During the short week leading up to Easter I decided to assign a lesson that tied into the recent Weekly Reader topic of the Titanic. I assigned each of my students to create a creative report on a disaster in history. With a rather ghoulish gusto, my students were reading up on the Great Peshtigo Fire (still the deadliest fire in history and only a few hours from us!), the 1918 Spanish influenza outbreak, the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, and the Dust Bowl.
And in typical fashion, my initial hopes were dashed when nearly each one decided to represent all that they had learned as a PowerPoint presentation. ARRG!
I like PowerPoint, but I think it is the diorama of our era, telling very little and only used because it is so easy to churn out. The biggest complaint I get from the higher grades is that, if given the choice, students always pick the easy way out and go for the PowerPoint. So I decided that enough was enough. No more PowerPoint. I pointed my students in the direction of this great site that had over 150 ideas for book reports. Before long. students were making board games (chutes and ladders in the triangle fire) news reports (on the San Francisco earthquake) and stop motion movies (on the dust bowl). A rap video was also made to describe Spanish influenza complete with a beat provided by Avairy Roc. Which led to this exchange:
“Mr. Briggs, what rhymes with pneumonia?”
“Hmm…Ammonia. Can you work ammonia in?”
“Sure! If you don’t want pneumonia, wash surfaces with ammonia!”
Technology can make life easier, but just because it allows production to happen at a faster rate does not mean it can increase understanding or encourage creativity. Sometimes it’s working within the rules that forces you to make the best of a bad situation and increase creativity.
There is one subject that my students know can get them out of any lesson. One subject that, if I get started, then any lesson of fractions, variables, or irregular verbs grinds to a halt: Cars.
I am not in a tax bracket that allows me to own much car, although what I do own I flaunt. I have been known to put on a suit, visit dealerships, and test drive cars I have no hope of buying. My students and I disagree on a lot of what classifies as a cool car, but one thing we can agree on is that the Camaro on the cover of this week’s issue of WR News was ‘sick.’ That, added to the coverage of the Washington auto show that came out last week, had my students fired up!
I have conducted lessons on cars before, and my students have responded well. The article makes that point that American manufacturing is leading us out of the recession we are in, but that much of manufacturing has changed. I show my students the inside of the new factories and the computers that go into the newer cars that are coming out of Michigan and suddenly even my most stubborn student realizes that he needs to do better on his math. One place to go to find that math is The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. A great site to go to for hard facts, it makes a great starter for opinion papers on topics such as cell phone bans and fuel economy standards.
Have any other gearhead lesson ideas? Share them in the comments!
There are four behaviors that I seem to always be dealing with in my classroom. These recurring issues never seem to go away and I seem to deal with them as much on the first day of school as the last.
1. Getting kids to put their names on their work.
2. Walking in a straight line without talking.
3. Getting them to read more.
And, hardest of all:
4. Getting them to write more.
In the case of writing, the problem is usually purely motivational. If I ask for a page, I get a paragraph. If I ask for a paragraph, it’s a sentence. When a sentence is an acceptable answer, I end up getting one-word replies. It frustrates me to no end to hand half of the work back incomplete, only to have the same students repeat the behavior, taking the chance that I won’t catch this one.
What do these kids read? In my class it tends to be magazines about hunting, trucks and ATVs with lots of glossy pictures, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Almost every kid has read the entire series, attracted to its format and its relatable content. And who should be the author behind Weekly Reader’s writing project, Weekly Writer? The ongoing story updated by students collectively adding to it every week is headed by none other than Author Jeff Kinney, the man who managed to get my rabble of cammo-clad charges to sit and read something.
Today I saw every single student in my classroom staring stoically into their computer screens, nothing but the sound of their keys clicking away. Thank you Mr. Kinney, Thank you.
Things are going well in Greenwood. Last week we had temperatures in the upper 60’s, something that never happens in November. Usually we would have had our first snow by now, but instead we go out for recess in shirtsleeves. I’m in a rush to finish my astronomy unit for the science club, hoping against hope that we get a clear night.
I find myself using Weekly Reader’s online features lately. Having state testing the last few weeks has left us with a lot of time to fill, and rather than filling it up with games or computer time, the other staff and I felt the need to fill it with something meaningful.
The e-issues have been interesting; the last one on Greek Mythology tied right into the social studies unit that 6th grade had just wrapped up. I think one of the great things that the online e-issues and Weekly Reader do for us is provide a diversity of reading activities so that our kids are not always locked into our reading program. We get a chance to “spice it up” with something interesting, timely and relevant.
A digital page from WR News Edition 4–6
One of the things the kids are looking forward to lately has been the arrival of our Weekly Readers. Not just because they are a great read, or because they are a great example of timely and relative non-fiction, but for the digital editions of the issues.
Every Thursday I make an effort to squeeze in time for current events. We sit down with the readers in front of the SMARTboard, and bring up the electronic version of the issue.
The kids love to have the computer read to them and seldom take their eyes off of their own page. The real treat comes after the story has been read, when they get to see all of the videos, interactive graphics, and links to other sites.
I think that we will be seeing more of this as print publications and online publications begin to overlap. Perhaps this is one way that education is ahead of the curve, linking print content to online content.