After 18 years as a classroom teacher and teacher coach, Chandra Simpson took on the challenge of developing a Biology curriculum for an Alternative Education division of a California county’s Office of Education. The California Department of Education requires that students under the age of 19 who are in the juvenile court system attend a court school, an Alternative Education school that provides students with a California standards-based curriculum and offers a course of study that leads to a high school diploma or high school equivalency certificate.
“What I love doing is helping the teachers discover how user-friendly certain tools in education actually are - and I feel very strongly about Labster as one of those tools.”
Labster gives that different, more hands-on experience so they can apply concepts and work their way through figuring out some sort of phenomena. It's just really difficult to mimic those situations without Labster
STUDENTS AT DIFFERENT LEVELS IN THE SAME CLASSROOM
“Court schools present unique challenges for science teachers. You might have one teacher in a classroom with a ninth grader who's taking physical science, three tenth graders taking biology, and someone else taking earth science all in one classroom during the same class period.
Unfortunately, a lot of times what that ends up looking like is just bookwork. They just read a little section of the book, answer the questions, and do the vocabulary words. When you have a student just sitting and doing bookwork, it's very isolating. By adding the Labster component, they’re more familiar when they go back to a traditional comprehensive high school.
Labster gives that different, more hands-on experience so they can apply concepts and work their way through figuring out some sort of phenomena. It's just really difficult to mimic those situations without Labster.
“We give students unlimited quiz attempts. It can be a struggle to get through them, and so sometimes they'll work collaboratively. We allow that because that's how it works in the real world - when you're struggling through a problem, you ask your colleagues for help.
The Labster quiz scores automatically become their assignment grade in Canvas. And they get really excited when they do well on the quizzes. A lot of them have said it feels like a game but they're learning things.
Now with the Customized Quiz Editor, I can manipulate the quiz questions, which is a fantastic feature. There have been times when it's a great Labster but it has two focuses and for our particular unit, I need just one particular focus. So if I can use custom questions, then it's more aligned with the learning objectives.”
PREPARING STUDENTS TO RETURN TO A COMPREHENSIVE HIGH SCHOOL
“Whenever they start with us, the teachers always have them do the Lab Safety and Experimental Design simulations because those are at the beginning of the biology course. A student who has used Labster in our programs has gone through and knows what a beaker is and what all of the terminologies for the tools are.
Teaching students how to think in a variety of situations, how to question things, how to look for evidence - how to really be critical thinkers, that's what the Common Core standards and the NGSS standards are supposed to be doing. Students have ChatGPT, the whole internet, and TikTok at their fingertips. But if we teach them to be critical thinkers and to problem solve, then they become the people who create the next things.
If you give them the skills to know that they don't belong in a box because of the decisions they’ve made and that they have more to offer, then they can advocate for themselves. And so when they can walk out of the Court School and go back to their original school, they've got a whole new set of skills. That breeds confidence. They can see that ‘I'm capable’ - and it just changes their mindset.”
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