As the school year runs into the December break, we are getting very close to the half-way point in the year. As Course 5 of COETAIL approaches in January, it is useful to take a look at what is on the radar for the second half of the year, in order to determine the options. As my main teaching is centred around grade 7-12 science, below is what the rest of the year looks like:

General Science (7+8)

Health & The Human Body
Waves: Light & Sound

Chemistry (9+10)

Stoichiometry & Chemical Equations
Chemical Reactions, Acids & Bases
Organic Chemistry & Industry
Secrets of the Periodic Table

Environmental Science (11+12)

Resources: Energy, Soil, Water & Food
Ecological Footprints & Limits to Growth
Air Pollution & Climate Change
There is also an ongoing independent seminar that the students will prepare for June that could incorporate significant technology

Although I have considered the possibilities over the last couple months regarding what might be possible in terms of a Course 5 Final Project, I have not been able to put a lot of energy into narrowing down specific ideas, units or researching possible sources of technology that could be embedded into specific units so as to redefine the learning activities. My best and most successful ideas quite often just fall from the sky at the last moment when I’m not even brainstorming, so consciously focusing on what to do is somehow generating a mind block for me.

When this happens, I usually go by process of elimination first. This year I am making a focused effort to use modeling techniques in Chemistry and follow many of the ideas from the curriculum developed by the American Modeling Teachers Association. As this is a brand new experience trying to apply these teaching methods to the Chemistry course, that may be enough to worry about in its own right. Chemistry is quite an abstract subject in many ways and I can see how certain technology can be harnessed to make concepts easier to understand, but I may be digging a bigger hole for myself than I really want, throwing a major COETAIL project in this mix. As for Environmental Science, there are a number of possibilities to use tech as a way of crowd sourcing data, collaboration between various classes and schools and presenting data in new and engaging ways that redefine the learning. I can see this as being a huge challenge in terms of coordinating and communicating with other students in other countries, setting up video conferencing, planning with other teachers, ensuring students are accountable and hoping the whole thing doesn’t go down in flames with nothing to show. All signs point to General Science as the place to look for redesigning units that will embed technology. Students in this class have a very low level of stress and there is less burden to cover significant amounts of material as there is in upper grade science classes. They also have a much more positive reaction when trying new things and, in general, are not already used to doing ‘the same things in the same way’. One last reason I would like to focus on the Grade 7+8 class is that I feel I’m heading into a huge wall in terms of what to do in day-to-day lessons. Being in a small school, I have a larger number of courses to deal with and need have to spread my planning and preparation time more thinly than I would really like. What Course 5  will force me to do is make more of a focus on General Science and really take the topics in a fresh direction that I have not attempted before.

Below is a brief stream of thoughts based on two potential units:

OPTION 1: Health & The Human Body


As I wrote in my previous post regarding Problem-based learning, I found this learning method very interesting and although I have not got around to doing a full unit focused on PBL, this may be the perfect opportunity. There are many directions to go in this unit and it typically generates high interest and enthusiasm from students no matter which way it is covered. Topics like respiration, circulation, digestion, diet, microbes and disease seem to spark kids curiosity and I’m sure it would be a great fit to implement a PBL based unit with a focus on tech. As described in the article  Using Problem-based Learning to Explore Unseen Academic Potential, PBL could be used to study and learn about specific viruses, how they spread and affect the human body. After obtaining this info, students could then develop a solution to a problem that presents itself during the unit. We could even do a couple separate PBL questions in the unit, with another having to do with some sort of physical condition that affects a person’s normal functioning. By scaffolding the learning activities, they will be able to determine the issue and offer suggestions for a solution. The Vernier sensors we have in class will also be a great source of technology that they can access for investigations within the unit.


My only concern is that I have never attempted a legitimate PBL unit and all the planning that goes along with it. I will need to find some very detailed and useful resources to develop this unit – and quickly, as it will likely begin right around the end of January. However, this will give me lots of time to reflect and develop the final project video and summary. I have a few EAL students in this class, too, so I will need to make accommodations to support them in this more active and student-centered unit.


Again, up to this point, I have only dabbled in PBL and done smaller activities (more like case studies) that don’t really encapsulate the full PBL experience. I will also need to put a big focus on scaffolding and anticipating student roadblock ahead of time, rather than deal with them when they come in order for this to be a smoothly running unit.


One of our school’s ‘5 STARS’ is open-mindedness, which will certainly be required here, both in terms of a new way of learning and in the material they will be investigating. Students will need to focus on organized note-taking, communication with classmates and collaboration both in person and online. As the boys and girls in this class tend to keep to themselves, this will be something they may find challenging.


OPTION 2: Light & Sound


This unit is loaded with potential for inquiry activities. Although light and sound are both fairly technical topics and sometimes too abstract for students of this age, there are many possibilities that tech can be used to redefine the learning and provide opportunities to make the concepts more concrete. Earlier this year, I had these same students create brief instructional videos about how to set up and operate microscopes properly. A similar idea could be used for these topics in a way I haven’t thought out quite yet. I think video analysis could also be another awesome way to understand these topics. I know there was a previous teacher in COETAIL who focused on waves for his Course 5 project, so I will have to go back and find that video again to see what direction he went. As mentioned above, there are a number of Vernier sensors that can also be utilized as tech tools for light and sound. I see more collaboration through Google Drive as well as some tasks that I could develop using Google Forms for information collection. We could even reach out to other middle school-aged students across Japan or even other countries in order to gain a wider pool of data for certain investigations we may conduct. All kinds of cool things are possible for this unit.


I have less concern about this possible unit because I have covered the concept of waves numerous times and tried many ways to teach the concepts. One thing to remember, though, is this unit is for younger students and it will be difficult to get into the more advanced ideas that I have been used to discussing in grade 11+12 physics. Keeping it simple, yet still redefining the learning may pose a bit of a challenge, but nothing to worry about.


Not too many here. I may go deeper into true student-centered inquiry, as I am always wanting to gain more experience with this as opposed to teacher-led inquiry. It will also prep them for their science investigation as they year-end project (Science Fair).


Two more of our school ‘STARS’ are Risk-Taking and Communicating. I would say this unit may have a clear focus on these two as we may try some new things and try to reach out to other students around the world. This is another one of those units where students seem to already present a natural curiosity, so hopefully I can use that to my benefit when designing new activities.


So, that about wraps up the options as I see them. I will have to spend more time on the holidays thinking over the details of each possibility and decide which one one can allow for the best outcome.

Until January.

Photo Credit: mr.alsultan via Compfight cc