In My Classroom – #5 (Public Interactions/Real World Experiences for Students)

Welcome to the KABT new blog segment, “In My Classroom”. This is a segment that will post about every two weeks from a different member. In 250 words or less, share one thing that you are currently doing in your classroom. That’s it.

The idea is that we all do cool stuff in our rooms, and to some people there have been cool things so long that it feels like they are old news. In this segment, if you are tagged all you need to do is share something you’ve done in your classroom in the last two weeks. It must be recent, but that’s it. If you are tagged, you’ve got two weeks to post your entry. Who knows… your supposedly mundane idea, lesson, or lab might be exactly what someone else really needs. Keep it brief, keep it honest about the time window, and share it out! Here we go:


20150326_090006This year, I have completely changed how I teach.  An absolute turn-around.

The course that I teach is Veterinary Medicine.  It is taken by high  school juniors and seniors.  Many of my students know they want to pursue a veterinary or vet tech path.  Other students are taking my course to see what is out there; they love animals but are not sure how to weave that love into a future career.   The challenge going into the school year was how to provide meaningful experiences for the students which are rich in content and exploration (I am not a veterinarian).

My approach follows the model which my school uses – community interactions.  Depending on the course you teach, you may not be able to incorporate this model to the full extent, but I believe each classroom could implement a little community interaction for a win-win.  With all of our community interactions, I tweet pictures and quips about our experiences.  This gets the word out about our business partners AND gives us community exposure!

  1. Guest speakers20141203_144128(0)This is the easiest to implement since it does not require buses, permission slips and budget. I used to be afraid? embarrassed? to call someone up to ask them to come speak to my class, feeling like it would be an imposition.  Not anymore!  I have 20140919_140703found folks are very supportive of education; professionals love sharing their passion with students!  I have had veterinarians, vet techs, ranchers, former students who are pre-vet, and even a speaker representing the beef industry.
  2. No farther than your own backyard – Of course your school grounds could be a utopia for teaching, but have you looked at the people there? The nurses in my building have been invaluable a teaching my students skills (intramuscular injections, venipuncture, catheterization).  Have you have talked to your School Resource Officer about speaking to your class?  He/she could lend a wonderful application of biotechnology via crime scene evidence during your unit on DNA.
  3. Not-for-profits as a resource20150114_090433Charitable organizations love to get their message out! Many of them have educational programs already in place. For your class, consider a local food bank during a unit on nutrition or digestion.  What about a visit from a cancer philanthropy during your cell unit or a conservation group during your environmental unit?  The possibilities are endless!  This quarter, my students spend Thursdays at a local horse rescue (http://horsesave.com/).  Students are getting HANDS-ON experience working with horses, lending a hand to the owner. We learned shelter medicine AT the animal shelter (http://www.waysidewaifs.org) and continue to go their regularly.
  4. Businesses (small, big and everything in between!)20140829_143731 Look into businesses that sell services or products which have an application to your class. For example, I have had a dog trainer come to my class.  We had “BYOD day (bring your own dog)” and had a training session on school grounds.  Another example?  I have built relationships with two large veterinary pharmaceutical companies in my area.  One offers us guest speakers.  The students love asking questions about how they got where they are.  The other company designed a project for my students to work on.  Real world experiences!!
  5. Site visits20150311_090321Transportation (and thus budget) is an issue to taking the students on site visits. All of my students & parents have signed a blanket field trip form allowing them to drive themselves, carpool, or take school transportation.  This has greatly simplified the possibility of seeing what professionals do where they do it!  We have gone to private farms, a dairy, various sizes of cattle ranches, the Zoo and a slaughter/processing facility (wow – we saw the lymph nodes which are an important part of the meat inspection process!).  Where could you go to punctuate what you are learning in the classroom?
  6. Professional societies20140927_112429Something that you teach will a professional society associated with it.  Contact them.  See if there are speakers, conferences or field trips your students could attend.  You are spreading the word about what they do to a potential market (your students).  For example, for years my colleague Eric Kessler has been taking students on the Kansas Herpetological Society field trips (http://www.cnah.org/khs/).  Students walk fields WITH herpetologists, learning from them as they go!

I feel that we have the ultimate flipped classroom using this model!  We are out of the classroom 3-4 days a week.  We SEE/DO the concepts in real-world settings, the return to the classroom to apply and process what we have learned.  As we have these experiences, student vocabulary and knowledge increases at a rate faster than if we would have presented the material in the classroom.

Students keep a lab notebook where they document and diagram what they learn.  I have skills practicals where they are warranted.  Students practice writing gracious and meaningful thank you notes following our interactions.

I challenge you to add just ONE community interaction this semester!

Now a question for you:  how else would you hold students accountable for their learning?  Do you have other ideas for me from “in YOUR classroom” regarding accountablity in this setting?

In My Classroom – #4 (Can We Have An Argument, Please (2))

Thank you, Camden, for the “Tag.  You’re it!”  I am attempting to kill two birds with one stone with this post.  This is part 4 in the “In My Classroom” series and a continuation of my thoughts of using argumentation in the classroom.

If you remember, I outlined the argumentation process on Feb. 6th (see previous post).  This post will describe my first experience with it in the classroom.  I also need to give credit to my fall semester student teacher, Chelsey Wineinger, for the design and implementation of this lesson.  We had just returned from KABT’s 2014 Fall Conference after an opportunity to listen to Dr. Marshall Sundberg discuss teaching strategies from his book, “Inquiring About Plants: A Practical Guide to Engaging Science Practices.”  Armed with this inspiration and the “Plants and Energy” Activity (pg 219) from “Scientific Argumentation in Biology” (SAIB) by Sampson & Schleigh, we began our argumentation adventure.

