To Investigate

General Science No Comments »

Quite often I come across a site that looks interesting, but I just don’t have the time to explore it in depth at that moment. And so I bookmark it in my favourites ‘to investigate’ file, and it waits until I find a few extra moments in my life. Quite often that file sits waiting for weeks, and sometimes even months. I recently found a moment or two, and so I scrolled through the websites that have been patiently waiting to be explored. I found a gem.

It is called Physics & Physical Science Demos, Labs, & Projects for High School Teachers. It is a blog of lessons, activities, experiments, assessment ideas, resource sites, and so much more. As I am a middle school teacher, my first thought was that as good as this site might be, I may not find anything for my particular needs. Thankfully, I was mistaken. There is plenty on the site for high school teachers, however there are many lessons and activities that are relevant for my curriculum, as well.

There are various ways to search this site. When you scroll down the right sidebar, you will find ‘The 10 Most Popular Posts’, which I did look through. Scroll a little further down, beyond the recent posts and comments, and you will find a category listing. I found this search tool to be most helpful. Even further down you can find an archive and tag list.

I spent most of my time on the physical science section, and in just a few moments I found a few posts that made my search worthwhile. They are the following:

100 Incredible /Amazing Physics/Science/Teaching Videos

This post links to 2 great sites – both of which highlight some incredible videos that will either teach you, or teach your students.

One Question

In this post the author describes how he allowed students to each pose one science question, and he was amazed by the calibre of questions that were raised.

Pulley Lab – Mechanical Advantage

Perhaps I liked this post because it is very relevant for me right now. I am currently teaching mechanical advantage to my grade 8 students, and so the timing was impeccable.

Introducing the Scientific Method

In this post the author describes a great way to introduce, or reintroduce, the scientific method.

Under his welcome note, there was a call for contributors for either original postings or comments on his ideas. Thus far, I have only been bold enough to write on my own site, and the thought of going beyond my own WordPress walls seems daunting. But two years ago I could never have imagined writing for any audience, and yet here I am. And so I realize that anything can happen.

Games for Learning…Part II

General Science No Comments »

I was going to write about something completely different today, an ecogame website. However, every time that I have tried to access it recently, my virus protection program pops up to tell me that there are Trojan horses associated with the site. And so I will leave well enough alone.

Instead, I will go back to my tried and true favourites. Back in October I mentioned an online game called Fantastic Contraption.  It is a game where you have to build a contraption out of wheels, sticks, and water in order to get a pink ball into a goal zone. Apparently there is now a second version of this game, Fantastic Contraption 2, with new levels and challenges to solve.

The other game that I love is called Launchball. In this game, the task is also to get a ball into the goal zone. This time, though, it is done through creating machines that are all energy based. Players need to use electromagnets, solar cells, battery packs, fans, and various other energy systems to create a machine that will move the ball into the “endzone”.

I introduced both of these games to my students at the beginning of our systems unit, so that they could have a fun way to consider inputs and outputs and how combinations of items can work to an advantage or disadvantage. The students were hooked. After having a few days to explore, they were eager to share their designs with their peers. (Both games allow the user to save designs.) The students were all excited to see what others had created. After playing both games, many students came away with a favourite of the two, and that choice differed among students. I, too, have a favourite. Do you?

Games for Learning…Part I

General Education, General Science, Math No Comments »

Last year we took our students to spend a day outdoors, and it was right around Earth day. There were to be a series of activities for them to rotate through, and I was to facilitate one of the stations. I wanted something that was “Earth Day” related, and I wanted something that they would enjoy doing. I didn’t want to preach to them, rather I wanted them to understand that actions in the “real” world, and thus in their world, have a large impact on the sustainability of our environment. I started combing the internet for eco-games, and after a long search I found this gem of a website. It combined all of the elements that I was looking for; a little math, a little science, and a focus on the impact of our decisions.

There are three board games that are shared on the Business Behind the Scenes site. They are Monopoly style games, complete with game boards and chance cards to download.  Each game focuses on a different industry – The Clean Scene looks at dry cleaning, The Fine Print looks at the world of printing, and Rev it Up! looks at an auto service shop. In each game, the students compare the advantages and disadvantages of eco-friendly methods versus the old standbys. Students must begin by setting up a business and making initial decisions as to how eco-friendly their business will be, taking into account the related start-up costs. They then travel through a series of scenarios, each affecting their business in a positive or negative way, depending on the initial decisions made. Throughout the game they must keep track of their profits and losses, and at the end determine how successful their business choices were. It is a great lesson in budgeting and, more importantly, students learn that each and every choice made in the world around them should be made with care.

