History of Biology From Spongelab Combined with SMARTBoards

Last year, I downloaded the HISTORY of BIOLOGY from SPONGELABS. It was great!! I loved the game itself. The graphics were wonderful and the tasks were stimulating. Students worked away at the puzzles learning seemingly unconnected topics in biology by solving puzzles. It is sort of a scavenger hunt, meets National Treasure and AP Biology. However, as you get further into the game, you start to see how all the pieces fit together. This is analogous to learning science. You do not always know why something will be useful and then at some point in time later, it is the crucial piece of the puzzle. It is a nice analogy to science.

Particularly interesting was the combination of the HISTORY of BIOLOGY with a SMARTBoard. Half of the class worked on the game as individuals on laptops while the other half of the class worked in small teams of 3 and 4 at SMARTBoards. It was fascinating to watch the teams work together to solve the game.  Although the students at 1:1 laptops were in close proximity and gathered around tables, their interactions were very limited. Just because students are arranged in a collaborative shape, each with their own tech, working on the same problem does not mean that they will actually COLLABRATE. However, the students gathered around the boards were talking, discussing, in some cases arguing, and working as a team. The SMARTboards improved the communication and the social constructivism. The SMARTBoards turned an activity that uses technology into a 21st Century Learning activity by encouraging all those 21C skills such as communication, critical thinking, media literacy and the like. 

Some educators have been looking at SMARTBoards as TPR’s- Traditional Pedagogy Replicators. Combining the HISTORY of BIOLOGY game from Spongelabs, with SMARTBoards is a wonderful example of how the boards can transform STUDENT learning. The key is having students using the boards with wonderful resources like the HISTORY of BIOLOGY.

SMART Interactive Teacher Certification

I just completed the “SMART Interactive Teacher Certification”.  There is some real synergy between the products at SMART for Education. Each little piece may not seem that valuable at first glance, with the exception of the SMART Boards and Notebook, but when they are all pieced together they are more than the sum of their parts. It has been fun getting outside of my own rut. Thanks!!


Smart Exchange Widget

Here is a cool widget so you can search Smart Exchange right from your own web page.

Growing Brains, not Doing Programs

In the last two weeks, I have received 2 very important emails from previous students. Today I received this email from a previous student, now in her 3rd year at a prestigious university BSc Chemistry Degree.

  • “Anyways, I spent my entiiiire day Sunday working on an assignment at the library. I expected it to take an hour or two tops, but got stuck on some questions with a bunch of calculus work I had apparently blocked out after first year..
     I was really really tempted to give up and ask one of my friends in the class for an explanation and some answers, but kept hearing your lectures about “growing our brains” in my head, so I couldn’t…
     I stayed there all afternoon, got really frustrated, whined about how nice it was outside, and eventually I worked out all the problems. I’m SO happy I took the time to do it on my own. I really understand the material now, and I know I wouldn’t have learned anything by taking the easy way out and asking for the answers. It was much more rewarding to staple the pages together at the end too.
     So, I just thought I’d let you know I was thinking about you and your lessons, and say thank you. Even if your words kind of ruined my Sunday afternoon this week, you really made me a better student, and I still appreciate it.”

Our school has not ranked near the top where we believe it to be based on reports from our university friends and scholarship money. One of the reasons is that we offer few AP courses and no IB courses. We believe that growing brains requires flexibility, has little to do with the amount of content and programs are too confining.

The second email comes from another previous student now in her first year at a nationally renowned university in the center of the continent full of AP and IB graduates.

  • “But now to the real reason I was going to email you! I just wanted to first of all thank you, so so so much, for making us do all those full formal labs. no one here knows how to write one, let alone how long it takes to write one well, so they are all scrambling trying to buy old labs from upper year students while i can sit back and relax. It sucked at the time, but its so worth it now. Also, even though it wasnt my favourite subject, i opted to take the harder of the 2 physics courses here. I’ve had 2 lectures now, and its easier than anything we did with you or mr ryan. We aren’t even expected to derive the formulas that we had to know for gr 12 physics, it seems incredibly easy. all in all, i just feel very prepared for my classes here even around all these people who did IB and all AP classes. So even though most of your students are going to dislike physics (at least I know most of us did last year!) keep teaching it the way you do because its effective! I also had a prof today that reminded me a lot of your teaching style, because we are using iClickers for quizzes and on the very first day he went on a little schpiel about how he would like to change the education system and how unfair it was that they had to give us marks based on lectures…just reminded me a bit of our first day in chem 11. anyways, Ill keep you posted throughout the year on some general stuff that i’m doing, hope the year goes well for you too! “

Crowding Out Creativity and Innovation- Wave Table

This entry is about the idea of not giving students “stuff” or directions to allow space in which they can innovate. Less direction or help is more. Don’t crowd the students out of their creativity and innovation.

On Friday, I told my students we would use wave tables to study Reflection, Refraction and Diffraction. Although the information is presented in text, many youtube videos and online, you need to pretend that you are the first ones to study this to maintain the hard work of brain growing. If no one has done this before, how can I give you a procedure? Tell me something about waves. They have 3 days to do what woud normally take only 1.

Day 1 is for assembling the table, playing, trying to figure out what supplies are needed and create a plan. Day 2 is to conduct the lab. Day 3 is wrap up, clean up and organize the wright up.

The really interesting day was today,…day 2. Some groups forgot protractors and rulers. They were surprised when I did not have supplies for them as backup. I am willing to let them fail small. There is some responsibility on their part. But it extends beyond a life lesson.

When their light did not work, I did not try to solve it. I sympathized and asked how they were going to fix it? “you mean you don’t have a back up?”

“Nope…I do not.” This is important. Rather than have a solution presented to them, they figured it out. They improvised a cell phone with LED light. The result was a doubling of the viewing surface, better clarity for data collection and most importantly, real satisfaction and pride in solving the problem on their own.

Another group asked about amplitude. “Can we measure amplitude?”-student
“Sure” and I started to walk away.
“No, how do we measure amplitude?”-student?
“I do not know and I have no machine”, while I was thinking of about three ways to do it.
About 15 minutes later a very excited student runs up and says,”We figured it out. You couldn’t and we did!!” he then explained their innovative solution. Although I could have told them earlier, and they would have had a procedure to collect data better, it would not have been theirs. They created, innovated and were excited.

Too often, we as teachers want to help, we want to find, and we want to provide..particularly if the students are excited. I wonder if we crowd the students too much and do not leave enough space for students to be creative and innovate. Of course the art of teaching is knowing when the space is too large and they quit.