The past few days have been probably the closest to “real life” teaching as I have had yet in my practicum experience. As part of the integrated curriculum, the students have been learning about friction, force, motion, etc and so my CT wanted me to do a lesson involving ramps and what forces acted on things going down ramps. She, Kellie and I talked it over and decided that it could be fun to have the students make their own ramps and then we could discuss why some ramps worked better than others and while I introduced the activity, we could talk about the forces acting on the car while it was going down the ramp. When we were discussing this lesson, I thought I was only going to be doing it with the 1/2s but last minute it was decided that this would be an activity that all the 48 students were going to do!
Before I jump into a review of how I thought the lesson went, I think that I need to write a little bit about the preparation for the lesson because I almost learned more from that! When I was lesson planning, I found a few different lesson plans from online sources that looked like they would be great resources for this activity so I brought them in to show my CT. My CT liked them but I could tell she wasn’t overly enthusiastic about either of them so I decided to use a bit from both and create my own worksheet for the students. During prep time, I created the worksheet and then I went to print it off as the students were coming in from recess. When I got to the printer, I found out that it was out of ink so I grabbed one of the printed pages and ran to the copy machine (in a different building) to quickly copy the pages I needed for the students. When I got there, there was a sign on the copier saying that it was broken and could not be used for the day! I was absolutely freaking out in my head because part of the worksheet I had created included a space for the students to create their plans for the ramps they were going to build.
When I got back to the classroom, I told my CT what had happened and she just looked at me and said, “don’t worry about it, just do it without the worksheet”. As the class was getting settled on the rug, I got a stack of large paper and adapted my lesson plan on the fly. I learned 2 huge lessons here: prepare ahead of time and have all of your materials ready and using technology/handouts are not always necessarily the best route to go—let the students figure things out on their own!
Now, let’s get to the lesson itself! I was really excited about my introduction and the students ended up enjoying it as well! I made up an elaborate story about having a friend who was an engineer (they had just learned about engineers a few weeks before) who was trying to construct a ramp for a competition he was in (I asked who knew what a ramp was and used a few books to demonstrate). I told them that he needed to build this ramp so that when a car went down it, it would go the farthest. Together we brainstormed ways that we could make the car go farther (and in most of their minds, faster). With a little prompting from myself and the other teachers, we managed to discuss all of the concepts that they ahd been learning about and how they could tie in with our ramp building. With time quickly running out, we had the students break up in their expert groups (groups they worked in earlier in the year that was composed of at least one prep, one year 1 and one year 2 student) and in these groups they had to start brainstorming materials (things in the classroom—we gave them examples and limits) and start drawing how they wanted to build their ramp.
To be honest, I was very relieved when the lesson ended because I was so flustered by all that had happened I needed a moment to sit and collect myself. My CT and Dane both told me that they thought it went really well considering the hiccups at the beginning but that this lesson might take longer than we had planned (which they also said was ok—luckily!!). Dane told me that he was glad that the printer/copier didn’t work because this meant that the students had to organize their plan for themselves, not just fill in the blanks/spaces that I provided for them on the worksheet. After thinking about this, I believe that it is very valid—worksheets are great because it makes it really easy to make sure that the students are following all the steps but it does take away a lot of the thinking when it comes to an activity like this. By giving them the blank paper, they not only had to work out how to write so that they could fit everything they needed but they also had to figure out a way to layout their paper so everyone could understand their thinking. Giving them a large piece of paper also allowed them some freedom to write/draw bigger or smaller, depending on their preferences. So I guess, I too was happy that technology hated me!
Linda told me that we would have to think about where we want to set up all the materials for the students to use and to think about coming up with some guidelines for getting materials and making the ramps. To be honest, I didn’t think that so much thinking and planning was going to be necessary for this lesson but she was absolutely right, if we didn’t have guidelines it was going to be a zoo with 48 students trying to run around and get things. Before our next lesson, I came up with a few guidelines and organizational ideas so that things would run smoothly (or so I hoped).
The next day, we continued on with ramp building, unfortunately it was right after lunch though. The students were wired and antsy and more in the mood to play than to work. I learned that it is important to think about when you want to do certain activities because there are definitely times when students are more concentrated and productive than others… after lunch was not the best for this activity—however, we made it through!
Another minor hiccup was that Dane was not there and so I not only had to explain to a substitute what we were doing but I also had to remind the students what we did last time and get them going on what we were doing today. Linda helped a lot and once the sub got the hang of it, she was really helpful too! The game plan for today was to finish the plans, get the materials and if all that went well the students could start making their ramps.
Each group was given a large piece of cardboard to build their ramp on, along with their plan paper from the previous day. They were told that they needed to finish their plan, write down all the materials they thought they would need and then they could raise their hand to ask for permission to start gathering materials. A few groups asked if they could build more than one ramp because they had more than one idea—I had not thought of this but we decided that they could as long as they picked one as their “final” and they worked together to build all of their models.
Surprisingly, by the end of the lesson all but one group had their materials and were starting to build their ramps. It was exhausting with everyone at different stages though-- thank goodness we had 3 adults in the classroom! With so many students, it was challenging to make sure everyone was on task and that everyone was contributing. I know there were a few students who were talking or playing with materials and were not helping the rest of their groups but with all the other groups needing to be checked it was hard to get over to those students and remind them to stay on task. The check system worked very well though and it was a good way to make sure the students had done what they had been asked and had thought things through. It also gave us teachers and opportunity to ask the students questions about their design, which was a good way to see who was really helping and doing work. Overall, I was very excited and I couldn’t wait to see the final products—the students had some great ideas!!!
One more comment about the group work. I learned that it is very important to discuss with students how to work in groups and what it means to contribute. The expert groups had students with a range of abilities and maturity levels and unfortunately, I don’t think the students had enough experience working collaboratively in groups in the past to be ready for such an independent group project. A lot of time was spent going around and addressing conflict because someone didn’t think someone else was helping or someone didn’t want to try anything other than what they thought would work. Having the ability to work with others is very important and I know that in the future I want to make sure my class has a lot of opportunities to work with others, especially those with differing abilities.
Unfortunately due to exams I missed the next few days of ramp making but when I returned the students had finished all of their ramps and we spent a little bit of time reinforcing them with tape so they wouldn’t break when tested. I also had to miss the testing of the ramps but I did get a chance to get a few pictures and copies of the write-ups they did about the ramps!!