Jun 01

Is Variety Better?

800px-Several_varieties_of_potatoes

Is variety always the best?

Coming up on the last two weeks of school I started to reflect on something I’ve maybe been taking for granted. I’ve noticed that I offer my students variety. Variety in Science instruction (and curriculum to an extent), variety in integrated technology and variety in how students show what they are learning.

Lately I’m wondering, is that the best way to run my classes? One of my complaints with over burdened curricula and too many standards is that it forces us to teach a mile wide and an inch deep or quickly “covering” way too much content without allowing kids time to digest or really learn much of it. Part of my teaching mission is to “cover” little, go a mile deep and an inch wide, by allowing students time to study concepts and content deeply and richly. Giving kids time to learn something I run the risk of either boring them or they don’t focus and end up wasting the time I give them anyway.

With regards to content and projects I will continue to gauge how much time I give students by how engaged they are and providing scaffolding as needed to keep teams moving forward and learning. But what about tech integration? Currently students can use an iPad, a Netbook, or an iMac. Students can create comic books, ebooks, animations, videos, podcasts, music, digital stories, Prezis or Glogs. I guess it’s not that big a list and students pick and choose from those. The staples, or the things we do the most, are blogging and social networking using Classblogmeister and Collaborize Classroom. So if anything students become proficient at blogging and using a social network for class discussions. Well, many of them become proficient. Some students struggle with uploading photos or pictures or embedding videos, Prezis, or Glogs onto their blogs. And there are those students who don’t participate much in the social network.

So should I focus on just blogging and social networking all year and have students become proficient, all students? I guess if I really want a student-centered classroom with some semblance of individualization then offering a multitude of ways to show what they are learning is best even if only some kids learn some things and not very well at that. At least they’ll learn what’s out there and really if you can use one Web 2.0 tool or resource well then you can figure out any Web 2.0 tool or resource and that’s a very valuable skill. And even if I focus on blogging, which we do a lot, students learn skills such as finding creative commons pictures and using them on posts, taking their own photos and videos with their own devices and using those or embedding on a post, putting drawings on a post, putting animations on a post, embedding Youtube videos on a post, making graphs and putting them on a post. Those are all great skills for kids to learn.

I guess I panicked when talking over our middle school philosophy with the other Science teacher in my school. We were thinking how our school needs a focus. One thing that would define us and from which everything else would flow. After that conversation one of our high school Science teachers shared this article of a principal in Neah Bay who changed her middle and high school by focusing on a growth mindset as their one thing. So I’m leaning towards thinking that a common focus for a school can be a good thing but not so much for my classroom. Am I on the right path here?

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