOOoooh grade 6 girls love this boy! His self-confidence, energy and deportment make him quite the (young)ladies man! Who knew?

6.       Shy Gradde 11 girl
Her shyness is her biggest obstacle. She really struggled when trying to facilitate each group of youngsters in coming up with their team cheer. Once Michelle was imported to help her the cheering really took off!
7.       Struggling ADD grade 12 girl
Possibly the most flexible, compliant and enthusiastic of the group. She moved from group to group helping where she was needed. She is almost too independent to work with a partner! Her organizational skills (when it comes to others) are phenomenal!

8.       Chronically depressed happy dancer
Our official photographer / videographer for the Leadership Camp. This may have been his big break!

This may all sound very civilized and organized but let me assure you if I EVER comment about the noise level in my class room again please remind me of the sound of 40 excited grade sixers echoing off the walls of a school gym on a Friday night. It is not an exaggeration to say that my ears were ringing for hours afterwards!

So it was a fantastic day on many levels but I am not going to lie to you, by 7 o’clock I was out of Tylenol, I had dined on a potluck supper of salad and potato chips, my head was spinning and I was plotting a way out! At this time the most unlikely student of the group came over to me with a cookie, gave me a hug and reassured me that I could get through this! Can you guess who that student is?

Thank you to this student for reminding me that this is why I teach!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Using Molecular Modelling Kits to Predict, Explain, Observe, Explain the Relationship between Chemical Formulas and Molecular Shapes – Post #43

 In my grade nine applied science class the students are typically very good at both interpreting a chemical formula and in building molecular models, using the tradition ball and stick kits. However, when it comes to the higher order thinking required to add or subtract an atom from a molecular compound they are not able to visualize how the molecular shape is changed. This semester I decided to use the Predict, Explain Observe, Explain (P.E.O.E.) model that is encouraged by Smarter Science to help the students move forward in their thinking.

Prior to performing this activity the students were taught how to deconstruct a chemical formula. That is, they could articulate that H2O (water) was a molecule composed of two hydrogen and one oxygen atom whereas H2O2 (hydrogen peroxide) was a molecule made up of two hydrogen and two oxygen atoms. Although the students were familiar with the Periodic Table and knew that families or groups represented the vertical columns and atoms in the same family shared chemical and physical properties they were unable to interpret the number of valence electrons each atom has and how this influenced chemical bonding.
1.      Initiate and Plan
To engage the students in this activity I began by distributing the molecular model kits and explaining the reason that different coloured balls had a different number of holes. Together we observed the colour coding of the atoms, their position on the Periodic Table, the number of holes drilled into the model atoms and the number of valence electrons they each had. Most students were very confused at this stage.
2.      Perform and Record
In pairs, the students found the correct coloured atoms to build one molecule of water and built it. It quickly became apparent that unless the oxygen atom was placed in the center the molecule could not exist. It was further observed that the molecule was “bent” or angled, and could not be a straight line.
I distributed the P.E.O.E. template to the students and had them predict how the look (shape, geometry) of an atom of H2O would change if one atom of oxygen was added, making H2O2. When asked to make this prediction on paper most students just drew an oxygen atom to the oxygen atom that was central to the water molecule.  They did not take into account that there were insufficient valence electrons to make this possible. This concept appears to be too abstract for these learners at this stage of their academic career. 
Once the students had completed box 2 of their P.E.O.E. template they were then instructed to build the H2O2 molecule. When given the hands-on model to build they immediately realized that their predictions were incorrect, took their water molecule apart and constructed the correct molecule for H2O2. 

3.      Analyze and Interpret
When the students compared their models of water to that of hydrogen peroxide they were able to contrast their shapes (bent vs. straight line)
.4.      Communicating
Students used the PE.O.E.  to communicate what they had learned about the relationship between the chemical formula and the look of the molecule. They went on to build a number of various molecules. Initially I supplied them with a list of chemical formulas to build and draw. Subsequently they built molecules ad hoc and determined their chemical formulas. Lots of authentic learning occurred, everyone had fun and my learning outcomes were achieved.
What learning outcomes?
From Strand A of our Ministry document – Scientific Skills and Investigation we demonstrated scientific investigation skills (related to both inquiry and research) in the four areas of skills (initiating and planning, performing and recording, analysing and interpreting, and communicating) (A1). We also selected appropriate instruments and materials for particular inquiries (A1.2). And from the Chemistry unit we demonstrated an understanding of the properties of common elements and simple compounds, and general features of the organization of the periodic table (C3). 
What strategies do you use to help these learners understand that importance of chemical bonding in molecular geometry?

Monday, November 14, 2011

“How long does it take to eat a Freezie?” -- A Math Inquiry: Blog #42

 Since being pumped up from the Science Teachers Association of Ontario’s (STAO) conference last week, where I was awarded the Secondary Schools Science Teacher of the Year 2011 by Youth Science Canada, I decided to do an inquiry based lesson with my math class today.

Some people may have hesitated before trying inquiry based learning with my math class for any number of reasons:
  • Class room dynamics are unpredictable
  • Each learner is on their own individualized learning plan (IEP)
  • A wide range of mathematical ability
  •  50% of the students are English Language Learners (ELL)
  •  I’ve been out of the classroom for the past 3 teaching days
  • This is a split level math class with KNN9A, MAT1L  and MAT2L students present

No worries! I am confident this will work! The inquiry we conducted was: “How long does it take to eat a Freezie?” For those of you unfamiliar with freezies they are basically frozen sugar water sealed inside a flexible plastic cylinder. Kids cut the top off the plastic, push up the frozen treat and enjoy them – especially in hot weather.
Together we brainstormed all the possible variables that needed to be taken into consideration prior to conducting our test. Here is the list that the students generated:
  • Temperature -- Frozen or liquid
  • How hungry are you?
  • Eating techniques
  • What size is the Freezie?
  • Colour – it was determined via discussion that the students eat their favourite colour faster than others
  • How many do you have? Class discussion revealed that if there was only one freezie a person would be more apt to take their time and enjoy it whereas they would gobble it up quickly if there were lots more available to them
  • Would you be just eating, or eating while talking?

Since I was the holder of the freezies I was able to inform the students that the freezies were currently: 
  •  Frozen
  • Large
  • Various colours
  • They would each get one
  • They would just eat and not talk
Next the students each thought about long it takes them to eat a Freezie and recorded their estimate.
Students were then instructed to pull out whatever technology they had in their pocket and find the timer or stop-watch feature on it. This integration of 21st century technology lead to several teachable moments while the students were amazed that they even  had this capacity on their gadgets, downloaded appropriate apps from the internet and helped each other with this task. Those who had no technology moved to sit with those who did without me guiding them whatsoever.  The collaboration between the students was natural and free flowing! 
Students cut the tops off their freezies, started their timers and sat back to enjoy their investigation. As each student completed their eating task they recorded their time.
By the time all the data was collected and tabulated today’s class was over. Tomorrow we shall move on to analysis. The type of information the students will be expected to extract from the data will depend on what level they are working at. The types of questions that shall be posed range from: “Who ate their Freezie the fastest” to “calculate the mode of the time it took for the freezies to be eaten in our class.”
Because the students are working with data they generated themselves they have ownership of it. This makes the learning task engaging and authentic to them. Learning is fun!