In this post I am going to blog about a little experiment I did with my sophomores covering our last unit, Ecology! I am calling this “flipped-ish” since usually a true flipped classroom involves notes at home, and solely group work in the classroom. With my model, we still are reviewing information in class, but in a summarizing content fashion. Read on if you’re intrigued!
The Struggle is REAL
I have been STRUGGLING this year with figuring out a good note-taking system. I particularly have been struggling with my sophomore advanced biology classes this year. These students must take an end-of-year state test. They need to pass this test to graduate, and unfortunately there is a tremendous pressure for this students to pass this test. Although I try to implement inquiry-based learned, the 5E learning cycle, and project-based learning, I have decided its best we do some sort of note-taking system in class and assess knowledge via quizzes/tests. To put things in perspective, my Biology II (Ecology) class does not have a state test and we usually do a minimal amount of notes and tests. I usually do some sort of mini-quiz as we are learning new content, but instead of tests we do projects. Therefore, we do less notes in Biology II, and more PBL to facilitate and assess learning. With my personal experience with PBL, whatever students put into the project is what students get out of the learning experience. So some students take a tremendous amount away, while some get less out of the experience. Therefore, I still like to do notes in Advanced Biology to ensure every student has the information to pass the state test. I know, I know – there are teachers who are able to do PBL 100% of the time and have their kids pass their state test! My goal is to one day become an educator who is able to do this with their students, but I’m just not there yet, and that’s okay! I am getting more confident in my teaching each year, and I am building more PBL each year. Hopefully one day my classroom will mostly be inquiry-based and project-based learning! But until then, I have really been struggling to figure out a way to make notes more fun and effective!
Here is my note taking journey thus far:
- I tried creating awesome PowerPoints and have students hand write notes. My students complained that their notes were messy and their hands hurt from writing vigorously. I also felt like I was talking to students with blank stares and wasting valuable instructional time waiting for students to write.
- I then switched to fill in the blank notes. I made slot notes that went along with the PowerPoints. This actually wasn’t that bad at all! I saved time, students notes were organized, and I was able to draw on my promethean board to show some of the processes so I was starting to feel a little more creative. But students still weren’t super engaged in the content and I still had several dozing off. They also did not have access to pictures, diagrams, and graphs on the PowerPoint, which many of my students like to refer to when studying.
- I then tried slot notes in Google Slides. I posted the notes via Google Slides on Google Classroom with blanks. Students had to fill in the blank as we went over the content, and at the end they “submitted” the completed notes on classroom. I gave each student a classwork grade for completing the notes. This saved me SO much time and students had access to view the pictures, diagrams, and graphs. However, I really felt like students were not digesting the material as well as when they write it out. Research has shown that writing helps learning, and we were now missing that component! This was showing across the board in informal and formative assessing of their knowledge. It just wasn’t sticking!
I was stumped! I had no idea the best way to cover material in an engaging, efficient manner. And then I came across The Magnolia Teacher’s mind-mapping notes. I was completely inspired! I put a twist on the note taking system to fit high school, and this is what I came up with!
My Version of the Flipped-ish Classroom & Mind-Mapping:
My goals of changing my note taking style was to:
- Complete notes in an engaging way
- Have students write but not waste too much time
- Create dialect between the students and myself
Step 1: PowerPoint & Guided Notes for Homework
I have Google Classroom set up for all of my classes, which I utilized here. Like I do for all units, I broke down our Ecology Unit into chunks. I posted the PowerPoints notes for the first chunk of the Ecology Unit on Google Classroom, and I also gave students a Guided Note sheet. The Guided Note sheet is composed of questions that students answer by reading the PowerPoints. This is a way to ensure the students read the material before class and a way to practice questions similar to quiz and test questions. I also like that students now have access to the PowerPoints to refer to if they like to look at PowerPoints to study.
Step 2: Draft of Mind-Mapping Notes
Before doing mind-mapping notes with the students, I made my own draft of the mind-mapping notes. I basically looked at the PowerPoints, broke it into bite-size information, and then mapped out the content on graph paper. Sometimes I like organizing the notes chronologically, while other times I like to make it a concept map style. My style and organization of these notes is evolving as I become more comfortable with this note-taking style, and I imagine these mind-mapping notes are going to change over time (@themagnoliateacher is mind-mapping note goals). The biggest thing I had to remember is that these mind-mapping notes are not the first time students are seeing the material. Since the students have reviewed the material at home prior to class, I can summarize the topics and make it more digestible chunks of information. This means I save time in class so we can get on to more exciting things (labs and activities)! So the key takeaway here: don’t try to write down EVERYTHING on your Mind-Mapping Notes. Just include the main information and remember that students have access to the nitty-gritty details and should have reviewed it for homework with the Guided Notes.
Step 3: Mind-Mapping Notes in Class
My students don’t have interactive notebooks (which I am soooo implementing next year), so instead I asked students to get a few pieces of notebook paper out and something to write with. I offerred students my markers, highlighters, and colored pencils while we took these notes. Most of my high schoolers had colored pens which made this pretty easy to roll out!
I have a VERY limited amount of white board space. So I have to write out half of the notes, then go back and erase my work to finish writing the notes. Therefore, I had my students write notes simultaneously with me. As we reviewed the Ecological topics, we did this in a discussion format. I asked students to tell me everything they knew about abiotic vs biotic factors, or niche vs. habitat, etc. Since my students had completed the Guided Notes from the night before, everyone was very familiar with the content, and this quickly became a conversational atmosphere (very different from typical lecture PowerPoints).
I had SO much fun while doing notes with my classes! Who would have thought! Something that usually is so monotonous was now suddenly exciting and engaging. I also love that I get to be creative while we do this… something that I think high school teachers sometimes don’t get to do enough of!
Step 4: Feedback
Y’all know I love my feedback! Even though I LOVED this note taking style, I needed to get feedback from my students to see how they liked it. And honestly, I was worried. If they didn’t like the mind-mapping notes, I thought my teaching heart would break. I gave each student a sticky and asked for honest feedback about these types of notes. On the way out of class, students put their sticky on my door. Once my kids were gone, I anxiously read through the stickies. Overwhelmingly, my student were super positive about these notes. About 90% of the stickies were loving this system! Notes read: This is fun, I love it, Please keep doing this, I need to write to understand, I like using color, etc. The only negatives I received were that I went too fast (which is always something I am constantly working on), and one read “I don’t like taking notes in general, so whatever you do I will hate it. It was alright” <– sometimes you gotta laugh, thanks for the honesty bud. However, the fact that SO many students enjoyed this note-taking system was a huge indicator to me that this is something I need to permanently implement next year.
The Plan for Next Year
My plan is to implement this note-taking system next year along with interactive notebooks. I may need to play it by ear and I may have to provide slot notes for students instead of straight mind-mapping if the content is too intense (cell respiration, protein synthesis, etc.), but I think overall I can incorporate mind-mapping and interactive notebooks with a flipped-ish classroom next year!
My hope is that this post inspires and builds confidence in anyone who has also been tossing around the idea to change the way notes are done in a high school class! If you are thinking of taking this plunge with me next year, let me know! If you are already doing this and have more tips/suggestions to make this successful, let me know! I would LOVE to create a network where we can support one another as we continue to make learning more engaging and fun!
Thanks for keeping up with my teaching journey!