It was a regular Monday, going through my mental list of classroom “to do” on my 45 minute commute. Today I was doing a vocabulary lesson I used for the first time four years ago and tweaked it each year to make it better. The objective was to connect the key vocabulary words to concepts. This is always a challenge, for the students can memorize the definitions pretty well. However, giving those same definitions a science connection to a concept presents many with frustration.
The lesson I was going to do was more memory and share practice. It would be very mechanical and manageable for behavior. The outcome would be clear, but not a great deal of student motivation or buy-in beyond the high flyers. Those students simply love everyting that they can memorize. My question was connecting student motivation with vocabulary and ultimately concepts.
In my class technology still motivates just about every student. They get excited when they can turn their device on, regardless of the purpose. With that in mind, my question was how to empower the learner with their technology and gaining better understanding of our concepts. It is so nice to know Google Classroom supplies the platform for spontaneous lessons like this one.
Google Image Search was where my mind went right away. Look for an image that represents the vocabulary term. Then caption the photo with a simple “Why” did you select it and “How” does it connect to science. Each student would be free to select whatever photo they wanted, as well as the tool to share with me in GC (that is what I call Google Classroom in my class). It took maybe 10 minutes to create the Gdoc and the assignment is GC.
I took just a few minutes to explain the lesson and reviewing some image search strategies. I reminded them to site the owner with the research tools. There was nearly 100% motivation and buy-in, as they jumped into the lesson. Of the students that had questions, most were the usual, not reading all of the directions carefully.
The first stumbling block was when they search for images with just the term. For example, searching for “weight” will display many diet images, which has nothing to do with our science concept. Suddenly sharing the learning started with one student saying “you need to know what you want first”. This title wave moment was consistent in all four of my classes working on this lesson. Listening to students share at their lab tables what they were looking for and why, was amazing.
My initial directions were to simply submit the assignment and I would assess them. The bulk of the students did their assignment on Google Slides and wanted to present to the class. I modified the lesson with ease in GC, setting an extra 42 mintues devoted to sharing their presentations. I had them add a summary of their presentation and learning. That extra time spent to share was totally worth it.
Presentation after presentation shared a level of learning and understanding that far exceed my expectations. I got goosebumps multiple times, as I listened to students that normally struggle hit the concepts and beam with their new understanding of science. It was interesting to see that there were very few duplicate images from student to student in their presentations. Which told me their key words entered for seaching were individualized. They really wished we would have done this lesson before our vocabulary quiz and I assured them it would happen next chapter. The common message in their summary was “Before this lesson I knew the definitions, but now I know what they mean”. That was powerful!
The proof is in the pudding. I was anxious for our concepts test to see if this lesson would transfer into better performance. I was using the same test as last year, which the average score AFTER retakes was 84%. The average score BEFORE retakes this year was 88%. Bigger than the jump in mean score was that no one bombed the test and with only 2 students earned below 64%. The remediation group was way smaller and manageable to get them there, before getting too far into the next chapter.
I am so thankful I took this leap of faith, creating this lesson. Two tech tools made it possible, but empowering the learner was the key. As common practice these days in my room, we share the learning on a regular basis continuing to build on our community of life long learners. The power of the student was clear and present this week. This old educator is already getting excited to build on their learning in chapter 11. These are exciting times in education.