Monthly Archives: November 2013

Flipping Inquiry – Exploring Verso

Recently our Science team has had a focus on how we position Inquiry in our classrooms.  We have been working towards planning activities that encourage students to explore concepts prior to delivering an explanation.   Following this explanation we will plan for students to apply this understanding to further experiments, group activities and more analytical questions.

When studying Scientific Concepts there are a lot of different Inquiry models that are designed for the construction of understanding.   One of the keys principles of most models is that ‘Explore’ comes before ‘Explain’, then followed by some application or Higher Order Thinking.   An early model of this was presented as Exploration, Invention, and Application (Karplus) also as Explore, Explain, Apply.  Many will be familiar with an adaptation of it in the 5E Instructional model (Bybee) – Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate.

In recent years our team has increasingly used short snippets of online video to engage students and to offer a version of the explanation.  In some classes we have been working towards a flipped classroom where there has been a clear focus on using the video to create a more effective use of class and homework time.  I have been inspired by the work of Ramsey Musallam who has adapted the ‘Explore-Flip-Apply’ Model as he has fit Inquiry into a blended learning environment (a flipped class).

This need of fitting Inquiry into a blended learning environment (1:1 netbooks) led our team to eagerly trial the Veso App over the last month.  The principles of its design are in alignment with exactly what we are trying to achieve pedagogically during the ‘Explore’ phase.  At Verso describe this as ‘provocations’ (read an extract from their site below):

Deliberate and thoughtful challenges created by the teacher with the intention of initiating thinking, extending ideas and exposing individual learning needs in order to inform practice.

Effective provocations cultivate curiosity through a combination of carefully selected stimulus and high quality prompts or questioning.

Provocations motivate students to think creatively; to discuss, question, predict and hypothesize.  They challenge learner s to engage in big ideas, encouraging further inquiry whilst supporting students to take control of their own learning pathways.

An example of a provocation

Student Responses

Student Responses

The Trial with Verso
Verso is a web based app (works well on everything) that creates opportunity for student collaboration/discussion around a stimulus question.  This includes the ability to add stimulus material – YouTube, Dropbox, links, photos, video………  Students are then required to post before they read and comment on others answers.   For us this really met our need as we sought opportunities for students to ‘Explore’ a concept.

Similar to when we have used Blogs and Discussion Boards in the past, we see more students having a voice compared to a traditional class discussion.  As also commonly seen with online discussions we see students who were normally quiet in class now having a voice.  However, a significant difference was that Verso was set so students were anonymous and that students were required to post themselves prior to reading the posts of others.  This really encouraged student confidence to generating original ideas and to use original wording in their explanations.

Student's comments

Student’s comments

Following the students writing their own posts, it was equally important for them to confidently comment on the posts of others (also anonymous).  This requires them to use their current understanding to analyse someone else’s post and write feedback.  Such a task involves Higher Order Thinking and really exposes current knowledge and misconceptions.  This is what it is all about – expose what’s there and have students construct their own understanding of the concept.  The engagement in this peer collaboration is also encouraged as students can ‘Like’ comments and they can reward someone for a ‘Helpful’ comment.

The sign of a great student centred activity is that all students are actively discussing the concept in their own words – Verso definitely hit the mark here.   As a teacher being able to see each student’s original post and comments also offers a visibility of their learning – you can almost watch it happen!

Verso also enabled levels of differentiation for our students.  In its collaborative nature this sort of activity allows students at all levels to be able to participate and improve their understanding.   Students with a limited understanding can build their understanding with the support of their peers; students with a higher level of understanding can test the limitations of their understanding by analysing and discussing the posts of others.  Additionally, as a teacher one of the great features is that you are able to group student responses together.  The creation of groups of students with similar responses or similar misconceptions can then allow responsive instruction where you might focus particular instruction on specific student groups.  This offers another level of differentiation as your enter the ‘Explain’ phase in the Learning Cycle.

It is this sort of match, where Technology is enabling the Pedagogy that working as a teacher is really exciting.   We are looking forward to ‘Exploring’ Verso as we purposefully ‘Explore’ with our students.

If you are interested in having a look, check out the Verso site.

Biological Whiteboarding

 Biological Whiteboarding
– The use of mini whiteboards in my Biology class

Whiteboarding in class

Whiteboarding in class

This semester one of my big wins has been the introduction of mini whiteboards to my Biology class.  Over the last few years I have been flipping my class, freeing up more class time to run activities.  The use of mini whiteboards really delivers the type of activity I want more of in my classes.  Using mini whiteboards has engaged students, encouraged collaboration and has offered great formative assessment.

