Friday, April 21, 2017

Inquiry Learning in Action: Uncovering Ancient China and Africa

It has been an exciting year at DPMS, and I cannot believe that in just over a month it will be over. While I am proud of many accomplishments this year, one that I am most excited to share is our implementation of guided inquiry learning across the content areas. Last summer, I traveled to Rutgers University with a wonderful team to learn more about Guided Inquiry Design from the creators of the model themselves. During a three day intensive training, we delved into all things Guided Inquiry as we learned about the model's intricacies and the best practice strategies for immersing our students into this type of learning. The result was an enthusiastic commitment from our team to incorporate this model into an array of content area units.

Through our work this year, we have redesigned units in ELA, Science, and Social Studies to include elements of Guided Inquiry Design. Two units that I am especially proud to share are from 7th grade Social Studies. Students studied both Ancient China and modern day Africa while following the entire GID process from beginning to end. After being immersed in the content and exploring a variety of related research topics, students wrote their own research questions about a topic that interested them.

As final products, students studying Ancient China created virtual museums while those studying Africa created public service announcements. Both projects showcase deep content learning as can be seen from the projects linked on both Ancient China and Africa websites that I created to share all student work.

What did our students think of learning this way? I was curious, so I grabbed a few students and conducted my own interviews. Watch the video below to hear how much our students loved learning through Guided Inquiry Design.

You can learn more about Guided Inquiry Design by visiting the GID website and by reading the 52 Weeks of GID blog.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Libraries Transform: National Library Week 2017 at DPMS

From April 10-13, DPMS will celebrate National Library Week by offering a variety of activities. From Monday-Wednesday during SRT, students can participate in each day's planned activity. Throughout the week, all students will have the chance to win prizes by finding secret "Lucky Reader" books. (You will not know if you find a Lucky Reader book until you check out). All students who check out a book this week may also enter to win one of six autographed books. Check out the flyer and video posted below to view more specific details.

We hope to see you in the LMC next week.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Uncovering Ancient Egypt The 21st Century Way

It's no secret that I am a huge proponent of global collaboration. As 21st century global citizens, it's essential for our students to engage in experiences that expose them to diverse groups of people from different parts of the world. Modern technology not only allows for quick and easy communication, but it also allows for a multitude of collaboration opportunities. Partnering with seventh graders from Hillsboro Middle School in Hillsboro Township, New Jersey, students worked in small groups to create collaborate Ancient Egypt ABC books.

Prior to working together, it was important for the students to meet and learn a little bit about one another. Their initial meeting took place as a Mystery Hangout where the students attempted to guess one another's physical locations by asking questions that could only be answered with yes or no. A followup Hangout was necessary to allow the students time to ask more personal questions about their respective schools, cities, likes, and dislikes. Since these students were basically strangers to one another, it was important for them to build a bit of a personal connection prior to working together toward a common goal.

The next step in the process involved planning. Since it was not feasible for students to speak directly with one another during every step of the project, we set up a collaborative group Voicethread to allow for asynchronous communication. With Voicethread, students could quickly and easily add their own webcam, text, and audio comments and listen to comments left by other students when their schedules allowed.

Finally, it was time to create the ABC books with Google Slides. Students added relevant information to their assigned slides in order to produce one comprehensive ABC book.

This project was an engaging way for students to not only engross themselves in Ancient Egypt and with new technologies, but it also provided an opportunity for real-world virtual collaboration. This is what 21st century learning is all about!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Slamming our Way Through a Winter Storm

The winter storm headed our way wasn't going to stop a group of seventh graders who had been preparing for this day for almost three weeks. Today was poetry slam day, and these students were anxiously waiting to share their poems with other seventh graders from Hillsborough Middle School in New Jersey. After all of the writing, electronic sharing, commenting, and practicing, it was time to finally meet this other group of seventh graders with whom they had been working since the project's beginning.

The project idea blossomed this past fall when I connected with HMS's wonderful technology specialist, Mary Ellen Davis. We began brainstorming ways in which we could connect our students throughout the year across various grades and subjects.  When we both discovered that our seventh graders studied poetry in November, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for a collaborative project. 