 A fine lesson for one and all.

Provincial Resource Documents Gaining Strength

Math No Comments »

I have been following the Ontario MathGains website for some time now. At first there were only limited resources available. Recently they have improved their website, and they now have some resources that are worthy of checking out.

A bit of background, the Math Gains website is part of the Ontario EduGains website, which was designed to improve teaching and learning in Ontario. When initially started, I believe that its primary focus was on math and literacy. It now appears to contain other resources, as well. There are support documents for differentiated instruction, assessment, evaluation and reporting, English language learners, and International languages, in addition to those for math and literacy. But I digress…

The Math Gains website has a variety of different resources available for teachers. First and foremost (in my mind, at least), are the resources that support the curriculum itself. These include the following:

  • CLIPS (Critical Learning Instructional Paths Supports) – These are web-based interactive learning modules for students in grades 7-12. Not all curriculum topics are currently covered, but new CLIPS continue to be added.
  • Links to the TIPS guides (Targeted Implementation and Planning Supports) – These guides are designed to help develop math instruction and assessment by providing teaching ideas and suggested questions to help foster an enriching math learning environment.
  • WINS (Winning with Instructional Navigation Supports) Learner Think Books – These appear to be draft versions of topic specific learning guides, designed for the student. There is a teacher’s guide as well.
  • Ideas for using manipulatives in the classroom
  • Technology Integration (with a specific emphasis on Geometer’s Sketchpad)

Within the learning resources, there are also links to Ontario Curriculum documents, EQAO support material, and a continuum for the math curriculum from grade 6 through grade 10.

There are a variety of other resources listed on the MathGains page that provide support for the learner, but I must admit, I have not explored them in depth.

But tomorrow is another day.

Learning for One and All….the after story.

General Education, The Learner No Comments »

Not all PD days are created equally. Today’s rocked. Sometimes you leave feeling as if you have not learned any concrete strategies that you can implement in the classroom. Today I left with strategies in hand, and I have already incorporated one into my lesson planning for tomorrow.

As mentioned, our session today was on critical thinking. Our speaker for the day was Garfield Gini-Newman, a lecturer at OISE and a consultant with The Critical Thinking Consortium. He is the sort of speaker that you can listen to all day long, and continue to be intrigued with what he has to say. There were many interesting ideas, but here are the two that were the primary focus, and both are easy to implement.

The first revolves around how we frame questions and tasks. In his opinion, there are three main ways that we can do this. First, we can frame questions and tasks in ways that only require a recall answer, such as “What are genetically modified foods?” This type of framing does not require the student to analyze or judge the information, simply to retell it. Second, we can frame questions and tasks in ways that only require an opinion, such as “Would you eat genetically modified foods?” Again, the student does not have to analyze or judge, and quite often the answer would be linked to a personal like or dislike. Third, we can frame questions and tasks in ways that require a student to defend the answer based on a set of criteria, thus eliciting critical thinking strategies. For example, “Should we be identifying genetically modified foods in our grocery stores? Identify three criteria that help to defend your answer.” This type of question requires students to go beyond the research to examine the way we conduct ourselves in society. It requires an assessment of the health implications as compared to the increase in variety and enhancement of our food products. This type of framing requires students to assess our society and how genetically modified foods fit into our values .

An important point that Garfield mentioned – there is a time and place for the first and second type of framing questions and tasks. However, using those in exclusion of the third will not develop generations of thinkers.

The second “walk-away” strategy from the day was a list of the types of critical thinking questions and tasks that can be incorporated into lessons. They are as follows:

Critique the piece – Assess the strong and weak points of a person, product, or performance

Judge the better or best – Judge from among two or more options

Rework the piece – Transform a product or performance based on new criteria

Decode the puzzle – Suggest a solution to a problem

Design to specs – Develop a new product that meets a set of conditions

Perform to specs – Develop a course of action that meets a set of conditions

Currently my students are working on the evolution of systems. Tomorrow they will present a system that has evolved over time, and then offer their thoughts on what the next generation of that system will look like – a task they have already being working on. Without realizing it, in having them suggest how the system will evolve in the future, I already had them “Reworking the piece”. After today’s session, the activity does not stop there. They will also have to “Judge the better or best”. They will compare the different systems that are presented in order to decide which of those systems has changed society in the most meaningful way. For them, the first step will be to determine a set of criteria that defines, “What is a meaningful change to society?”

I can’t wait to see how it goes.

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