Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Global Survey - Electricity Usage

I've been doing this BYOD thing for a year and a half now, and I'm much more comfortable working with students and their myriad of devices than I was when I started. I'll be the first to admit, though, that the bulk of what we do with the devices is access online resources that support the textbook and/or labs that we do in class.
Working on learning content.
Using an online circuit builder
In terms of the ever-present (in my mind, anyway) SAMR scale, it's pretty low. Sure, some of the resources we access are a step up from textbooks (like an interactive circuits website, or multiple choice quizzes that give you hints and immediate feedback), but I haven't really been harnessing the power of connecting through the Internet. Until now.

During the first semester, my colleagues and I created a grade 9 assignment on electricity production and consumption around the world. At its simplest, it could be a research assignment. At it's most complex, it could be a chance for students to reach out to other students around the world and personally compare their two countries.

For my class, I decided to break the project into four parts, extending it beyond our electricity unit and into our astronomy unit. The links will take you to each part of the project:
  • Part A: Research (including a global survey) on electricity production and consumption differences between countries;
  • Part B: Taking action by creating original resources (of their choice) based on what they've learned in Part A;
  • Part C: Research on light pollution around the world, and how this links back to the use (waste?) of electricity;
  • Part D: Citizen science as students collect their own data on light pollution in their area, and contribute to the Globe at Night project

Let me just say here that projects of this scale thrill me, but also scare the pants off me. This feels absolutely huge, and almost insurmountable. There are a lot of unknowns out there, but my #oneword this year was JUMP (as in, jump into trying new things, jump outside of my comfort zone), so let's go big!

After introducing the first part of the project, we discussed - as a class - what types of questions we could ask people (from any country) in order to gauge how much electricity they use. The students quickly agreed that "How much electricity do you use?" was too vague a question (though it led very nicely into a discussion of how electricity usage is measured and paid for).

Students worked on white boards in their table groups to brainstorm questions that could possibly go on a global survey. After a bit of time, they copied their best questions (as decided by the group) onto paper and handed it in.

The next day, I gave the table groups a copy of all the questions that had been submitted, and asked them to - again as a group - narrow the 36 questions down to the best ten that would go on the survey. That evening, I tallied up the votes, and created our class survey:

And then we tweeted. And sent the survey to friends on Facebook. And got our parents to send it to their friends. And tweeted some more.

After about a week of data collecting, we have 400 responses from 36 countries - and growing!

The students love seeing the responses roll in - every class starts with a glance at the spreadsheet on the board to see how many responses have come in since the previous class. Our box of pins is becoming depleted as we add more and more of them to our map.

We're not looking at the results so much right now (though the students are quite interested to see who doesn't have running water, or if anyone has left their email address to connect with us), but the discussion of countries has been amazing!
Our map, as of a few days ago. More pins have been added since!

Students crowd around the map in class trying to figure out where some of these countries are (Saint Vincent and the Grenadines??), looking up the capitals (where the pin goes), talking a bit about history and what makes a country independent (is Hong Kong the same as China? Are Wales, Scotland and England all the same country? Which country does Greenland belong to?). If a new country pops up on the spreadsheet during class, the students are quick to point it out. And celebrate!

We will keep pushing for data for one more week, and then delve into it for the projects. I'm looking forward to discussions about what the data means, when to exclude "dirty data," and where bias creeps in (and there's definitely a lot of bias in this survey!). We are also sharing the data with @jaccalder's math class who will help us by making charts and graphs demonstrating trends and correlations.

But for now, the science can wait. The students are getting a tremendous sense of what it means to connect with others around the world, and are opening their eyes to what all (and who all) is out there on the other side of the planet.

I am so grateful to every member of my extended PLN who has shared the survey with their friends, colleagues and their respective PLNs. I'm greatly looking forward to seeing what the students do with this new knowledge and how far they can push themselves to connect in return!


  1. Fantastic Heather, your students have the global reality of being connected. Tremendous work that I will be sharing with my students and t embark on the Gr 6 science of electricity.

    1. Thanks, Rola! This is such an exciting project and I really hope the students run with it. I'd love to see what you do with it in the grade 6 electricity unit!

  2. This is a wonderful project, and I am so glad that you have outlined just how it has worked within your classroom so that others may follow in your footsteps. However, I take issue with this statement: "But for now, the science can wait." I do not believe that is what you are doing. I believe "the science" is happening throughout this period of connecting the dots and understanding where your data is coming from. You are making "the science" relevant to the students' every day lives. This is authentic learning, and it is a great example of creating context for your content.

    I would encourage you to think about this important work as part of your discipline as a science teacher. Connecting and making meaning are all over the science standards, and you are doing just that. Please don't let anyone tell you that you need to "get back to the science" when you tell them about this project. Your kids are finding their global reach and voice, and I think it should be celebrated.

    P.S. This comment is a part of the #C4C15 project. Find out more here:

    1. Thank you for your comment, Ben! You've given me some good food for thought, and you're right - science (and inquiry in particular!) is happening throughout the data collection process.

      I suppose what I meant by "...for now, the science can wait," is that right now, we're concentrating on that data collection (where it's coming from, what it means, the connectivity of it all - which of course, is science too!) and that once our push for data has ended, we will go back and look at it again through the lens of the course curriculum. I by no means meant to belittle the data collection process! I was simply referring to a change in focus.

      Thank you again for your comment - I will check out the #C4C15 project!

  3. This is a fantastic project! You are creating so much context for the students that they would never be able to get out of the textbook chart or table. As usual you have caused me to think how can I use this in my own classroom. Thanks again for sharing.

    1. Thanks, James! I am overwhelmed with how well we were able to get the survey out, and how many countries we were able to reach. Tomorrow we look a bit more at the data as a class - I'm looking forward to seeing how they use the data from the countries they've chosen to personalize their projects. I'm sure there will be another post about it before too long!


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