As a math teacher with about a decade of practice, I have encountered many challenges in teaching the Common Core Math Standards to my middle school students. Upon reflection, my two greatest challenges when planning and approaching my grade level math instruction are:
Instead of implementing the Common Core standards at Kindergarten and working our way up through the years:
The second challenge has been finding high quality teaching resources, problem sets, and activities that are actually engaging and worthwhile. We use to have textbooks and curriculum resources available to our district but over the past couple of years we have phased these out due to financial constraints.
Some of my colleagues have used and recommend Engage NY and Eureka Math to help fill in deficiencies in our curriculum resources. While very strong and useful, I have found difficulties implementing these problem sets and resources into my own classroom teaching style. The programs are well intentioned and as I said, very useful, but I found that I need to modify nearly every aspect of the lessons to make them accessible for my students and that in it of itself is about an hour of work time minimum.
I’d be better off allocating that time to just creating my own lesson plans. Which, myself and some colleagues decided to do. We recognized that we would be better off collaborating and creating learning activities and experiences for our students rather than looking outward for those resources. We know our students’ needs and learning styles more so than anyone else. Therefore, we decided to create lessons and units that we use in our own classrooms and share those with other teachers using our Teachers Pay Teachers store.
We know how time intensive and difficult it is to create high quality lesson plans and we figured we could help out our colleagues by offering our own completed resources with great value at a very affordable price. Check out some of our newest units below:
7th Grade Probability Unit 6th Grade Probability and Statistics Unit
John Hattie and Robert Marzano – 8 Best Teaching Strategies
Strategy 1: A Clear Focus for the Lesson
Strategy 2: Offer Overt Instruction
Robert Marzano claims it is important to explicitly teach your students the things they need to learn. His review of research actually revealed it was the most important factor (teacher controlled) affecting students’ success. You need to tell them what they need to know and show them how to do things they must be able to do for themselves.
John Hattie did not review explicit teaching per se, but he did find that Direct Instruction was very effective. Instruction involves explicitly teaching a carefully sequenced curriculum, with built in cumulative practice.
Furthermore, Hattie highlighted the power of giving students worked examples when explaining how to multi-step tasks. Marzano also highlights the importance of giving examples and non-examples (similarities and differences) of the concept you are teaching. For example, when teaching prime numbers it would be useful to highlight 2 as an example, and 9, 15 and 21 as non-examples to avoid confusion with odd numbers.
Marzano also found that you can explicitly teach deeper levels of understanding by using graphic organizers you should use graphic organizers to show how different ideas were related to each other (e.g. steps, cause-effect, hierarchy, lists, comparisons, etc.).
Neither Hattie nor Marzano believes that great teaching is nothing more than standing out the front of the class and imparting knowledge. However, both agree that telling students what they need to know and showing students what they need to be able to do are essential aspects of teaching.
Strategy 3: Get the Students to Engage With the Content
Marzano and Hattie agree that this starts with students actively linking your newly provided information with their prior knowledge of the topic. Students need to engage with the content as soon as they hear it by:
Robert Marzano also found several ways for students to engage with the material in ways that help them deepen their understanding beyond surface knowledge. These include the use of graphic organizers that show how information is connected (e.g. steps, cause-effect, in comparison to, hierarchical classification). It also includes the use of analogies, such as:
Strategy 4: Give Feedback
It is important that you give your students feedback after they engage with any new material. This:
Robert Marzano highlighted that students need to be given feedback while there is still time to improve (i.e. before finishing a topic or assigning a formal assessment task). John Hattie agreed with this but went further, showing that novice or struggling students need immediate feedback, while more experienced students do better when they receive delayed feedback.
Strategy 5: Multiple Exposures
If you want students to internalize new information, you need to expose them to it several times.
When exploring how to enhance students’ vocabulary, Robert Marzano found that it was critical for teachers expose students to the same word multiple times. When each exposure was coupled with an explicit comment about the word and its meaning, students’ vocabulary acquisition doubled.
John Hattie picks up on the significance of multiple exposures by revealing the critical importance of techniques such as rehearsal and review. Put simply, rehearsal means going over material until you can remember it, while review involves going over things you have learnt previously.
He also stresses the merit of giving students time to practice doing the things they have learned to do. When spaced out over time, Hattie found that having students practice things led to a 26 percentile improvement in their marks.
