Friday, February 22, 2008

Kids never cease to amaze me…

Alright, so I am going to be the first to admit that I am not very knowledgeable on the topic of physics. Granted, my undergraduate degree is practically in Biology and I have difficulty with math, so I am probably not the best candidate to be educating the youth of Sarasota on Newton’s laws, force and acceleration. I am actually probably doing them a disservice by even attempting to tackle word problems to produce some random number with the unit of joules attached. (Or Newtons or m/s2 for that matter.)

So I decided to try something new. I decided to jigsaw the physics portion of the curriculum by dividing it up into 6 topics – magnetism, kinetic & potential energy, Newton’s laws, simple & compound machines, force & acceleration and work & power. Ok, so the concept of jig sawing is not a new technique but I have truly been apprehensive in the past because of class dynamics, constructing set guidelines or expectations and, for lack of better terms, lack of teaching experience. I just didn’t feel like I had enough know-how to implement a jigsaw activity AND have it be an effective learning experience for my students.

I really wasn’t able to put it all together until Monday. I had my assessment in mind (the kids were going to create 2 low, 2 medium and 2 high level questions) so I knew what I wanted them to cover. I then made a rubric, a self evaluation form, a peer evaluation form, a student checklist and the project description sheet. The students had a set of guidelines they needed to follow in order to earn full credit. They had to present a 40 min lesson to their peers and had to include the following: essential vocabulary, equations, practice problems, visual aides, a demo, a hands-on activity, use of technology and an in-class assessment. I was trying to get my students to hit as many of the learning modalities as possible, as well as getting them to work effectively together within a group.

So on Tuesday, I introduced the project, went over the rubric and answered questions. I had at least 3 different textbooks on the desks and I put all of the laptops away. The first 2 days consisted of gathering information and teaching themselves on their topic. One of my students commented to me after looking through the books on the first day, “This is going to be tough! We have to learn the material before we can teach it!” I smiled and asked my students if the lights were getting brighter in the classroom, because I saw the light bulbs going off above their heads. I was still concerned though. I was worried my 4 day time line for research and presentation construction wouldn’t be enough. Don’t get me wrong, I am ok with extending deadlines IF (and it is really a big if) the entire team is experiencing difficulty.

I allowed students on day 2 to work on the computers to gather more information and to begin putting their presentations together. I even showed them how to save pictures and place them into the backgrounds of the Power Points (PPT). I also reminded them on how to hyperlink websites to their PPTs and for a moment, they looked at me like I was the most intelligent human being they have ever seen. I have to say that it was one of those few times that I felt more knowledgeable about technology than they were. The really great thing was, my kids were working. They were working together to accomplish the same goal. They were focused. And I was bored. During a few periods, I wandered from raised hand to raised hand to clarify directions or to say “Yes, you can use the restroom.” It was a rather dull and uneventful day.

Day 3 was even more amazing. I showed my students how to download video clips from United Streaming and then hyperlink them into their PPTs. They were so ecstatic!

And the boredom continued to worsen. I was no longer needed, with the exception of a few questions such as “How does this look?” or “What if we did this…” or “We want to do this demo. Do you happen to have iron filings?” I brought my laptop in with me every day to help kids locate sample worksheets or video clips or information. But they didn’t need me. I guess I should be proud of them, like a momma bird pushing her fledglings out of the nest, my students were learning on their own. The thing was, they really didn’t struggle and have difficulty like a baby bird would – they were efficient, strong and ready. Almost too ready.

Day 4 was even better than day 3. My kids polished up their presentations, practiced demos, and even practiced giving their presentations by using stopwatches to see how long they were presenting for. They looked through the textbooks for sample problems and ideas for hands-on activities. They perused the Bill Nye DVD collection I have, in hopes of finding a 3 min video clip that could supplement their lesson.

I was so proud. My kids were finally there. They were independent learners, the objective I had been trying to accomplish all year long. You would think that I would be excited and relieved. And I was. I really was. It’s that Catch 22 thing – I was proud but I was also bored.

Next week, the kids will be giving their lessons to their classes. I am already impressed with their work ethic and their excitement with this project. I cannot wait to see how it goes. Yes, some will flounder, but so did I.

And I think I turned out ok.

No comments: