Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Rethinking Review Strategies to Boost Student Performance on Science Assessments

Reviewing is such an essential part of teaching. Students can seem to understand each concept as we present it (remembering one objective a day is generally not too overwhelming), but at the end of a unit, semester, or year, it is crucial to give students the tools they need to integrate all the material they have learned.

Many students simply do not 
know how to review.  

They can fill out a review sheet that is provided to them, but studying that review sheet, and making sure they understand the material, is a stretch. Many of them simply want to memorize the material on the review sheet, and depending on the test they're studying for, this can be a sure way to fail.

Here are some strategies for making the most out of review time for your students:

#1 -- Rethink your Review Sheet

If your review sheet is a list of questions, I can guarantee you that students will answer the questions, study those questions, and feel like they have prepared sufficiently for your test. If your test includes the exact same questions as the review sheet, this is fine. It doesn't necessarily help students learn the material, but they should do well on the assessment. However, if your test is written differently than the review sheet is (as most tests are), your students will leave the test shocked that they did so poorly when they "studied SO hard!"

In middle school or high school level courses, it is a little overwhelming to students when you say, "Learn the material I taught you in this unit."  In AP, that's exactly what I say, because at the end of the course, they are required to take a test that literally could include anything we studied, and maybe even tiny details we didn't cover directly in class.  For my non-AP students, however, I try to focus their studying a little by providing a list of "Test Topics." This is just a list of words/phrases/concepts they should be familiar with. I do not provide questions.

Providing questions gives students a false sense of security -- many of them think that if they study the provided questions then they will know everything they need to know for the test.

So, I provide a list, and students can create their own study guides - including hints, examples, and their own questions.  This enables them to focus on the important content, while also making them THINK MORE about the topics than simply memorizing answers to questions.

#2 -- Model "Make Your Own Questions" in Class

Many students have no idea how to write their own review questions.  The first time I ask them to write questions, I get a lot of "Define __________" (fill in vocabulary word).  In class, I try to model a variety of techniques to them to show them how they can write their own questions.

Two Truths and a Lie
I put the students in pairs, and tell them "Write down three statements from the unit's material. Two statements must be completely true, and one is false." Then they can switch with another pair and see if they can determine the lie (and maybe even fix it to be true). In the process of coming up with their statements, students must sift through, and review, and discuss, a lot of material.

One of these things is not like the other
This is similar to the above activity. Again, I put students in pairs and tell them, "Write down four words/phrases from the unit's material. Three of them should be related in some way, and the other should not." Again, they should switch with another pair and see if they can determine the outlier and give reasons why.

I have had students come up with examples of this where depending on how you looked at their list, three of them could go together in one way, and three others could go together in a different way. This is an excellent way to get students to look at the relationships between words and concepts.

On review day, you can take the best student written questions and use them as review. Often these student written questions can be just as challenging as the ones on the test itself, as long as students have taken it seriously and really thought through the questions they are writing.

#3 -- Foldables or Flashcards

Here is an example of an 
foldable review sheet. 
Encourage students to make interactive study sheets.

If the study sheet is on a single sheet of paper, with questions and answers right next to each other, studying is very passive.  

Staring at a question and a correct answer does not force them to retrieve any information, but it makes them feel like they know everything.
If you turn that same study sheet into a foldable, with information below liftable tabs [see photo], students are able to really tell if they know the material. The student instructions for making the VSEPR/IMF review foldable are available here.

Flashcards are similar and also allow students to change up the order of the questions/words which allows for better learning of concepts instead of learning the order of the words/questions.

My students playing
The Periodic Trail
#4 -- Games

Games are my favorite way to review with my classes.  I avoid "whole class" games, because they do not encourage students to be actively participating for the whole time. For this reason, I avoid Kahoot and Jeopardy type games.  My favorite games are played in pairs or groups of 3.  Games should include questions at varying difficulty (and if needed, you can differentiate by giving weaker pairs fewer types of questions).

I have found that games that allow students some sort of way to "sabatoge" their opponent bring the most excitement to my classroom.

Games can be as complicated or as simple as you have time for. If you download generic game boards, you can turn any worksheet into a game by simply cutting it up into question cards. Making games for my classes is one of my hobbies and I have an assortment of Chemistry and AP Chemistry games in my TPT store and am adding new ones as I create them for my students.
I have seen even the most reluctant of students come to life when playing games (even when those games force them to practice complicated calculations)!

Do you have a specific method or strategy you use to help your students review? Comment and share!

Monday, March 4, 2019

Welcome to My Science Toolbox!

Behind My Science Toolbox is a belief that science classrooms can be places where students can learn, struggle, grow, and do all of this while enjoying the process.  
My Chemistry and AP Chemistry classrooms are filled with students at differing ability levels, and I keep the expectations and rigor high, but that doesn't mean we have to lose the fun and the joy of learning.

Instead of worksheets, try activities and games.  These can be as complicated or as simple as you want -- many people assume games are "fluff," but the right game can be incredibly challenging.  Students learn more when they're invested, and they're invested when they're enjoying the learning.

Follow this blog for science teaching tips, hints for scaffolding difficult concepts, and ways to keep your expectations and rigor high, while making your classroom a safe place for students to make mistakes and learn.