At DPMS, I turned this activity into what we call a "stretch."  Stretch activities are created for our advanced students who benefit from more acceleration than what is offered in the regular classroom. Prior to this project, each ELA teacher identified a group of students who either expressed interest in writing poetry or who displayed exceptional writing talent. Once identified, students met in the library during part of their ELA class periods to work on specific poetry activities designed by me, our literacy coach, and our talented and gifted teacher. Students completed this work in addition to the work that they were still expected to complete in their regular ELA classes. All participating students were required to write at least five original poems from the bank of activities that we shared with them.

Once their poems were complete, it was time to share. Using Voicethread, students shared slideshows of their poems to a collaborative DPMS/HMS group. Voicethread was the perfect platform for allowing our students to communicate asynchronously with the HMS seventh graders. Students were expected to provide either text, audio, or webcam comments on at least two poems from five different students. The feedback that they received helped them revise their poems in preparation for our slam.

The final part of this project was the best part: the slam! While participation was optional, most students elected to perform a poem of their choice. To prepare, we watched several examples of slam performances and discussed the importance of movement and voice inflection. On the big day, we rearranged our library to look more like a cafe, dragged our TEDx stage out from the back room, and served cookies and hot chocolate. These students deserved a reward! Through Google Hangouts, DPMS and HMS students took turns performing their poems.

At the end, a winner was chosen from each school using a shared Google Form. HMS students awarded Tyler's performance of "The Crossroads" as their favorite.

Our students were buzzing with excitement after I announced the winner. Some students enjoyed this experience so much that they decided to band together and form our school's first ever poetry club! I can't wait to see what they create next!

Now it's time to face that winter storm...

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Great NaNoRiMo Adventure

Have you ever dreamed of writing your own novel? For a creative group of seventh graders, their dream may become a reality. Ten students from Mrs. Lambert's ELA classes will meet in the LMC every Tuesday to participate in NaNoRiMo. During the month of November, these students have set goals to write a specific amount of words with the hope of finishing a novel by the end of the month.

To kick off NaNoRiMo, and to help our students think critically about their writing, we Skyped with author Margo Sorenson. Margo began by sharing various tips for our writers. She especially focused on how to create strong characters, the planning process, and the elements of an engaging story. She even shared some of her first and final drafts to remind students about the importance of revision.

Students had many questions to ask afterward. This was a great opportunity to learn some trade secrets from a professional writer! Students wanted to know things such as how to come up with names for characters, where to find story ideas, and Margo's biggest struggles as a writer. After our call ended, students were buzzing with excitement about what they learned and about finally diving into NaNoRiMo.

Stay tuned for updates from our NaNoRiMo group during the month of November. I look forward to seeing what these exceptional students create.

Around the US (and Canada) with Mystery Skype

During the past couple of weeks, seventh graders in Mrs. Krebsbach's and Mrs. Allen's Social Studies classes traveled to different parts of the US and Canada by connecting with other classrooms through Mystery Skypes. Once the game was over, and when time remained, it was fun to ask getting-to-know you questions such as "How many students are in your school?" and "What is the weather like in your city?" We had a GREAT time meeting students from different locations!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Eighth Graders Meet Geologist David Waldo

Eighth graders had the unique experience of being able to speak with geologist, David Waldo, about the controversy surrounding fracking. During their current inquiry unit on alternative energies, students have been researching some of the different energy sources currently used- solar, wind, nuclear, geothermal, hydropower, coal, and natural gas, to name a few. To introduce the students to the often controversial topic of fracking, we turned to the excellent service, Nepris, which quickly paired us with industry professional Waldo. Waldo shared his expertise about the fracking process, its impact on the environment, and how this source of energy compares with others. Students were also able to ask questions following his brief overview on the topic. At the end, students had a broad, inside perspective on the topic.

I recommend Nepris to anyone wanting to connect students with STEM industry professionals. A connection was as simple as posting a request and waiting for a response. Best of all, students gained a real-world perspective from an expert in the field.