One of the most important decisions that need to be made when implementing argumentation in your own classroom is timing.  The idea is to provide just enough background information so that students can move forward with their investigations, yet still be challenged.  For this lab, it is important that students understand that plants use carbon dioxide to create sugars and animals use oxygen to break them down.

Now the question:  Do plants use oxygen to convert the sugar (which they produce using photosynthesis) into energy and release carbon dioxide as a waste product as animals do? (SAIB)

All groups of my students (3-4 per group) will use this question to drive their investigation.  It will appear at the top of their whiteboard using the format shown below:

In this lesson, students were given three different claims to chose from.  Depending on your students abilities, you can provide more claims, fewer claims, or no claims at all.  Here are the claims (SAIB):

  • Claim #1:  Plants do not use oxygen as we do. Plants only take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen as a waste product because of photosynthesis. This process produces all of the energy a plant needs, so they do not need oxygen at all.
  • Claim #2: Plants take in carbon dioxide during photosynthesis in order to make sugar, but they also use oxygen to convert the sugar into energy. As a result, plants release carbon dioxide as a waste product all the time just as animals do.
  • Claim #3:  Plants release carbon dioxide all the time because they are always using oxygen to convert sugar to energy just as animals do. Plants, however, also take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen when exposed to light.

Students, after having a discussion within their group will decide on a claim and add it to their whiteboard.  Now the materials which are your classic “snail-elodea lab” materials:

  • Vials with lids that will seal tightly
  • Bromothymol blue indicator
  • pond or aquarium water
  • pond snails
  • pieces of Elodea

All groups will have access to these same materials and it is important to discuss any questions that students may have including the properties of Bromothymol  blue.  Now students begin to design their own investigations attempting to support their claim.  I’ve had students ask if they could also gather evidence to disprove the other claims while still supporting their own… The answer?   “Absolutely!”  It is important to step back at this point and let the students do the designing.  This can be really difficult because as teachers we really want our students to have the “right” answers.  Remember its not so much about the “right” answer here as it is the process.  If you can see this process through to the end, I think most students will find the “right” answers.  I tried to just move around the classroom and ask a clarifying question or two of each group and making sure everyone is participating and engaged.  You could have students turn in their procedures at this point if you would like to have something to grade.

Now they gather materials and run their investigation.  It is important for this particular lab to have plenty of materials.  I had a few groups use as many as 8 vials.  If you think about it or are familiar with the lab, this number of vials will support most claims.  The other material that can be difficult is the amount of snails necessary for the students needs.  I typically put things off until last minute.  My great thought was to take my own children out to the stream behind the house and catch a whole bunch of snails, but we had a cold snap a few days before the lab, so that plan fell through.  The day before the lab, I hit all the area pet stores.  If you find the right person, pet stores will usually just give you what they call their aquatic pest snails that will build up in number in their aquariums if not controlled.  I was able to get enough, but was mildly stressed out as it was the day before the lab.  (I used to have a wrestling coach that talked about the “7 P’s”… “Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance.”  This typically comes to mind when I am scrambling to put together a lab!)

Once the investigation is completed, students are ready to gather data and analyze it for the evidence portion of their whiteboard.  They should remember they are picking pieces of evidence to support their claim.  This does not mean they can just throw away evidence that does not support it.  Can the claim be changed or adjusted?  Absolutely!  Great opportunity for a discussion on how science really “works.”

The justification piece is something that I’m still working on.  The justification of the evidence is a statement that defends their choice of evidence by explaining why it is important and relevant by
identify the concepts underlying the evidence.  My issue is one that goes with your decision on timing for this lab.  If you go early, students may lack the background to adequately justify the evidence that they have chosen.  If you go later, they kind of already know the answer.  I’m still playing with this and will let you know how it goes.

OK.  This is a post about argumentation.  So when do they argue?  Their whiteboard, now full of information, is their argument.  The argumentation piece is a round-robin format where groups will leave behind an “expert” who will present and defend their argument while identifying gaps or holes that other groups bring to light through their questioning.  The rest of the group is traveling around the room visiting each whiteboard asking questions, not to point out what is wrong necessarily, but finding bits of information to bring back to their own whiteboard to make their argument stronger.  When groups reconvene they might need to reword different parts or use a difference piece of evidence and  in some cases they might need to tweak their experiment and run it again.  Once again, depends on how much time you have.

Student do not argue well.  If unchecked, they will happily listen to the “expert” and respond with a “Cool!” or Sounds good!” and then sit there waiting for me to tell them to move to the next “expert.”  You have to really move around the room and help them argue.  If a group goes all around the room and comes back to their own group for a discussion and have nothing to add, they have failed.  Likewise for the “expert.”  If they are so intent proving to every group how right they are and don’t really listen to the questions to find ways to improve, they have also failed.

If it is done well, there should be  lively group discussion following the argumentation piece and whiteboards should be adjusted.  Don’t worry.  The first time we tried this, there was a lot of sitting and looking at one another.  My students and I have gotten better with each argumentation lesson.  Right now, my students are working through an old lab of mine on species and diversity that I have converted to include an argumentation piece.  I will continue to update with how this process is going in my classroom this year.

I nominate Kelley Tuel as the next KABT member to tell us what is going on in her classroom!