23 April 2012

Learning about Biomes

One of the interesting parts of moving to a new grade level, is getting to know the new curriculum requirements. This year, I've had some fun, developing material to help my students learn about various topics. We've just finished a unit on Biomes. Now when I first heard that we were to study "biomes", I'll admit that I didn't really know what a biome was. I think I know a bit more now, and hopefully my students know a lot more.

Rather than try and direct teach a topic that I wasn't really familiar with, I decided to set up some project-based learning, using a variety of multiple intelligence tasks, where each small group of students would study one biome in depth, and then at the end of the unit they would teach the rest of the class about their biome.

Generally the students were enthusiastic, although they weren't all thrilled about the groups I'd put them in. Sometimes I let students choose their own groups, but for this project I assigned the groups. They then had to choose 8 tasks to complete out of 27, one from each group. They also had 8 key questions that they needed to answer. Finally they had to present their biome to the rest of the class.

Some groups did really well, and one group actually completed 10 tasks. Other groups didn't do so well, and their progress (or lack thereof) taught me a valuable lesson. When you are managing small groups it is really important to factor in regular briefings with each group.

On Friday, it was presentation day, and after 3 days of planning, preparing, and practising it was all systems go. Ooops, didn't get the computer and projector working together properly before I started. Should know better than that! Never mind, we eventually solved that problem. Oh no, now the electricity is out! Life's like that, we'd better keep going as best we can. Hooray, recess time. Let's have a break and play Math games after recess until the power comes back on. Fun, and good practise of our division strategies too. Power's on! Let's get these presentations finished in time for swimming. Way to go, Grade 4.

Yes, they all did a good job. Some did better than others, but that's to be expected. Overall, the class showed that they had learned a lot about biomes, and also reminded us of some of the things we need to do to care for our environment.

The teacher learned some valuable lessons too. The main lessons were about managing group work better, and about planning project based learning so that all students cover all the essential points. Will I do it again next year? Yes, but with a major rewrite of the activities, and also a little more direct teaching at the start of the unit.

The ultimate question remains. Did the children learn? Yes! They learned content, and they also learned about working together. Several students also discovered that the presentations weren't that hard when they were prepared and practiced, and I know they will be more confident next time they need to do a presentation.

And now it's time for our next adventure in learning together! Inventions and Inventors. This is going to be lots of fun.

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