Monday, July 2, 2012

Making the Classroom More Like Space Camp

This week I am away on an offline vacation. Rather than let the blog be dormant or rerunning old posts I decided to give some other people a chance to share their experiences and ideas with you. I hope you enjoy the posts.


I just returned from Advanced Space Academy for Educators at Space Camp in Huntsville, AL. When you are at Space Camp, you can’t help but dream about a world of education that looks a lot less like a traditional classroom and a whole lot more like Space Camp. At Space Camp, teamwork, problem solving, excitement, and fun are the norm. It is definitely inspirational.


This was my second summer at Space Camp. My first adventure was last summer, and it challenged me to create environments in my classroom that emulated my Space Camp experiences. One of the activities I developed is the “Epic Fronts Project” a new take on the jigsaw lesson.



In case you aren’t familiar with the jigsaw lesson strategy, it involves students being divided into expert groups and jigsaw groups. Each expert group becomes an expert on a section of the lesson and creates a way to teach the concept to classmates. Once all expert groups are ready, students move into jigsaw groups. Each jigsaw group is composed of members from each of the expert groups. Each expert is then responsible to teach the members of the jigsaw group about their assigned concept. It is a great strategy, but it can be a little tricky if you have odd numbers of students. Also, it usually takes more than one day to complete effectively, so absentees can also be a challenge.



I decided I wanted to use the basic strategy but I also knew I wanted to incorporate a larger sense of teamwork, problem solving, and technology - just like Space Camp. My classes were already divided into teams of 7-8 students with four teams per class. For our Epic Fronts Project, each team was assigned one of the four types of weather fronts. As part of the project, students were instructed to create a handout of notes about the front, write a song about the front, create a video to teach the basic concepts about the front, and to develop six assessment questions about the front.



Student teams had a week and a half to complete the project together. We used Flipcams to shoot the video sections and Windows Movie Maker to edit the videos together. Some students took the project a step further recorded audio for the song using microphones and Audacity to split tracks.



The best part of this project was watching students work together to figure out how to create their video and the format it would take. It was problem solving and creativity in action. My role was basically consultant and overseer. I visited the groups to check their progress and offered any assistance as needed. However, most of the time the students really didn’t need me. A few groups needed some help narrowing down ideas to get started, but after that, they flew with the project on their own. It was definitely one of those times when school didn’t feel like school, but it did feel a whole lot like Space Camp!



I hope you enjoy watching a couple of my favorite videos from the “Epic Fronts Projects”. I challenge you to find ways to make school more like Space Camp and less like school where problem solving, creativity and technology are so seamless, kids don’t even realize how much they are learning because they think they are just having fun. And, if you love space and would like to check out Space Camp for yourself, please look into the Honeywell Educators at Space Academy program. It is a fabulous, all expenses paid program sponsored by Honeywell for middle school educators around the world. It’s an experience of a lifetime!
   


Janelle Wilson is a sixth grade Earth science teacher and self proclaimed space geek and science nerd. She teaches in Gwinnett County, GA just outside of Atlanta. You can find her blog at Stretching Forward and follow her Twitter. She is also a part of the EdCamp Atlanta Founders Team.