Welcome! Professional Teaching Portfolio Sonia Hankova Education/Art/Science. E-Mail: sonia.hankova@gmail.com, Phone: +61 425 703 860

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Approaches to modifying the science curriculum and differentiating learning


 

It is important to note that every single classroom is likely to have students with knowledge and skills from poor to well above expectation. I would say that successful differentiation in a classroom to meet the specific requirement of each student takes a teacher with vast amount of experience. Although I believe I have spend a considerable time both observing different teachers and also teaching different topics to different year levels, I feel I am only beginning to understand and build a repertoire of strategies to efficiently cater for individualised learning.

My approach to development of a modified science curriculum for students with learning difficulties and special needs took many mentor consultations – in addition to highly visual PPT presentations with the content (to satisfy my mentor's approach), which I would always email to my students prior to class, and would often have them work on collaborative activities that would utilise these i.e. instead of me presenting to the class the students would use the PPTs to search for information that they would analyse and synthesise by completing complementing worksheets, I would use visual clues, mnemonics, varied activities, short videos, hands on tactile and kinaesthetic activities. I designed my own custom worksheets that provided ample support in linguistic and visual form to allow students to make connections and meaning.

In addition to the content development and delivery, I had to exhibit extra patient and respectful assistance with student learning - promoting self-confidence via completion of modified tasks to challenge and allow students to take risks without a prospect of failure (refer to my study on assessing students with learning difficulties/disabilities). At the beginning of each class we would talk about our mindset (Dweck 2010) and I would reiterate that mistakes are opportunities for learning and progress. I would continually monitor my students progress, recognise and appraise effort, progress and success to motivate and inspire.

Left: Excerpt from PPT developed to deliver a lesson on Mitosis and Somatic Cell Division. I found teaching through hand mnemonics to be powerful in getting the students to understand and remember the different stages of the cell cycle. The importance was placed on understanding what happens during each stage and not so much on the terms used to describe each stage. The full PPR can be accessed here: Mitosis and Somatic Cell Division

Right: Teaching difficult science content through a word mnemonic (supporting the hand gestures that illustrate what happens within a cell during each stage): allowed the students to easier remember the terms of the different stages of cell division, although my primary aim was for the students to understand the process it allowed them to remember how many stages there were and the letters with which they begin, hence scaffolding learning towards full competency in remembering difficult terms.

Using short highly visual YouTube videos such as this one became important in allowing the students visualise the process of cell division. The video has sound only, with some written text to support its content. This allowed me to comment, explain and give supporting information for anything that I deemed necessary. The length 5:00 was about the suitable duration that the girls' attention span would allow.

These short videos became the bread and butter of my approach to teaching these students, I found them to be highly engaging, I would play at least one during each lesson. I would carefully choose these based on the quality of the scientific content, visual elements and suitability in supporting their learning.

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Teacher example: Preparing to teach the next step – Meiosis. Upon delivery of the related content, we completed this activity as a class with the help of information presented in a PPT – students taking turns in having a go at explaining each step. This worksheet I custom designed, printed out in colour and A3 size to provide a good visual representation of the process. The activity catered well to their preferred learning styles and was well received.


The Cell Cycle – Mitosis

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The Cell Cycle – Mitosis cut-paste-draw matching activity.

Left: Student work sample - Mitosis cut-paste-draw matching activity, worked well for these students as it was fun and visual. Students worked to complete this activity in pairs following information presented in a PPT supporting the content. I roamed the classroom helping and providing feedback on work. We reviewed the activity as a class, each pair of students presenting and explaining one step at a time. I received great feedback from my mentor and felt that the students, irrespective of their learning difficulties, grasped and understood the concept. I collected these at the end of class and gave each student written feedback on heir work with en E for effort and a smiley face.  


