Posts Tagged ‘elementary’

How to Become a Conversation-Starter

May 11, 2013

Recently my 5th graders completed the following project. It challenged their thinking and they produced some noteworthy writing in the process. I would love to get your feedback on how to develop this approach so I welcome your comments and suggestions.

Thank you!

Kathy Shields


Pandas don’t seem to get much exercise so are they really in good shape?


How to Become a Conversation-Starter

Science Magazine Article: The Research Process & Product        Duration: 3 weeks             

Writing is a conversation. It is an opportunity to hear yourself think and to let others follow along. The purpose of this project is to produce a unique magazine article on a science topic, by asking open-ended questions, leading to the collection of information from 3 unique sources and then blending the information in a new way that makes people curious. In preparation for this project, you examined several articles written for science publications. The Polar Bear article wasn’t just a list of facts about the animal; it asked the question, “Can polar bears be saved from extinction?”

Your goal is to ask a question that stimulates conversation

Reviewing the polar bear article, you discovered after much ‘close’ reading, that some of the facts cited supported the author’s claims, while others did not. You analyzed the writing and discussed the ways in which the author actually made you wonder even more about the original question after reading the article. This is your goal! Share your thinking and get others to keep thinking about what you’ve shared.

Potential Sources:

  • Hard copy books from experts found in the Media Center like, “Dolphins” by Dr. Diana Diver, trainer for Sea World.
  • Online Encyclopedias such as Galileo or Groliers (not Wikipedia)
  • Magazine articles, either online or from the Media Center from a well-known science publisher such as National Geographic or Scholastic.

Your goal is to teach your reader how to look at a topic in a new way

Your research introduces your reader to your unique point-of-view. It is NOT a list of facts. It takes the reader on a thinking-journey. The reader may never have wondered about this topic until you mentioned it.  For example, you may ask, “Do animals in zoos suffer from allergies the way people do?” Your goal is to teach your reader how to look at a topic in a new way and to get them interested enough to ask their own questions.

Developing a research strategy takes careful planning

How do you find the answers to your own questions? There may be a book on your subject; however, the chances are that you will discover articles written on this subject by experts. How will you take notes and turn this information into an interesting article?

Planning and Preparing to Write:

  1. Select a topic/subject to investigate. This is NOT the animal research topic from grade 3. If all of your research can be found in one book/source, you do not have a topic. Your topic MUST combine findings from 3 independent sources to make comparisons or to spur more interest in the subject. For instance: We learned that zoos are working to preserve the polar bear population. How are they doing this? Are they being successful?  Can they really prevent polar bear extinction? The only way to answer this question is to look for different examples and to compare them. Instead of drawing conclusions, you may end your article by asking even better questions.
  2. Brainstorm questions you have about the topic. These are open-ended questions that can’t be answered using a list of facts.
  3. Choose three open-ended questions to guide and structure your research.
  4. Plan your Google searches. Get creative.
    1. The topic may be, The Northern Lights and the search results provide you with information from NASA and the WeatherChannel. This is a start.
    2. How can you find out something more? Think differently. Google, northern lights in ancient times. This approach will expand your understanding and may provide an interesting angle for your story.
    3. Cite your sources.  Using the resource forms, fill in as much detail as you can such as the article title, the author, the date written and of course, the URL. This will make it easier to return to the article for you and your future readers. In your final draft, use the MLA citation guide to put the information into the standard form.
    4. You may use your wiki page to collect the citation information by copy/pasting the URL and describing the information you found on that site.  This works well using a table. Those of you who do online research with a wiki will always have access to your information unlike those who save it on cards or on the school server.
    5. Take notes by paraphrasing the information. Always record the source so that you can link your findings to the author within your own article. Your writing will have more authority if you cite your sources. Readers will trust your facts if they know you found them in a credible source.
    6. Wikipedia is not a reliable source for 1st hand information, but it is an excellent starting point to find credible sources.  Scroll to the bottom of the Wikipedia article on your topic to review the list of sources.  You may not have access to all of the books listed, but you can click through to some of the articles and websites you see. You can also Google articles by using the expert’s names.
    7. Now that you have developed a better understanding for your topic, having three different resources, you can begin to draft your article. Give an ‘elevator pitch’ to several peers to see if they find your topic worth reading. You must stress your unique point-of-view.  If they have questions, ask yourself if the article will answer their questions. If the answer is yes, you have found an audience! You may also ask them to provide a wish and a start to guide your revisions.

10. The final copy: Write each paragraph as if you were answering one question at a time and using 1 cited resource as evidence to support your claims. Conclude the article by tying the three paragraphs together. Your article may not answer the questions fully because you are an investigator not an expert. It may get your reader interested enough to continue their own investigation. That’s your goal!

Publishing your work

Your final product MUST include your citations and may also include 2-3 images that draw attention to your topic and appeal to your audience.



