Monday, September 28, 2015

#tweet your learning

Processing is one of the most important aspects of learning, and yet is often one of the most overlooked areas of education.  Students need time to reflect on what they have learned, have time to digest new information, and connect it to previously learned material.  Reflection ensures students are fully engaged and making meaning of the material - producers and not just consumers.

Over the next few blogs, I am going to talk about some of my favorite processing tools in the classroom.  These activities allow students to actively internalize information, have them use different cognitive skills during the activity, and have an element of fun or interaction which I also enjoy.

The first activity is "tweet" your learning.  I am not yet at a point where students have active twitter accounts (though I'm working on this!)  However, using a subpage on called Twister, students create a tweet to tell me one important fact they learned from the day.

I love this exercise for many reasons.  Students can only give one 'tweet',  and so they only get 140 characters.  They have to be precise with their vocabulary and word choice. They start reflecting on 'what did I learn' and 'how can I summarize this so succinctly.'  Students are actively forced to use different types and levels of metacognition.

When students get to the site they have four fields to complete: name, nickname, tweet, and date.

On the surface, students can write their name their 'nickname' and give a tweet  and a date.  So, in theory a final product could look like this:

This tweet would definitely meet the expectations.  It told me one fact and even had some of the vocabulary we discussed.  While this is all great, one of my favorite aspects of this site is that it comes pre-populated with different images.  If you type a popular name into the real name field, it will use that person's (or creature's) picture in the tweet.  I showed this example to the students:

This tweet also shows comprehension of new concepts, but does so from a different perspective.  The tweet itself shows a dino misinterpreting those darn kids with the actual object in the sky.  The date, 65 million BC, matches the researched date of when the extinction level event occurred.

They then download the tweet as a .pdf and then upload the file into our digital dropbox.

The students really enjoyed this and don't realize how much thinking they are doing.  I got so many wonderful responses.  Here are a couple of student examples:

What would you tweet about what you learned today?  Who would you use as your avatar?

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

26 days - 26 donors for 26 miles

In 26 days I'll be completing my first ever 26 mile run.  I have one more long run, 20 miles, before I start falling back in preparation for the Marathon.

I've been reflecting on the past six months.  The emotions I've experienced over that time have been nothing short of overwhelming.  I've gone from someone that couldn't believe he was running 15 miles in a week to running more than that in a day.  My monthly mileage has increased from about 40 miles to over 120 miles.

Much like my training, when I hit a goal I've celebrated then thought about my next goal.  Eight miles became 10, then 12 and eventually 20.  I've constantly increased my running goal after reaching that goal.   Back in April, when I launched my fundraising page, my goal was $750.  I knew of a few people that would donate and figured that was a great 'stretch' goal.  I was amazed how quickly people supported my cause, hitting that first goal in the middle of May.  I then set goals for $1000, $1200, and $1400, and with the help of so many caring people I reached them all.

So here is my newest goal:  I would love to have 26 new donors in the next 26 days.  It is by far my most ambitious fundraising goal, but considering the growth I've made in six months I feel it is a reachable challenge.  However, much like the support I've gotten from my family and friends, I can't do it alone.

Here is how you can help:

a) Donate if you haven't done so yet.  Every dollar counts.  Donating $1 buys a pair of anti-slip socks for patients. $10 buys 5 boxes of child-friendly bandaids.  $25 buys 5 packs of diapers for premature babies.  All of the funds go to help a child and their family.

b) Share my link.  If you know of people that would love to support this cause, tell them.  About 25% of the people that have donated to my cause are people I had never met before.  It is amazing what humans will do for each other.

You can make a donation by clicking on this link.

If you prefer donating by check, or would like to share my message via paper, you can click here to get a mail in donation form.

I am so grateful for all of you that have donated so far.  Nearly four dozen people have made a financial commitment to my run and Nationwide Children's Hospital.  Some of you are friends, some family, and some of you are people I have never met.  I am so blessed to have so much support in my life.  Thank you to all of you.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Gaining Perspective on a Geological Scale

Earth has been around a long time. I mean a really long time.  Some people think landing on the Moon or the invention of the digital watch was a long time ago, but Earth hasn't even blinked a metaphorical eye in that time.

