Crowdsourcing Our Knowledge With a Conversation Hotspots Gallery Walk

During the month of March, my period 6-3 (6th grade Writing Connections) selected drones as a topic they wanted to explore.  Over roughly 10 days, we read roughly 6-7 articles on the uses of drones; as we explored each article, we tracked the benefits and drawbacks to using drones as part of our front loading work for writing an argumentative essay.

I wanted students to have a way to talk about the pros and cons and see each other’s thinking, so I set up what I called “Conversation Hotspots” gallery walk after we had finished reading all of our articles and compiling a master list of pros/cons for drones.  I used pastel colored lined chart paper to set up 8 “hotspots” around topics from articles like drones and firefighting, drones and privacy issues, drones and farming, and drones and airplane safety.  Next, I assigned pairs and gave each pair a starting conversation hotspot.  Each group had 2 minutes to share a pro or con on that topic.  We then rotated to the next station where the next group had to either add a new pro/con statement OR clarify a statement that a previous group may not have written in specific terms.  While two minutes is a short time, it seemed to be just right for the students to review what others had written and to add something new.

After rotating to all the stations, each group eventually landed at their original station.  Each group then shared out the collaboratively built list of drones pros/cons with the rest of the class; this large group review/share also gave us an opportunity to add any ideas that may have been missed in our first pass during the gallery walk, and students could also update their individual pro/con lists.

The overall response to the activity was positive from the students.  The activity seemed to particularly resonate with one of my 6th grade students.   About six weeks ago, I got a new student who was very scared and anxious. He has had a chaotic young life and outside of band, very little academic success. He has also had a difficult time socially because he looks like a high schooler even though he is in 6th grade. He let me know right away he hated writing. Since arriving, I have watched his confidence grow and been proud of my students who have made him feel welcome. Flash forward to the end of our class today after we finished our Conversation Hotspots Gallery Walk. He came up to me and said, “Ms. Hamilton, are we doing this again tomorrow because this sure is FUN!!!!” I nearly cried hearing the joy in his voice and seeing his smile. That is something our state Milestones test can NEVER measure.

I love gallery walks because they get students sharing knowledge, talking with each other, fact-checking information, and an opportunity to physically move about the room (an aspect that is important for wiggly middle schoolers!).  How are you using gallery walks in your classroom to create “hotspots for conversation”?

Maite Nazario: Telling Stories of Immigrant Experiences Through Art, QR Codes, and StoryCorps

DSCN2815

I recently had the honor of collaborating with Maite Nazario, an incredibly talented artist here at Chattahoochee High!  Ms. Dorsey Sammataro sent her to me to help her think through how she might make her art piece on student immigrant experiences interactive so that the art would literally be able to tell the stories in a visual as well as auditory way.  Maite wanted people viewing her art to be able to HEAR each student’s story of immigration in a way that would not obtrusive or outside of the art.  After some brainstorming, I suggested she record the student stories with the StoryCorps app and then link the URL for each recording to a QR code.  After I created a mockup and showed it to her, she agreed this was the direction to go so that anyone viewing the finished art piece could scan a QR code that would be embedded on each student’s visual representation and hear each individual story.

IMG_5927 IMG_5930

Maite immediately jumped into the technology integration piece of her art and taught herself how to use the app and even set up her own channel all by herself!  I was so impressed by her enthusiasm and the way she embraced the StoryCorp app as well as her interviewing skills.  I then taught her how to generate and link QR codes through virtual means by emailing her a screencast I created for her.  Here is her story of how she approached her work:

You can see the outcome of this amazing piece of art and her creative talents in the A hall, and it will be installed in the main hallway later this week.

DSCN2813 DSCN2746

All you need is any free QR code scanner, and you can enjoy the visual aspect of her art while hearing the stories of each student, another layer of art she has richly and seamlessly embedded.

Thank you Maite for letting me work with you—this has by far been one of the coolest collaborative partnerships I’ve had as a teacher and librarian!

