Saturday, November 08, 2003


Yesterday, I activated my students' prior knowledge, to use an education buzz-phrase. I think this is a good idea: before starting a unit or lesson, elicit from the kids their prior knowledge (including misconceptions). This will help them form a bridge from what they know to the new information, and will help the teacher plan better. One oft-recommended way of activating their prior knowledge is the K-W-L chart. This is a three-column chart. Before the unit, they fill in what they Know about the topic and what they Want To Know (or what they Wonder), and later, after the unit, they fill in what they Learned. I haven't had much success with the K-W-L chart, because some of the topics are so new to the students that they have trouble even coming up with questions to ask about it. I have had more success making connections to prior knowledge during class discussions, but I'm still looking for a good way to find out what they know and help them formulate questions at the start of a unit.

So, yesterday I tried an activity called a "carousel." I put six pieces of chart paper on the walls in different parts of the room. On each chart paper, I wrote a topic (Atoms; Molecules; Solids, Liquids, and Gases; What is everything made of?; Chemical & Physical Changes; Elements) and two sentence leads, "We know..." and "We wonder..." Each of the six groups in the class got one marker and started at a different piece of chart paper. They had two minutes to discuss as a group and come up with one thing they could agree that they knew about that topic, and one question they had about it, and record those. Then we rotated. The first group to get to a topic had it pretty easy, but since you could not repeat anything that was already written down, the later groups had to wrack their brains.

The carousel was very successful! The kids liked it because they got to get up and move around. I feel like the facts and questions they came up with were much more helpful to me than traditional K-W-L charts have ever been. I got a sense of the colletive knowledge in the room, and the types of things the kids want to know.

The prior knowledge - especially among the sixth graders - was a tad scary:

*There are five elements, earth, wind, fire, and water, and all combined. This came up consistently in all classes, and from some of the kids' comments, I thought it was a Pokemon thing, but a little Googling of Pokemon shows otherwise. So, maybe it's the influence of the ancient Greeks?

*Molecule is a word that begins with "m". This came about when the first group to get to the Molecules chart paper quickly filled in, What are molecules? under "We wonder..." but couldn't think of a single thing they knew about molecules. I suggested that if they really, really didn't know anything about molecules, they just write some silly fact. The next group followed up on this with Molecules has the word "mole" in it and ends in S.

The seventh graders knew quite a bit more, particularly about things that I had mentioned in Science class last year, which was gratifying. It's a good thing I have the sixth graders one more period per week than the seventh graders.

I really have to stop blogging and start planning the unit.



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