ThingLink for PBL in Science
ThingLink is an online software used to make images interactive. This year, I've used it during a project/problem-based learning (PBL) activity, in which students did a series of tasks to collect data on a soil site of their choice (please see my "Model Overview" to learn about how I use Levels in my classroom). They collected this data and saved it for the final activity, the Soil Report, which asked the students to compile all the information they learned about their soil site and to post it on a ThingLink. This ThingLink was then used to make a target on the larger map of Paracini Ponds (the field site we visited), which was also its own ThingLink. The insight I was looking to gain from the completion of this activity was whether students could take scientific data from a field exercise, analyze it, and make a decision about how the land should be used.
Small Group Sessions are used for student sharing or to conduct small-group direct instruction. Students within these groups are usually working on the same content in the level or are struggling with the same topic/skill and need further instruction from me. Small Group Sessions allow me to gauge a student's understanding of content and promote the importance of sharing and talking about learning. During Small Group Sessions, I actively listen to students talk about the content we are discussing. I also use this time as an opportunity to question their thinking and formatively assess their understanding of the material. In the days after a Small Group Session is over, I work one-on-one with students who have yet to master the material.
My classroom space is broken into five distinct areas based on students’ needs. The areas are named in accordance with the storyline in our academic game: (1) presentation area (also known as the shelter), (2) lounge area (the beach), (3) counter area (the lookout), (4) teacher area (crash site), and the (5) table area (the jungle). Each area was set up with a distinct vision in mind. The shelter was set-up with two futons and a coffee table all located around the SmartBoard at the front of the classroom. I envisioned this area as a place where student groups could share their learning and present content using their iPads and our Apple TV. The beach area was created to help those students who do better lounging on a couch or in a non-traditional chair while working. I wanted my room to represent the traditional as well as the “non-traditional” student. The lookout area was specifically set-up for students who enjoy to look outside and see nature as they work. It also works well for those who use scenery as a reset in an environment that is often controlled chaos. The crash site was created as a result of the storyline where all students became Plane Crash Survivors (PCSs). The name makes it okay to have a messy desk! It’s also used as a space to separate distracting students from the attention of others in the classroom. Finally, the table area was made for the more traditional student who likes to work at a table or desk or likes to have a hard surface to work on. Throughout class, students can be seen moving throughout the room in accordance with their needs as a learner at that particular moment. I feel the incorporation of the different areas of the classroom helps to build a culture of learning acceptance and risk. It opens up the classroom to being more than just a sit and get environment. It helps to personalize and shape students’ learning. See also Jessi's Overview Model.
In order to track students' progress, along with goal sheets, I make one sweep of the classroom at the beginning of class to check to make sure students know what they are working during the class period. Sometimes I write it on an online spreadsheet. Other times, I track it using a paper spreadsheet and clipboard to make sure they have started working on what they need to be working on. This gives me a chance to talk to all of my students and help motivate those students who are slowly getting to work. I particularly like rounds because it helps me gauge students' emotions for the day. This gives me an idea of how far I can push them academically during the period.