I know that times have changed, and even in the short time I have taught student’s instructional needs have changed. I teach middle school science, 7th grade at the current time. My students are from a mixed neighborhood, pushing toward middle class, in a very large grammar school. They have basic science in kindergarten through 4th grade, and then they are taught in a departmentalized model, by teachers who are endorsed in specific content areas. Even with this, they struggle to understand the naturel world. I work hard to give them the tools they need to gain understanding. During 7th grade they focus on cells, genetics, ecology and evolution. All necessary knowledge, but a bit dry in nature. I like a more integrated approach to curriculum which helps young people gain a wider range of science literacy. It is the structure of the 7th grade curriculum, and my desire to create engaged happy learners, that led me to my project for the 2015-2016 school year.
I want to make my classroom a place where the students want to be, not just another place for to get a grade. Even when I started fomenting a project, I was trying to keep it within certain constraints. Finally I realized this isn’t about my needs. This is about my students, and their future understanding of science. Once I realized this project is about them not me, it became clear that I needed to focus on how I could structure it to best serve their needs. What I decided, was to push my own thoughts aside, and think about what would engage my students and unleash their creativity.
To figure out what would maximize their creativity, I decided to research what other educators, and companies do to spark creativity. What I came up with is a 20% project, a way for my students to gain skills which will get them ready for their future. The concept is simple, they get one period a week, 20% of their time with me to pursue a project of their choice. I can have laptops and iPads available, along with the students own cell phones, to weave technology into the day-to-day learning. The best part is I don’t have to let them do their projects in isolation. It won’t be just a one day a week every Friday thing. I can use the other four periods show them the skills and technology available to them in creating these projects, by identifying and using them myself to teach the topics laid out for them this school year I can continue to focus on life science, but in a way that will allow my students to gain content knowledge and get in touch with their creative side. Using my tech skills, I am going to flip much of the day-to-day work out of my classroom, to free up our time for more engaging work.
I think a great way to understand cells, is to make a short animation which explains the parts and processes of a cell. Using technology resources available at school, and techniques I have learned, I can make this a reality. Some simple software downloads, and a few web cams will make this a reality. I think having the students writing and producing a short Public service announcement about a genetic disorder will really get them to dig deeper in to the mechanics of genetics. For ecology we will focus our unit on a comparison study of a local organism and one from Lincoln Park Zoo. This will give students a strong understanding of how organisms relate to and depend on their environment. Finally, for evolution I will let them chose a medium to showcase their skills, encouraging them to develop their critical thinking eSkills while producing a final project.
My hope in this, is to leave these students with something of value; a lifelong desire to pursue their dreams. What I expect from them in return is simple. I want them to engage, and apply what they learn to improving learning for all of us. I want to be both a student and the teacher in my classes.