Computer Lab: Now With Less Computer

Posted on Oct 9, 2009 by kjarrett 10 Comments

Good morning all,

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My friend and colleague Gary Stager has an expression: “less us, more them.” These words describe an ideal, something to strive for, a philosophy of teaching that puts the kids in charge of their own learning. They inspire me when planning lessons. Every now and then, we hit the mark. When we do, technology usually has very little to do with the actual lesson.

So it went yesterday with Mrs. Duran’s second graders. The kids knew something was up when I met out on the playground them to start class (they have recess immediately before computer lab). The kids are studying plants in science. I wanted to make the lesson as real as I could for them so I figured we’d do gather some plant life samples outside and bring them to the lab for analysis.

I’d already prepared a simple data collection worksheet and gathered 12 plastic bags for the partner teams to use for their samples. I gave two students digital cameras and told them to take as many pictures as they could. (Every picture in this post was taken by a 2nd grader.) Little did I know their inexperience with the cameras would prove so beneficial.

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Seizing the opportunity to turn something ordinary into something extraordinary, I asked them to get one sample each of a flower, a stem, a leaf, a root and a seed. The sample gathering was the highlight of the lesson. 22 exuberant second graders scampered trough a grassy area alongside a sidewalk many of them use every day. Their reactions as they discovered their samples were priceless.

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Once back in the lab, our teams of students used the QX5 microscopes to explore what they’d found. As you can see below, most went way beyond the requirements.

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The teams explored their samples, taking photographs and discovering everything from small insects to worms (!), sparking side conversations (“what do you think the worm is doing there?” “Why is this seed pod so hard?” “Why are there so many (or so few) seeds inside this pod?”)

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The teams were then charged with answering questions I pulled from the online textbook. This was the weakest part of the lesson – these could have been better, but they did the job – I (and Mrs. Duran) could see which students understood the concepts and could express them on paper, and which could not.

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In the end, the sheer pandemonium that was my computer lab yesterday was absolutely worth it.  There is something incredibly validating about watching kids interact so excitedly with nature, the equipment, each other, and the adults in the room, all in pursuit of knowledge about common plant life many of these kids walk past on the way to school.

Now that’s what I call, “more them.”

-kj-

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