Saturday, February 28, 2015

Student Exhibitions, an Integral Part of Project Based Learning

Student exhibitions are not the traditional open house you might have experienced, where the teacher selects some material to show to parents, and breathes a big sigh of relief when "cookie cutter" projects finally make it home. In the project based model we use at AdVENTURE, exhibitions have the students front and center as they present work, chosen by them. The students are doing most of the talking and are actively explaining their work. 

Student exhibitions are about celebrating hard work. They give students an authentic audience to present their work, and showcase their learning. The final product often takes a secondary role as the emphasis is put on the journey the student took to get there. The celebratory nature of the event gives students an opportunity to engage in deep conversations with community members, and take on the risk of becoming a "teacher of adults".

Exhibitions promote deep learning of the content. The projects being presented are the end result of an extended, in-depth period of learning, and require that students demonstrate mastery of the content and standards. Students show that deep explorations in learning can have many different paths, and provide students with new questions to guide their inquiry.

Exhibitions are also about accountability. Community members get to see first hand what the students are learning. This goes beyond rigorous academic content, and includes 21st-century skills. During the event, students get to demonstrate how they have grown in leadership, responsibility and innovation, as well as practice communication skills authentically.

Student exhibitions provide a sense unity of within our community. Although our PBL is not static, and new essential questions lead our students down different paths, the content remains. Our older students are given an opportunity to reminisce about favorite projects, and often take on the role of mentors for the younger students, giving knowledgeable and caring feedback. On the other hand, the younger students get to see what older students have done, and on occasion, even begin to plan for what they now know they will work on in the upper grades.

Finally, student exhibitions increase student engagement. Students take ownership of their work because they know their work will have an audience beyond their teachers and classmates. Although at times, students have been known to say "Another exhibition night? We've had like five...", you just need to see the pride on their faces during the actual event to know that our exhibitions are here to stay.

What do you think? Leave your comments and let's start a conversation.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Two great sites for improving Science literacy

 As a middle school teacher, I want to expose my students to as many science related content as I possibly can. In my head, I envision a classroom where students would come in ready to discuss a topic after having been able to read several pieces. Unfortunately, finding those sources can be time consuming and frustrating. Let's face it, most science articles are not meant for this age group. Even then, my student's have vast differences in reading abilities, so I often end up having to assign different readings just so that we can all discuss a topic somewhat intelligently.

That is where two websites I recently found come in. NEWSELA and BirdBrain Science. Both offer science related articles at different reading levels, with the possibility of taking CCSS aligned quizzes after the reading, and a way for teachers to track student progress.

Bird Brain Science is more textbooky. The science articles are informational in nature, and are presented within specific science topics. Although there is the option to assign readings as "interest", most are not particularly interesting to students. I see and have used it more as a supplement to instruction since I can assign a specific topic (i.e. I used the "Where did I come from?" article from the Genetics unit - to review the concept of heredity).

NEWSELA takes recent scientific articles and adapts them to different reading levels. Although much more interesting to read, the articles themselves do not lend themselves for use as part of my instruction. For example, although it might be nice to read about "Cuban crocodiles losing their identity", unless we are specifically studying the plight of the cuban crocodiles, I still have to scour the site to find articles to broaden the topic. I see this site as an enrichment opportunity or as a way to give my lower readers access to what is going on in the scientific community.

Now, if these two sites had a baby... Just imagine leveled reading for science content and science interest. What about you? Do you prefer one over the other?