Below is a brief summary of what I think is important in my classroom.
Inquiry is at the heart of science and learning. Using stimulus material such as demos, videos, news articles, etc…I try to ignite the spark of curiosity in my students in order to encourage them to formulate their own questions about the world around them. Can stem cells make us immortal? Is your destiny written in your genes? These represent just a few of the driving questions I have used to engage students in the pursuit of knowledge. Through simulations – both virtual and physical – lab experiments and hands-on activities, I provide students the option to explore, make predictions and observations before moving on to explaining the concepts behind the natural phenomena. This constructivist approach allows students to self-assess their prior knowledge and debunk their previous misconceptions – the intention being to create a deeper, more meaningful understanding of the material as they come to their own conclusions.
Students have access to more information in their phones than I could ever give them in my entire career. Thus my role has become about helping them learn how to access, synthesize and evaluate a wide variety of resources and use technology to demonstrate their learning. A 1:1 laptop program has become essential in establishing a blended learning community in my classroom. Collaborative tools such as Google apps allow students to work together to accomplish their goals. Programs such as iMovie, Piktochart, Voicethread etc..allow students to create products that showcase their understanding and application of knowledge in new ways. Blackboard (the online course management system) has become the backbone of my courses as it allows students to work at their own pace, receive immediate feedback, keep a log of their goals , self and peer asses their work, complete formative assessments and track their progress as they move through the course.
Rather than use these fancy new tools to do the same outdated thing, technology has allowed me to create authentic learning opportunities that otherwise would not exist. For example, the interactive whiteboard allows my students to visualize, animate and narrate biological processes that they would never be able to see – such as DNA replication. Using AirPlay and an iPad means I am no longer tethered to the computer at the front of the room. Technology has broadened the walls of the classroom and allows students to make connections with the local and global community. EduCanon and EdPuzzle allow me to embed questions directly into videos which serves both diagnostic and formative purposes. PearDeck has revolutionized direct instruction by allowing students to engage with a presentation, turning into a powerful tool for feedback and discussion.
In order to meet the needs of all my students I attempt to differentiate instruction for every major concept. Students are exposed to a variety of learning techniques and can move through units at their own pace. This allows time for students who want the extra challenge to complete enrichment material. It also means that students who need the extra help have more one-on-one time with the teacher. Students are also encouraged to be creative and take risks in HOW they want to demonstrate their learning. In the past I have seen students choose to write songs, make concept maps, create computer games, film news reports, draw flip-books, etc… in order to show what they have learned. As their facilitator my job is to know my students strengths and weaknesses in order to make suggestions and recommendations for activities they should choose that would enable them to be successful.
Through mastery learning, students must demonstrate that they understand the content and can apply their knowledge at a certain level before they are able to move on to the next concept. This is accomplished through frequent formative assessments like Blackboard quizzes that students can take over and over again until they are successful. This method of self-pacing allows the students who grasp concepts easily to move ahead and gives me more time with students who require a bit more instruction or guidance. It also allows me to create homogeneous groups for review of material or heterogeneous groups for peer mentoring. It gives students a sense of responsibility and ownership over their learning and requires them to evaluate and improve their time management skills.
For specific examples of the different ways I have been using inquiry, differentiation, blended learning, mastery etc…please have a look at this blog or see “Inquiring Minds” – my tumblr blog in which I post a pictures of what’s going on in my classroom.