Saturday, 31 October 2015

The old and the new

In a couple of my classes this week I was fortunate enough to be able to combine some traditional approaches to teaching and learning biology, whilst utilising technology that would have been virtually unthinkable a few years ago.

Case study 1 - Modelling mitosis

Mitosis is a classic case of a biological concept that can seem very abstract to learners. Many textbooks and websites describe various different approaches for practical classes that involve modelling mitosis in order to make it something more concrete for students to grasp, for example using pipe cleaners, pop beads or modelling clay. I opted to use modelling clay - pipe cleaners were probably a lot easier to source in the past than they are these days! This was the traditional part of the class.

However, I also wanted to add something a bit more engaging to the practical, so I decided to have my students create stop-motion movies. This was the part of the class that would have been much more difficult to achieve in the past, without a fair amount of expensive and specialised kit. Now, since all of my students have smartphones, they simply downloaded a free stop motion app to their phone and away they went. Most of them chose to use a free app called Stop Motion Studio. There is an example of their work here

So, in the space of a double lab class, I had given brief notes on the four phases of mitosis, had my students make their model chromosomes, and also had them create a stop motion movie to generate a tangible, final finished product. Most of them also had time to make movies showing cytokinesis, illustrating the difference between this process in plant versus animal cells. 

Case study 2 - Ecological sampling techniques

The second activity was a practical activity that took us outside of the classroom, something I discussed in my last post. I do enjoy getting out of the classroom with my learners, although the conditions weren't ideal on this particular occasion - the temperature was 34° Celsius and, because it had recently rained, the humidity was around 85%!

For this practical activity learners had an opportunity to try out some classic ecological sampling techniques using quadrats. Again, this is a very traditional method used in biology that has long been a feature of high school biology classes.

The new aspects I was able to incorporate were two-fold in this case. First, students were able to take photos of their quadrats, and the plants they could count within them. These will be useful for a future activity looking at urban biodiversity. Secondly, once we got back to class, the data they had collected were entered into spreadsheets and quickly converted into tables and graphs for analysis. 

In general, my feeling is that there are often traditional approaches to pedagogy that are popular and appear frequently in textbooks, websites etc for a reason - they are effective. In these cases, it is worth keeping them. I would also not advocate using technology for the sake of it, however, in the two cases I have outlined above, I feel that technology clearly has a valuable role to play in augmenting the learning opportunities that are available. 

I would be interested to hear of other examples where old and new techniques are being used to create new and interesting learning opportunities, please feel free to comment below.

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Education outside of the classroom

This week I had the honour to guest moderate a Twitter education chat for the first time, with the #INZPirED community. What made this doubly special was that #INZPirED was the first ever Twitter Edu chat I participated in, back in May!

The topic I chose for the chat was 'How can getting out of the classroom benefit learners?' For the purposes of the chat, and to allow for Twitter's 140 character limit, we used the abbreviation EOTC (Education Outside The Classroom) during the chat. 

There were many great thoughts and opinions around just how useful getting out of the classroom can be for learners, for example by creating active learning opportunities and reinforcing classroom learning.
Getting out of the classroom also gives those students who are sometimes a bit quiet in class the opportunity to become more engaged and gain more of a voice. I have observed this on field trips in the past, where a student who may have never asked a question in class will come up to me with a seemingly endless series of questions!
An important feature of education outside of the classroom is to provide students with ways to engage with authentic and real-life situations, helping to break down barriers between their classroom learning and the real world. 

A couple of very real concerns around the practicalities of getting out of the classroom were raised, such as issues around behaviour, transport, and disruption for other teachers. These are fair points, but ones which can be addressed. Behaviour requires the appropriate number of adult supervisors necessary for the grade level and specific needs of the learners involved - obviously resources may play a role in this. Transport, again, is a resources issue. Disruption for other teachers may occur, but as I mentioned during the chat, this is something that as teachers we have to expect. I may take my students out of other classes for a biology field trip to the zoo, while a few weeks later they may be off to the museum for a social studies trip. This is fine - the learning opportunities afforded by well-designed field trips can outweigh the slight loss of curriculum time. 

Technology can play a very useful role when it comes to learning outside of the classroom, and this was highlighted during the chat. For example, learners can use their phones for taking photos or videos, recording information, collaborating, and communicating. 
I also pointed out that technology can be useful when field trips may not be practical due to issues of cost, safety, or geography, for example the use of virtual field trips. 

The entire Storify of the chat can be found embedded at the bottom of this page. 

The #INZPirED chat takes place on Twitter every Saturday at 9:30AM Bangkok time (GMT+07:00) - please feel free to join in!

Thanks to Diana Engwa for inviting me to guest moderate and for putting the promo image together, to Ritu Sehji for compiling the Storify, to Sunny Thakral for making me have to think of another topic ;) and to the #INZPirED community. 

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Bangkok Google in Education Summit 2015

I guess education conferences are like buses - you wait ages for one, and then two come along at once, hence my second blog post in a row that is a conference report!

Delegates settling in before my presentation.

Last weekend saw the 4th annual Bangkok Google in Education Summit, organised by the team at Apps Events. It was held at the Thai Chinese International School in Bangkok. The main meeting takes place over two days, although there is a pre-summit course for people who are taking one of the various educator certifications offered by Google. There was an additional session, towards the of the event, by my colleague James Sayer, and Davis Apas, which explored these various certifications, including Google Certified Educator, Innovator, and Trainer. 

It was my second time at this event, but my first as a presenter. My talk - 'Becoming a connected educator' - was by coincidence very timely, since when I submitted the topic I was unaware that October is Connected Educator month! My presentation began with an overview of what constitutes a connected educator, followed by a look at how blogging and Twitter can be useful tools for getting connected as an educator, and finished with reflections on my own journey towards becoming a connected educator and how this has been beneficial for my practice. 

In my experience these events are generally less formal than more traditional academic conferences, and there was a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Each day kicked off with a keynote speech, which on the first day was a brief overview of some emerging trends in education, such as Genius Hour and Solve X in Ed. The following day the keynote looked at the increasing importance of cloud-based computing, and noted that the top ten strategic technology trends in 2015 are related to cloud technology.

Lee Webster's Solve X in Ed 'Moonshot' - Get rid of final exams.

Following the keynote speech each day there were various parallel sessions lasting an hour each, differentiated by skill and experience levels, about various aspects of educational technology. Although the focus was on Google apps and tools, it was not exclusively so, and lots of different tricks and tips could be picked up over the course of the weekend. For example I heard about a few different apps that I am going to try out, including Plickers, a tool for collecting real-time formative assessment, and Zaption, a tool that can be used to turn videos into self-study lessons. 

Another tool that was demonstrated, and which I've known about for a while but not yet tried, was Flubaroo, which can again be used for rapid formative assessment. It has some additional new features, including an option for grading text-based questions as well as multiple choice questions, and is something I hope to try out next semester. The first day ended with a demo-slam, where delegates were invited to share what they learned that day in two minutes, with prizes available for the winning demo-slams. 

On the second day there was a useful talk around the use of Google forms for student peer to peer feedback. This is something I will definitely use, and is something I see as being a useful way for students to peer assess each others' presentations, for example. The other really great tool, presented by Lee Webster, was Google's My Maps. This is essentially a lightweight GIS package, which is extremely user-friendly and easy to use. I would highly recommend any teachers that incorporate any kind of relatively simple mapping activities to check this tool out. I plan to use it as an addition to the urban biodiversity project I have my students do. 

All in all, these Google in Education events are a great way to hear about new tools, new ways to incorporate them into teaching, and to meet like-minded educators in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere.