Saturday, January 23, 2010

Oh, the Energy Unit

I have been looking forward to co-teaching this unit since last year.

The fifth grade class has been called challenging by both this year's teachers and its fourth grade teachers. I worked a good bit with this class during my National Board process, and I found that while there were challenges, the children were extremely likeable. When I found I had achieved NB certification, I went to the fifth grade and thanked the kids for their hard work before I told all but one of my colleagues.

So this year, I was really excited about working on a problem-based energy unit with the children. I know which kids are the leaders and which children will need scaffolding to work on their assignments. I anticipate insightful work from these kids. The unit isn't finished, but here's what I learned so far:

  1. The children are having difficulty discerning advantages from disadvantages, pros from cons. Most of this seems to stem from lack of understanding of the vocabulary "pro," "con," "neutral," "advantage" and "disadvantage." This seems to be a universal concern and leads me to consider teaching vocabulary as a part of this unit.
  2. While the children seem engaged in playing the PowerUp! game, they are not, overall, transferring this interest to a more global concern about how we get our energy. The children who took part in this project last year did seem to be much more socially aware and involved than this group of students.
  3. The kids who I anticipated being the leaders are not always leading in a positive direction. Granted, some kids are doing a fantastic job working as team members and are really engaged. The natural leadership of a few children has been quite impressive.
  4. While it is no surprise that some children do not prefer group work, it is wonderful seeing how some of these introverts have done a fantastic job evaluating the information. With few exceptions, it seems the introverts have done the best job extracting and categorizing the information.
  5. The concept of a bibliography needs additional instructional support. Even though I stressed in the lesson that Google is not a source, too many kids are listing Google or Bing in their bibliography. Last year these same kids constructed proper bibliographies. This year a bibliographic citation reads "a book about coal."
Sometimes it is hard not to be disheartened when your expectations seriously exceed your results. I am guessing that I did not take hormones into account when I developed these expectations. But after all these are kids, and every day is a learning experience for us all.