Friday, April 18, 2014

The Complete Guide to Introducing a New Topic

When I start a new unit, I like to have some consistency, and I like activate prior knowledge, as well as let students know what is coming up and what the objectives will be.  I have done this for the past two years by setting up a new title page in their notebooks. This title page has two sides (for the two pages of their notebook).

On one side is the objectives listed.  I usually type these and give them a copy to attach.  I like to give them a spot next to each to rate how well they know it, and to make notes as we go through the unit.  I use a certain format for these, and I call them "Keeping Track of Learning."  

On the other side I have the students divide the page into four.  In the center they write the title of the unit (which I give them).  Then in each box they must draw a picture, with a caption, that is related to that topic.  Depending upon the topic of the unit, sometimes I think that they may have some prior knowledge, and I leave it open-ended, except that I usually point them toward the chapter or section in the book where they can find additional pictures and inspiration.  If I think it is a topic for which they won't have much prior knowledge, then I give them a list of maybe 4-8 main idea terms to choose from, and direct them to some resources. 

I like this system because it gets them thinking about what they already know, and previewing the chapter (or other resources), without specifically being directed to do so.  I provides a platform for them to discuss what they already know or what they think the upcoming topics will be about. 

I usually take about 15-20 minutes in class, and I think its time well spent.  Students get a chance to get their heads into what we are learning, and connect to it, and I get a chance to informally assess what they already know.

Here is an example photo:



I have also seen a teacher do a similar activity by creating a word cloud (such as from wordle) to include common vocabulary from the upcoming topic, and use that as a focus point or COVER image for the unit.  
Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Making Student's Thinking Visible


Sometimes when students are learning a lot of new information, it is difficult for them to organize it, or keep the parts together that go together. They know the terms, and have some of the links, but don't quite have it all straightened out in their heads. 

Also, as a teacher, it can be difficult to sort out where they have misconceptions. Here is one tool that I used to do just that. Concept maps. 

I gave the students a list of 20 terms (with definitions) related to weathering and erosion. I told them they need to use 15. I showed some examples of concept maps on the board and the linking terms.   I had them write the words they chose on post-it notes.  I had them organize the terms on the large paper, then add linking words to explain how they were connected, and then add at least 5 pictures (I had many pictures available for them to choose from).  

For my higher students, this was really an opportunity for them to tie together their knowledge, and organize it.  They felt like they benefited, and caught many of their own misconceptions as they were trying to connect the terms.  

For the lower students, I was able to see their errors or confusion when they laid out the terms, and help correct those, or talk through with them how the concepts could connect, and which didn't make sense.

I think it was a beneficial exercise to wrap up a unit, and they love seeing them on display in the hallway.

If you are looking for complete vocabulary lists, and concept lists for Earth Science, a good place to look is in this product, or your district curriculum.





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