Sunday, 30 March 2014

Integrating Habits of Mind Instruction and Reflection With Project-Based Learning

It has been over a month since we've posted a reflection here on our little Think Tank blog! Both Lindsay and I had our classes engaged in big term projects so took a little hiatus from taking the kids into the Think Tank. That doesn't mean we weren't still engaged in action research into students' Habit of Mind growth. I decided to include a focus on the Habits of Mind right in the Grade 5 physical science unit: Forces and Machines.

I decided to integrate the Habits of Mind into the science for two reasons. The first reason was the obvious - I want my kids to develop and become aware of  these thinking dispositions that set them up for success. I was also thinking about how the "Core Competencies" in the new BC Curriculum could be explicitly taught within the content. I am very very curious and excited about Competencies being included as part of our curriculum, because research shows - as well as our own intuition and experience - EQ (emotional intelligence) is a far greater indicator of success than just IQ (as Daniel Goleman shared with us many years ago in his book Emotional Intelligence (1995). With what we know about changing the brain, we know that emotional comptencies can, and should, be taught. The question in the school setting is "how". I maintain that using Habits of Mind as a focus, it is possible to teach emotional capacities.

The curriculum includes the competencies of: thinking, communicating and personal and social. Here is an example of how the Habit of Mind ""Understand Others" encompasses the competencies. Understanding others requires a person to, among other things: listen actively to others, care about others thoughts and feelings and put themselves in another's shoes. Having the capability of understanding others means you are demonstrating the core competencies of: Communicating (talking and listening) and Personal and Social (awareness of self, awareness of self with others, empathy, empathy accuracy). Teaching the kids the language of the Habits of Mind gives them tools to understanding themselves pesonally but also understand themselves in relationships. to include it in the curriculum?

First of all, direct instruction in each Habit of Mind is essential. After being introduced to the Habit of Mind, and accessing all prior knowledge and awareness of it, one must notice it in action. The Think Tank was our initial platform for students to start paying attention to when they were demonstrating or developing a Habit of Mind, but we quickly integrated it into the entire day. Once the Habit of Mind has been noticed, it is important to reflect and share to solidify the understanding of one's possession of it.

How did I get the kids to notice their Habit of Mind development and demonstration within the Forces and Machines Unit? Well here is the "Big Task" I gave the kids as we launched the unit:

The unit took 7 weeks in total, with a large portion of our day being spent on it. The kids were pretty jazzed up with the task, and after we watched several "Rube Goldberg" machines on the internet, their curiosity was piqued. We decided we needed to conduct an inquiry into forces and machines before we could even attempt the task. I used Science Probe as a resource, using the experiments and investigations as a means of learning and understanding the "big ideas" of the unit. Not only did we delve into the science concepts, we had the opportunity to learn to research, through discovery, experiment as well as secondary source (ie texts and video etc).
Here's a picture of one investigation on force:
As you can see the unit was very hands on (as we expect in the physical sciences!) 
It isn't all crazy-chaos in my class, by the way! We mix it up: 

Here we are later in the unit writing our essays on the Habits of Mind that were in use during the unit. 
See those orange cards? The orange cards were our "self awareness data sheets". Periodically in the unit, I asked the kids to jot down what habit of mind they noticed themselves (or another) using. They used that data as evidence in their writing (I will share some essay excerpts below, but here is a sample of the kids' data collection of Habit of Mind use during this unit (I also asked them to notice when they were being creative or engaged in problem solving).

We also continued with instruction and group discussions on the Habits of Mind....

Building Time! 
What fun we had! I set up a store (of course) and the kids got $200.00 to buy their supplies (we had been collecting "Stuff" for several weeks, plus i made a very special visit to Value Village for interesting things the kids could use creatively to build a machine). 
There was a lotta math going on! I think next time I do this, I will put an even greater focus on the math. It was amazing to see the little financial world that developed when the students were planning and shopping. We had an auction and lots of the kids traded and sold things they realized they didn't need. Here are a couple of pics of the work (we spent 5 entire days making the machines...except for breaks for gym, DPA and independent reading). It was a machine-construction zone! The night janitor couldn't actually clean up and in then end we had to move the machines to the room where our Think Tank is (don't know what will happen next year when that room will be the Coastal Kindergarten room!!?) 

As you can imagine, there was a lot of learning going on! The problems that arose were great opportunities to coach and reinforce the science concepts, in addition to all of the creativity, communication, group work, etc. We had a LOT of fun, even a midst the chaos (or perhaps because of it).

To assess the kids' understanding of forces and machines, I videotaped each of them explaining their machine. I also videotaped them explaining how they had to be creative and when they had to problem solve. My intent was to share it all with parents, but I had (and am still) having difficulties uploading it all etc etc (should I call it 21st Century pains?!) Nonetheless, the interviews provided excellent assessment evidence. I gave them instant feedback after the interview and we talked about how they met the criteria. I gave them a little assessment sheet at the end for 'paper documentation', using: NOT YET, ALMOST and GOT IT as a scale. 

Here are a couple of machines doing their tasks (you must know, there were often SEVERAL tries to get them to work, but in the end all the teams except one had their machine working at least once! )

After the machines were done, and I had done the interviews and recorded the machines doing their job, it was time to work on the presentations (Task #2). I was, as usual, impressed with the level of engagement and the ownership everyone took in the task. (I recorded those too). The best part of the presentations, for me, was the peer feedback. I got the kids to assess each others' presentations. Give the kids in my class a clipboard and they become little professionals (in this case, professional evaluators for the Intergalactic Youth Network).

We then shared our machines with the community! We invited the kids from the school as well as parents and community members. Here they are sharing and explaining their work: 

And FINALLY, we got to the task of the "big essay" on what Habits of Mind are necessary for working on a project with a team. Because the writing was scaffolded to such a degree, every single student was successful! They had to support their assertions with evidence from the process of the unit. Here are a few snippets of what the kids wrote in their essays (for some reason I can't upload anymore pictures right now, so I am typing from the students' essays):

""Being adventurous and open-minded is important for working on a project because if you aren't adventurous and open-minded and your first idea doesn't work, you won't be open-minded to try a new idea so you will become stuck. In my project I had to be adventurous and open-minded when had to scrap my first idea I was being open-minded. Then I had to scrap my second idea I was also being open minded then. This reminds me of the first time I tried mussels I was being adventurous." 

"Thinking independently is important for working on a project with a team because you would have to think independently to come up with an example like when me and (my partner) were out of ideas so we had to think independently. In my project I had to think independently because our machine was falling apart and we had to think of something else. This reminds me of the time I had to think independently when I was reading a mystery in a book."

"Persevering is important for working on a project with a team because at times things can get complicated and frustrating sometimes. I can't think properly when I'm frustrated so I do my best to keep going which stops me from getting cranky! In my project I persevered when I was trying to make the measurements accurate and nothing worked. This reminds me of a time when I was learning how to work the DVD player and I would scream at myself and my dad would say "persevere."

"Understanding others is important for working on a project with a team because you have to UNDERSTAND your partner(s) when they say something or everyone would just do random things and that would not work because no one would get anything done. In my project I had to help my partners understand the plans for the machines. This reminds me of when we were making paper structures (last year) for our structures unit and I had to understand my partner's plan for making our building." 

So there you go! The students demonstrated their personal and social, thinking and communicating competencies in this unit on Forces and Machines. The fun projects and solid content provided the platform for students to learn about and become aware of themselves as learners and collaborators. The sense of satisfaction of completing the machines and all of the challenging tasks also required of them, left the kids (and me) very happy!

Next week: Lindsay will post on the adventure of a new project: becoming entrepreneurs! 


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