Saturday, January 22, 2011

Energizing Energy - A Success Story (?)

Last year was an overwhelming year for me.  You can see past blogs to find out more.  But one issue that I felt I could work with was an increase in science curriculum we were required to teach.  Because I quickly realized that all the units we were supposed to cover were related to energy.  All I would have to do is teach a massive energy unit and I would have it covered.

So over the summer I worked and studied and fretted and talked to science teachers and finally created Energizing Energy.  This project would take my students through experiments in various forms of energy and really get them thinking about the topic.  Or so I hoped. 

I was nervous.  If it didn't work out, my students would be heading off to 6th grade with a clear disadvantage in the area of science.  The teachers would really know that I didn't cover the units - which in my district consists of a box full of experiments.  In order to help me work through the nervousness, I enlisted a partner, actually two.  David Cosand, of Oregon, and Brian Crosby, of Nevada, both willingly (or maybe not so willingly) joined in.  David, unfortunately, had to drop out early on due to some class difficulties.  Brian has come aboard wholeheartedly.  

We are now nearing the end of this project, which actually started in September.  We have a final presentation for the children to do but the end is in sight.  So as we add our conclusions, I would like to reflect back.

I remember planning this summer.  To start, I never thought it would actually work.  Brian kept thinking I had this all under control and knew exactly what I was doing.  Ha. For starters, science is not my forte.  I depend greatly on other experts to help me understand the concepts.  Good thing Brian is better at understanding science concepts than I am. For another, I have never undertaken such a massive project before.  I knew going in that I was attempting to cover 6 science units in one.  So it would take a looooong time. I didn't know if I could ever get anyone else to agree to work on a project for so long.  I should have known Brian would be up for it.

Working with a new class is always interesting.  They had very little technology experience.  So everything we did was brand new.  They were introduced to Google docs, Skype, Discovery Streaming, BrainPop, wikis, and CoveritLive just to work on the research and collaboration aspects.  Other tools will be used for the presentation part.  Teaching them internet etiquette, patience with technology, and how to work collaboratively took some time.  By now, of course, they are most comfortable with all our tools.

I remember thinking, around the end of November, that this will never work.  The research was taking forever and I wasn't really sure they were understanding their form of energy.  I was almost relieved to hear Brian saying the same thing.  We decided to meet in small groups together, skyping our lessons, to help push their understanding.  After those skype sessions, I really felt the students had a better handle on what was expected.

Once we started writing our experiments, I realized the children really had no idea how to write an experiment.  They didn't understand what a hypothesis was, had no idea about variables and constants, and couldn't write understandable steps.  More small group instruction and we got them back on track.  I think this part says a great deal about our science boxes.  I always felt I wasn't really teaching my students anything.  They had a workbook that they followed to complete the experiments.  They never wrote their own experiments or questioned the results.  For the first time, I was asking them to really behave like scientists.

We included others in our lessons.  My physical education teacher, Mike Lesak, came into the room and taught my class and Brian's class about golf clubs as levers.  We then moved into the gym to measure the clubs and test out his lessons.  My aide's son, Nick, who is on the college golf team, joined us in the lesson.  And the band teacher contributed drums and drumsticks (Nick also plays the drums.)  Once the kids got into volleyball in gym, Mike just continued the science lessons there.

The past two weeks, we have been performing our experiments.  We had to adjust our expectations a bit.  We thought all the students would perform all the experiments but materials were hard to come by, and time is flying.  So instead, each group performed their own experiment while the other children either wrote up the results in the Google doc or carried on a conversation in CoveritLive.  This has been the most exciting science time I've ever had in school.  For the first time, my students and Brian's students were talking about changing variables and trying the experiments again.  They were discussing unexpected outcomes and why it might have happened.  Conversations about mass and density, temperature and materials, even location were going on all day.  My students are so enthusiastic about their learning that I have decided to have a science day.  Next week, we will have a day where all the experiments will be set up and the children can change variables and predict the outcomes.  I can't wait to film that day.

The children will not complete group presentation demonstrating their knowledge about energy and their form of it.  I think the presentations will be fairly easy.  This is what my students have been doing all along.  But what have they learned about science?  That mistakes turn into more experiments.  That results are often not what we expect.  That hypotheses can't be wrong, so they don't need to be changed to match the results.  And, most importantly, that science is fun!  You can read some of their blogs to find out how much they loved experimenting.

I think what I like the most about this project is that it was like a science experiment itself.  I never knew if it would work. While all the other fifth grade teachers rushed around finishing up each science box, I just kept plugging away at my research and development of experiments. 

I am surprised by the results. I thought they would learn about energy.  I had no idea they would also learn so much about experimenting.

I had to keep adjusting along the way to help my students be more successful.  Thankfully, having a partner like Brian makes that so much easier.  He never once flinched when I said, "We're changing the next step."  You should all be so blessed with a great collaborative partner.

Next year (yes, next year, Brian), there will be some changes.  But for now, this has been a very successful science project.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A UDL Classroom in Action

Recently, a teacher, who I have much admiration for, asked me if I could share a UDL lesson with her.  This was when I realized that, even those who seem to know, don't really understand UDL.  So let's see what a UDL classroom in action looks like.  But first, once again, I will explain UDL. 

