Friday, January 1, 2010

Let's Collaborate: Using The Gateway

Although the calendar has flipped to a new year, teachers and students are just halfway through this journey we call the school year. Maybe you had a great fall semester, and you just want to continue to bring all the best you can to your students. Maybe the beginning of the school year was challenging and you are looking to improve during the new year. Either way, you have come to the right place to find a huge collection of lesson plans, instructional units and other educational materials that you can use in your classroom!

Like many teachers, I start the school year with every intention to provide exciting and meaningful activities for my students every day. In a perfect world, I would have time to create fantastic units with lesson plans and materials that tie everything together and encompass all the state standards I need to cover every year. In the real world, I feel like I am scrambling to be sure to touch on the basics of all the standards and it is pretty hard to come up with great activities and lessons every day.

Luckily, I have been fortunate enough to work with teachers who have shared wonderful plans and materials with me over the years. I have used their ideas and added some of my own, and those units and activities have been some of the most valuable teaching time of every year. Collaboration with other educators has been the key to creating the best learning environment for my students as I possibly can.

Collaboration with colleagues within a school or a district is great. Collaboration on the level you can attain by using the lesson plans, units, and materials from the Gateway is drastically better. If you can spend less time worrying about what activities you can come up with completely by yourself, you will have a lot more time to successfully implement great activities into your curriculum.

You may be having a hard time getting a certain concept across to your students in a fun and engaging way. Maybe you taught a unit on the food chain last year and it felt uninspired. This year, why don’t you try looking up resources on food chain on the Gateway site? My search for “food chain” revealed ten different activities to spice up your food chain lesson this year. There are activities that are online, activities that are inquiry-based, and activities that connect the abstract idea of a food chain to students’ lives, making the concept more meaningful.

You know your students, so you will be able to determine the best fit for them. The search results include what you need to know, what you need to get, and how much time is involved. You can spend your time modifying the activities with your expertise so that they work for you and your students. This will allow you to provide an engaging lesson that is tailored to your students’ individual needs, instead of just providing a lesson that covers a specific topic. When you are done implementing an activity, leave a comment on how it worked out for you, and the collaboration will begin!

You won’t always work with someone who has an exciting lesson plan on diagramming sentences for a class whose eyes glaze over if you start to lecture to them as you write on a chalkboard. You have a much better chance of finding a successful peer-reviewed activity on the Gateway site.

If your students think that studying World War II is boring, maybe you could put them in the shoes of a child during that time. There is a lesson plan to do just that on the Gateway, and it might be your key to appealing to some of your students who would otherwise tune out this important era of our history.

That’s enough about why should use the Gateway site. Let’s talk about how to start using it effectively to improve your teaching. The Gateway to 21st Century Skills website is a portal of a variety of educational resource types from activities and lesson plans to online projects to assessment items which are all found on various federal, state, university, non-profit and commercial Internet sites. To search these resources, you can browse by topic or enter a keyword for a google-like search.

If the search for your keyword comes up with too many results, you can click on the various facets listed on the page to narrow down your search. You can narrow it down by what resource type you want and the grade level you teach, among other facets.

When you find resources that seem like they will work for you, you can send them to a calendar application like Outlook to keep yourself very organized. You can also share things you like from the site with your friends and colleagues on many social networking sites like facebook and Twitter. If you prefer paper copies to digital information, you can also print the resources so you can include them in a traditional lesson plan book.

You can subscribe to the RSS feed. This will let you know when resources matching your interests are added to the Gateway. If you are a seventh grade English teacher, you can opt to receive emails when any lessons described as seventh grade English are added to the Gateway. If you know you are looking for anything to help you teach about how volcanoes work, you can subscribe to an RSS feed for any resources involving volcanoes.

I will go more into depth about the other features of the Gateway site in future columns. What you need to know now is to make a New Year’s resolution to explore and use the Gateway to 21st Century Skills to your advantage! Make your life easier and make the lessons you provide to your students more meaningful and rewarding. Your time is precious. Your students’ time is precious. Let’s collaborate and make the most of it!

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