On a more cautious note, Hattie warned that practice without feedback can be dangerous as it leads to students internalizing the wrong things.
Strategy 6: Have Students Apply Their Knowledge
Robert Marzano found that helping students apply their knowledge deepens their understanding.
Knowledge application is a deductive process whereby students apply general principles to specific case studies or problems. Marzano found that teaching students how to think deductively and giving them guided practice in doing so helps them generalize their learning beyond the particular topic or task at hand. Hattie confirmed that deductive processes (i.e. general principle applied to specific situation) is much more effective than inductive teaching (i.e. asking students to discover general principles from observing specific situations).
Knowledge application also involves problem-solving. Robert Marzano’s synthesis of research revealed that problem-solving had a large effect (d = 0.54) on students’ understanding. Marzano believes that problems should require students to apply previously learned knowledge and skills – and Hattie agrees. When problem-solving is used in this way, Hattie found a similar effect size (d = 0.61) to Marzano. However, when a problem is used to stimulate discovery learning, the opposite is true (d = 0.15). Hattie also emphasized the importance of teaching students how to solve problems, e.g. understand the problem → come up with a plan of action → implement the plan→ review the results.
Strategy 7: Get Students Working Together
Robert Marzano and John Hattie both agree that getting students to work with each other helps them to achieve better results. The use of cooperative learning groups adds value to whole-class instruction (d = 0.41) and to individual work (d = 0.59-0.78).
They also agree that inter-group competition can increase the effect of cooperative learning even more.
However, neither Marzano nor Hattie believes that cooperative learning should replace whole-class instruction or individual learning activities.
Strategy 8: Build Students’ Self-Efficacy
Self-efficacy refers to a student’s belief about their ability to successfully complete a task. It is situation specific. For example, a student may feel confident that they can dance well on stage but be insecure about public speaking.
Hattie & Marzano both found that students’ self-efficacy had a substantial impact on their subsequent achievement. Students who believed they would master fractions were more likely to do so, while students who saw themselves as poor readers were less likely to improve their reading.
Marzano’s review of research showed that you can build students’ self-efficacy through praise, and expressing your belief that they can do well. However, to be effective, such praise must:
As Carol Dweck noted, if you praise lavishly and liberally, you end up praising mediocrity, which in turn sends a message that you believe that is all you think they are capable of.
Hattie highlighted the fact that the link between self-efficacy and achievement is reciprocal. That is, achieving genuine success has as much impact on subsequent self-efficacy, as self-efficacy has on subsequent achievement.
The Power of Reflection
The impulsiveness of middle school students is one of the reasons most of us enjoy teaching this age group. During adolescence they are forming their opinions, ideas, and likes/dislikes, about the world and reality they live in. Ultimately, this is the time when most students begin to form their personalities as well as share every thought that runs through their heads without filter. We love it; it is very satisfying to be able to help guide students to become the people they are. We have the amazing opportunity to teach them about the world through our subject and content area, but we also have the opportunity to help them develop and grow as good citizens and great human beings.
This is no easy feat to accomplish. Working with middle school students is very challenging and it requires teachers to have a strong set of social skills, patience, perspective, and behavior management techniques.
One of the management techniques we discussed has been the creation and development of classroom expectations as a whole class. This is a great strategy to guide and manage behavior in a class because students were involved and in control of the final product. Students need to have their voices and opinions heard. But, what are we to do as teachers when students make poor choices and do not follow the expectations. Regardless of the framework your school district has adopted for your teacher evaluation plan, it is evident in order for a teacher to receive a distinguished in his/her summative evaluation more ownership needs to be put in the hands of students. As teachers make the shift from direct instruction to the role of facilitator, an easy place is classroom behavior because it can benefit both the teacher and students. There are numerous techniques that can be implemented to address negative behavior, but we are going to focus on utilizing a behavior reflection log as an intervention.
We have all been in a situation where we have a student who is not following classroom expectations. The student is disrespectful, disruptive to classroom learning, and after several re-directions and maybe even a personal discussion, cannot simply not get their behavior in line. So, what are you going to do?
There are so many possible factors and variables impacting this student. From situations at home, social issues at school, lack of sleep, or hunger. If the behaviors do not warrant a significant consequence according to your school handbook, we recommend trying to resolve the situation within your class as often as possible because we feel it helps to foster an environment of mutual respect. But please use your professional discretion and follow all school guidelines and rules in any matter.
