Have you ever had a class of middle school students that tested your resolve to come to work each day. Engaging difficult classes is at the core of a successful middle school teaching career. Activities that students can learn from, stay busy and be motivated can be difficult to find. The metric race car lab was an activity that I created for such a class. They loved it, it kept their attention and we learned a little along the way. The lab is broken into three basic parts
Student choose a race car, Formula One or NASCAR. This is a great internet research activity. Using that car, they need to figure out the dimensions of the car in the metric system, from length, width, height and mass. This is a great opportunity to get them to apply their measurement skills on a project. At the end of the activity, students draw their own vehicle with measurements and dimensions. As a culminating challenge, I provide them with three samples of simulated fuel. Students must calculate the densities of each fuel to determine which type is the best. Hint: Less dense means less car mass, which means greater speed. Its fun to have kids make posters or mark out the lengths of the car on the classroom wall.
If you are looking to try out this lab with out the extra work of creating the materials. Visit my store to purchase the lesson.
Google docs are a great tool for student collaboration and creation. If that’s all your using them for, don’t sell yourself short. Google docs create great reinforcement activities that enhance student learning. In this post we will look at Plate Tectonics Google Sorts.
To start this lesson sequence, we will look at two important scientists. Alfred Wegener and Harry Hess. These gentlemen made significant contributions to the theories of plate tectonics in their own unique way. Wegener was passionate about the study of polar weather and when he wasn’t traveling to the artic he was pitching his theory how the plates of the Earth move. He froze to death in the artic and his body can still be found there today (buried under 100 feet of ice). Middle school students love these details. He is responsible for the concept of Pangea, one of the most popular supercontinents in history.
Well after Wegener's death, Harry Hess provided additional support to Wegener’s ideas through the use of SONOAR. I introduce video clips from the movie The Hunt for Red October. This classic submarine warfare movie provides great visual and audio clues describing SONAR. Hess uses it to map the ocean floor. Armed with data he created the idea of sea floor spreading, which further supported Wegener’s ideas.
During this time, students compose incomplete notes. I prefer to use the Connell Note system. These have many benefits and helps students organize thoughts and ideas. In addition, there is a quick little summary section at the end which is essential to long term learning. Incomplete notes provide a valuable adaption for your IEP students who are in your classroom. Need to challenge your students? Give them a blank Cornell page to complete during the lesson.
After students complete the core content, they log onto Google Classroom (or you can share a link with them). From there they complete the various Google Sorts and models related to the lesson. I like to circulate around the room, converse with students and check their understanding. I will grade these on the sport and have them make corrections. This is an assignment that I want everyone to get 100 percent since it reinforces a major lesson objective. These activities are very helpful because students expose misunderstandings as they manipulate the content through these lesson activities.
Save yourself time by purchasing these lesson components from my TPT store. There you will find lesson plants, editable documents, recorded videos and everything else you need to teach these concepts.
“If you start wrong, you can’t finish right.” This was a quote from a former coach decades ago. In that sport, you had a 3 second movement, so every step had to be precise. Teaching is very similar. If you are unorganized, off task and not on your “A” game at the start of class, it can be difficult to finish well, especially with challenging classes. The focus of this blended learning post is starting your class.
Variety is the spice of life, but routines keep us sane. Every day your students should have something to do immediately upon entering your class. This could be something simple, like recalling yesterday’s materials or something more applied, like explaining their experience with a lesson topic. Here are some tools I like to use in the blended learning format.
Quizizz: A great quiz tool, lots of fun. Kids log in, create a name and start working. Keep it short for starting class. A great free learning tool that every teacher should use. Each student gets an individual question, them a meme based on their response. This site ranks all students as they compete, I find learners enjoy the opportunity to jockey for position. In addition, they get instant feedback based on their responses.
Mentimeter: This tool is an interactive presentation. Students can log on using a code and quickly respond to questions you have set up. It’s a nice change of pace, you can use the limited free version for starters and pay to gain greater features. The format is visually appealing to students.
Kahoot: Another quiz tool. Designed more in a winner takes all approach. This will get your classes fired up. Students like the exciting game show atmosphere. Quiz questions appear on the projector screen while kids choose a button that matches their response. Just watch out, there are spam bots’ kids can use to blow up your Kahoot (increase the users 100 fold). Keep answer times to 20 seconds or less to avoid issues.
