Thursday, November 29, 2018

Self Directed Learning with Amy Jarvis

Recently, Amy Jarvis, 7th grade science teacher, had her students embark on a "self-directed learning" journey with Cell Theory.  As you read, you'll notice that this venture was certainly not in her comfort zone, but her supportive administration and colleagues helped her through the process. 

Teaching a course to 7th graders in the parameter of a semester can be a challenge. Seventh grade Life Science is the first time students encounter a specific branch of the science curriculum. This really hit home, literally, when I looked at my daughter’s end of the semester packet for 10th grade Biology. I saw everything I taught with some additions! It was then that I realized the importance of effective differentiation within my classroom. I have firmly believed an honors block should look much different than my standard block. My standard block should look much different than my collaborative block. Furthermore, all of these blocks should look much different than the same level blocks the semester, or even year, before for that matter. You see, I, like many of you, want learning to occur each second of each minute I spend with my students. I’m not talking about learning based on the lowest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. I don’t want my students to just grasp at a concept. I want them to grab it, hold it, feel it, see it, examine it, analyze it, relate to it, describe it, connect to it, and never let it go! Don’t worry! I’m unrealistic. I am aware that not all students absorb the material as quickly as others. I realize some even drop the concept, step on it, kick it and even walk away from it. But those are the kids I hope to inspire enough to recover it, brush it off and try again to receive it in the only way his/her brain can.

This desire led me to a recent journey with my 4th Block Honors students. I have to say, the first few weeks with my students were brutal. I honestly did not know how I would relate to them. They are WAY beyond where my academic career was at their age. They were SERIOUS. Once girl even used the word, “prepubescent!” At this point, I knew differentiation was going to be an everyday standard to meet the needs of this group of students. Oh, and did I mention, this happens to be the largest block of my day.

Recently, I asked our gifted teachers, Mrs. Walger and Mr. Uyeda for resources on how to challenge gifted students. We spoke about learning contracts, educational menus, and other types of
Figure A
differentiation. I began doing online research and found some templates. One in particular, “The Self-Directed Learning Project,” seemed easy enough to introduce the following week. I had just started teaching The Cell Theory to my first and second blocks. I decided to teach them in the “same manner as always” approach. However, the fourth block was challenged to “The Self-Directed...” approach to The Cell Theory. In the first rectangle in Figure A, I let the students know the three objectives for the cell theory. In the rectangles that follow, the students had to reflect and respond to explain how they would teach the content to peers and help them reach the comprehension level of the Cell Theory. Once finished, the student signed the project as well as I. The project began that night for homework. For the next two class periods, the students worked individually or as a group researching the Cell Theory and creating a presentation. The presentations began that Friday.

Words cannot express the way I felt watching the first two presentations. The feeling grew with the third, and hasn’t stopped as of yet! The students use technology in a way I never expected from twelve- and thirteen-year-olds. Because of my astonishment, I knew I could not keep what I was seeing to myself. One beautiful part of this whole experience is that I have been afforded the opportunity to brag on my co-workers who played a part in this without knowing it. For example, Mrs. Fleming, the robotics and technology teacher at CHMS, Mrs. Walger who began teaching math to this same group of students last year, setting the bar high for teachers that followed with this particular group of students, and Mr. Uyeda who keeps the bar high with interactive lessons that allow for the technology skills these same students crave! The second, and most beautiful of all, is to watch the excitement with which my “techie babies” present. I watch the class reacting with eagerness, engagement, enjoyment and more as they have learned the Cell Theory through the instruction of their newest classmate instructor day after day. My task as an observer is simple, fill out the Instructor Observation Form I found online and tweaked for this project’s purpose. This form is pictured in Figure B. This is considered the rubric, an out of the box rubric, in a nontraditional sense. The students were shown the rubric ahead of time, as with any rubric, to be aware of the grading criteria. I attach the original Self-Directed Learning Project form filled out prior to the start of the project with the grade filled in at the bottom. 

Figure B 1

Figure B 2

In conclusion, I invited a few leaders of CHPS from the tech center, school board office and CHMS, including the 6th grade science teachers who poured into these same students last school year. I am relying on the leaders to find a different venue where this lesson can be an example of how the 1:1 initiative is being used within the classroom. Without 1:1, I do not believe the project would have been as successful with the steady pace a one semester curriculum demands. Finally, I want to encourage each of you to watch and listen to the students within your classroom walls. Without words, and through simple observation, it is evident how each student approaches learning the content within this school year. It took me eight weeks to build relationships, watch the behavior of each student, converse and ask questions, promote other technology uses, watch whether excitement ensued or boredom before finding the path these students wanted to journey. My challenge to each of you is to do the same. Where will this 1:1 initiative take you and your students? We might not take the same flight, boat, bus, or road, but I promise the view will be priceless!

Amy Jarvis
7th Grade Life Science Teacher, CHMS

Self Directed Learning Contract Template - Google Doc

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