Saturday, February 27, 2016

Lesson Planning: A Catchy Start

The principal happened to walk in during a lesson introduction the other day. He liked what he saw and asked me to present it at an upcoming faculty meeting.

That made me think about what it was that he saw and wonder what exactly did he like.

I queried more and he noted that he liked the quick engagement he saw. He said that the lesson didn't start in the typical "open up your book and get started" way which he felt may have led to greater investment.

I thought about this, and realized that reading Hattie's book a few years ago actually sent me on a journey of improving my learning experience design with and for students. I thought about what has impacted my practice with regard to lesson starts and here's what I came up with.

Over the years, I've thought a lot about lesson choreography as I've planned learning experiences with and for students. I've read quite a bit about it too. There are a number of strategies I use when introducing a lesson.

Make it Meaningful, Provide Rationale
For starters, and as Jo Boaler affirms in her book, students learn better when the learning is meaningful. This is particularly true for girls--they want to know why they are doing what they are doing and they want to know that it has meaning. Hence prior to teaching I think about the long term meaning of the activity and how that learning relates to the bigger world. For example to start a lesson about problem solving, I showed the now classic shopping cart design video from one of the United States' most famous design firms, IDEO. The film is a great depiction of problem solving in real life as a STEAM team gets together to design a better shopping cart. After showing the film, I reiterated the film's message that good process is essential for problem solving, and that I was going to introduce them to a process which will help them solve math problems, the kind of simple problems included on the upcoming GMADE test.

Short, Inspiring, and Thought Provoking: About Ten Minutes
I'm also conscientious of John Medina's research in Brain Rules for Presenters which suggests a ten-minute introduction as attention begins to drop dramatically after ten minutes. So as a teacher you've got ten minutes to whet the learners' appetites, deliver instructions, and answer questions.

Rich Ingredients: Make Connection, Tap into Students' Emotions/Experiences, Use Narratives and Good Questions--Perplexing, Paradoxical, and Unexpected
Further, years ago I read a great piece about lesson choreography by Michael Ebeling, Reaching Their Full Potential: Motivating Learners and Building Interest. In the post he shared this chart for great lesson design:

Tell or Show a Story
Also, when I read Why Don't Students Like School by Daniel T. Willingham, he shared the following research related to lesson design:
  • ". . .organizing a lesson plan like a story is an effective way to help students comprehend and remember." ". . .often summarized as the four Cs."  (p.67)
  • "The first C is causality, which means the events are causally related to one another." (p.67)
  • "The second C is conflict. A story has a main character pursuing a goal, but he or she is unable to reach that goal." (p.67)
  • "The third C is complications. . .Complications are subproblems that arise from the main goal." (p.67)
  • "The final C is character. A good story is built around strong, interesting characters, and the key to those qualities is action."
  • ". . .stories are easy to remember." (p.68)
  • ". ..stories are easy to comprehend."(p.67-68)
  • ". . .stories are interesting." (p.68)
  • ". . . structuring a lesson plan around conflict can be a real aid to student learning." (p.85)

Further, William Parker, in his post, Triggering the Brain with Wonder, offers terrific ideas for making lessons meaningful and ends the post with these words, "If brain research has shown parts of the brain are triggered by music, then it makes sense that when we couple information with music, art, storytelling, or imagination, we are conveying more than just facts, we are also creating deeper understanding or even moments of awe."

If you sometimes wonder why your work is important, remember that education is more than just sharing information; it is also creating learning moments that can become amazing moments--reaching into parts of the brain that none of us really understand but that can be stirred and triggered by something beautiful."

When the principal walked in he saw me showing the With Math I Can introduction video from Amazon's new positive math mindsets initiative, and then  Prince Ea's eloquent rap, "I Am Not Black." I tied the two films together by saying, "Let's not forget that we're all capable of learning, and if we work together and support each other's individuality, we'll all make progress on this learning path." Then we moved forward to review computation strategies together. 

I find that starting the class with rich global connections, connections that help students to see the value in what they are doing for their lives, communities, and world invigorates the learners and makes them ready for the deep learning ahead. 

I'm sure there are many other ideas that can be added to this, so please don't hesitate to share.