My Favorite Lesson: Science Superheroes to the Rescue!
Master Teacher Guest Blog Series: Website Wednesday
It’s Wednesday again, which means we are bringing you another post featuring content from the BetterLesson site! Today, Science Master Teacher, Maria Laws reflects on the origin, design, and execution of her favorite lesson: a culminating project that integrates a semester’s worth of science content with real-world applications and the arts. Enjoy!
One of the lessons I piloted last year turned out to be my favorite learning experience with my students. I was inspired by a nationally recognized contemporary artist from our area named Amy Franceschini. After attending a professional development session about the basic framework for a superhero community action project, I felt the concept is one that would appeal to my biology students and went about tweaking the original lesson into one specifically tailored to our science themes.
The overarching theme and philosophy for my biology class is to connect our science explorations to the lives and interests of my students in ways that are personally relevant to them. This lesson connected the idea of a superhero solving problems, serving people, and fighting for what was right to science-related themes we had worked with throughout the school year: climate change, nutrition, global human impact, social justice, biotechnology, engineering, and human health topics. Because I envisioned this as a culminating project to end our year, I knew students would have the skills, content knowledge, and confidence to manage the many phases of the work and engage in a meaningful way with their individual and collectively generated ideas. I also loved the idea of a community component where students could link science to their own lives in a personally relevant way. I also felt that this would address a sense of frustration I found my students sharing with me throughout our year as they learned more about global problems over which they had no political voice for change. For me, this project had the potential to give students the opportunity to envision and experience see what it feels like to be change-makers in real time.
The strategies I used to make this lesson a success started with an appealing, engaging idea that emphasized student choice, voice, and collaboration. Although I provided helpful prompts and a skeleton document to serve as a guide for them as they reflected upon the issues in the world that mattered to them and how them might personally affect change in their community to address those priorities, the project success began and ended with a great idea that students were eager to engage in both in our class sessions and during their non-school time. In addition to the documents I created especially for this science superhero project, I also used graphic organizers presented at our KQED and SFMOMA led professional development session and the KQED Art School video clips outlining Amy Franceschini’s work and a general overview of the project.
I scaffolded the project by creating in-class time for discussion, reflection, thinking, and collaboration and together, we created expectations for those sessions to ensure that they were productive and drove the student-driven projects forward toward success. We also included time to explicitly manage projects by discussing specific task, material, and time management needs within each student team. By building in time for the work in addition to a checklist of questions to think about together, I was able to demonstrate to students that I valued their time and thoughtful participation, and they responded to that nonverbal message with their highest levels of engagement.
Although my project outline was specific about product, the delivery method was left deliberately open: as a result, students filled in the blanks with creative ways to show their costumes, logos, and community action work. I received video projects that utilized a wide variety of programs and apps, notebooks, and photo albums, as well as audio files and artwork in different mediums in all shapes and sizes. I loved that students felt confident and excited to intentionally engage in each aspect of their project.
By keeping the final project expectations loose enough for students to follow their own creative interests and providing one on one consultation time between groups and with me, students were able to build unique project themes and actions that truly reflected both their learning and their desired voice for presentation. For me as a teacher, this project gave me a window into the very mature priorities of our children living in a challenging time. Topics ranged from climate change issues, endangered species, pollution, and nutrition themes to DNA data security, bioengineering, and mindfulness techniques to improve socio-emotional well-being. The structured collaborative time and feedback sessions for this creative culminating lesson supported student learning and engagement in ways that allowed all of us to think back on our year of learning together and move it into our community and personal lives in meaningful ways. I can’t think of a better way to end our year!
Maria Laws is a Biology and Chemistry teacher in Walnut Creek, California. She served on her school’s CCSS implementation team and is a member of California’s Instructional Leadership Corps of teachers developing CCSS and NGSS professional development seminars. As she did in her Science Superheros lesson, Maria uses integrated learning strategies to investigate science through the arts. To see all of Maria’s lessons, please click here.