I ask a very simple question today, to begin our lesson: "What does the term electromagnet make you think of?"
I began our conversation the way I always begin a science lesson, by asking the students to think and then turn and talk with their shoulder partner. After about 30 seconds or so, I call for attention and ask the students to share some of their thinking.
Many of the students responded that they thought it had something to do with a magnet and insulators/conductors. Some thought that there was electricity involved, but on a whole, only one student had any real understanding or background knowledge of the concept, which I expected.
As a mini lesson, I explain to the students that we are going to learn about electromagnetism before we begin to explore it, which is opposite of what I usually do. This is important today, because I want and need students to have some background knowledge before we construct an electromagnet. I was confident that they knew about magnets and electricity prior to those experiments, but today, I need to build some schema.
I supply the student with a graphic organizer that will structure our thinking and conversations. I then explain that we will complete the first 3 boxes today. This organizer is helpful to the students because it helps them structure their thinking. We start with what they think they know, ask questions to set a reason for the research, and then structure and review what we learn from each step/source. In doing this, the students practice recognizing what they are learning and applying it to the next step. I have designed this organizer to help the students complete one step at a time. If your students are at all like mine, they usually like to dive right into the meat of things, without building background schema. This graphic organizer slows them down in a way that will allow them to collect their thoughts, recognize what they wonder, and then begin to answer their own questions systematically.
As a full class, students will think and write silently about what they think they know about electromagnets. I explain to them that they need to write in full sentences and if they do not know anything, they need to write a sentence about that. Then we move to what they want to know.
In this video clip, you will hear a few of the beginning understanding, which I hope to grow, and the authentic questions the students have that will drive their work.
Next, we will move into our research. My district supplies us with FOSS kits, so I have articles about Michael Faraday in the books that are in the kits. If you do not have this available, you might choose to use an article, from the web.
As the students read for information about the electromagnet, they will be required to obtain from adding information about Faraday and look for facts that make the electromagnet more understandable to them. I will circulate the room and watch, listen, and question their work in order to help them delve more deeply into making meaning, rather than just listing facts.
This student was very factual about the text he was reading and wrote his "facts" in the box. My questioning centered around the idea of helping him realize that he could self monitor what his new understanding was and how to communicate that information.
I was impressed with this student's idea of communicating her thinking and new learning through an illustration. Simple, but very effective.
As a close for these first few steps, I asked students to share what they have learned. This approach, I think, is best at this time, as almost the whole class has no background information about this topic. In sharing this way, we are able to put all of the learning on the table for everyone to share.
This video is an example of how information can be shared and communicated.