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Mike Miedlar teaches high school environmental science and is currently in a synchronous online format. His district is currently in the process of moving to a hybrid online-in person format.
While online instruction has continued to present its own challenges, from the start of the year I wanted to model as much of our normal classroom routine as possible. In a normal year there is a large emphasis on student talk and data analysis. Instead of posing a question to an individual, I almost exclusively use turn and talk questions to get as many students actively answering as possible. I use music as a classroom management tool. Students quickly learn that when the music starts it is their chance to discuss the question with a partner or group. When the music stops, the conversation ends, and I take a minute to share the good things I heard and clarify misconceptions. This keeps energy up and engagement high.
At the start of the school year, I struggled with how to model this questioning structure in an online format. I also quickly began to miss the individual interactions with students. The quick side conversations about last Friday’s football game, the band competition, or weekend event were missing. I started to address both questioning and interaction issues with one simple solution outlined below.
Preparation – collect student images, disperse throughout presentation
In our ecology unit, students use data from peer-reviewed journal articles to describe interactions between organisms. This requires thoughtful analysis of eight individual graphs and two smaller data sets. A few days in advance of the lesson, I asked students to upload an image that told something about themselves or had an interesting story. They were also informed that these pictures would be shared with the class. I used a simple Google Form to collect the images.
Next, I added one student image per slide to a Google Slides presentation. Between each student image slide I inserted a new slide with a graph or question.
Lesson outline – data analysis group discussion, shared whole class response
For the first 15 minutes of the lesson students used this protocol to discuss the eight individual graphs and collaborate on a shared summary document within breakout rooms. After everyone rejoined from the breakout rooms, I opened the presentation with student images and graphs. When a student’s picture would appear on the screen, they’d share their quick story and explain the graph or answer the question that followed.
One thing I liked about this format is that it took a softball-meatball questioning format. Students were more than happy to jump in and talk about themselves and share their picture. They then seemed more willing to dive into the depths of the graph or following question. While graphs and data get me excited, I realize that few share this odd enjoyment. The student images provided light heartened variety to what would have otherwise been a long, highly academic discussion of data.
While the set-up was relatively quick, it could be automated. I haven’t taken the time to write it yet, but a short Google AppScrip could automatically add the student picture to a Google Slides presentation with a blank slide in between or it could be automated without a single line of code using Zapier….but we’ll leave those for another day.