I have trouble with justifying learning experiences with the big ideas of my unit. And it’s not because they’re bad, I’m just having trouble narrowing down the big ideas into learning experiences that are meaningful, not contrived, and engaging. I think I always run into trouble here. I get those big ideas and guiding questions down, and then making the learning experiences and assessment tie to those is where I struggle the most. It never feels natural.
I mean, I know whatever we do with this unit will engage my students, because who doesn’t love electricity and magnets and forces and experiments?
Again, I’m such a verbal processor. I need someone to bounce ideas off of. I keep finding myself wondering, “What if we…?” then losing my train of thought and wandering off to find more water or coffee or… pretty much anything else.
I need to talk ideas/lessons/plans through with someone before I can really wrap my mind around them. It was great when I had a teammate last year, but harder this year when there’s no dedicated person to really care as much as I do about my plans. You know?
I’m walking through my previously-written plans for the unit from which the lesson that bombed on Friday came from and trying to adjust it to make it more accessible and less… abstract.
And I’m finding myself needing to sit down and talk it through with someone. Luckily I have a debrief tomorrow with my principal, and hopefully she’ll be willing to listen to some of the ideas/changes I want to make and help me flesh them out. Failing that, I’ll schedule some time with my BRT to rethink it.
Also I’ll probably bug mrsjdr.
It is a new semester, and I did say yesterday I wanted to be better about #education blogging.
Therefore, I won’t whine. I won’t be upset. Yes, it’s sad that break nearly is over, and yes, wouldn’t it be nice if break could be extended just slightly. But also I have an amazing opportunity to learn and grow and get excited today. Working with my BRT is always invigorating and leaves me excited and looking forward to whatever it is we’re planning.
My school is unique in that I get a lot of say and freedom in what I teach in science and social studies. I use the CO Academic Standards and the district’s “Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum” as a framework to develop my studies (in all subjects, actually, not just in science & social studies). When I work with my BRT, we figure out how to make those standards accessible and interesting to 4th graders. Our process is pretty similar no matter which subject we’re planning for. If you’re familiar with Understanding by Design (UbD) or Expeditionary Learning (EL), this process will be familiar to you.
First, we look at the standards and compile/tweak them to create our long-term outcomes for the unit. We check to ensure that the outcomes require students to reach/demonstrate high-level thinking processes. Then, we come up with our guiding questions & big ideas - more or less unit-specific questions that don’t have definitive answers. These are questions like, “Why do different people perceive the same event differently? What happens?” The question applies to the unit, but is also a “bigger” question that can apply to another case study (part of EL: “expeditions” which are comprised of at least two “case studies”). The big ideas are the understandings we want students to carry away from the unit - NOT factual ideas; rather, bigger ideas that will still be important to understand when students are 20, 30, 40… We will post and revisit these questions frequently throughout the unit.
Then, once we have those guiding questions & big ideas, we move onto “Stage 2”: assessment. We look at our outcomes and decide how we will know when students have reached/demonstrated their understanding of the outcomes we came up with. What will it look like for students to demonstrate their understanding? How will we check that understanding periodically along the way? We decide how we will assess students, both formatively and summatively, throughout and at the conclusion of the unit. Sometimes it’s checking their expedition notebooks in response to a prompt/question or a thinking routine (Richart’s thinking routines are some that we use frequently - things like see/think/wonder; first I thought, then I learned, now I think, etc.). Sometimes it’s a project (expert groups are something we use a lot, as are jigsaws). And typically there is a bigger project that students do at the end of a case study to synthesize their learning.
Finally, and only after all of this has been worked out, we move onto the learning experiences students will have. Typically, this looks like brainstorming at first, then organizing the experiences into a sensible and carefully thought-through order. We come up with an immersion experience to gain interest and create a “need to know.” Then we decide when to reveal the guiding questions & big ideas, and what experiences students should have to investigate and learn during the unit. Typically, this is all very student-driven. I spend very little time giving facts or notes. We work together to figure out how to comprehend the higher-level non-fiction texts we look at, but for the most part, students do most of the construction of their learning on their own through carefully orchestrated and planned experiences. We do have a lot of different thinking routines and protocols, but that is a different story for a different day. This is all also pretty flexible; my day-to-day plans may (and frequently do) change because of how a particular lesson went.
My current difficulty is that I’m spending lots of time writing these case studies, but I won’t be able to use them again next year. I have a multi-age classroom and will have many of the same students again next year. I’ll have to write new case studies and expeditions based on either the 3rd or 5th grade standards next year (depending on whether it’s a 3/4 or a 4/5 next year).
So that is what I’m doing today. It’s invigorating and exciting; I just need to remind myself of that. I do so love to plan units like this… it’s just difficult to come out of break brain. But I can, and it will be grand.
I might have to drive 6 hours round-trip soon to see if visiting Ludlow is worth it.
I hope it is.
And having them work and be relevant and spark lots of thinking about what this expedition might look like.
I’m so excited.
I just need to come up with an idea that is relevant and exciting and feasible for our field work. Part of me wants to take the kids to the ghost town we’ll be studying. But it is literally a ghost town (no museum or anything), and it would be a 3 hour drive on a bus. I shall be calling the Trinidad Historical Museum tomorrow to see if they have any recommendations.
So excited! And invigorated! Yay!