Sunday, 12 August 2012

Gr. 5 Integrated Unit - Ancient Civilizations

This summer, I completed my Junior Additional Basic Qualification this summer with Brock University. For the final assignment we were asked to create an integrated unit for a junior class.  My reflection and TLCP Planning Framework are shown below.

Teaching-Learning Critical Pathway (TLCP)
This integrated unit was planned with a TLCP in mind.  The TLCP is a model “used to organize actions for teaching and student learning” with the idea that “classroom practice can be organized in a practical, precise and highly personalized manner with the outcome being increased student achievement.”[1]

Under normal circumstances, the TLCP plan would have many contributors and would be the result of many Professional Learning Community (PLC) planning sessions.  Planning would be focused around learning goals set out by members of the PLC which are created based on the results of diagnostic assessments of students.  Once the learning goals are determined, members of the PLC work together to create an authentic, engaging framework that addresses the learning goals.  I have created such a framework in a mind map format (please see attached).

Learning Goals
As a starting point for my integrated unit, I came up with 3 main learning goals, based on simulated diagnostic assessments that showed the following student needs.
  1. Oral Communication – clear & coherent presentation of ideas, opinions and information in a readily understandable form
  2. Reading a variety of text in different formats and extracting/summarizing the main ideas – nonfiction text focus.
  3.  Writing from a specific perspective/in a specific voice.

Keeping these learning goals in mind, I thought that one of the most interesting topics in the Grade 5 curriculum is that of Ancient Civilizations (social studies) and felt that students would be engaged and motivated when dealing with this topic.  In true backwards design form, I first came up with a “big idea” – “Life in Ancient Times – what are the similarities and differences compared to life today?”  - and a related culminating task.

Culminating Task
In order to address this big idea, I decided that students should work on a culminating task that presents “A Day in the Life of…” i.e. presents daily life of a certain person in a specific ancient civilization.  I purposely left this topic vague so that student may choose the era, country and character on which their presentation would be based on.  This element of choice serves to garner student interest and engage them in their learning.  By having the ability to choose the topic of their culminating task, students have ownership of this project and personalize their learning according to their interests.  When introducing the culminating task, suggestions and examples will be given in order to guide the students eg. samurai in ancient Japan, gladiator in ancient Rome, medicine man in the ancient First Nations community etc.  Students will be introduced to the idea of the culminating task, but will not be asked to choose a topic until the class has had an opportunity to explore and learn about different ancient civilizations.

Throughout the integrated unit, students will learn about different ancient civilizations as a class and also have opportunities to work in small groups to research specific civilizations (as per their interests).  They will have opportunities to present their findings to the class, while noting down relevant/interesting information that would help them choose a topic for their culminating task.  Learning about ancient civilizations will occur over a variety of different subjects including language arts, math, science and arts.

The expectation for the culminating task is a presentation, in groups of 2 or 3, of “A Day in the Life of…” a specific person in a specific country during a specific era.  This task addresses learning goals #1 & 3 (oral communication and writing from a specific perspective).  The students will be allowed to choose the format of their presentation (eg. dramatic demonstrations, media presentation, visual poster etc.)  This element of choice caters to different learning styles and different intelligences and allows students to express themselves in a format in which they feel most comfortable.  A rubric of presentation expectations would be co-constructed with the students and displayed in class to allow them to understand the project expectations.  Included in these presentation expectations are elements of language, science, math and arts of their particular civilization, which must be incorporated in the presentation. 

As well, an authentic assessment of the presentation will be done, the criteria of which would be student-created.  As a consolidation to the entire unit, it is suggested that the students write a reflective journal that details specifics of what they learned in the unit and answers the big idea question that compares life today to life in ancient times.

Language Focus
Upon the start of this integrated unit, the first step would be to explore and learn about different ancient civilizations.  This can be done through a variety of media including non-fiction texts, which would address learning goal #2.  This also addresses the reading curriculum expectations.  As well, information should be presented using video and online formats and allow for online research – this would address the media literacy portion of the language curriculum.  After investigating different civilizations, various writing tasks would be given to the students in order to address the writing portion of the curriculum and learn to write from different perspectives as per learning goal #3.

Other Subjects – Science, Math, Arts
While investigating and learning about the different civilizations, the class would also focus on other learning expectations from different subjects and view them through this ancient civilization lens.  These subjects include science, math and art and specifics are outlined in the attached planning framework.  I believe that by viewing the curriculum expectations of these subjects through the ancient civilizations lens, the students would be especially engaged and motivated to learn these topics due to the exciting nature of this topic and the possibility of the learned information to be included in their culminating task.  As well, since the students will be especially focusing on and researching ideas for their culminating task topic throughout the unit, they will be especially interested in learning about the science, math and arts of the civilization of their choice.

Communication with Students and Parents
The students will be introduced to the integrated unit in class and parents will be informed of it via the class blog/website & an email update.  Parents will be encouraged to engage their children in discussions at home regarding the topics learned in class and will be assured that the all of information that must be included in the culminating task will be covered in class and class time will be allocated in order for the students to work on and complete their final presentation.