So the question is always how to explain to students what 4.6 billion years of history actually looks like.  Worksheets, articles, and videos all do a decent job, but this year I went a different route.  We started with students investigating various types of geological time words: Eon, era, period, epoch, ages.  We compared those to years, months, days, hours, minutes, and seconds.  Each word connects to a longer period of time and it is possible to say we're living in 2015 as well as saying it is September, or it 5:00 pm.

From there they investigated 4.6 billion years of history in one of three ways: an article, a brainpop video, or the geological timeline.  The goal wasn't to master any of the vocabulary or concepts, but just to get some familiarity with the material.

4.6 billion years of history in an itty bitty space

I ended the lesson by saying to get familiar with one of those three materials because our next session we're doing a lab... and I'm bringing in a time machine.

The next two days they did nothing but ask me about what I meant.  All I told them is "don't be absent otherwise you'll have to build your own time machine and go back in time to see mine!"

Amazingly, I had perfect attendance for my next class.

But first I had to build it.

When students arrived we did a quick entrance ticket on half life and then they got into their guilds to discuss what item they studied and what facts they remember.  Students started discussing many of the vocab words, concepts, and I had to make some clarifications, but overall there was a great supply of knowledge shared.

From there I said we would be going back in time 4.6 billion years.  Each group was given four flags with major events from the geological timeline: fish first appear, dinosaurs first appear, dinosaurs go extinct, humans first appear.   Their task was going to be to place the flag on the correct spot of the timeline.

My time machine was definitely a step down from a Delorean

The students went to the playground field and were told we would walk back in time.  As we did we'd see lots of historical events, but their job was to find the four they've been given.  I explained that there were many colors of rope, and that there was an orange piece of tape in the middle of each rope color.  I also gave them a paper with a scale on it: one foot = 12,000,000 years, color changes = 600,000,000 years, end of rope to tape = 300,000,000 years, and tape to tape = 600,000,000 years.

We walked the timeline back and ended 400 feet from the present day, reviewing the scale for the first few tape marks and color changes.  From there I gave them 15 minutes to debate and decide where their flag should go.  Each person was in charge of their own flag, so if there was a disagreement the owner of the flag had the final say.

Then I just let them go.  The debates and discussion was amazing.  Students cited evidence from their reading or video, used visual references from the time line they may have studied, and recalled their previous information to help build their hypothesis.  They were outside with nothing but their flag and their brains - no notes, no computer, just recall - but they were all actively engaged and using evidence. They also were working on disagreeing respectfully - a skill that we practiced the first few days while we were building our classroom culture.

Me standing in present day, my co-teacher about 1 billion years in the past, and dots of children at the birth of Earth.

After 15 minutes we had many different places of the flags.  We talked about which was easier: deciding the order or deciding the placements.  The students made the connections to relative and absolute age from previous lessons and were able to experience how much easier one is than the other.  When I asked how many flags their group put in the right place, all of them predicted zero. 

     Lots of debate on flag placement
 Different color flags represented different groups.

And it led to some fantastic debate

When time was up, students came back to the birth of Earth. I grabbed my meter wheel (top left photo) and we started walking the timeline together.  We examined sixteen major events, with the four they placed among 12 other key items.  

There were so many OMG moments and WHOA I DIDN'T REALIZE comments during the return to present time.  "Before we can have life, the Earth needed a crust... and that took... {walk walk walk} 15 meters, or about 600,000,000 years.  As we passed flags students picked them up to see how accurate they actually were.  

Below is the table I used as we walked the geological timeline.  

We did some processing in the field.  The biggest take away was how long it took for fish to appear.  When we returned to the classroom students completed a 3-2-1 exit ticket involving things they learned, whoa moments, and lingering questions.  Here are some of their responses:

"WHOA" moments:
I never realized how short of a time humans have been around! Dinosaurs were around for like 150 million years but humans have only be around for 2 million!

I knew that humans were the newest flag, but I didn't realize fish have been around for so long!

Life really just started on this planet compared to how old it is!

It took longer for the crust to form than when fish first formed to today!

When life started forming it happened fast! like we did almost the whole timeline before we hit fish but then it was like every meter we stopped!

and my favorite:

At one point algae was the highest form of life on this planet. 

What do you want for dinner? SUNLIGHT? MY FAVORITE!