Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Independent Study Part 2

This year was my first year implementing a passion-based independent study.  
I implemented it for students in grade 8 back in February and shared my preparation in a blog post: here.  Now that I have one full year completed, I am excited to share our results and reflect!

The students were given a packet to guide them in deciding the study of their choice...

This is a picture of the packet photocopied for all students and staff mentors to work through.
The students took their time and parents were informed of the packet and the importance of the process of taking the time to pick a topic the student(s) were passionate about.

We spent about two or three weeks working our way through the packet and narrowing down the student's independent focuses...
The packet worked perfectly for the students and I don't need to change a thing for next year as far as the process goes. The only thing I may do is photocopy an extra page or two of the calendar if I decide to extend the timeframe of the study, because I plan to adapt the timing...(which I will discuss below)

This is the packet I used to organize the study.

The students picked 1-3 topics that they could see themselves being passionate about working on.  I then reached out to staff with the students interests. 

To find mentors, I sent an email (similar to below) to the staff: 

The Grade 8 Gifted and Talented students are currently working on independent study projects. The independent study will allow students to study their passion or master a new skill, meeting once a week under the guidance of a mentor teacher.  

We are looking for teacher mentors who will be willing to share their professional expertise, talents, and experience with these students. The Grade 8 students' areas of interest are:


1. XXXXX2. XXXXX OR XXXXXX3. XXXXXXXXXX, OR XXXXX

4. XXXXXXXXXX, OR XXXXX

5. XXXXX
 6XXXXX

We are seeking teachers who have comfort in any of the above topics to act as a mentor to a student or pair of students. A weekly meeting schedule will be individualized between the student(s) and teacher.  Please reply to this email with your interest and possible areas that you would feel comfortable overseeing a student's independent study.


I worked to match up students with staff members who had an interest in facilitating their study.  (Ideally, in future years, it is my hope that I can build a data-base of sorts for community members who would be willing to volunteer or provide experience for the students.  Even if the student is still matched up with a school-based teacher mentor, the teacher would then be able to facilitate communication with the community members.  That is my goal for next year).  After matching students and mentors, some students opted to work in partners, based on their interests. 

The students met with their mentors and finalized the topic and direction of their study/project.
Here is the finalized brief description of my students' topics for the 2014-15 school year:

1. Coding: Three 7th grade student worked collaboratively on coding.
 2. Writing: An 8th grader wrote, edited, and revised a short (188 page) novel she had been working on with the goal of potentially publishing it.
3. Technology: A student designed and developed an Open Source Smart Watch, following plans she had found online. She supplied the pieces and used a 3-D printer to develop additional parts to make the watch.  See the watch here: http://oswatch.org/index.php
4. Architecture: Two student worked collaboratively on researching and completing a project related to architecture.
5. Computer Science: One student worked independently on computer science/programing with Raspberry Pi, a credit card-sized single board computer.  He supplied the device.
6. Music: A student worked on music production with the program "Fruity Loops" on his computer.  He supplied the program and worked with the school music teacher to receive feedback on developing his own songs.
7. Stocks: Two students researched and completed a project in the area of stocks investments and finances, developing their own portfolios.


This is a picture mid-study of the student's progress who was working on Raspberry Pi.  His mentor purchased the Raspberry Pi Projects for the Evil Genius book and was able to find some projects that appealed to him to work on.


This year, the students had four months to complete the projects.  We had our initial meetings in January/February and the students presented their work in June. Next year, I plan to start the project mid/end of September and end it in April-ish...giving the students more time to work and ending it earlier than the hectic end of the year.  

My approximately timeframe for the 2015-2016 independent study will be:
End of Sept/October: complete planning stages of packet
November: initial meetings with mentor to complete calendar
December, January, February, March: weekly meetings with mentor
April: finalize study and present work

The students met with their mentors approximately every week.  The students liked arranging this independently with their mentor and working around their individual schedules.  Some students felt they finalized their project and others felt they simply make progress on a long-term project (such as writing a book or learning raspberry pi) that couldn't be accomplished in the time period given.  For these students, we make sure to have them set goals for what portion of the long-long term project they were hoping to complete. 

Project Conclusion: 
At the end of the project, the student had a very relaxed session where they came and had ice cream and informally shared their work.  This seemed appropriate for the time of year (very hectic end to 8th grade year with finals, etc) and the students' feedback was that they did not want to share their work publicly.  However, this is an area I think I would like to add on to for next year.  I would like to find a way to keep the study low-pressure and to focus letting the student explore their creativity with their project, while still highlighting their extra efforts and work!

