New Beginnings

This year I started a new job at a new school. For the first time I am in a leadership position as chair of the science department. With this new role comes new responsibilities and challenges that can feel overwhelming, but there’s always an adjustment period that comes with change.

One thing that remains consistent, however, is the struggle with finding the time and motivation to blog. I want to continue with it as it is a valuable reflection tool, but my mind is so full at times that a blank page can feel intimidating. Where to even start? My notebook is full o
f beginnings, but no endings. Paragraphs and sentences are strewn about haphazardly full of unfinished thoughts and disconnected ideas. The cursor blinks. My mind blanks. Therefore, I have decided to start the year with something simple – my goals. I have them written down anyways! From there I can write posts that reflect on my progress and hopeful achievement of these objectives. Here are my lofty ambitions for the year ahead.

Goal #1: Create a more conceptual approach to the DP biology program.
Based on changes that are coming to the MYP and DP, I decided to get a head start on making concepts more visible in my planning and teaching. I was inspired, as always, by @iBiologyStephen and his approach with SL biology. This year, instead of organizing the course content by “topic,” I have grouped assessment statements into concepts. My hope here is that this will make connections between topics more obvious and improve understanding. For example, I find students always struggle with oogenesis and spermatogenesis. This requires a thorough understanding of meiosis and mitosis. However, mitosis is in topic 2 and meiosis is in topics 4 and 10. Reproduction is in topics 9 and 11. Depending on how one organizes the course, these topics could be spread over two years. Therefore, instead of teaching these as separate entities, I have grouped them into one unit entitled “Life Must Go On” with the key concept being CHANGE and the related concept of DEVELOPMENT – both coming from the MYP Next Chapter. Hopefully this approach will enable students to not only see the bigger picture, but to understand the connection between the smaller details better as well. Here is a link to the Google Doc that I have made to show how I will organize my units of study for HL/SL biology this year:

Goal #2: A greater focus on the ATLs and higher order thinking skills
ATL stands for “Approaches to Learning” which are defined by the IBO as “purposeful strategies, skills and attitudes…tools and approaches [that] enhance student learning and assist student preparation for assessment.” The ATLs include research, communication, thinking, social, and self-management skills that every student should be developing during their years in the IB program. In order to make the ATLs visible and explicit to my students, I decided to explain them as “standards” that every DP student is expected to meet with proficiency. This helped me immensely in my unit planning. I used the ATLs as a guide for classroom activities and assessments in order to create diverse, multifaceted learning pathways for my students. The students will reflect on how their skills are developing using a Google site as an e-portfolio. The site will serve both as a tool for reflection, but also as a way to showcase their best work in IB biology over two years. I have also incorporated the Ontario Ministry achievement expectations into these standards. In the first half of grade 11 the work on this portfolio will be graded based on Ontario rubrics. After this it is the students’ choice whether or not they feel it is useful to their learning to continue. Here is the template that I have created for them:

Goal #3: Expand learning beyond the walls of the classroom and invite the community into the school.
Living in Hong Kong I always felt limited by the language barrier when I tried to do community outreach. In my last year I was able to assemble a few parents in the medical field to come to my grade 11 classes. Now that I am back in Toronto, it’s almost TOO easy to find experts in the community who are willing to come and engage with your students. Thus far we have had breast cancer researchers, the president of the Canadian Science Writer’s Association, an organ transplant recipient and Gift of Life Network representative come in to speak with science students. I have also taken students to science lectures at the University of Toronto Science Festival and there are more upcoming Popular Science Lectures being put on by St. Michael’s Hospital. My goal is to continue to provide exemplary learning experiences for the students beyond what I could give them as a classroom teacher. It’s definitely a nice change to work for a school whose motto is “Experience Teaches.”

Goal #4: Make the grade 7 science course more student centred and differentiated with a focus on inquiry and real-world application.
Right. Ok. This is more like a career long goal! It’s my first time ever teaching middle school. But baby steps are starting this year! Some items on my action plan for MYP year two include

  • fixing the unit questions so that they are more engaging and relevant
  • allow more student choice beyond just “you can make a poster OR a powerpoint!”
  • differentiate by interest and ability
  • add in an intro unit on scientific inquiry
  • relate classroom tasks and assessment to the real world with a possible link to community service

So far I have found this to be the most challenging of my goals. Grade 7 students work at a different pace then I am used to! My initial unit plan looks very different to what we have actually accomplished thus far. But that’s okay – this is a learning process for me as much as it is for them. We are coming close to the end of our first unit on scientific inquiry and I am happy with the feedback I have received from students and parents thus far. I feel the students are developing key skills here that will benefit them as they move through the MYP to the DP.  Attached is the most recent version of the plan for Unit 1: The Scientist Within Me!

I have some other technology related goals such as begrudgingly become proficient in Blackboard (which I’m sorry to say cannot hold a candle to MOODLE…I MISS MOODLE!), use Remind 101 for announcements to students, have students try out for recording notes during videos and screencasts, and help pilot Hapara Teacher Dashboard.

More updates to come soon! Next post…Better Biology 2.0. I’ll share my first two unit plans for this year’s attempt at an improved IB Bio course (sharing is caring). This time SL and HL!

ATLs from the IBO:

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