I decided to try the Stepwise construct with my Grade 12 College Chemistry class. My reasoning was twofold: firstly, as the only teacher for this course at my school, I am able to adjust evaluations without having a concern for remaining in step with any other sections; and secondly, I feel that leading towards an STSE project would fit nicely with the goals of a college level science course, incorporating the application side of science and expanding the critical thought of students.

Week of October 8th
Thanksgiving made for a short week, and special events/schedules at school made for shorter classes, so this week I began planning general timelines and where I wanted to eventually end up with the students in terms of expectations, what skills need to be developed as we go, and so forth. I feel that we will need to work on the following before I can fully immerse them into the project plan:
  • having them be able to see more than one side of an issue
  • understanding of the concept of stakeholders, identification of same, their motivations, etc
  • critical reading skills for when they do research [already begun in terms of reading news articles and finding instances of observation vs. inference]
  • seminar on research using appropriate sources, especially in terms of websites [looking to collaborate with library on this]
  • experimental design, concept of variables (independent, dependent, control), bias [normal part of a science course]

I spoke to my principal this week and he's on board in terms of overall concept. He will likely want clarifications as we go for some of the points discussed in the principal letter.

Tuesday, Oct. 16th
Today I approached the topic of STSE with the students, specifically with respect to stakeholders and trying to have students see particular technologies or developments in terms of both pros and cons.

I started the lesson introducting the topic by showing them the following diagram:
Science + Technology <--> Society + Environment
I then defined the various terms in the above, and we discussed some of the influences, such as technology on fashion (eg. pads on gloves to be able to use touch screens) or the reverse (size of earphones over time [large size to ear buds to large size]). This was followed by looking at the fact that people, or groups of people, are what drive these various relationships, and that these groups are referred to as "stakeholders". Using the analogy of renovating a home by adding a second story, we look at the groups that may have an interest in the renovation (family, neighbours, municipal government, local bird watchers, renovation workers) and what their perspective may be.

The class then performed an activity to help them exercise their thinking skills. I printed a number of cards with various technologies [found here]. Each student would choose one technology from the cards that I had face down and fanned out. For their technology, they had to come up with two statements in favour of the technology along with two statements against, as well as two stakeholders who would be in favour and two who would be against. When they completed their first one, they could either trade cards with another student or come back to the fanned out cards, pick a new one and replace their old card. They continued to do this until they had performed the task for four different technologies, writing down their answers. The students completed this in class and submitted their work by the end of the period.

I decided against using this as a Quiz Quiz Trade format because I have a couple of students who have a tendency to derail these types of activities. Instead, I decided to go with combining this with a writing diagnostic. There were initially a couple of requests to use Google so that the students could look up these technologies, but I didn't allow them to do so. I explained that I did not want them to be influenced by whatever happened to come up a the top of their search list.

At the beginning, the students had a bit of difficulty seeing two sides to every technology and asked me for example statements for their tech; however I told them to try to think about why people who like a particular technology, or dislike a particular technology, might have their opinion. I also told them that I did not want to influence how they thought about things, although I asked them questions that helped them get their minds thinking (for example, branded clothing - does the company pay for advertising commercials, billboards, etc? Do they pay you to advertise for them? Do you pay more or less for something with a logo on it?). Once they made it through their first one, they seemed to have an easier time with the other three techs.

I was pleased by the general response to the activity. All the students remained on task and I did not have to redirect anybody, which is a rarity with this particular class. I will be going through their work and leave comments (no right or wrong) with respect to their writing, and encouraging statements for those that may have thought past the obvious.

Thursday, November 1st

Building on the stakeholder activity, I made an assignment to create a persuasive letter to express a position based on supported facts. The students were randomly given one of the issues previously discussed (cards were face down and fanned out). They were allowed to trade with someone if they chose; however all the students remained with their selected issues. We spent this class in the library where they could do a little bit of in-depth research into their selected issue if they needed it in order to choose a position (pro or con) in their particular issue. Some students already had opinions regarding their issue and were using the research time in order to find factual evidence to back up their reasons for holding their opinion.

