This year I participated in the ITSI initiative- gosh I don’t even know what to call it. Basically ITSI is a resource with inquiry-based learning lessons for mostly science, but also math ranging from elementary to secondary content. In this “class/ initiative” I was asked to use the lessons in my class and also write a video paper on the experience at the end of the year. Hence, this video paper without the video. (Even though I’m leaving my school this year, I don’t really want to be fired for showing photos/ video of students without permission). The best part of the paper (I think) is the student responses or perhaps my conclusion at the end. Enjoy!
We’re in the trenches of our statistics unit at the end of the year here at Chase Middle School in my 6th grade math classroom! (6th grade is a part of the middle school, not elementary in our district). Chase is located in Topeka, Kansas and is a Title-1 school with 92% of the students economically disadvantaged. This class is an inclusion classroom with a wide variety of learners. There are 27 students in this hour, and it is the first hour of the day. Prior to this lesson we have been creating and analyzing dot plots and statistical questions. The focus for this unit is summarizing distributions based on their center, spread, and shape to be able to draw conclusions and answer a question. This is the second time we have used ITSI in the class, but there are 3-4 students who haven’t used the software yet (since they moved in from other classes/ schools). Overall the kids are a little rusty with the whole login process although they are generally familiar with using the iPads as we have used them many times for other activities in class.
Virtual Greenhouse lesson explores the relationship of plants’ needs (sun, water, etc) to the environment in which they grow. In the activity students experiment with planting seeds in different environments and in the process, discover that larger-leafed plants grow best in shade and smaller-leaf plants grow best in the sun. Section three of the activity has students correlate a picture of planted flowers to a graph and construct an argument as to where each plant grows best and why.
The STEM career focus is on Agricultural Engineering and how engineers in this field apply biological science to improve the quality and production of products. Although I am not an agricultural engineer, I believe students get a taste of the success this career offers in that they see the fruits of their effort by successfully planting flowers in the right environment. Many students even redid activities to try and grow the most flowers possible once they knew the right sunlight amounts.
Students worked in pairs on the ipads and answered questions in text boxes in the activity as well as took snapshots of their planter boxes.
To get the full experience students should have been reading all the information along with the activity, but instead they just did the planting parts and answered some of the questions If they were even logged in. However, when logged in they were very engaged in; See the 5:00- 6:10 section in the video. This shows the confusion on what to do, not reading the questions, and wanting to jump to the fun parts.
Their responses are quite entertaining and perhaps a bit disheartening.
I am basing the result data off of classroom observations (from the video), the results page in the portal, and comments from the post-survey they took two days later. First, based on classroom observation if you look anywhere from the two to three minute mark you will see a prime example of mass chaos. Therefore, I don’t want to talk about logging in and the nightmare that was. I have brainstormed some ways to improve this in the conclusion section of the paper. However, I should mention that according to the results on the portal only 4 groups were able to log in (that means 8 students). However, I did see more students doing the activity than the results the portal game me. Perhaps the portal only records data of students who SUBMIT their activity, and maybe some of the groups did not submit their answers?
It was exciting to see the students engaged in trying to plant the seeds in different ways as well as watch them interact with each other to figure out how to do the activity (without reading the instructions of-course). Maybe it’s more fun to try and figure it out? Or maybe they can’t read? I think I should have set higher expectations for independent struggle and asked the teachers to be more hands-off. You can see some great examples of student interactions from 5:50- 7:00 in the video.
As for student understanding, it is apparent that most of them missed the mark based on their written responses. (See student work section). Also, because of the time crunch, testing the next day, and everything else going on I did not have a chance to speak to students after doing the activity until the next week. I would guess that students enjoyed the lesson, but I do not think they learned the math or science standards (not even close).
The last form of results I was looking for was evidence of exposure to the world of math and science careers. The ITSI Post-Survey showed limited evidence that the students gained greater knowledge of careers in math/ science. I also wonder if the post-survey results give a good picture of what the students learned/ gained and if they even understood the questions.
Overall I think that there is much to gain from both using ITSI activities in the classroom and using video to reflect and improve overall instruction. After much reflection, I have narrowed my findings down and organized them into three categories: classroom management, student understanding/ content, and big-picture learning.
First, classroom management is the key to the success of this type of activity. Aside from basic expectations such as staying seated, raising hands with questions, etc I came up with the following list of ideas to encourage students to work better independently:
- Create a technology certification test for students to take at the beginning of the year to prove that they can login with different passwords to different sites, read instructions independently from the teacher, and use the technology appropriately, etc. I could even extend this to having technology helper certification for students who are really good at trouble shooting and want to help others.
- Allow students who have passed the technology certification have their own device.
- Do this type of activity at least once a month
- Model actually doing the activity on the board instead of just showing screenshots of what they will do.
- Establish a table leader to field questions to teacher, and have the teacher(s) be less helpful. This should be set up as a student-centered independent exploration (not teacher led).
- Start the activity at the beginning of the hour and give plenty of time. I think that the students were rushed in the activity; they did not know what was expected of them (even though I went over expectations, showed them an example on the board, and tried to give them support by working in pairs).
Management, although I really hate that this is the case, hugely affects how successful an activity will be. With these changes, I strongly feel that the lesson would have been much more successful.
The second area of concern is student learning and whether the students reached the learning targets (or objectives). My planning of this activity, the amount of time I allotted for the activity, and the feedback I provided as the teacher were less than stellar. Most importantly kids need to know what they need to know (and do). Feedback tells them if they are on track. I really didn’t give them either aspect. Next time I would give feedback from the portal report (either in the form of a grade, a print out that they have to summarize what they learned, or show student example answers). Feedback like this and more instruction on what’s expected (such as complete sentences, answer every question, read the instructions) would have drastically increased student learning. Additionally, I could create a follow up activity or do multiple activities in one area of content such as multiple habitat and life cycles activities. ITSI lessons should be built upon and open up a wide variety of projects or activities for students to do and a variety of ways students can demonstrate their learning. Next year, I will take advantage of this.
Lastly, I wish I would have put more emphasis on the “Big Picture”- how this lesson and the math/ science relates to the world, careers, and things in my students’ lives. Easy questions I could have asked would be: Where was the math was in the lesson. How are science and math related? What connections do you see in this lesson to your own life? I also will give students time to discuss the careers and if time allows, research them, or maybe bring in speakers. What I love about ITSI lessons is that they expose our students to careers my students probably haven’t even heard of. This plants a seed (pun intended) of hope and perhaps a dream of what they can become if they work hard. I truly believe in the results of this platform and style of teaching, my only regret is that I did not use these lessons more often and figure out earlier how to make the more effective.