"In a 6th grade class I work in we use the observation, sketching, and journaling to directly lead to improved writing skills. Students circle back to their initial journal entries to create poems or reflective writing pieces using similes, metaphors, imagery, as well as details. We plan to do nature heart mapping to go deeper in their thinking/writing, prepare poetry for a classroom slam, and to blog their observation/writing journey."
Engaging All Students- A New School Year Perspective...
As the school year begins, teachers will have a new batch of eager (or not so eager) learners to educate and inspire. While some classes may look homogenous and others more diverse, students within a class have a variety of learning needs, preconceived notions of their academic abilities, and maybe even opinions about the intelligence of their classmate. Creating an atmosphere early on, where all students feel “smart” and that their opinions are valued can lead to more positive interactions among students and greater student participation and engagement in lessons.
As a scientist, I love to engage students in science through the natural world. Taking students outdoors to do scientific observations can seem like a daunting task; some teachers in urban environments may think they have no nature to observe.
Scientific observations can begin in the classroom with something as simple as a leaf, a cone or an animal bone. Students can work in small groups to make observations; they can sketch what they see. Start with the simple phrase: “I notice…” As students "notice" with others, observations can be taken to a completely new level as they piggy back off of each other’s “notices” and begin to observe deeper. A second phrase: “It reminds me of…” does not have to only include physical reminders (i.e. “This leaf reminds me of a landing pad… for bugs!”). It can also help teachers bring in the physiological and mechanistic components (“The skull reminds me of a house- it is hard and protects all the important items inside.”). These simple phrases can be used with students ranging from K-12 and beyond as everyone has the ability to notice and compare what they see to what they already know.
What is so important about “I notice… It reminds me of…” is that there are NO wrong answers. These phrases allow students who don’t often participate, or may feel uncomfortable sharing for fear of being wrong, to engage in a lesson. ELL students, who may not have the vocabulary or the cultural context to name parts, physiological components or mechanisms, do have the ability to share what they see, and may have out of the box “It reminds me of’s…” that spur new conversations and bright ideas among classmates.
Using these three simple yet powerful thought initiators at the start of the school year:
1. An everyday object you could find in nature.
2. I notice…
3. It reminds me of… may begin a semester of class contribution, wonder, and interest in science. Please feel free to provide feedback on how this went with your class in the comments below...