The product expected, as mentioned, was a persuasive letter. The letter is to be addressed to an individual or group representative of a stakeholder that would hold an opposing view on the issue. The students are expected to have three (3) claims to back up their stance, and each claim requires a piece of evidence. I gave the students the following:
  • explanatory handout with requirements and due date
  • rubric (covering application and communication)
  • an outline to help students organize their argument and a letter sample showing proper format

The files for these are:

After the initial explanation, and after I related the current assignment with the previous stakeholder activity, the students were able to get to work immediately. I arranged a second library day on Monday, November 5th so that those who may need more evidence gathering time would have it, and the others could have access to software for writing the letter itself.

I chose the single format of a persuasive letter for everyone because I wanted to create a fairly rigid marking structure and I wanted them to start thinking about how you would go about changing somebody's mind when they may have a stance on an issue that is opposite yours. I wanted to make sure they made evidence-based decisions on their stance, and be able to explain their decision to someone else - someone who may not be sympathetic to your position. It also exposes them to a form of action that could be taken should they feel strongly enough about an issue.

Monday, November 5th

This was the second day in the library. I had a new student and a student who was absent on both the initial activity day and the previous Thursday, in addition to those who had been there the previous week. I had to explain not only the assignment, but also the idea of stakeholders and that there could be multiple sides to an issue, even if it may not be immediately apparent. I realized how powerful the initial activity was in terms of forming their understanding and helping their minds think a little outside of their usual box to try to see multiple sides of an issue and who may hold those opinions.

One of the students (the one that had been absent), at first thought that the letter was basically like a research report, but I clarified that I did not want simply information about his issue, but that I wanted to see how his information formed his position and how he could defend it and persuade someone with a different view to see his side.

The period went well, although I did get questions asking me how long the letter should be. I have no size limit. I explained that their argument and evidence would create the limit for the letter.

I'm interested to see the letters that are coming in on Wednesday.

Friday, November 9th

My students have a bit of a problem with the concept of deadlines :) However, I have received the majority of letters at this point, with promises for the remainder on Monday. I need to submit first term marks on Monday, so the students have been told that anything submitted by today would be marked and included, anything submitted on Monday would be registered as a "NoMark" (as in, there would not be a zero for an incomplete assignment), otherwise a placeholder of zero would be given until the submission of the assignment.

From looking through the letters, the results were variable. There were students who were earnest in their attempts at letter writing, using research to back up their points as required by the assignment. Others were less academic in their approach; in some ways, it seemed as though they were putting the cart before the horse, approaching their letter with their preconceptions and not bothering, or ignoring, data available. This is opposite the desired method of researching a topic, and then taking an informed stance. I will need to emphasize this with the independent project is actually assigned.

My next steps will involved building the basic skill sets that will be required for completing the final project.

Monday, December 10th

I have not done very much with respect to the STEPWISE activities, as I have been trying to pick up the pace in terms of delivering the curriculum for the course. I had fallen behind on my timelines since I had to spend more time than expected re-teaching the grade 9 and 10 chemistry curricula in order to make sure that all students were at an appropriate level to begin new material. The students are writing their unit test this week, and have lab on chemical reactions to perform. Outside of that, given the holidays are approaching, it seems to be a good opportunity to work on the skills that will be required for the final project.

To that end, I pulled up the skills document that can be found on this wiki here, which has everything from experimental design, to graphing, to examples of scientific studies. I printed off certain portions of it as a student workbook, so that the students and I could work through the terminology and examples for designing a study, making observations, graphing and inferring a conclusion. As a class, we performed a little correlation study, looking a the sex, eye colour, mouth size, hours of sleep and speed of speaking for the students. They were given a small assignment where they took one set of data and compared it to the speaking speed. They were to create a graph (using an appropriate type, whether bar or line of best fit) and hand it in. We also discussed the difference between a controlled experiment conducted in the lab vs. a correlation study. We talked about the concept of ethics and the possible limitations that may be involved in the study of certain topics.

I'm really happy that I took the class time to go through the package with them. Unfortunately, there were a number of absences, so I found myself trying to revisit material in a condensed manner for those who had not been there for the lesson and class discussions.

The next step will be for me to design a good, thoughtful handout that the students will use as the basis for designing and implementing their study. I also need to consider milestone due dates, to make sure they all keep on track.