Sunday, March 20, 2011

Planning for Science: Lesson Plans and Instruction

Teachers should always be prepared to before they come to school to teach their lessons. When teachers come to school prepared, students notice. However, one must remember that an activity is not a lesson! You need to know what science ideas you expect your student to develop, and how the process of reflection will lead to the construction of new ideas. The process of performing the activity and reflecting on it may be considered the science lesson. Students' spontaneous curiosity will give a teacher excellent opportunities to change one's origninal plan and mediate their experience on their own terms. Important science ideas emerge from successful science experiences. Constructing a lesson plan, or a document that describes plans for the lesson, will help engage students in a meaningful science activity and invite them to think about, reflect on, and construct ideas from this activity. A lesson plan should include these key elements: goals, science ideas, engagement section, exploration section, explaination section, elaborative section, and the evaluate section. Writing one's thoughts down is a way to collect and reflect on your planning and refine and modify your ideas as you move along. In my opininon, one of the most key elements to include in every lesson are open-ended questions. Open-ended questions are those that lead to multiple answers and help students think critically about the investigation. These questions should invite students to action and encourage student to apply various process skills. Also, open-ended questions should acess sudents' own ideas and prior knowledge, and check for students' understanding. It is very important to allow students' ample time to answer these questions, wether in groups or individually, and this wait time is the time that elapses between the moment you ask a question and the moment when you select a student to respond.

Cooperative learning groups, or an arrangement in which a group of students of mixed ability work toward the common goal of promoting each other's and the group's success, encourage meaning making for students. This is because each student is respondible for his or her own learning and the group's learning. Students have the opportunity to discuss their ideas with others, discover difference between their own explanations and other's, and defend their positions or alter their thinking as the group strives for consensus. As they interact, they acquire information from each other, and clarify ideas with their peers. Each student is motivated to more reflection by the inferences and opinions of others. These groups promote the kind of interchange and teamwork that are essential for sciencetific problem solving.The participation and aid from other students in the group benefits and helps others who may be struggling to understand certain concepts or ideas that may be unfamiliar to them.

Although planning for a lesson includes outlining and writing down the science ideas that will be learned, how the teacher will execute a lesson, what materials are needed, how the activity will take place, how to get the students interested, and how to encourage and motivate the students to explore, as a teacher you may need to sometimes let it go. Teachers need to be prepared in general to teach the lesson; however, they need to also be prepared to change and modify their lessons to respond to students' interests, ideas, and questions. The lesson plan should be utilized as a useful guide, and not an instruction manual. Students have questions of emerging relevance, and it is a good idea to motivate students to explore these questions that arise. Careful planning will give teachers the confidence of when to know when to let go because one will be able to evalute the science ideas connected to each topic and consider the possibilities for student to expand their thinking through new activities. Times to modify or let go of a lesson plan could include when the science idea you were hoping to emerge does not, students want to explore a related invetigation that is a good idea, or when students reveal alternative conceptions that are resistant to change. It is very important to listen actively to students' questions and encourage creative explorations. Teachers want to create independent science thinkers! These new ideas and explorations can only enrich the class knowledge even further.

It is extremely important to include students of all backgrounds and disabilities in cooperative learning groups because these small groups encourage these students, who are often reluctant to participate in science activities and distance themselves in science lessons, and therefore, learning little, can help motivate these students to participate more and feel more comfortable. These groups attend to their academic needs far better than individual learning activities. Group work can reduce individual competition and raise the level of cooperation. The support other students bring encourages more participation from these students who may feel lost or incapable of doing science.

Unfortunately, I cannot remember a teacher I have had in the past that asked key questions to make me think. However, I know as a teacher I will use key questioning in my classroom. Questions should be both open-ended and address process skills when inviting students to action. For example, questions can address observation skills (what do you notice?), inference (what do you think is happening?), comparing (in what ways are these things the same?), and predicting (what do you think will happen?). In addition, open-ended questions access students' own ideas and prior knowledge that invite students to come up with their own ideas about a topic or investigation. Finally, open-ended questions should check for stuents understanding. Students should reveal what they are thinking is occurring or has occurred during the investigation in order to see if they truly understood and comprehended the concept. Students can answer these types of questions in a learning log that prompts them to address their own thinkin and think critically and explore further.

This week in class, we shared our 5 Kingdom activity sheets with one another. I had kingdom plantae, and my other members of the group had animalia, monera, protista, and fungi. We each researched our assigned kingdom at home and regrouped to collaborate with others in the classroom who were researching the same kingdom as we were (expert groups).  Then, we met with our assigned groups to teach one another about what we learned from our research about each particular kingdom (home groups). This type of group work is known as "expert and home groups." I feel that this activity and learning experience was very successful in having us research and share information with each other. This activity was an examlple of collaborative learning in the classroom, and I believe that I could certainly use it in my classroom. I am now more knowledgeable about each of the five kingdoms than I was prior to meeting in groups, and it is evident that we learn very well from our peers. We needed to both research individually and collaborate our findings with one another before teaching each other. This was helpful for anyone who may have had trouble finding information or felt confused about what to do, and with many people researching we collected more information than we would have individually. We then evaluated each other on how we taught and informed the group about our kingdoms with helpful feedback. Collaboration and active learning and involvement is certainly key to success! I think that if I had simply read about the five kingdoms in a textbook then I would have learned and absorbed significantly less information than sharing information with my peers in an active and supportive environment. After sharing information with each other and providing feedback, we individually took a quiz to assess our knowledge on the Five Kingdoms. I got a 100%! Obviously, the information my peers had taught me was well-understood and absorbed. I will use this 5 kingdom activity in my classroom in the future.

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