We have developed a Behavior Reflection sheet where students will have the opportunity to reflect and process their choices. The sheet is self-explanatory and will limit the time a teacher needs to take to deal with the misbehavior. It also needs to be signed by a parent, which allows for a possible conversation with the student and their parent and/or a future conversation with the teacher. The sheet can be used as documentation. This behavior intervention or management technique has worked for us so we figured we would share our practices. The goal is for the student to perform the cognitive sweat and to reflect upon their decision making and to identify its’ connection to the classroom expectations; it also allows them a chance to develop a path towards redemption with guidance from the teacher.
The process should look something like this:
The Behavior Reflection Template can be found here to download and can be modified to fit your classroom expectations and needs.
As an educator and curriculum designer, it is vital I have systems and processes in place to write and design curriculum. There are many approaches to designing curriculum but I like to think WHOLE and work my way down to the PARTS. So for me, I think about what standards and topics I am instructing in the whole unit and then work my way down to the specifics of each lesson.
As with many in the profession, I like to utilize the framework of Know, Understand, and Do or the infamous acronym KUD’s. This allows me to break down all of the content, skills, and understandings I want my students to know into a framework.
After designing when and what students are to learn during instruction, the next logical step is to identify how I will know and measure if students actually learned what I taught during instruction. There are many different techniques and strategies for assessing the KUD’s. The methods I apply are the use of formative and summative assessments. I incorporate these assessments into the scope and sequence of the curriculum unit to get a rough idea of when I will be assessing my students.
I use formative assessments for the goal of monitoring student learning and to provide students with ongoing feedback to improve the learning process. These are usually low-stakes used for improvement.
The goal is to use these formative assessments to accrue specific data that helps me measure and provide evidence where the student currently stands in relation to learning targets and overall framework of the unit.
What does the student know?
What can the student do?
What does the student understand?
Here are some specific examples of forms of formative assessments I use:
In these new or modified lessons, I must provide specific feedback and a plan of action for what students need to do to improve. Then, I allow for immense amount of practice of the content in the KUD in varied contexts with significant amount of time for the learning process to occur, even if that time must be outside of school hours.
Once I have taught the entire unit, I use a summative assessment to evaluate student learning after my instruction by comparing it to the specific standards or learning targets. These are usually high-stakes used to provide a grade or mark for the student.
I can use the data from the summative assessment to guide future students through instruction that will mitigate the known student struggles and misunderstandings.
This is an example of the importance of experience in the teaching profession and cannot be undervalued. I am always a better teacher during my second class than I am in my first class. The same is true when I have experience teaching a whole unit a couple of times. I am better because I have the data and information from my assessments as well as the personal experience. Keeping a personal journal or blog helps to revisit ideas and thoughts you had during the actual instruction experience.
So, let’s recap, when you are trying to design or write a new curriculum unit for instruction in your class, I suggest following this process:
I have included a hand info-graphic of our process that you can view below and download.
We are always looking for feedback and ways to improve so do you know of any methods or strategies we should incorporate in our curriculum design?
What are some tricks or methods that you have used in your classrooms?
Recently posted on Quora
I'm in the middle of my 9th year teaching and as my career has progressed I've been slowly coming to the realization of the following:
Overall that sounds great, but when you take a look at how much money, time, and effort we allocate towards educating our students, it feels disheartening. Even more so when we look at our comparisons to other countries. (PISA Results) When teachers see results like this, we feel responsible for the failures of our students and feel like we are letting our nation down. We know there is improvement, but it is slow and some times hard to quantify. When I worked in construction, the job was done when the roof was complete and you could see tangible results. With teaching, you often wonder regardless of test scores and projects whether you really taught your students anything.
As to point number two, I have found that the most difficult part of my day is the number of instructional hours I have with my students compared to my counterparts in other countries. There are different statistics about the amount of time, here is the most recent critique of the common statistic being thrown around of 30–65%, saying we have about 10–15% more instructional hours on average, but I would be a better teacher if I only taught 4 classes instead of 6. It’s very difficult to hit a home run 6 class periods in a row. I’m not, and most of my colleagues are not capable of doing so.
I could then use that time to analyze student work, plan lessons, provide feedback to students, and to observe other teachers in the classroom to gain insight on how to improve my practice.
