Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Motivate Students with Real World Learning

Guest blog post by Susan Nunamaker, Ed.S.

I sat down with Lisa one day and asked her,“What is something you are really good at doing?”  It took this struggling third grade student a long time to think of any talent.  Lisa had earned so many failing grades on reading and math assessments over her years in school that she had come to terms with the idea that she was not good at anything.

Lisa finally came back to me with an answer.  “Well, I’m really good at braiding hair.”  So I told her to try it on my hair.  She braided a strand of my hair in less than a minute.  The braid stayed in my hair the rest of the day, and I woke up the next morning with the braid perfectly intact!  There was no rubber band holding it in, only Lisa’s tight braiding skills. She had discovered her gift.

Lisa saved up classroom money for a class business license and proudly opened “Lisa’s Salon.”  She was in such demand a waiting list hung from her desk.  She quickly realized that she needed to improve her math skills to collect payment, make change, and pay her business taxes.  She also needed reading and writing skills to create a business plan and marketing materials.  Once Lisa made the realization for herself that she needed to improve her reading and math abilities, her classroom performance increased.  Lisa found motivation to take responsibility for her own learning and was determined to better herself for the sake of her own future.

When I was in college learning to become a teacher, I pictured myself walking into a classroom full of kids who couldn’t wait to learn and wanted to please me at all times.  You can imagine the shock when I entered my first classroom and realized that kids are, well, kids.  They come into our schools with lives of their own that definitely have an effect on their performance while they are with us.  Realizing that not all students are as motivated as the kids we see in training videos and textbooks, it was now up to me to figure out how to create a successful learning environment for everyone.  So I asked myself, “How can I motivate my students to do their best while they are with me?”

The answer was simple. Professionalism encourages both children and adults to work harder. And daily classroom routines can easily be transformed into real world, professional classroom activities without adding an extra workload for teachers who already lack the time needed to truly reach their students. These strategies are simply a change in the way we do things, not extras requiring more time. One powerful strategy is adding entrepreneurship opportunities within daily classroom activities.

Student Entrepreneurship

Student-run small businesses are an excellent way to practice and enhance social skills, in addition to applying math, language arts, social studies, and financial literacy skills, with the money that they have earned in your classroom. Students will write business plans, make change, calculate sales tax, graph profit margins, create commercials, hire and manage employees, and use their own talents to sell goods and services to their peers. The most amazing effect is the confidence that students build in themselves as they seek out and discover their own personal talents.

You might be asking how this can be used to teach core academic standards.  Here is a link to watch a video containing just one of the many examples from my classroom: https://vimeo.com/70450224. This video shows the end of a graphing lesson in my third grade classroom.  Students are utilizing graphs that they created after collecting data on inventory sold in their stores. Students are utilizing the data in graph formation to analyze sales and determine future action based on sales data, just as corporations utilize graphs in the real world. You will hear my third grade students discussing inventory that they plan on increasing and products or services that they plan to discontinue based on the graphs. This is real world teaching and learning!

(Mathematical Practices: Number & Operations, Data Analysis, Fractions & Decimals, Money, Algebraic Thinking, Counting & Cardinality English/Language Arts: Reading, Writing, Language, Speaking & Listening, Technology Social Studies: Economics, Social Skills, Decision-Making Skills, Financial Literacy)

Susan Nunamaker is a National Board Certified Teacher with a passion to help students discover their talents and a love for learning. She will be presenting a session on real-world learning at the Elementary School Conference in October and is being sponsored by Kaplan Elementary. Susan currently teaches 3rd grade at Clemson Elementary School and is a 2012 finalist for the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching. Learn more real world classroom ideas in Susan’s latest book entitled Backpacks to Briefcases. You are also invited to read fun, oftentimes hilarious, daily stories from her classroom at realworldbehavior.blogspot.com or visit Susan’s Pinterest Board for classroom ideas! 

Monday, July 8, 2013

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

Fostering Inquiry with Science Notebooks
by Carol Wooten

A buzz of excitement fills the classroom as students prepare to work on their preferred content area.  Students eagerly take out their notebooks to show they are ready for the lesson. One student excitedly flips through the pages of her notebook locating her last investigation observation, a labeled illustration of her team’s model ecosystem.  Another student shuffles through his book bag to locate a clear plastic bag; he opens the bag, removes his green neon safety goggles, and grins. We are ready to investigate. This scenario may seem like one from a 30-minute sitcom; however, with science and the implementation of science notebooks, this situation can occur daily in classrooms.

