I love giving students the opportunity to present in front of the class. Assignments that include presentations give students ownership over the information that they are disseminating to the class and it allows the rest of their classmates to learn something from someone other than the teacher.
This format is modified from a segment that occurs every year during the Ignobel Prize Ceremony. During the ceremony, experts are invited on stage to speak about their research or field of study. The twist is that they are limited in how much they are able to say. Each presenter is allowed to explain their topic twice: "First, a complete, technical description in 24 seconds, then a clear summary that anyone can understand in 7 words". They really mean business about that 24 second limit too. They even bring in a referee to blow a whistle and cut them off if they go over the time limit. I show my students the clip below for an example of what this entails.
For further inspiration, videos of all of the 24/7 lectures that are given during the ceremony each year are posted along with a transcription on the Improbable Research website - https://www.improbable.com/ig/24-7/
In an assignment form, I keep the spirit of this format pretty much the same. In addition to the 24 seconds, and 7 words, students must also display an engaging picture that represents their topic. To highlight this added requirement, I started calling these "photo/24/7" lectures. The Minnetonka Research Program added a fun little twist. Since a picture is worth 1,000 words, they refer to the assignment as a "1000/24/7" lecture.
The most unique part of this assignment is the format itself. To help outline the project, students receive the following outline.
1000/24/7 Lecture Must Include:
My favorite part of this format is the 7 word summary. I like to think of it kind of like a tagline and I encourage my students to have fun with it. Here are some examples from improbable.com.
At the end of the year, I have my students complete a project that I call "Predict the Future"
Predict the Future
For as long as humans have been around, they have been looking to the future and speculating what technologies might exist and what life might be like. Research some information and choose a technology to focus on.
Your topic should be something that relates to your future life somehow. If you have some idea of your career path or have a hobby that you are particularly passionate about, choose a technology that closely aligns.
Your presentation is three important segments:
24-second Presentation Must Include:
To give them an idea of how this looks for this project, I demonstrate with a quick example about Google's Project Loon:
24 Second Description:
Using giant balloons, Google’s “Project Loon” aims to provide internet access for the entire planet. The balloons hover on the edge of space and use the wind to navigate and create one large network.
This was tested in New Zealand in 2013 and a global network is in the works
It is hard control and maintain thousands of balloons at the farthest reaches of the sky, but if this project succeeds, people in even the most remote locations will have access to the internet and education.
7 Word Summary:
Internet Balloons mean that EVERYONE can Snapchat
Why is this Useful?
So, why is this quirky little presentation format useful? I have found in both written and oral research presentations, it is very tempting for students to spend their time find resources that match the requirements and lifting lightly reworded passages off of websites and directly into their reports. Because of this, I'm constantly looking for ways to developing assignments that necessitate rephrasing into a new voice. I write about another method I've used in my "Up-Goer Five" post where this goal is achieve by limiting the specific words that they can use. Using this 1000/24/7 lecture approach, I can encourage this revoicing by limiting the overall amount of words that they can include. This changes the conversation from "how much can I write?" to "what is important?" By imposing this restrictions, students need to be able to identify important information and be efficient in the way that they summarize this knowledge.
I would love to hear how others have used this 1000/24/7 format. If you have ideas to share please write them in a comment below so we can all learn from each other :)
What are the Goals?
Whenever I assign a topic for students to research and learn from, I always try to approach this with my goals in mind.
If the research project is successful I expect that my students
I have found that the typical research assignment that I have used doesn't always satisfy the last two on this list. Because of this, I have been excited to try new formats that place more emphasis on identifying important information and rephrasing this information to communicate meaning.
The Typical Research Assignment
A good example of a typical project that I have used in the past is as follows:
"In groups, research a source of energy and present your findings (how it works, pros/cons, etc.) to the rest of the class."
While, this approach allows students to have choice in what they are researching and provides opportunities to learn from others, there are some challenges. This research topic isn't exactly unique to my classroom and the internet provides a wealth of pre-assembled resources that allow students to satisfy the requirements without actually thinking about the content. For example, if a student needed to produce a list of pros and cons about wind energy, they just need to do a quick google search and find a website that has compiled this list for them to copy and paste rather than assembling this information themselves.
"Up-Goer Five" Format
Introducing this Idea
My favorite way to introduce this format is to show students this awesome Minute Physics / xkcd collaboration video describing "How to Go to Space" using only the 1,000 most common words. This video does an great job demonstrating just how much information can still be communicated with this limited language. It also gets students excited for the challenge because hearing complex ideas phrased in this way is just so darn entertaining!
So you may be wondering, if only the 1,000 most common words are allowed, how exactly does one go about confirming that this rule has been followed? I suppose, one could go through this exhaustive list comparing the words one by one but believe me, this task is hard enough already...
