Learning Exercises to Promote Thinking

When getting our brains started for the day, it is best exercised by thinking about something that triggers emotions and connections to the world around us. As eMINTS teachers we look for ways to integrate inquiry into our classrooms on a daily basis. This helps to engage the brain, exercise it and just get it going for the day. However, coming up with thoughtful questions everyday can be taxing! Wonderopolis helps bring thought provoking questions into the classroom, which enhances the opportunity to do more inquiry. “Do Insects Work Out?”  This is a Wonderopolis “Wonder of the day”, and each day they present questions for pondering. What might student answers be to this very question? What hypothesis can be formed to explain their reasoning? norgesbesteonlinecasinoer Getting the creative jucies flowing is just one way to use this great resource.

Besides a daily question, Wonderopolis also provides students with videos, photos, and additional thought provoking questions in a “Did you know?” format. Students can practice their computer literacy skills by exploring questions that they develop based on the resources provided here. Questioning is a skill that students often struggle with, but what they may not realize is how many questions they have when they get excited about a topic.

The National Center of Family Literacy are the designers of this great resource. They have also included ideas for brain-breaks, bell-ringers, energizers, and more. These are just a few ways this resource can be integrated into the classroom on a daily or weekly basis.

Wonderopolis is a great way to exercise the brain while focusing on the world around us. What might be some daily learning exercises that can stimulate thinking or get the brain moving in your classroom?

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To find out how to share Wonderopolis right from your classroom website click here.

[This post was provided by Amy Blades, an instructional specialist for the eMINTS National Center.]

 

Constructivism on YouTube

Constructivism is a key component of the eMINTS model. Basically, the belief is that students learn better when they build their own knowledge from observation and inquiry. However, the challenge is providing adequate experiences that allow for this knowledge construction.

One solution for providing these experiences is YouTube. On a daily basis, users are uploading phenomena that need to be seen in order to understand.

For example, watch the video below…

What do you see?

The video shows a 747 sitting idle on the runway. However, strong winds literally lift the giant plane off the ground. The wind flowing over the wings are enough to slightly lift the plane without any assistance from the plane’s engines.

This is the point where students consider the reasons why this might happen. Ideas about the air flow over the wings would eventually arise. At some point, students would consider the shape of the wings as being a contributing factor. Further discussion may even make connections between the wind and how air moves over the wings when the engines are running.

Student observations (along with some supplemental information about the shape of the wings) would lead to Bernoulli’s Principle. This principle explains how a wing’s shape contributes to lift. Air flows more quickly over the top of the wing thanks to its downward curve. Quicker moving air means lower air pressure. If the pressure on top is less than the pressure below, the plane moves upward. The only difference in the video and a plane actually taking off is that the air is moving due to wind instead jet engines moving the plane through the air.

A video like the one above can demonstrate a complex idea like Bernoulli’s and give students something to which they can connect. This is not the only example found on YouTube. There are countless natural phenomena all over YouTube. It just takes a little searching.

How have you used YouTube to expand your students’ experiences? How have you used YouTube to help students construct knowledge? What other kinds of phenomena could you find on YouTube for this sort of activity?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist and blogger for the eMINTS National Center.

Project-Based Learning – Resource Links

Click for source

Yesterday I shared the basics of what Project-based Learning is and key things to include when planning your own PBL units. Today I thought I might offer some resources to help with planning these types of learning activities and tools that may help when implementing Project-based Learning units for both a facilitator (you) and learner. Since a lot of you are eMINTS teachers I also included some extra technology tools you may find helpful.

What tools and resources do you think should be included in this list? Leave a comment and share your favorite PBL links.

Brooke Higgins is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center. You can read more at her blog Higgins Helpful Hints Blog.

PBL – A Facebook Testimony

I admit it, I am a Facebooker. I keep up on what all of my “friends” are doing and of course watch for updates from eMINTS about eMINTS news and blog posts. I must say I was surprised when I saw this status update and knew I had to share it here.

