April 2, 2016 by Doug Napolitano-Cremin
By day 3 I was feeling completely immersed in the NSTA culture and experience. Another great selection of sessions were ahead of me and thankfully the threat of tornadoes had gone as quickly as a free t-shirt in the exhibit hall!
The first session of the Friday of the conference was a brilliant one. ‘Observing and Inferring in the Science Classroom’ was led by the incredibly charismatic and inspirational Dinah Zike. The conference room was packed by the time I arrived and you could have probably filled a room twice the size with the number of people who wanted to watch. It became clear that most of the teachers from the US had heard of Dinah and were already familiar with her work – I wasn’t sure what to expect. As the session started it became clear that Dinah would be talking about the use of foldables and graphic organisers in lessons. I have to admit my heart sank a little as I have always been a little sceptical about the use of these. I had always been concerned at the length of time pupils spend making these compared to how much these resources actually benefit pupils learning. By the end of the session I was completely converted. This was due in part to the excellent descriptions provided by Dinah on the rationale behind using these techniques. She emphasised the benefit of visual aids to aid pupil recall of key knowledge but also, and I know this is a taboo phrase with some in UK education, increased engagement of pupils. Most importantly for me, Dinah repeatedly demonstrated ways to reduce the amount of time pupils spend making the foldables and graphic organisers in class. Everything that was delivered in the session came from someone who knows what it is like to get a group of 30 12 year olds to fold a piece of paper the correct way! It was a fantastic experience, something that I will definitely be trying when I get back in to my classroom in the UK. For more info on the resources Dinah showed us in the session check out her website here.
My next session was about ‘Engaging Pupils with Digital Assessment’. This was delivered by three fantastic teachers from Chicago; Caroline Milne, Vanessa Fernig and Laura Turngren. These teachers work in a region that spends a lot of money of equipping their students with new technology. Every student in their school is given a MacBook to use both in school and at home. They ensure that all students have access to the Internet 24/7, to the extent that they even worked out a deal with local internet service providers to provide Internet access to those students whose families cannot afford it. The session described how digital tools have been used to engage pupils in their learning and they used some fantastic examples to illustrate their points.
All the teachers presenting used a ‘learning management system’ called Canvas that is completely free and looks fantastic. It still amazes me that so many of us in the UK use clunky, expensive systems like Fronter etc. when there are far better free alternatives out there. The speed grader and peer review features of canvas were demonstrated and they look really interesting. This is definitely a tool that I will be exploring.
The use of pupil-made movies to demonstrate learning was highlighted as a useful strategy. It was interesting to hear that by making a movie pupils often ‘accidentally’ demonstrated higher order thinking skills by using models and analogies to describe content.
The use of infographics was described as a useful tool for pupils to practise their summarising skills. Other summarising tools such as ChatterPix and Thinglink were also mentioned. I will be exploring these over the next term.
Finally, the use of iBooks was explored. These have been used by the presenters as a means for pupils to demonstrate their learning. To ensure pupils don’t just copy pictures to put in their books they are told to use a ‘totem’ – an object that is exclusive to them that is placed in each picture. I thought this was a really good idea and a nice way to begin to teach pupils the importance of academic integrity.
Another session completed and another head full of ideas!
My third session of the day was a very quick tour of ’50 Free Tech Tools for the Science Classroom’. Our tour guide for half an hour was the incredibly engaging Nick LaFave. His website, EdTechPicks.org is a fantastic resource and the presentation materials for the session he delivered can be found in this part of his website. One of the things he discussed that sparked my interest was the use of ClassDojo as an observational tool. I have encountered ClassDojo before as a behavioural management tool but I have never thought about it using it for other purposes. With the new practical assessments in A Level and the likelihood of the same occurring at GCSE level, I will definitely be looking at the use of ClassDojo in this way.
My final session of the day focused on the use of ‘Science Notebooks in a High School Classroom’. Delivered by Caroline Hadley and Lauren Angotti from Fred J. Page High School this was another great session delivered by incredibly engaging and enthusiastic teachers. The use of exercise books in a classroom was discussed and the main focus was on the production of a ‘learning journal’ by pupils. The way that this journal was organised was really interesting. Every pupils was expected, after every lesson, to complete a small journal piece were they wrote:
- An ‘I can…’ statement that detailed what pupils had learned in that days lesson.
- A summary of the concepts/ideas that they had learned or a worked example relevant to the lesson.
- A brief outline of how that days lesson relates to the ‘real world’.
I really liked this idea. Especially the 3rd point – asking pupils to think about the real world contexts that applied to their learning. The presenters described how generally the vast majority of pupils enjoyed completing the task, but they had worked hard to ensure that they monitored who was and wasn’t completing the tasks carefully.