Stations and Iterations

A few years ago I needed a new way to teach the Executive Branch. I wanted students to read more about it, and show their learning more. I had to lay to rest a pretty good lecture (or is that an oxymoron).

Um, That’s The Same Picture As Last Time
I told students it was an exploration, an adventure, a game. Mostly it was a lot2016-04-24_0916of reading that resulted in students coming to my desk and telling me various iterations of, “What did you learn?” When they told me what they learned we would discuss it, I would question the or add more, and then I would show them a PowerPoint slide with a map, and a picture of Dora the Explorer, and give them the next assignment. It was a pretty good replacement for a pretty good lecture. They read, they learned, we talked, and they wrote some too.

It seemed that as the experience went on that a lot of students did a lot of standing in line and waiting to talk to me. I added an audio and video component in case they were waiting too long. Students could now just make a quick video and send me a link to what they knew. Not many did this, and it eliminated the option that I had to question more and re-direct students if they weren’t on the right path.

And then my classes got bigger. Over 30 students for the first time since I started teaching. With the prospect of even longer lines of students waiting to talk to me, I needed a new way to teach the Executive Branch again.

My Questions
The first thing I asked myself is, “How can I get students the same content, but not have them standing in line to show me that they learned it?” Then I asked, “Do students need to learn the content in order?” And finally, I asked, “How can I incorporate other skills into the experience?”

I created six different stations with a focus on different aspects of the content, and different activities to interact with the content and show the learning of it. Building on the ideas I learned at EdCamp Leader about redesigning the classroom (from a great session facilitated by Ben Gilpin, Erin Klein, and Tom Murray), I redesigned the classroom so there were five different seating areas for introduction to the content, and one extra area for creating captioned images. Instead of every area requiring a conversation with me, there was now only one. Much better from a management standpoint, but it also gave me the opportunity to move around the room and talk with the students who needed me instead of talking to every student in the same way while having too many standing in line for too long. Students were still showing we what they knew, but in different ways (on a google form, by captioning an image, with a video, or in writing). In some cases, students were learning more about the content than they had in years past.

It’s Not a Timeline
Whereas a history course might need to follow a chronological order of events, understanding the Executive Branch does not require a step-by-step progression in order to grasp the important parts of the content. Once I realized that, it was liberating. Students could start at any station. They could move in any direction. They didn’t need to wait for a partner, or have somebody wait for them. Students could move from station to station learning at their own pace, and with the ability to go more in-depth or less depending on their interest in particular parts of the subject matter. As long as they left the sixth station for their final experience, it would work nicely (maybe I should rename that station to FINAL or LAST in order to indicate that students should complete the other five and then work through the sixth one). In the last station, I ask students to use all the content they have learned so far, and synthesize it into one presentation that is focused on a chosen topic related to the Executive Branch. We might call this a culminating activity.

We’ve Got Skills
In struck me that while we were giving up a little bit of goodness in that students weren’t talking to me constantly about each topic, we could add so much more to what we were doing in terms of skills that could be introduced, practiced, or perfected. At Station 1 I added a QR code that went to a google form asking students to fill it in with the three things they learned from that section. Some students had not heard of or used a QR code before so it was a nice introduction for them. I told them that because of that experience, when they go to Quaker Steak and Lube and want to join the Lube Loyalty Club they’ll know how to do it with their QR code reader. At Station 2 students practice talking to me, and deciding which is the most important content they are introduced to. They have to tell me the two most important things they learned. At Station 3 they use some of my biological kids’ toys to create a scene with Legos and action figures and then caption it to show they2016-03-07_2044 understand how the Executive Branch influences each of the other branches. Using a few words and images to show understanding while also using technological tools to create and share it are all skills I want students to practice. The skill of reading and following directions is also present as students are required to email me their creation with “President” in the email subject area because I have a gmail filter set up to put those emails into a 2016-04-17_2023separate folder. Station 4 is out the door. At that station students create a short video in the hallway explaining what divided government is and explaining whether or not we have one right now. Then they share that video on a spreadsheet and ask other students to watch it to make sure it is accessible by others. A lot of skill work is present here while students are learning and showing their learning of the content. At Station 5 about the President’s cabinet students shoot baskets with a small ball into a small hoop attached to…my cabinet. Students are responsible for learning and writing about all 15 cabinet positions. However, after take 15 shots students can subtract one cabinet position from their learning for every shot they make. As easy as this sounds, most students make very few shots. In past years students have only been responsible for three cabinet positions, and now I routinely have students learning and writing about 7-10 positions on average. Please don’t tell my current students about their “extra” learning! Maybe they just have to get more creative with their shooting technique. <<Click that link for awesomeness!

Learner the Explorer
This current iteration of our study of the Executive Branch seems to be working well. Students are learning the content, practicing skills, moving around the room, interacting with me and each other, creating original works, reading, writing, and sometimes smiling. I don’t know what the next iteration will require of us, but I’ll keep reflecting on how to improve it and make it a more meaningful experience for my students. Like my students, I’ll keep exploring and enjoying the experience of learning and sharing more.