Friday, November 9, 2012

521 Blog Post 3: Teaching Creativity, Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

Creativity opportunities are incorporated into almost every lesson. After teaching new content, I give students time to practice and apply what they’ve learned (TPE 4) by engaging them in group projects. These projects all require use of creativity to produce the finalized product. For example, students are often asked to create a poster to illustrate the main ideas of a biological concepts, like to compare and contrast photosynthesis and cell respiration.  Students are also asked to be creative in written and oral responses to open-ended questions, such as: Why is photosynthesis important to support life on Earth? In addition, inquiry-based labs are challenging projects that give students the freedom to design their own experimental questions, hypotheses, and procedure, which is a unique way to promote student creativity. Students also need a low-risk, supportive environment in order to be creative; students must be willing to take risks and make mistakes. Finally, it is important that students learn to be creative by sharing their ideas with each other, such as through brainstorming activities, class discussions, or critique and gallery walk of each other’s posters.

Critical thinking and problem solving are difficult, higher-order thought processes that students need practice with. Responding to open-ended questions through class discussions and written essays helps stimulate critical thinking and problem solving. For instance, students are asked to critique their laboratory procedure and results, reflecting on how the experiment went, documenting mistakes, and planning for improvements in the future. In addition, students are asked to explain their results and come up with a conclusion, both of which demand critical thinking skills. Students are also presented with many different experimental scenarios in biology, and they have to use problem-solving skills to predict results or explain outcomes. In addition, inquiry-based labs require students to use inductive reasoning, a nice complement to the more traditional, deductive format of most high school biology labs.

Many classroom activities are designed around group activities to promote communication and collaboration. For instance, students work together on posters, labs, research projects, and hands-on activities. In addition to learning new content, students are also taught how to work with one another, despite different and even conflicting personality characteristics, a skill necessary to succeed in life since everyone must learn to cooperate with people they dislike at some point. Class discussions are also utilized to engage students in real-world, controversial topics, like stem-cell research or the use of genetically-modified foods.

Students are exposed to many, short articles related to the content they are learning. The articles are designed to be interesting pieces to help students make connections to the relevance of what they are learning in the real world. Many of the articles communicate the impact of breaking scientific research on public health, medicine, technology, or the environment. For instance, when learning about photosynthesis, students read a short article on how phytoplankton in the ocean supplies the Earth with over half of the oxygen we breathe. Students then write a response or reflection to the article they read to promote writing skills and deepen their understanding of the material they read.

Communication of science to the public and critical review is an imperative part of the scientific process. Students in biology need to learn how scientists conduct science in the real-world. Students can use papers published on-line and short, breaking news articles about science to learn about how science is impacting the real-world while simultaneously improving their literacy skills. Webquests and research papers are ideal ways to promote these skills. For instance, when teaching students about the immune system, I plan on engaging students in a Webquest, where they will research a disease of the immune system and present their findings to the class.

Biology relies heavily on technology to progress. Students can experience these technological tools in the classroom when conducting laboratory investigations and experiments. In addition, students can also learn to use the internet to research specific, content-related topics. Students can also be taught to use PowerPoint to present their findings and software programs like Excel to learn how to organize data in tables, charts, and graphs.

In addition to working in groups, students are also given independent assignments, which requires them to be self-sufficient in applying the new learning. During this time, I circulate to provide guidance and individual assistance. It’s also important to provide students with the supports they need to become independent, such as supplying them with handouts, visual aids, or graphic organizers. To help students be self-directed, I give them choices about the format of the assignment they can select or the topic they want to research.

Students are arranged in heterogenous groups based on grades and personality types to maximize peer-tutoring opportunities.  These groups are changed every 6 weeks to allow students to be able to interact with a variety of students. Students are taught at the beginning of the year what the rules and expectations for the class are, and an effort is made to build a warm, supportive classroom learning environment. This makes students work more effectively together in diverse teams throughout the year. Students are also given rubrics, which are explained, to communicate teacher expectations for the students when doing group work. In addition, the roles for each student within the group are clearly explained before each activity. For instance, one student is the timer, one student is the recorder, one student is the presenter, and one student performs the laboratory procedures.

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