Showing posts with label Problem-Based Learning. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Problem-Based Learning. Show all posts

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Tapping Into Problem-Based Learning

Problem based learning (PBL) is a student-centred approach that gives students experience with solving open-ended problems. This approach to learning encourages teamwork, the use of trial and error and critical thinking, all of which are vital skills for students to acquire in high school.  
A great example of this teaching method was used recently in our Grade 8 science classes. As part of a unit on simple machines and the study of levers, students worked in teams to design and build a Trebuchet. A trebuchet is a medieval siege weapon designed to throw projectiles long distances. A key element of this design involves using a beam, hinged at a pivot point to launch a projectile.

Students began the task by making a prototype and used it to experiment with the ideal ratios of the beam, pivot and counterweight to develop their final design. Students used materials such as doweling, straws and plastic spoons to build their final prototype. They used their machine to calculate mechanical advantage and work. A written reflection on what they had learned through the process was also completed.

As a concluding activity, students competed against one another to determine which trebuchet could fling a mini-marshmallow the furthest distance. Knowing the inquiry ended with this type of competition really motivated students to build the most effective trebuchet.  

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

CSI Meets Newton's Law of Cooling

Creating scenarios that allow students to use skills and knowledge to solve real world problems is a great way to make learning stick. Our Advanced Functions (MHF4U) class did this recently through an activity where they played the role of detectives examining a crime scene.

Students worked in teams to solve the puzzles
Students were divided into three teams, assembled in one of our breakout rooms and given a puzzle to solve in three stages. In the first stage, students worked together to use prior knowledge to solve a series of exponential and logarithmic functions. Once they had these answers, they used them and Newton’s Law of Cooling to determine the time of death of the body found at the crime scene.
The timer counting down added excitement to the activity
With the correct time in hand, three members of the team escaped from the breakout room to find a website URL that had been hidden in the classroom. Once the site was located, the remainder of the team left the breakout room and together the team used graphing software to create a function that reflected the function related to the time of death.
Each team worked in a separate breakout room
Rich performance tasks like this one enable students to develop valuable critical thinking and problem solving skills, and learn how to work effectively in teams, all of which are vital skills for the future.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Developing Unique Solutions to Open-Ended Problems

The ability to develop solutions to open-ended problems is an important skill in a knowledge-based economy. Our Grade 9 Science students had an opportunity to gain practice with this skill through the culminating project in the Electricity unit.
Using knowledge developed in the unit, students had to design and build an electrical gadget. This gadget had to include an energy source (battery), conducting wires, and multiple loads (lights, motors, etc.) Students also had to use ammeters and voltmeters to measure their gadget’s current and voltage, and predict how much energy the gadget would use over a 24 hour-period.

Very few initial designs produced the desired result. Consequently, students were forced to continually re-think their initial assumptions and try another approach, which is a key element of effective problem solving. This process also enabled students to demonstrate perseverance and engage in meaningful teamwork, another essential element of problem solving.
Overall, this project enabled students to take risks in thinking and creating, which will be immensely helpful as they move forward with their learning at Greenwood and beyond.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Integrating Student Learning

Grade 7 Integration Week helps students make vital connections between the different subjects that they learn in school. By creating a challenge for students to respond to that incorporates what they have learned across their courses, from Science, Math, English, and Social Studies students can see the connections between what are often perceived to be separate areas of knowledge.

The theme of Grade 7 Integration Week was “How to Survive a Natural Disaster.” Canadian author Eric Walters, who writes on the theme of survival, spoke to the students about the inspiration behind his stories and what it takes to survive disaster. Being able to hear from an author such as Walters, whose books they have read, was inspiring for students, encouraging them to really think deeply about their work during Integration Week.

For the rest of their activities, students broke into teams to solve problems that would arise in the wake of a natural disaster, taken from the pages of an Eric Walters novel. Each challenge required drawing on concepts they learned in class. For example, students applied their learning about heat, insulation, and distillation from science class to the challenge of how disaster survivors could cook food, keep warm, and purify water.