To point number 3, there are so many factors that affect student learning outside of my personal control and some times is very frustrating. On a daily basis, the entire session of my 7th period class can be impacted by whether or not Josh got enough sleep, is fed, and did not have any altercations with fellow classmates during PE from the period before.
I use this anecdotally to display how schools are made of students who are people who have real lives, emotions, and behaviors. Motivating a person and incentivizing them to do well is difficult to do with individuals from diverse backgrounds and life experiences. What works for one student may not for another. Students have effects on their peers and the environment around them. I do not control any of those factors, but must maintain my professionalism and teach the students as they are in my classroom.
Finally, it is a very difficult profession and we need highly motivated and intelligent people to join the ranks and get in the classroom. I presume it is has many challenges similar to other professions and you’ll have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages if you are looking to enter the profession. That being said, it definitely has its perks. Teaching is challenging, fun, eye-opening, engaging, meaningful and with purpose. Not to mention, I’m writing this from my couch sipping coffee because of Winter Break. Happy Holidays!
We have great respect and appreciation for the job responsibility required by those within the field of education, educational policy, and administration. We understand the realities and problems they face firsthand.
However, it has been our experience that the institution of education is far too bureaucratic, slow-moving, and susceptible to political intrusion/posturing?
Political leaders offer quick simple solutions for change in educational policy that are vague in talking points and short in specifics. As H.L. Mencken said, “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
And since everyone has been in school, many feel they are experts based off of their own personal experiences and try to input anecdotal data and generalizations into very complex discussions. Everyone is entitled to their opinion and voice but just like we consult doctors with medical issues, lawyers with legal issues, generals with military issues, we should do the same with teachers and educational issues.
For example, no one will argue against having all of our students performing at grade level in reading and mathematics. And, of course we do not want to leave any of our children behind. But, the strategies and methods to attain those outcomes is the challenging part. Realistic pathways and plans for how to meet those outcomes are required, and we should utilize the expertise of real life practitioners to guide us to the promise land.
It’s clear that our ability to develop citizens capable of being innovators and creators is vital to our success as a nation. Our educational system is vehicle in which we will develop this citizenry. It only makes sense to treat and approach our educational policy with the importance and seriousness it deserves. We need to be implementing proven and research based policy and practices designed to improve educational systems
Therefore, we wanted to share a couple suggestions and ideas for policy changes we feel could have a large positive impact on improving the teaching profession and the institution of education in general.
Teacher Preparation Programs
Too often, unprepared teachers are thrown into classrooms in which they do not have the skill-set to effectively instruct and the outcomes are dismal and negative for all parties. This experience is replicated and persists in far too many school systems, especially school systems educating low income students.
We have previously offered suggestions for mentorship programs and professional learning communities controlled by novice and veteran teachers alike. But, if we want to address some of the significant issues within the teaching profession like teacher preparedness, teacher attrition, and teacher effectiveness, we need to implement a pathway to teacher certification similar to the medical communities’ residency programs. Our vision of a program would look as such:
Decreased Teacher Instructional Time
Teaching is a very difficult profession that requires a lot of preparation, thought, and a unique skill-set. Activating student learning is not an easy task and it is very physically, mentally, and emotionally taxing. I am usually exhausted after teaching six classes, and I find it difficult to muster up the energy to then have the responsibility to plan, analyze student work, and communicate with students and parents. I have grown in my abilities and skills but when I was a younger teacher, I did not understand how veteran teachers were surviving.
As with most great performers in any profession, such as lawyers, athletes, or doctors, they make what they do look easy. Yet, most observers do not see the amount of preparation and effort that goes into training. This is similar with teachers.
Therefore, we feel we need to decrease the amount of actual teacher instruction time each day. This would allow teachers more time to prepare for their classes. Teachers in South Korea only spend about 35% of their school day on instruction; here in the U.S. we spend about 80% of our school day on instruction. It seems logical to adopt some of the practices of high performing educational systems. If we decreased the amount of instructional time, teachers would have more time to focus on the following critical components of teaching allowing for greater effectiveness.
Teacher Incentives and Funding of Education
We as Americans pride ourselves on our work ethic, professionalism, and our capitalistic society. We work more hours and take less time off then most industrialized nations in the world. We believe in meritocracy, where the best applicant for the position should receive the position.
It would be naïve to pretend that we don’t associate societal success with financial success. Therefore, we need to increase the financial incentives and funding structures of the teaching profession if we want to attract and retain the highest quality candidates. Here are a couple of suggestions for policy reformations:
Change our Measuring System from Standard to Metric!
