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My experience at STAO 2010

(Science Teacher’s Association of Ontario 2010 Conference)

This post summarized my experience on the first day of this conference.


The first session I went to was called Differentiation in the Science Classroom.  It was hosted by Brent Campbell.  (He will be posting some of his resources on a website he maintains for his classes.)  It was described as “Differentiating your instruction in the secondary science classroom is not as difficult as you think. From simple ideas to technological enhancements, a variety of resources will be examined and shared.”

Brent very effectively demystified the concept of using differentiated instruction.  He helped me to realize that differentiating a lesson does not mean creating a specific lesson for every single student in the classroom.  He helped me see that much of what I do already fell into the definition of ‘Differentiated Instruction”, I simply did not realize it, or put that particular label on it.

He provided many different examples of activities that are easy to implement in the classroom that help not only in differentiating a lesson, but to collect valuable data from the students to verify that they are indeed learning the material being presented.  He stressed the importance of gathering ‘multiple intelligence‘ and ‘Learning Style Inventory‘ data from students to help plan for activities that can meet the various learning needs of the students in my class.

One activity that left a big impression on me was using a ‘glyph’ activity to collect information from students.  It is an easy and fun way to collect assessment data from students.  Instead of asking my students to answer questions on a traditional paper-pencil test, I  ask them questions that have ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers; however, instead of having them write these answers on paper, they make particular drawings to represent a yes or no answer.  An example helps to demonstrate this:

Let’s say I am assessing to see if students understand a few concepts about a particular subject.  Their ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers will generate a cartoon face.  It goes something like this:

Q1: If you understand ‘concept 1’, draw an oval-shaped head, if not, draw a circular head.

Q2: If you understand ‘concept 2’, draw large eyes, if not, draw small eyes.

Q3: If you understand ‘concept 3’, draw an open mouth, if not, draw a closed mouth.

In the end, each student will have drawn a ‘face’ that is a glyph of the answers to the above three questions.  The activity is very quick to perform and I have just collected a lot of formative assessment which I can use to plan future lessons or activities.  This kind of activity would suit the ‘visual learner’ the most.

Another idea he had that appealed to the ‘chemistry teacher’ in me was the use of large puzzle pieces to model chemical bonding with ions.  The puzzle pieces are designed so that a positive ion piece will fit properly only with a negative ion piece.  As well, the sizes of the pieces match their charge, so that the number of pieces necessary to complete a ‘molecule puzzle’ will match the formula of that particular compound.  This kind of activity would suit a ‘kinesthetic learner’.


I then attended a session hosted by McGraw Hill to promote their new Grade 11 Chemistry textbook.  The session very effectively showed some of the feature of this particular book (they had a full pre-publication copy we could take with us).  I found that some of the organization of the book was better than the previous version, providing more efficient chunking of information.  I was glad to hear that a companion interactive online digital resource would accompany the textbook, both for students and teachers; however, it was not ready for them to demonstrate it at the conference.

I did have an interesting side discussion with one of the publisher’s representatives about the online digital version of the textbook that would also be available in pdf format for the students (so they wouldn’t have to keep moving their textbook from home to school and back).  My experience from another publisher about an online version of their textbook was not a good one.  My students and I (and I suspect many other teachers and students in the province) found several errors in the textbook.  For a few months, we dutifully emailed the publisher about these mistakes (primarily in answers provided at the back of the book), and received friendly thank-you emails in return for our troubles.  However, the online pdf version of the textbook was never updated to reflect these corrections given to the publisher.  Most of us know how easy it is to update online content.  The representative from McGraw Hill told me that their online version of the textbook would be updated with corrections.  It will be interesting to see if this will actually be the case or not.

I attended a third session which I found to be very boring, uninteresting and a waste of my time. I won’t identify it here.

The last session I attended today was my favorite.  It was a ‘science works’ presentation by STAO itself on material that can be used to support the new ‘optics’ unit in grade 10 science.  It was presented by David Erb.  Its description was “This workshop is designed for teachers inexperienced with the concepts of optics. Experience strategies and resources which support the grade 10 Optics unit.”

The ideas that were provided to help support this unit I found to be very interesting and useful.  [His materials are available on stao’s website (you have to be a member of stao to access these materials).]  Not only was his presentation entertaining and engaging, but he demonstrated how many of the activities can be made with materials that are relatively easy to make on my own.  Many of them will also be made available for sale through STAO.

Among other things, he showed how yarn can be used to model the beams of light that reflect off  flat mirrors.  She showed how a laser pointer’s beam can be made visible by using a spray bottle and water (it’s one of those great and simple ideas that made me think “Now why didn’t I think of that?”).

What made the activities engaging was that we had time to try these activities in small groups with sample material he provided to us.  I don’t know about you, but I love playing with new toys! 🙂

All in all, it was a very good day.  I look forward to my second day at STAO.


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