Student Agency in Science Class

As I mentioned in a previous post, I have a teacher that has worked with me taking on a new student-centered approach to instruction in his classroom. At the forefront of his instructional strategy is that of giving his students a voice in how they learn in his class as well as agency in the way they explore scientific principles. The teacher has had some success in moving from his traditional methods of instruction to these student-approaches. He has also learned many lessons through these trial and tribulations in which he had discovered the structure necessary for such practices to be implemented effectively.

The last unit developed was the students’ discovery of metabolic reactions. While we were no longer engaged in a cycle, I was invited in from time to time to explore what students were doing as well as to help assess their finished project. Throughout his first time developing such a unit independently, there were many student achievements that were evident. I want to take a minute to celebrate the successes he had with this project.

Students went through many flipped lessons through Khan Academy focused on metabolic reactions. Each student stepped their way through the lessons of the unit. Assessment data was provided from the software giving the teacher the capability to analyze the data that was produced and to modify instruction to those students in need of individual attention. The teacher was able to pull students to the side and work with them in small groups when the data showed evidence that students were struggling to understand the content being covered.

Students were then stakeholders in how they would explore metabolic reactions. Through their exploration and research, students were able to choose a metabolic process with which to further experiment. Their collaboration with students in this process allowed them to focus on metabolic reactions. From this point, they began to plan how they would test their proposals. Students were given free rein to develop their scientific process on how to test their hypothesis. They were given the agency to decide for themselves how to demonstrate their understanding and were also challenged to defend their findings to the class.

Lessons Learned
While some students progressed well through the activity, many students struggled with understanding the goals and objectives along the way. For these students to be successful, they will require much more structure, while still maintaining student agency in the classroom. Throughout the course of this unit, there were many actions that could be taken in the future that would allow for these student goals to be achieved. This initial trial of these instructional strategies and the reflections thereafter will provide the framework for future lessons to focus on student inquiry.

Structure for the Future
We underestimated students’ ability to both analyze and construct their data using charts and graphs. To remedy this, we believe it should be a priority to do daily graphing/charting work leading up to this section and continue such activities throughout the semester.

As mentioned, there were many positives that were created from this unit; however, one of our greatest takeaways was the necessity to chunk such a large and comprehensive learning model into smaller sections. My view is that it is necessary to assign missions or challenges to the students that they have to complete. This allows the teacher the opportunity to schedule periodic “check-ins” with their students to do formative assessment as to their understanding of the content, their ability to demonstrate their knowledge and to verify they are hitting performance targets. Below are the missions that we developed for the past project for future use, as well as a roadmap for future units. These missions can provide structure to any unit going forward by substituting metabolic reactions with new content or skills.

The missions would go as follows:

Mission 1: Discovery of Content/Skill (example: Metabolic Reactions)

·         After each learning target has been met in the flipped learning environment such as Khan Academy, it is essential that each student is able to demonstrate their knowledge through modeling. Each example below should be modeled/demonstrated with manipulatives prior to learners moving on to the next step. This should also be done after each mission.

·         Examples:
o   Digestion
o   Respiration
o   Photosynthesis
o   Catabolism vs. Metabolism vs. Anabolism
§  Carbohydrates
§  Fats/Lipids
§  Protein/Amino Acids
o   Biosynthesis
o   Hormonal Regulation Metabolism

Mission 2: Research: Example: Choose a Metabolic Process or an organism to research its metabolic processes

o   Research how metabolic reactions take place in this species and allow it to survive?
o   Explain how it works
o   Model how it works/Demonstrate how it works
o   What happens through the course of the process if part of this process fails? How/why might this happen?
o   What questions do you still have?

Mission 3: Overview of Graphs and Data
o   Small group discussion on the collection of data for their project. What might it look like? Practice on the collection of data, graphing of data, charting data, analyzing data to reach a scientific conclusion.
o   Full class practice and discussion.

Mission 4: Inquiry-Based Testing: Example Topic: Organic Matter as the Building Blocks of Life

***Students need to check in with the teacher each step of this process***

While the scientific process can start on about any of the steps below, through analyzing data, asking questions, developing procedures, the flowchart below will assist students with the steps needed to perform the scientific method. Each step of the flowchart must be signed off by the teacher before progressing to the next step.

1.       Ask a question that can be tested through the scientific method. Have it approved by the teacher?
2.      Research the question. Has it been tested before? Is it something that could be replicated with the tools available within this building?
3.      What is your hypothesis?
4.      Develop a plan of action on what you would need to do to test your hypothesis
5.      Test
6.      Is the procedure working?
o   No – troubleshoot procedure and test again
o   Yes – Record Data
7.       Analyze Data and Draw Conclusions – Check in with the teacher to confirm
8.      Results – Do they align with the hypothesis?
o   Yes – Prepare for presentation to communicate results
o   No, or partially – Experimental data becomes the background for constructing a new hypothesis. Repeat steps 3-8

Mission 5: Graphs and Data creation to support your data collection
Using the skills acquired in previous missions, chart, graph, and analyze the data collected through the group’s scientific process. Confirm the data analysis process with the teacher and provide guidance on the meaning of their observations.

Mission 6 (If Applicable) Graphic Organizer/Outline of Research, Experiments, and Analysis
   o   Create an Outline

Mission 7: Create a Rough Draft (If Applicable)
   o   Using your research and outline, create a rough draft
   o   Have a student in your group review your research and findings
   o   Have a student in your group read your paper for quality
   o   Conference with the teacher about your rough draft

Mission 8: Build a Final Draft
o   Polish your rough draft into a final draft for publication.
o   Have group members peer review your paper and conclusions
o   Run your final draft through Grammarly
o   Find a way to publish your work beyond the classroom for others to see

Mission 9: Prepare your Defense Presentation
o   Using the data you have collected, charts for graphs developed as a group
o   Develop a presentation showing your findings, a demonstration, model, or video on how you achieved your results
o   Demonstrate a working knowledge of what you have discovered without using text in your presentation – graphs, charts, pictures, and graphic representations only. Your report should not be a regurgitation of what you found on the internet. You should have a complete and comprehensive understanding of your research.
o   What was your testable question?
o   Clearly identify your hypothesis
o   Elaborate on the scientific method and procedures used
o   Explain your results and whether they align with the hypothesis
o   Data analysis
o   Your conclusions based on this data?
o   Where would this presentation go next?

o   Students will be graded on the scientific process in which they engaged during the teacher check-ins.
o   Student understanding of the process and results of their experiment
o   Modeling/Demonstration of what they have learned
o   Research paper construction and scientific conclusions
o   Publishing of student work
o   Classroom defense of the group’s research

      I'm excited about our upcoming curriculum alignment meetings, and I am eager for this teacher to begin exploring & Implementing Next Generation Science Standards