Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Categories and Making Thinking Visible

The First Graders started a new social studies unit on Native Americans. Besides learning about the culture of individual tribes, Mrs. Laha and Ms. Carew are teaching their students about how to categorize information. To support the learning process, the First Graders are working in their technology class to make their thinking visible by using mind mapping software that is rich in graphics. 

The students use the library of images provided in the software and draw their own. They work to then match what they learning about their tribes to the provided categories of shelter, geography, clothing, food and location. This concept-based learning has the students thinking about information and how we group it. The mind mapping also extends the learning as the students see connections between the categories. As they build out their mind maps in the coming weeks, the students will have the opportunity to draw their own conclusions as to how the categories are interconnected (e.g., location affects food sources and shelter types). The connections are many.

What is also helpful about digital mind maps is how they provide an easily editable documentation tool with students adding new knowledge and understanding to them over time. The end result provides an excellent assessment opportunity not only for the teacher but also for the reflective student looking back at what he/she learned.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Going Digital in Our Communication

ACDS continues to move towards supporting digital communication by using the PCR grade reporting system to have parents access the upcoming report cards online. Besides saving paper and processing time, going digital complies with how most of us access information.

As reported in a previous post on the anti-bullying guidance curriculum, our teachers are also using the Haiku learning management system (LMS) to support blended learning and improved communication between the teachers and the students. So far it has been the Fifth through Eighth grade classes that are using Haiku. The next step is for our Lower School teachers to use Haiku to share their weekly newsletters and calendars of upcoming events.

Image Source

Monday, November 12, 2012

Learning Management System & Bully Awareness Week

Our Middle School students and parents are becoming accustomed to accessing our Haiku learning management system (LMS) to support learning at ACDS. While Haiku offers several online tools to expand the learning beyond the walls of the classroom, it is also a community building platform to not only support academics but also co-curricular learning through athletics, clubs, and other activities. Haiku is most notably being used this week to support our guidance program.

Mrs. Belsher and Ms. Ball created a Bully Awareness class in Haiku where they have been communicating with teachers to share a calendar of events, list resources and have teachers take a poll all in preparation for rolling out the learning activities for the students this week. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

News Flash: Long Lines at ACDS Election Center

Mr. Girard standing in front of the voting booths explains the ballot to anxious and passionate Second Grade voters. Voting lines are long at midday as students break for lunch and recess. Mr. Girard put out word that voters should see smaller lines by the afternoon. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

If Only Our Politicians Could Debate Like Our 8th Graders :)

Mr. Girard and Mr. Gilbert developed a special election unit for the 8th grade social studies curriculum. The 8th graders not only studied previous US elections but also worked to prepare for their own presidential debate. Instead of just having our ACDS students work in teams for the debate, Mr. Girard and Mr. Gilbert worked with the Capital Hill Day School (CHDS) to match up CHDS students with our 8th graders. This virtual collaboration effort using a wiki (a collaborative website) for documentation and resource sharing helped the students from both schools as they shared their research and developed their debate points using the online workspace. 

The teams were assigned to the following topics that they were tasked to research and build the stance for each presidential candidate. 

  • Job Growth
  • Healthcare
  • National Debt
  • Education
  • Taxes
  • Immigration
  • Energy and Environment
  • Voter ID Laws

Our ACDS students used a listing of websites provided through our Haiku online learning tool to do their research. Each student's initial research was recorded using Noodle Tools. Noodle Tools is an online citation and digital note card research tool that the students at ACDS use for their research. The debate teams then used the wiki to develop their debate plans with their CHDS partners.

The debate took place last week with the CHDS arriving ready to meet face to face for the first time with their ACDS partners. The teams were given time to get to know each other better and to finalize their plans before entering the Performance Arts Center (PAC) to start the debate. Each team by their topic then opposed their opposite political party team to debate using the following structure.

Mr. Girard noted after the debates that the ACDS and CHDS students probably gave more details and offered more depth of information than in the real presidential debates.

Alien Civilizations in the 5th Grade Curriculum

The 5th graders not only study ancient civilizations in their social studies curriculum but they also work to create an alien civilization applying their learning in a year long project. To help the students organize their thinking and work on the year long "alien civilization" project, their teacher, Ms. Cook, teaches them how to use a construct called ESPRAT+G to ask questions about and better understand each civilization they study. ESPRAT+G is the an acronym for the study of economics, sociology (social structure), political science (government), religion, the arts, technology and how they are all affected by geography. 

Another important part of Ms. Cook's curriculum is to have her students apply or transfer their understanding of ancient civilizations to new situations. Ms. Cook's came up with the idea of having her students look at their studies from the perspective of aliens needing to learn from human history so that they can improve their society. 

Ms. Cook frames the challenge as a course of study: 

"This course will delve into the complicated and interesting lives of the alien species called "Homo Sapiens" on the planet Earth. We will explore this species from some of their earliest ancestors to the more modern day looking at how the species evolved, settled, formed communities, and then developed culture."

The challenge goes on to have each student create an alien planet that is dying. The aliens need to relocate on another planet and start a new society. Ms. Cook tasks her students to create their own version of the alien civilization explaining why it has struggled but then how it will improve when relocated. The students draw on their learning about the successes and failures of human civilizations as they create a new and improved alien society (the transfer task). The students use Google Documents to keep a running journal about what the new planet and society will look like using the ESPRAT+G construct explaining what the economy, social structure, etc. will look like. 

The students are at the first stage of creating their aliens and describing the troubles they are facing on their home world. The picture at the top of this post is a drawing of one such alien. Here is a portion of the 5th grader's initial write up about her alien society. 

"The Slupers are aliens that have big “S” shape bodies and stick figure arms and legs. Their bodies are colored red. The Slupers are very big like giants and eat only meat, like carnivores. They love to crawl on all fours and they live on a cloud that turns solid enough for them to stand on it when they say “I’m forcing air come to me, make this cloud as heavy and solid as a tree.” This turns the cloud solid enough for these giants to stand on. They can fly for five days at least and 23 days at most."