Tag Archives: Science education

Steal This Presentation!

Good afternoon,

Communicating ideas clearly is one of those ultra-important skills critical for successfully navigating school, relationships, jobs, and…well, life in general.

As a teacher, I’ve had the unfortunate experience of sitting through hundreds of excruciatingly, mind-numbingly boring presentations over the past 15 years. Surprisingly, many of those were generated by educators, myself included. So many PowerPoints/Keynotes/Slides were little more than text on a wall. So many class presentations involved students standing at the front of the room, back to the audience, reading verbatim from the screen.

As my late grandmother Thelma “Toots” Hayden used to say when my cousins and I were in trouble, “For the love of all that is good and holy, DON’T DO THAT!

Several years ago, Jesse DesJardins‘ brilliant SlideShare presentation, “Steal This Presentation!” came to my attention, and I’ve used it ever since to push students down a more creative presentation path. It’s a great contrast between how most people create presentations and how they should create presentations.

In addition to Jesse’s presentation above, I collected a few rules from a teacher, whose name I have long forgotten, at the American International School of Lusaka, in Zambia. Those rules, which I’ve bullet-pointed below, along with “Steal This Presentation”, comprise my instructions to students every time they have to present to class.

The 10-20-30 Rule: How to structure a presentation for success.

  • Maximum 10 minutes – attention spans aren’t that long
  • Maximum 20 slides – don’t overwhelm your audience
  • Minimum 30 point font – make sure the people in back can read it

The Rule of 6: How to build great slides, engage with your audience, and avoid plagiarism.

  • Maximum 6 lines of text per slide – minimize temptation to read the slide
  • Maximum 6 words per line – focus on the most important key words and vocabulary

There you have it – short, sweet, and to the point, just like a presentation should be!

Happy learning!

Reflections on Genius Hour for Science

Good morning.
In response to an email I received from alert reader Tamara Gonzalez at the Baldwin School of Puerto Rico, I’ve been reflecting on the Genius Hour projects my students have completed over the past decade. Today’s post outlines how I structured Genius Hour to maximize student learning, facilitate meaningful feedback during the creative process, and minimize the stress of overseeing several dozen individual projects simultaneously.

Overview

My first attempt at a Genius Hour-like project was for the AP Physics and grade 9 general science classes I taught at The American School of Kinshasa (TASOK) in DRC. I’ve also run a Genius Hour for my MYP science students in grades 8, 9, and 10 here in Tanzania. In all of these classes, I’ve had the luxury of teaching in 85- or 90-minute blocks meeting on average 3 times per week. In general, students have had at least one full 9-week term to complete the project so that students complete four Genius Hour projects over the course of a school year. A couple of times my team and I elected to give students more time, so that they completed 2 or 3 projects during the year.

Structure

I ran 2 Genius Hours with the AP physics class: a projectile motion project in the 1st semester and a Rube Goldberg project during the 2nd semester. The objective of the projectile motion project was to design and build a trebuchet, catapult, or ballista capable of hitting a 1-m² target with a 1-kg projectile from a distance of 50m. I introduced each project at the start of the term with interim due dates every 2 weeks and a final due date in the last week of term. Students had “normal” lessons (notes, problem solving, lab practicals, quizzes and tests) in blocks 1 through 4, with every 5th block dedicated entirely to work on the Genius Hour project, when I’d conference individually with each student. The Rube Goldberg project had a similar structure, but the objective was to have 5 distinct steps from units other than those covered in the projectile motion project. In addition to the dedicated block every other week, students had access to my classroom every day after school so that they could work on their designs as needed. Students were also encouraged to work on their projects at home and film their work as evidence of progress.
For the MYP classes, I’ve made extensive use of Google Classroom and Drive to monitor students’ progress. I wrote and shared the Genius Hour task instruction sheet with view-only privileges. Then I created a color-coded organizational document, which I shared with the “make a copy for each student” option in Classroom. The organizational document is an easy-to-follow repository of information at all phases of the project, from brainstorm to publication, where the student completes formative tasks and records progress toward his or her final goal. Work is not lost or misplaced, and because it is a shared document, I can monitor each student’s progress and verify whether they’ve met interim deadlines.

Collaboration

I collaborated with our librarian so that my students were always in the library during that 5th block dedicated to Genius Hour. The first few library sessions incorporated her lessons on research, plagiarism, and citation skills, with students using my organizational document to keep notes and record progress toward their final product. During the GH-dedicated block, I opened every student’s organizational document and used it to guide a 3-minute individual conference about his or her project, during which I added comments to the document so that they’d have a written record of my feedback. This arrangement meant that every student received both verbal and written individualized feedback from me at least 4 or 5 times before the final product was submitted, and because of the commenting feature of Google Docs, they could ask questions at 1am if that’s when they were working on it.

