Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Lesson Study: Promoting Transfer and Authentic Problem Solving

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that promoting authentic transfer in education is one of my fervent passions.

A few weeks ago I had the tremendous opportunity to co-design a lesson with Jason Pane, an amazing eighth grade educator at SpringfieldTownship Middle School. Jason and I have known each other for a few years, and he is incredibly dedicated to one thing: improving learning for kids.

As with lots of professional opportunities in my life, the collaboration germinated on Twitter:

After countless emails and discussions between me, Jason, and David Newdeck, the instructional technology coach, we finally settled on a design. Here’s what it looked like:

Note: We had a cart of 30 iPads to use during the lesson. Yea, I know—it was sweet.

Stats:

  • 25-30 Eighth Grade Students
  • 80 minute block periods
  • Projectors, WIFI, iPads

Introduction:
We began by having students read the following article from the New York Times here. The article describes FEMA’s strategy for detecting crisis quickly during a hurricane, including the shortcomings of this model during Hurricane Sandy.

As they read, students underlined/highlighted the plan as outlined by Fugate, FEMA’s president.

Whole Group Article Debriefing:
We had students summarize the article as a whole class. Jason and I would throw out prompting questions, such as “How did Fugate’s plan work?” and students would pass the conversation amongst themselves until we felt there was a shared basic comprehension of the article. Importantly, Jason and I allowed the students to run the conversation. We offered very little corrective feedback, and we encouraged students to debunk each other’s misconceptions as the discussion proceeded.

Setting the Role for the Task:
Next, we gave students an authentic role and the parameters of the task. We mostly used this letter to set expectations for students. We also showed students a Symbaloo with some overview resources to get them started.

Research and Planning:
Students worked in teams of 3 to research and brainstorm an improved plan. This was where the real synthesis, question-asking, and evaluation happened. Jason, David, and I floated to each group asking questions like:

  •       What information will you need to determine if that’s feasible?
  •       What ideas do you have so far?
  •       Can you think of any problems with your current plan?

Finalizing the Plan:
Students use the app Explain Everything (worth the hefty $2.99 price tag because of all its export options) to create 3 very crude visual aides to support their plan. Students simply sketched and drew their ideas.


Sharing the Plan:
Students shared their plans with the rest of the Hurricane Strategic Planning Department (the class). Students had to use “What if?” questions to help students identify weaknesses in their plans and consider other alternatives. Students were also encouraged to praise teams that developed ideas they hadn’t considered.  This section of the class really encouraged critical thinking. Students tried to form arguments to defend their ideas and critically evaluate the ideas of others. All of this was done respectfully, but passionately. We could have easily spent an entire class period doing this!

Post Lesson Reflections
1. First of all, 80 minutes was not enough time to really “dig in” to the academic discussion that was budding in the classroom. And although we didn’t prioritize the product via Explain Everything, everything seemed really rushed. If we wanted to really prioritize argument, claims, and counter claims, we needed at least 2-3 additional class periods.

2. If we had allowed more time for the activity, we could have encouraged students to import and cite maps for their Explain Everything slide decks. This would have likely increased the ability of many groups to share their ideas clearly.

3. The kids were engaged the entire time. There was very little off task behavior in the room, even though we taught the lesson just before the upcoming holiday break. Students “got into role” pretty easily. When we asked students why were were doing this, many of them responded with comments such as “You wanted us to think,” “Or you know that kids can be used to solve problems with creativity.”  They clearly saw the larger goal of the task.

4. The iPads enabled students to have instant access to potential answers to their questions. Many of their “Googles” didn’t yield accurate results, and many students needed guidance and prompting to interpret their searches. This could certainly be an area of follow up.

Want to try it? I’d love to hear how it goes in your classroom!

Photo Credit: Springfield TMS Twitter Feed

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