Classroom Innovation Through the Design Process

Guest post by Kristen McClure, 5th Grade Science Teacher from Dolores W. McClatchey Elementary in Midlothian Texas.

Within Creating a New Vision for Public Education in Texas, it mentions that the core business of schools is to provide engaging, appropriate experiences for students so that they learn and are able to apply their knowledge. The 21st century classroom does not and should not look like the classroom of years past. The major change seen in the classroom is credited with teachers being experts in their curriculum combined with the freedom of creativity to no longer lecture with lessons, but to create innovative lessons through experiences that students will retain. This all begins and ends with lesson planning.

Lesson planning has always been very strategic in the sense of what the state is expecting and what the student’s expectations are. Any teacher given the basic curriculum can create a lesson plan. It takes a lesson designer to sit down and take the basic lesson and turn it into an experience, a creative process or even better, an activity where the students don’t even recognize it as learning. Lesson planning has changed as much as the classroom has. Teachers now start with the end in mind and think of how they can design an engaging lesson that includes the correct content, one that makes the students think critically and most importantly, a lesson that the kids can relate to. Teachers have way too much to compete with to hold a student’s attention for any length of time. You’ve got to be a designer of learning, a learning enhancer, an experience creator – you have to DESIGN! If you are lucky enough to pick up on fads and trends you can have an immediate engagement hook right off the bat. Two of my most successful lessons this year involved flipping water bottles and making our own fidget spinners. As an educator you have to take advantage of teachable moments. Why not monopolize on what’s hot outside of the classroom and capitalize on it in your content area?

While schools were banning fidget spinners, I was asking myself how could I create a lesson using these. After researching how to make them I ordered the materials along with some extra supplies to fuel my critical thinking aspect of the lesson. I decided to create a lesson using force, acceleration, weight, balance and friction. I had 100% engagement before the lesson even started and students learned quickly that the success of their fidget spinners were in their own hands. As they experimented gluing different sized nuts on their ball bearings they immediately were able to see that the smaller nuts didn’t have enough weight to keep the acceleration spinning and the larger nuts were too heavy causing the bearings to spin slower or to not spin very long. The students had to critically think, try-out, glue and measure to see what size nuts would create the perfect balance of weight creating the most acceleration with the best spinner in the end. The students owned their learning and took the lesson in the direction of the questions they were asking. My design was to facilitate the lesson and the learning. As I backed off and let the students take over the lesson, the collaboration that took place was well above my expectations. Students began asking questions about what would happen if we only used two nuts making a two pronged spinner instead of a three. The conversations were in full Science mode, “if we only use two nuts instead of three, we need to use the bigger nuts so that we have more weight that will create more acceleration to keep the ball bearings spinning longer”. If a student thought his ball bearings didn’t spin as easily, they would lubricate it again to reduce the friction. I put Science in their hands that they could actually feel. They could feel the friction causing the ball bearings to spin slower. They could feel the wobble if the nuts were not properly spaced when glued on. They could feel the difference in the size of nuts that were glued on making the spinner prongs. It was a lesson plan designed off of a trend and I really don’t think I could have taught those concepts in a more relatable way than with fidget spinners.

Lesson designing is what is best for kids. Students don’t want to sit in a boring classroom and have content lectured to them. They want to take ownership of their learning. They want to learn in ways that aren’t considered normal in the classroom. They want their education enhanced and supported with technology, with memorable experiences and with lessons that are outside of the box. As teachers we owe them this. I guarantee that students will recognize how much design a teacher puts into his or her lessons and the thought of “why do I have to learn this” will never cross their minds.

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