5th-Grade Chemistry: Periodic Table

In my 5th-grade science class, we are digging into chemistry. I start the unit by teaching students about the “secrets of the physical universe.” This phrase gets them interested. The next step is to teach them how to use it. It seems complicated, but students are able to accurately find and identify most aspects of elements within one class period. First, we draw a basic diagram of an atom with the nucleus, protons, neutrons, and electrons. Then we label the charges (or lack thereof) and make note of the locations relative to the nucleus (inside or outside). Next, students copy down the following image into their notebooks.

Periodic Table: How to use

Hydrogen!

Then we go over those terms, focusing on atomic number (equals # of protons) and how atomic mass is the average mass of protons and neutrons. At this point, there tends to be 10-15 minutes left in class and I pass out the periodic table and tell them that everything in the entire universe is on this piece of paper. Another phrase to pique their interest.

periodic-tableI tell students to find the element with the atomic number 1. Then I ask the whole class to respond to my next question.

Me: “What is Hydrogen’s chemical symbol?”

Class: “Hydrogen!”

Me: “Good! How many protons does Hydrogen have?”

Class: “One!”

Me: “Excellent. What element has the atomic number of 118?”

Class: “Unun….”

Me: “Yes! It’s tough to pronounce right? Ok, how many protons does element 118 have?

Class: “118!”

I would do a few more examples in class, but for this is enough for a blog. I would next talk about how you can read the periodic table like a book from left to right, top to bottom. I talk about how the atomic number and the atomic weight increase from left to right, top to bottom. Then we use the last 5 minutes or so on a no-stakes pop-quiz.

Example quiz:

  1. What is the chemical symbol for Helium? _______
  2. Copper’s atomic number is 29. How many protons does it have? ______
  3. What is copper’s atomic mass? _____
  4. This element has the atomic mass of 118.710. What is its name? _____
  5. My atomic mass is an odd number between 10 and 20. I have an even number of protons. I am not carbon. What element am I? _____

Then we go over the answers to end class. I tell the students that they will start every class with a periodic table quiz and that I guarantee they will be able to find any element from any clue by the end of the unit. And they do.

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A Day In The Life: 19th-Century Students

The school day would typically start around 8 a.m. Before school started, students would need to finish their chores on the farm, and then walk up to 3 miles to school. Teachers would also commonly assigned morning duties (to be finished before 8 a.m.) to older, stronger students. This included gathering firewood in the winter and collecting water for drinking and washing.

Before classes could begin, schools had a ritualized practice to go through. The students would line up outside in two lines (boys and girls) from youngest to oldest. Then, the girls would enter the school, curtseying/bowing to the teacher as they walked by. The girls would then stand at attention and wait for the boys to follow their lead. After all the students entered the school children would recite the Pledge of Allegiance. This would be followed by either the Lord’s Prayer or a moral lesson that typically involved the Bible. Finally, children would be seated, take roll call, and begin the academic portion of the day.

Reading was the first lesson taught. The teacher would assign work for each level, and once students were working, one level would be called to the front to “toe the line”. This meant that they would be required to recite a passage from memory or read aloud from a textbook. When it came time for arithmetic class, the teacher would have the younger children solve problems on the blackboard. After this was finished, the older students would come to the front and practice solving math problems orally. Penmanship came next. Students would write their names, dates, and a moral saying. Penmanship class was accompanied by an oral explanation of the written morals.

Lunch was next. After students ate, they would gather more firewood and water if necessary. Then they could use the remaining time to play.

The first lesson of the afternoon would be grammar and spelling. This would be followed by a history lesson. The last class of the day was geography.

After the teacher assigned chores for the next day, most students would gather their things and head home. The teacher could give after school punishments to students who misbehaved. This commonly involved some sort of cleaning. Thus, you have a day in the life of a 19th-century student.

 

Sources

The Late Nineteenth Century One Room School, by Oak Hill School Teacher’s Resource and Curriculum Guide

http://mentalfloss.com/article/58705/11-ways-school-was-different-1800s

 

Teaching While Introverted

The first few days back in school have been great. Well, mostly. My students have largely behaved and it has been great reconnecting with colleagues. But I am already drained.