This might not change the teaching profession but it will significantly help students better understand measurement, conversions rates, and basic operations due to our base 10 number system. The United States is the only industrialized country in the world that does not use the metric system of measurement. Why are we forcing our students to learn both?
We realize many of these suggestions may be considered controversial. We’re ok with that. We just want to present some possible solutions to problems that we see and move the discussion to actionable policy decisions which can be researched further and tested. It didn’t take us long to adopt Common Core Standards, so why not some of these suggestions?
This is a short list, but what do you think we should add to improve the teaching profession?
How do you think these suggestions would work out in reality?
I was having a conversation with a friend’s father about the state of educational policy in school today with common core standards, college and career ready initiatives and so forth. We started to discuss his experiences taking vocational courses throughout his high school career as well as other courses. I was amazed to the extent of classes and courses he had the options of taking, and this realization triggered a couple thoughts.
I began to reflect upon some of my experiences as a student and I began to focus on the time I spent studying foreign languages. I received 2 years of Spanish instruction in middle school, 3 years of Latin instruction in high school, and then another 2 semesters of Spanish in college. Even now, I would describe myself as only being able to comprehend very basic Spanish, and my ability to speak is less than basic.
I asked myself this question. Would I have been better off now if I would have received 3 years of a computer programming language like C++ in high school rather than my required foreign language courses?
So, I decided to do a little digging into the effects of both foreign language and computer programming on student learning.
After looking through a lot of literature and research on the foreign language education, it is very difficult to deny the many benefits of learning a foreign language for students.
Some of benefits of foreign language instruction and bilingualism are:
One aspect of language instruction that kept show up is that the positive effects of foreign language instruction are maximized by providing younger students with exposure and instruction of the languages in earlier grades.
Likewise, there are numerous benefits to exposing students to computer programming or coding.
Some of the benefits of computer programming instruction are:
After looking at all of these positive benefits of both foreign language and computer programming, I have come to a couple recommendations and suggestions.
We should begin foreign language instruction in our schools at a far younger age and grade level. There are so many benefits to becoming bi-lingual and we should push to maximize these benefits as much as possible. Numerous options of foreign language courses should be promoted and available for students starting in kindergarten and then continuing through middle school.
Similarly, we should promote basic computer programming using programs like Tinker, codecademy, code.org and many others to begin the benefits of this type of instruction as well. Why not start with developmentally appropriate programs as early as possible?
Finally, if students have been exposed to both of these topics for throughout their educational careers k-8, then, they should be allowed to choose their course of study. If they choose to substitute a computer programming language for a foreign language, then so be it. Students who have interest and passion for a topic will be much more inclined to study and will learn better.
I am a big believer in students having as much choice as possible in the path of their own learning.
Why should we force students to take classes they have limited to no interest in, even after being exposed to the subject and having previous experiences?
What do you think?
Project-Based Learning (PBL) has been all the rage in social media and education circles as of late. And, since I have recently attended a conference where I learned about PBL from industry experts and have adopted the practice of PBL for my classroom I figured I’d share out some of main resources and methods for transitioning to a PBL curriculum in your classroom.
I am in no way an expert on PBL but as I stated I am currently experimenting with PBL so I may be able to provide some insight about how to approach the practice from a classroom teacher’s perspective.
Why should I use Project-Based Learning in my classroom?
Many arguments have been made for the benefits of using PBL and its effect on student learning and you can access the research and data here. I believe in using PBL because it's a great way to apply learning standards to real life situations and scenarios where students have choice and voice on how they will learn.
The internet and technology has drastically impacted the amount and level of access to information. This has led educators to begin to ask some serious questions regarding the knowledge, understandings, and skills we want our students to attain. The status quo has been altered by the fact that we can look up or Google any question or fact and have the resulting answer in seconds. Therefore, we need to move towards creating curriculum that helps develop students who can identify, analyze, and solve problems.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe background/fundamental skills and knowledge are important to build a foundation for learning and skill development, but we need to focus on helping students to learn and develop their skills to communicate, collaborate, and to use their creativity to solve authentic problems.
Developing curriculum that focuses on Project-Based Learning fosters these types of skill development and teachers can embed the learning standards for their content into the PBL. This is not an easy undertaking, but the end result along with the process along the way is completely worthwhile.
