Engage Middle-School Students

Engage Middle-School Students
Posted on 05/20/2015
How to Engage Middle-School Students

“Active Learning in the Middle Grades” by Susan Edwards in Middle School Journal, May 2015 (Vol. 46, #5, p. 26-32), www.amle.org; Edwards can be reached at sedwar12@gru.edu.


“What is active learning and what does it look like in the classroom?” asks Susan Edwards (Georgia Regents University) in this Middle School Journal article. Some key ingredients:

-   Students are intellectually involved in learning through problem-solving activities, creating multimedia presentations, synthesizing research for presentations or papers, inquiry activities, and concept maps.

-   They are socially engaged through whole-group discussions, small-group discussions, and small-group projects.

-   They are physically engaged through hands-on projects, manipulatives, games, building models, and lab experiments.

-   They aren’t overly reliant on the teacher

-   They reflect on ideas and how they are using those ideas.

-   They regularly assess their own understanding of subject matter and skills.

“The goal is not activity for activity’s sake or to make the lesson fun,” says Edwards. “It is not achieved by simply incorporating some games or fun activities into a lesson plan. Clearly, every activity in a lesson should lead to purposeful learning of the lesson objectives and the standard to be met.”

Edwards goes on to compare three lessons taught in a traditional, passive mode and then in an active mode:

• Fifth grade: Solving problems on a coordinate plane in Quadrant 1 – Traditional mode:

-   Bell-ringer: students write the coordinates of 3 points on a coordinate plane.

-   The teacher goes over the answer with the class.

-   The teacher uses PowerPoint to introduce solving problems on the coordinate plane.

-   Students copy key vocabulary terms and definitions into their notebooks.

-   The teacher demonstrates several problems.

-   Students do an example problem and the teacher explains the correct answer.

-   Students practice 20 problems of varying levels of difficulty in their workbooks.

-   The teacher goes over the answers and gives students a chance to ask questions.

• Same content, active mode:

-   The whole class plays an interactive game on the Promethean board with students taking turns coming up front. The game asks students to think logically, for example, “Which direction will the point move if I make the x-coordinate bigger?”

-   Students get out their math journals and come up with student-friendly definitions of vocabulary terms based on the teacher’s explanations.

-   Students rotate through four stations in small groups:

Station A – Students plot 4 points on a coordinate grid, connect the points, and say what geometric figure is formed, which line segments are parallel, and which line segments are perpendicular.

Station B – Students work together to solve word problems on a worksheet.

Station C – Students explain a path from the school to the town library, using points on a coordinate plane. They can move magnets around on a giant coordinate plane with pictures of town buildings superimposed on the plane.

Station D – Students play an interactive game on the Promethean board.

• Eighth grade ELA: Gerunds, Participles, and Infinitives – Traditional mode:

-   The teacher introduces new vocabulary terms.

-   The teacher displays sample sentences and asks students to identify different terms – for example, “What is the gerund in this sentence?”

-   Students complete a worksheet with 20-25 sentences and identify vocabulary terms.

-   The teacher goes over the answers with the whole class.

-   Students are assigned a page in the grammar book for homework.

• Same content, active mode:

-   The teacher uses PowerPoint to introduce vocabulary terms.

-   The teacher displays sentences on the board related to the vocabulary terms and students give their answers by holding up one finger if it’s a gerund and two if it’s an infinitive.

-   The teacher does a multimedia presentation with videos and pictures of students, each accompanied by a sentence – for example, “The sleeping boy was suddenly awakened by his teacher.” Students have to identify verbals in each example, individually and in their notebooks.

-   The class discusses the answers, with the teacher calling on students to change sentences as he calls on them – for example, change this sentence from passive to active voice.

-   Students work in small groups to create their own video with sentences using verbals.

• Eighth-grade social studies: Key issues leading to the Civil War – Traditional mode:

-   The teacher lectures using PowerPoint.

-   Students take guided notes.

-   Students read a section in the textbook.

-   Students answer questions at the end of the section.

• Same content, active mode:

-   The class plays a quiz bowl game using buzzers. Everyone rotates through two teams of five facing each other. The teacher asks questions involving understanding, applying, and analyzing and calls on the student who buzzes first.

-   The teacher requires students to explain their answers and probes with follow-ups: Expand on your definition of campaign. Use the word battle in your definition. This is where I need you to think and make connections.

-   The teacher interrupts the game several times with two activities: Heads-Down Quick Poll (a quick self-assessment) and repeating the correct answer three times.

-   Students work with partners on projects in which they create newsletters with articles and illustrations.

-   Students get a homework “Brag Sheet” assignment: they must explain to parents what they know about a list of topics (parents receive the answer sheet from the teacher and must sign off that their children knew the material).

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