student work

Empowerment for students who teach

The IB courses are all two years in length. So the challenge arises at the end of two years to help students review for the entire course. Each student has different strengths regarding what he or she recalls from the two-year journey. Each student has his/her own favorite topics and individual weaknesses regarding what understandings are still incomplete. So, every year I face the task of making the review time most beneficial to the entire group of individuals.

One of my favorite approaches is the mini lesson. The students are expected to pick a topic they find especially difficult or that they know remains weak for them. They select specific assessment statements from that topic and prepare a lesson for the rest of the class.  Assessment is based on their ability to engage the class with their lesson by including an activity and not focusing on a lecture alone (as I have modeled for them for two years through my own instructional approach) as well as their accuracy in understanding of the topic.

The goal is to have the presenter transform an academic weakness into a strength as well as to provide the rest of the class with a productive review on a specific topic.

Student creativity is amazing. They create board games, note-taking sheets, crossword puzzles, and jeopardy games to engage their classmates in an active review.

The first presenter set the bar high as she has clearly understood the goal of this task. She has studied her topic with intensity and has become an expert. In fact, I marvel at her presentation and the ease with which she speaks of the intricacies of spermatogenesis and oogenesis. She can answer spontaneous questions from her peers. Mastery has been achieved.

“So, how has this exercise helped you?”

“Oh, it’s helped me so much! I know if I get a question about this on Paper 2, I will select it.” A topic she once would have steered clear of has now become one she hopes to see on her IB exam.

Another presenter has created a board game that her peers eagerly become involved with. Their competitive nature kicks in as they desire victory and want to land on those “candy spaces” which could earn them a  mini-snickers bar if they answer the question correctly. The presenter doesn’t even need to look at the answers as she has mastered the topic and can tell her peers if they are correct or not. The other students stop and ask questions and clarify points and try to commit ideas to memory.

Eventually everyone presents and I am left amazed at how far they have come. I wish we could do this for every one of their learning gaps, but alas, there is not time for that. As we near the end of the school year I wish everyone happy reviewing!

Sometimes, in the moment, it’s just too much. So, take a break!

It is the end of the day. It’s Friday. There are 30 minutes of school remaining. The entire class is a bit late, probably because of some other IB deadlines. They literally straggle in and plop down in their seats. An atmosphere of exhaustion hangs in the air. I know one student is operating on 20 minutes of sleep from the night before.

Making mug racks for part of a CAS project

Earlier in the day these four delivered their CAS presentations. Each presentation was full of activities that the student participated for their Community Action and Service (CAS) portion of their IB program. Impressive was the volume of activities each individual participated in over the past two years. Noteworthy was each individual reflection on his/her involvement, struggles, and what was learned from the experiences. They allowed themselves to be vulnerable, not necessarily an easy task for 16-18 year olds.

In addition to the CAS presentations, the day had been filled with final submissions for internal assessments, Extended Essays, and Theory of Knowledge essays for the IB.  I had perused the Extended Essay titles that morning: what an impressive stack of work. This pile of papers was evidence of what these students have recently produced. It represents long hours, late nights, and commitment to their studies.

IA work

I know the quality of the Biology Internal Assessments. My class has exceeded my expectation by actually heeding my advice over the last two years! They accepted and applied feedback throughout the course. Then, as they prepared their final internal assessments, they helped each other out, pouring over the rubrics and giving feedback to each other as they each finalized their work.  With pride those papers will be put in the mail to be sent off for moderation. Having worked with the students closely, it is clear they put forth their best effort, challenged themselves, struggled, and stretched themselves. And, they thereby grew from the process.

Here they sit. Wiped out. Without a doubt, the plans I have for review are, in this moment, too much. I suggest they can just go home and rest (especially the one with only 20 minutes of sleep) or they can relax for a couple of minutes. The 20-minute guy, who lives literally across the street from the school, replies, “I think I’ll just chill here for a few minutes” and then I realize he’s too tired to even cross the street right now!

I think it was this time last year, when my own children were going through the IB, that I wrote a post questioning whether the IB is worth it.  Right now, all over the world IB students are feeling the crunch and pressure of the rigor of the program.

So, we just take a step back. They share their hopes for university, their favorite form of exercise, and their summer plans. And it feels really good. Their curved shoulders straighten a bit. They smile. And in 30 minutes they are ready to move again. Their homework for the weekend? To relax and to rest. We’ll begin serious review next week.

I stepped back by taking a day for walking around Rotterdam and taking photographs.

Having also succumbed to over exertion, my Saturday was spent on a little “time-out” as well just taking photographs and spending some time with friends.

Over the weekend I received an email from a friend in which she wrote, “So I decided that on Friday I NEEDED to rest. I couldn't not rest. I hit a wall. Mentally, Emotionally. Physically. Spiritually. So, I decided to take some time and actually rest and not give myself guilt for it.” It reminded me of my IB students and many who are pushing themselves to their limits.  To all I say, it’s OK to stop and take a step back. Rest and reflect. In the end, this is what will make you stronger and more able to carry on.

Periodic Failure leads to Success

Adopt an Element.  That's the title of the project. 

Students can hardly wait to select their element.  Computer screens are popping up with images of obscure elements. Excited exclamations filter throughout the classroom.  There is a buzz of activity.

My colleague and I have decided to split the entire periodic table between the total of 8th grade, that’s 90+ students.  Each student is researching and reporting on a unique element.  As we were planning how to display the student work, we have an absolute stroke of genius, “Let’s make a wall display of the periodic table!”  We nearly burst with excitement over how amazing this project and subsequent display will be.  In fact, we were nearly intoxicated with anticipation of its impending greatness.

We plan the size, orientation, and position of the posters. We measure.  We cut. We place the background. The posters have been submitted, students presented, and rubrics consulted.  It is Friday afternoon.  Our anticipation of the display is so rousing that we can not wait any longer to build that periodic table.  Friday afternoon turns into Friday evening.

It’s hot.  We’re sweating.  We continue on with hope and eagerness.  I stop to wipe my brow and assess the gradually forming periodic table. Despair descends upon me, “This sucks,” I think.  It looks juvenile.  It looks terrible.  “Is it even worth continuing?“ I wonder. My colleague, also pauses. She deflates before me and quietly comments,  “Somehow I imagined this to look a lot better than it is”.

My despair gives way to the laughter that erupts from deep within me. Before we know it, we are on the floor in hysterics. Through tears of delirium we complete our display.

Uneasiness settles in at the thought of the rest of the school viewing our pathetic display on Monday but it’s done and there’s no turning back.

My colleague and I having accepted and overcome  the disappointment of our display.

 I slink into my classroom first thing on Monday, before anyone has arrived.  Within a few minutes one of our other science colleagues bursts into the room, “It looks great!” she genuinely expresses. The students are thrilled.  The principal adulates the project as the perfect example of student work and collaboration. In the end, it’s not nearly as bad as we had perceived it on Friday night.

Adopt an Element.  Despite our moment of despair, it was indeed a huge success. My message today? When working with students focus on their learning and their achievements, and it will all be OK.