Saturday, February 18, 2012
As Hazel and classmates joined us today at JO, it took no time at all for this chatty little chemist to become a "school star" ... I am asking to be handling all her bookings! Teacher-librarians adored her confident entry into EBSCO's Academic Search Premier database to seek an article of authentic current research on a topic of genuine interest. What teacher didn't love her smooth navigation of complex terminology and complicated concepts, her easy and practiced delivery, her strong connections with her teacher, her playing to the camera and her audience, the class of young chemists.
What we didn't know as we watched her three-minute (and 15 seconds) presentation was, as Hazel told us, it took 48 tries to capture the account as she wanted it. In response to a teacher's question, she told us she had studied her own presentation and perfected it with a perseverance she wouldn't have used if this had been a simple written or oral in-class assignment. It had scared and overwhelmed her at first, she said, and then she had loved it. The assignment was completed in a week. Two classes were spent in the Learning Commons. That's all.
This assignment Chemistry Newsflash - The Drive to Inquire: What's New actually had its genesis in summer school where I work with senior academic teachers, including Mr Leung, under intense pressure to complete courses that are required for graduation. That is, these teachers are not inclined to seek ways to enrich the learning experience simply because they have up to 30 fewer hours than in regular school to get kids through several hundred learning outcomes.
Mr Leung and I have worked at the same summer school for a number of years and this year we are working at the same high school. We had talked about doing this assignment, originally developed for a Biology teacher. I saw the need to offer an alternative to the sometimes-overwhelming research or inquiry-based project that worries senior teachers pressed to "cover curriculum." Too many learning outcomes, too little time, and until recently, a final provincial exam -- it is a refrain teacher-librarians hear often: "I simply don't have time to bring the class down to do a research project." Yet the post-secondary institutions want students to be more scientifically literate. Creating this assignment was a response to these tensions and the need for something to encourage these pressed and serious teachers of our senior academic students to come to the learning commons. Kids need to learn to use the databases and to read and practice talking about "scientific" or other disciplinary things.
The assignment uses an inquiry-based approach to reading. It seeks to find places of connection between the content students are learning, their interests, their peer relationships, and their understanding of what is relevant and current in science. Our Hazel wondered about peanut butter; the project she chose was to find out if there was any hope of sharing her love of "said" product with her "unfortunate" teacher who is allergic to it.
The assignment asks students to become, in this case, young chemists, read up on one new advance or study or finding in Chemistry (or Physics or Geography or Psychology, etc), and present it for the consideration of their classmates. To avoid their becoming discouraged, students were advised to search the databases of digital resources for articles from "popular" science journals as opposed to scholarly science articles. Hazel had jumped in to pure science, selecting to read and "distill" for her classmates the results of a study conducted by US government agricultural researchers Si-Yin Chung and Elaine Champagne, as cited at the end of the video. To be clear, the video above is based on the reading of an article written for food researchers, that is, an article significantly beyond the reading level of just about everyone in the school! Isn't motivation amazing! Aren't reading levels a constraining concept? We can read and access what we are interested in, one way or another.
Oh, and in planning this assignment, it was thought that adding some podcasting or other visual presentation software would cut out some of the most serious limitations of student presentations; the kids would be in "performance mode," that is, they would practice and perfect their performances for the camera. We chose Knovio, a beta screencasting tool that puts the "talking head" as a picture-in-picture alongside a powerpoint presentation. Into the description above, please read: Connect, Wonder, Investigate, Construct, Express, and Reflect Throughout, not necessarily in order. It is a perfect example of how teachers collaborating with teacher-librarians to integrate the inquiry-based approach (in this case, to reading deeply for knowledge and understanding in science), curriculum outcomes, literacy goals, print and digital resources, and technology as a tool also build in greater student achievement and engagement.
This assignment turned out to be perfect for Hazel. Hazel thinks she and her classmates should do more things like this to get them ready for the university. Another of her classmates liked it because it was so "studious." Hazel's entry into the world of internet teaching had its premiere yesterday at the John Oliver professional development day held in our new Learning Commons. Hazel and two other Chem 12 students presented to this event attended by over 100 teachers (space limited our enrolment) focused on inquiry, technology, and student engagement. This was the first time I had seen the product and I was as blown away as every educator in the room. Who knew! The inquiry-based approach had unfettered the young female "Jeremy Lin" to whom Mr Leung alluded when he began his presentation. How many more academic Lins and Lin-ettes have we sitting in our classes?
And here's another joyful thing: Hazel is in grade 11 so we here at JO can continue to build opportunities to capture her camera presentation skills, warmth for learning, and obvious interest in science to share the joy with other students. Yesterday was about sharing the experience with our colleagues. This three-minute, 15-second screencast was the highlight of the day.
Here's my idea: Let's take Hazel viral.