Being outside with students is awesome. My kids love collecting bugs, leaves, rocks and all sorts of living stuff. For our students, we have a wealth of technology and tools at our fingertips. The daily challenge teachers face is how to maintain a positive hands on leaving environment, integrate technology into lessons and meet curricular goals. As usual, we are spinning lots of plates. Too much technology means too little hands on learning. Hands on learning not properly aligned with curriculum goals leads to missed learning opportunities. To address these issues I focus on three core elements in classroom lessons.
Mini lessons: introducing new content objectives are key for providing context to hands on learning experiences. This is face to face teacher led instruction. A teacher sharing their passion and experience is necessary to bring students into great learning experiences. This approach works in lab, or in the field. Before taking students to the salt marsh, we want the to have a basic idea of a wetland. Prior to collecting macroinvertebrates in a stream, they need to understanding what the difference is between biotic and abiotic factors. Mini lessons don't need to be long, 10 to 15 minutes is perfect. The key is to prepare your students for the learning that is coming.
Looking for the perfect mini lessons? Editable presentations, incomplete outlines and scribble notes all available in these complete lesson resources.
Lesson experience: Students get out into the field (or in the lab) to experience what we are learning. Collecting, classifying and organizing are key skills in taxonomy. Allowing kids to hold flowering plants, study vein placement in monocots or view protists under are microscopes are exciting opportunities. These activities need structure and purpose to help student connect the dots between content knowledge and real world application. For example, placing celery in colored water, then slicing it to look at xylem and phloem. This experience is even better if students understand that xylem transports materials from the roots and phloem brings nutrients from the leaves (they will note that the phloem tubs are empty when using samples from the grocery store). Hands on explorations that line up with core content mini lessons will maximize student achievement in your classroom.
The following lessons represent a variety of hands on experiences for the middle school classrooms. From mapping, model construction to quadrat studies, there is something for every style of teaching.
Lesson Reinforcement Allowing students to revisit, reflect and assess is a key process in learning. These activities can take place in a variety of formats. For example, using Google sorts to directly review lesson concepts. Google sorts are quick, effective ways to help kids experience content after a lesson experience. Classroom projects or lab reports also provide opportunities to review. The only caution is to be sure you outline your expectations and timeline. These assessments can consume many days in the classroom if not carefully planned. In the end, time circulating during these activities will provide valuable feedback to your teaching process. Students who can synthesize and apply what has been experienced will achieve the best learning results. Students who are struggling will quickly identify themselves providing you opportunities for reteaching and intervention.
Looking for some help with your lesson reinforcement. Each of the following products provide easy access and use with your middle school students.
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.
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.
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