“Miss S, I feel like a scientist!” -E
Oh, E…that’s the whole point!
P.S. – Didn’t even have to bust out the lab coats, gloves and goggles for this one. Just putting some Elodea in a test tube. No big deal.
I’ve been working really hard on planning my innovative unit so that it is ready to implement at the end of March. I’ve been struggling with planning because I’ve been working with the Big Idea of “structure implies function” in talking about plants, but my Big Idea was going to suddenly change at the start of my innovative unit, which is a mini-unit on invertebrates within the larger unit of Animals.
I had my heart set on doing a true, full-fledged inquiry lab unit – mostly because I haven’t had the opportunity to do one yet. So I forced it. I planned for a Big Idea, and then a half-hearted attempt at an Essential Question and tried to make both of those items fit with an inquiry pill-bug lab, in which kids would manipulate different variables to see how pill-bugs react to external stimuli. But, nothing fit together. They were disconnected pieces that didn’t work together towards the whole.
For those of you keeping score at home: Innovative Unit planning – 1, Katy – 0
So I went to class on Monday feeling alright about my unit. It wasn’t my best work, but I was going to make it happen, gosh darn it. That is, until our work session in class when Lisa looked at my Big Idea, my Essential Question, and my unit components. She articulated to me what I knew in my heart – this wasn’t going to work.
Sometimes, we get our hearts set on this SUPER MEGA AWESOME ACTIVITY and then we dream up this VERY APPEALING ESSENTIAL QUESTION and try to make it fit with the SOMEWHAT RELEVANT BIG IDEA. I fell into this trap when planning for the innovative unit. Fortunately, during class last night, I was able to take a step back, delete my poorly worded and poorly connected Essential Question, and come up with a VERY APPEALING ESSENTIAL QUESTION – one that April might even call a SEXY question – Why no backbone?
So there you have it. Even when you have a SUPER MEGA AWESOME ACTIVITY, take a step back and look at it from a student’s perspective. If students are supposed to be able to collect evidence from this SUPER MEGA AWESOME ACTIVITY, and then, based on that evidence, draw conclusions that lead them back to the Big Idea (which, should be an answer to your Essential Question), then students should be able to make those connections. The connections should not be so subtle that it would take MUCH MORE information to make the connections than what students could get out of a single (or multiple) inquiry investigations.
Simple as that.
Innovative unit planning – 1, Katy – 2
I had a fun fun fun day on Friday. My teaching is no where near perfect, but I’m doing so many more labs and activities than I had the chance to do in my last placement. Middle school curriculum is so much more open ended than Living Environment. There’s a delicate balance to this – I have lots of time to do really cool stuff with the 6th graders, but they don’t yet have the opportunity to achieve a more sophisticated understanding of biology (read: life science). But this isn’t so bad, right? I mean, they’re 6th graders. They’re not doing groundbreaking work here, but what they’re doing is still pretty awesome.
On Tuesday, Jo Ann gave me the fantastic idea to do stations for seed dispersal mechanisms of plants. I immediately ran out to the craft store and bought a bouncy ball, feathers, tiny puff balls, Velcro and felt. Supplement these items with a small tub for water, a hairdryer and some tiny Tupperware containers and BAM I’ve got my stations.
Then, my only task was to determine how to best present these stations. I love being cheesy, so I capitalized on that and made the kids TOP SECRET MISSION PACKETS in which they were alien special agents on special assignment. Their alien commander is looking into invading Earth and is concerned with seed dispersal mechanisms of Earthly plants, so he’s sending his agents out to collect observations and make inferences about these seeds. Their packets looked like this…
I had a lot of fun introducing it to the students and I think they had fun during the lesson. Students were making awesome observations and connections that I hadn’t expected. I can’t wait to look at their mission packets this weekend and read what I may have missed while jumping from discussion to discussion.
Note to self: Probably should have made the situation such that the kids were still human but were travelling to an alien planet. Pretty sure that seeds do not disperse themselves through Tupperware on Earth.
My first student teaching placement in the city has ended and my second student teaching placement in the suburbs has begun. And I am going to say this and I will stand by it for the entirety of my career: “Students everywhere have problems. It does not matter the location of the school – urban, suburban or rural. All.students.have.problems.”
My second block of the day was interrupted today by an announcement sharing with the school that one of the 7th grade students had died after an accident in a lacrosse game. Not many of my 6th graders knew the student, but after a few minutes of instruction, it was clear that some students were very upset. My CT took one student down to the counselor’s office and I did some impromptu review sessions for the test the students were supposed to take today. Which is when the kids started working in small groups. Which is when I made my rounds around the classroom to check on individual groups. Which is when I noticed the tears in B’s eyes. Which is when I asked her if she needed to take a walk. Which is when we made our way down to the library. Which is when I had a flashback.
When I was a freshman in high school, a sophomore, D, committed suicide. I remember having one of the hardest morning hockey practices of my high school career that day, as our coach was trying to get our minds off of the news. An announcement was made during Convocation (our morning gathering in the Chapel, since we didn’t have a PA system), and the sophomore student council played Puff Daddy’s “I’ll Be Missin You.” Dry eyes were hard to find in the school of 450 students that day. Classes were held as usual, but counselors were stationed throughout the school. I remember spending my history block with 3 other students from different grades and a counselor sharing memories of D. Teachers were understanding and caring, but they also let us grieve as we lost a member of our community.
I was overwhelmed when I stepped into the library with B. It was filled with students hugging and crying, students trying to reach parents on their cell phones, students fighting back tears while drawing on posters celebrating the memory of their friend. It was so unbelievably powerful that it took me a few moments before I was able to take it all in. I truly believe that Tyler will always be a part of this school community and he will not be forgotten.