Thursday, October 22, 2015

Using Images to Think Deeply

I had the pleasure of watching our 8th grade social studies students build analytical skills that will serve them today, tomorrow, and years into the future.  When I joined the class last week, students were exploring the big idea that the Constitution of the United States is set up with three branches of government - Legislative, Executive, and Judicial - to spread the power out. To think more deeply about this distribution of power the teacher asked students to consider artistic images.  This image yielded interesting insights: 

"I wonder if this has to do with women’s equality."

"I wonder if they are not at some ceremony because they are all dressed up in capes."

“I wonder abut the title in Latin.”

"She has the reigns, so is that representing controlling the power?"

“I wonder what the painter is trying to say about this.  It looks like a grave."

With each image, the teacher continually prompted students to pause and notice.  He referenced the following series of questions (which were posted on each student table) to help students deeply consider the images:
  •         What do I see?
  •        What do I think is going on?
  •        What do I wonder about this image? Questions? Connections?
Later in class, students were then asked to sketch images themselves to summarize big ideas in their reading.  For each paragraph the student would draw a picture to represent the main idea.  For example, one student used the document camera to share her drawing of a tree with Congress as the trunk and the Senate and House of Representatives branching off.  By studying and creating images, students are seeking ways to deeply understand our system of government.

I am excited that our 8th grade students and staff will be heading to the Kennedy Institute this week and next to participate as "senators" in a simulation about the reauthorization of the USA PATRIOT Act. Students will randomly be assigned a state and a political party to represent.  They will take the oath-of-office and for the next 2.5 hours, they will need to represent the needs of their constituents and their political party. It should be an engaging opportunity to experience first hand aspects of the system of government they have been studying in the classroom.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Metacognition in Math

Metacognition in Math

I had the pleasure of sitting in on part of a sixth grade math class last Monday as students were getting back their first POW of the year (Problem of the Week) - The Palindrome POW.  The class was celebrating powerful POWs.  Kool in the Gang was playing "Celebration" in the background, so I had to restrain myself from busting out some dance moves. In this joyous atmosphere the teacher engaged in the effective teaching technique of "think aloud" to help students' build metacognitive self-reflection skills.  The teacher displayed successful, student-written POWs on the document camera and named several features of the POW that made them effective:

- succinct problem statement
- alternating between showing the math in numbers and then explaining it in words
- use of a table
- seeking a pattern in the data (explaining that a palindrome was occurring every ten minutes in the hour for single digit hours)

Students then studied their own POWs, the standards based feedback the teacher had given, and identified in writing at least one strength in their own POWs and one area that they would look to improve upon when writing up their next POW (or re-writing this POW). As a means of ongoing support, the teacher had posted successful POWs on the back bulletin board for students to reference. Additionally, he had included sentence starters and POW vocabulary that might be helpful scaffolds for students to use in their explanatory, non-fiction mathematical writing:
  • To solve this problem...
  • I need to (find out, solve, determine)...
  • The solution is ______.  I know this because _______.
These metacognitive strategies are ones that students can apply across the disciplines. It was terrific to see students engaging in this higher order thinking.  

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Peek at Life Sciences:

While the rain kept seventh grade scientists from their outdoor field research on Wednesday, it did not prevent them from rich learning about creatures native to Massachusetts.  During my visit, I came into the class during the tail end of a focus lesson around research strategies. The teacher was explaining how to effectively use Wikipedia as a tool for identifying keywords to help students craft an effective web search for their creatures.  She then transitioned into student research time.  One student was quick to brief me on the creature feature project they were researching.  He explained that students were choosing one reptile, one amphibian and one insect native to Massachusetts to study. They would ultimately be writing a paragraph about each and making a model of one, including and explaining an adaptation of that creature.   He then went on to tell me several spot-on reasons why the Mass Audubon site was an excellent source for his research.  Another seventh grader was excited to share with me about the spring peeper frogs she was studying. She explained, “They are cool and make a really high pitch sound, kind of like a whistle. They have very big vocal sacs under their chin that allows them to make that sound.”  She showed me her research template, and how this google doc allowed her to organize her notes easily. While I chatted with students, the teacher conferred with each child, having conversations about critters, such as rattle snakes and interesting creature features like mandibles. She also had conversations about note taking, citing resources, and strategies to prevent plagiarism.  It was a sea of learning.  
Check out the images of creatures found outside Thursday morning: