Evaluation and Assessment

Reflective writing in the Science Classroom

I just finished reading a case study, A Case of Reflective Writing,  that challenged me greatly.   Although the case was involved college freshmen, I identified with it and saw my high school juniors and seniors reflected in the case description.  Many of my juniors and seniors struggle to relate what they have learned in Earth Science and biology with the current content they are learning.  I feel that giving them the oppportunity to write reflectively about the topics we are covering would help them make the connections they will desperately need in their future studies.  In addition, it will empower them to become more active learners.  

So, my Learning Center friends, I wonder how many do reflective writing in their classrooms and how does it look in your setting?  

Ruth Hutson
Ruth Hutson
62710 Activity Points

Ruth - great question! My undergraduate students are often reluctant to engage in reflective writing but once they get used to it, seem to enjoy it more. In my introductory environmental science course, I modified the "Wander Project" book into a journal activity in the course, with activities from the book modified for consideration of accommodations. The first few are always formulaic but students get used to the writing style and have more fun with it as the semester progresses.

In my general chemistry class, students keep a self-assessment journal that targets the learning objectives. Prompts may ask them to explain which LO they mastered and why they feel they did, which one they showed the most improvement on, which one they had the most prior knowledge on, which one they struggled with the most, etc. 

Emily Faulconer
Emily Faulconer
3060 Activity Points

Ruth Hutson,

I am an Elementary Education major at the University of Northern Iowa, and I’m currently taking a Science Methods course. Although you teach older students, I still believe this may be helpful to you! My professor saves time at the end of each class to allow myself as well as my peers to journal about what we did during class that particular day. Sometimes she provides us with certain prompts or questions that we must answer, sometimes we upload photo evidence if a classroom investigation of some sort took place, or sometimes it is left open for us to submit what we choose. Since we are fortunate enough to have a set of classroom iPads, we use an app called SeeSaw. This is how we submit our journals to our professor at the end of each class time, and she can then see what main points most students took away from the lesson. This is also how we are able to upload photos into our journals. Even if your class does not have iPads available, students could still have a science notebook or science journal of some sort to write in. It could be for their use alone, or it could also be turned in at the end of the class depending on the purpose of it. Either way, I think it’s been incredibly helpful in my methods course. Instead of packing my things up and rushing out of class, it gives me a few minutes to think about the most important things I learned that day and to think more deeply about how those concepts could be implemented into my own future classroom. If I’m completely honest, it also makes me pay attention better in class since I can expect a journal entry to be due at the end of it! I plan to use my professor’s idea of a science journal in my elementary class someday. 

 

Please feel free to visit this link to learn more about SeeSaw and follow the step-by-step instructions if you're interested in downloading it: https://web.seesaw.me/platforms/ 

Cassie Elbert
Cassie Elbert
3345 Activity Points

Thanks for responding, Emily.  I really like the idea of a self-assessment journal especially having students include why they struggled.  It could really help them be reflective on how they cleared up their misconceptions about the topic. 

Tell me more about the Wander Project.  Do you have a link to the book or a sample of the writing prompts that you could share?  

Ruth Hutson
Ruth Hutson
62710 Activity Points

This is the Amazon listing for the Wander Society book. If you've not discovered this author, she's great! I love her work, particularly "This is Not a Book". 

This is my first "Wander Prompt" for my students:

In today’s society, technology is infused in all aspects of our life. Have you ever felt like you’re experiencing the natural world filtered through media and entertainment? There are even “museums (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.” dedicated to getting the perfect Instagram shot. Do you want to feel more connected to nature? This is your call to adventure.

This class activity - The Wander Project - is inspired by Keri Smith’s book, the Wander Society. She defines wandering as unplanned exploring with a complete openness to the unknown. In this class, you are given a starting point for your wandering, but the journey is up to you. Here are a few tips:

  • Silence your technology.
  • Gather your supplies: notebook/journal and writing utensil and/or other forms of documenting your experiences.
  • Immerse yourself in the present moment. Remain open to discovery.
  • Question everything.
  • Use your imagination and intuition.
  • Document your experiences and findings.
  • While wandering can involve leaving the house, it does not have to. Wandering is a mindset. If you opt for a mental wander and use images that you did not take or make, you must identify your source with a functioning URL.

Module 1 Wander: Observe

Observations are the foundation of the scientific method. Observe something natural. When you first start, you might feel like there isn’t much to observe. Be patient and don’t rush. Your observation skills will sharpen.

As with all wanderings, you can take your own path. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  • Track one specific color.
  • Document found sounds.
  • Hack your perception while observing something natural. You can do this with a literal shift in your angle of viewing or by introducing different music or lighting during the observation to play with your senses. 


Turn in a text or video file with the following components:

  • a brief description or image of what you observed
  • description of your observation methods
  • your list of observations
  • a reflection on how this activity allowed you to practice critical thinking habits of mind.  

Emily Faulconer
Emily Faulconer
3060 Activity Points

Hi Emily, 

I got my daughter Keri Smith's Wreck This Journal several years ago.  However, I have not discovered this author for myself.  I was completely unaware of her body of work.  You've sold me; I am going to check out her work. She sounds like someone that I would really like. But more importantly, she sounds like someone my students would love. 

The first prompt is outstanding. It really allows students to put themselves out there and explore their environment.  So, how do you incorporate the book reading into the free responses?  Besides making observations, what other topics do you have your students write?

Thanks for your help, 

Ruth

Ruth Hutson
Ruth Hutson
62710 Activity Points

I don't actually assign the Wander Society book as reading for my students. I just used it as inspiration for a semester-long reflective assignment. Here are some other prompts I use for the same activity:

Transformations

Neither matter nor energy can be created or destroyed, only transformed. This is the foundation for food webs where energy flows through the trophic levels, from producers to consumers. This is also the foundation of the biogeochemical cycles: carbon cycle, water cycle, and nutrient cycles.

For this wander, seek out a natural transformation and document it using your method of choice. Remember to: 1) remain open to discovery, 2) question everything, and 3) use your imagination.

Turn in a text or video file with the following components:

  • An annotated photograph or video with audio description of the transformation you observed
  • Your list of observations
  • A reflection on how your Wander connected to one or more of the module learning objectives

Psychogeography

As you’ve learned, there is significant variability of life on Earth. Despite these differences, there are many similarities between living organisms. Humans and slugs have about 70% of the same DNA sequence!

Psychogeography is a playful exploration of a city in a nontraditional way, with a focus on awareness of the urban landscape. For this module’s wander, find a map of an area you'd like to explore. Focus on the map through the lens of biodiversity and biomes. 

Turn in a text or video file with the following components:

  • An annotated photograph of a map or video with audio description addressing biodiversity. 
  • A reflection on how your Wander helped you understand the importance of biodiversity to an ecosystem. 

Populations

Plant and animal populations are influenced by many factors, some of which depend on the total population size (water availability) while others are independent of the number of individuals (pollution).

In this Wander, you will continue to hone your observation skills. Pick a population to analyze. Closely observe the population and document evidence of factors that influence the population size. As always, think outside of the box.

Turn in a text or video file with the following components:

  • A brief description or image of the population you observed
  • Your list of observations
  • A reflection that uses at least six key vocabulary words from this module's learning objectives. 

Emily Faulconer
Emily Faulconer
3060 Activity Points

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