As I read this update, I instantly remembered back to a project a high school History teacher assigned to make a documentary. Who knew that 20+ years later my friend (and others who commented on his update) would not only remember the project of making the movie, but more importantly, what they learned from it. This struck me as just another reason to keep doing what eMINTS has been doing for years…promoting Constructivist teaching!

Last week Zac shared many reasons for using Inquiry and Problem-based Learning in the classroom in his post Room for the Basics. The documentary project reminded me that we might want to share a bit about “The Other PBL” – Project-based Learning.

Project-based Learning is another constructivist based, student-centered pedagogy. Wikipedia describes it as an

“instructional method that provides students with complex tasks based on challenging questions or problems that involve the students’ problem solving, decision making, investigative skills, and reflection that includes teacher facilitation, but not direction.”

PBL is focused around a central question (we call it an Essential Question) that engages  and offers a central focus giving students a purpose for their learning. Teachers structure the guiding question around content and are continually assessing where students are in getting to deeper understandings about that content.

As in life, Project-based Learning activities are long term, learner focused, and interdisciplinary where students learn from addressing real-life experiences, issues, challenges, problems, etc. Students may be given the task to solve a problem or investigate an issue. Like Inquiry, students develop questions that guide their investigations, but in PBL those questions and answers lead them to create something new. Something new could be a tangible product, an idea, a new way of doing something, or even a performance all requiring both lower and higher-level thinking to complete the authentic task assigned.

Because teachers are facilitators and do not give students answers or solutions but guidance, PBL has been shown to improve students abilities to be responsible, self-directed, and critical thinkers; skills essential for moving on to higher educational settings. PBL provides the perfect opportunity for teachers to not only focus on teaching content but also habits of learning like self-direction, collaboration, time-management, organization, critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity. Developing these skills in students is essential so that they transfer them on to future projects and then to life.

Common Craft has created a great video for The Buck Institute for Education that explains Project-based Learning.

So as you are planning an upcoming PBL experience for your students remember these key elements to include in your unit:

  • focus around a guiding question (essential)
  • frame the project in a real life context
  • provide engaging topics for your target audience
  • embed problem solving, decision making, critical thinking, and creativity
  • require purposeful collaboration and independent learning opportunities
  • provide a variety of resources, information, and tools (including technology)

What PBL units have you had success using with your students? What might your students say about the projects they are working on in your classroom  20 years from now?

*image used with permission from my Facebook friend.

Brooke Higgins is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center who occasionally finds time to blog.

Thursday’s (Constructivism) Tip: Flip it!

Teacher and students in classroom, circa 1990s

Click for source.

When I started working with eMINTS, I struggled to convey to my teachers what a constructivist lesson might look like. It’s one thing to plan one or use a tried and true method, but it’s another thing to give a simple and concise example to demonstrate something as complex as constructivism. Luckily, I have coworkers who figure out these sort of quandaries.

Fellow eIS Angie Esser was working on getting the teachers in her training cohort to plan and implement constructivist lessons. One teacher was excited to show Angie what she had created. The teacher was teaching her students about figures of speech, like metaphors or similes. She gave the class the definition of the figure of speech and had the students highlight all the figures of speech in pre-selected poems.

How was this constructivist? (Hint: It wasn’t.)

Angie made a suggestion to flip the lesson. In other words, the teacher could give the students a poem or passage that utilized a particular figure of speech. The students would be guided to look for techniques the author or poet used to describe the subject. After the students find the figures of speech and even define what they found, the teacher would help name what they discovered.

The basic idea in this example is to show the students examples of what they will be studying or defining. Allow the identify the desired characteristics. Defining these characteristics is how they construct their own knowledge on the topic. Students will grasp onto their own explanations of phenomena more so than whatever definitions we provide for them.

The teacher guides this lesson in a few important ways. First, she provides examples that clearly demonstrate the concept. This could be in excerpts, experiments, or various media that exhibit the point the teacher is trying to get across to her students. This process of constructing knowledge falls apart if the example or examples are not of high quality.

