Friday, November 7, 2014

Ocean Unit BAM: Differentiation for All

When I started teaching 8th grade science this year I had a vision. That vision included a couple different aspects.

  1. I wanted to not lecture. It bores everyone and in my experience 90% of behaviors come during lecture time because a student is bored and doesn't want/can't focus on what the teacher is saying. 
  2. I wanted the students to be able to collaborate and work with whoever they wanted. By asking questions and teaching each other I feel like they will get more than working independently in rows.
  3. I wanted students to have a choice in how they learn. Not all students are created equal and therefore there is no set way on how ALL students can learn material.
Up until now I have been pretty successful with 1 and 2. All the lectures I pull from online sources (thanks YouTube!) and the students are able to sit in pods and work with whoever they want (as long as they ARE working and all school rules are being followed). 

Disclaimer: I have had to go back to assigned seats for some classes at some point during the school year because either a majority of students did not finish their assignments or they were so awful for subs that a consequence had to be given. My students are not perfect.

I needed to work on #3. All first quarter I was giving students just a list of tasks they had to do. I did add in some Menu Assignments (check that blog entry out if you didn't get a chance) but really the students did what was assigned. So, I did it! I created their first go at picking their own assignments! I even went so far as to create two different versions- one for my low students (SPED, ELLs, Chronic Absentees) and one for the rest. 
This is the accommodated choice sheet. 

This is the regular choice sheet.
The point was the students had to complete three in a row. There are some over-lapping assignments and I attempted to have the board be so their three in a row had different types of activities that encompasses everything they need to know for the standard.

For the most part, I was happy with the outcome. However, there were some rough patches that had to be fixed.

  • It still wasn't giving the students complete freedom of assignments. Towards the end of the unit I was just like "Whatever! Do 3 assignments at this point or you are not going to be finished!" 
  • Students are still having time management issues. I had one student that picked a 3D model and then spent a week working on it. He didn't get the rest of his work finished. :-(
  • Students knew that there was a difference in the two charts. It made for some awkward conversations that I wasn't super fond of.
Even with all of that, the students did do some awesome work!

Menu Assignments in the Science Interactive Notebooks

"Alright, students. Today we are all going to be writing a poem about the rock cycle."
Half the class cheers, a fourth roll their eyes, and a fourth begin to fall asleep.

The more I teach the more I realize, even the most "fun", engaging lesson or activity is still just school work to some students. It is still an assignment, there is no choice in the outcome. You do it you get a grade, you don't do it you get a zero. Very cut and dry. And for some students who lack motivation to begin with, even your fun "Let's make a video!" might not be reaching everyone.

Possible solution time... A menu of assignments.

Now, I did not come up with this. I definitely stole it from a highly creative teacher friend of mine from my first teaching gig. We were an AVID school and since AVID preaches Science interactive notebooks she came up with this menu to give students a choice.

How it works:
Have students take notes over the topic. Every school I've been in I have the students take Cornell Notes. Again, AVID schools. This step will definitely work with whatever note taking process you use.

Students then use their notes to create a synthesizing project. This is meant to have the students look back at their notes and find a way to understand and present them. I have had different sets of menu options throughout the years.

Their menu this year includes:

Tee Shirt Art- Students create the front a tee shirt that represents the topic. Back of the shirt includes a clever 1-2 lines about the topic. They then write telling about the shirt and how it ties into the topic.

Rhyming Poem- Student must create a poem with at least 5 couplets and a picture about the topic.
*Unfortunately, the poem writing is not the kids favorites so I have no good examples of this one.*
Cartoon Project: Students create a single frame cartoon- it doesn't have to be funny- with 2+ lines of captions. Must include an explanation of the topic. 

Song or Rap: Students create a song that includes vocabulary from the concept. It can be a popular song that change the lyrics to. Must include an illustration.

Superhero Assignment: Students design a comic book hero/heroine. Costume has to reflect the name and the name has to reflect the topic. The Superhero also has to have a power that correlates to the topic. Must include an explanation of the name, costume and super power. 

Band Buzz: Create a band logo, name and 3 songs that have to do with the concept. Explanation of how they all connect to the scientific concept.

I am a huge fan of these types of assignments just because it breaks up the "You do because I tell you to" mentality of school.

Mrs. C