They designed original prototypes of survival aid devices, strategically selected gear for a survival mission, and wrote journal entries from the perspective of a character in their chosen Eric Walters novel. Each challenge required students to think critically, and encouraged the to create unique solutions.
By approaching one challenge from so many angles, they can also determine the best way to solve multi-disciplinary problems in the future. They can apply the strategies they develop from one subject to solve challenges in another. This will help them be more agile, adaptable learners, skills so crucial for lifelong learning. 

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Grade 8 Integration Project: The Student Perspective

Group work was a major component
of the Integration Project.
Last week, teacher Kathryn Connelly shared her thoughts on our Grade 8 Integration Project. This week, Grade 8 student Graham Palmert provides his perspective on the same project.

During the week before the December holidays, the Grade 8 students were involved in an Integration project which drew from our four core subjects; math, English, science and social studies.

Each class contributed to a different aspect of the project. The beginning of the project was related to science and social studies. We had to pick substances or elements, such as fluoride or lead, and explain:

  • How the substance gets into our water system,
  • How it affects us, and
  • Ways to solve this issue. 

For English we wrote a final proposal, which outlined the research behind the issue we chose, how the issue affects humans, and potential solutions.

In relation to math, we completed a data analysis.

All of the subjects blended really well together and we required knowledge from all of them, such as:

  • Knowing the water system,
  • Taking data and turning them into graphs, and 
  • Knowing human settlement patterns. 

Each group chose their own topic to explore, such as how microbeads affect the water systems in Toronto. My group, which included Owen Bates and Jackson Cowie, learned about where lead comes from, how it affects us, and solutions to solve the problem of lead in our water system.

The two most astonishing facts that we learned were:

  1. Next year, the World Health Organization estimates that 143,000 people will die from lead poisoning.
  2. Lead pipes themselves elevate the risk of health issues for Toronto 35,000 households.

This project was a change from a regular classroom that provided different challenges. One challenge we faced was balancing working in a group, and dividing up how much each person had to do. The project itself was more challenging than the regular classroom work we are used to because we had to use knowledge from all four subjects instead of just one.  It was also different than a classroom because the whole week we worked in small groups, and I usually do not have class with some of my group members.

The final product had two different components:

  1. A proposal on what the problem was and how we can fix it. 
  2. A visual component. Our group decided to make a Google slides presentation on how lead affects us. Other groups used videos or poster boards. 

Upon completing the project, we showed our work to a Toronto city councilor, Jaye Robinson. Hopefully she will consider our ideas and make our water cleaner.

This was an interesting week for me as a student, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Take aways from the week were that Toronto’s water isn’t as clean as everyone thinks it is, and that working in a group requires a lot of patience.

Even though it was difficult, at the end, I think we all felt rewarded for the hard work that we had accomplished.

Graham Palmert
Grade 8 Student

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Grade 8 Integration Project: The Teacher Perspective

This December, Greenwood piloted a unique project for Grade 8 students: an integration task involving math, science, social studies and English components. This problem-based learning activity requiring the students to look at a water issue in the city of Toronto and examine how this issue has either impacted human settlement OR is impacted by human settlement.

How did this project go? Teacher Kathryn Connelly shares her thoughts. Next week, we'll bring you a student perspective on the same project.

The Grade 8 Integration project took flight on the week of December 14-17, 2015, with great success!

The Project

Students` visual and verbal presentations
highlighted their proposed solutions for
the water issue they studied.
The students were introduced to the project by going on a field trip to the RC Harris Water Treatment Plant. They took a tour of the facility and learned about where our water comes from, how it is treated, and what Toronto’s challenges are in terms of water treatment.

Back at school, the students were placed into small groups and were presented with a problem statement: How does human settlement impact the physical environment and sustainability of water resources in Toronto? What are possible solutions to this problem?

