Friday, January 1, 2010

New Beginnings

A new year ushers in a sense of anticipation, with new expectations and new goals to strive for. This week’s picks focus on these elements in one way or another.

The Importance of Setting Goals
Subjects: Economics
Grade: 9-12

January usually brings about various resolutions: more exercise, fewer desserts, better money management. And our well-intentioned resolve usually drains away within a few weeks. Sound familiar? Well, this lesson may just help high school students stay on track financially by discussing the importance of goal-setting in money management. Topics covered in the lesson include long-term and short-term goals, savings, and investments.

I like money. I’m sure you like money. In fact, I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t like money. And therein lies the problem. It’s far easier (and more fun) to spend money than to save it. This lesson doesn’t just talk about the basics of saving and investing, but also discusses the concepts of goal-setting in a personal context to students. Students are asked to set personal financial goals for themselves, and then evaluate those goals. I think the self-evaluation component of this lesson is key to really getting kids to understand the feasibility of their planning processes – is this realistic? Am I disciplined enough to follow this savings/investment path? Does a particular savings goal look as good in real life as it does on paper? Time will tell, but lessons such as this make for a good start.

This lesson was produced by ALEX, a project of the Alabama Learning Exchange. ALEX is an award-winning education portal that provides lesson plans, education-related podcasts, best practices, and Alabama professional development activities. Lessons are aligned to Alabama Content Standards.

From ’00 to ’10: Defining the Decade
Subjects: Writing, Current events, History
Grade: 6-12

The end of a decade always brings reviews of notable events that have occurred during that time, but the years 2000-2009 are of additional note because they were also the start of a new millennium. In this lesson, students research and review their choices of the most important events and developments of the decade. This lesson was published by The New York Times Learning Network, which offers free lesson plans and other educational materials based on content that appears in the renowned newspaper. The lesson is aligned to McREL standards.

I like this lesson for several reasons. Students are required to research, reflect upon, and select developments and occurrences from the past 10 years that they deem important. Depending on the age of the student, the decade may well represent the bulk of their lives to date. While some events may be ubiquitous (such as 9/11, for example), others may be surprising in that they may have a very specific, personal significance for a student. This type of personal context in view of larger events is always a good reality check for educators, I think, and helps them to keep the pulse of what influences and affects their students. I also like the creative options offered by the lesson, where the kids can create videos or trading cards in which to present their top picks in addition to the more traditional essays and timelines.

Intriguing Beginnings
Subjects: Writing
Grade: 3-5

One of my favorite opening lines ever is from Samuel Beckett’s Murphy: “The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.” It never fails to provoke a snort of laughter, but maybe that’s just me. Anyway, opening lines in novels have the power to instantly captivate readers – remember “Where’s Pa going with that ax?” from Charlotte’s Web? What kid doesn’t want to keep reading to find out – yes – just where is Pa going with an ax? This lesson has students review examples of good writing, and the essence of a beginning that “grabs the reader by the shoulders, shakes them up, and throws them back in the chair.”

Opening lines can make or break a novel. Not literally, of course, but many kids (and adults I know) make book selections on whether the first few lines seem interesting. Opening lines that grip a reader can instantly transport that reader into the author’s world and vision. That’s a true gift. This lesson allows elementary students to see the design and planning in the writing process, and that good writing doesn’t just happen. Published authors have to work at their writing, just as kids do, and I think that’s an important lesson for students to learn. The lesson is sure to keep students engaged: In addition to researching and reviewing memorable opening lines from some of their favorite books, the kids craft their own catchy opening lines, and videotape skits presenting their favorite opening lines. This lesson was published by Beacon Learning Center, an online educational resource and professional development center that offers standards-based resources and professional development activities. “Intriguing Beginnings” is aligned to Florida's Sunshine State Standards.

Martin Luther King, Jr. and Me: Identifying With a Hero
Subjects: Language Arts, US History
Grade: K-2
In addition to ushering in the new year, the month of January also brings us Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Talking about Dr. King with young students is a great way to explore the concepts of bravery, equality, and heroism. It can be difficult, however, for kids to identify with someone who lived and died long before they were born. This lesson, published by ReadWriteThink, provides a plethora of activities that are all built around students exploring the connections between themselves and Dr. King.

One of the things that I like about this lesson is that it offers lots of ideas for teachers to fully engage their students in the material. At this young age (kindergarten through second grade), past events are often difficult for kids to identify with. Also, many kids at this age still associate heroes with caped crusaders with superhuman abilities. Here, students compare and contrast their lives with that of Dr. King, thereby helping them to build connections, and view historical figures as real people like themselves. Heroism, then, is something we can all aspire to. Masks and capes are optional.

ReadWriteThink presents free resources in reading and language arts instruction. Each lesson is reviewed prior to publication by at least two teachers, as well as by members of the International Reading Association (IRA) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). So yeah, they’re that good. Lessons are aligned to NCTE/IRA Content Standards.

~Joann's Picks 1/1/2010~

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