Wednesday, October 10, 2012

An Informal Blended Curriculum for Florida Middle Grade - Science and Language Arts

This year, I've partnered with the teachers at Ivy Hawn School for the Arts in Lake Helen, Florida to prototype an informal blended curriculum approach for my middle grade fantasy novel, Olivia Brophie and the Pearl of Tagelus. Ivy Hawn's objective was to teach the language arts curriculum using Olivia Brophie and then use the novel as context for further science education. If you have seen the rest of my blog, you know that this means learning more about the Florida scrub. 
My involvement with Ivy Hawn allowed the added advantage of having an author interacting directly with students. We talked quite a bit about what it is like to be an author and the publishing process. I led the students on specific language arts lessons and gave an author's perspective. Finally, I participated in the science curriculum. That is a powerful combination!  I am very proud of how effective Olivia Brophie is in tying all of these threads together into an experience that was greater than the sum of its parts.
Here is a very brief overview of the plan we followed at Ivy Hawn. I will continue to flesh this out with more details. I will be posting the standards and full lesson plans that Ivy Hawn used in the coming weeks. A much more formal curriculum is in the works as I partner with Archbold Biological Station.
All 7th and 8th grade students started reading Olivia Brophie.
1)   Three chapters in, I visited Ivy Hawn and discussed POV, omniscience, and narrator reliability. We talked about how these concepts relate to the book. More importantly, I helped them understand how I as the author made decisions on what POV I used. How did I find Olivia's voice?
2)   Ivy Hawn teachers guided students through reading the remainder of the book, discussing issues such as character development, setting, vocabulary, etc. Olivia Brophie became the vehicle for teaching the literary arts as implemented by Ivy Hawn.
3)   The class emailed me questions through the teacher. I answered those questions, and directed them to various web resources that would complete their understanding. For example, there are giant tardigrades in the book. Giant tardigrades don't exist in the real world of course, but real tardigrades are incredibly interesting. I sent them a link to my blog post about tardigrades and a video of tardigrade research. They also wanted to know more about echinoids and anaspideans. They asked questions about the writing process and why I wrote things the way I did.
4)   Once students completed reading the book, they were tasked to develop a research paper on the topic of their choice. I will share some of these reports in future blogs.
5)    Finally, I joined the students on a field trip to Lyonia Preserve in Deltona, Florida where we participated in programs related to the Florida scrub and the aquifer. I will post a blog about Lyonia itself which I found to be an excellent educational resource in the area. Our Lyonia program consisted of four parts:
A 30 minute nature hike led by a guide. The students got to see several real animals and plants that are featured in Olivia Brophie. Scrub jays, gopher tortoises, lyonia trees, cochineal bugs, and scrub oaks all can be found in the book and are readily available at Lyonia.
A 30 minute interactive experience on the Floridan Aquifer.
Scrub Jeopardy!
And finally, a scavenger hunt using Lyonia's awesome educational exhibits.
In retrospect, I wish that I had personally led the students on a hike where we would read short passages from the book and then discuss the real version in the scrub. In other words, be more explicit about the connections from the book.
Again, this is an informal approach to the blended curriculum. I am currently working on a much more specific and fully implemented curriculum with Archbold Biological Station in Lake Wales. That curriculum will be complete with science experiements and lessons.  The Archbold curriculum will be a full step-by-step approach that includes objectives and CCS.
But I also found this informal approach to be very effective. The students were very engaged in the process and asked great questions. The students who loved reading were suddenly very interested in science. The science students were now enjoying reading a fun fantasy novel. One boy said that this was the first book he had ever ready from beginning to end.
I believe students have a greater appreciation for the unique scrub ecosystem because of this blended approach. The interaction with the scrub also helped make the language arts curriculum come alive. The other advantage of the informal curriculum is that it can be tailored to your classroom's specific objectives and needs.
And yes, I would love to discuss this with you further if you are interested in a program like this at your school. My time is free. 

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