The Process

In small working groups, the students chose from a variety of topics directly related to the science, social studies, math and English curricula. In teams, the students researched, summarized and identified the connection between the science behind water quality issues in Toronto and how human settlements have impacted these issues.

The students were engaged and energized through their investigation and new knowledge of the relevance of water issues in Toronto, and worked collaboratively to think critically about their research and data, while also thinking of potential solutions to their chosen issue. The ideas that the students came up with were innovative and inventive. Throughout the collaborative process, the students were extremely engaged and active problem solvers. They worked well within their groups, divided the work effectively, and worked together to find the most relevant research and data. As a teacher, it was most impressive to observe their minds at work!

The Presentation

As a group, the students created a visual component that reflected each of their written proposals, which were completed individually. The goal of the project was exhibited through the presentations, as the students visually and verbally presented upon the history behind their issue, their analysis of the present situation and predictions of future trends of their issue, as well as the possible solutions/recommendations.

On the last day of the project, Toronto City Councillor, Jaye Robinson, listened to each group passionately present their discoveries and solutions to Toronto’s water quality issues.

Overall, it was an extremely successful integration project which the Grade 8 students embraced with open arms. Through a problem-based approach to the project, the learning became wholly student-centered, which enabled the students to work to their full potential. This project enabled the Grade 8 students to embark on a different type of learning than they were used to, allowing for more flexible and innovative thinking. The students thrived, showing them that hard work and dedication to a relevant issue leads to a heightened sense of accomplishment.

The project also gave the team of integration teachers an opportunity to communicate and collaborate outside the classroom walls, which was enriching and energizing. The first integration project helped solidify the value of student-centered learning, which will continue to be a focal point in future Grade 7 & 8 integration projects.

Kathryn Connelly
English & Learning Strategies Teacher

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Students Showcase Findings at Annual Climate Change Fair

Each year, Grade 10 Science students have the opportunity to explore a topic of particular interest to them that relates to climate change. Their task is to design their own research project and apply what they have learned to a new situation. With this open-ended project template, we are able to personalize learning and help students discover areas of scientific interest, while guiding their exploration of such topics.

The opportunities for discovery are limitless. One student chose to extensively study the effects of global warming on the country of Tanzania, which has been severely affected by extreme droughts and floods. The student had the opportunity to then travel to Tanzania, where she could witness these issues firsthand and speak with the people who are being affected. Through photography, she documented dried-up river beds, as well as animals and locals suffering from food and water scarcity.

The significance of these experiences was evident. In her own words, "In Tanzania, I was able to apply my knowledge and get an incredible chance to learn how [climate change] is affecting these people...From this experience, I will rethink many of the things that I do at home that contribute to global warming because I can appreciate who is facing the consequences."

Depending on individual strengths and interests, some students were encouraged to design, conduct and analyze experiments to support a particular hypothesis related to climate change. Through controlled experimentation, one student analyzed the effects of deforestation on atmospheric temperatures. She found that environments exposed to high levels of greenhouse gases remained cooler in the presence of vegetation, thus illustrating the role that plants play in regulating climate change. Another student investigated the effects of carbon dioxide on rising sea levels. She designed a laboratory procedure to effectively demonstrate that atmospheres rich in carbon dioxide are able to rapidly melt ice, thereby contributing to rising sea levels.

In the end, students were able to explore topics of interest while developing scientific reasoning and research skills. The project concluded in a Climate Change Fair, during which the Grade 10 students showcased their topics and findings.

Caroline Ferguson
Teacher, Mathematics and Science

Thursday, 30 April 2015

Designing the New Gym: A Grade 8 Math Challenge

Grade 8 Mathematics students have been experiencing real-world thinking through an inquiry project focused on the construction of a new gym for the school expansion.

The focus of the project is design and planning, both spatially and financially. Before the students were introduced to the goals of the project, they spent a lesson brainstorming various considerations needed when designing a new gymnasium for the school. Their only resource was the blueprint for the third floor addition.