 

Genetics – Links to Principles of Learning and Teaching:

PoLT 1. The learning environment is supportive and productive, by: building positive relationships with my students - getting to know them, who they are and how they learn through continued questioning, informal assessments and individual interactions; promoting a culture of respect through collaborative and cooperative work in a student centred learning environment – group/paired experiments, activities and tasks; utilising strategies that promote students' self confidence and willingness to take risks without the prospects of failure – informal assessments, classroom discussions, celebrating and sharing success;  providing structured support (verbal and non-verbal), valuing effort and providing opportunities for recognition of student work – sharing and providing feedback (individual and classroom wide) .

PoLT 2. The learning environment promotes independence, interdependence and self motivation, by: using strategies that build skills of productive collaboration; encouraging students to take responsibility for their learning – self directed research tasks and activities.

PoLT 3. Students needs, backgrounds, perspectives and interests are reflected in the learning program, by: building on students prior experiences, knowledge and skills – diagnostic assessment; using teaching strategies responsive to students needs, values and interests – self-directed research/learning, contemporary content knowledge; using a range of of strategies that support different ways if thinking and learning – ICT, experiments, research tasks, catering to diverse learning styles.

PoLT 4. Students are challenged and supported to develop deep levels of thinking and application, by: planning sequential learning programs that promote sustained leaning that builds over time and emphasises connections between ideas – lessons that tie to one another and build on concepts; promoting substantive classroom discussions; allowing students to work collaboratively; sharing ideas and opinions, providing feedback.

PoLT 5. Assessment practiced are an integral part of teaching and learning, by: providing frequent constructive feedback to support further learning; encouraging reflection, peer and self assessment – worksheet questions correction; using evidence from assessment to evaluate effectiveness of content and delivery and to inform future planning and lesson progress.

PoLT 6. Learning connects strongly with communities and practice beyond the classroom, by: supporting students to engage with contemporary knowledge in Biological Sciences – Genetics.

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Year 10 Applied Science – Nutrition, Digestive System, Adaptation to Diet

In development of this unit of work I worked in consultation with the AusVELS curriculum and other relevant government websites, recommended textbooks for the specific year level and my mentors, underpinned by extensive research into subject knowledge and content, utilising both online research, library materials and textbooks on selected topics, available both at my placement school and at VU. I designed this unit of work with a variety of learning styles in mind, incorporating experiential learning, visual and kinaesthetic teaching resources, custom worksheets, and variety of assessment tasks that catered for different levels of student abilities. I was in consultation with lab technicians about all available resources to make my lessons engaging and fun and in keeping with the schools' curriculum for the specific year level.

I have high expectations of myself as a student and a teacher. This translates into my classroom practice and is evident in the lesson content I prepare. Nonetheless, I would never consciously set my students a task that they could not complete. Although sometime these things can happen, particularly before we get to know the students. If I noticed a task I developed is too difficult I would attempt to spontaneously modify the content and/or instructions, seek feedback, reflect and consequently improve future practice.

I want my students to be the best they can be, I believe that students will inevitably raise up to my expectations - I have seen and experienced this in my own practice with my challenging Year 10 Applied Science class at MLC. I had 16 girls with various learning difficulties. I had to modify the content accordingly to suit their level. I did not once treat them as if they were a failure or less smart than any of the other classes. To avoid failure I chose not to grade their assessments but instead just give them constructive feedback and mark the assignment as satisfactory. The activities that I set out for these girls were challenging but not impossible to complete. I tried to keep in mind their attention span, I had them working in small groups/pairs to keep them engaged and on track.


Feeding the Hungry World

During the study of Nutrition I designed an engaging assignment – Feeding the Hungry World. I had the students draw names of two countries from a hat. Prior to the lesson the students were emailed a PPT with images of families and their weekly food intake (see slider on left). Students then worked in pairs to examine images representing the two countries they drew, and dot down details with a help of a custom worksheet (bottom left). They would then breakdown the families’ consumption for the week, and how it fits in with the nutritional pyramid that we discussed in class in earlier lessons.

