Saturday, February 23, 2013

Concept Maps

Connect: In ECE so much of what we do is support children in building background knowledge/schema. One of the most effective ways we do this is asking the children to make connections to themselves especially since at this age they are still so egocentric. Considering this, I knew that using a Concept Map would be one routine that would be developmentally appropriate for my 4 year olds. I had not read Making Thinking Visible at the time that I tried this routine but had in fact read another book for ECE (Young Investigators) over the summer that had talked about Concept Maps. It however did not offer the detail of a Concept Map as a thinking routine in that it did not go as deep as to demonstrate making connections between ideas. Now however based on Making Thinking Visible, I have a much clearer sense of how to use this as a thinking routine with my students.

What I did: At the beginning of each year, we do an All About Me Unit. Thinking about this I thought a Concept Map would be a meaningful introduction into our Unit. The children had some familiarity with it as we used a concept map and inquiry circle to talk about school. Of course since my children are not yet reading or writing at this stage, we did this as a whole group with me taking dictation as the children shared their ideas. They basically just took turns adding to the map as I jotted down their ideas.

Extend: Using the Concept map helped me not only to understand how I could use the Concept Map as a pre-assessment to drive my instruction but also see how I could support them in understanding how to make connections between ideas. I also learned that it is a great tool to help them collaborate and learn from one another.

Challenges: Because I am dealing with emergent writers and readers, my challenge with this routine is considering how to use pictures or other symbols as a means to be able to go back to the map at a later date so the children can comprehend it and use it as a visual tool. I don't know how else to make it useful for my students without having to always verbally summarize it for them and yet adding enough pictures and symbols is very labor intensive.  Considering this, my challenge is using it during the unit to review and demonstrate new learning. Next Time, I would definitely add more pictures and color to illustrate new learning. And now that I have read about it in our book, I have a better idea of how to use it as a means to make connections rather than just as a map.

Friday, February 22, 2013


In the middle of a science unit on life cycles, I wanted to do quick assessment to find out what kids knew so far.  I did the "headlines" routine.  We started out by looking at real headlines in newspapers and online to determine their purpose.  Students looked at real headlines then talked about what they thought the article was going to tell us.

This was important to my practice because I felt like I had lost touch with what the kids were actually learning and if I was teaching to the bigger picture objective of the unit.  Kids typically have a lot of schema on this topic and I wanted to check in to see where I needed to go.  I also needed to find out if there were reteaching opportunities.

This impacted my work because I felt that the kids were right on track.  I was surprise by the details that students had picked up along the way.  It was also interesting how many kids wrote their headlines as questions to express their wonderings or misconceptions.  One student wrote in response to our hatching and raising triops, "Triops... Why Are They All Dying?"  This lead to a great discussion in the third grade about the scientific process and that everything does not always go as planned.  What if you set up an experiment with the triops and in the middle of your observations, they die?  What do you do next?  What can you conclude from this?  What could be a reasonable hypothesis for why they are dying?  Another student wrote, "Only Two of Nine Seeds Sprouted, Why?"

I think this was a good thinking break for my students.  We were "doing" a lot.  We were observing four different organisms in my classroom (triops, mealworms, caterpillars and sweet pea plants) and this was a good break in the "doing" so we could reflect on why we were doing it and to reset for what we were going to do next.

In thinking about how I will use this routine in the future, it reminds me of the importance of slowing down.  I get caught up in worrying about how I am possibly going to get everything done, but it is so important to slow down to make sure the learning is on target and that we all know where we are going next.  There is a difference between the amount that I am teaching, and the amount the students are learning.  Sometimes I teach like mad and, upon reflection, wonder if they are really learning what I had intended.  I was also impressed with the output of the students.  This was a fairly simple routine and yet their little headlines were very profound.
 Generate- Sort- Connect - Elaborate
 This is an example of the generate, sort, and connect part.

My students in my skills class are needing word work to help break down vocabulary for meaning. I had my kids generate lists of prefixes on their desks with whiteboard markers. From there they partnered up with another student and compared their lists. I asked them to look at words that had similar roots following the prefix. They wrote "roots" on a large sheet of paper, chose 3-4 four of the ones they discovered coming off of branches from these.

Once this was done, I asked them to generate a list of words using these roots. They branched off of the roots with as many examples as possible of real words they could come up with by using our original list of prefixes and adding any suffixes they could think of.

At the end of this, I counted up each partnerships real words and gave them a prize.

Then I asked them to connect words that had similar prefixes with one color and similar suffixes with another color (look at the picture in green and orange to see a good example).

 This is an example of elaborating to create words.

Once they have connected all of their words with similar roots, they study them to try to discern what each piece means. If you look at the picture of the definition of roots, you can see how they did this.
This is a word students made up by understanding three different parts of words.

I then asked them to make up a non-real word using a prefix, a root, and a suffix. They then wrote out a definition to this non-real word in order to show their understanding of how these three pieces work together to create meaning and change parts of speech.

This lesson was important to my students and I because they need vocabulary building strategies and an understanding of parts of speech.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Generate-Sort-Connect-Elaborate: Concept Maps

What we're working on & why it's important:
As we returned from holiday break we dove into our study of  Denver & Colorado. In kicking off our study we went on a field trip to the new Colorado History Center. Before we visited the museum I knew the amount of background knowledge the kids had varied, and I also knew they'd return with a plethora new knowledge. Therefore, I decided to use the concept map as a structure to hold and organize their thinking, as I can't expect them to immediately hold, understand, and make meaning of their learning.


