Thursday, January 14, 2016

Bloom's Last Level of Learning: Create!

       PEAK curriculum is modeled around Bloom’s levels of learning.  In areas of the day like Topic and Theme Study, students receive packets with activities divided into Bloom’s levels: remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluating, and creating.  In the remember portion, they take notes from resources in a specific manner. Each student has a list of headings they created, so as they read the look for specific information to pull. They take notes on notecards, and on each one the resource number is placed in one corner, and the page number in the other. All information has to be in their own words, and in “caveman” language. This is a strenuous mental activity for eight to nine year olds! Every student has his or her own set of challenges with taking notes. Some struggle to use caveman language, while others can’t decide what’s important. For a good majority, putting the information into their own words is like pulling teeth. I learned, and struggled, right along with them. We did this exhausting cycle for months, dissecting resources until they had nothing left to offer, and moved on to the next one. Finally, just before winter break, they finally started to use some of the notes they had worked so hard far.

Though PEAK allows students more of a choice in their learning, it is still tightly structured. They are told what to do, though not how to do it. The week before of finals, December 14th -18th, the teacher’s gave the kids a challenge. They had to create something to show what they had learned from research these past months. For the third graders, it was an important holiday in the country they’re studying for topic study. For the fourth graders, it was the skills their problem solver used. The fifth graders had a slightly difference project. For their theme study, they have learned about the brain lobes: their structure, their function. They had come up with a presentation that showed the use of each of their brain lobes while presenting. They were given the use of any resources in the room, and an hour to plan out their idea and execute it. There was no teacher help, either: we walked around the room, but only observed. They were given directions at 1 pm, and were told to be ready to present by 2.

As a teacher, this was so much fun to watch, and also so difficult. Some kids went bonkers, grabbing glue and paper without a thought to their purpose. Others got overly involved in the materials; one student cut straws into 1mm size slices, only to decide to do something else, leaving them strewn across the floor. Of the kids were able to focus enough to form a project about their topic, most missed the most important part: showing. Some, though, were creative and informative: exactly what they were supposed to be. I would like to say some students who typically struggled suddenly blossomed when given free reign, but this not the case. This activity required self-discipline and high level thinking, and a lot of kids struggled. That makes this activity even more important! Though they information gathered in their notes, this was more of PGD and less topic study. The higher a student goes in school, the less direction they’re given. PEAK does a fantastic job of preparing them for school, and life, because they train them with the skills they need to succeed, through activities like this.

That was the 3rd- 5th grade challenge. The second grade one, in my opinion, was even harder. Upon returning from break, they were tasked with “The Stretch”. The class was divided into teams, and given the following materials: 5 paperclips, 2 straws, 2 rubber bands, 2 sticky labels, and a foot long piece of tape. Their challenge was to make the longest strand possible using only the given materials. They were given 10 minutes to plan, and 20 minutes to work. Before they even picked up the materials, we had to have a lesson on how to work together in a team. This included ideas on how to respectfully listen to other teams mates, and discuss ideas in a positive and productive manner.

 If we hadn’t had that lesson, I think things would have gone pretty badly. There were still moments of concern, but they resolved themselves with issue. Instead, we got to watch the magic of gifted kids in action.  There are a few obvious things to do with the given materials that a lot of kids miss. You can cut the rubber bands, unfold the paper clips, and rip the tape in half.  I was impressed when one student, who I wouldn’t have picked as the figure that out, did. Both groups finished before the twenty minutes were up, and we dragged both strands to middle of the room to compare them. In the other class, kids were distracted by who had won, instead of what they can learn from the activity. In a moment we couldn’t have dreamed of engineering, it turned out both the strands were the same length! We sat in the front of the classroom, and dissected the positive and negative strategies used by each team. Then, we processed what they could have done differently. If you consider these are seven year olds, the results were fantastic. They were able to work together to do a puzzle of sorts, while using perseverance and critical thinking skills under pressure.

I was not in PEAK growing up, and I always wondered why going to a different classroom one day a week was helpful. I pictured it similar to a regular classroom, with math packets and English lessons, only with harder material. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The PEAK teachers know their regular teachers cover the basics of reading, writing, math, and science: they leave that to them. PEAK is about application. Because of that, PEAK is hard. For a lot of kids, it’s the first time they’ve ever been challenged in school, and the first time they’ve failed. Helping them through that struggle is my daily task there. It’s when we do activities like the ones describes above that I remember how truly gifted they are.

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