Based on the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats, by photographer Peter Menzel and writer Faith D'Aluisio, who invited themselves to diner with 30 families in 24 countries, taking note of every vegetable peeled, every beverage poured, every package opened, and by doing so bringing to attention how globalisation, migration and rising affluence are affecting the diets of communities around the globe, the aim of this assignment was to generate a rich discussion on the topic. The assessment took form of a short oral presentation; students reported their findings and conclusions to the whole class. These were then further discussed and questioned by the class. They received verbal feedback from me as well as from their peers on their efforts and success.

I think this was a fabulous activity in so that it was engaging, incorporated the use of ICT, collaborative work, discussions, utilised and solidified prior knowledge, and allowed me, the teacher, to assess whether the students understand the content. It promoted self-confidence, public speaking and ultimately the students were teaching their findings to their peers. I believe this is an exemplary teaching strategy that further develops, solidifies knowledge, skills, utilises problem solving and engages critical thinking. Most of all, the students loved it and my mentor was well impresses about the outcomes of the lesson.


Adaptation to diet – Teeth

During a lesson on Teeth – distinguishing different types of teeth and their suitability for different diets – students had to examine several animal sculls (which I was fortunate to source from the schools' lab technicians) and with the help of a custom worksheet (click inset on right) determine the types of teeth and possible diet of the animal. Then based on the information they have gathered they had to select from a list of possibilities and make accurate predictions on what animals do the sculls belong to.

The sculls were set up on 6 stations; I rotated the students (who worked in pairs) through these over the course of the lesson. I think this was a fabulous activity in so that it allowed the students to physically examine animal teeth and hence discover and evaluate for themselves their suitability to different diets. We collectively shared the results of our research, I had prepared PPT slides with correct answers, and followed up with a classroom discussion. The lesson was well received by students and my mentor; I will definitely include this activity in my future teaching practice.

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Nutrition/Digestive System/Diet – Links to Principles of Learning and Teaching:

PoLT 1. The learning environment is supportive and productive, by: building positive relationships with my students - getting to know them, who they are and how they learn through continued questioning, informal assessments and individual interactions; promoting a culture of respect through collaborative and cooperative work in a student centred learning environment – group/paired experiments, activities and tasks; utilising strategies that promote students' self confidence and willingness to take risks without the prospects of failure – informal assessments, classroom discussions, celebrating and sharing success;  providing structured support (verbal and non-verbal), valuing effort and providing opportunities for recognition of student work – sharing and providing feedback (individual and classroom wide) .

PoLT 2. The learning environment promotes independence, interdependence and self motivation, by: using strategies that build skills of productive collaboration; encouraging students to take responsibility for their learning – self directed research tasks and activities.

PoLT 3. Students needs, backgrounds, perspectives and interests are reflected in the learning program, by: building on students prior experiences, knowledge and skills – diagnostic assessment; using teaching strategies responsive to students needs, values and interests – self-directed research/learning, contemporary content knowledge; using a range of of strategies that support different ways if thinking and learning – ICT, experiments, research tasks, catering to diverse learning styles.

PoLT 4. Students are challenged and supported to develop deep levels of thinking and application, by: planning sequential learning programs that promote sustained leaning that builds over time and emphasises connections between ideas – lessons that tie to one another and build on concepts; promoting substantive classroom discussions; allowing students to work collaboratively; sharing ideas and opinions, providing feedback.

PoLT 5. Assessment practiced are an integral part of teaching and learning, by: providing frequent constructive feedback to support further learning; encouraging reflection, peer and self assessment – worksheet questions correction; using evidence from assessment to evaluate effectiveness of content and delivery and to inform future planning  and lesson progress.

PoLT 6. Learning connects strongly with communities and practice beyond the classroom, by: supporting students to engage with contemporary knowledge – lifelong health and wellbeing. 

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VIT nutrition

Click on the image above to view links to VIT standards related to design, planning and delivery of my unit of work in Digestive System, Nutrition and Diet in detail. Press Esc key to exit.

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