This is a guest post written by a team of teachers and VoiceThreaders at the South Burlington School District.
Our students have a lot to say. Imagine all of the opinions swirling around our topic of Bioethics in a tenth grade general science class! How could we hear from each of the 85 learners in our 4 sections of Biology, and allow them to share thoughts with students in other sections? VoiceThread provided the obvious answer.
We offered them choice between compelling topics and provided suggested resource materials, so the focus could remain on accurate content rather than research skills. Students joined self-selected groups. The teacher had already presented information about DNA and Genetic testing. Rather than a traditional test, we decided to allow students to give voice to their ideas as they explored challenging topics in the realm of bioethics, using the scientific information they had learned in class. VoiceThread allowed them to follow a formula: state the dilemma, explain the science behind it, define the ‘pros’ of the issue, and give clarity about the ‘cons’ of the issue. Ask colleagues: What do YOU think?
Finding a compelling image was fairly easy. Creating a brief script with a group of 4 students was a bit more challenging. We wanted them to be able to record their voices in a fairly casual way; to be accurate but not too scripted. After two class periods of reading, further research, and composition of a statement, we were ready to record. Finding a quiet place for small groups became a challenge, but hallways, closets, and empty classrooms provided some answers.
Instead of the boring class presentations where student after student rises to explain their work, we had students simply review their colleagues’ VoiceThreads, and post comments explaining their opinion on the controversial topic. For the students who hate to stand up in front of a group to share their projects, this was a gift, indeed. Every student could hear what every ‘expert’ had to say on the topic, then hear their classmates’ opinions, and then add their own voice. By the way, we insisted on using their voice, because strings of typed comments are simply tiring and uninspiring.
The exciting next step was to share the Threads among the four biology classes. Now students could hear how ‘experts’ in other classes approached a topic, and to do a brief tally of how other students reacted to each topic. Students were able to chime in on conversations among learners who weren’t even in their own class! It was safe, yet exciting, to be part of a conversation where colleagues were expressing very personal beliefs. In fact, even on a snow day students were making comments on Threads! That’s pretty clear evidence that the project was a success.
Simultaneously, our students all have Personal Learning Plans, which include a statement of their core values. The final step of the project was for students to consider the ways in which their core values helped them make decisions around bioethics. In a couple of cases students actually modified or added to their values, recognizing their earlier lists were too superficial to be truly meaningful:
“My core values and VoiceThread really helped me express my ideas and helped me make decisions in the bioethics dilemmas because I felt like in order for science and biology to be successful we have to persevere and improve in our research, and improving and success are two of my core values. When replying to other teams’ dilemmas I needed to reevaluate (or add) to my core values list and I also had to restate my ideas on even my own project because other peoples comments changed my mind and persuaded me.”
Another student added:
“My core values helped me make decisions in bioethical dilemmas because they helped me clearly choose a side in most of the decisions I was faced with. ..Voicethread helped my critical thinking process because it helped me learn about new things, and gave me an opinion on both sides of a problem. For example, when I listened to golden rice, I heard arguments for both sides of the dilemma. This made me think about my viewpoints, which lead to further thinking and better decision making. Also, VoiceThread helped me do better work because everyone had an equal voice, and once it was uploaded I could go back to it and listen at anytime of day. These are the reasons technology helped my critical thinking, and why my core values helped me make decisions in bioethical dilemmas.”
VoiceThread not only allowed students to participate equally in learning science and forming opinions but in extending that learning to real life. It allows learning to happen any time, any place, any path, at any pace.
About the Authors:
Rich Wise is a Science teacher who has been teaching science for 40 years and is retiring in June.
Heidi Western is an ELL teacher who began working with English Learners in South Burlington in 1999. She works within science classes to broaden all students’ academic language skills and supports the ELLs in a science literacy lab.
Lauren Parren is the Tech Integration Coach. Lauren joined the SBHS staff 3 years ago, coming full circle after doing her student teaching there over 40 years ago. She works with teachers to explore the intersection of technology and pedagogy to create meaningful learning opportunities.