Saturday, February 28, 2015

Zombie Brains

Typically my class runs through a Challenge Based Learning approach and I allow my students to design the curriculum. Sometimes in order to guide them through experiences they design, I have to step outside of my comfort zone.
This is one of those times.

When I asked my students what they wanted to learn about the nervous system, many of them mentioned zombies.  As a scientist, the ridiculousness of pop culture zombie brains makes me laugh, but at their request, I researched "zombie lesson plans" and surprisingly found a LOT of information that was almost interesting!!

I "met" Amanda  and Tricia sometime over the last year via Twitter.  They are both fantastic anatomy teachers and we have talked about connecting our classes in Texas, Minnesota, and Kentucky in some way.  When Tricia mentioned a Zombie activity, I was super excited to connect my kids to her ideas!

All of the experiences in this lesson were things I have done in the past or ideas that Tricia or Amanda created or found.  This collaboration really showed me the power of connecting with other teachers to create unique learning experiences for learners.  They both really pushed me to think differently and try something in my classroom that was outside the norm for me.

Here is an overview of the project to answer the student question "Are Zombies possible?"
The complete details are located here in this Google Doc.  
This document also has links to all of the labs and assessment rubrics I used.

1. What are Zombies?
Identify characteristics unique to zombies and discuss what part of the brain might be responsible for that particular characteristic.  I showed a quick movie trailer I created to begin the discussion and then had students look at a few clips from the Walking Dead and other zombie movies to determine the characteristics.  We also looked at PET scans to see how different areas of the brain light up due to different types of stimuli.

2. Brain Dissection 
Students dissected and photographed sheep brains. They used the app Aviary to label the parts.  Labeled images were uploaded to ThingLink and then they added functions to their labels.

3.  Crash Course Video
We used this fantastic video by Hank Green to better understand how the brain works and took notes.

4. Senses Labs 
We did labs over all the different senses and discussed how zombie senses were different, or if we thought they were different.  We tested vision, dissected cow eyes, examined our hearing, and determined how smell connects with memories.  Students created a tutorial over one of the senses to explain to others how the brain interacts with its environment.

5. Reflexes Lab 
We tested our reflexes and our reaction time.

6. Neuron Physiology
We build neurons out of recycled materials and created a stop motion animation to show how a stimulus is received, how an action potential is generated, and how neurotransmitters are released in the synapse.

7. So what did they learn? 
For the summative assessment, students were asked to create a one minute digital story to answer the question "Could a virus infect the brain and cause zombie like characteristics"?

We did a class video competition for this final product, as an incentive for students to be creative and original.  Top videos received a special recognition and were published to our class portfolio.  My favorite part of this was the fact that many of my students would not let me see their story while they were working on it.  They wanted to keep their idea a secret since there was a "competition".

Our students will be providing feedback to their peers in Kentucky and Minnesota.  We are exchanging videos next week and I can't wait to see all of the final products coming in this weekend.

Sharing thoughts via video on FlipGrid

Here is the class portfolio that shows samples of student work throughout this entire project.  I will continue to add to this over the next few days as final products come in.

Portfolio created in BulbApp Portfolios. 

I also incorporated multiple formative assessments to measure where students were in their learning and to help them figure out what areas they still didn't understand.  After each major assignment, students had to write a reflection of their learning and connect back to the zombie question.

Overall, I feel like students learned this content on a much deeper level than in previous years, and it was fun.  If I were to repeat the experience, I would certainly allow more time and incorporate more workshops/scaffolding activities and formative assessments in to make sure they "got it" and felt confident in their knowledge before the final assessment.