Saturday, December 18, 2010

Getting from Pre-Testable Question to a Testable Question

I started classes by showing a pre-testable question from period 5, specifically chosen by me for its relevance to the interrelationship between plants and animals, specifically the carbon/oxygen cycle.  The title of the lesson was this question: "How are Plants and Animals related?"

I call this pre-testable because it asks about a relationship but needs to be more specific to actually be useful.  This can be turned into a more-specific, 'testable question' through a process of creating a hypothesis, and creating a question (i.e. testable question) to test that hypothesis

Thus, a pre-testable question is too general to be useful but can inspire hypothesis which then lead to a usable testable question.  The example above, "How are plants and animals related?" leads to many hypothesis.  I've highlighted hypothesis in yellow then indented testable questions indented under each hypothesis.  While I've included some more natural-language questions, others use the more explicit, "Focus Question Template" of, "How does ___ affect the ___ of ___?".  This template is powerful, learn to use it and create experimental questions at will!  I've also stated some questions in both forms.
  1. Animals eat plants.
    1. What's the favored part of a birch tree for deer? or... How does location on tree affect deer foraging?
    2. How does species of plant affect foraging by cows outside of Guatemala city?
    3. What part of anacharis do snails prefer to eat?
      1. Snails favorite part of anacharis to eat is the youngest part, the growing tip.
        1. How does age of anacharis part affect feeding by snails in aquarium?
  2. Plants use animals for seed dispersal.
    1. Which animals are most important for seed dispersal?
    2. How important are cows for the dispersal of Guanacaste species?
  3. Animals require the oxygen that plants produce.
    1. How does species affect the amount of oxygen produced by plants?
    2. How does amount of leaf surface area affect amount of oxygen produced by banana plants?
    3. How does light intensity level affect the amount of oxygen produced by spider plants?
It is evident as shown in hypothesis 1, question 3 above that there is a possible spiral relationship between hypotheses and questions, gaining specificity at each cycle.  Through this process of developing testable questions, students created many different questions and experiments, all to gain further insight on the carbon-oxygen cycle.

      Tuesday, December 14, 2010

      Setting up the design of a wordpress 3 multi site for Knowledge Building with FLE4

      It has taken a bit to come to grips with the WordPress 3 system of sites, most of the trials and tribulations haven't ended up on this blog, thankfull :).  In this post I intend to present organized tips on setting up a WordPress site for knowledge building with the FLE4 plugin.  I've already given some advice on setting up the site: initial installation and optional customization of FLE4 plugin and further first steps: setting up 'sites' i.e. blogs, for each teacher (1 site/blog per class).  The advice below addresses various other issues of setup and using it for knowledge building.

      Use a standard theme.  I do recommend using the WordPress 2010 theme: it's simple, nice looking and works and if you need help troubleshoot issues on the forums at wordpress it eliminates a bunch of possible issues.

      Create a naming system for your multi-site installation.  I've come up with this formula for naming the sites: teacherpx. Where "teacher" is the Teachers last name, and "x" is the Period number.  For example: groosp1, groosp2, groosp4... and turnerp1, turnerp2, turnerp3 etc.  Note the use of lower case: that is more standard for web addresses.

      Use and set up of a site (remember, 1 site per class)
      One strategy (not 'the best one' just one of several that can be made to work) for each science 'unit' such as 'Structure and Function of Cells' is to create a few essential questions centered around the major concepts and skills used and issues addressed by the scientists who research that particular area of study.  For this unit on cells I've used:
      1. What do cells need?
      2. Why is knowledge of cells important?
      3. How do cells interact with other cells?
      4. What kinds of cells are there?
      5. How do we learn about cells?
      6. How do cells work?
      7. What are the relationships between an organism and it's cells?
      8. What is the structure of a cell?
      Each of these questions becomes the title of a separate post.  Next, groups of students volunteer to 'champion' one of those posts, that is, take primary responsibility that that particular question or problem gets answered/solved.  In my class, groups correspond to tables of 3-4 students.

      Add navigation custom menus for each unit.  It was awesomely difficult to find instructions on how to create custom menus to navigate the posts on the blog but there they are :).  Specifically, I create a new category for the unit, such as "Cells", then associate this category with each of the unit-specific posts (corresponding to the 8 questions mentioned above, for example).  In the example below you can see I've made 2 menu items, Cells and KB.  By adding this category to the menu, when someone clicks on the menu cells, then it will take you to a page that has only those posts that are associated with the Cells category.
      Note the menu item, "Cells" under the heading image.

      Next, you add the posts you want to appear in the menu.  Follow the direction on the link to the how-to given above.  Then, when you hover over the menu all those items appear.  Below is an example of when one hovers over 'Cells' the post:
       I also edit the widgets to get rid of Non-essential visual info, only leaving the 'search', 'meta' and 'recent comments' widgets.

      And for the base blog site the only widget I use is a custom one.  In the menu section in themes I create another menu and call it "Classes".  Then I add custom urls that direct to the dashboard of each site.  Thus, when a student clicks on it he or she is taken directly to the login page for his or her site.  Below is a screen shot showing how my main site looks, showing the 'search' and 'Login to your Class' Site' widgets.

      These are most of the edits I make.  And you probably saw I uploaded a custom header--I like papayas :)