February 2008

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My district has recently installed Microsoft Sharepoint.  This is a dynamic tool (albeit from the MotherShip) that allows me to create and control groups where users can collaborate though shared documents, discussions boards, blogs, and wikis (and many other features).

My initial observations of Sharepoint made me realize that it has a distinct Microsoft footprint – heavy on tools, but clunky to use.  It reminds me of that spoof video fantasizing if Microsoft had packaged the iPod.  In any case, I futzed around with it for a while until I was semi-satisfied.

I have to admit – the discussion board is a powerful tool.  It engages my students on a level that they would not comfortable with in the classroom.  It challenges them to raise questions they would not ask in class.  It actually brings more discussion into the classroom.  And this was only after a week of discussion.  (NOTE: the power of a discussion board is not new to me, but this is the first time I am able to use one under my district’s IT reign).

This is exactly a tool I have been looking for, as I have a colleague in Sweden who wants to have our classes collaborate on a project.  Since SKYPE is blocked, this would allow the students to actually have that collaboration – supervised by me and my Swedish colleague.

Sharepoint is quite powerful in that it allows multiple configurations for its users with many layers of permission.  There are a few no-brainers that I already have setup to protect my students.  First – they can only post, but can’t edit or delete their entries.  This helps to reinforce the idea that once something is posted on the internet, it is always there.  Secondly, I don’t allow anonymous outside registration either – outside registration would have to be added by me or would have to be requested.

But I am not clear how to setup other student permissions/identities and if I should allow outside access for viewing.  I have a few options:

  1. Lock down the site so that ONLY students in my class can see and participate in the discussions
  2. Lock down the site as above, but allow it to be viewed by any student or teacher in the district
  3. Allow outside viewing, but protect student identities – make them create unidentifiable usernames
  4. Other options?

If you use student discussion boards, what advice do you have?  What are the benefits and drawbacks of these configurations?  I want students to be safe, feel free to speak their mind, but I also want to emulate the outside world as well.

You can see what I’ve done (and what the students have done) so far.  Their identities are protected – so I am currently using option #3.  Most likely, these settings will change in the future. [Link]

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This school year, I was fortunate enough to have an interactive whiteboard (from Interwrite) installed in my classroom. I was hesitant to get it at first, as I would lose some valuable front-board real estate to have it mounted.

However, once I started using it, I soon found out some interactive and intriguing ways ways to enhance my instruction. Here’s what I like about it:

    1. More Student Interaction. I often find myself working too hard. That is, teaching to my students instead of working with them so that they can teach themselves. The IW has really helped to get students out of their seats and truly be more interactive in the lessons. Students love to write on the board, and it’s a great way to get students to contribute to the class.
    2. New Technology WOW Factor. There are only a handful of IW’s in the school right now, and students still think it’s a pretty cool gadget. It’s like I have the iPhone of education hanging on my wall (sorry for the metaphor).
    3. Great for Graphing. As a science teacher, I always have my students collect and graph data to analyze in class. The IW allows me to display graphs and write on them for analysis. The ‘write-on-able’ feature and the fact I can go back or save make the IW far superior to an overhead and some markers.
    4. Import Work and other Media. The IW allows me to easily import many types of media. This is particularly nice when working with online or CD-ROM textbooks, as I can incorporate media directly from student texts into my lessons. I can also use non-digital media, as we have a copy machine in our building that will scan documents and e-mail them to teachers.
    5. Save and Export Work. As I mentioned, I was a little cautious about losing some traditional whiteboard space. But I found that the IW actually expands this space, and I can create multiple pages and scroll back and forth. I can also record my movements on the IW to export them as a movie, and export the pages to a PDF file.
    6. Demonstration and Interactive Use of Programs. I particularly like to use RasMol for molecular imaging. I can use the same basic mouse functions on the IW to manipulate the molecule on the board, as well as certain structures with the IW pen. Here’s an exported video of me manipulating a GFP molecule with the IW.
    7. Interwrite Board + SMART Airliner Tablet = Extreme Whiteboarding! I still use traditional whiteboards integrated with the IW. I can assign multiple tasks for student groups to tackle on their own whiteboard, then take a picture of each and upload them to view. The students can present it on the board as I bring up their whiteboard picture. All the while, I am sitting in the back and can correct or add comments with a SMART Airliner Tablet or wireless keyboard/mouse. Again, the students produce, review and critique their entire lesson with my guidance.

Picture of Student Work:

Add Media11-20-after

Picture of Corrected Student Work:


If you can’tafford an interactive whiteboard this year, check out the economy solution – made from a Nintendo Wii [Link].

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Saturday, February 9th @ 7:00 PM
Lawrence University; Appleton, WI
Science Hall, Room 102

Please join us for this special Darwin Day event on Saturday, February 9th at Lawrence University. This event is designed to celebrate Darwin’s birthday and contributions to science. All students, educators and scientists are welcome. Food and door prizes will be provided.

Event Schedule
7:00 PM Keynote Presentations & Discussions (below)
8:30 PM Movie: Flock of Dodos
10:00 PM Social at the Viking Room on campus

Genetics and Speciation
Beth De Stasio, Raymond J. Herzog Professor of Science
& Associate Professor of Biology, Lawrence University
Using one or two recent examples, we will explore the connection between genetic change, phenotypic change, and speciation. Advances in our ability to dissect the genetic component of complex traits such as an organism’s morphology and color have allowed scientists to understand the changes that have led to reproductive isolation and subsequent speciation within particular populations. We will discuss the importance of reproductive isolation to speciation and mechanisms by which organisms can be isolated even when living in the same environment. Two examples will be explored.

Evo-devo and its contributions to Darwin’s legacy
Brigid O’Donnell, Postdoctoral Fellow of Biology, Lawrence University
Evolutionary developmental biology (or “evo-devo”) is a relatively new field of biological inquiry that elegantly illustrates both common ancestry and descent with modification in organic beings as envisioned by Charles Darwin. Evo-devo has provided us with a powerful perspective to explore the proximate mechanisms underlying the genesis of form as well as the evolutionary “tinkering” of developmental pathways across multiple scales of biological organization (from genes to entire structures!). I will highlight two specific case studies that have supplied exciting insights into the origin and evolution of the phenotype: the origin of body plans and the developmental basis of eyespot patterns in butterfly wings.

Coevolution of hosts and their parasites
Judith Humphries, Assistant Professor of Biology, Lawrence University
The coevolution of parasites and their hosts is often described as an “Arms Race”, where for example, the parasite evolves to increase the probability of infecting its host but in response, the host coevolves to better defend itself against the parasite. This is consistent with the “Red Queen Hypothesis” where both host and parasite must continually evolve in order to maintain fitness relative to each other. The relationship between parasitic brood birds such as cuckoos, and their hosts is often used to exemplify this hypothesis.

Please respond to president07@wsst.org if you plan to attend
Sponsored by Lawrence University and
The Wisconsin Society of Science Teachers

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