PD #1: Hands-On Learning

I’ve recently begun an online course (gotta get some hours in before OR changes its license requirements again), which requires written submissions. I’m going to work through the prompts here and see if any comments spur further thought.

As a middle school teacher, I find that the majority of my students require a constant dose of kinesthetic learning in their daily schedule. These students are figuring out their bodies, can have short attention spans and crave interactions with each other. I have taught math classes containing only boys and mixed classes of 6-7-8th graders and consistently find added engagement when students begin moving. Sometimes an activity requires students to vote with their bodies. For example, stand up if you think tonight’s moon phase is full, jump up and sit back down if it is a half or sit on the floor if you believe a new moon is the current phase. The action takes just a moment but students receive a quick break from body positions and those not involved in the discussion are drawn back in. Other times, activities span a lesson of movement. Predator-prey relationships unfold naturally in games of tag. Extended activities require deliberate debriefs where students’ attention is drawn back to the purpose of the game. The processing part of the lesson is essential to move the lesson past a fun activity and to a learning environment.

Kinesthetic specific activities comprise a portion of my class time though hands-on learning is constantly employed. I teach a 90-minute block class and eschew lecture to allow students time to be scientists or mathematicians. They need to be in positions where they are comfortable interacting with each other and I often need to get out of the way and let them work. Many classes center around a problem. In math courses, the problem may unfold through a video (i.e. Dan Meyer’s 3-Acts) or scenario. In science, a design issue or question asks students to decide how to collect evidence to support, or refute, a position. These activities go well when the problem is accessible to students. I believe that accessible means a student is capable of understanding the task (though this may take some work) and can advance on the problem. Ideally, the student eventually gets to a place that does not make sense and, hooked by the situation, wants to work out outstanding issues. A few guided questions hopefully nudge them forward.

My current focus of improvement revolves around explicit discussion of process and understanding. I believe that I’ve done my fair share of hands-on activities where students exit class without connecting their experience with a content area. Maybe I didn’t keep good tabs on the clock and the clean-up genie appeared too late. Scrambling to beat the bell, students race over the class and manage to finish last minute data collection and get cleaned up just in time. Two or four days later, when the class finally meets again, key points are distant memories. So, what am I doing to improve? First, I’ve begun using whiteboards (posting by Kelly O’Shea containing great ideas) a lot. I expect students to process ideas as they go. Whiteboards provide a platform that students enjoy writing on and are big enough to gather around. Typically, I am able to quickly check a group’s progress.

Another shift I’ve made is to a Claim-Evidence-Reasoning structure (described by Jason Buell). I want my students thinking that they are collecting evidence and building a case for their ideas. I want them to be eager in wanting to describe the finds made by their group. I want them to see a purpose in a hands-on activity instead of leaving happy that the could do a lab during class. These are works in progress but I’m enjoying the case for being more deliberate.

Camel break –

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