Paper No. 4
Presentation Time: 2:30 PM
ALLOWING STUDENT CHOICE IN A MIDDLE SCHOOL SOLAR SYSTEM UNIT TO INCREASE END-OF-THE-YEAR ENGAGEMENT
Maintaining student focus and interest in schoolwork at the end of the school year is a common problem for teachers at any level. This situation may be compounded in a classroom that is composed of varying levels of learning abilities. To address these challenges we developed an astronomy lesson to test the use of student choice and creativity. The lesson meets several specific learning objectives in the Pennsylvania 8th grade science standards, focusing primarily on the objects that make up the solar system and how they differ from one another. The lesson was designed to provide the students with choice as well as to allow them to express themselves through creative writing and illustration. In addition, this activity lends itself to differentiated instruction due the flexibility of the lesson which can be designed to be approachable for students at all learning levels. The first component of student choice was to allow the students to choose the body within our Solar System that they would like to research, including specific planets, moons, comets and asteroids. Preferred research materials include images from NASA (http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/) that encourage students to think creatively about the possible living conditions on other bodies. Furthermore, each student was provided with a rubric that outlined the requirements for the project. The rubric incorporated a checklist and a scoring system to be used by the students. The checklist was designed to help the students self-moderate their progress by highlighting the key components of the assignments. The rubric was based on the science content in the final product, and completing the checklist. The lesson appeared to successfully teach the desired concepts of the bodies in the Solar System, and by implementing student choice and creativity in the lesson the students actively participated in an end of the school year project that was both productive and engaging. Students came to class eager to work on their projects and took pride in presenting their work to their peers.