To make this challenge a little more manageable, Theo Sanderson created the "Up-Goer Five Text Editor". This web application has a text box that allows you to type out your message and, in real time, it checks each word that you type against the list of 1,000 words and underlines any results that don'f follow the rule. The result is a process that allows you to keep trying new combinations of words until the red underline goes away. I encourage you to try it out. What would it take to describe a concept that you normally define with a handful of key vocab words?
In the classroom, there are lots of opportunities for students to demonstrate that they understand the meaning behind an idea using this tool. It doesn't have to be a big project, it could take the form of an exit ticket, presentation slide, or classroom challenge. Here are a couple ways that we've utilized this format in our school:
Watching an hour of presentations can get tiresome for students and it is admittedly pretty easy to start losing interest after a while. With this final summary slide however, I have found that students are excited to hear what their classmates have come up with and are much more engaged as a whole. It adds a layer of humor to the presentation while still satisfying all of my goals for the assignment.
The Minnetonka Research Program uses the Up-Goer Five text editor to write their abstracts in two starkly different formats. As scientists, it is important to be able to communicate with a wide range of audiences with varying levels of expertise. These students are some of the top performers in the school and are typically very comfortable using the "fancy" language of science. This vocabulary limitation is especially challenging to adapt to such scientifically dense pieces of writing but the process of making this "translation" to Up-Goer Five language is really valuable. It requires the author to focus on how best to communicate meaning without using the key vocabulary. Check out the great example below to see how this student went about rephrasing her abstract to satisfy the rules.
On the surface, this technique can seem kind of silly and contrived. After all, no one ever really communicates in this way and true scientific writing has a very different set of rules. As I explain to my classes, I think this offers a different purpose than just producing a product. Putting together an "Up-Goer Five" write up is all about the process. Writing and rewriting until all of the words are accepted means that students are continually rephrasing their communication to convey the same meaning without mindlessly copying and pasting or using vocabulary words that they can't fully articulate. It reframes the purpose of this product from "What does it say?" to "What does it mean?". Listing out all of the terms from the unit in a paragraph doesn't mean you know what you are talking about but describing those same ideas using only the 1,000 most common words certainly does.
I would love to hear how others have used this "Up-Goer Five" format. If you have ideas to share please write them in a comment below so we can all learn from each other :)
“I don’t want to just teach you science in this class. I want to teach you how to be a powerful learner”
Inspired by a workshop in Complex Instruction that I was introduced to by the Knowles Fellowship, I am focusing again this year on implementing three "actionable norms" in my classroom: Work Persistently, Communicate Productively, and Take Risks. I really like this list because it is simple, group-centered, and easy to positively reinforce. I also appreciate how all of these are framed as actions that students SHOULD do rather than actions that students SHOULD NOT do.
There are many ways that these norms can be presented, defined, and applied to situations. To help my students grasp the categories a little better, this is how I unpacked the norms. I find it helpful to explicitly state things that I'm looking for and listening for that show me the norms are being followed. This helps provide easy actions for students to try and allows a framework for the stamp quizzes described later in this post.
Working through challenges especially when it is tough
Sharing ideas clearly using gestures, pictures, etc. OR listening closely and asking, pushing or explaining
Moments you appreciated others taking risks. Offering an idea before you are sure or asking when unsure.
I summarized these unpacked norms into posters that I hang up at the front of my classroom. Feel free to download, modify, and use :)
Actionable Norms - "Stamp Quiz"
One great way to highlight actionable norms in the classroom is by implementing a technique called a "stamp quiz". This isn't something that I use a lot in my class but it has definitely been a great way to give value to the part of the task that isn't graded.
After the task, it's good to reflect on how the norms were present. These discussion starters are a good way to turn the conversation to the students.
Practicing Actionable Norms in First Week -
I spend most of the first week of school introducing these actionable norms one day at a time with group challenges and introductory activities
Complex Instruction at Stanford - Some excellent resources about complex instruction and all of the other great methods besides actionable norms that are part of this teaching philosophy
Equitable Groupwork - Great resources about actionable norms and their use in groupwork
Complex Instruction in Science Course - A Knowles Academy course focusing on complex instruction and it's use in a science classroom (many of the other resources out there are for math)
Examples of Complex Instruction Tasks
Goals for Writing Breakout Task
As a content teacher in high school, I knew that if I was going to find a place for Breakout Tasks in my classroom, I would need to find a way to satisfy two primary goals
Ultimately, the goal is to design clues that guide students to the combinations or keys for the different locks. This could be a 3 or 4 digit number combination, word combination, or hiding place for a key. BreakoutEDU has some great videos describing techniques for writing clues. I have compiled some of my favorite techniques below:
QR Code Generator - https://www.qr-code-generator.com/
It is useful to think about the flow of the task as you are figuring out how the individual clues will interact with each other. I have found that it helps to visualize this flow in a diagram like the one below to detail the Energy Breakout that I wrote:
In this process diagram, you can see that some clues, like the QR codes on the top lead directly to the combination for one of the locks while others require information hidden elsewhere like the small lock box before they can be solved.