Depth vs. Breadth
The amount of learning standards that are required to be covered throughout a course is daunting and many times unrealistic. For example, the number of historical events that need to be covered in an AP History Class would require the instructor to only spend 2-3 days studying the U.S. Civil War if they went through and taught every standard and topic required. Therefore, teachers have already been making decisions about which standards and topics to teach and to what depth. What PBL allows for, is a much deeper study of a set of standards and topics.
Teachers may not be able to cover the breadth of standards each and every single year, but by teaching the standards in depth and building other types of skills like problem-solving and critical thinking, students are still able to perform well on tests (research is here).
Also, at the end of the course, quarter or semester, your students will have a portfolio of work and a tangible project to show what they have learned and completed. Far more meaningful than a score on a test at least in my eyes.
How can I structure and design a PBL for my class?
From my own personal experience along with some tricks of the trade I’ve learned along the way, a solid PBL can be broken down into 3 separate phases with specific criteria connected to each phase in which I will describe in further detail.
1.Rubric and Assessment Design
2.PBL Challenge or Topic
3.Timeline and Schedule
Rubric and Assessment Design
This is where you will decide which learning standards you want your students to master throughout the PBL. This is also where you will develop two distinct rubrics for the PBL. One of the rubrics should be a Summative Assessment based on the learning standards taught throughout the PBL. The rubric for this assessment should be structured where the written standard should correlate with a level of mastery on the rubric. This summative assessment will serve as an individual grade for each student.
The second rubric should be designed to assess the product or presentation the students must complete as part of their PBL. This will be scored at a Team Level and can focus on standards as well as other criteria and skills such as communication, teamwork, and effectiveness of design. This rubric is specific to the project or presentation you will be creating.
PBL Challenge and Topic
The challenge or topic of the PBL will be the driving question and/or the purpose of the entire project. It is important that the challenge is authentic in nature which means that it is a real problem that exists locally or a real problem that current professionals in industry are looking to solve. Student should be addressing this challenge for an “Authentic Audience”
In this phase, the teacher can provide all of the requirements for the PBL with the learning standards connected to each requirement. The teacher will explain how the students will present their projects with the use of a “Hook” that lays out the challenge and explains how the teams of students will be presenting their projects or presentations to the public and or working professionals. (The Authentic Audience)
Timeline and Schedule
The teacher will then create a schedule with predetermined dates or timelines for events, tasks, and lessons. The teacher should provide a calendar that lays out the exact dates for specific deadlines for progress checks. During these progress checks, students can receive feedback from their instructor as well as provide/receive feedback from their peers.
The teacher should also create a system for students to be able to schedule workshops and check-ins with the teacher based on their own needs. During these workshops, teachers can provide further instruction on varying parts of the project requirements and on specific learning targets.
Here are some examples of workshops students can sign up to attend:
●Workshop on using the CAD software
●Workshop on figuring out the surface area of the rectangular prism so we can figure out how much material we need to purchase or create for the packages of our product
●Workshop on using camera/video equipment
●Workshop on comparing and contrasting two methods for conducting market research
Structuring the schedule with built-in workshops leads to differentiation and interventions because individuals and teams will struggle with different aspects of the project at different rates. The teacher can provide the dates for Formative Assessments to monitor and track the progress and learning of students. Some examples of formative assessments can be journals, concept maps, self-assessments, peer assessments, and quizzes.
It is important that students are required to take the Summative Assessment before the due date of the project or presentation so the teacher can provide any last interventions and differentiated instruction to support students as they work to finish their projects
PBL in Your Classroom
Hopefully this rough framework can provide you some guidance as you incorporate PBL in your classroom. PBL is nothing new and many teachers have been using the concepts of “learning by doing” and “applying learning to real life scenarios” for decades. This is a testament to the ebb and flow of educational policy and practices. I will provide a list of resources and references for the information and ideas I provided above.
References and Resources
Matt Kuhn -
Edutopia Annotated Bibliography of Research on PBL
The Journal of Economic Education
6 PBL ideas for Math Classes from Teach Thought
Edutopia PBL Resources and Further Articles
PBL for Elementary School (K-5)
Yummy Yogurt Makers
Lift Off - Engineering Rockets and Rovers
Scuba Diving in Belize
What’s the Beat?
