My academic goal at the beginning of this new quarter was to review basic map elements with my seventh grade Social Studies students. But, as my school is beginning our ninth week of virtual learning, I wanted to try something a little more engaging. Here’s what I did:
Part 1 – At Home
I wrote to the parents of all my students and asked for their help. I asked them to buy a candy or small treat for their child and hide it somewhere in their home.
Then, I provided parents with a map. The parents were to ask their child to find the treat using only this map – no other clues were to be given.
Sounds like an impossible task?
Students would, upon studying the map, be immediately confused and then frustrated. They would ask their parents for clues or any other kind of help necessary to locate their treasure. This facilitated dialogue between parent and child. And, the interactive nature of the activity meant that instead of simply showing students the important elements of a map, students would determine elements on their own through an engaging and rewarding process.
Partnering in this activity with another person makes the learning way more interactive. According to an article in medium.com, this increases student motivation and activates a variety of areas within the brain, making learning “easier to digest and remember”. Other studies on similar interactive instructional practices noted increases in student achievement and, subsequently, student self-esteem.
Inviting parents to be that other person in this learning experience really helps connect parents to the learning going on in the classroom and, like interactive learning experience outlined above, has a number of positive impacts on student self-esteem and achievement. Other studies revealed that increased parent involvement in learning can result in a change in a parent’s attitude, leading to less parent scolding and more parent trust in their child’s academic abilities.
Part 2 – Back in the Classroom
Once we were back together in our virtual classroom, I moved on to part two of the activity. Here, students were asked to recount their experiences with the map that I provided. I asked them to explain what was wrong with my initial map. Students shared many anecdotes about the trouble they had using my map. One student, in particular, shared that his father didn’t even tell him which room the treat was hidden in, forcing him to search his entire house.
Once we had an understanding of my map’s many shortcomings, I challenged students to do better – I challenged them to recreate the map, but with improvements. I didn’t give too many examples here because I wanted students to determine solutions on their own.
I gave students about 20 minutes to go off and create a more effective map for the same treasure-hunting activity. When time was up, we had a fruitful discussion about the improvements. Students shared the changes they made and then explained why they made them. For instance, one student began with a label for the room. Another student talked about using a bird’s eye view of the particular room rather than a 3-D, floor-level point of view. Almost all students added labels to furniture and other features. One student even compared furniture to landforms on a conventional map. Again, each improvement had to be accompanied by an explanation.
Some students jumped in right away with their ideas. Others did not. To boost participation, I called on students to share. This isn’t something I do a lot of during online learning, but I think it is something I could safely do – this was a very low-stakes activity and I didn’t push students too hard to deliver new ideas. Kids were, if they needed to, able to repeat already offered suggestions. And even though these suggestions had already been explained, I asked for a repeat of the reasoning just to get these reluctant students used to sharing and to help them understand that participation is easy and is judgement-free.
Once we shared our ideas, students turned in their revised and improved maps. I was very open about this sharing – I accepted hand-drawn maps that were photographed/scanned and emailed to me. And, I accepted maps created using Google Drawings or other online tools.
I sent the email request/instructions to parents on a Wednesday during my school’s autumn break – a weeklong holiday during the last week of October. Being a holiday week, I didn’t want to disturb families by sending multiple reminder emails. So, participation was not perfect. About one-third of parents participated. Nevertheless, this participation rate provided us with many funny anecdotes that really ramped up interest and engagement in what was a simple review of map elements.
But, now that I have successfully completed this one participation activity, I will definitely be a little bolder in soliciting parent involvement in future activities.
Whatever I learn, I will happily share with you. Please feel free to share any similar experiences of your own with me.