After graduating from UBC's MET program, there was so much I wanted to do to improve my classroom. In the beginning, creating a class eLearning website, blog, podcast, and amassing digital resources was my goal. Over time, one aspect of my own practice that bothered me was how the changes were too teacher-focussed. At odds with my own practices, the lecture-format remained and assignments were still too paper based. Students continued to submit paper-to-pencil materials, worksheets. It was dissatisfying, although some projects were highlights. Every year, students were invited to create edible cake, cookie, and sometimes jello-based models of cells. These project-based initiatives were rewarding for everyone. Students love to make and present. I delighted in marking, then helping eat the projects with side of coffee or espresso :) But still, despite great laboratory work including dissections, taking blood pressure readings, cytology, spirometry, and more, there was the sense we could do so much more.
Screencasting the lessons for Biology 12 was a fresh challenge. While I'd focussed on screencasting a library of lessons for Biology 11, I hadn't done the same for the 12's. My estimate is that each hour of screencasting represents at least two hours in bloopers, uploads, and occasional edits. Most screencasts were single-takes. There were the inevitable elements that would disrupt screencasts (done at home.) The phone would ring, a calendar event would pop up, or Apple's notifications would barge onto my iPad or Macbook screen. I learned to roll with the punches and take disruptions in stride. Students often remarked on how amusing they were. "Did you remember to take your daughters to dance on time?" one student asked in class with a smirk... All in all, these interruptions were a natural, more organic part of screencasting, helping create more of a personal feeling for students, and myself. Making mistakes, being human turned out to be a good thing. And over the course of the semester, the screencasting homework was done, an investment in the future of the course -- an asset in laying down the yellow brick road a piece at a time.
With a commitment to a flipped AND project-based learning class, I'd moved instruction online, making myself much more available for students in class. Students had several days to take in lessons online via YouTube with the inevitable quiz at the end of the research period. Quizzes were in-depth to determine if students had really done their research, completing their own notes on note-blanks provided. To provide a bit more credence, quizzes counted for marks, but a poor result could be "knocked-out" by a better performance on another assessment such as the chapter or unit exam. After all, learning should be the goal. Sometimes students just aren't ready for an assessment. But, like a drivers' exam, there is an opportunity to demonstrate successful mastery of learning. In most cases, assessment scores improved. As in a traditional classroom, learning is often a function of motivation. My class was no exception.
Project-based learning began with cell-models as I've already stated. Then the course turned to Biochemistry, which turns out to be much more challenging to develop projects for. I needed to lay down more yellow bricks and develop motivational projects that students could immerse themselves into or modify. Lab work was to be the answer. We have a lab where students identify nutrients: carbohydrates, proteins, sugars, and lipids. Students run standard tests with Lugol's Iodine, Biuret's, Benedict's solutions, and test for lipids using a brown-paper assessment. This time the lab was a project. Students ran standard tests to determine how the reagents and tests functioned, then were given several unknowns to test independently. I must admit it was fun to watch them toil, puzzle, hypothesize, and postulate what the unknown samples could possibly be. One student asked if one unknown (apple juice) could possibly be urine... My response... "Well what's in urine that you could possibly test for?" The fact that I didn't discount the possibility reflected in the student's quite amusing reaction :) Once testing was complete, students had a fairly good idea of what the test materials could be. To make matters more interesting, I decided to use quick response (QR)codes -- essentially bar codes acting as links to online content to find out the true identities. The codes sent them to riddles to do the final sleuthing. I've included these in this post. Watching students run throughout the building from our classroom to the library to the Social Studies Department, then to the office was fun. One thing I've learned is a good scavenger hunt is a great idea every once in a while :)
Okay, well that's about all the time I have for this initial post. I'm glad to have had the time to reflect and share a bit of my journey with eCampusLive Biology at College Heights Secondary.
Welcome to the eCampusLive blog. I'm Jerry Bleecker. I teach Biology, Science, Information Technology, Computer Arts, and more. It's an exciting year to share our experiences with our flipped classroom endeavour.