As I mentioned above, I have found that the group work is the most effective if the task includes some "divide and conquer" moments. In the energy task flow shown above, the students have 7 separate cards that they can work on right away and anther 6 once they open up the small lock box.
Thinking about the flow is important in designing a rich groupworthy task. It allows you to ensure that there are some parallel options that give students choice without many bottlenecks that place too much pacing importance on a single clue.
There are many different techniques that you can use to mix things up so that using multiple tasks with a class throughout the year doesn't start feeling repetitive
If you have ever been to an escape room, you've seen that there is usually some sort of story that goes along with the task of "break out of the room". These stories help provide motivation and excitement to the task. For the breakouts that I have designed I have decided to focus solely on the content and clue design rather than writing an integrated storyline. If I had more time, I would love to add this sort of layer but I would recommend starting with the task itself and build that out first.
If you have already done a few breakout tasks with your class and want to raise the challenge, consider adding some clues that don't actually lead anywhere. That way they can get more practice with the content and take a little more time trying to figure it all out :)
The Logistics in a Classroom
Lots to Set Up
As you might imagine, getting 8 sets of breakout boxes ready for a class is a pretty big task. Although it makes more work up front, I have found that laminating all of the clues makes for less work overall. This encourages students to write more with dry erase markers and makes it so that you don't have to have fresh clues ready to go for every single section of the day. It should also make it a little less work when you pull out the materials in future years. So, find some colleagues to help out and have a little party as you cut out clues and update lock combos :)
Lots to Reset
Having so many groups working on individual breakout boxes also makes it challenging for any classes that meet back to back. While it wouldn't be too hard to reset one or two boxes during passing time between classes, it isn't feasible to try to do them all yourself. Instead, I have found a lot of success in having students reset their own boxes when they finish. To ensure that they do this correctly, it works well to put together a set up diagram of Reset Instructions to guide them along. Below is an example of the reset instructions for my Circuits Breakout.
Communicating and Sharing
One final step for your task is to share it with others! These activities truly are a bunch of work to design but it is all worth it when someone else can also benefit from the work that you've done :)
In communicating these tasks through my blog, I've developed an outline that others have found helpful in understanding and implementing these ideas. The links below contain a template that can be used to help with the creation process or just document so that others (colleagues, friends, other teachers online) can learn about your brilliance :)
Example Breakout Tasks
One easy way to get started is to modify a pre-existing breakout task to work with your context. For example, you could take the same process and general set up to create a math task out of my Circuits Breakout. You could either design problems that fit the numbers that I used or just use the structure and make your own combinations.
"Spreadsheet savvy" served me well in college and beyond and even though there are many many professionals that use tools like Microsoft Excel and Google Sheets daily, it hasn't been a skill that we have made much time for in our curriculum. A major reason for this has been the fact that I teach in a 1:1 iPad school and as most science teachers will tell you, the spreadsheet capability of these devices has been extremely limited. That is, until the recent arrival of the Microsoft Excel app. While the app still isn't the fully equipped version that one can find on the computer, it finally provides my students to the tools in a way that it can demonstrate the value of this real world skill.
Note about Accessibility
While all of the features needed for the activities we designed shouldn't require anything more than a basic account, our students had trouble saving the pre-made Excel files unless they had a Office 365 account. Luckily for us, our school just set up Office 365 so we were able to continue forward without too much disruption. Microsoft makes this access available for free but the school has to enroll first. More information can be found here. I should also state that these same lessons would work well on desktop Excel too!
Opening and Saving a Worksheet
To help my students get the hang of Excel's features without focusing our attention on the formatting details, I put together a series of worksheets saved as different tabs with examples and data for the class to work through. With these files, the first step of course is for students to download an editable copy of this file to use as their starting point.
Step 1: Open up the Link
When students click on the link, they should be able to open the file into Microsoft Excel. Unless they save a copy on their iPad, they will be confined to "Read Only" mode which is pretty much worthless when the goal is to practice editing these files. There will be a yellow Read Only banner that allows them to Save a Copy.
Step 2: Save a Copy
With Office 365, student will have options to save the file to their OneDrive Cloud. We found it easiest for this project if students just saved the files to their iPads. This way, it is easily accessible later on if they ever need to refer back to it.
Follow the links below to get details and materials for the rest of this 4-day unit on Excel
Father, Physics Teacher, Knowles Fellow, Friend, Techie, and Musician