Using a space to introduce hormones

I liked that we were able to use information in posts that were created by other students instead of just listening to you tell us the information. It was more interesting and the language was easier to understand.

This was a response from one of my 10th graders after I asked my classes today to reflect on how effective using a space was in helping them begin to learn about the endocrine system (the system of glands that control hormones in the body).

My classes are in the beginning stages of an anatomy and physiology unit, and the endocrine system was this week’s topic. The first few classes in the past have focused on a straight presentation of the key glands, some of the better known hormones, and their function in the body. To biochemists (and in many cases adolescents) hormones make for a fairly interesting topic, but a straight lecture can quickly kill interest for students.

I decided I wanted to approach this introductory material in a slightly different way. Endocrine System Inquiry is the MSWord document with my directions for the lesson.

The school’s essential question for the year is “What’s our Impact?” I decided to connect the hormones to man-made chemical disruptors of hormones that are often found in the environment. This provided context for the lesson.

Students were assigned to one of seven hormone/disruptor pairs, and all together the seven topics related directly to the seven key endocrine glands I wanted the students to learn about. Students were asked to address four prompts through research during class and then for homework. Their answers to the prompts were then  posted to via an e-mail.

Today students worked together to view each other’s posts, and take notes on each of the seven hormones.

Benefits I saw in the posterous driven inquiry approach:

  • Students were engaged on both days. They discussed what they were reading and what  should be summarized in their post. As the intro quote shows, the fact that the kids were learning from each other helped with engagement.
  • By adding the environmental context for learning this material students saw the relevance and were interested to learn more. For example, several students asked whether they could select specific hormones or disruptors based on prior interest.
  • For most students this was the first time they were asked to distill information from fairly technical sources, and even though they struggled at times, ultimately they took pride in their ability to make sense of the sources.
  • Posting with posterous can be done through an e-mail, so the technical threshold was very low and enabled participation. The theme I used put each post side by side into 3 columns as opposed to the more typical scroll on blogs . This made it easier for the students to find information in the second part of the lesson.
  • This is an introductory level class, so the amount of information in the posts, and the level of the content is not very high. But this was a benefit. The small number of structured prompts and the amount that I was expecting (1-2 paragraphs) for each post was a low barrier. Kids for whom the technical sources were a challenge were less intimidated because they could see themselves completing the assignment.

Some draw backs:

  • The students’ posts did have errors and I did not edit the posts. I will be debriefing part 2 of the activity in a class discussion on Thursday to make sure that the errors are addressed. However, as I walked around today and saw the notes kids were taking, the majority of the information was well done.
  • This is an activity that is probably 3 times longer (1 day for research, 1 day for note-taking on posts, 1 day to debrief) than the standard lecture approach. For many classes this might be an issue. I feel that the time was worth it. Students were engaged and interested.

I still need to see how lasting the learning will be with this approach, but my sense is that for most it will be better than if I had just presented it at the board. We’ll see.

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