Students then interviewed the school's Athletic Director and Subject Team Leader of Health and Physical Education to get more detailed information about specific features needed in a gymnasium and a sense of the major factors to consider when designing and planning a new gymnasium.

Once the students had completed the brainstorming and interview tasks, they were given a package that included all the information needed to design and determine the cost of the new gym. The package included blueprints, photos, building code requirements (such as the fire code), sporting requirements and budget information.
Students critically examined the resources provided and determined which information would be relevant to their design. The last component of the project was for students to design the floor plan for the new gym. Final designs included dimensions, the layout for the gym and an estimated cost.

Students are presenting their design process and sharing some of the challenges they experienced with a local architect, who will then offer some additional points to consider when designing a physical education space.

The Grade 8 Math class has been engaged and excited by this project, as it has an authentic real-world connection, with a focus on creativity. The students were encouraged to explore their ideas and to use critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

One student stated that their favourite part of the project has been "finding information in a different way. We are doing the work, and we are almost doing what you would do as a real architect." Another student recognized the importance of the process, or "how hard it is to actually create a gym, and all the thought you have to put into the different aspects of it." Students realized that "you need to do a lot of things [and] you need to choose," while using mathematics to design, plan and financially justify your design.

Grade 8 students have thoroughly enjoyed completing an open-ended and realistic task that promotes creativity and supports the development of real-life skills through a mathematical lens.

Elysia Jellema, Math and Science Teacher
Erin Klassen, Math Teacher
Amanda Lester, Math Subject Team Leader

Friday, 6 March 2015

Vernier Technology Takes Science Learning to a Whole New Level

Science teacher Julie Way explains how the implementation of the Vernier LabQuest 2 technology is providing Greenwood science students with unique opportunities to extend and enrich their learning.

Using probeware to measure temperatures inside three different
toy cars to compare the heat released from different road surfaces.
New to the Science Department this year, this interface is a stand-alone tablet that connects to various probes and sensors used to collect and analyze data. A wireless connection allows students to share their data so that it can be further analyzed on their own personal computers. The use of probeware enables students to deepen their understanding of abstract concepts and allows them to design and carry out experiments in ways not previously possible.

The LabQuest 2 has already been used at various grade levels for a wide range of experiments.

Grade 9 Physical and Chemical Properties: Temperature Probes

Earlier this year, while investigating physical and chemical properties, Grade 9 students used temperature probes to explore what happens when water boils and freezes. The heating and cooling curves visible on the display helped students understand that temperature remains constant during a phase change.

Our initial exploration of boiling and freezing points led to an extension activity for several students who in turn designed an experiment to explore the effect of salt concentration on the boiling point of water. Having sensitive temperature probes and the ability to save and export data allowed the students to fully experience the scientific method at work. The students compared initial trials and continued to modify the experimental design until a suitable plan was established. Even more valuable than coming up with a final conclusion was the process of reviewing the results and critically analyzing their experimental design.

Grade 10 Climate Change Project: Temperature Probe

As part of the climate change project in Grade 10 Science, one student chose to use the temperature probes and the LabQuest 2 to compare the amount of heat released from three different road surfaces.

Comparing the heat absorbed by different road surfaces
(asphalt vs. cement)
Her experiment was left running for the entire winter holiday, set to record the temperature every minute over this period of time; thus, she was able to collect a huge amount of data. A significant variation in the temperatures from the different surfaces was noted. This type of experiment would not be possible without this new technology.

Grade 12 Physics: Magnetic Field Sensors

The Grade 12 Physics class recently studied gravitational, electric and magnetic fields. Using the Magnetic Field Sensors, the LabQuest 2 and a Slinky, students were able to investigate how the magnetic field varies inside and outside a coil of wire when an electric current passes through it. This investigation also led to an interesting discussion of how the Earth's magnetic field might affect the data being collected.

Electromagnetism and magnetic field strength are abstract concepts that can be difficult to grasp, but the ability to accurately measure this invisible field and display it on a graph significantly helps students deepen their understanding.

