This week started with a slightly different schedule that allows me to get more time in class than the previous arrangement; instead of two 5-hour days, I’m spending one full day in the classroom and getting my hours up to 10 with an additional afternoon. This means that I now see all the grades (5-8) once, and the sixth and seventh graders an additional time.
The classes are all still working on foundations for the year. Things are moving slowly because the behavior expectations are being set, and also because basic science concepts are still being instilled. The younger grades, which had more difficulty with measurements and metric conversions, were still doing exercises to help them with that. The older grades had other projects going on that are also laying the groundwork for their year. The seventh graders assembled the hydroponics systems they and the garden club will be using throughout the year and the eighth graders did an activity using paper helicopters with different length rotors to learn about independent and dependent variables.
The sixth graders had a difficult time staying on task during their measurement activity, so they were sat down and asked to reflect on what they had done. This was done by asking them to take out their journals and to write down a number reflecting their focus during the activity, then an explanation, then repeating those two metrics for the focus of their group, then class. Each successive prompt was only given after several minutes on the previous, helping the students focus their thoughts and attentions only on the current prompt. The class then was asked for how they thought the teacher would rate their performance, which was discussed as an entire class.
The fifth graders went on a “field trip” to measure things in the garden out back. They were to copy down a data table from the board into their notebooks. They were then partnered up and walked out in two lines, with the teacher stopping every once in a while to make sure that the stragglers could catch up. The student pairs were each assigned something in the garden to measure the three dimensions of and if they finished the first item, they could move on to another.
The seventh graders assembled the hydroponics systems that had been designed, built, and disassembled by the high schoolers the previous summer. We did not give them instructions, but broke them into teams and had each team work on a particular section. We guided the thinking of the teams a little bit by asking leading questions to get them on track and using a good engineering thought process.
The eighth graders cut out paper helicopters from a printed form, then timed the descents off a balcony. They loved this activity and were quite focused during the setup, but I was not around for the debriefing where they did the actual science part of learning what dependent and independent variables are.
How it Went
The most difficult part with the fifth graders was getting them to focus on the task at hand rather than being afraid of insects and being distracted by each other and their own minds. They also had difficulty figuring out how to measure garden boxes if there were plants overflowing them (measure parallel to the box or through the plants since they had meter sticks). I was surprised by how long it took to get them to copy the empty data table into their notebooks and by their difficulty with measurement.
The sixth graders all continued to have difficulty with the metric system and measurement. They understood some aspects very well but were quite bad at applying the concepts to be able to convert. They also had huge difficulty focusing, which is what necessitated the reflection. It is not yet clear what effect the reflection activity had on them because I have not had a chance to see their (hopefully) modified behavior during group work.
The seventh graders really enjoyed the building activity, but it took them more time than we anticipated, even on the second frame, which we had figured that they would breeze through after having completed one. They did not really think in terms of any planning, and instead just jumped in and started building by trial and error. The only real difficulty was the difference in investment by the students; some really thought it was a great activity and worked well together to get it built, while other students just sat back and watched.
The eighth grade helicopter activity went super smoothly. They were all invested in the lesson and all really wanted to know which rotor length would descend the slowest to the point where they were have arguments, which was great because it forced them to really use their reasoning abilities to figure it out. Still, after arguing there were people who thought that the long blades would descend fastest while others thought it would be slowest, making the testing even more interesting. The one difficulty with testing was synching the timers with the helicopter drops, so we used a countdown for everyone to drop and time at the same moment.