I thrive on reading, adventure, and some talking. My summer had the first two in spades, and the latter was in my Goldilocks zone. Now that school has begun, it’s my talking and interacting that is in spades. The others are necessarily reduced. This is not a bad thing in and of itself because teaching involves talking and all work gives less time for reading and adventures than no work.

But I do need to adjust my out of work schedule in order to stay healthy. I am an introvert and I like the quiet. I am a teacher and I like teaching students. Both are true. If I ignore the first, the second suffers. I have also found that if I ignore the first, my relationships (in all spheres) suffer. This is because if I do not intentionally spend time alone I become tense and short tempered.

So, I will get my quiet time. Not just for me, but for my family, my friends, and my students.

I’ll take some time to write and blog for reflection and learning. I’ll take some time to relax and read. I’ll take some time to go on little excursions. That way I can give some (quality, mentally present) time to my family. That way I can give some quality (mentally present) time to my friends. That way I can give some (quality, mentally present) time to my students.

That’s what I do to breathe. What do you do?

Inquiry Vs. Explicit: Who Wins?

There seems to be a nonstop debate about how to teach. Inquiry or Explicit. The inquiry based instruction groups argue that inquiry instruction is preferable because it enhances creativity, is more natural, creates deeper memories, helps students become lifelong learners and more. The explicit based instruction groups argue that explicit instruction helps students learn to read more efficiently, is in line with scientific research, gives students the tools to become lifelong learners, and more.

I think that this debate has become slightly misplaced. With many in the inquiry camp claiming that explicit instruction means lecture and many in the explicit camp claiming that inquiry instruction means discovery learning. In my lived experience, and even in my twitter experience, both are wrong. This is part 3 in a 3 part series.

  1. Inquiry Instruction 2. Explicit Instruction 3. Inquiry Vs Explicit: Who Wins?

I’ve given brief summaries of Inquiry Instruction and Explicit Instruction in previous blog posts. You can click on the links above to read them if you like.

Before I declare my winner. Let’s push back on the derision that can accompany Inquiry and Explicit instruction based teaching.

A well planned Inquiry based lesson will look slightly chaotic to an outsider, but that does not mean learning is not taking place. The teacher is intentionally crafting the lesson to guide students toward the correct answer, to guide students towards knowledge. The hope is that this leads to a deeper understanding because the student needs to construct this knowledge for themselves, it isn’t given to them by the teacher. Throughout this process the teacher is giving feedback to students in order to guide their learning and assisting them in seeing their errors. The hope is that this helps students to become critical thinkers who are able to spot their own mistakes and fix them.

Explicit instruction is not a dry lecture. There is back and forth between the teacher and students and between students over the course of a lesson. The teacher takes time to carefully plan the lesson and introduce vocabulary and concepts in bitesize chunks that are digestible for students. Then, after students are introduced to the necessary background knowledge (includes vocab, concepts, skills) the teacher demonstrates solving a problem. Then students work together to solve a problem. And, finally, the students can solve the problem on their own. Throughout this process, the teacher is giving students informal feedback (corrective, and affirmative). The constant feedback helps students to learn more quickly and move towards accurate application of their new knowledge.

Now for the winner.

Explicit Instruction!

I believe that explicit instruction wins because it is more structured. I do not mean more planned because a good inquiry lesson is very carefully planned. But the structure matters. I believe that this structure helps students to learn more efficiently than the looser structure provided by inquiry learning. And, as always, the proof is in the pudding (student outcomes for us). What follows is an incredibly brief summary of the research into explicit instruction.

Explicit instruction has been proven to be an effective teaching strategy for “normal students” however, it is especially beneficial for students with various learning challenges (Archer, 2011). Explicit instruction is effective for all students precisely because of its structure.

The structure of and benefits explicit instruction from Hall & Vue, 2004. If you are interesting in more details about the structure and meta-analysis, click on the Hall and Vue link above.

Structure of Explicit Instruction

  • Big Ideas
  • Conspicuous strategies
  • Mediated scaffolding
  • Strategic integration
  • Primed background knowledge

Delivery of Explicit Instruction

  • Frequent Student Responses
  • Appropriate Pacing
  • Adequate Processing Time
  • Monitor Responses

A meta-analysis by Adams, 1996 found that the mean effect size for explicit instruction is .75. This is a very large, positive impact on student learning. Project Follow Through found that students taught with explicit instruction in math, reading, language, and spelling had good levels of achievement, while also having a higher self-esteem than students taught with other methods. This may be because competence in school can lead to higher self-esteem. It was also found that disadvantaged students with diverse needs benefited greatly from explicit reading instruction.

