To Investigate

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.

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Games for Learning…Part II

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?

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Games for Learning…Part I

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.

Posted by admin in General Education, General Science, Math, 0 comments

Provincial Resource Documents Gaining Strength

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.

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Learning for One and All….the after story.

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.

Posted by admin in General Education, The Learner, 0 comments

Learning for One and All

So tomorrow is a professional development day; students stay home to play, teachers go to school to learn.

And what will we be learning? The topic of the day is … critical thinking. We will be learning new strategies to help our students become more critical thinkers.

“And what does that mean?” you ask. It means that we want our students to be better decision makers, more capable of assessing the options presented to them. We want them to analyze and evaluate information, and to know that what they read is not always the truth. We want them to consider not just what is right in front of their eyes, but to extend their thoughts to that which they cannot see. We want them to learn these strategies now, and develop them over time, so that when they leave our doors they are ready to face the world.

Yes, we dream big.

So in the spirit of tomorrow’s day of learning, here are a few sites to help you begin your journey down the path of critical thinking.

The Critical Thinking Consortium – This is my favourite critical thinking site that I have found…so far. It has many different resources, course packs, and lesson plan. You can also sign up to receive a monthly digital digest full of strategies.

The Critical Thinking Community – I recently came upon this site, and have not explored it in full. It appears to have lesson ideas, professional development and conference information, and various suggestions for further reading on the topic.

If you know of other sites that are worth checking out, please share.

Posted by admin in General Education, The Learner, 0 comments

…and we’re back!

January 24, 2011

Yes. I am actually writing something.

No excuses. It is what it is.

Today’s subject is science. Even before we had our Smartboards installed in our classrooms, I have always loved using interactive websites for teaching. I send the students home with instructions to complete an activity on a website, and they go home actually excited to do their homework. What a great way to learn.

One of my favourite science sites is the PhET Interactive Simulation lab, from the University of Colorado at Boulder. There are simulations for physics, biology, chemistry, earth science, and math, too. You can search by topic or by grade level. Click on the section for teachers, and there you can browse the activities that others have submitted – activities which incorporate the simulations. Brilliant. Feeling generous? You can submit your own activities, as well.

The one that I have most used is the Circuit Construction Kit for the Grade 6 Electricity unit. I have created a set of challenges with parallel and series circuits, and I have the students try them out on the website before building the circuits in class. I have attached the worksheets that I created.

Go ahead, give it a try.

Series and Parallel Circuits Worksheets

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A Wake Up Call

Too often we get caught up in the daily grind. I love my job, but to do it properly requires many hours of dedication, both in and out of the school building. Sometimes weeks go by and I notice that I have spent the majority of my time marking, planning, and doing various other tasks, to the exclusion of family time. It is always a struggle to find the balance, as I mentioned in my last post many weeks ago.

Unfortunately, it usually takes a wakeup call of some sort to force us to put the most important things back on top, as was the case with me over the past week. A few health scares in my family quickly reminded me that I often work too hard and do not take enough time for myself.

 And so, with that spirit in mind, a few sites to help you appreciate life and to enjoy all this world has to offer:

 1000 Awesome Things

Because I work too hard, it does not take much to put a smile on my face. I don’t need huge vacations (although it would be nice) or grand gestures. Rather, I find the greatest pleasure in the smaller things – a funny comment from my son, a delicious bowl of ice cream, or finding the next great read. This site reminds us of the smaller things in life that can sometimes offer great pleasure.

 Fantastic Contraption

I love this site. Fantastic Contraption touts itself as a “fun online physics puzzle game”, and that it is. Get a pink ball into a goal zone by building contraptions to manoeuvre over/under/around various types of obstacles. Once I started, I was hooked for days until I had completed all levels. I introduced it to my grade 8 students, and they, too, were hooked.

 Kseniya Simonova’s Sand Art

I believe this was originally created for the show ‘Ukraine’s Got Talent’. The artist creates drawings on an illuminated sand table, and the whole process is set to music.

 The Lost Generation Reverse Poem

No words to explain…..go watch.

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Real Life Applications

The first few weeks of school have taken over my life. No surprise.
I am still trying to find a balance, but in the meantime…..
I came across this website through my Twitter network. Mathalicious tries to address the never-ending question of “but when are we ever going to need this?”. As teachers of mathematics, we know that there are many parts of the math curriculum that are easy to connect to the outside world. Unfortunately, there are other parts where we struggle to explain to students when the average adult would ever need that particular information. Mathalicious strives to take math curriculum subjects and connect them to the world in which our students live.
Upon entering the Mathalicious site, the first step is to choose a particular strand of the math curriculum. You are then taken to a series of activities that support that strand, each presented in a slideshow view. Under the slideshow are additional resources for the user, including the big ideas of the lesson, essential questions, and potential performance and assessment tasks.
Worth a few moments of your time.
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Advise the Advisor

I have been appointed one of the middle school student council advisors for the coming year, and I have been looking for resources to support this endeavor. So far, this is what I have come up with:

1) Canadian Student Leadership Association

Here you can find various publications to purchase online, links, videos, lists of speakers, fundraising links, among other things. My favourite part of this site was the Idea Share Shop on the resources page.

This was a good starting place for me, but I was looking for handouts/booklets that I could access right away. There were a few resources that came up from different countries, such as:

2) Student Council Manual for Secondary Schools – Although I was looking for middle school resources, this manual had information about the function and structure of student council, the election process, planning meetings, and communication. There is some data specific to their school, but there is still relevant information. (Update – link no longer active.)

3) Second Levels Student Council Resource Pack – This resource is from Ireland. It goes through the role of student council, how to set up a student council, structures, elections, operation, communication, and some activity ideas. Pretty good.

Surprisingly enough, these were the best resources that I found, despite searching the internet for over an hour. I can’t believe that is all that is available online. If you know of any better resources, I would love to hear about them. Direct message me on twitter.

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