Saturday, February 7, 2015

BYOD in Science

When I started BYOD in a couple of my classes last year, I purposely chose two math classes. To me, the math curriculum was easier to break down into concrete learning goals, and to find resources that were tailored pretty much exactly to those learning goals.

But I struggled with doing the same in a science class. The learning goals are more nebulous - less a matter of being able to do a certain skill, and more a matter of demonstrating an understanding of a concept.

So I held off on changing over my science classes until this year. In first semester, I started experimenting with different formats in my Physics class, but this semester, I am entirely converting my grade 9 science class over to independent learning. And so far, I'm really liking it.

I'm playing with a new look to the resource page(s) my students turn to once they arrive in class. The way I had previously arranged the resources was functional, but not pretty or easy to navigate. The new format will hopefully make it easier for students to find the resources they want. I'm hoping it also encourages students to jump back and forth between resources, rather than approach them in a linear fashion.

Our new format.

Friday, during our 90-minute period, was our first real chance to try out the new format. There was initially a bit of confusion: students found it hard to choose what to start with. They were encouraged to master the learning goals however they liked, but losing the linearity of the original format led to worry about starting off on the wrong foot. 

Once the students actually chose their first activity, though, they jumped right in. It was a wonderfully busy and noisy class, with students all over the place!

Some students chose to work on learning the content first, through traditional methods (mini-note from me or the textbook), or using online resources.

Some students started to learn by playing (however before they could play with the Van der Graaf generator, they had to explain to me how it worked!):

What happens if the person holding the Van der Graaf generator
touches the person holding the metal tap?

 Some chose to start with a hands-on lab, experimenting with static electricity:
Bringing a charged ebonite rod near a stream of water.
The fabric attracts the rod after being rubbed together - what does that mean?

The ebonite rod repels the other ebonite rod after both were
rubbed with the same material - what does that mean?

Collaborating on the lab
On the whole, I think the students appreciated being able to start learning in their own way. Throughout the class I was peppered with questions to help students understand either what was happening in front of them during the lab, or to clarify what they were reading in the textbook. Just as in math, I found that a lot of the conversation revolved around what the students were figuring out together, albeit in different ways.

I'm looking forward to seeing how they progress with the rest of the unit, and whether the greater flexibility in how they learn the material helps them better understand the underlying concepts.


  1. This is amazing, Heather. My students are convinced that in high school next year they will get to go back to worksheets and textbooks (which they think is easier) -. Including the traditional options can give them choice. I think I will try to include more traditional alternatives for those who are pushing back the hardest (though I find as the year progresses that they are moving away from that on their own). You are inspiring!

    1. A lot of my students think worksheets and textbooks are easier, too, but I think that's just because they've learned how to play that game (and because it takes away the need to make a decision themselves, which places more responsibility on them for their learning!). But there are some who do indeed learn best by reading from a text, or listening to and taking a note from a teacher, so I do try and include that. Demonstrating their learning is where I really try and push them to try new things (and like you said, by the end of the year, they are definitely more comfortable with taking risks that way). Feel free to share what we're doing with your class so they can see what they might be doing next year!

  2. Hey again! What you are doing is SOOOOOOO FABULOUS! In my opinion this is exactly the way students learn best (even if they don't think so). Sir Ken Robinson says that curiousity and creativity is "being educated out of us" but you are encouraging the curiousity in your classroom and providing your students the resources needed to satiate it. I am in the middle of Tony Wagner's book CREATING INNOVATORS and it looks like you may have some innovators coming out of your classroom! Love the journey you are on.

    1. Thanks Michele! It's been a really neat experience trying this in science, which feels a little more "free" than in math. It's a bit scary, too! After electrostatics, we're going to start the Comparisons of Electricity Generation/Use around the world assignment we created in Learning Cycles. That's scaring me a bit, but I'll let you know how it goes! :)

  3. This is amazing! I'm big into student-led learning, and this sounds like a great way to get them to really sink their teeth into the material and take ownership of their own learning. I look forward to reading more!

    1. Thanks, Alyssa! It's worked pretty well so far - I'm hoping the students keep up the momentum throughout the semester!