Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Thinking outside the box - from worst to best lesson ever!

Little bit of background

This past week, my 5th grade students and I have been working to gain understanding about levels of organization in organisms. We did several readings, watched a couple of videos, and when the formative assessments told me they were ready, we started to build an organ in the traditional activity from Beacon Learning Center, "just like in years past."

Cool, right!

What actually happened

Big bunch of nothing. Presented with the fsummative assessment, the students were unable to make the connection between the readings, the activity and the question. Never mind that they had shown me before that they understood and were ready (Who am I kidding, ready to regurgitate information. No thinking required)

Now I could blame everyone involved (the kids, myself, their previous teachers, their parents, etc.), but that would not help anyone. They needed something else to visualize; to tell the story in their brains or a hook on which to hang this knowledge.

Enter that box of trains

I started thinking in terms of analogies. Brick to wall to room to house. I even started thinking about having different types of tissue in a house (and that is a lesson for another day). But then inspiration struck, as always, while doing mindless chores. In this case picking up my son's trains. I started forming the idea. each piece of track is a cell, several together form a tissue, complete an oval for an organ (yeah, because this gives it a function), and finally, connect them together for an organ system. O joy!

Back in the classroom

The students enter to find tracks on their tables. Some immediately get to work connecting pieces of track, while others wait patiently. I say nothing. After a couple of minutes (taking role and the like), a student asks, "What are we doing today?".
         - "Building a railroad."

The students soon realized that they did not have enough individual pieces, so they asked me for more. I replied that they could join forces with other tables, and that they had to use every piece of track available. After a while, they had a complete layout, and I gave them some trains to play with. With 15 minutes left in the period, I posed the question "How is this railroad related to what we have been studying?" (You know that moment when the students' faces reflect that big Aha.) Most hands shoot up, and I hear, "May I correct my test?"

My reply... Of course you may.

And guess what, every single student passed :)