As the Greenwood Science Department continues to explore the diverse range of Vernier applications, it becomes clear that the benefits to student learning and engagement are vast.

For more information on the LabQuest 2 and the Vernier Connected Science System, click here.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Personalized Extensions in Grade 7 and 8 Science

The core skills that science students need to develop are effective scientific inquiry and problem-solving. In Grade 7 and 8 science, we focus on helping students to build those skills. 

To ensure all students push their personal limits, they are challenged through individualized extensions. Opportunities to do so are provided on a variety of scales and embedded into the program to ensure each student is consistently and appropriately challenged.

During labs, students have extension opportunities that expand their critical thinking skills and help them connect the material to other subjects. In our Grade 8 "Systems in Action" unit, students are investigating the mechanical advantage of pulleys. Students have the opportunity to extend their learning by building increasingly complex pulley systems with various mechanical advantages. They may also link their learning to math by creating a graph comparing the actual and ideal mechanical advantages.

In Gr. 8 "Systems in Action," students can extend their learning
through integrated mathematics .
In the classroom, students can challenge themselves when completing practice problems. In the same Grade 8 "Systems in Action" unit, some students are extended by being given more difficult challenge questions to complete when determining the work and mechanical advantage of various systems. The challenge questions are designed to push the students' conceptual understanding and may require more advanced computational skills. The focus of these questions is on different practice, not more practice.

Personalized choice in projects allows students
to communicate their understanding using their
individual strengths
Science is also personalized through a choice in projects. To convey their knowledge of cell organelles and their appearance during the Grade 8 cells unit, students are given the choice to build an edible cell model or write a creative story that incorporates cell organelles. This choice between written and visual expression allows students to communicate their understanding of cell organelles using their individual strengths.

Extension opportunities are also delivered on a larger scale to ensure each student is consistently challenged. Last year, a Grade 7 student demonstrated a keen interest in science and the ability to quickly learn new concepts and scientific skills. To ensure she remained challenged, she was given the opportunity to learn Grade 8 Science that same year. A self-paced program was developed for her, in which she had reduced work for Grade 7 Science to allow her time to focus on the Grade 8 curriculum as well. This individualized approach gave her the opportunity to explore a subject she was passionate about on a deeper level, develop time management skills and foster independent learning skills.

Elysia Jellema
Teacher, Science and Mathematics

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Preparing Business Students for Postsecondary Case-Based Learning

One of the preferred teaching methods in postsecondary Business programs is to have students work in teams to analyze past business scenarios through case-based learning. In order to better prepare them for the challenges of case-based learning, all senior Business students at Greenwood participate in a school-wide case competition in April. Teacher Justine Lucas describes how this process works.

The Players
Each Grade 12 Business course participates in the competition. Classes include Accounting, Business Leadership, Economics and International Business.

In each Business course, teachers walk students though the Greenwood case attack method (similar to methods used in top Business programs) and have them complete 4-6 cases with increasing degrees of difficulty throughout the year. As students work through each case, teachers observe team dynamics, the degree of preparation and the creativity of the students' solutions. When working through the preliminary cases, students receive verbal and written feedback on their case process, their ability to work in teams and their presentation skills. As they get more comfortable with case analysis, students are formally evaluated on both the process and presentation of their analysis.

The Competition
The ultimate challenge comes on competition day. Students are stretched by these postsecondary level cases and by needing to work together to analyze them effectively and in a timely manner.

Students are given the case the night before to read and prepare for the next day. Teams are comprised of a mix of students from each of the business disciplines and announced the morning of the competition. Mixing up the teams allows students to make cross-curricular connections and show leadership in their area of expertise. Students spend the morning working with their new teammates to define their problem statement, develop alternatives and agree on the best solution. There is a quick break for lunch and then the teams are back at it, busy putting together and practicing their final presentations. The final piece of the competition involves each team presenting their ideas to a panel of judges made up of Business teachers and professionals. The teams have ten minutes for delivery and a question period from the judges.

