Friday, September 26, 2014

Teaching with Toys and Tech- Keeping Students Engaged

 Keeping students engaged and on-topic is never easy, especially middle school students. But....there is something about getting to play with Legos that excites them.

Last year, I needed some Lego blocks for a lesson I wanted to teach. I only needed some basic blocks, but I put out a call to my parents asking if anyone had some they could donate. Thanks to an extremely generous donation, I now have a collection. (I could still use more if anyone has some they want to rid themselves of.)

Today, the students finally got to play with them. My 7th grade class has been working its way through various lessons on ancient Greece. Yesterday, we used a worksheet lesson I purchased from that had them learn about the four governments and create a film strip drawing and caption for each of the types of government. Good! I wanted to take it one step further and help the ideas cement with them.

Using the Legos, the students were asked to create a scene with the Legos to show each type of government and then use the Haiku Deck App ( to create a presentation of their work. The kids were energized.

The worksheets from the previous day had served as a form of graphic organizer to keep their focus and plan their presentation. They had to decide on a way to best utilize their materials to represent the key idea of each type of government. Working in small groups, they had to synthesize the ideas each had created the previous day into a workable product. Publishing the production using the App helped them put a finishing touch on everything.

I couldn't have been more pleased with their work. The students each came up with unique ways. They worked together, stayed on task, and demonstrated creativity and understanding of the types of government.

The next step will have them present their creations to the class. This will add one last learning objective to the lesson and work as a way of reinforcing the key concept with students.

In addition to helping the students stay focused and engaged, I was amazed with the ease of Haiku Deck. I had never used it before, but the students had for another class. They were excited to show me some of the features, and a few times, I had to ask them to show each other.

Most of all the projects looked great as I hope the pictures below show. I would love to hear from other teachers on how you adapt lessons to keep students engaged. I'd also like to hear some of your best apps for student presentation and creation.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Hula Hoop Venn Diagrams- Bringing Multiple Pathways of Learning to a Lesson

I haven't blogged in awhile. Teaching, parenting, and adopting two new dogs have kept me busy with other things. (All that and the return of football on the weekends!) Today, I wanted to share an activity I did with my 7th graders.

As a teacher, I am often faced with the challenge of how to spice up the learning. Sometimes, this comes easy. I scavenger the Internet or sites like Teachers Pay Teachers and find the perfect lesson that integrates the arts, or a simulation that works well with my students, or an idea that excites. Some days, not so much.

Today, my 7th graders needed to learn about the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures as we began our unit on ancient Greece. I had a perfect handout and worksheet to help them pull key information from the reading and a great chart to help them compare and contrast these cultures. But how could I adapt this lesson to involve more pathways of learning for my students? How could I help engage them beyond the mundane worksheet?

Well somewhere at sometime, I had seen an idea about using hula hoops for Venn diagrams. Lo and behold, there were some hula hoops in the P.E. closet and the P.E. teacher said I could use them. 

Students discuss similarities and differences
in cultures
Here's what I did. I distributed my hand-out and colored slips of paper. I assigned each color either Minoan or Mycenaean and told them to read the handout and write characteristics of their culture on the slips of paper. Then each student grouped with students from the other culture and used hula hoops to create Venn diagrams. We went around and discussed and what could have been a boring in-the-seat lesson engaged my students.

The kinesthetic learners got to get up and move. (And what 7th grader doesn't want to get out of his seat at least once during a class period.) The students had to use their interpersonal skills to discuss and work with others. The students had to synthesize ideas to find the points of comparison. Everyone had to bring something to the group for it to work and the students interacted and mastered the content. Win-win for everyone!

What I like best about this, is it is easily adaptable for many lessons. I may not use it again with this grade, but I can use it to spice up other lessons where the goal is comparing and contrasting with the other grades I teach. And you can use it too! 

Please comment and share other ways to use this lesson. Or better yet, let me know quick and relevant ways you bring multiple pathways of learning to engage and educate students.