As Sylvania students and teachers coasted into the last week of school before spring break, you could almost hear the collective sigh of relief gathering for release. But, as plans for spending that break drowned out thoughts of anything else from almost everyone, McCord’s Kaitlin Sibert and Connie Root and Timberstone’s Lynn Nedrow were thinking about the most creative ways to merge science, technology, and literacy. The result? Two of the best examples of Achieve3000-based lessons seen this year.
Kaitlin, having modeled authentic Achieve lesson planning before, was perusing its articles for inspiration when she came across “What’s that Tree? A New Way to See,” a report on Columbia University’s LeafSnap, an app that identifies tree species by image. Kaitlin’s sixth grade science students were learning binomial classification at the time, so she discussed the article with fellow sixth grade teacher Connie Root and developed a tech-enhanced lesson that focused on science standards with embedded literacy practice.
And it worked beautifully. Students were told in advance to bring their iPhones or iPads to class (Sorry, Google fans; the app is not available for Android) and Kaitlin and Connie instructed them to begin the download first thing. While the download progressed, students read the article individually and answered two assessment questions on an accompanying paper worksheet. Afterward, students were organized by groups (with at least one member successfully downloading LeafSnap) and set loose on stations set up around the room. Each station provided a sample leaf on a white piece of paper, ready for photographing. Students snapped the picture through LeafSnap, which provided three possible trees for identification. The students discussed the possibilities as a group and defended their choice on which one it actually was.
So what did the students think? “They loved it. They absolutely loved it,” said Connie. “They wanted to do it more the next day.” Connie noted some challenges she and Kaitlin experienced with the lesson (No Android option; dead leaves as specimens due to the season), but she was eager to try it again, regardless. Most importantly, she told the story of one student who then downloaded a bird identification app that performed a comparable task. “And we’re working with all the domains, so he was extending what we were doing,” Connie notes. In her mind and Kaitlin’s the lesson was a simple success, and McCord Principal Amanda Ogren agreed. After watching the lesson in action, Amanda wrote in her weekly newsletter that the lesson was “the true definition of infusing technology and differentiation!”
But that magic was not just happening at McCord. Lynn Nedrow was accomplishing the same exemplary teaching in her seventh grade science class at Timberstone. Lynn’s students were studying biomes, and she was able to use Achieve’s article “A Strange World, Right Here on Earth” to develop a lesson that included group collaboration, individual reading differentiation, independent research, and informal presentation.
The Achieve article explores biomes in the deep seas and the data released from scientists that had conducted a ten-year census of the life found there. In reading the article, Lynn saw an opportunity to reinforce her students’ understanding of the general concept of a biome as well as the characteristics of specific biomes. It was an opportunity that led to students filling their last class period before break with discussion and poster-making.
For the lesson, students gathered into five groups, but began by reading the article individually. Then, they answered one question regarding the science concepts, but each group received a different question, such as group 5’s question: “What are the characteristics of a saltwater (marine) biome?” Students collaborated on an answer to this question on the accompanying paper worksheet. The group split into individuals again for the next task, Internet research, where they answered that question again with support from a reliable online source. Next, as a group, students compiled their new answers and supporting citations on a single poster to be displayed throughout Lynn’s classroom. The final result was a gallery of information that displayed exhaustive and well-researched answered to the biome questions.
Lynn was doing quite a lot with this lesson in integrating science standards, technology, and literacy, but one of the most interesting literacy techniques she wove into the lesson was stretch. Stretch happens when a student reads a text at their proficiency level, but then moves onto a text exploring the same subject at a higher level. Once grounded in the content at their proficiency level, they should be better able to read the text at a higher level. The students that read about biomes at a fourth grade level, for instance, would be better prepared for reading about biomes from an Internet source written at a ninth grade level. Lynn provided students with that support so they could not only master the science concepts, but master more challenging reading material presenting those concepts as well.
Like Kaitlin and Connie, Lynn felt that the lesson went well. Already having adopted Achieve before the biome lesson, she feels more comfortable than the average teacher in using it, and her lesson’s ability to use the differentiation resource in an engaging and effective instruction, not merely as a break from real work, showed that. All three teachers continue to lead an ever-growing core of teachers in Sylvania Schools that creatively own differentiated, standards-based instruction with innovative technological resources. And from watching them teach these masterful lessons, you’d think there was nothing to it!