June 20, 2015

Big Ol' Changes

I've been at the same school and lived in the same small city for the last TWELVE years.

Now all that is changing. And I'm feeling a bit like this:

I mean I know that theoretically changing schools and cities will be good for me. But also, I really really really really love the school I'm at... or was at... But I'm moving 4 hours away to be close to my parents. Which means leaving the school I love and the city I love and starting fresh.

So - I'm kind of very nervous about the whole thing.

But there are some great potentials in the next adventure for me.

My new classroom is:
1. A multiage class with half 4th graders and half 5th graders
2. A team-teaching environment where my classroom can be merged with the neighbor's via a moveable "wall"
3. A team approach where we don't see us as 4 separate classes of 22 students, but as a group of 88 students and 4 teachers
4. Lots of targeted flexibility to meet student needs
5. A service-learning, integrated, project-based approach to content areas
6. My first chance to really and truly use standards-based grading

Basically, we're going for:

In short, I have a lot to learn. Coming from a "My Classroom is My Kingdom" environment to a "We're Making This Happen Together" environment is going to be a great learning opportunity for me. I look forward to exploring all the pros and cons, and experiencing all the adventures. But, MAN am I NERVOUS!

May 14, 2015

Student-Designed Force and Motion Experiments

Yesterday I invited my students to pose a question about forces, and then design an experiment to answer that question. More details about that process in my post on Force and Motion Inquiry.

Today the students implemented their experiments, and it was AWESOME!

To help them be structured, I created this document for them to use:

Ahead of time, I wrote each group's question in the question section so that they were sure to stay focused on just that one question. This turned out to be a good decision, because a few groups started adding on another "What if we..." tinkerings and I had to remind them that today we are only focusing on their original, approved question.

Their research questions were:
1. How do different inclines relate to the distance an object travels?
2. How do different inclines relate to the amount of force needed to move an object up a ramp?
3. Will an object move faster forward or backward? What if it is carrying different types of loads?
4. How does the amount of force used relate to the distance an object travels?
5. How does the amount of force used relate to the speed of an object?

The groups eagerly set up their experiments and got started. I asked each group to take 3 photos or videos to share during their presentations at the end of the session.
Setting up an experiment for different loads

The incline for question #2
As I circulated, I noticed a few key things:
* Tons of buy-in and excitement about the task
* Lots of discussion about experimental design
* Lots of reasoning about forces, distance, speed, and loads
* Some difficulty understanding the need to replicate each test several times and to record the data from these additional tests

I also loved the real-world use of measurement tools since many groups were using meter sticks for distance measures, or stopwatches for time/speed.

The final step was to present their findings to the class.
Sorry the pic is so dark! We were having a natural-light day

I displayed each group's photos/videos as they discussed their question, procedure, data, and claim. During each presentation, we also paused so that the rest of the class could discuss predictions or do data analysis. Each group was required to take a photo of their data table, so the class took a few minutes to discuss the data before the presenting-group explained their interpretation.

Overall, my main take-away is that Student-Designed Explorations are powerful learning and community-building experiences!

~ Amanda

May 13, 2015

Force and Motion Inquiry

So here's the deal - We're moving. We're moving 4 hours away to new homes and new jobs. And, what do you know, finding jobs and selling a house take a lot of time and energy. But as of today - the house is under contract and we both have jobs. Hooray!

Now I just have to keep my head in the game for the last 5 weeks of school. Oh... and find a house to buy... no pressure.

Yesterday my students did an experiment to test this question:
How does the mass of an object relate to the mass needed to move that object a certain distance?

They did a great job implementing the experiment, recognizing that an increase in mass requires you to increase the force, and coming up with great applications of this concept. However, since I asked the question and designed the task, it wasn't really true inquiry.

Enter today's work...

TODAY I challenged them to design their own experiment that answers a question about force. There were a few rules, though:
* The experiment must answer a question about force
* The experiment must be completed in one session
* You may only use materials that are readily available
* You must have some data, and you will create a table for keeping your data
* You will present your findings to the class

For additional guidance I said,
"Think about force, mass, speed, distance, direction, inclines, surfaces, and anything else that might affect motion."

I was really pleased with the questions that the students came up with:

1. How do different inclines relate to the distance an object travels?
2. How do different inclines relate to the amount of force needed to move an object up a ramp?
3. Will an object move faster forward or backward? What if it is carrying different types of loads?
4. How does the amount of force used relate to the distance an object travels?
5. How does the amount of force used relate to the speed of an object?

Tomorrow each group will perform their experiment and present their findings. I can't wait!

**Note: Planning a follow-up post with pics, etc of their work**

~ Amanda

March 11, 2015

Struggling with Theme

My students struggle to understand theme. They always confuse it with main idea, and sometimes even that's asking a lot.

I recently read aloud Heart and Soul by Kadir Nelson. It's a nonfiction book about African American history and it's fabulous. I love reading aloud Kadir Nelson's nonfiction history books.

We had studied theme about 2 weeks prior, so for fun, I asked my students to write down the theme of Heart and Soul. Their responses were all over the place. 
* One-third wrote accurate main ideas
* One-third wrote accurate themes
* One-third wrote random, barely-connected statements

This result irritated me. Come on, people!!! So I typed all of their responses into bubbl.us so that we could do a class sort. Here's what it looked like before we sorted it:

*** Cue massive discussion. ***

We analyzed each and every one of those bubbles. Some were obvious, but there was hearty disagreement on at least half of them. The students debated back and forth. I tried to stay out of it, but needed to offer nudges every now and then.

Ultimately, it ended up like this:

`I ended up being really pleased with how this experience turned out. The discussion and sort really helped clarify the difference between a main idea and a theme. To double check understanding, I had them write theme for a different book after this and the results were much better (about 80% correct).

We clearly still need to keep working on theme - it's a super-challenging concept! But, we're getting there =)

~ Amanda

January 22, 2015

Mystery Skype is Getting Even Better

I love Mystery Skype! My first post about it, Engaging Every Student with Mystery Skype, is super popular. It's still a good representation of how Mystery Skype works, why to bother doing it, and how to organize the students/tasks.

This year I have been really working on incorporating reflection. After our first Mystery Skype of the year, we identified a few things that we did well, and several to improve.

Before our second Skype last week, we reviewed these goals and made changes. Our favorite change was to have the entire class use choral response answer the questions we needed to research.

Photos by student photographer, Trevor:

Apparently, the students really enjoy the reflection process because they had no problem coming up with things to improve for next time! My favorite thing is that with both Skypes, my students are finding things that the other class is doing that they want to incorporate. Learning from others, yay!

~ Amanda

January 19, 2015

Quick Update

Rather than feeling guilty for not posting for two-ish months, I thought I'd drop a quick update for you. Do you remember back in November 2013, when I let you know that we had had a miscarriage at 5 months?

Well, terribly enough it happened again over Thanksgiving 2014. I looked back at my posts and realized that there was a 3 month hiatus after the last miscarriage, so missing 2 months isn't so bad. We've been focusing on healing and grieving. I've learned that this stuff really sucks, and it's made worse by how few people talk about it. So, I'm here to say - Miscarriage Sucks.
This isn't me, but it totally captures the feeling

Teaching and Blogging Note:
My class DID do an awesome Mystery Skype last week. The photos are sitting on my camera, begging to be turned into a slide show - so you can look forward to that.

Also, this week we will be voting on our Top Ten Favorite books for the first semester. I'm looking forward to comparing this year's list with the one from last year.

In summary - I have two posts planned for this week! That's a comeback, friends!

~ Amanda