Friday, September 9, 2011

Welcome to Mrs. J's life science class!

Students came in this year, as they do every year, so excited. With brand new packages of pens and pencils, new notebooks and binders, students entered room 205. As they entered, my new students stopped to peer at the netted cylinder that stood on our front demonstration table. To them it looked like a laundry hamper with leaves at the bottom. “Are we composting?” “What’s in here?” “Hey! What’s on the top?” “Oh, cool!”

Curiosity does not always come easily in a classroom setting. Students tend to think that it is uncool to show interest in their school work. But it is essential to create an environment where students can be inquiring. So a few days before school was supposed to start I had gone out to local meadows to collect monarch butterfly caterpillars. We have 13. The caterpillars were fed with milkweed daily. They grew quickly and before a week had past several had climbed up the long expanse of netting in our butterfly habitat. Several have already formed into their smooth green chrysalis. It won’t be long now until our monarch butterflies emerge. Once the butterflies have stretched and dried their wings and are ready to fly we will tag them with special labels provided by Monarch Watch, an educational outreach program based at the University of Kansas. Once released, the monarchs will make their long migration toward Mexico. Scientists in Mexico will be collecting many of the butterflies and when they find some with labels this information will be recorded and entered into a monarch butterfly database.

So our year has started strong, with prepared and curious students. This week was all about students getting to know each other, their classroom and their textbook. On Wednesday night the assignment was to design a graph to display the data that we collected during the class student scavenger hunt. Some students knew what to do right away and some struggled. This assignment carried two objectives, first, to introduce my students to Johnson’s Rules for Graphing, second, it allowed me to see how they would handle a problem like this. I will design a lesson or two about graphing using what I learn from seeing how my students graph. At the end of the week students received their “Welcome” sheet and their textbook. Time was spent learning about how to use the textbook and then completing the first textbook assignments. Students will need to have their books covered and the “Welcome” sheet signed by next Tuesday, September 13.

Next week I will be introducing my students to our digital classroom. I will be asking each student to show his or her parents how to move through our class wiki and this blog. I would ask that a parent not request to become a member of the wiki although you can view it at any time. Please feel free to follow my blog. I will use this to communicate to parents and students by posting at least one time per week. You are welcome to post constructive or encouraging comments or ideas at any time.

My class page is linked to the school website. To access my school webpage from the MMS website please click on “Teams,” then click on “Grade 7.” Next, find my name and click on the mouse in the right column. This will bring you to my school webpage. From there you can connect to this class blog and the class wiki. You can access this blog by clicking on the blue blog button on my school webpage and you can access the class wiki by clicking on the blue Link button and then choosing the first link.

Thanks for checking in to my class blog. I’m looking forward to an exciting year of science and discovery!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Final reflection

My final reflection marks a new beginning.

In my initial post I stated that, "Although I am on a slow learning curve with technology I am encouraged. Appropriate use of technology in the classroom has the potential to open many doors to learning. Once the "overhead" is dealt with there is incredible potential for differentiation, collaboration and creativity during inquiry and problem-solving activities. Through this course I look forward to exploring the possibilities that technology offers for not only my student's learning but my own."

Actually, I wasn't encouraged. I wanted to drop the class. I was overwhelmed and the course wiki drove me crazy. I couldn't figure out where the assignments were posted, I couldn't figure out how and where to post a comment (just scroll down, silly), and my laptop had just crapped out(sorry for the slang). To make matters worse, whenever I tried to post on someone's blog I lost it.

Well, I'm still a digital immigrant but I'm learning this new language and I'm adopting the culture. I am pleased with what I have learned but very aware of my status as the new kid on the block. I can't wait to initiate my wiki this year and I pray that I will be able to push through the challenges. I hope that my vision will be embraced by many students. Perhaps there will be a handful of kids for whom this opens a door for success and confidence. In any event I have emerged successfully. I am very thankful to my classmates for their encouraging comments, help in times of trouble, and above all, their inspiring ideas. Thanks also to Eric for setting things up in a way that facilitates individual growth with lots of group support.

Good luck all and God Bless.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Week 6 Reflection

I think I'm finally getting it. I'm beginning to overcome some of my techno-fear. But its a long time before I will be techno-savvy. I'm posting the Jing video of my wiki even though it needs serious resizing. I was up until 2am last night trying to figure out just how to resize so that the video fits within my blog. I remember some discussion as to how this is done but as I try to solve this problem I feel like I'm going around in circles. I would love some suggestions!

But in setting up this wiki I explored some things in greater detail and I was able to actually include them in a reasonable manner. Here are some things that I was able to use... and I hope I used them well.

1.) I used the Creative Commons Search to find a good picture of duckweed.

2.) I learned how to use SurveyMonkey (so easy) and was able to link an introductory student survey onto my wiki. I will use this to identify students who may have technology challenges.

3.) I was able to use Jing to showcase and provide an explanation of the pages on my wiki. Unfortunately I have no idea how to resize. I do not have JingPro.

4.) I have started to be able to clarify how I can effectively use this wiki in my classroom. I am starting to see how I will be able to manage all 125 students who potentially may use this wiki.

To me, this is sweet success. It's hard to pull myself away from my computer now because things are so much easier for me than they were six weeks ago. How cool is that?! Anyway, my final project is not fully done but I've made some major headway.