The following quote is from the National Center for Accessible Educational Materials by Hall and Vue.

One of the most visible implementations of direct instruction in public schools is Wesley Elementary in Houston, TX. When the school began implementation of instruction using direct instruction, fifth grade students were almost two years below grade level. After four years of implementation, the third, fourth, and fifth grade students were performing 1 to 1.5 years above grade level. All students scored above the 80th percentile in both reading and mathematics on the district evaluation. Wesley School continues these effective practices school-wide and continues to have exemplary scores on district, state, and national assessments.

For clarity, direct instruction (di) is a form of explicit instruction. I feel the results are clear based on research. We can use explicit instruction in our classrooms to improve the outcomes of all our students, high and low achieving while improving their self-esteem and not damaging their creativity. The evidence is explicit.

A Poem: First Class First Lab First Day Of School

It was the first day of school and all went well

My students were spectacularly swell

I introduced me

And now they can see

I take science seriously

A lab on day one

Was twice as fun

When of behavior problems there were none

I am not entirely sure why

Did they have the first-day jitters

With their hearts all appitter?

Or were they just acting their best?

Whatever the reason

I’ll take advantage of this season

Behavioral precedence has been set

My expectations will be met

I’m looking forward to this year

Today was a good start

I’m grinning from ear to ear

Today was the first day of the year. And I started all my science classes with a lab. Now, this lab was quite simple. We simply reviewed the scientific method (They were taught it last year) and made a hypothesis about how a normal coin and an unevenly weighted coin will land. Then we performed the lab.

I taught this lesson three times today, and I have never had a lab that was so little work. It was incredible because every student was focused and working. I’m not sure if it was simply because today was the first day of school and the students were a bit nervous or because the lab was simple, but I will take it.

The secret might be to take advantage of first day nerves and students wanting to make a good impression. Not simply by laying down the law (should be done clearly, firmly, and kindly) but by taking advantage of their behavior. Allowing better than normal behavior to set a precedent and clarify expectations.

So, what are you waiting for? Start your year off with a bang! Do something and run with it.

Explicit Instruction: What Is It?

There seems to be a nonstop debate about how to teach. Inquiry or Explicit. The inquiry based instruction groups argue that inquiry instruction is preferable because it enhances creativity, is more natural, creates deeper memories, helps students become lifelong learners and more. The explicit based instruction groups argue that explicit instruction helps students learn to read more efficiently, is in line with scientific research, gives students the tools to become lifelong learners, and more.

I think that this debate has become slightly misplaced. With many in the inquiry camp claiming that explicit instruction means lecture and many in the explicit camp claiming that inquiry instruction means discovery learning. In my lived experience, and even in my twitter experience, both are wrong. This is part 2 in a 3 part series.

  1. Inquiry Instruction 2. Explicit Instruction 3. Inquiry Vs Explicit: Who Wins?

What follows is my best case interpretation for explicit instruction and information was largely taken from Anita L. Archer’s Powerpoint presentation, Explicit Instruction: Effective and Efficient Teaching.

Explicit instruction is a highly interactive process that involves a lot of back and forth question and answer from students to teacher. The teacher uses the information gained in this back and forth to informally assess their students and provide affirmative or corrective feedback as necessary. This can be done in a large variety of ways. For more ideas, check out Anita L. Archer’s Powerpoint presentation (Linked above). The entire instructional process is intentionally structured in order to benefit learning.

The skills, strategies, and concepts are sequenced logically.

  • Easier skills are taught before harder skills
  • High frequency skills before low frequency skills
  • Prerequisites first
  • Similar skills are separated

The basic format of a lesson based on explicit instruction involves an opener (gathers student attention, reviews previous material, or previews current material), a body (where the content is taught), and a conclusion (involves reviewing the lesson or previewing the next one). The teachers will also base their lessons around known (to the students) instructional routines. Internalized routines allow for the students to focus on the content because they do not need to use their working memory to think about what to do next. Another benefit is that lessons can move faster because the teacher only needs to cue students to move to “the next stage” instead of explaining what they want the students to do next.