According to CAST, "Universal Design for Learning is a set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn.

UDL provides a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work for everyone--not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted for individual needs."  

UDL is not a lesson plan, it is a program.  

Here is a typical day in my classroom.  Please note that all names have been changed.  I work in an inclusion classroom with a full time co-teacher, a full time aide, 22 children, 9 IEPS/504s, 4 gifted students, 1 ESL student, and a variety of levels, behavioral issues, and academic issues.  I also have wonderful children who love coming to school, working hard, and collaborating with each other.

8:45 - 9:10  - We unpack and listen to announcements.  Sam and Esther take the lunch count.  Sam is not comfortable talking in front of the class so he allows Esther to call for children to raise their hands if they are buying lunch.  Sam counts the raised hands and writes down the numbers.  Meanwhile, Abby's seat neighbor reminds her to hand in her homework, since she seems to forget each day.  Johnny sharpens all his pencils, since he pushes too hard and breaks his points often.  Martin gets help from the aide to organize his desk and get ready for the day.  If he has items on his desk, he gets easily distracted, so his desk is turned around.  He needs to get out of his seat to get anything from his desk.  He also puts his water bottle on the nearby table so he doesn't play with it and puts his snack toys on my desk.

9:10 - 10 - Math time.  We split into two groups.  Group one heads down the hall to the "breakout room."  There they will work on writing word problems that match a given multiplication or division problem.  They are ahead of group two.  Group two stays in the room.  They use their multiplication charts (everyone has them on their desk) to solve computation problems.  Bobby uses the SmartBoard to work out his problems since it is easier for him to work on a large area.  Susan grabs some graph paper so she can keep her columns straight.  Johnny carefully rewrites his problems then asks his seatmate to check and make sure he copied the numbers correctly, since he is notorious for miscopying problems.  Gerry starts clicking her pen, looks at me and quickly grabs a koosh ball to keep her hands busy while she works out the problems.  

10 - 10:45 - Reading time.  Book groups meet together. All groups are working on fantasy books, but all at different levels. I meet with the Amazing Readers.  They are reading a very high level book.  Their job is to read and carry on a discussion in Edmodo.  Patty, a great conversationalist, helps lead the discussion, moving her group through some pretty sophisticated ideas.  Darryl, an ESL student, sits with a dictionary to help her decipher the words.  The Lightning Readers are working on drawing pictures to match the text.  They are reading on grade level but seem to miss details.  So now they must focus on the details.  Bobby asks the aide to copy the page he wants to draw.  This way he can highlight parts of the text, as needed, to help him find details.  Allison helps her group, the Awesome Readers, decode the simple text and summarize each chapter.  They practice fluency while they read into their toobaloos.

10:45 - 11 - Snack time.  All three adults help students with homework questions, finishing up projects, and blog assignments.  The children have free time unless they are getting assistance.

11 - 12 - Social Studies.  The children are working on Constitution Projects.  Martin, who is dyslexic, grabs a textbook from the closet and rereads the chapter on the Constitution, using his EZC reader to help him read. All the children have them available as needed. Sally gets a computer and looks at some BrainPop videos for support.  Darryl goes right for the Discovery Streaming videos that were put into her assignment.  Patty opens up her Google Doc and starts taking notes, chatting, in the Doc, with Eli about the rubric and what they are missing.  The teachers sit at tables and children gravitate over for support and guidance.  The aide helps Harry negotiate collaboration techniques.  As a PDD child, he much prefers working alone.  So he convinces his group to let him take the notes and make a comic book out of them.  

12 - 1 - Language Arts - Sign of the Beaver projects are almost finished.  One group, full of artists, has decided to create a coloring book to demonstrate their knowledge of their theme.  One group is making a newscast, complete with commercials and a weather report.  One group has opted for a digital story with pictures they created. One group creates a screencast from the SmartBoard.  Each person is contributing what is best for them and the group.  

Lunch time!

2 - 3 - Writing - During my mini-lesson, I write the steps to a personal essay.  Jessica asks ifs she can please write it on the SmartBoard so it can be printed out and taped into their notebooks.  So while I talk, she types.  When it is done, it is printed for all.

That's a typical day.  We have used multiplication charts, fidget toys, computers, calculators, the SmartBoard tools, Toobaloos, video cameras, digital recorders, text books, BrainPop and Discovery videos, Edmodo, graph paper, and each other to help make learning more accessible and help make us more successful.  

I have not planned to use all these tools.  I just made them all available.  Children move around freely, sitting on the floor, on pillows, the rocking chair, their desks, and tables.  They get computers, fidget toys, calculators, special paper, special pens/pencils/markers when needed.  They ask for help or receive support from their classmates and the teachers.  There is no shame in needing help, no shame in wanting tools.  It just happens.  I introduce tools, encourage their use, and, by this time of the year, they just up and get them.  

This is a UDL classroom.  Sometimes, it looks chaotic.  Sometimes, it seems the children are more in control than the teachers.  Many times, children advocate for themselves, asking us to do something (like using the SMARTBoard to write steps and printing out the page) that just makes good sense.   But there is no excuse for not succeeding.  All the pieces have been put into place.  Now the children just need to use them.

How can you set up a UDL classroom?