A Lunar Lesson: Approaching the Two-Step Model

My grade partner happens to be our 6th grade teacher, since there's only one of her in the building and she's right across the hall. She and I have been collaborating a lot this year, and her students see me 3 times a week.   She and I also share a love of Science, which has been very exciting.

Today, she brought her students over to the lab to use our Promethean board for a lesson on the Phases of the Moon. They have been studying Astronomy, but many of the students lack basic knowledge about the solar system. We decided to present the information in an interactive way using a flip chart and multimedia. (She had been using a pencil and a tin can to show them how the moon orbits the Earth.)  What ensued was a lesson that mirrored the two-step Constructivist model I've been reading about.

Before the lesson began, we made sure that we knew what the learning objectives were. For this lesson they were very simple:
  • Be able to name the phases of the moon and explain how and why they change. 
  • Know that the moon is a sphere and does not change shape.
  • To know that the moon waxes and wanes and be able to explain why.

Step 1: The Exploratory Phase
Students brainstormed what they knew already about the Moon. They then read through some facts, watched a video and a flash animation and then pulled the phases of the moon in order on the Promethean board to reinforce what they had learned about the names of the phases as well as vocabulary like 'waxing,' 'waning,' 'gibbous' and 'crescent.'

During this phase, we paused a few times to check for understanding, and then at the end we had each student write down and then tell us one thing they had learned.  We didn't grade them on the lesson, but we made sure to address any misconceptions, providing interventions as needed (when they didn't understand the concept of the Sun as a bunch of mini 'explosions' we showed them a National Geographic video) and checking for understanding.

The purpose of the Exploratory Phase is to use activities, dialogue and interventions to support and assess student learning, understanding and interest.

Step 2: The Discovery Phase

After lunch, the students were given a paper with all of the phases of the moon on it. They had to cut out the each phase and paste it in order on a sentence strip, labeling each phase and stating whether it was waxing or waning.  This is the performance part of the learning process. It is also the part of the process that is graded. The Discovery Phase is where the students 'show what they know' by creating a product or completing a task of some kind. This product shows the teacher whether or not they have mastered the objectives laid out at the beginning of the lesson.

I was very proud of my colleague, who had never used the Promethean Board before, but handled it with ease. I also think that our students will go home today with a much better understanding of the moon's phases as well as a deeper understanding of why and how they occur. I wouldn't be surprised if they look up more often at night to see what phase the moon is in!

This is what learning looks like.

One of the students asked, "Is this going to be one of those one-day things again?"  We have had a few hands-on, interactive and fun-filled lessons with technology and Science that have lasted only one day due to the nature of the curriculum and pacing schedule.  I said, "I hope not." In the back of mind I thought: he gets it. Even my student knows what real learning is.  And he's craving it.


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