Saturday, September 24, 2005

Workin'

I spent all afternoon planning. That is, I spent all afternoon planning when I wasn't uploading pictures, downloading music, or obsessively checking my email. Not that I'm expecting any particularly great email, mind you, but I press the refresh button so often you would think it causes my computer to release chocolate chips or gold coins.

Anyway, I spent all afternoon planning. I spent an hour or so planning seventh grade lessons on the three types of rocks and the rock cycle. We're doing it fairly quickly; they get a sense of how each type of rock forms, how they can be classified within each category, and they get to observe and examine a few samples. Then we do the rock cycle and they finish up by drawing a comic strip or writing a short story imagining themselves as a rock and telling the story of their journey through the rock cycle.

Sixth grade was harder, more time consuming, required more pressing of refresh to relieve brain-knots. We're on to measurement in a day or two - STILL working on the power point presentations but nearly done, and they are so good it just impresses the hell out of me every time I look at them.

My goal was to try out tiered instruction in my measurement unit. I gave a diagnostic at the start of the year, graded it, and then made a chart where I listed each kid's name and the various categories of tasks and then put either a plus, question mark, or 0 to show how well they did on that skill in the diagnostic.

Problem is, there are about a hundred ways for a sixth grader to not measure correctly. My perennial favorite, starting at the 1 instead of the zero. Measuring correctly but rounding to the nearest cm. Measuring in inches but labeling it centimeters. Measuring in cm but labeling it inches. Not following the directions at all. Measuring in cm, getting 7.8, and writing it as 7 1/8. Knowing how to measure but not how to convert between units. Knowing how to convert but not how to measure. Knowing everything about the metric system but nothing about inches, and vice versa. And the list goes on and on.

I made a tiering chart, putting the skills in a sequence from what I thought were the first learned to what I thought were the last learned. I got this idea from Confratute and from the book on differentiation that I've been using. I knew that the sequence wouldn't line up perfectly for every kid, but I figured - based on my experience teaching this before - that it would be close enough.

Ha. Ha, ha, ha.

The other day, I finally put the kids into groups - the strongest measurers & converters, the weakest, and the vast majority in the middle. Most don't know much about converting between units and are weak at measuring properly, but they do at least know which unit measures at which scale (in other words, use meters to measure Michael Jordan and km to measure from NYC to Albany). Some are a little better than that, some a little behind.

So now I have to design lessons. I need to create respectful tasks for each group that they can do with guidance but not hand-holding from me. I need to create homework that allows each group to practice the skills they are working on. I need to decide where to draw the line in the sand: what does everyone need to know? And I need to return to the idea of a ladder of skills so that I can take the advanced kids even higher.

I made a whole bunch of worksheets and in-class assignments. Kids are measuring objects, they are predicting lengths, they are measuring their handspan, the distance around the crown of their head, their armspan. They are learning how to convert between units; everyone is learning how to convert between centimeters and meters and millimeters and the like, and the more advanced kids are learning how to convert between inches and centimeters.

This is a LOT of work. I'm a little worried that keeping it all straight in my head will take so much energy that the lessons themselves will not be stellar.

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