Evaluation

Overall the quality and depth of student work was far superior to anything I’ve gotten via other projects or assignments, enough that Genius Hour has become a central feature of my teaching. The first time my team submitted student work for MYP moderation, our scores were moderated down because the projects weren’t all standard essays or research papers – we submitted videos and podcasts as well as traditional papers – but I view that more as a reflection on the IBO’s rigidity around moderation samples rather than on the quality of student learning. In subsequent years we figured out that it was best to only submit the essay/research paper products, and the moderation marks were fine.
That’s a bit of a rambling analysis, but it touches on most of the major questions I’ve had while discussing Genius Hour with other educators.
Happy learning!

Physics resources for students: part 1

Good afternoon!

Today I’ll share a few of the resources  I use to teach the fundamentals of physics. One of the most fun aspects of teaching physics is that it lends itself to so many entertaining and engaging activities and demonstrations in class. Along with chemistry, physics is probably the most hands-on science I teach; therefore, real-world demonstrations and activities are the bread and butter of my physics units. However, there are any number of situations in which hands-on demonstrations aren’t possible or feasible: a lack of funding or resources at a school, broken equipment, abstract concepts or perhaps a student is simply reviewing material at home. In these cases, animations can provide a tremendous amount of help in understanding the essentials of physics. Most of the resources I’ve listed here are collections of animations to help students learn (and teachers teach!) about physics.

Explore and enjoy! Happy learning.

Ecology resources for students: Part 1

Good afternoon!

I’m back with another set of bookmarks for students and teachers. Because I’ve taught the IB Environmental systems and societies course for several years, this set of online resources is closest to my heart. Some of these links are here simply because I think they’re cool or fun. Many may also be applicable for studying biology and chemistry as well. Let’s get to it:

Happy learning!

Cheers,

Mr K

Chemistry resources for students: Part 1

Hello again!

As with my last post, this one is dedicated to sharing the random assortment of helpful bookmarks I’ve collected over the years. Like the first part of my bio resources, these are in no particular order, unless you consider where they fall in my browser’s drop-down menu some kind of order. Without further ado, some resources for your chemistry studies:

  • PTable.com. Hands down the best periodic table on the internet. Period.
  • Chemistry.about.com. A good, all-around general chemistry resource. They’ve updated the site format to include news and events, which may tie in nicely with MYP Criterion D: Reflecting on the impacts of science.
  • LibreTexts virtual chemistry textbooks. These are some fairly advanced materials which may be more appropriate for students in Diploma Program or AP chemistry classes. Organized around broad topics such as analytical chemistry, environmental chemistry, organic chem, and physical and theoretical chemistry.
  • IB Chemistry Web. This site appears to be meticulously maintained, and it’s closely aligned with the new IB Chemistry syllabus. Heavy on text, but a tremendous amount of resources for every part of the course.
  • PCCL Flash animations for learning chemistry. These aren’t fancy animations, but they clearly and simply demonstrate a bunch of key topics in general chemistry.
  • Molecular Workbench. Hundreds of engaging, interactive simulations in chemistry (and other subjects). Many include embedded assessments, and you can build your own simulation if you really get into it. You can spend hours with the MW.
  • Cavalcade o’ Chemistry (a.k.a. ChemFiesta). Mr Guch’s incredible chemistry page. He’s been maintaining this page since the late 1990s, and it gets better and better each year. Supremely helpful for middle school and early high school students. He also has a special section just for teachers.
  • Practical chemistry activities from the Nuffield Foundation. Over 200 activities you can do to teach or learn about chemistry. Some are virtual, but many require a science lab.
  • Behind the Scenes at MIT. As the website tagline says, “A series of two-minute videos relating concepts from textbook chemistry to current MIT research and applications in medicine, the environment, and energy.” A nice way for students to see the real-world applications of what’s happening in the lab and the classroom.
  • Off the Shelf Chemistry. A series of 18 chemistry labs for middle school and high school. Download PDF or Word versions to use in your own class/lab.
  • Chemlab.com from Truman State University. This website hosts the course materials for several university-level chemistry courses, but many of them are appropriate and applicable for high school.
  • Periodic Videos from TED-Ed. “A lesson about every single element on the periodic table.” Enough said.

Those are my Chrome chemistry bookmarks. After I’ve run through my resources for earth science, ecology, and physics, I’ll revisit all these subjects and add a second round of resources from my Firefox browser.

Biology resources for students: Part 1

Good morning!

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been updating various pages within my website, and as I work, I keep encountering all these different websites and digital resources I’ve bookmarked over the years. My bookmarks bar is organized by broad scientific subjects: astronomy,biology, chemistry, ecology, and physics. I’ve also got a folder dedicated solely to scientific games. I will share the resources in these folders in subsequent posts, organized by subject area. Once posted in the blog, I’ll then add all bookmarks to the general science pages in my website, but I thought I’d take this opportunity to share them with the broader global community as well. I have so many of these resources that I’m going to have to split the list into two parts – the bookmarks from my Chrome browser and those from Firefox.

Today: biology resources for students (and teachers!) in no particular order.

