Better Biology – Unit 1 Reflection

The first unit is now over! Phew! What an exciting three weeks and what a learning experience. On Tuesday the students wrote their first unit test and on Thursday they completed a unit reflection on MOODLE. I have been using these past two days to reflect on what worked, what didn’t and how to improve the next unit. Now in the past I may have gone straight to the test results and used those data to assess the success of my course. However, with this model it’s the learning pathway that I feel needs to be assessed and addressed. I asked the students to use the Feedback Forum on MOODLE to complete an anonymous “Stop, Start, Continue.” Then, terrified, I opened up their responses one by one….here’s what I learned.

First of all, the majority of the comments were positive. Yay! A lot of students wrote stop nothing or continue everything. The aspects of the unit plan they felt were the most useful were the MOODLE lessons, the videos, the hands on activities, the variety of activities, the videos, the opportunity to learn independently, the videos and the calendar to keep them on track. Did I mention the videos? Kids LOVE videos!

In terms of improvement, the most common feedback was that students want more of me. Awww..I’m flattered! Sort of. They said they would like more individual advice while they are working on learning opportunities. I am with them on that. My favorite part of this class is that every single day I get to talk to every single student. Even if it’s just for two minutes to go over a mistake on a quiz. I enjoy the one-on-one interaction this model affords me. Therefore, in the next unit I will put even more effort into checking in with every student. I am, after all, their learning coach in this scenario. To further this interaction, I am also going to start what I call “Coffee Chats” where twice during the unit, before a Quest (more on that next) I will select five students at a time who are at the same place in the unit and we will have a group discussion. I’ll prepare some guiding questions, but I mainly just want to hear them conversing about the material and helping each other to understand in ways I may not have considered. And of course I will provide some tea/hot chocolate and snacks 🙂 Lastly I am going to adopt the Hot Seat which I read about here at Carolyn Durley’s blog. The hot seat is an interview that will occur a couple of days before a unit test in which we will go over which learning standards the student feels confidant or unsure about, their LO progress, etc…Hopefully the students will find this type of interaction meaningful and useful.

Two or three students mentioned they wanted more “traditional” teacher time in which I deliver lectures. One mentioned that lectures are “easier to absorb.” To these students I remind that direct instruction is still listed as one of the options in their learning path. No one has ever chosen it. As students are not graduates of educational faculties nor actively reading papers on pedagogy, it is important to explain to them WHY lecture is not necessarily the most effective use of class time. So I made sure to remind them that when a teacher stands at the front and reads off their keynote slides, that is not teaching – it’s telling. They are not learning – but listening. That’s not to say lecture is evil (as I blogged about here), but that it has its time and place. And that is not to deliver content. Learning needs to be active and engaging, which is what I am trying to achieve.

The next most popular comment was that students wanted more preparation for the test. Some students wanted more challenging quizzes that would reflect all question types that would appear on a test. Some students requested more practice with the command terms. These things are all doable and I have proposed the following:

  • Shorter, more frequent command term practice sheets will be given out after a MOODLE quiz has been passed and will continue to be assessed formatively.
  • Quests – not quite a quiz, not yet a test. A couple of quests will occur per unit. They will include short answer questions. They will also be assessed formatively and different versions will be made for students who need to repeat a quest until mastery is achieved.

Some other comments included

  • Adding competitive games as an option…hmmm ok I can try that!
  • Less required L.O’s – I agree I may have been over ambitious with the first unit
  • More time for L.O’s – there is double the amount of time for this unit!
  • Two trials per class per quiz – I agree with this too. Blocking the students out of the quiz until the next lesson is unfair for those who may have made a simple mistake. I will allow them two tries and after that they will have to do some type of L.O. before they can re-take the quiz next class. I don’t want them to feel like they are falling behind.
  • Some smaller deadlines within the unit – I struggle with this one because it goes against the idea of mastery at your own pace that I am trying to achieve. But what I’m going to do is say that a quest has to be completed by a certain date to make sure they are moving at a pace that will ensure they are prepared for the final unit test. I don’t want them overloaded with work the weekend before a test. I think they just need a bit more guidance and structure than I originally planned. Hopefully by the last unit they will be so used to the system that they won’t even need the unit calendar.

My favorite student comment…

Using this self learning unit system is something that I LOVE. I was surprised at how often I would “voluntarily” do biology over other work simply because I could chose what I would like to complete and therefore enjoyed it. I was impressed with my time management on one hand, and how by the end of the unit I had completed and retained the required amount of realization. This really pleases me because very rarely will I be able to do and then retain/memorize that much information. 

And what about the test? Well the average was 89% so I’m not concerned. Only two students scored below 80% (mastery level) and both voluntarily admitted it was because they did not put enough effort in, did not manage their time, did not complete L.O’s and did not take it seriously enough. One of the girls told me that she would really like to continue learning this way as she has realized her weaknesses and now is ready to take on the challenge of improving them.

Cells launches next week!


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