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.


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