Click here to find out more about our project. Essentially, we paired up with a teacher and his Chem 30 classroom to hold video conferences with scientist working in current science related jobs.
This post is to take you through the success and possible road blocks that you might run into when trying to connect your students to people outside the classroom. Although I specifically write in the context of a science classroom, these ideas can be applied on a larger spectrum of subjects.
1) What is your focus?
Are you focused on career exploration, science content or both? Is video conferencing with a scientist going to lead you into a section of content? Is it going to conclude a section of content? What do you want the students to learn from this experience?
2) What kind of scientist is going to be the right fit for you?
a) Try to make a curriculum connection. During our project, the class we were working with was doing a solution chemistry unit. To connect to this we wanted to find scientists working in water quality (sediment, dissolved metals and minerals) and someone in potash (Saskatchewan emphasis, specifically solution potash mining).
b) Don’t stress about the direct curriculum connection. One bump in the road during this project was trying to find a scientist with a direct link to what the students were doing in class. In our situation, students were learning about chlorine in water and calculating the values of free and total chlorine in a sample. Originally, we wanted to bring in a scientist that monitors chlorine in our drinking water, so there would be a direct match to what they were learning. We found it near impossible to find someone with this direct correlation so we opened our minds. In the end, students ended up speaking with a scientist who monitored water quality in bodies of water near new industrial developments. Her job was to ensure that work in industry was not hurting the surrounding ecosystems. Her job involved biology and ecology as well as chemistry. Even though she did not discuss chlorine, there were many other connections made to what the students had already learned, and were about to learn.
3) Where do you find scientists?
a) Twitter. Use the power of social media. A success we had was following and tweeting with Universities all over the world. Universities are focused on both scientific research and education so most of the time they are more than willing to invest in your students.
b) Companies. We found that large companies were really interested in working with us. These companies are invested in their image to the public, so the chance for them to talk about what they do is important to them. They want to talk their positive impacts on society, economy and the environment. They also want to encourage students to look to careers in science, because they will always need scientists working for them!
c) about.me is a website where people can make a profile that encompasses all their social media connections and websites. This makes it very easy to find someone appropriate for your classroom. Simply type in key words into the search bar at the top of the page and you will be scrolling through scientist profiles in no time! Their contact information is usually directly on that page.
d) Classroom 2.0 and Educators PLN are two personal learning networks for teachers. You can make a profile and easily connect to other teachers who are video conferencing with scientists too! The wonderful thing about technology is, if you have classes at the same time, scientists can three way conference with your classroom and another.
4) Prep your students. Prep your scientist.
Video conferencing can be an awkward experience at first. It is odd to communicate over a screen, but I promise you that your students are more comfortable talking to a screen then you are, so let the experience flow.
a) To decrease the awkward pauses I encourage you to prep your students by having them brainstorm questions for their presenter. You can go about this in anyway you like, but here is an example of how we went about it for our project. Ensure your students know who is responsible for asking which questions.
b) I prefer an interview style video conference where the students and the scientist talk back and forth, simulating a more authentic conversation. If you prefer a more presentation style conference, where your students listen and the scientists speaks, that will work too! Be sure your presenter is prepared for either direction. If your students will be doing an “interview” style conference, give the questions to the presenter in advance. If the scientist is doing a presentation, be sure that you ask for any power points and pictures in advance.
c) Test your technology with your chosen presenter a few days in advance. I suggest you try it in the same room that you will be doing the real conference in. Do the mics work? Can students at the back of the classroom hear? Can the presenter hear students asking questions from the back of the room?
5) What technology should I use?
I would always err on the side of what is comfortable for your presenter if possible. You will probably be the more tech savvy individual so try to work with them. I am going to go through the positives and negatives of the two video conferencing giants as I see it. I clearly have a bias towards one.
-Skype will work on any mobile device (app) or desk top computer.
-Multi-way video conferencing costs money. You will not be able to Skype in more then one presenter or classroom.
-You must download Skype on to your computer or phone before you can use it. Most schools have restrictions on downloading without the sign off of a principal or technician.
-I find that Skype will drop calls, or the audio and visual can get choppy and begin to lag.
– No need to make a new account. An account will be made off whatever exiting email you would like to use.
– You do not need to download anything! It will run right off the internet page in Chrome, IE, Firefox and Safari. If you have any questions about the system requirements, I would refer you to this page.
– You can add other callers to muti-way conference at no cost.
– Superior visual and audio
– Broadcasting option: you can broadcast your conference to whoever you would like. They do not get to participate in the conversation, but they can watch and listen to what is happening.
– if you have something to add to this list let me know
a) Scroll up to the top of this post, see #1? Did you accomplish what you wanted to?
b) Have your students do some sort of evaluation. Whether or not you choose to grade this is up to you. We had our student do fast writes based on prompts and we also had them to fast talks on their cell phones. It is important to know id this is working for your class or not. Are they reaching the goals that you wanted to focus on in #1? You won’t know until you ask!
You can see our video reflection of our project here. It also includes student reflections.
