My goal in teaching is to have my students USE the knowledge that they learn in my classroom. So often, I see the students learn things for a quiz or test then totally forget what they learned. The knowledge was stored in their short-term memory for just as long as they needed it then it flies out of their ears ten times faster than it went in. After frequent discussions with a special education reading specialist, I have decided I need to use the vocabulary in different ways everyday during the unit of study. Forcing the students to see relevance of the vocabulary and use the terms frequently in writing and discussions.
Yesterday, my science classes took 16 of our most frequently used vocabulary terms and classified them into groups. All the terms come from our weather unit. For these assignment there is no correct answer as long as the classification fits all items in the group. As I walked around the classroom, at first it appeared the student really knew what they were doing. I noticed many groupings that seemed to fit the assignment. As I started questioning the students about why and how the terms were grouped, I noticed a lack of deeper understanding. Many stated, “They just go together” or “I saw them on the same page as in the textbook.” I was glad they open the book to try to figure out the answer, but I gave this assignment because the answers aren’t in the book! As I kept questioning students, I noticed frustration creep into my classroom. My students really never thought about WHY terms could be grouped together.
We needed a quick lesson in grouping. I turned on the ELMO and placed a pen and pencil under the camera. I asked, “How can these 2 items be grouped?” Instantly hands shoot up in the classroom. “Writing utensils” was the first answer from the class. “What else could we add to this group?” I inquired. “Paper” was shouted out before I was done asking the question. “Does that fit class?” was followed by a chorus of “NO”. “So why not?” As the class worked through the explanation that paper is not used to write with but to write on, I saw a few light bulbs light up. Groups quickly went back to work on the classifications. Below are a couple of results from class:
As class wound down, I noticed a few students were still struggling with classifying their terms. I started planning on the fly for the next day. In order for students to classify the terms they need to understand how the terms are connected. Does one concept cause the other? Are they similar? DO they require similar conditions? I decided that the students needed to write about the connections in their KidsBlog.org accounts.
Here is the assignment:
I want you to write about how at least 4 words from our vocabulary that work together to affect/cause/produce our large topic of weather. See the mentor text below for an example:
Connected words: Conduction- Convection-Jet Stream – Ocean Currents
The sun transfers energy to the Earth by radiation, conduction and convection. Conduction occurs when the sun lights energy is directly transferred by contacting a surface on Earth. Convection occurs due to uneven heating of the surface, which creates movement from warm areas to cooler areas. Due to these two methods of transferring the sun’s energy, water and air move. The jet stream is a high-altitude wind caused by the suns energy. Ocean currents are steady one directional flows of water also caused by the energy from the sun. Conduction and convection are methods for transferring energy to cause the jet stream and ocean currents.
As we entered the computer lab, I hoped for this assignment to help the students gain a better understanding of their vocabulary. While, I was presenting the task to the class, a couple of students raised their hands and shared how they felt the words are connected. For the second day, I explained that there were no right or wrong answers. All of the words deal with weather so they are all interconnected in different ways. Students just needed to talk about how the terms go together. Below are a few examples of student work:
Warm fronts and cold fronts can cause warmer or colder temperatures you can use a thermometer to find the exact temperature. Occluded fronts are also caused which are a form weather. Rain, snow, sleet and hail are all forms precipitation which fall from clouds. You can find the climate by averaging the weather.
The sun gives off energy through radiation throughout the universe. When the radiation nears the Earth, it must first reach the atmosphere. The amount of energy that gets through the atmosphere, winds, clouds (tiny of millions of water droplets or ice crystals), is the weather, (the conditions of the atmosphere in a given place and time). The weather tends to change similarly each year, and can always change whether we can predict it or not. This is the main difference between weather and climate (the weather in some location averaged over a long period of time). The climate also deals with weather, such as temperatures, precipitation, etc… All of these rely on the sun for energy, the atmosphere to suppress (absorb) some of the energy such as harmful ultraviolet rays, for their ability to do their job and for us to simply be.
As I walked around the room, these responses showed me that the students we finally connecting themselves to understanding their vocabulary. I feel that students benefit from spending time using terms they need to know. Teachers have to get past having student write a definition! Student need to see the terms in context and use them in a connected manner to clearly communicate their learning. I can not be more proud of my students and their learning today.