Sunday, January 24, 2010

Human Organ Systems Web Pages--The Project

We recently finished our first 'Web Page" project.   It was a useful project to capitalize on student interests, learn useful interpersonal and computer and research skills along with the biology content knowledge.  It is of course not a 'silver bullet' to learning human organ systems and had it's ups and downs.
Important features of this project include:
  1. Students worked (ideally) in groups of 3 or 4--that is, 'table groups'.  For various reasons there was a 'group' of one and a couple with two students.
  2. We all had studied the respiratory system together, thus, I was able to use this system to:
    1. create a Sample Web Page to serve as a model for the project. 
    2. I also created a page in the same plone folder called, "Web Page Description" which described the information that needed to be included in each part.
  3. The web page was on the human organ system of their choice.
  4. The page was divided by 7 headers into sections, each requiring certain info.  The headers used some color as a background providing color and structure to the page.
  5. Upon choosing their system, each team got 7 sheets of 'scrap' paper, and at the top of each wrote the PxTy (Period x, Table y) identifying info and then wrote the name of each of the 7 headers from the web page.  All group members then spent 2 days looking for information to put on those pages.
    1. As information sources (besides the teacher and each other) they had 2 computers per table, and Biology text books, either in Spanish and also in English.
    2. I provided the class with a page full of links, divided up into sections based on the particular organ system.  I encouraged students to start with the links which involved more visual, engaging web pages.  I needed to better label these links, though.
    3. For the students with lower reading skills, I taught them to find an, 'introductory' text, read a paragraph, then re-read it and work to decide on which page that information could go, write it down in their own words (needed to emphasize this more!), read the next paragraph and repeat...
    4. I needed to emphasize the page for collecting 'vocabulary words' for the concept map, more than I did to provide the concept mapper with the words needed.  Maybe adding on a definition and page number/web address would have been great, too, yeah.
  6. After the 2 days when all had researched and recorded info, the team divided itself into the following roles:
    1. One student was the web-master
    2. One student was the Concept Mapper
    3. One or 2 students, as available, were the 'book researchers'.
  7. Students spent the next 5 days doing their job, the web master creating the web page, the concept mapper creating the concept map which was then to be dragged into the web page by the web master; the book researcher continued to find info as needed to further fill out the 7 sheets, and help the other two team mates to do their job.  At the end of each day, the team would collect the papers and I would stack the paper so they were easy to store and hand out the next day.
  8. The web masters had several helper pages (flow map-ish looking page of stages and steps) showing them how to create, edit, share and tag their page.  I had made a folder on our plone site: Home/Teams/Px/Table Projects/Organ System Web Pages/Tx.  In other words each table had it's own folder in which to put their stuff.
  9. The concept mappers had a helper page  to get them started.  They pretty much knew their job.
  10. The book researcher had access to the text book, either in English or Spanish.  Of course it would have been nice to also have it in Oromo and Somali as well :)  The text book had a section on each organ system.
  11. At the start of class I would often have a mini-meeting of all the web masters, for example, showing them some resource or some skill.  I would do this with each group of people who shared a particular role.  This worked quite well.
  12. I spent much of the rest of the time helping people do their job, understand some concept, helping students resolve interpersonal issues, redirecting students, helping solve technological issues and always cracking jokes and encouraging!
  13. Effort was assessed by:
    1. individual and team rating of each person on the team.  I should have made an '8th sheet' where a table containing individual and team ratings of individual effort was recorded daily.
    2. I assessed individual effort by looking at the product each student created: Web page, concept map and team set of notes.  The weakest assessment was of the book researcher role.  I checked their contributions on the 7 note pages--I pretty easily recognize handwriting at this point of the year, but they also had a key role in helping the concept mapper and web master.  Maybe I should have their individual effort grade been more based on the above-mentioned (13-1) daily evaluations?
    3. A measurement of team success was represented by their grade on the web page.  I graded each team's web page on meeting required criteria of complete and clear information provided in students' own words,
Overall, how did it work?
  1. Kids thought this was a cool project, it was motivating and students pretty much had the system of their choice and that was important.
  2. There was ample space for formative assessment each day.  This informed my 'mini work-group' meetings at the start of the following days (and classes later on in the day!).
  3. A technological issue cropped up in the middle where some student accounts became corrupted during their work (never found out why) and so they were able to work but if they had to use the menu to save their work they were hosed.  It took me a few days to recognize this growing problem in the end there were about 10 affected students. I had a work around with some temporary student accounts.  Thanks to the help of alkisg at #edubuntu I was able to solve it (after 4-6 hours of my time) by re-initiating all students gconf by putting a script in students xdg/autostart (I think it was) folder.  Also, some web masters didn't get that to save the page they had to scroll to the bottom and click on the save button, not go to the file menu and select 'save' or 'save as'.
  4. I needed to emphasize task completion.  People and teams got really spread out and this was confusing and seemed to exacerbate this problem.  A technique I figured out years ago for doing big team/class project (but seem to have forgotten in all the school-closing in which I've had the bad luck of being involved) addresses this problem.  The idea is, work for 2 or 3 days in the week, maybe Wed. Thurs. Fri. on the project.  Then, students need to do the work to catch up if they 'fell behind' over the weekend or if they didn't then they are required to stay after school on Mon and/or on Tues. to catch up to where they are supposed to be.  This way (ideally) all students start together at the same place again on Wed.  On Monday and Tuesday, students learn content/skills that further capacitates and motivates them to continue on with their project.  This isn't a silver bullet either, but it helps and this accountability causes more serious effort on Wed-Fri!
  5. I would have liked to have included a summative assessment on content specific to each Organ System studied by the team.  This would require a lot of set up time but once all of the assessments were constructed, it would be great.
  6. Overall, I feel like this project had a lot of room for improvement and am looking forward to teaching it next year.  Also, I will build off the successes and lessons learned on this experience for our next project!

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