The case competition is evaluated as a major assessment in each class. Students are evaluated individually on their contribution to the team, based on the role they play in the case team, as well as their presentation skills. A group mark is also assigned based on team cohesiveness, case analysis and presentation.

Many students see the case competition as a highlight of the senior Business curriculum. Amit Nofech-Mozes, a recent Greenwood graduate and winner of the 2014 case competition, remarked that "the case competition is a good representation of what a university student will have to do on a weekly basis in a Business program...It helped prepare me for the analysis and dynamics of working in a team."

Stay tuned for details of the 4th Annual Greenwood College School Case Competition, being held in April 2015.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Beyond the Flipped Lesson

The argument has been made that the flipped classroom changes the role of the teacher from “a sage on the stage” to a “guide on the side” (The Flipped Class: Myths vs. Reality) but is this really the case? I agree that the teacher’s role during class time resembles the “guide,” as the teacher doesn’t lecture and is free to address the problems of individual students.

However, it is misleading to suggest that the flipped classroom eliminates the teacher’s role as a “sage” because it doesn’t. With the flipped classroom, the role of the “sage” is simply transferred to a video.

For example, a typical video from a flipped science or math classroom often involves the presentation of a new topic followed by several sample problems. This approach is identical to what has been done for years in a traditional classroom with the teacher imparting knowledge to students. There are definite advantages to using videos and pushing lectures outside the classroom as it enables self-pacing and frees class time for additional activities.

However, this approach is not a radical shift from traditional teaching and continues to reinforce the traditional role of the student as a passive recipient of information.

A similar argument was adopted by Frank Noschese who examined the limitations of the Khan Academy and stated that progressive education is not about doing things better (i.e. the lecture) but about doing better things. Furthermore, he states that students need to be challenged to solve problems and create their own knowledge both as individuals and in groups … and this is a belief I share.

Personalized learning gives students control of their learning and requires them to be active participants in their education. Passive resources such as videos represent potential obstacles to achieving these goals.

For me, the issue isn’t the flipped classroom - as this is a technique I frequently utilize and will continue to utilize - but how to better engage our students with both our face-to-face time and our electronic resources.

One approach that supports personalized learning and improves student engagement is Problem-Based Learning (PBL), a technique developed in the late 1960s at McMaster University. With this approach, students and student groups are given a problem and required to synthesize a solution without first being given teacher resources, such as lecture notes or instructions.

Learning through this self-directed, cooperative approach is a process involving building on prior knowledge, problem solving, using critical thinking approaches and reflecting. This approach can be used to improve face-to-face activities, electronic resources and the flipped classroom.

A valid argument in favour of the video and flipped classroom is that it frees class time to engage students and promote higher order thinking. This is indeed one of the greatest strengths of the flipped classroom.

However, we need to examine the type of activities that are replacing the lecture. Speaking from my experience as a science teacher, many essential science activities could be improved by a shift in focus. For example, most labs found in textbooks are written like recipes and can be conducted with little understanding of the concepts being investigated.

Lab activities can be greatly improved if students are only given the purpose for the experiment and it is their responsibility to develop the procedure. A good approach to procedure design is to use a co-operative learning structure called a Clue Design Lab. With this structure, students are required to develop the procedure - but are allowed to request clues if they reach an impasse. With a little thought, most face-to-face activities and concepts can be presented using PBL.

Electronic resources can also adopt a PBL approach. Simulations are a great complement to a video and many simulations are freely available (as an example take a look those available from PhET). Instead of directly presenting the theory to students, simulations enable students to develop an understanding of underlying principles by solving a series of guided questions and tasks. The big difference with this approach is that the instruction starts with a problem, rather than ending with a problem.

While the flipped classroom is a technique that has improved my teaching, it does not inherently promote higher order thinking or student engagement. In order for flipped lessons to be effective, videos need to be utilized carefully. The role of the video should be similar to that of a textbook and act as a reference supporting the more important course activities that are conducted both online and in the classroom.

Kyle Acres
Science Teacher