  • The Cell: Basic Unit of Structure and Function by McGraw-Hill. Animations, quizzes, flashcards, and other resources aligned with their Human Anatomy textbook. Links to other chapters can be found in the sidebar.
  • Bioman Biology. Interactive biology games on a variety of topics, including physiology, cells, ecology, genetics, evolution, DNA, respiration, and photosynthesis.
  • Carbon cycle animation from the University of Alberta, Canada. A simple but comprehensive flow chart (system diagram) of the global carbon cycle.
  •  InstaGrok interactive concept maps. Pre-made concept maps showing links between a whole bunch of topics in general biology. Click on a term to see links to other biology topics, facts, websites, videos, images, or add your own notes.
  • Cells Alive! This site has been around for years. Good, easy-to-understand interactive cell models.
  •  DNA video from NotCot.org. A beautiful 3 minute animation explaining DNA for BBC Knowledge from Territory.
  • John Kimball’s online biology textbook. This guy has been teaching biology for decades, and he’s amassed an incredible amount of resources on his site around every conceivable topic in biology. It’s kind of an old-school site, but it’s thorough.
  • Learn.Genetics at the University of Utah, USA. I use the tutorials from this site extensively in my genetics and evolution units.
  • Bozeman Science biology playlist on YouTube. 76 videos! 76! This playlist contains videos that could be useful in AP Biology, IB Biology, Biology, and other life sciences, all from the amazing Paul Andersen.
  • Mitosis World Home at University of North Carolina, USA. An aggregate of several other biology resources.
  • Discover Biology animations from W.W. Norton & Co. High-quality animations that can be viewed straight through, step-by-step, or narrated.
  • Interactive transpiration animation from ScienceMag. Adjust plant parameters and environmental conditions to see different effects on the movement of water through plants. With some creativity, you could run a virtual lab from this animation.
  • Understanding Evolution at the University of California – Berkeley. Densely packed with information and thoroughly researched. I use this site as a main reference for my evolution units. The site has been around a long time and is showing its age, but it’s still highly useful.
  • Sex determination video at TED-Ed. One of many useful resources from the TED people. Includes a review quiz and discussion questions.
  • Biology for Life. A great website from Gretel von Bargen at Skyline High School in Washington state, USA. It follows the new IB Biology syllabus. Also linked to her Twitter feed. I use this site a ton.
  • Bioknowledgy. Probably my favorite site for IB Biology. Chris Paine in Shanghai has created an extensive library of resources and materials aligned with the new IB Biology syllabus. Includes presentations, videos, and guided revision questions, among other resources. Awesome!

I hope that’s a good start for now. If you find any helpful resources you think I’ve missed, please send them my way in the comments, and I’ll add them to the second batch.

Cheers!

Mr K

Wonderful Amani

tree frog

Hyperolius sp. in Amani Forest Reserve, East Usambara Mountains, Tanzania. (Photo credit: Brad Kremer)

I’m back in Dar after another incredible week at the Emau Hill camp in Amani Nature Reserve, where I got to spend several days hiking in tropical forests, chasing chameleons and tree frogs at night, and exploring the tea estates surrounding the forest reserve.

I owe a big thanks to Roy Hinde and his staff at Wild Things Safaris for their support, extensive knowledge of the local ecosystem, and fine cooking.

This ESP trip is one of my favorites because of its location. The Usambara Mountains are still my favorite part of Tanzania, even after 7 years in this country. I’ve traveled there six different times, and I look forward to going back again because there’s always more to explore and something new to do.

Amani is one of the best places for birding in East Africa. Over 400 species have been recorded within the reserve, owing to its habitat diversity: tropical montane forest, miombo woodland, river valleys, and agricultural fields. During this trip, I spotted 14 bird species new to me, bringing the total number of bird species I have encountered in Tanzania to over 150. Unfortunately, I don’t have a fancy camera with a telephoto lens, which means I don’t have any photos of these new species, but here are my latest observations:

chameleon 1

Three-horned chameleon, Amani Forest Reserve, East Usambara Mountains, Tanzania. (Photo credit: Brad Kremer)

  • Uluguru violet-backed sunbird, Anthreptes neglectus
  • Trumpeter hornbill, Bycanistes bucinator
  • White-tailed crested-flycatcher, Trochocercus albonotatus
  • Augur buzzard, Buteo augur
  • African palm swift, Cypsiurus parvus
  • Lanner falcon, Falco biarmicus
  • Waller’s startling, Onychognathus walleri
  • Yellow-bellied waxbill, Estrilda quartinia
  • Pin-tailed whydah, Vidua macroura
  • Striped kingfisher, Halcyon chelicuti
  • Yellow wagtail, Motacilla flava ‘superciliaris’
  • Mountain buzzard, Buteo oreophilus
  • Red-rumped swallow, Hirundo daurica
  • Martial eagle, Polemaetus bellicosus

All in all, despite averaging over 15 km a day of strenuous walking and hiking, I came back from the trip refreshed and energized because of the chance to get out of the city for a week.   If you have the chance to visit the East Usambara Mountains, please do – you won’t regret it.