Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Teaching Ideas Round-up

First, Christopher has a great idea: using MadLibs to reinforce parts of speech. I'm going to suggest it to my colleagues.

Next, Mrs. Chew wrote me a letter responding to my gripes about teaching graphing to kids who should already understand it. She suggested that I make it into a more inquiry-based activity, where they kids take the lead, make graphs, and then compare and discuss different ways of graphing information to see what each has to offer. It's a good idea, and I may try it the next time graphing comes up. I've definitely done similar lessons - one terrific one last year where the kids made poster-sized graphs of the different characteristics of stars, then looked for patterns in color/luminosity/size. At the end of the day, I guess the kids need lots of opportunities to practice these basic skills in different contexts - sometimes drilling the basic skills and learning things explicitly, step-by-step, sometimes trying different ways of doing things to see what they can figure out.

Wednesday was a wonderful day - funny thing, last Wednesday was good, too. Wednesday is a very busy day for me, but it tends to flow nicely. Today we learned how to find the mass of a liquid by the difference method - measure the empty container, fill it with the liquid, measure the two together, subtract the mass of the container. The kids took to it really well; in every class, it took only a minute of thought before several kids figured out how to do it. I had them do 50 ml, 100 ml, and so on, in increments of 50 ml, up to 250 ml. When we finish the lab, I'm going to guide them in a discussion of patterns, hopefully discovering that 1 ml of water has a mass of 1 g. Since their results will not show this perfectly, I think it will be a beautiful opportunity to discuss sources of error. I always ask them to think about error when we do formal labs, but they are usually confused by it. I hope this lab helps more of them understand what is meant by "error."

I also gave them a challenge question: you get a petri dish, a small beaker of sugar, and a spoon. Figure out how much sugar has a mass of 1 g. Very few groups finished the water activity, so we'll finish the rest later.

For homework this week, they are making "instruction manuals" for the triple beam balance. I made a very spiffy brochure as an example, gave out a rubric and assignment sheet, discussed it with them, and let them go. Each day, I write on the board one step for them to follow for homework, in the hope that they will not wait until the last minute to do the project. I've had sneak peeks at some of the instruction manuals so far, and they look great! Making a "model" finished project is really, really important: whenever I take the time to do it, the kids' results are soooo much better. They need to know what they are shooting for - I believe this is a form of scaffolding. It takes them a little beyond what they can do now and helps them reach for the next level.

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