It's The Discussion Afterwards

The Lab Alone Is Not Enough

At Harvard Graduate School of Education (2001), I learned to design lessons using Wiggins and McTighe "backward design" approach, and the Understanding by Design guidelines. Even though our school has had various curriculum mapping structures over the years, I stuck to my own approach of essential questions and "how will I know?"  Currently my school is using a curriculum database called "Atlas" which has the essential components of a UbD template; unfortunately, the time-frame and deadlines for completing this work does not allow for deep reflection and many teachers are "just trying to fill it in." I was thrilled when Grant Wiggins pointed out that 
Never did Jay and I intend for our template to be a mandatory act of pointless drudgery, a required piece of busywork required by thoughtless supervisors. Never did Jay and I intend people to fixate on filling in boxes. Never did Jay and I advocate using the UbD Unit Template as a lesson planner. ("How do you plan? On templates and instructional planning")
Thank goodness, because I was taking a more organic approach to my craft. Each unit I teach requires hours and days of thought and planning on how best to approach it. At least this is my experience. Pulling the textbook unit out and following step-wise does not work for me; I need to "own" my work. The Atlas work has been useful for documenting an outline of the lessons, and helpful for seeing how others teaching same concepts organize their work. 

It Takes Careful Planning and Thoughtful Questioning
Laboratory work is the prominent tool used in chemistry classes to answer the "how will I know they can..." performance assessment. A teacher can see a lot watching a student working. But simply stating that such-and-such "hands on" lab was conducted does not provide evidence that students did anymore than have fun. A teacher may conduct the lab, review expected data the next day, assign a lab report, and consider that the students have learned the concepts. Students can all too easily go through the motions and have no idea how the labwork relates to the content. Labs should be accorded time for a pre-reading homework, adequate time for the laboratory work - including time to repeat the experiment, and a follow-up analysis and self-assessment day. Oftentimes, the rushed curriculum does not allow for enough class time for students to work out the analysis with guidance and critical questioning by the teacher. Gaining time to assist one-on-one is part of the push toward flipped classrooms. 

Photographer Captures Popcorn Kernel Popping at 6200FPS

Next week, my chemistry class will begin the unit on kinetic molecular theory. Section 6 of the Massachusetts state frameworks for chemistry, States of Matter, Kinetic Molecular Theory, and Thermochemistry, has the following central concept and specific requirements:
Central Concepts: Gas particles move independently of each other and are far apart. The behavior of gas particles can be modeled by the kinetic molecular theory. In liquids and solids, unlike gases, particles are close to each other. The driving forces of chemical reactions are energy and entropy. The reorganization of atoms in chemical reactions results in the release or absorption of heat energy.

6.1   Using the kinetic molecular theory, explain the behavior of gases and the relationship between pressure and volume (Boyle’s law), volume and temperature (Charles’s law), pressure and temperature (Gay-Lussac’s law), and the number of particles in a gas sample (Avogadro’s hypothesis). Use the combined gas law to determine changes in pressure, volume, and temperature.
6.2   Perform calculations using the ideal gas law. Understand the molar volume at 273 K and 1 atmosphere (STP).
6.3   Using the kinetic molecular theory, describe and contrast the properties of gases, liquids, and solids. Explain, at the molecular level, the behavior of matter as it undergoes phase transitions.
6.4   Describe the law of conservation of energy. Explain the difference between an endothermic process and an exothermic process.
6.5   Recognize that there is a natural tendency for systems to move in a direction of disorder or randomness (entropy).
As part of my reflection on "how will I know?", I decided to map it all out. I chose Spicynodes mind mapping tool and the Massachusetts kinetic molecular theory concept. I wanted to demonstrate how I can "understand their understanding" during labs and the in-class follow-up. Spicynodes takes more time than I would like to input data and edit details, but I liked the way one could move around the map and create links. Working with the nodes was more time-consuming than creating a map by hand, however entering data by code was workable.

To see the mindmap unhindered by the constraints of this blog, click here.

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