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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Professional Development - Closing the Achievement Gap

The Southeast Education Alliance for Professional Development sponsored a wonderful presentation today in Wilimington, NC.  The title of the presentation was "Practical Strategies for Closing the Achievement Gap," with Larry I. Bell, National Education Consultant. 

I was simply blown away by his energy and really practical strategies.  After about the first hour, my mind began to focus on how I was going to use one of his main tools in my classroom.  I have been using Moodle in my classroom for almost two years now.  My students like Moodle activities like Hot Potatoes J Matching but they get tired of it.  I have struggled with creating reading activities that engage my students.  Mr. Bell has a reading strategy he calls "UNRAAVEL". 

Let me try to outline how I plan to initially implement this in a Moodle lesson.  I am not sure how it will work, but I will be blogging about it soon.  The first step is to find an appropriate reading passage.  This could be a challenge.  Let's say for now that I have an original story about a science concept.  More than likely, I will use materials from Wikipedia, or our textbook, it I can acquire permission from the textbook publishers.  Since I am not opening the class outside my classroom, I  am banking on traditional fair-use protection of copyrights.  Our Moodle site, WCS WebCampus

is password protected.  Anyway,  Moodle has a module called a lesson.  In the first part of the , students will first see the reading passage.  Next, they will have to complete a series of edits to the reading passage.  Finally, they will answer a multiple choice question about that passage. 

I am just in the initial thinking stage about this process, but I think it will work.

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Weekly Update

This past week, my students began a project in science. Student will demonstrate knowledge of concepts of plant growth cycles. We are using clay figures and stop motion animation to illustrate the growth cycle of plants. Friday, we introduced the students to some of the tools they will be using to tell their story. We used a couple of examples of animation for them to see how animation works. They seemed to understand it. Well, it was very obvious that some of them did not get it. When we started having them complete a concept map on the four main stages of the life cycle of a plant, after watching two examples on movies, they also had a packet of images from a bean plant with diagrams of its life cycle, they had a difficult time completing the concept map. I was ready to throw up my hands. What in the world was wrong? Then it hit me, these children have never studied plants. In seven to eight years in school, they had never mastered the basic concept of the life cycle of a plant. The next challenge was to have them work in teams to create a storyboard of the life cycle. In past experiences of teaching middle school students claymation animation, I have learned that students must sketch every frame, not just four or five. If they just sketch a few of the frames, they think that when they start shooting with the digital camera, all they need are four pictures.

I did not think about it until while talking to our communications teacher that I should have passed out a pack of post-its and asked them to sketch the life cycle on the post-its. So, tomorrow, I plan to pass out the post-its and have them create a simple animation of a bouncing ball (gravity demo). I found a great example on YouTube that I would love to share with my students, but our school district blocks YouTube.com. So, to get around the block, I emailed the guy that created the movie on YouTube and convienced him to email me a copy of his animation. I will put it on a thumb drive and bootleg the file in the back door! Where there is a Will, there is a Way.

This week, students will finish their storyboards and on this coming Friday, they will begin shooting the frames. If they complete the required 30 frames. Students think that they can take their clay figure and in a couple of minutes, shot their movie. It is a process, like science, which requires critical thinking, problem solving, technology skills, and time. This process of creating claymation animation is engaging, but is enraging to kids with no attention span. We have a few students that none of their classmates want to have in their group. It is a real challenge. We spend as much time teaching the other kids in their group how to cope with class clowns and disruptive behavior as we do helping them master the science concepts. We had to have one group removed from the room. I hated it, we rearranged the initial groups, and still, the disruptors continued. The dynamics of the group changed significantly after they were removed. Maybe we need a behavior contract for our next group activity. Maybe we need to invite the parents of the kids that are misbehaving to sit in class with them.

I know we need to figure out what the root cause for their inappropriate behavior is and deal with it. I know why teachers burn out. It is not enough to prepare, plan, setup, reschedule, correlate the lesson with the Standard Course of Study, facilitate and still have to negociate with kids with behavioral issues. This is exactly why worksheets are the number one way to teach science-- IMHO!