Does This Swivl Make My Tendons Look Big?

Tch Next Gen Science Squad

A few weeks ago, I made a stop at a local butcher’s shop and left with a cooler full of cow muscle, tendons, fat, and a kidney just for fun. I was prepping for a tissue engineering unit where students would research authentic tissues before tackling our big question: Can low-cost, synthetic tissues be engineered for use in under-resourced medical schools and research labs? This unit was based on the Tissue Engineering guide from Allen Distinguished Educators DIY Guides.

One of my goals is to increase peer observations and encourage a school culture where teachers open up their practice to others. This can be challenging, as teachers most often have to give up their own time with students to make these observations happen. So I fired up my Swivl, and decided to step out of my comfort zone to demonstrate another way to share our practice when time is short — through video! As part of my work with the Tch Next Gen Science Squad, I decided to focus on the implementation of engineering as described in the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Basic Video Tips

  • Film yourself often. The more you do it, the easier it becomes.
  • If you want students to act naturally around the camera, film them often, too. I didn’t film my students enough, which resulted in a lot of distraction when the camera appeared.

Introduction to the Engineering Task

Here I am introducing the project to students.

What Went Well?

The students were eager to get their hands on the tissue samples. Engaging them with real world phenomena (What are the properties of real tendons, fat and muscle? How can we recreate them?) worked well to introduce the task of creating synthetic tissue. I try to use hand gestures to describe procedures. I try to “act” out what the students will do whenever possible, and I think this helps them to visualize the tasks before they begin.

What I’d Like to Improve

Even when I think I’m speaking slowly, I still may be speaking too quickly for some students to follow, particularly when introducing something new. I had just found out school would be released early for snow and I was pushing through the lesson. But I should’ve spent more time engaging students with their thoughts and ideas about cadavers and synthetic tissue before starting the activity. I knew I had to get through the lab that day or I was going to have some stinky meat after the weekend!

Testing Prototypes

On this day we were testing our first prototypes.

What Went Well?

After reviewing this introduction to the initial prototype testing, I referenced the Tch Engineering design model to demonstrate the cyclical nature of engineering. Most students were disappointed in their first models and I hope I set them up to expect some failure, which is a good thing (growth mindset, right?).

What I Would Like to Improve

I wish I had an example graph from a previous class to clarify the measurements and mathematical relationships. Later, I expected the students to share data with one another, but I should’ve more formally organized this process, as a few ended up seeking information from others. On the final day of data collection, I explained the data collection again, when the students were ready to take the lead and explain to one another. I often feel rushed and I think if I give instructions students will get started faster, but I’m sacrificing a great opportunity for the kids to take charge.

Can I Find NGSS In My Videos?

I consulted Appendix F from the NGSS to take a closer look at some of the Science and Engineering Practices.

Asking Questions/Defining Problems

What Went Well?

Our problem had criteria (tissues would need to match the elasticity of the authentic tissue) and constraints (time, money, materials available), and social considerations — the goal was to find a cheap solution to synthetic tissues to make them accessible in under-resourced locations.

What I Would Like to Improve:

I defined the design problem to begin the lesson, but I’d like to find a way for the students to define more of their own problems/questions. The students would later define their own design problems as they refined their models, but the driving question was teacher designed.

Developing and Using Models

What Went Well?

  • Students developed our model to solve the problem of developing synthetic tissue to replace real human tissue and live animals for learning medical procedures. They used an iterative process to refine their models.

What I Would Like to Improve

  • Adding more real world applications would increase engagement with the modeling process. Students had a chance to practice suturing with their synthetic tissue models and were very enthusiastic. I’d love to incorporate more real world hands-on applications for their models.

Analyzing and Interpreting Data

What Went Well?

We used Google Sheets to analyze our data, creating a “best fit” line to our data set and used this as a method to determine the characteristics of an optimal design solution. Students refined their models using their data as a guide.

What I Would Like to Improve
I WISH I’d spent more time on error analysis, and it will be a focus next year. Student data was all over the map, and I contribute this to a lack of precise measurement skills. There were genuine challenges to getting precise measurements, but there was a lot of student error as well. This is an area I need to focus on, but had expected students to already have the skills. Think again, Teach!

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

What I Would Like to Improve

As students designed their solutions, I feel I missed an opportunity to incorporate more writing and reflection about the design process. I would like to more effectively incorporate an engineering design notebook in the future.

NGSS Takeaways

The NGSS is exciting, but also overwhelming. Changes can be made through small moves, a little bit at a time. Video self-reflection is a great way to step back and take a look at your classroom, away from the busy nonstop school day. Moving away from a teacher-driven to a student-driven classroom is hard, but important, work. In a written reflection a student commented,

“My favorite part of the project was how hands on it was. Being able to actually make the synthetic tissue was really fun, and the class wasn’t so much of the teacher talking and the students listening; there was a lot of work time.”

While some enjoyed the process, others were uncomfortable with failure and an inability to “Google” the answer. As one student pointed out,

“There was no information online that could help us develop a good recipe.”

This is the nature of design: not all the answers are out there; they must be imagined, and then informed by data. Tom Jenkins, Tch Laureate described how kindergarteners are born engineers, so my question is, how can we keep them that way, K-12?

How have you used video to dive into the NGSS? Have you filmed your own practice? Watched that of others? How do you see personal video reflection as a tool for developing the NGSS?

Kathryn Davis is a science teacher in Hood River, Oregon. She has been teaching science for 14 years. Kathryn is a Stanford, Washington University in St. Louis, and Teach For America alumni. She is an Oregon Science Project NGSS Learning Facilitator, Amgen Biotechnology Experience teacher, and received the Oregon Science Teacher’s Association “Outstanding Classroom Teaching Award” for High School. She is excited to be a part of Teaching Channel’s Tch Next Gen Science Squad. Connect with Kathryn on Twitter: @biokathryn.

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