Google Forms: A perfect tool for a class survey or questions about a concept. I like to use form quizzes after a day of difficult lessons, this allows students to review prior learning to help long term retention.
Youtube: The perfect place to find 3 to five minutes to engage your students. Not interested in video, try music. Its fun to bring kids into class playing a song, ask them how do they think it will relate to today’s lesson?
How to start your lesson?
Clear instructions are key, on the board, projector or calendar. Students should be able to immediately see what is taking place. Over half your students will begin working on your getting started activity if they know what it is. The other students may need some direction, but ultimately clear directions reduces the number of students you have to get started.
Start with a PowerPoint slide or message that relates the following.
The key to any lesson is the facilitators ability to line up the lesson goals, with their students needs and the tools available. Be sure you are communicating with students on the way in, setting the stage for a great learning experience. The most disheartening thing learners can here is “open your laptops and get to work” for an entire period of instruction. The beginning of class is a busy time to connect, learn, excite and motivate your students to excel. Say “Hi”, connect and direct them to the learning activities.
In our next post we will explore the “Core” lesson, the main teaching goal and instructional content for the day.
In previous posts, we have discussed the concept of Blended Learning and explained how to identify "Core Content." For this post we will look at the basic structure of a Blended lesson. For the purpose of this post, we will define a class as a 45-minute session of instruction. Blended learning lessons follow a traditional instructional format. The difference is where the instructor chooses to place technology elements.
Please note, if you have older or younger students you can modify each individual element to fit your age group. Upper high school and early college age could use core content sessions closer to 30 minutes, while younger middle school students may be closer to 10 to 15 minutes)
Following a basic lesson template helps automate the lesson planning process. This means no more wondering what you are going to do daily. This doesn’t mean you never deviate from this plan, it just gives you a starting point. Special days that involve labs, project and long-term assessments may have individual schedules all their own. The following describes the basic lesson format.
Getting Started: This is meant to engage your students when they walk into your classroom. It answers the basics question “what are we going to do today?” By providing a stimulating activity at the beginning of class, students become engaged in your content right away. These activities can be a variety of different things, from questions to pictures, or videos to interactive websites. The goal is to connect the content to the students.
Core Content: This is the key instructional material you developed in step two. Core content is the essential learning that will take place. The easiest approach here is a standard presentation with a note taking outline. However, with blended learning you have some options. Aside from face to face lecture, you can “bend” these lessons. Meaning you prerecord yourself giving the lecture, then have students watch on their devices. We compare this to flipped learning where they watch videos at home, here, they watch the instruction in class. In addition, readings with study guides can be used here also. My personal favorite is face to face discussion. This is my opportunity to share (briefly) my passion for a topic with my students.
Reinforcement or extension: The goal of this session is to allow students to extend what was discussed or learned in class. Students need to be exposed to content multiple times to facilitate learning. So immediately after learning a concept, ask them to do something with it. Google Interactives are my favorite for this topic. Interactives require students to sort, identify and understand new concepts. Most importantly, while students are working, this provides important dialogue for the instructor to assess understanding.
Closure: This is the last chance to review and reinforce core learning. Students remember the first and last moments of class. This provides a great opportunity to move new learning into long term storage. The key to closure questions is that all students participate. The instructor can decide if they are looking for simple recall or want to reach for a higher level of synthesis.
Keep in mind all of these areas are flexible. The key is providing a structure that students can use technology with a purpose. The teacher can help provide direction on a sliding scale. Younger students will need more structure and goals while advanced older learners can work towards self direction. In the coming weeks we will dig deeper into each lesson area in more detail, providing examples and best practices.
In previous posts we’ve defined blended learning in our previous post. Now we will transition into the process of constructing blended learning lessons. Before designing face to face or digital instruction components, you first have to identify core content for instruction. For planning purposes I break this down into two groups:
1. Core content objectives
2. Core content vocabulary
Core content objectives are a written narrative of the essential learning in the lesson. What should students know, be able to say and do. Be sure to identify any key process in lesson content. Also, be aware of any higher learning goals your students need to achieve. For example, if a student needs to evaluate, synthesize or create, they must understand the underlying concrete concepts first. This is a mistake educators often make, trying to reach a higher learning level without first establishing a solid core content base. For example, you must understand the concept of atoms, to fully understand what H20 means.