PBL for Middle School (6-8)
The Advantages of Machines
Forensics - Get a Clue
We’ve got the Power
Invention: Computer Technology
Dance Pad Mania
Bridge the Gap
PBL for High School (9-12)
Mathematics and Heredity
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?
There’s a great expression/meme I found circulating the internet that describes how adults encourage young children to talk, play, and discover the world, yet when these young children move on to elementary and middle school, we implore them to sit still in their seats and be quiet. It’s quite confusing for children and completely unrealistic expectations for them.
Teacher-centered instruction, where students are sitting quietly in their seats with the teacher at the front of the classroom lecturing, should be a practice that is long forgotten. It should go the way the Jenko Jeans I fondly sported in the early 90’s and stay in the past.
As educators, we need to be realistic and take into account our own personal experiences when designing lesson plans. I have quickly learned one of my least favorite parts to the job is sitting still at staff meetings or professional development presentations for extended periods of time. I’m an educator: I like to move around the room and experience what I am learning; I find I lose interest when someone is talking at me instead of with me. Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand these types of meetings are part of my professional development and I get the value of important deliverables delegated at these meetings, but that doesn’t mean I have to enjoy them.
Even thinking and writing about them makes me tired, lethargic and overall annoyed. But, I am an adult, and as an adult with years of practice in controlling my emotions and attention, I am able to put a smile on my face and accept that I am always going to be a part of these meetings and dealing with them is just another facet of the job.
Now, when it comes to my students, and when they are forced to sit still for 50 minutes taking notes on a subject they may not be so excited about, can I really just expect them to put that same smile on their faces that I am able to muster up and deal with it? When were they taught that skill and where was I?
We need to take into consideration the attention spans and feelings of young children who grew up in the digital age and have intrinsic needs for stimulation and movement in varying contexts.
Teachers need to be cognizant of these realities and incorporate specific teaching practices to target student engagement and attention. Significant preparation and thought needs to go into lesson design, and all decisions should be made through a student-centered approach.
We recommend using our lesson plan design that helps to promote engagement, but obviously we’re biased. If you choose to use another design, be sure to include the following practices to ensure student engagement and focus:
Incorporate short Brain Breaks into your lesson plan to provide students with a break from academic activities and have a little fun. Brain Breaks allow for rejuvenation and refocusing of attention. You can also use this time to try a class-building or team-building activity.
Allow for Active Interactions and Movement
Design your lesson to incorporate movement, discussions, and interactions in the classroom. Learning is an active endeavor and students need to be active in some form or another to learn. However, the difficulty here is purpose. It is vital to connect the active engagement to the actual learning target.
For example, when I have tried to teach coordinate geometry, I will have students stand up and make a “Y” with their hands to remember the y-axis is vertical, and then I have students make an “X” and then move their arms straight out from them horizontally. They chant the following while they are performing those hand motions:
Classroom Procedures and Routines
Just as with most aspects of life, things get boring if you do them all the time. Therefore, it is important to modify or change your classroom procedures to keep them new and fresh. Some ideas might be to assign students new roles or jobs each week. Change up your seating arrangements so students can work with new classmates. Add in new procedures or routines for your daily Do Now or warm-up.
Direct Instruction to Active Learning
This is the phase of your lesson where you are explicitly teaching your students. Instead of just lecturing in front of a power point presentation, you should employ the practices of guided notes, graphic organizers, demonstrations and questioning.
I usually print out my power point slides and provide specific moments throughout the presentation where students must respond, fill-in information, or develop their own questions.
Along with guided notes, graphic organizers are an invaluable way to break down concepts and ideas into a visual display more in line with how the brain perceives and stores information.
Teacher or video demonstrations of the skills and concepts being instructed is vital. If possible, provide students with several examples of these demonstrations and perhaps require them to develop their own model, alternative connections, or questions about the demonstration.
Also, the use of cooperative learning structures is a great way to help students participate in questioning. Technology is a great tool we can use as well to capture student understanding during the active learning phase of the lesson plan.
The method I usually employ for the guided practice phase of a lesson is I DO, We DO, You Do. I provide three practice problems where I use this strategy and then I extend the “You Do” portion with more problems for students to work independently. This is a great way to differentiate by providing leveled/tiered problems for students to work through as well as student choice in choosing which problems to work on.
Many of these practices and resources may be common place in your classroom, and that’s great! I find it valuable to revisit these practices to ensure my ability to connect the learning target with actual classroom engagements or activities to maintain student attention and focus.
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