Teachers Talking about the Project

Q&A with Teachers – Joy Kirkby and Irina Birsan

Joy Kirkby is the Mini School Coordinator at Killarney Secondary School in East Vancouver. She has been working with us to run the Creative Science project in her grade 8 mini classes since 2013. As she has two years of experience we asked her to share her thoughts on how the project has evolved and some pearls of wisdom she’s learned that will help her plan the project for next year.

Irina Birsan is the Science Department Head at Sir Charles Tupper Secondary and has run the project with her grade 8 class dealing with the topic of Light on our most recent May 2016 showcase!

  1. Why did you decide on this approach to teaching science in your class? What did you hope to achieve in running this project?

Joy Kirby (JK): I first decided to use this approach to teaching science because I believe that the most valuable learning is rarely focused and narrow in its approach. I think that students often fall into the trap of trying to fit their talents into rigid categories, deciding they are good at one thing, and bad at another, while not seeing the real scope of what they can do. I personally have always loved both art and science, and don’t subscribe to the myth of people being either “right brained” or “left brained”. With this project I was hoping to inspire my students to expand their perceptions of themselves as learners and to be open to the possibility that they can develop skills in traditional academia while also pushing themselves creatively. I hoped that this would motivate them to strive for a deeper understanding of how body systems and organisms work by sparking their curiosity and giving them a sense of accomplishment.

Irina Birsan (IB): I decided on this approach because I wanted to provide the students with an opportunity to think critically about a topic they learned in grade 8 science while at the same time be creative and explore different ways of communicating their knowledge.

  1. Can you describe how you ran the Creative Science project in your class, including how you assessed it?

JK: To run a project of this scope I needed to set up numerous checkpoints that broke the whole thing down into a series of smaller assignments. Each student had to submit a proposal, where he or she outlined what interpretation of the question “how does the body work” their artwork would focus on, as well as the medium that they would use for their art piece. Each week during the course of the project students had to post diary-style reflections on a blogging site (Tumblr, where is free to set up a blog) describing the work they had done that week, what their thoughts, feelings and motivations were, and what they were planning to do next. Each week’s marks would be averaged into a single blog post mark. Early in the project each student had to do a show and tell for the class about what they were working on. For this they were marked on how well they articulated their work, and their presentation skills. Each work of art also included a written statement with it that explained the science behind the art, and reflected on the art itself. Students had to submit four different drafts of this written piece. The first draft was for completion marks and included feedback on structure, style and content. The second draft was peer evaluated for both marks and feedback purposes. The third draft was given a mark by me and contained further feedback to help polish it into a final good copy. The final art presentation night was a major part of the marking for this project. Grades were assigned for students showing up on time, behaving and dressing professionally. There were also grades for that finished artwork and final good copy of the write up. For each of these components of the project I created a detailed rubric outlining what would be included in an assignment within each grade range. The students were given a copy of the rubric so that they would understand what the expectations were at each stage of the project.

IB: The students were introduced to the project topic and their mentors early on in the year. I asked each student to pick a topic that was part of the light and optics unit and the type of art they would like to use to demonstrate their understanding of the topic. Students were assessed on the project based on the accuracy of the science concept they were illustrating. They were also required to have a write up of the topic explaining the art used and the science behind it. Finally students were required to communicate with their mentors, which was monitored and assessed through the creative science forum, as well as post their progress on Tumblr every two weeks for a duration of three months.

  1. How did the students respond to this approach to learning science? Did they seem engaged and did they rise to the challenge for ‘creativity’ in representing their science learning?

JK: The responses of the students to this project varied depending on their different personalities. Some were willing to put in a lot of time and effort, and worked hard to create something they were truly proud of. They were visibly inspired, full of energy and excitement as they strove to make something amazing, artistic and creative. Some students didn’t quite understand what was being asked of them, and got bogged down trying to find an elusive “right answer”, rather than trusting themselves to explore the science and the art in interesting ways. Their work was usually technically proficient, but not artistically engaging. A small percentage of the students became trapped by their own belief that they were not “artistic”, and so created interesting, well researched scientific write-ups, but generated art that felt like a last minute throw away addition.

IB: The students responded very well to this approach to learning science. They were very engaged and this was clearly demonstrated by their beautiful and creative final projects. I was impressed by the students’ level of understanding and the critical thinking involved in the completion of each project.

  1. What advice would you give to another teacher who wanted to take on this project? For instance, what would you keep and what would you change in repeating the project?

JK: My advice for anyone wanting to take on this project would be to make sure to break the project up into numerous smaller components so that the entire mark doesn’t rely on an amazing finished product. I would also suggest making sure to keep a close eye on the work the students are creating in the early stages of the project, perhaps by including an online blogging component and marking it every week, so that large gaps in understanding and approaches to the art that won’t work well can be addressed before too much has been done. The checkpoints I set in place worked well for myself and my students, but I often fell behind in marking their journals and so had larger issues to deal with when I finally did. That is something I will make sure to avoid in future. Also, students tended to not post as many pictures of the works in progress on their blogs as I would have liked, so sometimes the work they claimed was happening was not actually occurring. Next year I am going to emphasize taking photos as a part of their diary posts so that I can ensure they are not procrastinating. (I believe procrastination was the root cause of some of the more rushed art pieces created this year).

IB: The only thing I would change is using Tumblr as part of the project. I would either start a Facebook page or a blog page for the students to use instead because many parents did not like the idea of their child using this form of social media.

Q&A with Teachers – Jason Chow

Jason Chow is a grade 9 science teacher in Richmond Secondary school and his class focused on a competition to win the title of “element of the year”.

  1. Why did you decide on this approach to teaching science in your class? What did you hope to achieve in running this project?

After a decade of teaching I still have interest in exploring new ways to engage my students. I still enjoy learning new techniques and strategies. Through creative science I now have another project idea that can be used to highlight learning in unique ways.

  1. Can you describe how you ran the Creative Science project in your class, including how you assessed it?

Student groups chose a chemical element to explore. They promoted it as a candidate for “element of the year’ and gave a short presentation to the class. The groups were also asked to make a model based on the element forming a useful compound.  Students were assessed on the content of their presentation and their creativity in the model and the visuals produced.

  1. How did the students respond to this approach to learning science? Did they seem engaged and did they rise to the challenge for ‘creativity’ in representing their science learning?

Yes I think the students responded positively to the approach. They took ownership of their project and produced some interesting models.

  1. What advice would you give to another teacher who wanted to take on this project? For instance, what would you keep and what would you change in repeating the project?

My first piece of advice is to just give it a try! Students will rise to the occasion and produce wonderful projects.

The list of metal elements developed by creative science was very helpful. Students picked elements from a list and were not allowed to pick any elements found in organic compounds.  If I do the project again I would definitely be more explicit in the instructions regarding the element models.

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