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Classdome March 2016
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From the Classdome

March 2016

Flipping my classroom

Welcome to testing season. During this trying time, keep a stiff upper lip and remember: the students will come back to the planetarium. Soon the summer groups will start rolling back in, and you will once again be busy beyond belief.

I am taking my bit of down time to do a little maintenance around the planetarium, such as fixing that chair in the third row that squeaks every time someone sits in it and the small 60 Hz buzz in the left rear speaker you get when the sound system first turns on.

Flip your classroom bookI am also working on my reading list again and first up is Flip Your Classroom. While I firmly believe that no book has a magic method to reach every child, I do enjoying finding some tricks and techniques to improve my instruction.

I have 26 computers in the planetarium for the astronomy classes to use in their studies and productions. For years I thought I was doing a “blended” classroom, when actually I am using a tech-enhanced classroom model. My astronomy-at-a-distance classes were more of the interactive blended model.

It was very eye-opening to me to see where my classes fit on the 21st century strategies list. When I finish the book I am going to see where I can take my class to with a few of the new strategies; keep an eye out for this to be described in future articles.

Then what happened?

A new instructional strategy that I am experimenting with is called “Then What Happened,” where you use the vocabulary of the day or lesson to write a short paragraph. So for example, when we are talking about motion in space and the key vocabulary is rotation, revolution, axis, orbit, day, and year. The prompt would look like “Earth is moving; then what happened?”

Possible answer: The Earth is moving in two ways. It is rotating on its Axis and this is how a Day happens. It is also Revolving around the Sun on an Orbit. One Revolution is a Year.

I had the students capitalize the key vocabulary each time they used it or highlight it so they knew they had used all the terms. For this one I let them use variants of Rotation and Revolution to complete the passage.

Lesson Plan: Snow day at the planetarium
Clear/translucent cups (1 for each group)
500 ml beaker (1 for measuring purposes)
Black construction paper (Each group will need 1 sheet cut to approximately 8x11 inches, and each person will need a sheet cut to 8x6 inches)
White printer paper (1 full sheet for each group and a stack of 1/8 sheet slips)
Clipboards (2 per group)
Optional binder clips
Markers and crayons
Hand lens or low power microscope (enough to establish stations)

I have found it is easier to use the cups rather than give each group a beaker for the snow collection, so I prep the cups by filling them with 25 or 100 ml of water and marking the water line. (And then dump the cups, of course.)

I meet the kids at the bus before coming into the planetarium and hand out the cups. Some kids received the 100 ml cups and others, the 25 ml cups. They were instructed to scoop up a bit of snow, up to the line on the cup, and bring them to the patio outside the planetarium.

I had preloaded the clipboards with white and black paper (I use the binder clips to hold down the bottom of the pages on breezy days). Students with 100 ml cups of snow were told to dump the snow as a clump/pile in the middle of one of the papers. The clipboards were then placed on the benches on the patio in partial sunlight. I told them “We are going to come back and see how much melting has occurred during the visit to the planetarium.”

Now is the part that has to be done quickly. Once the group has moved inside, have the students go stations around the lobby that have hand lens, markers, crayons, and slips of paper already set up. Have the students with 25 ml cups dump their snow on the black 8x6 sheet of construction paper. Using the hand lens, have them observe the snow and record on the slip of paper their observations. Some good questions to prompt the students include “Can you see any of the snow melting?” “Does any of your snow have points, like the snowflakes seen on television and movies?” “Is any of your snow flat like a disk or round like a pebble?”

Normally, by the time the students have drawn their observations the snow has mostly melted and it is a good time clean up. We recycle the plastic cups and the paper (if possible) before heading into the planetarium.

I have been partnering this activity with short clip about fractals and geometric patterns and a longer presentation on energy from the sun.

After the presentation we head back outside to check out the clipboards and see how the piles of snow have been melting. Once the snow is knocked off the clipboard, I send the papers home with the teachers to use as a touch point activity on why the melt pattern is different on each sheet.

1 Robert J. Marzano, US educational researcher

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