Science in the City

Jun 11, 2013

My Perspective: Why I Don't Use KWL Charts

My son recently did a unit on earthworms, in first grade. He learned a lot, and they had a vermicomposting bin, as well as reading and writing about earthworms.  It was a really cute unit, and he learned a lot.

However, they started off the unit with a KWL.  What he wanted to know is "How do worms communicate?"  A very interesting question, and one I didn't know the answer to (chances are his teacher didn't either).  Many times throughout the unit he came home saying "Guess what I learned....but I still didn't learn how worms communicate."

At the end of the unit, a sad boy came to me....we still never learned how worms communicate.

As a teacher, and a parent, I went online and looked it up and discussed with him.  However, how many parents don't have the knowledge or resources to do that? Or how many kids wouldn't ask, but on some level would know that their question hadn't been answered.

What does that teach kids about education and school?  If you do use KWL charts, how do you address the questions that kids come up with that are just not in your curriculum, you don't have time for, or you don't know the answers? 

In a perfect world, we could pursue their interests, but since we are all on such tight curriculum schedules and standards, I think this sets a bad precedent.  What do you think? 

Jun 9, 2013

GroupWork Freebie Checklist Proven to Increase Responsibility

Depending upon the culture at your school, and the prior experiences of your students, when you start doing group work and projects, they may need to some scaffolding to help that process go smoothly. They may have trouble working together, or staying on task. 
One tool to do that is this freebie. Is it a simple checklist of what everyone in the group should be doing.  Its very basic, but seems to make a big difference with kids helping to keep each other on task.  It shifts some of the responsibility to them.  There is a spot for a team leader.  Its your choice if you want to designate a consistent team leader, or have it rotate.  
You may be very surprised at who is a good leader (and who likes to be a leader).  It might not be who you think!  
Classroom Freebies Manic Monday

Jun 5, 2013

"Real" Work and Milk Carton Recycling

One of the activities that I have done with my class that I am the most proud of is a milk carton recycling program that I did with my AP Environmental Science class 3 years ago.  I had a great group of girls, and we decided to enter to Lexus Ecochallenge.  They outline the steps to be taken pretty clearly, including identifying a real problem in the school or community where they could make a difference, and then implementing a plan.

After much discussion, we planned, and successfully implemented a plan to recycle the milk cartons at lunch. We worked with the cafeteria staff, the custodians, garbage collection, and the group that does the recycling.  We got buckets to rinse the cartons, worked out a way to clean and store the buckets.  We got special bags to put the milk cartons into, and developed a process to collect, clean, and store them until they were recycled.  We worked out a schedule for who worked which lunch periods. They really did it!  They carried through until the end of the school year.  In the end approximately 10,000 milk cartons were recycled by our small group!

Two other very cool parts of this project, besides the learning experience for my class was (1) the involvement of the principal. He was really excited and would often help out at lunch time. (2) the learning experience for the other students in the school. Since we were visible in the lunch room, other kids would often ask why we were collecting them. This led to kids from other lunch periods, or from breakfast, bringing cartons to my classroom. I got a box and would collect them there, then at lunchtime we would bring them down and put them with the others. It spread! Such a small step can really make a difference. I think the class learned on so many different levels. That's the kind of 'real' learning that's energizing and exciting to teach!

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