From this scenario, we see that the days of a solitary instructor lecturing to numerous students from a textbook are long past.  Instead, the students are now the scientists conducting the investigations that set the stage for an array of content exploration.  From model cars for investigating basic physics concepts to soda bottle ecosystems, the implementation of inquiry science instruction with the integration of science notebooks has transformed classrooms into a laboratory of rich learning.  As teachers are required to do more with less, we are working with integration of the subject areas.  For example, writing is integrated throughout the entire science notebook and math is encompassed in the notebook with graphing, computations, and measurements. What easier and more effective way to integrate than with the thrilling hands-on, minds-on content area of science?

Inquiry Science Basics
With inquiry, students take on the role of scientists whereas the teacher becomes more of the facilitator and guide. Students pose inquiry questions, which are often guided by the teacher, and use hands-on materials to further explore this question. These investigations, which directly relate to the inquiry question, provide data and observations that students analyze to build a firm conceptual understanding. Therefore, inquiry is vital because it allows students to gain knowledge about content through manipulation of objects and illustration of real world connections. Through these investigations, students are able to articulate and support their findings with precise evidence from the data and observations. Also, the utilization of meaningful class discussions allows students to share ideas to further convey the content and enhance their knowledge base. According to the National Research Council, the implementation of an inquiry approach enables students to “develop knowledge and understanding of scientific ideas, as well as an understanding of how scientists study the natural world” (NRC, 2000, p. 1).

Science Notebooks Overview
As student scientists are diligently working to pose inquiry questions, develop predictions, collect data, and synthesize these results, they are also recording this information in their science notebook. The science notebook can take on several forms—it can be a spiral notebook, papers in a binder, or a marble composition book. No matter the type of format selected, the crucial element is that students are writing and working to improve their scientific reasoning skills. These notebooks, which can be implemented as early as kindergarten, provide students with a strong foundation of explanation and synthesis of information gained from each investigation.

Kindergarten notebooks could be a class notebook where students glue in their individual illustrations and write about their observations together. As students progress through elementary school, they are able to develop their own notebook. For instance, in first grade, students may use stickers for “Focus Question,” Prediction,” and so forth. Many teachers also use Realia walls where they post a photo or illustration with the vocabulary word listed below this picture. Modeling each of the components listed below is key to promoting a high quality science notebook.

Lesson Investigation Using Science Notebooks

Journeying into a classroom that implements inquiry-based instruction provides an opportunity to observe young scientists in action. The following description encapsulates an entire lesson; however, dependent upon the investigation, a lesson may sometimes include just one or a few of these components.

Keep in mind that science notebooks can be used in kindergarten. The lesson investigation outline below illustrates a third through fifth grade lesson entry. Students record these lesson components in their science notebook.

  • Focus Question
    Before students begin the investigation, they develop a focus question that directly relates to the investigation.  In many instances, this focus question is based on a fictional scenario that enables students to connect science to real world concepts. For example, an investigation on pollution incorporates a scenario concerning various materials deposited into local water systems.  After reading and analyzing the scenario, students work in cooperative teams to develop an inquiry question such as “How does pollution affect an ecosystem?”
  • Prediction
    Following the development of an inquiry focus question, students devise an educated guess about the outcome of the investigation.  This prediction also enlightens the teacher on the students’ thought processes and reasoning.  Students often connect their prediction to real life situations.  For example, when adding an abundance of fertilizer to the model ecosystem, one student formulated the following prediction: “I think that all of the plants will grow very tall because fertilizer helps plants grow.  When my parents use fertilizer, it helps the plants grow taller and healthier.”  Even though the prediction is inaccurate, it illustrates how the student associates the use of fertilizer and provides an excellent pre-assessment of scientific thought.  By conducting observations over a period of time, the student later learned about the harmful nature of an overabundance of fertilizer in an ecosystem.  Reassuring students that the prediction is an educated guess about the investigation outcome helps to alleviate their concern over developing an exact prediction.  
  • Data and Observations
    Additionally, students plan the data collection method in preparation for completing the investigation.  Then, students conduct the hands-on component of the inquiry investigation.  These hands-on investigations are not a one-time event—they are the core of each lesson and result in students becoming energized about science and interested in the content.   In the ecosystems unit, cooperative student groups used clear two-liter soda bottles to create model ecosystems.  The first set of ecosystems included both plants and animals; however, the second set, which was created for the pollution investigation, included only plants. The four models utilized for the pollution investigation were labeled as follows: control (no pollutant added), vinegar, salt, and fertilizer.  During each investigation, the teacher walks around the classroom carefully observing the students working and posing questions to each group.  The teacher does not provide the students with solutions; rather, he/she asks probing questions to expand the students’ scientific reasoning.  
  • Making Meaning Conference
    Cooperative science groups share the results of the investigation during a class discussion known as the Making Meaning Conference. During this conference, the teacher is able to effectively determine each student’s level of discernment about science concepts. Class discussion is essential to ensure that all students make meaning of the data and grasp the concepts from the lesson. During the discussion, students cite specific data from their data collection tool to clarify their findings, The teacher is also able to identify areas of misconception and provide clarification though questioning and content knowledge. For example, one cooperative team believed that the terrarium and aquarium portions of the unpolluted control ecosystem were two unrelated entities. Students accurately observed that roots from the terrarium were growing into the aquarium. The students overlooked the idea that the roots now have a direct water source; therefore, the plants in the terrarium were thriving. Through the Making Meaning Conference, the students discussed their findings and ultimately derived the correct result about the benefits of the roots extending into the aquarium. In the end, the class precisely determined the science concepts in the investigation: salt represented salt added to icy roads, vinegar symbolized acid rain, and fertilizer denoted over-fertilization. 
  • Claims and Evidence
    Another important component of inquiry is the dissemination and written communication of the collected data. This analysis is manifested in the claims and evidence section of the science notebook. Students develop explanations, which are referred to as claims, and then refer back to their data collection tool as evidence.  The following sample shows a student’s claim based on the aforementioned ecosystems investigation: “I claim that we added too much fertilizer because fertilizer is supposed to help plants, but if you add too much, the plants just die.” The student then justifies this claim with data-based evidence from her table. She begins her sentence with “My evidence is…” and uses specific results from her data table.  By citing evidence, science ideas are ingrained into the students’ conceptual understanding.
  • Conclusion
    Synthesizing the investigation into a few sentences allows students to summarize what they learned from the investigation.  Students may also refer back to their prediction statement and discuss whether the data collected supports the prediction.  Based on the ecosystems inquiry investigation, a student writes, “I learned that pollutants can destroy an ecosystem because the pollutant is put in the terrarium and the aquarium plants die too. I know this because I compared my data charts from before the pollutants and after the pollutants.  All of the plants were alive before the added the pollutants but were brown and withered after. ” Another student explains, “My prediction was almost correct.  I thought that the vinegar and salt would make the plants turn brown.  But I did not know that the vinegar would make the plants turn white and the fertilizer would not help the plants grow.”
  • Reflection 
    In the reflection, students can document new questions that are related to the investigation or next steps they would like to take in the investigation.  For instance, students wondered “What would happen if we used less fertilizer?”or “What would happen if we put more water in the solutions?”  If time allows, students can further explore these next steps and new questions in supplementary investigations.