This is a picture towards the end of the study of a student's Open Source Smart Watch. This was one project that was not finalized at the end of the study, which we anticipated due to the intensity of the project.  The student impressively was able to  design and build the hard shell casing with a 3-D printer and got the battery working! She still has about 10(+) hours of intensive work left to finalize the inside of the watch, which we plan to finish over the summer or fall in an extended independent study!


You can check out my packet on teachers pay teachers: here.

I would love to hear feedback from anyone who used an independent study.  
How did you structure it? What was successful? What would you change?

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Movie Review: A Place at the Table

If you are looking for a current event issue to research and discuss in your classroom,
Hunger may be it.



 "A Place at the Table" is a documentary that explores the hunger problem in America - that 1 out of every 4 children do not know where their next meal is coming from.

The New York Times points out that the PG movie displays carefully chosen statistics and stories, without taking the aggressive stance against policies that similar documentaries (Food Inc, etc) have.  The article also states that the the movie displays information that the common viewer would know.  

In the case of middle school students, the film proved to reveal a number of statistics that the students did NOT know.  Below is a bulletin board of questions and comments our students came up with after viewing the film for the first time.



As you can see from the number of the post it notes, the topic is definitely something worth discussing.  We later turned the posted comments into a quality classroom discussion.  (Similar discussion format found here.) The video is also something that may be combined with the popular SNAP Challenge. (Disclaimer: Since it is a sensitive topic related to family finances, families may choose to participate individually but this is not a class activity or requirement.  The purpose of the activity is to challenge individuals to eat on $4.15 a day for a week and to reflect/share the experience.)  September may be a good time to use this activity since it is Hunger Action Month.

Videos like "A Place at the Table" are a great opportunity to have a meaningful classroom discussion.  We held both a fishbowl and a silent discussion, covering the student chosen topics and other topics such as government support, minimum wage, unemployment, etc.



Click HERE to find out more about both discussion formats.



Tuesday, March 10, 2015

St. Patrick's Day Celebrations

After being lucky enough to visit relatives in Ireland for two weeks this summer, 
I was super excited to make St. Patrick's Day related lessons for my classroom this year.



Pictures from one crazy drive though Ireland! We returned from our trip the week before school... 
so these are the only pictures I have uploaded to my computer so far.  Fail.
Teaching middle school, I have never experienced the "fun" of a St. Patrick's Day classroom party.  (If I did, I imagine it would look like this this this and this.) ...but here are a few ideas I had to make the holiday meaningful within my lessons...

1. Use QR codes to lead students to videos and text about the holiday.  I really do like the concept that informational text can come in the form of a video clip.  I did find some awesome video clips on www.history.com to make the product below.  Everything from comparing and contrasting myths of leprechauns to watching beef stew be made. {Yum.}
Bottom line? St. Patrick's Day is high interest AND there are a lot of misconceptions about the holiday and history.  I love opportunities for "research & respond" for a topic that has common misconceptions.  It is a great opportunity for learning.


2. Keep your lessons meaningful but with a fun twist on the lessons you already had planned! This time of year I am usually briefly reviewing coordinate graphing before testing...as well as completing a life science unit.  So I changed my usual graphing game into something more St. Patrick's Day-themed and kept my lab to using the color green rather than my old lesson plan of using multi-colors!



 What do YOU do?






Monday, February 23, 2015

Teachers are Heroes Sale!

Teachers Pay Teachers sellers are having a Teachers are Heroes sale
{with the promo code HEROES} 


I have been working to add additional pages to some of my old products in time for this big event!
Make sure to come by the store and check out my 45 products to wish-list them before the sale.

Check out my most wish-listed items...







And also make sure to check out the list of sellers below who have their stores on a
28% off SALE on Wednesday 2/25!




Thanks to Study All Knight for the linky and Glitter Meets Glue for the graphic!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Docs Teach: My New Favorite App!

My newest favorite app is Docs Teach. It is an app that allows you to view collections of primary documents. They have many preset activities....but you can also create your own on the website to be used on the iPad!

Just a note on primary documents...According to the PARCCOnline site, primary documents are fair game to be used on the PARCC mid-year exam.  Students may have to use primary documents to write a narrative piece explaining the event or an informative how to.

Below is a picture showing samples of the app in use.

