#F5F, Unpacking Interests

Five things I’ve come across this week in my stumbles that can support and honor the students that I learn are as follows:

1.  In order to unpack interest, I’ve found that STEM activities give students engaging opportunities to express choice.  In my classroom, my kids absolutely love design challenges.  This one is a fun, very engaging opportunity for kids to express creativity and unpack their own personal interests to make connections to success.  The Toxic Waste project is a popular small group initiative activity which provides rich teamwork and communication skills.  It involves thinking, imagination, action, fantasy, risk, and an attractive solution.  The challenge is to move the toxic waste contents to the “neutralization” container using minimal equipment and maintaining a safe distance within a time limit.


Using a variation of the equipment provided and within a time frame, students are to try solutions that work to solve their problem.  The waste will blow up and destroy the world after 20 minutes if it is not neutralized.  Directions to share with the kids:

  • Anyone who ventures into the radiation zone will suffer injury and possibly even death, and spillage will create partial death and destruction.  Therefore, the group should aim to save the world and do so without injury to any group members.
  • The rope circle represents the radiation zone emanating from the toxic waste in the bucket.  Emphasize that everyone must maintain a distance (circle radius) from the toxic waste wherever it goes, otherwise they will suffer severe injury, such as loss of a limb or even death.
  • Give the group some planning time with no action e.g. 5 mins.  Then start the clock and indicate it is time for action, e.g., 15 or 20 mins.
  • An extension activity that I tried with my class is after the time is up, they have a set time limit to communicate (in any way they want) a set of directions so that another team can understand how to go about working their creation.



2.  This week, @dtubiello3, writes:

“As an ESL teacher, I do so much talking about the importance of knowing your learner and knowing the families, communities and experiences that your learner comes from.  If “learning is inextricably linked to our identities,” then learning is not equitable until all students have the power of having their interests honored in the classroom.”

As I read this, as fourth grade teacher, I realized that although I give students choice, there’s always ways I can give them even more choice in order to spark their own personal interests.  A simple “Choice Board” like the one pictured below is a way to encourage learners to make personal connections and to take ownership of their own learning.  Below is an example of a choice board I’m going to use next week as they SSR in the classroom.  Also, an example of honoring students interest based on their own choices is the way that my colleagues and I give out weekly Spelling HW.  Instead of the “boring old workbook pages,” each week we change up the routine by giving students a “Get to 50 Activity” with a list of possible activities and their point value. My students enjoy going through and deciding what homework activities they want to do to practice their spelling words, based on their own liking.


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3.  Pop Up Schools!

I loved the short video clip that goes along with the article from #Pop Up School Magazine.  What a perfect way (that we’ve been saying week after week), to enhance our student’s lives.  Here they are, telling us YET AGAIN, how they learn best and what learning means to them.  This is such an amazing reminder that in order for our students to have the most equitable learning experience, we must unpack their interests.  If students are not engaged, or do not feel invested in their learning, they will not get nearly as much out of the experience.  Just another great reminder as I’m getting ready for our final make in #ED677, that students must own their creations.

Learning is…”Unexpected, Extraordinary, Unique, Physical, Spontaneous, Flexible…”

I learn best when I’m…”Having fun, Have choice, When I’m discovering for Myself, Able to explore, Outside the Classroom, When I collaborate, When the task is challenging, When something goods going to happen…”


4.  Honoring Student Interests.

I’ve been following “Einstein’s Secret” since the beginning of this course.  For those of you who are not familiar, the community discusses ways to motivate and encourage your learners.  The owner of this website says it best when she gives the overall mission statement of her collection of articles:

“My goal is to discuss the problems and issues faced by educators and teachers at all levels, and to support you with a toolbox of ideas you can use immediately, especially with regard to inspiring, engaging, and motivating your learners. My dream is that we will build a community of teachers and educators, learning together, sharing best practices with each other, and inspiring each other to be the best that we can be, for the benefit of our learners.”

In the article linked below, a teacher talks about honoring student interests by giving them freedom to make choices to create a thesis statement that connects to a personal interest.  For example, instead of just giving students a broad topic – like “bioengineering” – and telling them to “research an aspect of bioengineering that is interesting to you”, we guide them to ask a pointed question that would help them narrow that topic to a more manageable level. When they are done, they can turn the information they have found into a (thesis) statement.  A student who has a parent who is a cyclist may think of Lance Arstrong and could present Arstrong’s doping issue in a way of his/her choice to the class which connects back to the main topic.  The neat thing that we’re reminded of in this article is that the Common Core Standards place a big emphasis on being able to support an argument with evidence.  My fourth graders have been spending a lot of time on Text Dependent Analysis essays, where they read a passage and then come up with evidence from the text to support their point.  The same exact thing is done here, just in a larger picture through a Scientific Concept.  Again, this is a fairly “easy” way to give students choice, allowing them to connect to their own personal student interests.


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5.  Work Done?  Pick One!

If you guys are like me, you’re reading about these fantastic ideas each week yet still thinking, “Okay this all sounds so great, but it’s a bit impractical being that my school follows a set curriculum, and although I have some power of changing it, I really can’t abandon the plan and give students total choice without getting fired…”

As a public school teacher, I can’t just form my classroom to follow ideas like those at the Science Leadership Academy, a progressive science and technology high school in Philadelphia, PA.

What I can do, however, is incorporate as much theory from this class as I can.  An idea that came to my mind about honoring my students interests is one that I use from time to time, but I certainly don’t use enough of.  In my classroom when a student finishers their “mandatory” work, it’s then time for them to do an extension activity.  I, a teacher in charge of 24 students at a time, often say “read a book,” or “free write,” or “clean out your desk…” just to buy me a few extra minutes of working with a small group.  Instead, I came across this incredibly awesome idea that involves a ton of student choice!  Check it out:

These “Challenge Capsules” are for students who finish activities early in order to keep those high achievers moving.  In a scenario like the one I mentioned above, sometimes kids need a bit of motivation in order to finish their “mandatory” work.  Here, students can pick a capsule, and if they want to exchange it for another that’s fine too!  Inside each capsule can be fun technology tasks, or creative thinking prompts, or even a job such as, “write a math story problem for a friend to solve.” These capsules give student’s choice, but also allows for those extra “fun” things to happen even if you don’t always feel like it’s possible to fit them into your busy schedule!


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