I've got to go BLAST some genetic sequence data for the Yellowstone Lake Ecology class final project. I'll return to this later...

Unable to display content. Adobe Flash is required.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Week 5: Tools Exploration

My big focus this week was to clean up, decorate and streamline my blog.  I've also linked my blog to my class webpage.  I've also played with the set up of a wiki but, as usual, I have a very slow learning curve so I will need to spend a lot more time with it in the coming days. Unfortunately I also spent an inordinate amount of time trying to post comments on the blogs of my classmates.  Occasionally I am successful but more often than not I am not successful and I still don't know why.  I would love some suggestions!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Eeny, meeny, miney, moe...

It seems to me that blogs and wikis are potentially powerful classroom tools.  I want to incorporate one or the other but which one?  According to Eric’s article, wikis “are easy to use, accessible, and allow students to collaborate on projects both in and outside of class.”  Ohhh, I like that.  I also like the potential of inviting experts to collaborate with my students – how cool is that?!  On the other hand, I have struggled to navigate the wiki for our webtools class.  Perhaps a wiki is too complicated for me.  Perhaps it is something I need to grow into.

A blog, as Eric states, is “more straightforward.”  A classroom blog can be an effective tool for parent communication.  It can be a good place to spark a conversation and it can facilitate pre-learning of challenging topics.  I don’t see that I could successfully monitor individual blogs for each of my 120-125 students so mine would be a single classroom blog where I would post current events, project descriptions, summaries of course content, or maybe simple discussion prompts.  Then my students could respond directly in the comments.  The blog seems to be easier to manage but it doesn’t seem to be as versatile as the wiki.

Both blogs and wikis allow participation from a student that is without the pressure that’s found in the classroom setting. A student can research information for his/her responses. A student can write out a response and rewrite until he/she is comfortable with what’s been said and how it’s been stated.  Also, these are great tools for ELLs and provide the provide opportunity for differentiation.

I’m not totally sure which I will develop.  I’m leaning toward wikis… what I view as the larger challenge with the best potential results.  I think I’ll decide tomorrow….

Monday, July 11, 2011

Using online data to generate an argument.

Webtools 2.0 assignment: Generating an Argument (Sampson and Grooms, 2010)
Which River in Connecticut is the Healthiest? 
           As indicated in the introduction to the Project Search Student Water Quality Testing Manual, the quality of Connecticut’s rivers and streams has greatly improved following the passage of the Connecticut Clean Water Act of 1967 and other related legislation.  But just how clean is the water and which river in Connecticut is the healthiest?  This will be the focus of a student assignment that is based upon the Sampson and Grooms instructional model, Generating an Argument.  At this point in the year students will have studied the local watershed and they will have completed a full water quality analysis of a local river.  The analysis includes physical, chemical, and biological parameters.  
          For this activity students will be divided into small groups.  All students will be presented with the same question to answer.
Which river in Connecticut is the healthiest?  
          Access the Project Search data webpage Scroll down to the water quality summary reports.  Examine the data.
Generate an argument 
What does the data say to you? 
          Examine all the data.  Find a data set that reveals a healthy river or stream.   Compare the data from this stream with the others. Make a decision.  Which stream/river is the healthiest.  Use data to support your decision.
Produce a poster 
Use Glogster or a digital method of your own (approved) choice to create a poster that shares your decision            The poster should include the following:
  • The question clearly stated. 
  • Your group decision.
  • The evidence/data/rationale that clearly supports your group decision.
  • The name of each group member.
Examine and compare the arguments of others.
To share your work with others, we will be using a round-robin format. This means that one member of the group stays at your work station to share your groups’ ideas while the other group members go to the other groups, one at a time, to listen to and critique the explanations developed by your classmates.
Remember, as you critique the work of others, you have to decide whether their
conclusions are valid or acceptable based the quality of their explanation and how well they are able to support their ideas. In other words, you need to determine if their argument is persuasive and convincing.
  • Is their explanation sufficient (i.e., it explains everything it needs to) and coherent (i.e., it is free from contradictions)?
  • Did they use genuine evidence (i.e., They organized their data in a way that shows a trendover time, a relationship between variables, or a difference between groups)?
  • Did they use enough evidence to support their ideas (i.e., They used more than one piece of               evidence and all their ideas are supported by evidence)?
  • Is there any evidence that does not support their explanation?
  • How well does their explanation fit with other theories and laws that are used in science toexplain or describe how the world works?
  • Is their rationale adequate (i.e., They explain why the evidence was used and why it supports the       explanation)?
  • Is their reasoning appropriate (rational and sound)?
Write to learn
            After the round robin poster session return to your group.  Share what you learned and then participate in the whole class discussion.  Finally, write a persuasive and convincing argument based upon the question, Which River in Connecticut is the Healthiest? Be sure to include the following:
A.  Restate the question. 
B.  Indicate what qualities you used to compare the health of the rivers. 
C.  What is your decision?  
            1.) Explain your reasons. 
            2.) Include supportive data. 
D. Pay attention to the 6 traits of good writing.  Focus on the following traits:  word choice;                     voice(scientific); conventions.
Sampson, V. and J. Grooms. 2010. Generate an argument. The Science Teacher 77 (5): 32-37.