Tag Archives: unconventional

A Curiosity Table

A curiosity table.  That’s what I call it.  Whenever my students have a free minute (which rarely happens), I encourage them to investigate the materials on the curiosity table in our classroom.

Today I added something new—an Atmospheric Mat .  20160908_143810

It was a gift from my good friends at Educational Innovations.  This unusual and uniquely shaped article elicited intense curiosity from my students.  They wanted to know what it was, how to make it work, what you could use it for, and what was the science behind it.  “Figure it out,” I told them.

As I watched them explore and experiment, I realized this mat was much more than something to elicit my students’ curiosity.  It was a way to teach them what scientists do.

Students first keyed in on the fact that the texture of the surface mattered.  They decided to try to lift a desk.  The surfaces of our desks are very smooth; we use them as whiteboards.  They could lift the desk a little, but not very far.

Deciding that it was because of the smoothness of the surface (as opposed to the weight of the desk), they decided to try something a bit rougher.  Success.  A rougher surface seemed to work better.  The fact that the second object was lighter was not obvious to them.

Next, they decided to try the hallway floor, given that it is concrete and supposedly rougher.  Obviously, they were not trying to lift the floor, but rather to see how hard they needed to pull on the mat before it came loose.  The floors in our hallway are sealed, which makes them relatively smooth.  This meant that the floor in the hallway did not give much more information about how the Atmospheric Mat worked.

20160908_144339_015-animationTo get back into the room from the hallway, students needed open the door.  Why not see whether the Atmospheric Mat had the ability to open the door?  This trial was followed by hoots and yells as the door opened.20160908_143903

This prompted a huge influx of questioning.  Students tested the mat on the wall.  They tested it on the board.  They tested on their iPads (which did not work, because the iPads are too small).  Would they reach a point where the surface was too rough?

Each test gave additional data which led to additional questions about how and why the Atmospheric Mat works.  They even tried using it upside down, expecting that it would behave like a suction cup.

As you can see, this is an incredible tool to study forces and atmospheric pressure… and more.  At some point, I’ll bring up the fact that there are no “sucking” forces in science. We’ll figure out together that the roughness of the surface isn’t what makes it hard to pull off an object.  That’s it’s atmospheric pressure. But for now, the Atmospheric Mat is a tool that I’m going to continue using to ignite my students’ curiosity.  I’m going to let my students explore it for as long as they want.  Their exploration won’t be driven by me; their curiosity will be what drives them.

At the end of the day, when it was time to stack our chairs, one of my students asked me if she could use the Atmospheric Mat to lift her chair onto the top of the pile.  “Give it a try,” I said.  She was delighted when it worked and worked very well.

20160908_151120_002-animation

“Hey, Mrs. Foote,” she said after the chairs were stacked, “I feel like a scientist today.”

“You are!” I told her.  And it was all due to the Atmosphere Mat that I put on the curiosity table.

 

Advertisements

What’s in a Name?

Want to strike fear, disgust and dismay into the heart of any middle school students?  Tell them that in class today they are going to “do a worksheet” or that you have a packet for them.  Eyes will roll, groans will erupt, and kids will shut down.  According to students, worksheets are boring busywork that teachers assign when they have something else they want to do.  They are useless time wasters.

Except when they aren’t.  Because sometimes they’re not.  Practice is important. It’s not reasonable to expect that a student who has been exposed to an idea only once can sudden apply that idea appropriately in a problem based setting.  It’s not always feasible to have concept application be problem based, although it would be nice if it was feasible.  Sometimes I need my kids to practice.  Not  practice  in a drill-and-kill kind of way, but practice in a simulation, word-problem, answer the question kind of way.  Practice is a – dare I say it? – worksheet kind of way.no more worksheets theunintentionalgeek.com

But to call it a worksheet is a kiss of death.  So I began to reflect.  Part of this is my National Board Certification mindset, part of it is my natural geekiness for data and rationale, part of it is my how-can-I -get-the-kids-to-eat-their-vegetables mindset.  Why do I need them to complete this practice/application?  What will they get out of it?  If I can justify to myself that it is a valuable use of time (which, by the way, is my most valuable resource), I’ll assign it.  If not, it gets discarded.

I needed to find a way to spin the work – to but a label on it other than worksheet.  The label needed todescribe why the assignment was made and what I wanted to achieve.  I tried changing “homework” to “home fun” for a year.  It did not work for me.  I was not eager to repeat that mistake and I knew I wouldn’t.  Changing homework to home fun only changed the label and not the content.  The stuff was the same.  The difference was what I called it.  (It reminded me of Andrew Clement’s book Frindle.  Nick starts called a pen a frindle, and his friends do too.  It’s still a pen, it just has a different name.)

I decided to call it a “Learning Opportunity” or LO for short.  That’s what it is.  It is an opportunity for a student to learn.  The emphasis is on the LEARNING, not on the working or the keeping busy.  It’s all about learning.

It’s working really well for me.  Students don’t fight LOs.  They don’t roll their eyes.  They don’t moan and complain.  They get right down to work because, after all, they have been given an opportunity to LEARN.