Second, the teacher asks questions about the example that guide the students to making the desired discoveries without leading them. Open-ended questions work best such as “What do you notice about this poem?”, “What did you observe when you added the vinegar to the baking soda?”, or ” What do you predict will happen to the slope of the line when we increase the first number in the equation?”

Third, after students make their observations and define what they’ve discovered, the teacher can name it for them or provide the “official” definition. This is the moment when students will connect what they have learned to the content. Knowledge has been constructed in order to give them a way to anchor the content with their own experiences.

This strategy works best when working with the vocabulary necessary to understand a subject area’s content. There are ways in which one could set up experiences for students to discover processes, but this might require a different amount of teacher guidance. Either way, the idea of flipping one’s lessons from content first to student constructed meaning first is the overall goal.

What other ways could you see this strategy working in your classroom? How could you flip a lesson in another subject area or topic? What would be the challenge of using this strategy for other subjects or topics?

Zac Early trains teachers to utilize technology in an inquiry-based environment for an organization that provides enhanced instructional techniques and networking among a community of teachers primarily in the state of Missouri. How would you define his title?

Monday Message: Let’s Construct Knowledge

College of Education Constructivism (1)

We are all eagerly anticipating the upcoming school year. Many of you are beginning your first year of eMINTS training and learning about one of our core pedagogical approaches: constructivism.

This topic is a big one and at times overwhelming for the beginning eMINTS teacher. Even for our veterans, it is a concept that must be revisited every school year. Of course, like anything in education, constructivism comes with its share of controversy – something that often makes teachers hesitate to jump in headfirst.

Early this year, this post was published at EdTechDev. The main idea of the post is the engagement we must employ when others question pedagogy or an instructional approach. Basically, a physics professor wrote an opinion piece in a peer-reviewed journal for his field questioning the value of constructivist methodology. The piece makes the claim that minimal instruction is ineffective. However, anyone who has taken a constructivist approach knows that inquiry and problem-based teaching resemble anything that might be described as “minimal instruction.” In fact, the constructivist classroom is even more involved in that students are as engaged with the curriculum as the teacher working as faciliator.

For more information on constructivism, check out Funderstanding‘s informative post as well as the TaiteColes‘ post on “Punk Learning.” Funderstanding provides some basic information and definitions to either get you started or refresh your memory. The post about “Punk Learning” should inspire to subvert that dominant paradigm and find new ways to make your classroom more constructivist-based this fall.

What are your feelings toward constructivism? How do you plan to be more constructivist this fall? What are the biggest obstacles to constructivist teaching?

Zac Early is an instructional specialist with the eMINTS National Center and a punk learner himself.

HD Links: Math & Constructivism

Finding the natural overlap between Constructivist teaching and mathematics can often times be a challenge for teachers that are departmentalized and are responsible for teaching just one subject. The nature of math encourages educators to often times focus on the skills and can make it hard to blend the skills together to show how they overlap in real life. The following links might help in creating more authentic learning opportunities where students can use the skills of math in real life applications.

Yummy Math – Focus to supply math teachers with relevant, motivating, and timely mathematics to bring to their classrooms.

Real World Math - Lessons that use Google Earth and collaboration to present math topics, such as rates or scientific notation in unique ways.

Project-based Learning Math Projects – information about PBL and Math including links to PBL resources and lesson ideas.

Scholastic Authentic Math Unit Plans – Ideas to bring the real world into the classroom and create opportunities for students to interact with each other and integrate math into authentic learning situations.

Authentic Activities for Connecting Mathematics to the Real World
– presented at NCTM Regional Conference, Richmond, VA, October 12, 2007 by Leah P. McCoy

These are just a few websites teachers might find helpful when planning inquiry, project or problem-based lessons. If you have additional sites please share them by leaving a comment.

Brooke Higgins is an instructional specialist for the eMINTS National Center and writes for her own blog, Higgins Help.