Focus

Next year we are moving to block scheduling and this is very frightening for many teachers because we are losing a lot (88 minutes per week in science) from the instructional time.  Having spent the first 6 years of my career on almost an identical schedule as what will be adopted, I haven’t really been as concerned with the changes as many of my colleagues.  The focus of too many of our conversations has been on how to get through all of the content in the curriculum.  But this has got me thinking:

http://goo.gl/iSxyz

if we focus on skills, will the content take care of itself?
I was tossing around the idea earlier in the year of revamping how the beginning of the year starts.  In the past, my year started with the typical song and dance on the first day and then we jump right into activities and content on day 2.  I don’t want to do that anymore.  My students need to practice and become proficient in some specific skills before we can move forward with chemistry learning.  Here is what I am thinking:

  1. Google Docs–I am definitely moving toward a paperless environment.  I have already moved all of my labs to Google Docs so I think it is time to do it with more of the course.  The best part of the Gdocs is the collaboration and I want my students doing more of that.  Also, becoming a Google Ninja will definitely be a priority on my list of activities for my students.
  2. Search skills–Science is about research and inquiry, and few of my students have any ability to complete in depth searches.  When we start the material, it is going to start with specific web searches and then grow to more open-ended research.  From these searches we will develop the notes for the unit and I will simply supplement whatever is in the curriculum that the students didn’t find on their own.  Through this I will also help develop the skills for learning outside of class for when I introduce the full flipped classroom.
  3. Web 2.0 Tools–My students know Animoto and that’s pretty much it.  I have found so many great web tools that can enhance their learning and they need to start exploring these.  This will be on-going as we will also be working on incorporating presentation skills into most of these.
  4. Focus on Objectives–Students seem to get so wrapped up in what work they have to do, when it is due and how many points it is worth that they forget about the real purpose of school.  Every assignment that we complete, whether it is just exploration of a web tool or something chemistry related, will be related back to a clearly defined objective.  Part of the final assessment in every section will be a demonstration by the students that they have understand and mastered the objectives.  
I figure if instead of starting the year by jumping into content, and instead focus on skills that can be used all year and in every class, my students will be better prepared for learning.  From there I can integrate the content and let it take care of itself.
I would love to hear how about the changes you are making for the start of next year.  Any comments are always welcomed!
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One thought on “Focus

  1. RSchaffer

    We always begin our year with a “mini unit”, an introductory unit of sorts. This is where we introduce all of those skills/tools/procedures that we will use all year. Since many of the students are not used to being responsible for their own learning, it's a good way to ease them in. This is where we can assess and sort out strengths and things to work on. Inevitably I find my “tech tutors” during this time. I get to see their writing with some informal blogging, their decision making abilities and collaboration skills. All of this sof “data” is invaluable in creating the history units. The beauty and fun in teaching is the challenge of not knowing who is sitting in front of you on day 1; but hopefully by the end of the mini unit you are not looking at that seating chart!

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