The students choose the assigned content and viewed the documents. They then discussed key text features of the primary documents.  We asked them to record a few notes on each document and spend about 2-3 minutes discussing.


They then complete an activity. For our class, this happened on the second day of the lesson. The students reviewed their notes and the documents and completed the activity. The one pictured here is for the students to weigh the evidence by placing the documents on a scale according to least or most supportive of immigration. After finishing their activity, the app prompts the student to reflect and submit a reflection to the teacher.  Each student typed a short reflection and emailed their answers to us to review. 

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentine's Day in the Middle Grades

I have loved seeing all the sweet activities elementary teachers are doing in their classrooms on Valentine's Day.  Some people may hate the "Hallmark Holiday", but I think it is a great opportunity to make all students feel appreciated and "loved".

Valentine's Day exchanges look a little different in middle school than in many of the elementary classrooms.  In our school, a number of 8th grade students sell candygrams at lunch.  Students are allowed to purchase Fun Dips at lunch for people and the students running the sales organize the sale and distribution of the candy to students in homeroom.  The students are very sweet about it.

I have also found that math is a great opportunity to incorporate making of Valentine's Day cards.  The students can apply concepts like symmetry, fibonacci, graphing, parallel lines, coordinate graphing, coloring in pictures with math problems, fractions, and equations to the making of the cards. 


How cute is this problem above? My co-teacher friends had the students solve this problem and then use it to decorate a Valentine's Day card.  Their homework over the weekend was to take a picture of them giving the card to someone and posting it to their private Edmodo page.

Here are a few of my favorites:



What other activities do you love in the middle grades classrooms? What other subjects to you find easy application of the holiday into lessons? What Valentine's Day activities are your favorite?

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Kid Chef Social Event


It's that time of year....

This social event is a fun opportunity to add fun into a task that requires creativity and problem solving. The students will be given a surprise bag of food ingredients to build a "meal" and present it to a panel of judges. All groups win an award. 

I developed this activity for my grades 3-5 gifted and talented students. One important component of our GT program is allowing students the opportunity to socialize and work with like-minded peers and this activity does just that. I hype up this event starting a month before. I run the event in February because I find it is a fun mid-winter activity. The students will amaze you with their creations. Last year one group made the Eiffel tower out of twizzlers and graham crackers and another student groups' fort collapsed at the end and they gave a dynamic presentation about how a dragon has destroyed their village. 

This Product Includes
*1 page teacher guide
*1 page letter to parents
*6 group signs
*1 page group direction page
*2 page judge worksheet
*6 group awards



The Preparation: I send home the above letter to the parents. In the past, I have grocery shopped for this myself but found that it helps the cost to ask for donations. The ingredients are a secret for the students except for a “mystery ingredient reveal” that I share the week of the event. The mystery ingredient I share is usually something like icing or fluff that the students will use to “glue” their construction (“meal”) together.

Above: Dig in! The kids start the competition.

The Competition:When the students enter the room, I label the classroom and separate the ingredients into grocery bags for the students groups. Labels for the tables and bags (not pictured) add to the excitement for the event.  The students then have one hour to construct their masterpiece and five minutes to prepare a brief presentation for the judges.

Above are pictures of a group who creatively designed a butterfly on a skateboard.  This picture is mid-project but the project was very colorful (thanks to food coloring!) when it was finished. They won the "Most Creative" category. 


Above are pictures of a group whose castle collapsed in the last five minutes before presenting. They quickly problem-solved and gave a compelling speech about how a feared dragon has attacked their castle.  They won "Best Presentation".

Above are pictures of a group who won "Best Overall" by intricately building famous world structures with their food supplies.  They also could have won "Best Engineering" because they really problem solved the materials by stuffing the insides of the twizzlers with toothpicks to make them sturdier.

The Judging: 
I usually invite the parents for this section of the event, inviting parents and “guest judges” (principals, other teachers, etc.) to view the presentations and interact with the students. The judges then deliberate and award prizes to the students.  The judges are given a two page judging sheet that adds to making the event seem more "official" for the students.

Above is a blurry picture of three judges (2 parents and 1 administrator) who volunteered to judge the competition.  This portion was very interactive and the judges had a lot of fun analyzing the "meals" like they were Iron Chef judges.  We also had a crowd of parents there to watch.



Overall the kids have an awesome time with this project.  I love to use this event in January/February because it feels like the mid-winter slump after Christmas is over and Spring Break isn't for a few months.  

I would love to find more social event activities.
Any ideas out there? What do your schools do? 
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