The Inspiration
The idea of using whiteboards in my class came from listening to how other flipped teachers were using their redefined class time.  Although I had seen mini whiteboards in Primary classrooms I had not thought that they would have a place in my Senior Biology classroom.  I was inspired by maths teachers (Junior and Senior) who were describing how they were offering quality formative assessment – the thinking and the misconceptions were very visible.  I also heard how the boards created good opportunities for active learning and encouraged student participation.

Punnett Square Problems

Punnett Square Problems

Whiteboards in my Biology class
My first mission with my boards was Punnett Squares (for inheritance calculations) – it was the most ‘maths like’ idea I had.  I drew up some permanent lines for the punnet square using a permanent marker.  Students were then given an inheritance problem to solve. The boards worked perfectly!  Students were willing to take a risk and have a go at the problems – it is amazing how much erasability of the whiteboard increased student willingness to try.  In addition it was very easy for me to float around the room and see how students were approaching the problem.  If I spotted any misconceptions we could easily erase/mark the board to offer some help.  This was perfect formative assessment without the emotional cost of starting problems again. In fact many students preferred to do further practice problems (with easy edits) on the boards rather than in working in their books.

Then my addiction to Biological Whiteboarding really kinked in.  The boards and markers were just sitting there ready to go and I was finding a use for them in many lessons.   A wide range of my quick class activities and thinking activities just seemed to work better on the boards
–          Brainstorms – individual, groups, think/pair/share
–          Write a definition for………
–          Write the key words for this concept…………
–          Write down everything you know about…………….
–          Draw a model for……………
–          Show the main steps of…………..
–          Draw a diagram of……………
–          Draw a concept map for………………
–          Hot Potato – Write a fresh idea and pass the board on…………
–          Speed Dating – High speed rotation: Share idea and ask a question
–          Sharing Circle – In a circle show board and explain/defend/ask
–          Peer Assess – In pairs suggest an improvement to each other’s board

Sharing Circle with boards

Sharing Circle with boards

The patterns were the same.  The students were engaged – they loved the boards as much as me (well almost).  The thinking was visible.  There was little risk when it can be erased – participation was high and students seemed to be a lot more creative.  I saw so many more ideas and thoughts than I would usually see when they worked on paper.

Some of my favorite activities are just best when we do a diagram
The understanding of many concepts is often best explored and assessed with a simple diagram.  Some examples:
–          Cell Diagrams showing organelles
–          Cell membrane structure
–          Enzyme – Substrate fit
–          Mitosis & Meiosis diagrams showing chromatids
–          A diagram to represent Evolution
–          Chloroplast showing the stages of photosynthesis
–          Translation at the ribosome
–          DNA replication and enzymes involved
–          Draw a diagram to represent
–          Action Potential in a neuron
–          Examples of antibodies and antigens

Meiosis Diagrams

Meiosis Diagrams

Quality Conversations – The bonus prize
The real surprise during our whiteboard activities was the high quality conversations that accompanied them.  Every session there was a buzz about what students were doing on their boards or what someone else was doing on their board.  Students were explaining concepts, offering suggestions to others, defending their thoughts and most importantly asking questions.  These rich conversations are what I believe builds good understanding of the concepts we cover.  Students construct a model of the concept by building on and exploring what they know already.

My ‘Non-ICT’ Initiative?
For me this initiative offered a break from ‘yet another ICT tool’.  It was a chance to try something just because the pedagogy felt good.  There seemed no doubt that good learning was the goal, there was no ‘eLearning cool tool’ factor influencing my decision here.

Well, no sooner than I thought this and ICT found a way of sneaking in.
Students liked some of their boards and wanted to keep them and as a result they started taking photos of their boards.  They then wanted to share and compare boards after class.  They wanted to show students who were away their boards from a previous lesson.  Some students didn’t have phones and others were taking photos for them.  In a flash we discussed options and there was a shared Dropbox folder on our class site.  This online sharing was another win for the mini whiteboards.

The Tools of a Biological Whiteboarder
The Boards – I purchased some sheets of ‘White Marker Board’ from Bunnings and cut it into small and big boards.  The board with the Masonite backing was better quality than the cheaper stuff (I took a marker to the store and tested them).
–          Small Size 300 x 400 – size I used for individual work and inheritance problems
–          Big Size 400 x 600 – size for group work and bigger tasks

Markers – I grabbed some cheapo packets of 4 colours from Office Works.  I chose the ones with slightly smaller nibs than I use and they seemed to work fine.  All still going strong after a semester of scribbles.

Dusters – I ripped up an old towel and elastic band it to each packet of markers.  Tip – Boards are harder to clean if you leave the markers on for a while.

What about you?
I would love to hear from other ‘whiteboarders’ out there about their experiences:
–          What subjects/topics do you teach using whiteboards?
–          What type of activities work well for you? Could work well?
–          What are the benefits?
–          What is working for you?