Overall, I believe that this integrated unit would be extremely exciting and engaging for Grade 5 students and it would definitely address the learning goals that have been created based on student needs.  By having the big idea of this unit focus on comparing life in ancient times to life now, students make a personal connection to the topics of study and will be motivated to learn more.  As well, the element of choice with respect to the topic of the culminating task presentation will allow students to take ownership in their work and be motivated to research and learn about their topic of choice.  By allowing students to also choose the format of their final presentation, we are catering to student interest and learning styles and further engaging them in their learning.  The overall result of this would be higher student interest and higher student achievement. I am very excited about this integrated unit and would love to have to opportunity to implement it in my own classroom.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Y Tch Speling & Gramar Nyway?

We currently live in a technological age in which we are constantly bombarded with media and communication.  Everyone is emailing, texting, tweeting, blogging and “Facebooking” – from young children to seniors.  Grandparents are checking email and trying to keep up with new technology and children are growing up not knowing a world without cell phones, iPads, laptops and digital media of all kinds.  Life truly has changed!  Gone are the VCR-illiterate days of my Mom and my Mother-in-Law – now they both email and text me on a daily basis!  The fact that my 7 year old and 8 year old kids figured out how to instant message each other using their Nintendo DS’s still boggles my mind! 

So what does this mean for teachers?  How do we teach a generation that is being raised on digital media and electronic gadgets?  From my earlier posts, you can learn about a variety of Web 2.0 tools that can be used in the classroom to cater to this generation.  However, one question remains – has the importance of teaching spelling and grammar diminished and/or become irrelevant for this generation? Why bother teaching spelling when all devices now have spell-check and autocorrect?  Does anyone even type out full words anymore or is it all shorthand and acronym-based? I mean, really, when was the last time you actually spelled out “laughing out loud” or “oh my gosh”?  As well, all major word processing software has grammar checking tools and a thesaurus.  Will teaching the basics of handwriting, spelling and grammar become a thing of the past?

My opinion regarding this is mixed.  I believe that with the continued use of text-based media, the importance of grammar has actually increased even more.  If our students will be relying on Twitter, Facebook, blogging, emailing and texting to communicate, their written words had better make sense!  The art of writing is definitely being used much more now than ever and it is imperative that our students be able to communicate their thoughts in a logical, sensible way – for which proper grammar is essential and therefore must be taught explicitly and reinforced constantly.

The second part of this question involves spelling and I am conflicted with this part.  As the reigning spelling bee champion of my elementary grades, I am a stickler for spelling and I cannot stand when people email/tweet/post messages with spelling errors – it drives me crazy.  My “old-school” heart holds correct spelling as an important skill, however my 21st Century realization is that spell-check is a definite reality and when its everywhere, why not use it?  Spelling is a very important skill and it comes easily to me, however if assistance is available, then why force students to endure repeated, rote learning of spelling words?  It does drive me crazy when my high school students have atrocious spelling, but they do rely heavily on the crutch of spell-check – does this mean that their ideas are not valid?  The way I think of this is – no matter how hard I try, I cannot properly parallel park my car.  I learned how to do it years ago, but I still find it impossible, so much so that I will park blocks away from my destination even though there is a spot closer due to the fact that I am unable to properly parallel park in it.  When the day comes that “park assist” is available in all cars, it will definitely be my crutch and I will depend on it the way many people depend on spell-check.

That said, I do believe that spelling must still be taught in school, especially in the formative elementary and junior grades, but emphasis should be on recognizing how a word should “look” and long-term spelling strategies as opposed to short-term memorization of specific words for a spelling test.  I have personally seen this shift with my childrens’ education.  In Grade 1, my son had spelling words to memorize, practice at home and a spelling test at the end of each week.  In Grade 2, there was a shift to “weekly word wall words” that were used repeatedly throughout the week and the children were encouraged to spell them correctly and taught strategies for correct spelling, but pure memorization was actually discouraged.

The last skill that is related to this topic is that of handwriting.  This one baffles me since, again, “old-school” me believes that neat, legible hand writing is an essential skill, however as we migrate to text-based media that involves typing, why emphasize handwriting at all?  Let’s be honest, its faster to type a memo on your cell phone than to find a pen and paper and write out a reminder!  The subject of handwriting was debated in an online forum of one of my teaching courses, and someone mentioned that you still need to write things down like phone numbers, appointments and items for your grocery list.  Now I don’t know about you, but I always have my iPhone with me and contact info, appointments and even my grocery list all get typed straight into it.  Pen and paper are an inconvenience!  However, as a Chemistry teacher, I must say that when writing out mathematical solutions to chemistry problems, pencil and paper only!  So, while we have shifted to a typing society, it is still important to teach the basic skills of handwriting since it is still a major factor in our written communication. 

In summary, I feel that grammar is still as important as ever and should definitely be explicitly taught and enforced to all students.  Spelling and handwriting are also important, but the heavy “old-school” focus that used to be on these skills is a subject for debate and I feel that, while they should be taught and reinforced at all levels, students should not be limited in their communication of ideas due to some errors in spelling or illegible handwriting.  Just my opinion – would love to hear yours!