Just Dive In! Get your classroom connected to the world! It may be uncomfortable for you to email strangers and ask them to video conference with you but it is worth it. If there is one thing I learned during this project, it is that people really want to help you. You will see more benefit for your students then I can even begin to tell you here.
It sounds like it is the perfect time to give you a Gather and Gab update. To tell you the truth, I’ve been neglecting our twitter page, @gathergab. This is because Miss. Rogers and I have been working so hard on the other aspects of this project! We used our twitter page to connect with a Chemistry teacher (@Mr_Gullacher) from Regina who is passionate about authentic hands on learning. In the short time I have worked with him I am already inspired by his approach to student learning.
So here is where we are at:
1) We met with Paul at his school and talked about the type of topics that he was going to be covering in his class, so that we could make as many connections as possible. His students were going to beginning the solutions unit so we begin to aim our hunt for scientists working in water quality and solution potash mining.
2) It was important to Paul, for us to be as successful as possible, that we spend a decent amount of time introducing the students to the topic and helping them to develop questions to ask our presenter. So we scheduled two days, one to introduce the ideas, and one to Skype the scientist and wrap it up.
3) Kelsey has to be given credit for finding our perfect scientist match. Kim from Golder in Saskatoon is a scientist that is hired by industrial companies to ensure that they are not polluting water past the standards of the government regulations. Her job is on sight and doing initial testing, so her job combines the sciences of chemistry, ecology and biology.
4) We spent one class with the students talking to them about the project and getting their brains flowing about topics that surround water quality. We put four broad stroked questions on the board and the students answered them on sticky notes and then the students grouped their sticky notes into topics. This was our way to test for pre requisite knowledge and see what gaps they had, so we could develop some questions to ask Kim. They were responsive and willing to participate, which was very encouraging.
5) Tomorrow, we will ask for volunteers to ask Kim the questions that we brain stormed. We will Skype with her and then we have planned a wrap up activity. It is important to Paul, Kelsey and I that we need to assess if learning happened, or else we need to consider serious changes for when we do this again in two weeks.
6) Kelsey and I decided to have them do some reflective writing. This way, if their teacher would like to mark it, he can. We decided to do two fast writes, on two different levels of thinking (Bloom’s Taxonomy). A fast write is a piece of writing were students are required to do nothing but just keep writing, no matter what comes to their mind, keep writing. We are not concerned about spelling or grammar, we just want them to get their thoughts on paper, with no pressure.
The first fast write will be 2 minutes, and we will give them the following prompts:
1. Something new I learned is…
2. Something I found interesting was…
3. One way this connects to something I am learning in science is…
The second fast write will be 4 minutes, and we will give them the following prompts:
1. Reflect on your contribution to declining water quality…
2. The drive to better Saskatchewan’s economy has a direct impact on water quality because…
3. I agree/disagree that industry should be held to a standard that ensures SK bodies of water remain clean. Explain
Kelsey and I spent about 40 minutes deriving these prompts. That is 80 minutes of brain power between us, for 6 prompts! But we wanted them to be meaningful, open, hit various levels of thinking and connect to the questions that the students had formed. It shows just how important good questions are.
I am excited to see what our first Skype session brings us tomorrow. Stay tuned for an update of the successes and challenges that I am sure are to come.
For me, one of the best parts about teaching science, is the numerous resources we have to bring real, applicable and current science into the classroom. This year, the Saskatchewan Government has rolled out new Science 20 curriculum that is being piloted by teachers across Saskatchewan. The new curriculum focus’ on health, environmental, and physical science. These new plat forms allow students to explore science in a way that is meaningful to them, by exploring current technology, career options and scientific advances in the news under these broad topics.
Kelsey Rogers and I have decided to focus our major project in #ECMP455 on something that we will find useful in the future. We have come up with the concept of Gather and Gab. We want to gather teachers in the area of science and connect them with science experts to bring the world into their classroom. We are hoping that through the power of our twitter page, @gathergab we can connect teachers who want to skype with people working in science so that their students can explore careers in the field that they are studying in class. To me, this looks like nurses and pharmacists skyping with a health science class or a civic science organization such as Nature Watch tweeting back and forth with an environmental education class.
Our first step in this project involves your help! First, follow us on twitter so that we can connect Saskatchewan teachers to science professionals who will enhance the learning environment for their students. Technology is about bringing the world into our classrooms and that is what this project is about.
Our main goal is to find a Saskatchewan teacher who is piloting either the health science or environmental science curriculum. Not only do we want to start an online community for connecting professionals in the fields of science and education, but we want to see if we can make it work in a real classroom setting! We are looking for one teacher to work with us to see how these ideas work, we were thinking that we could find four professionals to skype (or other methods) with your classroom over the course of four weeks. We want to be flexible and see if we can add something to your classroom by allowing your students to explore careers in the field they are studying. If you or anyone you know is interested, haven them contact us through twitter, @randiklassen, @kelseywilk, @gathergab or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We look forward to connecting with you!