Part 9: Summit Prep Teachers Integrating Technology: 9th Grade Biology

“With-it-ness” and “ripple effect” are seldom heard in university teacher education courses today. Over four decades ago, Jacob Kounin, A Wayne State (MI) professor coined these phrases based upon his observations in elementary and secondary classrooms. His point was simple: teachers can prevent misbehavior in their classrooms and get students to accept classroom norms if they organize their lesson, plan for student participation, and anticipate student behavior. With-it-ness is the ability of teachers to constantly scan their classroom during a lesson while lecturing, guiding a discussion, or listening to student answers and simultaneously calling out students before they pass a note to a classmate, get disengaged from assigned task, or secretly text from cell phones on their laps. Such teacher behaviors convince students that the teacher “has eyes in the back of her head.” Kounin also noted that when teachers cautioned a student prior to a misbehavior or inattention, the students near the admonished student controlled their behavior and became attentive. Hence, the “ripple effect.”

Both these and other teacher actions during a lesson, researchers argue, contribute further to socializing young students to the norms, behaviors, and attitudes embedded in the school culture and, they further argue, are essential for academic achievement.

I saw these 9th grade student behaviors in full view while observing Biology teacher Kristel Hsaio’s class on March 22, 2016. Of course, I saw much more in that 90-minute lesson than “with-it-ness” and “ripple effects” reinforcing socialization to Summit Prep norms. So here is my description of that lesson that included many tasks students worked on their new unit on DNA Barcoding including student presentations, self-assessments of their work, frequent pairing of classmates and whole-group discussion.

Kristel Hsiao is a five year veteran of teaching in Chicago at Solorio Academy High School–she was one of its founding teachers. While there she developed science curricula and piloted the use of iPad carts in classrooms. After moving to the Bay area, she applied to and was hired to teach biology at Summit Prep. She organized her classroom furniture and used white boards to reflect her goals for the courses she taught.

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As students entered the class, Hsiao greeted each one with a hearty “good morning” and a high-five slap of hands. Two and three students sit at each table. There are 26 in the room. Precisely at 10:40, the time for the block class to begin, the teacher calls the 26 students’ attention to the Warm Up on a slide projected on the front screen:

“Answer three questions:

*What did you do over the weekend?

*What are you looking forward to this week?

*What are you concerned about this week?”

Students open Chromebooks and click away. Two students are dallying and Hsiao says: “Everyone should be working, no talking.” After five minutes, teacher says “eyeballs and ears up here. Close computers.” She counts down from 5 to 0. She then proceeds to give students a preview of the DNA barcoding unit over the next month by projecting slides on the screen. She then returns to the agenda for the day:

*Warm Up

››Group Work – Step 1


›*Exit Slip

Student presentations are the center-piece of the lesson–the student sitting next to me tells me she is nervous about hers. But there is more that Hsiao wants to cover before students present articles they read. She goes over key features of the new DNA barcoding project that the class will work on for next four weeks. She describes the work they will do each week, the upcoming Spring break, the two weeks away from class to do Expeditions, and when they will finish the DNA barcoding unit. “Any questions,” she asks. Three students want to know about dates, lab reports, etc.

Hsiao then asks students to turn to next task, Group Work-Step 1 on cognitive skills (students and teacher calls them “cog skills”) they will be covering for today’s activities. Class knows the process to do this and Hsiao lists what each pair and trio is to do (for list of cognitive skills, see here).

*Right Partner: Read Cog Skill 

›“Today’s cog skill is…”

›“To get an A we must…”

*Left Partner: Read Objective

›“By the end of class, students will be able to…”

*Middle (or Right) Partner: Read Agenda

›“First, we will…Then, we will…Finally, we will…”

After 5-7 minutes of this group work, Hsiao tells class that they now have to do self-assessment for STEP O (SDL PLAN) in their PLP (Personal Learning Plan). This is the first thing that students do when they begin a new project. Students are familiar with process of setting goals for themselves and determining what level they wish to achieve–rubric lays out specific behaviors for high grade. They begin reading and clicking away on their Chromebooks. A few put in earbuds and everyone switches their seats to face the rear of the classroom. When I asked a student why they moved their chairs, she told me that it is less distracting to face the back of room when they are setting goals and figuring out what level they should set for themselves. Students tap away and go over each part of  STEP O (see here)*. Hsiao asks student next to me to show what is on her screen and what she is doing. She does.