Target Practice

October 2, 2011

“I’ve been doing lots of thinking lately, apparently storing food for thought. After reading many studies and literature reviews I wanted to explore some new perspectives and this post reflects some of my current thinking. The process of trying on new perspectives interests me. It would be helpful to me, if you have any reactions to post, respond or provide a link to related research or discussions. Enjoy!” – Kathy

For years educational institutions have been feasting on a buffet of technological innovations. Father knows best, and our national leadership and other stalwart sponsors direct the technology spending and perpetuate the feeding frenzy, all designed to improve student learning. Like a reality-show-hoarder, schools have amassed a disconnected collection of tools. A brain numbing cacophony of screeching voices from educational stakeholders hides the silent retort of teachers bristling from offense and seeking asylum inside the confines of a classroom designed to produce good citizens and workers from the last century. And where are the students in all of this? It’s time for an intervention for the dysfunctional family we regard as our broken educational system.

There have been numerous proposals purporting solutions to the problems in education. The locus of research will address the victims: teachers and students. Neither of them is responsible for purchasing or implementing technology. They simply adapt their rooms according to a plan set forth by leadership and ask the essential question: How can the use of technology improve instruction, meaningful learning and retention of knowledge? This three-pronged question reveals that something is fundamentally wrong with the current educational system’s approach to technology integration. While research supports holistic, learner-centered pedagogical approaches coupled with curriculum formulated using the understanding by design methodology, the system does not practice either of these models when adopting new technologies for school integration.

Clamoring to adopt 21st century learning standards for student achievement and driven by the need to appease the public, school systems have measured their success using student-computer ratios and standardized test results. Low ratios imply greater access to computers among students and teachers; however the quality and consistency of the available devices may be a more critical consideration.Test scores don’t seem to bear out the hallmark of success. Where can we find the truth? The tree of knowledge has become an octopus suffocating its prey with the purple haze of confusion.

In all of this, teachers must still teach and students learn. It is a wonder that despite the moon-like of technological terrain, teachers are able to navigate an obstacle course designed to entrap them. Research demonstrates that teacher beliefs about education are fundamentally tied to their pedagogy. According to Judi Harris of William and Mary (2005) there is a need to “…demonstrate pedagogically appropriate uses of technology.” Harris argues that a technocentric view of technology integration is a bias. When it is applied in the form of instruments, reporting data on the state of technology integration, the results are viewed with a lens preferring constructivist teaching methods. Harris challenges this paradigm. “As discerning educators and researchers, we should question why teacher’s roles must change to integrate technology effectively into K-12 curricula. Surely the technologies themselves do not require this shift, as current teacher-centered classroom uses demonstrate.” (pg. 119)

“I conclude with Harris’ quote because as a classroom teacher myself, it challenges me. Teachers just want to do their best for students and yet the external forces seem to prevail, creating a dysfunctional dynamic in the name of progress.” -Kathy

Inspired Classroom – Inspiration and Persperation

January 3, 2010

inspired classroom logoThe Inspired Classroom is now part of an experiment for a handful of teachers in my elementary school. Thanks to our innovative principal, Matt Rogers, our focus will be to provide greater and more timely access to web based tools, data and opportunities for interaction, for our students. The model, pioneered back in ’06 by Darren Wilson from Texas, is being used in pockets around the country and perhaps elsewhere but it is largely an underground movement. It’s partly an issue of branding, lack of central leadership and the use of private classroom wikis or LMSs creating sealed pockets of experiences.

The set up involves creating a 4-5:1 ratio of computers to students in your classroom and making the computer a part of individual PBLs. In other words, each group of 4 students has a computer sitting at one end of their cluster of desks or table. Lessons follow the typical, direct instruction (mini-lesson) a guided practice (demonstration) and then the students perform a group task independently using the computer as a resource for data, place to post reflections etc… depending on the project requirements. The teacher facilitates the activity and the class reconvenes to share their experiences. Students in each of the project learning teams have individual roles and responsibilities. I have established 4 distinct roles: chooser, recorder, driver and manager. These roles change daily giving each student a new responsibility to look forward to and a new job to learn each day. So far I have only implemented one project and although it was a big hit among students I was baffled as to how I might build in a better mechanism to track/assess the group progress.

I have loads of great ideas, some borrowed and some blooming in the poppy fields of my own imagination. The trouble is, how can I help students record their experiences effectively and use the process as a KWl, a study guide creator, and so on? I am investigating blended learning approaches and virtual school curriculum for clues. Stay tuned for my observations, student and parent reactions and feel free to give your feedback, suggestions or links that might help my students succeed on this new path.

Wonderful Project HP & Brian C Smith Support Teacher Innovation

April 9, 2008

pond partner project

This is a wonderful example of what children can be motivated to produce with guidance from motivated teachers! This is by far the best example I have see thus far of teacher,

student and technology integration/collaboration at the elementary level. I am very encouraged by Brian’s work on this project and plan to get more details from him, show parts of the recorded video to my staff and hopefully inspire this kind of innovation at my own school.

ELA integration into science curric

Brian’s project also has a wiki:

This incredible collaboration shows teachers how they can develop a strong interest in science investigation among students, compassion for the environment, the use tech tools such as probes to collect data, ELA skills of documentation, the excitement of project based learning and collaboration across grade levels.

inquiry based learning

This is possible. This is what we should be striving for. Please, can we move beyond dioramas and posters. Think big! Use Multi-media and empower students to educate the world!