What I did:
One day prior to our trip we began by listing everything we knew about Denver or Colorado on a blank piece of paper. As you can imagine, our background knowledge varied. Some kids wrote places they'd visited around the state, and others listed things such as Broncos and skiing. Then after returning from the Colorado History Center we went back to our brainstorming and added more people, places, things, etc. that we know about Denver and Colorado. Finally, I asked them to flip their paper over, and write 'Colorado History' on the center of their paper. From there, students placed  items from their list on their 'map' in relation to importance. If they thought something was really important they placed it close to the center box. If an item was not that important to Colorado's past or present they put it near the outside of their paper. Then, partners shared at least three items on their map with one another explaining why they placed the item where they did on their map.

What I learned:
The conversation was the best part of the routine. Hearing the students defend their decisions is where the learning occurred. From conversing with one another, some students changed their thinking, agreed to disagree, or left pondering certain topics.This routine reminded me again of the importance of conversation. I was surprised by the amount of knowledge students brought back and how different it was. When the students completed these concept maps I was able to assess what information they took away from the museum, which helps guide my instruction.

Impact on Instruction & Students:
I didn't intend for this map to serve as a pre-assessment, but it did. Therefore, it has helped me plan through our unit. The field trip and concept map together also sparked the students' interest in Denver & Colorado, which has helped guide our study.

How will I use this learning in the future:
In the text, the final step of this routine is the connecting phase. Students draw lines making connections between items on their map. We have yet to complete this step because I didn't feel like the kids had the background knowledge to make the connections yet. I plan on going back to this at the end of our study as a way to for students to synthesize their learning. I feel like I'd like to use the concept map again in the future as a way to organize our thinking. Perhaps we could use them to help us chronologically organize our thoughts about a certain period in history... 


I Used to Think, Now I Think

This month I did the routine called, "I used to think, now I think."  In third and fourth grades, we have been focused on perimeter and area.

I already knew that students have a hard time with perimeter and area.  Mainly, they seem to mix up these two terms.  We spent time exploring perimeter and area in many different ways in my classroom.  We used geoboards on the iPads to build rectangles with a given perimeter and area, we measured them on "hallway polygons" taped down in the hall, we measured the area of Sao Paolo, Brazil to experiment with irregular figures, and we used base-ten blocks to explore the many ways to make a figure with an area of 5 square centimeters.

This routine extended my thinking because it gave me a window into what misconceptions students still had.  It also gave students a way to express in words what math thinking was going on in their minds. Here is a sample of what kids shared:
  • I used to think perimeter was by multiplication.  Now I think perimeter is by addition and base times height = area.
  • I used to think perimeter and area were hard becaus I did not know what was the inside and what was the outside. Now I know that perimeter is the outside of a shape or polygon and area is the inside of a shape or polygon.
  • I used to think area and perimeter were the same thing and would add both together.  Now I think perimeter is the outside of the area.  Area is the squares inside the perimeter.
The fourth graders reflected on Edmodo, which was  great option because I was able to give them some feedback.  A sample of one student's post and our conversation on Edmodo is below.
A challenge or puzzle I have is, would this have been a better activity had I given them the "I used to think" before I taught perimeter and area?  In the past, students in third and fourth grade have been hard pressed to tell me all they know about a topic when they had limited schema.  However, my third graders had a difficult time thinking back to a time when they knew less about this topic than they know now.  Many of them said, "I have always known about perimeter and area."  It helped for them to think of another student, a second grader, coming into our room and thinking about how little they may know about this subject and then to comment on how little they used to know.  The book says to stick with doing both at once at the end of a subject because students can't possibly identify misconceptions and ingrained assumptions until they have been confronted.  This type of reflection can only happen after new learning has occurred.   The book also suggests that students will do better as this is established as a regular routine.  I regularly have students reflect on their learning, but I think that the process has become bogged down, so this was a good way to switch it up on them so they had to reflect in a different way.  I am going to keep this reflection routine in my back pocket and try it again with both classes and see if there is improvement in the depth of their responses.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

See Think Wonder

As I use the thinking strategies, I come back to the concept of routine.  I realize an effective routine truly needs to be done with consistency, and in a manner that allows it to become part of our schema.  Up until now, I have tried routine after routine.  Finally, I am confident to say, that I will use the See Think Wonder routine throughout our study of Denver and Colorado.  This routine was so successful as a way to launch new content learning and facilitate discussion that I am sure to use it with each new content area.

First, students read an article about the Basketmakers in pairs to build background knowledge.  I modeled See Think Wonder in whole group and then students participated in groups of three.  They were given a photo, created a graphic organizer on white paper and I timed each section.  What do they see in the picture?  What do they think and what is that inference based on?  What do they wonder about?  This is where their thinking went beyond the photo.  Then, we used the organizer to share our thinking in new groups.  Finally, students synthesized their understanding by writing poetry, comics, stories and newspaper articles.

Connect - When beginning a new unit, it is invaluable to connect new learning upon prior knowledge.  The use of this strategy gave the students an interactive and visual way to activate their schema.  As they began to infer, they were able to look past the obvious and postulate ideas.  This led to natural wonderings based on clues they may have missed if they weren't given the time to truly examine the picture.

I connected to this routine because I am such a visual learner.  The aesthetic helps me to remember!

Extend - I believe the extension came from slowing down to focus and notice the details of the pictures.  We became archeologists for awhile and used our new knowledge to share with each other in a jigsaw discussion.

Challenge - Next time, I will provide pictures with details that challenge student thinking. Though the simpler photo's provided the opportunity to search and extend thinking, the students with more interesting pictures were really excited about their learning.  I will also model out of the box thinking based on tiny details to expand student license. :)