Monday, September 19, 2005

Monday, in spite of itself,

was a good day. A REALLY good day. The kind of good day when I bounced into my principal's office during a spare moment - there aren't many of those - and asked if there was a large, ugly, stinky tennis shoe hanging over my head, waiting to drop. The kind of Monday when even though my only free period was lunch, I wasn't at all stressed out by two girls needing to come upstairs to finish their project during that time. In fact, I really enjoyed chatting with them while I worked on a bulletin board display. I got some interesting insider information about which of the sweet little sixth graders fought with each other in their old schools. The sun was streaming in the windows. True to form, my classroom is the hottest in the whole school, just like my classrooms the past two years have always been either too hot or too cold. But my orange bulletin boards were radiant and cheerful.

The seventh graders used a hotlist I made at Filamentality to research the uses of minerals. I gave each table a section of the alphabet, and they had to choose three minerals from that section of the alphabet and write them on sentence strips, followed by two of their everyday uses. We made a huge bulletin board of their responses. Tonight, they have to write a 1-page short essay or short story imagining what the world would be like without those three minerals. I'm curious to see what I get in response to that assignment; I suspect they will either rock or suck. I'm crossing my fingers that they appreciate the opportunity to be creative.

Tomorrow, we're doing a mineral identification lab, looking at streak, color, luster, cleavage/fracture, hardness, etc. to identify various minerals. This will be their first lab, and we will spend several days afterwards typing it up.

Meanwhile, in the sixth grade, we finally finished our pendulum experiments. And despite the glacial progress in writing precise procedures, the experiments themselves could not have gone better. I had to take a step back and remember that they are new to this, and just allow them to do the experiments and fix the procedures later. It worked well for a few reasons. First, we could easily identify independent and dependent variables. Second, it was very quick and so we did three trials for each condition, which allows me to introduce the idea of multiple trials very early in the year. Third, the results were oh so clear: string length is the only variable that makes much difference in the period of a pendulum. The weight of the bob and the angle of release don't really affect the period. They were almost all able to look at their results charts and clearly see that there was or wasn't a pattern, and that is going to make the conclusions section easy as well. A few groups found patterns that shouldn't have been there - for example, the weight of the bob DID affect the period - but that just brings me to the last good thing about the experiment, which is that the concept behind it is not super important, so if they got a pattern that ought not to have happened, it's okay, we can compare their results to their classmates and talk about why, but I haven't messed them up on some fundamental idea for the rest of their lives. My guess is that these groups just made small errors like using slightly different lengths of string, which affected their results.

Anyway, today they started typing up their lab reports. I am having them do it in their groups, using PowerPoint. The reason is because PP allows them to put each section of the lab report on a different slide, and if they do them in the wrong order, they are easy to rearrange. Plus, PP feels more fun than Word, so it's a nice introduction. They probably will not actually present their slideshows, just print them and turn them in to me to post. In the past, I have insisted that groups type everything first and then add a slide design, but this year I explicitly told them to spend just a few minutes choosing a design and then begin typing, and that seems to have gotten that out of the way quickly. Everyone - even most adults - wants to play with the pretty formatting options before buckling down, so I thought I'd just go with the flow. Anyway, they are doing a great job typing their projects.

It all feels so.... natural.


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