by Alicia Ryan, Cascade School District
Several experiences from this year’s OSTA Conference stand out. Generally I rely on both my notes and my memory to review the important concepts and techniques covered. This time without reviewing my notes, I relied on my memory to reflect on what I had learned. The things that stand out were not necessarily the most useful or the most interesting in content but all involved doing something beyond listening and taking notes. This process of reflecting on my learning experience has been useful when preparing lessons for my students.
In the session on Increasing Student Discourse I recalled touching, playing with and subsequently eating the candy. A small plate of four different candies were waiting at each table when we entered the session. We were told to investigate the properties of each candy with all of our senses. Although we didn’t actually spend much time with the candy, we used the sensory experience to generate questions. Because I had to interact with the candy and then write questions about it, I remembered a great deal more about the session. We also did a cool “flash debate” in the same session. A flash debate is a one to two-minute debate where the class is divided into two topics and then each student debates one person from the opposition. Again, I had to interact with the topic, first by collaborating with my debate team and then by debating with just one other person. The only other session that I recalled in any detail was the El Niño Session. I have very few notes on that session yet I vividly remember coloring thermoclines for the ocean and then having to decide which one was the El Niño map. I do not remember what I write, I remember what I do.
Playing with candy also triggered a memory of the keynote speaker’s presentation related to building language from the ground up rather than frontloading vocabulary. These strategies will help my second language learners as well as assist my students that struggle to connect with the vocabulary and concepts. Building language from the bottom up will allow for increased conceptual understanding and language development. The El Niño coloring of ocean temperature is very similar to some of the information I teach in my classes. I have noticed that many students won’t remember information about ocean temperatures for very long. Perhaps taking the time to color the temperature gradients and then connecting that to other graphs and finally making predictions from what we have colored may help them remember it longer.
The instructional strategies that seemed to be most effective for me as a learner were those that were experiential, sensory and hands on. They included activities such as the following: handling and examining candy and coloring ocean temperatures; creating meaning whether singly such as flash debate part 2 and coloring, or in a small group such as flash debate part 1; creating meaning as a class through debriefing as we did in El Niño, flash debate and candy activities. I found that eliciting background knowledge through writing on post-its and putting them on the board as we discussed was engaging and stimulating. Specifically, if I had to contribute to the activity and to the discussion, I remembered it better.
Reflecting on how I learn is incredibly useful for influencing how I approach pedagogy in my classroom. I need to allow more time for students to build the knowledge in class individually and together. This may mean moving labs and experiences earlier in the curriculum rather than using them as capstones. It means less lecture and a more focused playing, using play very deliberately and ensuring that what we do directly relates to our material and leads directly to desired outcomes. I also need to be more thoughtful and deliberate about eliciting and developing more background knowledge. Having students write on sticky notes is a great technique to engage them without pressuring them to share orally if they don’t feel comfortable. Putting sticky notes on the board shows that we are building a framework around existing class knowledge, thus giving more ownership to students while laying out a path through our curriculum.
Overall, I felt I gained useful strategies and techniques to adapt and incorporate in my curriculum delivery. We share a lot of data in my classes. Now I plan to create student experiences and processing activities in more interactive and memorable ways. This should help students draw their own conclusions because they will have a deeper understanding of the data as they will have interacted with it more profoundly and over a more extended period of time.