Scaffolding Student Presearch and Topic Ideas with Reading Frenzies

Photo by Sean O'Connor
Photo by Sean O’Connor

Like many of you, we’re always looking for ways to support students in their presearch processes.  Finding starting points for topic selection is often difficult for students, especially if they have little or no experience in choosing a topic.  In late March, we collaborated with Language Arts teacher Sean O’Connor and his freshmen classes to incorporate a blend of brainstorming/writing around topic ideas and a learning structure, Reading Frenzy, he learned earlier this year from Nancy Steineke at a workshop in New Orleans.   Like us, Sean is a big fan of the work that both Nancy and Harvey Daniels do with inquiry, literacy, and ways to facilitate conversations for learning.  Below is a video interview with Sean about the processes I have outlined below:

Sean kicked off their inquiry with having students write around motifs they had studied throughout their novel unit of To Kill a Mockingbird.  Students used our large blue post-it notes to brainstorm historical and current topics related to a motif of interest; they then moved about and posed questions and feedback to their peers using smaller post-it notes.

sean2 sean3 sean4

sean5

This activity was the springboard to the reading frenzy, a learning structure that is flexible and gives students opportunities to skim, scan, and discuss multiple texts in a set time period.    After we looked at the ideas students generated from the brainstorming/write-around activity, I pulled a wide range of articles related to their topics of interest from the web as well as our databases (Academic Search Complete, MAS Ultra Student Edition, various Gale databases) trying to include a variety of reading levels, publications/information sources, and perspectives on the issues and events.

sean1

Students passed around the articles and read them; they also discussed what they were reading with a neighboring buddy as something of interest got their attention.  As students began thinking about more specific topic ideas as they read the article, they requested additional articles, and I was able for the most part to either produce those on the demand to go or to provide them the following day in class for follow-up.  Other students who read an article that resonated with them requested I print additional copies, and I was more than happy to do this.  After the first class, I decided to make article categories to make it easier for the students to go directly to piles of articles of interest to them.

sean6

We love these structures because they support students who already have a topic idea as well as those who might be a little less certain about a topic interest.  It can also introduce new topics or more nuanced aspects of a topic to students.  This investment of time ensured students enhanced their understandings of the novel’s motifs and connections of that motif to contemporary as well as historical events.   This process also reinforced our efforts this year to really focus on helping teachers and students find ways to narrow or “crop” topic so that they can hopefully engage in deeper and more thoughtful inquiry.  We feel this entry point is a particularly effective way to scaffold students who may have little research experience OR more experience at “reporting” vs. researching (see the blog of my colleagues at Letting Go for more on this idea).  These activities prepared students to move forward strategically into presearch and to find articles on their own.  They have now narrowed and refined their topic and are composing their research design plans to Sean.  We are looking forward to seeing where they go from here with their research after our spring break as well as using the reading frenzy strategy with other classes!

Circuits, Curiosity, and Inquiry: Physics and Team NHS Learning Studio

physics1

Last Friday was an especially exciting day for all of us here in the NHS Learning Studio as we partnered with Physics teacher Joe Pepitone to create learning opportunities for inquiry and student exploration of circuits.    Below, Joe explains the seeds of this collaboration, reflections on the lab activities, and the impact of a team effort to create “centers” and “extension” circuit activities to extend and challenge the principles behind the primary circuit lab.  I encourage you to take the time to listen to Joe’s in-depth reflections on processes and insights from our experiences.

Overview of Our Day of Fun and Learning with Circuits

Joe began by explaining the paper circuit lab that was the starting point for students and the learning activity to demonstrate learning targets.

physics2

Students then self-formed groups to do the first lab where the goal was to create a paper circuit that would result in the LED bulb lighting up.

physics5

physics4

physics6

physics7

Once they had demonstrated they had created a working paper circuit with a working light bulb, students could then move through our two extension and enrichment centers facilitated by LSTC Logan Malm (a former science teacher) and Jennifer Lund (my fellow librarian).  Logan worked with students using the MakeyMakey kits while Jennifer helped students work with the squishy circuits (we had purchased our materials for these last year as part of our maker activities for Teen Tech Week 2014).  These “centers” were designed to provide students additional hands-on opportunities to further their exploration of circuits; these were both a big hit with students, and many were interested in doing more labs using these materials and visiting the media center to utilize them for fun.  We loved hearing them think aloud and problem solve together; many of them did not want to leave when the bell rang!

phys8

 

phys11

phys10

 

phys9

We were even joined by several of our assistant principals and fellow science teachers—I think it was very powerful for our students to see adults learning side by side with them.

We are deeply appreciative to Joe as well as Logan for this kind of collaborative experience that ultimately benefited our students and elevated learning to a new level; as Joe reflected in the video earlier, having other partners to help facilitate an activity like this enables him as a teacher to meet students at points of need and for instruction to be differentiated.  These partnerships, fluidity in expertise and novice, co-learning, and energy are the very kinds of learning experiences Jen and I have envisioned for our library learning studio.  To see it blossom and to be part of the vision become reality is joyful and exciting.  We cannot wait to see what new partnerships might be inspired with other faculty and community members by this collaborative work!

See more of our photos and videos here.