In teaching skills, the teacher demonstrates the skill first. Then, students, as a class, follow the teacher’s lead. Finally the students practice the skill on their own. This model can be simplified as

  • Model I do
  • Prompt We do
  • Check You do

This type of scaffolding reduces complex procedures and concepts into simple, attainable parts. Essentially, this type of modeling reduces the cognitive load of the student.

Explicit instruction places a high value on vocabulary and follows a four step process in introducing new words.

  1. Introduce the word
  2. Provide a student friendly definition
  3. Illustrate the word’s meaning with examples
  4. Check understanding

The goal is to catch misunderstandings early and correct them. This will allow for students to have more practice using correct meaning and move the word into their long-term memory faster. This practice will also be distributed over time. This improves retention and can help students to connect the word/information/concept to other words/informations/concepts, deepening their understanding. Explicit instruction practices also tend to involve cumulative reviews. This is in part because everything students learn is important and it involves recall which helps keep the information in long term memory.

Stay tuned for part 3 where I finally give my two cents.

Inquiry Instruction: What Is It?

There seems to be a nonstop debate about how to teach. Inquiry or Explicit. The inquiry based instruction groups argue that inquiry instruction is preferable because it enhances creativity, is more natural, creates deeper memories, helps students become lifelong learners and more. The explicit based instruction groups argue that explicit instruction helps students learn to read more efficiently, is in line with scientific research, gives students the tools to become lifelong learners, and more.

I think that this debate has become slightly misplaced. With many in the inquiry camp claiming that explicit instruction means lecture and many in the explicit camp claiming that inquiry instruction means discovery learning. In my lived experience, and even in my twitter experience, both are wrong. This is part one in a 3 part series.

1. Inquiry Instruction 2. Explicit Instruction 3. Inquiry Vs Explicit: Who Wins?

What follows is my best case interpretation of inquiry instruction.

Inquiry learning seeks to give students a passion for the subject through carefully guided lessons that allow students to find the facts. This is similar to discovery learning, yet fundamentally different since it is heavily guided. The lesson or topic would typically start by giving students questions/problems/scenarios to solve. The students would then use their background knowledge and do research in order to find a solution.

The teacher works to guide students beyond their natural level of curiosity and leads them to engage in critical thinking through the investigation process. As students investigate the material in search for an answer, they are taking ownership of their learning. It has been hypothesized that being explicitly taught leads students to become externally motivated, ie wanting to please their teacher or parents. Whereas in inquiry based learning, the children can “discover” the answers on their own (from a student’s perspective). This could then lead to a love for learning, ie an intrinsically motivated student (Bruner, 1961).

The goal is for the students to process on four different levels of a continuum (Banchi, 2008). The lower levels involve more guidance from the teacher whereas the higher levels involve less teacher guidance.

Level 1: Confirmation Inquiry

  • Students are provided with the question, procedure, and outcome.
  • This is useful for helping students get used to following procedures and gets them to practice specific skills.

Level 2: Structured Inquiry

  • Students are provided with the question and procedure.
  • This level of inquiry forces students to analyze relationships between the question, procedure, and outcome. For example, if the student is dropping differently weighted balls into sand to imitate a meteorite impact, then the student would need to analyze how the different weights impact the resulting crater.

Level 3: Guided Inquiry

  • Students are provided with the question.
  • Students are responsible for designing their own procedure and analyzing the results. As this level is more involved, students should be experienced with the inquiry process before coming to this level. Another key takeaway, the teachers role in this is far from passive. The teacher will be moving around the class giving students/groups constant feedback on their procedures and research in order to keep all groups on track.

Level 4: Open/True Inquiry

  • Students will provide their own question, procedure, and outcome.
  • The teacher will only let students move to this level after they have demonstrated proficiency in designing and carrying out a procedure while also being able to analyze their results. This being said, there are still requirements that students must meet. The teacher should provide a worksheet/lab report/other similar guiding document for students to use.

As students move through the levels of inquiry, while they are still reliant on the teacher to carefully craft the lessons, they are becoming increasingly independent because they understand the inquiry process and can apply it to novel situations. This, along with students becoming more intrinsically motivated helps them to have self direction to take further control of their own learning.

Stay tuned for part 2, Explicit Instruction.