For me, yesterday’s quickfire assignment, which was to get us thinking about curricular connections to “making” as pedagogy, was way more stressful than I had anticipated! We were put in groups to work on this activity and my partners were Alan (an elementary school administrator) and Hayley (a first/second grade teacher). If I have yet to mention, I teach sixth grade. As you can tell, although we all work in elementary schools, our areas of expertise differ. Our goal for this project was to first decide on one of our grade levels and what specific content at that level we wanted to focus on. This proved to be much more difficult than expected! Once that was established, as a group we were tasked with writing a lesson plan for that content that was inquiry based and included a maker kit. Easy right? WRONG!
We began with one idea and after talking with our instructor (thanks Mary…we needed the help!) went in a total different direction, with not much time left to work. Our original idea was too focused on the technology and not centered enough around our content, and the content was the point of this lesson. We decided to tackle a lesson addressing the first grade standard of adding numbers within 20. Part of the lesson involved the students playing a board game and this is where we incorporated a Squishy Circuit Kit. The students would be answering addition problems as they traveled around the game board. There would be two answers and if they touched the right one using a metal pointer of some sort, the light bulb would light and they would instantly know they got the answer correct. You can see our original lesson plan here.
Once we put together the lesson plan, we shared our ideas and received feedback from our classmates and instructors. Our next task was to individually revise our lesson plan after receiving this feedback and taking time to make connections to our readings and what we’re learning in theory. You may be thinking there is no way that addition would be taught in sixth grade, but it sure is! There is one big difference though; we use positive and negative numbers. While making revisions to this lesson plan, not only did I have to update simple things like the standard and extending it to integers, I also wanted to really think about what we’ve been reading in class. We have talked a lot about building on prior knowledge, looking at “big ideas”, and building conceptual knowledge. Integers can be a challenge for students especially when they first start working with them. However, if you relate them to real world situations, it makes a whole lot more sense to them (think temperature, credits/debits, above/below sea level). This is building on concepts they are already familiar with! Therefore, I added in my revised lesson plan to relate addition of integers to real world problems.
The inquiry comes into play when the students are developing their own integer addition story problems and writing mathematical equations to express these stories. They are figuring out based on prior knowledge, how to add integers. Inquiry is also at work when students are playing the board game. Not only during play but there might even be students who are interested in how the game board works with the circuit underneath. This may be a great extension activity especially if they are interested because we’ve learned that when they are intrigued, they are much more motivated.
One piece of feedback we received that I kept in my revised lesson plan was the fact that it was good that there were many little activities through the lesson. During the lesson, students move around the room, discuss in groups, work individually, and play a game. Elementary students’ attention spans are quite short and by keeping activities moving, they are more likely to stay engaged. Check out my revised sixth grade lesson plan. You can see the changes and additions I made in blue.
In the end, this activity really made me think critically and step away from using the maker kit simply to teach about a circuit. We were able to incorporate the kit, but the focus of the lesson was not the technology, it was the content. Learning the theory behind the maker movement is one thing, but I learned that putting it into practice takes time and thought. It can be difficult and overwhelming, but on the other hand, it prods you as a teacher to step out of the box, be creative, and get into the maker mindset. Anything worth doing is going to have its challenges but with more and more practice, I hope to reframe my thinking when developing lesson plans and embrace the maker movement.