Have you sat in a workshop before, enduring an endless lecture that does not seem pertinent? Has your mind wandered off to Never-Never Land in the midst of something not-so-desirable? I am positive you have at some point and time- and I am absolutely positive my students have been in that position as well. When I am teaching about long division, writing sensational grabbers for expository writing, and adding decimals, I think to myself, Are they really grasping this? Honestly, I wonder at times, and then my mind goes on a pensive tangent.
At times, I think about when I attend a workshop and leave with something meaningful or I am able to manipulate something (like an Interwrite Pad or Mobi) while the instructor is showing us how to use it. I think about when I attend a workshop where the instructor encourages us to make connections to our classroom and communicate with other teachers who are presented with the same curriculum.
We in many ways are like our students- our retention is higher when we can take what we have learned and connect it to our lives. Two mini-units I have presented in my classroom this week encompass this theory of learning.
One mini-unit is called Camp Math. Students complete many activities that revolve around camping and math. They have to analyze weather patterns to determine a good week to bring their theoretical "class" to camp. Additionally, they have to work with a budget and purchase items for their class, which includes tents. They are presented with a "catalog" of items I printed with pictures from Google as well as a checkbook (page) that they can balance. Besides that, they are able to look at another "catalog" of activities they can get involved with during their "camping experience" and set up a "schedule" of classes like kayaking, art, and high ropes. Of course they also complete word problems revolving around the dining hall and complete activities together as a class that meet math objectives in a more exciting manner than the "traditional way".
Camp Math can be found at this website- http://teachingvision.org/resources/math.html
The other mini-unit is where students go through five writing center rotations to prepare to write about constructing a dream home. Here are the rotations-
#1- Students use home magazines to write down "million dollar words" (rich vocabulary words) that pertain to architecture. I highlight some of the words in the magazines as examples so students know what kind of words to look for.
#2- Students look at paint samples from the home improvement store and write down rich color words for regular color words. Example- Red can be ruby red, cranberry, fire engine red, and crimson. This activity helps students with "shades of meaning" and being more specific with the descriptions they write.
#3- Students work on a sketch of an ideal swimming pool, label the parts, and use rich vocabulary in writing about the pools they would construct if they had the opportunity. (The picture I included at the beginning of the post is from Maverick, one of my incredible artists.)
#4- Students also write a description of an ideal bedroom. They are presented with different themes to write about like underwater, wild west, rainforest, fantasy, rock music, and sports themes. They are encouraged to come up with a theme that intrigues and suits them. From there, they describe what would be in that ideal room.
#5- They are also able to play a game in their groups where they are able to answer questions about their dream homes. One question, for example, asks- "Would you live in the city, country, or near the mountains? Tell your group members why."
It is incredible when students can make connections! It is 100% worth it to come up with hands-on opportunities in your classroom- instead of simply telling kids what to do, you see them actively involved in communicating with one another, broadening their schemas and practicing pertinent skills without realizing how much they are truly learning.
I do have to tell one last thing, something humorous I heard in the game center this morning. (The group pictured above did not say this, by the way.) A student answered that she would have a basement in her house, and another student came out with- "I would, too. ...Have you ever heard of the apocalypse?!" They all got these wide-eyed, serious expressions on their faces. Sometimes in the classroom, you have to hold it in. Hard. Very hard.