Today is the last day before a mid-winter break and our school is running on an assembly schedule. My Physics classes are shortened to about 60 minutes each. Because of the time limitation and the desire to consolidate learning about electromagnetics before a week-long vacation, I decide to dedicate the lesson to a single outcome: updating an ongoing journal about electromagnetics.
Today's goal is to get students to dive back into their Radiation Journals to reflect some new classroom learning and ideas derived from personal research. Students have previously created journals and shared them with me via Google docs. As I have been relatively loose about the nature and contents of the journal, I feel the need to provide time in class for students to explore the ideas of radiation with some purpose and focus.
The journal exercise is a vehicle for getting students to document their growth in the understanding of the nature of "radiation." My learning targets are the NGSS Performance Expectations HS-PS4-3 and HS-PS4-4. In addition, students can practice asking and developing questions (Science & Engineering Practice #1) and obtaining and evaluating information (Science & Engineering Practice #8).
I have been relatively loose about the nature and contents of the radiation journal. Today. I provide time in class for students to explore the ideas of radiation with some purpose and focus.
To provide that focus, I ask my students to engage in a "3-2-1" exercise whose intent is to stimulate recently acquired knowledge about electromagnetic energy. They take three minutes to create their lists (3 new learnings, 2 unclear, fuzzy concepts, and 1 important question they really want to pursue). I give them two minutes to turn & talk to a neighbor, allowing their ideas to become a bit more public.
Finally, we take a few minutes to go around the room and share some new learnings and some of their burning questions. Once this exercise is completed, students are ready to re-open their journals and write with some meaning and focus.
Having completed the 3-2-1 exercise, I urge students to capitalize on all this thinking and to spend the next segment of class writing in their journals and researching answers to their questions. Many students have their own computers but I provide a small number of netbooks for those in need. To keep the focus in place, I create, and ask students to contribute to, a "Big Breakthrough" document, by the end of class. Here they can share something from the day's research - a surprise, an idea that fascinates, a connection to some previous knowledge, and so on. While we have previously populated the journals with some common thoughts and questions, the time today is set aside for students to pursue some of their own questions about "radiation" and "electromagnetics." Hence, each student develops a journal with distinctive content.
As students transition to their writing, I circulate to address questions that arise and encourage students to contribute to the document. It is not uncommon for students to under-estimate the importance of a comment they make in those conversations - I applaud these insights and get students to run to my computer where they can add their insight. As others see the nature of these comments on the Smartboard, they are reassured about their own thoughts and the document fills in quickly. Students continue in this mode until the final five minutes of class, when we briefly turn our attention to the assembled comments in the "Big Breakthrough" document.
In the final few minutes, we end our journal time and review some of the ideas shared in the "Big Breakthrough" document. Some comments are quite general ("Radiation is energy carried by waves and particles.") and of wide interest while others are quite narrow and meaningful only to a few (see the comments about redshifted light). As this is essentially the mid-point of the journal assignment, I am happy to see the variety; it informs my thinking about the next steps we need to take with this project. For example, I can now consider whether we need more time in class for research, whether I need to supply more commonly-addressed questions, and how to bring closure to what has been, to this point, an open and exploratory activity.