Thursday, April 27, 2017

Expecting the Unexpected: When Math and Science Collide

My plans for our math lesson did not go in a direction I ever would have expected, but in a student-centered classroom one never knows where a lesson might go. The objective of the lesson was for students to convert one metric unit of mass.

I asked students what conversions they knew, and wrote them on the board. I then asked why a scientist might use mass. Blank looks faced me. Students had an opportunity to discuss in small groups reasons a scientist uses mass. States of matter was mentioned, leading me to ask about chemical and physical reactions.

The infamous soda and Mentos experiment was the foundation of our conversation. Is this a physical reaction or a chemical reaction? Students pondered this and came to the conclusion it was a chemical reaction because it causes an explosion. Students had various reasons of why this was the case, stating their claim. Imagine their surprise when I asked how many people in the room thought it was a chemical reaction, and every single person’s hand went up BUT MINE.

This experiment is actually a physical reaction. I shared the reasoning behind this, asking them to think about wood. When you burn wood is it still wood when the fire dissipates? It turns to ash! When you do the soda and Mentos experiment does the soda and Mentos change or are they still soda and Mentos? Lots of things to think about!

Connecting this back to our objective we examined the periodic table of elements. We discovered what this was and used the periodic table to convert the elements’ mass to different units. I was asked is this still math? Isn’t this science now? I asked her, “What do you think?” And the class realized it is both. We are using science to talk math!

Students were excited and engaged to convert elements’ mass. There was a real world application to our lesson. I certainly did not see the math lesson heading in this direction. Expecting the unexpected is one of the best parts of learning and teaching. Students today discovered way more than converting metric units.  

Students told me they learned the following in this lesson:
§  The mass of different elements
§  Reviewing reading whole numbers and decimals
§  Using measurement conversions
§  The periodic table and science and can be connected to mass and math
§  Practice rounding numbers
§  There are a lot of elements on the Periodic Table
§  Periodic table does not have an order that is as complicated as it seems
§  There is a lot of math in science

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Children Need Champions: Building Relationships

I love getting to know each of my students beyond the school day. I take a vested interest in their lives in and out of school. Asking about their weekends, chatting about their evenings, or listening to them as they come in to the classroom and socialize in the cubby area are ways I can engage students in conversations about their interests.

This past year I learned that connecting to their families on social media such as Facebook is another way for me to build relationships with students. I was able to talk to a student about how proud she looked showing off her award winning artwork at the MIT Curiosity Challenge. Another student and I discussed his recent trip to Florida, as the pictures his mother posted depicted some fun excursions by the water. Smiling family photos of a visit to Mexico gave me the chance to touch base with a student about his trip there.

Often students do not come bustling into the room sharing what they did over vacation or the night before with their teacher much like some, when asked what the did at school respond with, “Nothing.” Rather than ask how their vacation was or what they did the night before I can ask more specific questions from what I saw on Facebook. Students’ conversations are meaningful, and they go into detail about the event I asked about.

Recently a student mentioned on a video reflection assignment about how people swim with dolphins. I asked the child if he had ever done so, and he replied that he had not. I called over a classmate who had recently swum with a dolphin because I saw the photo on Facebook and began asking him all kinds of questions. Our conversation ended with three boys and me howling with laughter, and it connected us all in that moment. Had I not seen the picture on social media this encounter would have not happened. I am sure glad it did, since every child needs a champion who understands him or her beyond the school day. 

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Hooking Students For Elementary Teachers Can be Yeoman's Work

Have you ever been so ENGAGED in an activity you had no idea how much time went by? What about the time you were reading a book and could not put it down? These moments where time goes by and you are so involved in your activity is what elementary teachers try to accomplish every hour of every day for their students. Many of us have to do yeoman’s work as we teach a variety of subjects.

Coming up with a hook for a lesson can be challenging and changes each year, as the students in front of us are not the same people from the year before.  Here are some tips to creating engaging hooks for lessons.

1.     Think about your audience.
2.     What are their passions? Interests? Vices?
3.     Do they enjoy talking to friends or the solace of a few minutes to explore things quietly?

I used those 3 thoughts to kick off my math and science lessons yesterday. Students were going to plant parsley seeds for our school community garden, reviewing the concepts of what plants need. They LOVE to read and work in groups, as well as share information learned.

We headed to our STEM room and designed collaborative working groups at small tables. Using five vastly different picture books about gardens, I introduced the lesson. Students were responsible for reading their book in a small group and then share out a brief summary of the book, lessons learned, and connections to why we would read this book before planting seeds. I also told them I would be using a random student generator to choose students to share out and take questions from the class, so everyone had to be responsible and ready!

For the next 15 minutes students were reading, sharing thoughts and writing notes. Our discussion that followed was rich with conversation and the planting of parsley seeds had a whole new meaning after exploring literature in science.

The same three guiding thoughts helped me create the foundation of the lesson on US Customary units and conversions in math. I have curious learners who are trying to think globally. I asked what US Customary units of measurement were, and some students shared both US Customary and Metric units. I did not initially correct them but shared I heard some metric units. We googled US Customary units to decide on a finite list.

I showed them a map  of who uses US Customary units. Students were shocked as they had no idea how few people actually used these units of measurement. I asked them to think about whether or not they agreed that we even use US Customary units throughout the lesson.

Our culminating activity was for students to write me a paragraph sharing their thoughts on the measurement units used in the US. Do you agree or disagree that we use US Customary Units? Explain your thinking. What a great dinner table conversation! 

Many felt they agreed that we should use it because we always have and are used to it. Others were not so sure and felt using both was helpful, as we needed to be aware of both systems in case we travel or work with different countries.

Others shared that we should have one to unite as a globe. Asking students big real life questions in connection with our math lessons encourages a deeper level of thinking than just converting measurements or identifying what unit to use.

Digging deep and hooking learners will engage them in their own education process and make the classroom an exciting place to be!