I scan the classroom and everyone is now facing the rear of the room and is tapping away in their Chromebook.

This activity continues for about 15 minutes as teacher moves around the classroom answering questions, checking individual students entries, and asking particular students why they have assessed themselves at the level they chose. As students work through STEP O, Hsiao says to class that if there are students who want comments on their presentation–the next activity–they should let her access their presentations and she will look at it. Teacher brings this activity to a close and moves to student presentations.

Before calling on the first student to come to front and present the article she had read–she had sent her slides to the teacher’s laptop–Hsiao goes over a slide listing the class norms for when students give reports:


Send Mrs. Hsiao a link to your presentation.

The audience will clap politely as you walk up to the stage.

WHILE PRESENTING: Your peers will grade you using the Oral Presentation Scoring Guide. Your teacher will take these scores into consideration when she grades you.


Audience will clap calmly and politely.

Audience will ask up to 3 questions.

Mrs. Hsiao will input your grade by the end of the day.”


In the five presentations I heard, students follow a template of tasks that frame each presentation.

*What claim does author make in article?

*What is my analysis of claim? Evidence author used and what I thought of it.

*Why is claim important?

*Why did I choose this article?

After each presentation, student asks for questions from class-mates.

Hsiao had passed out sheets for students to evaluate each of the presentations.

In scanning the class while each of the five students were presenting, I noted that every student was attending to presenter.

Rather than describe each PowerPoint presentations I and the class listened to, I will describe one.  This student analyzed an article about colorblindness entitled: “Your Color Red Could Really Be My Blue.” The student went over each of the above questions in an especially clear and concise sentences , showed a video of monkeys being injected with a virus that would change cones in the eyes to see other colors, and added information drawn from the article about color-blindness. At the end of her PowerPoint, she asked for questions and there were a half-dozen. The class applauded vigorously. Each student, then, as they had done with the earlier PowerPoints rated their classmate’s presentation (See Student Rating of Presentations).

After last student presents, class applauds, and questions are asked, Hsiao counts down from 5 to 0 to get students’ attention. After the volume of noise approaches quiet, Hsiao compliments the presenters: “they were excellent,” she says. Then she segues to final task of lesson which is to get students to move to Step 1 of DNA barcoding unit (“Learn Basics of DNA). They will study DNA of different Huskie dogs and later seafood animals.**   She asks that students get in their teams (teacher had preassigned students to each team and names appeared on a slide), assign roles for which member of team is to do, and use readings and video materials. To reinforce understanding of task, she has students repeat chorally: “What Step will we be working on?” “Step 1,” students respond. Class ends shortly after as students continue working in teams.

Here was a lesson designed and implemented by an experienced teacher that reinforced class norms–what academics call socialization–while simultaneously aligning lesson activities for the beginning of a project, having students report on their analysis of articles they read, and for 90 minutes having “eyes in the back of her head” to prevent misbehaving. The sheer complexity of teaching was on full display during the lesson.


*This link and others were created by a team of biology teachers in Summit high schools that included Hsiao.

**According to Hsiao, “The purpose of the activity was to build background knowledge about DNA so that students are ready for the DNA barcoding unit. In the DNA barcoding unit, students will collect samples of seafood from local restaurants and then analyze the DNA in the samples to determine if the seafood is mislabeled. Then they will make conclusions about whether or not the seafood sold in their communities is sustainable. Throughout the project, students will practice writing and inquiry skills, as well as apply their knowledge of food webs and DNA.”



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