Thursday, January 9, 2014

Teaching Strategies for Middle School Students

As a part of the pilot project's first year, site visits were made to as many schools involved as possible.  I managed to visit eight schools, and seven of the visits were when class was in session.  Watching veteran teachers integrate a new program was exciting. Here are some take-aways from my observations.

1.  Technology that is engaging can be as simple as a pencil and paper, or marker and desktop. One school I visited had a protocol for observing plants in nature, and it involved keeping an observation notebook on paper.  iPads were used to take pictures and use the app to identify the plant, although there were many real books used as well.   A two hour hike in a large recreational area  was extremely productive because the students had a role and they knew what to do.  Guess what happens when you use pencil and paper?  It's portable and fail-proof (unless you're in the rain).  This strategy kept each student engaged with their time out-of-doors.

Another school I visited had a brainstorming session using dry erase markers and the plastic tops of desks to quickly jot down group ideas.  This isn't feasible everywhere but it was a quick and easy way to enter data.

2.  Get kids moving. The kids who brainstormed on their desks had a second phase to the brainstorm.  In the second phase they had to put their list on the board, one kid at a time going up to the board and adding an idea.  The only catch was you weren't allowed to write something on the board that had been written already.  This got the students reading the board and engaging with the ideas presented. It was quick, messy, loud.  At the end of the time, students looked for doubles one more time and removed them, then took a picture of the final brainstorm with their iPads, and loaded the picture onto a shared Google doc which they used as a starting point for their conservation projects.

3.  Give a vehicle for emotions with call and response.  At another school that I visited, the teacher had a series of calls and responses she worked through with her students.  Some were obviously old favorites and hearing the kids shout back "Yes, teach!" to her call was a fun way to get them back on task.  But she did something else that I loved.  She said things like, "That was hard! Give a sigh!" and the kids all sighed.  "It was really hard! Sigh louder!"  And they would.  "You did a good job, say hooray!"  and they did. And so on.  It was like she intuited their emotional responses to some of the activities and gave them a chance to express themselves in a chorus.  Was it kind of loud sometimes? Yes.  Did it visibly reduce pressure? Yes. 

4.  Let them be the experts.  In most of the schools I visited this seemed to be a theme.  A student would report a problem, and the teacher would ask who knew how to solve it, and then let the kid be the expert.  With the advent of Airdrop and iPads, it was as easy as projecting the device of the kid with the solution.  Airdrop made sharing fast and dead simple.


Monday, January 6, 2014

Why, hello!

The past year wooshed by! In January I began working on a pilot program for middle school students in Maine. After recruiting teachers, developing curriculum, building a website, and launching in the fall...I have some perspective on what just happened! 

Also, let me just say... this is my dream scenario. For years, collaboration and creation have been a part of my learning approach--as a connectivist, I want to connect people, build a strong network, grow knowledge! This project allowed me to grow a small network of teachers and learners, and connect them. It was exciting! It was awesome. You can't see much beyond the front page of the website, because it's private. However, the ideas driving the program, biodiversity and conservation in Maine, and the lens of Theodore Roosevelt's time in Maine and how he wound up being a conservation hero, and yes, a sport, were what got kids talking. (RE: sport.This is Maine, sports are a part of the fabric of Maine. They are those who come here to hunt, fish, rusticate, camp, etc. Some pay for guides--Roosevelt did.) 

 Here are my informal thoughts on this project.

  1. Boys were engaged. This is based on observation in the field, the quality of videos produced by boys, and anecdotal evidence from teachers--one particular group didn't buy-in until they learned about Roosevelt's time spent hunting and fishing in Maine. Ever since my first graduate literacy course, and "Reading Don't Fix No Chevies", this has been a topic that intrigues me (boys, engagement, literacy.) 

  2. Students enjoy working with other students, and this increased engagement. This is based on two feedback surveys I gave the students. They enjoyed seeing each other's work, interacting, and commenting. Students began to help each other using comments and provide feedback based on the rubrics given for the products. This is also based on Google analytics. I have around 400 users of the site and over 100k pageviews since the start, when I checked 8 weeks ago mid-project.

  3. Students in middle school aren't always aware the Internet is real life. This was based on my observations in the field (which includes site visits, and web master views of content and interaction). Sometimes they shared inappropriate things (their peers called them on it, and flagged). In my site visits I showed them what I saw as a web master--all of their content, activity, etc. The kids were wild about this! They began to understand the bigger picture of interaction and ethics and that this was real.

  4. Students want to follow directions, but not if they are too hard. Or meaningless. Developing curriculum for this age group is new to me and I was told repeatedly that my instructions were too hard. This caused shame for some students, based on teacher feedback. I don't want kids to feel stupid, so I need to adjust the language and input fields, and streamline as much as possible.

  5. We made something beautiful. The positive feedback on how the site looks, and functions in parts, was positive. This was based on feedback from students and teachers online and in person. I am so glad, because my boss and I worked our butts off. The great thing is, we made a framework, but the content is all from the students. So really, they made something beautiful.

  6. We made something confusing. Teaming of students was confusing because it was difficult to know who was on what team and our collaborative space had glitches. Based on feedback, this was the most confusing part of the experience. The second most confusing part was some of the language of the instructions.  I came out of this year with renewed respect for middle level curriculum design and developmental markers.

  7. Kids can produce quality content and humorous content even at this level. Based on some of the videos, and some of the timeline entries, and some of the plant collection photos, I would say content creation is something kids really enjoy, and is a winning strategy for collaboration and growing knowledge on a network.

  8. Without teachers, there would be no pilot.  The teachers involved did a really good job of being flexible and making the project accessible to their kids.  Their role was to facilitate.  I observed this during site visits and through communication with the teachers.  I also observed humor and many excellent teaching strategies.

Next time I will write about some of the teaching strategies I observed in the pilot. Thanks for bearing with me as I transitioned from a classroom teacher and graduate student to a program coordinator for a state wide middle level program.  


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...