Thursday, 19 May 2016

The Biology Learning Cycle & Blended Learning Tools Create Student-Centred Learning Experiences

The Biology team continued to apply consistent learning cycles and blended learning throughout the final two units: Physiology, and Evolution.

In Evolution, the learning cycle has provided strong opportunities to reinforce the patterns that lead to natural selection. Our starters, called “Questions of the Day”, are focused on reviewing content from the previous lesson to help reinforce students’ understanding of evolution. This particular strategy was also used to help students prepare for their final exams.

The Learning Cycle: Making Dry Content Engaging

A particularly challenging lesson for many students in previous years was understanding the value of evidence for evolution. It is a lesson that contains a lot of content, and can be quite dry at times. This year, the Biology team utilized the learning cycle model to reinforce the content in an engaging way. 

The learning cycle has put learning into the hands of students. They use inquiry and act like scientists to develop concepts.

The students entered the classroom and their “Question of the Day” prompt was to put a series of unknown fossil images in order, as a team of 2-3. There were no other instructions provided and students needed to get their work checked after each attempt, until discovering that ancestral whales evolved from terrestrial ancestors.

Students then deepened their exploration of whale evolution by determining which type of ungulate a whale was most closely related to. They analyzed more fossil evidence, by comparing the ankle bones of different species, and then compared different sections of DNA to create a phylogenetic tree. Students that were unable to participate in the in-class activity completed an online simulation that echoed the activities done in class. Our students were able to act as detectives and come to the same conclusions as evolutionary biologists, using DNA analysis, fossil records, and physical characteristics.

Then, we debriefed and explained the content so students could check their understanding of material, and watched a short video describing the evolutionary history of a whale. Finally, students completed an exit card to check their learning before next class.

Looking forward, after successfully using this learning cycle template for the Grade 11U Biology course, we are excited to use a similar lens on the Grade 12 Biology course to expand our resources for delivering a very content-heavy curriculum using a student-centred approach.

Vanessa Floras & Nancy Clarke
Science Teachers

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Canadian History Through Interest!

Streamed field trips were key in
supporting this interest-based approach
to studying World War Two.
Interest-based learning is a potent factor in enhancing students’ individual experience during their secondary and postsecondary school careers. The Grade 10 Canadian history course has been an excellent avenue for students to experience the way that they learn and engage with their history and Canadian identity this year.

Through the use of historical thinking skills, including historical significance, historical perspective, continuity and change, ethical dimensions and primary sources, there are limitless ways that students can approach history’s events, people and places. Most recently, while studying Canada’s role in World War Two, students were able to choose specific topics to help gear content towards students’ interests. To further individualize experiences, students in each of the streamed topics (Living History, Holocaust or Technology) were able to identify specific events to which they could connect in order to develop a broader understanding of the Second World War.

This method led to several important observations for teachers. Students showed higher levels of:
  1. Engagement, motivation and accountability;
  2. Understanding of the content; and
  3. Perseverance towards learning skills.
I would like to write briefly about the last point above. It was my experience that through students’ increased level of interest, teachers were able to challenge students to persevere and develop a number of academic skills.
  • Students persevered through a critical analysis of primary and secondary documents. They challenged themselves to research, find and analyze primary historical sources which gave very specific accounts of perspective within each of the events being studied, and to think critically about how these particular stories fit into the global picture of World War Two. 
  • Students in the technology stream were able to choose various pieces of technology and determine how each individual piece of technology impacted the war overall. They chose items like the enigma machine, Alan Turing’s computer, the Spitfire, the Lancaster bomber and the Sherman tank, among others. 

While studying individual topics, students challenged themselves to:
  • Practice research skills more rigorously;
  • Write reports more thoroughly;
  • Organize their ideas more effectively; and
  • Present their findings verbally with increased confidence. 

Teachers agreed that there were some exceptional pieces of work and the consensus is that interest-based learning created a richer environment for students to grow.

What did students think about the unit? See some of the feedback below.

“I found it easy to find primary documents.  I like using the historical concepts of thinking because I think it takes your ideas out of your head and makes you put them on paper.”

“I enjoyed being able to explore a path I was interested in and not just what the teacher was teaching. I enjoyed going on a personalized field trip to a place suited to our unit path. I liked how all the classes learned the same thing, although all in different paths."

“I think that I was definitely able to pursue some of my own interests. Through the project, I was able to research a relative. This gave me the chance to know more about my family history."

“I think that the historical concepts helped me focus on my research and thoughts because they gave me a sort of guideline that helped me find more research."

“I think that being able to choose which subject I was going to study made me much more interested. I chose that subject because it was something I wanted to learn more about.”

There were some very good observations made by teachers and some excellent experiences had by students. Moving forward, teachers will be collaborating on how to enrich this unit of study further.

Anthony Costa
History Teacher, Health & Physical Education Subject Team Leader

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Choose Your Own Adventure

The Grade 12 English and Grade 12 AP English classes have now reached a point in the year in which their learning must be divided according to their own learning needs. Both classes are focused on the skill of critical thinking yet are moving through classroom activities differently because of separate course goals. Ultimately, we have the same goal which is to prepare the students to be critical thinkers and clear communicators as they move on into the world beyond Greenwood.

The AP course necessitates preparation for the standardized exam and these students are well engaged in in-depth analysis of a breadth of poetry spanning the centuries.

Node Chairs allow students and teachers
to easily rearrange the room based on
learning needs.
Students in the Grade 12 course are currently working on an integrated research paper connecting to their learning in another course. Certain students have also chosen to pursue research topics according to their own interests or subjects of focus for next year. The unit includes a trip to the Toronto Reference Library for an orientation tour as well as a workshop on the research process to help prepare students for future research projects in various institutes of higher learning.

As teachers, we realized that there are times when it is necessary to divide according to course priorities. We have found the flexible learning space allows us to do this. We use a moveable wall for visible separation and the Node Chairs provide easy room arrangements.

Within the classroom, you will find a very calm atmosphere with short lessons and plenty of quiet independent work time. Having two teachers allows us plenty of possible one-on-one conference time and facilitates the independent personalized atmosphere that is desired.

Caley Blyth
English Subject Team Leader

Stephanie Martino
English Teacher