The next component is to identify core vocabulary. This is extremely important when students are reading about a topic and trying to learn new materials. Aside from the obvious new words, be sure to include review vocabulary and materials students should have learned in previous courses. For example, when teaching about Earthquakes, it would be natural to include faults and fault types as basic vocabulary. However, underlying this concept would be the layers of the Earth, heat and movement of tectonic plates. These interwoven concepts are where exceptional teachers make effective lessons. Ensuring that students not only understand the basics of an idea but can confidently talk about all supporting concepts.
After identifying core content and vocabulary, it’s time to plan your assessments. Objective tests come to mind at this phase. Consider each important idea and be sure that several objective items address the concepts. Projects and hands on activities are another way for students to demonstrate their grasp of new materials. It is not necessary to have every question written at this step, but you should have an outline with some sample items to guide your instruction.
This part of the planning phase is often the most cumbersome. Many educators want to jump into lesson and activity planning. By taking the extra time to identify content, you will ensure that both your physical and digital content matches your assessments.
In the next lesson we will be looking at structuring and constructing blended learning lessons.
Teaching with technology presents a unique set of challenges for middle school teachers. On one hand, kids love their devices, many become so engrossed in their digital activities that they forget what time it is. On the other hand, leaning on a computer can be extremely distracting. Ask any adult, how often do you sit without checking email, social media, Amazon or the latest sports score. In 22 years of teaching, I have had the pleasure of teaching face to face in a public-school setting, earning a master’s degree at a distance online, teaching online courses in a virtual school and designing courses for online use. Based on these experiences, I have seen the benefits of online learning, but also it’s drawbacks. I believe the key to success in our schools is blended learning. It provides the best of both worlds bridging face to face learning with online technology.
The virtual experience for middle school students. Kids love the idea of being 1 to 1, learning from home. I see the appeal. The greatest challenge is the lack of working face to face with other students and teachers. Unfortunately, a very few numbers of our mainstreamed middle school students have the organizational skills and discipline needed to succeed in a wholly online learning environment. I have seen personally students not log in for days, do very little work. When they return to a regular school setting, they have massive gaps in their education. At one end, sitting a student down in front of a computer for the entire day is not an effective use of time. On the flip side, we’ve all experienced that teacher that lectures 24/7. Even the best students begin to drift off despite the best intentions. Siting squarely between these two extremes is blended learning. Here are the three basic components.
Component 1: Part of the course is delivered through online instruction. This could be through the use of websites like EdPuzzle, Readworks or and LMS like Google Classroom. Instruction could be recorded in a flipped lesson or read though sites like CK12. The key is harnessing online tools and apps to reach desired learning goals. These can be video, interactives, games or using productivity tools.
Component 2: Part of the course is delivered face to face. Kids build a relationship with their instructor. Kids need someone to model behaviors, check their understanding and interact with on the good and bad days. The teacher provides enthusiasm, guidance and skill building for students. This all works together to reach meaningful learning goals.
Component 3: The interaction of the online and face to face components. This is where the professional educator planning skills come into play. The face to face lesson and the online components must be aligned. At the most basic level, if you teach three new skills face to face, then students should apply those three new skills online. For example: Students are discussing the latest impact of a massive Earthquake as a class. Looking at examples of destruction and empathizing with the families that have lost everything. The effective blended learning experiences connects this discussion/learning event with an online component. For example, kids can research what tectonic plates this occurred on. Or they use a Google interactive to build fault models to apply to this situation. The opportunities here are only limited by your imagination.
In this series of post, we will be looking at the components of blended learning and how to develop effective teaching and learning moments. Until them, here are some examples that take advantage of blended learning to teach science concepts.
Google forms are a versatile tool for use in the classroom. They allow you to collect information, quiz students and organize data. Consider having students use Google Forms to collect information on class projects. For example, in science we look at 24 different specimens of life. Over the year’s students would create labels for each jar, then they could cut and organize them into different groups. To improve this activity, I created a Google form that each student uses to collect information. They fill out a form ticket for each jar and the ticket populates a spreadsheet they can use to analyze data after the activity. The same method could be used for observations of daily events, daily writing prompts or even vocabulary tickets. The best part is there are no lost notebooks and sorting data in a Google Spreadsheet is a snap. The following are video instructions from my animal classification lab. This lab requires students to collect data from 24 preserved specimens, then analyze it in Google Sheets
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