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Gut Check Part 2

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A few weeks ago I listened to Cult of Pedagogy's podcast "Gut-Level Teacher Reflection" as I was walking my daily circuit around the neighborhood. I was so impacted I had to listen three times to the same podcast. I even tracked down the worksheets she mentioned because I was so excited about completing the reflection activity. I posted my response to her first gut-level question shortly after I listened to the podcast. Then life happened and I got busy with planning for the new school year. But here I am ready to continue working through the questions.

Question 2: Open up your plan book (or spreadsheet, or wherever you keep your lesson plans from the year) and just start browsing, paying attention to how you’re feeling as your eyes meet certain events. What days and weeks give you a lift when you see them, a feeling of pride or satisfaction? Which ones make you feel disappointed, irritated or embarrassed?

UGH. I have a terrible lesson planning system (something I have to work out for this upcoming year). I’ve been using Google Docs to type out my lessons, sometimes using a template, sometimes’s kind of all over the place. Filing them? Forget about it! There is no organization. So before I can even really dig into the actual gut-level question, I’m feeling frustrated because of my lack of organization. I’ll deal with this in a later post!

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It's so hard for me to even judge my planning because I was so scattered in my last job. I taught so many different things for so many different grade levels (think 7th-12th grade).

Just thinking about the scope of that position makes my stomach hurt and my hands sweat. It was too much. Really. Too much. It makes me so glad for my new position that is only middle school!

If I had to pick the lesson that gives me the worst feeling thinking back over the year, it is a co-teaching experience I had with the 9th grade social studies teachers. The idea was that they would introduce a research tool (via me) with each unit, building on their knowledge and culminating in a project that required deep thought and intense research with the digital tools available from the library.

The topic was the Civil War, and for our first experience, we decided to introduce the Gale databases (Student Resources in Context, Opposing Viewpoints). All three history teachers brought their kids in at the same time for a mini-lesson on databases, followed by a scavenger hunt that had students using the databases to answer a series of questions related to a topic of their own choosing.

The Good
Collaborating with teachers is always good, and highlighting library resources is an awesome way to get kids in.

The Bad
60 kids is way too many to try and teach and then implement an activity. It was noisy, it was crowded, and I felt totally overwhelmed.

The Ugly
In theory my scavenger hunt was great. It got kids digging into the resources on a topic that interested them (abortion, legalizing marijuana, etc). In practice, the activity didn’t connect directly to their project. They couldn’t make the jump to the Civil War information when they finished the scavenger hunt. They were confused, I was frustrated, and it was just...bad.

Stunning Success
My very favorite lesson to teach is search strategies. I have a unit that I have cobbled together from Common Sense Media as well as my own thoughts and ideas. We start out with a slide presentation of search strategies, stopping at each one to try them out. I have a whole schtick I use that keeps them laughing. For example, I tell them we need to research a particular fish called a mullet. I have them do a Google Images search, and you can just imagine what pops up.
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I give them time to laugh and point out their favorites, and then we move on to a discussion about limiting results through AND, OR, NOT, as well as quotation marks and the - sign.

Then we move on to a research project where students have to plan a picnic for our class using a set of parameters (public park, space for games, pavilion, restrooms, etc). They use
A yearly favorite, Central Park, NYC
their Google search strategies to locate their park, taking notes on their process. Then they use Google Earth to create a walking tour of their park.

It’s a hit every year, and I am always pleased with the results. It works because the kids are working together on a project that is “real”, and they are able to be hands on the entire time.

So there’s my response to gut check question #2. What about you? What is your best lesson from this past year? Your biggest flop?


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