With inquiry science, it is all about seeing, doing, and experimenting.  Science is going beyond the two-dimensional pages of a text—science is active learning. Inquiry science with the use of notebooking provides an area where all students can be successful.

Carol Wooten is a fifth grade math and science teacher at Hunter GT Magnet Elementary in Raleigh, NC. She is a Nationally Board certified teacher who earned her Master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction: Development and Supervision from NCSU. Wooten is a former Kenan Fellow whose project was entitled “Science Inquiry and Assessment.”  She is a past recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching.  In 2013, she was named a top ten national semi-finalist for the K-12 Shell Science Teaching Award. Wooten serves on the NCAEE board as the Teacher Director at Large. Carol is also a member of the NC Association of Elementary Educators Board of Directors.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

How to Find and Follow Terrific Teacher Blogs

One way that NCAEE carries out its mission is to help elementary educators find great resources on the web. Over the last year, the number of teacher blogs has exploded! Do you know how to find great blogs and follow them?

Google Reader was an old favorite for organizing and reading blogs, but Google Reader is no more. However, there are many other blog feed readers that make it easy to follow and organize your favorite blogs. One that I recently discovered and really enjoy is BlogLovin. To follow NCAEE - It's Elementary on BlogLovin, just click the link below. You'll have to set up a free account, but that's easy to do.

Follow on Bloglovin

The next step is finding great teacher blogs to follow. I can help with that one! I've discovered dozens of fabulous teacher blogs over the last few years, so I decided to host a Blog Hunt link up on my Corkboard Connections blog. I invited the bloggers I know to link up their blogs so that others can find them easily. Just click on the Blog Hunt icon and you'll hop right to that blog post where you can hunt for great blogs to your heart's content! Just a word of warning ... be sure you have several hours to tackle this project because you are bound to get lost in these terrific teacher blogs!

By the way, if you're interested in learning how to create your own teacher blog, be sure to attend the 10th Annual Elementary School Conference in Greensboro on October 20th - 22nd. Several bloggers will be joining me on Sunday afternoon to present a session called Teacher Blog Boot Camp. You'll learn everything you need to know to get started, and if you bring a laptop to the session, you might get your own blog started before you leave! Register for the conference now to take advantage of the early registration discount. Hope to see you there!

Laura Candler is the current President of the NC Association of Elementary Educators. She's retired from the classroom where she taught grades 4 and 5 for 30 years, but she's still active in education. Laura is the creator of the Teaching Resources website, and she is the author of numerous books and ebooks for teachers.