Thinking Back to an Unexpected Favorite Lesson

I tend to be very in the moment with my teaching. If you include my student teaching I’ve taught at 7 schools, taught from 7th grade through Adult Ed., and taught 10 different classes. I am used to moving around and starting anew. And with that lessons from the previous years usually go into a binder or folder, often to never be pulled out again. This is a shame because some of those lessons were absolutely awesome, and some unexpectedly so. So, I am going to begin reflecting on what worked about those lessons because, even if I am not teaching the topic or class right now, the strategies can transfer.

My first year teaching Earth Science I had a conversation with a Physics teacher who had taught the subject in the past. He mentioned collecting weather data with his students. We were already part way through the weather and climate unit, but I that afternoon I whipped up a worksheet sheet and passed it out to my students the next day. I wasn’t sure what would be relevant so I just made a chart with spots for Temperature, Humidity, Winds, Pressure, and Wind Direction for each day for a month.

The first day when my student walked in and were treated to an empty chart at their desks there were groans. Every day I would display the current weather on the board and they would walk in and copy it down. To my surprise, they started to care. Routines can be nice in class and they began to get used to it. The groans stopped. When Friday came my students asked what we would do about the weekend. So, I collected data for them to enter in on Monday for the previous two days.

For a month they entered class, sat down, and wrote down the current data. And as we did that the questions started.  Many of them to the effect of, “How can it possibly be 70? It feels hotter today.” It took the class topics and made them more relevant. We looked at the humidity and winds and talked about how that could impact how hot or cold it felt. That first year we added extra boxes to the chart, beyond the initial month, there was going to be a storm and we wanted to see what that did to the humidity and pressure.

And then we stopped. You know what? My students would have been up for continuing. The students took the data and graphed it. Honestly, that first year I wasn’t sure what we would find. To our excitement we got some great data. There were some good correlation between temperature and humidity in particular. As my students graphed I noticed another characteristic I didn’t expect to show up well wind direction. I saw that my morning classes had winds that generally came more from the East and my afternoon classes were clearly centered around the West. I gathered this data to share, pulling in some from 3am to more clearly show the pattern. We were seeing the land breeze, sea breeze patterns!

I’m going to tell you, I jumped into this lesson with my students, not knowing what it would really amount to. But it turned out to be great. I had the privilege of being able to teach Earth Science a second year and did this lesson again. [That time I kept the classes’ data.] And it turned out just as well.

In my move to iPads this year it is nice to reflect on a lesson that didn’t need them…and if anything it benefited from not having them. IPads would have made it easy to graph all along and seeing the patterns as we went, but in not doing that it let my students make observations all on their own. They lead the questions during the whole month we collected data. Only at the end did they see all the trends together.

I look at this lesson as being unexpectedly great for really showing the benefit of letting the students work with pure data and for reminding me that last minute lessons can be great. It told me that you don’t want to avoid an activity just because you aren’t sure where it will exactly lead.

 

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