By Matt Marciano
Since this issue features best practices, especially as it relates to the new age in teaching with the Common Core and PARCC, I thought I would share, as a teacher in a nontested subject, some ideas that I have used in my Social Studies classroom to support my students in this new learning age, as well as my colleagues in tested subjects.
One of the most interesting types of learning beyond the textbook that can be applied in any academic subject is Problem-Based Learning (PBL). Using this fairly new educational model, students are given a task statement based on a topic they are currently studying, and through this task they are given a problem relevant to their lives and the current unit of study. When students (and I must also admit, myself) were introduced to this method of learning, it definitely was somewhat challenging. However, once students get an opportunity to take part in PBL, it can truly expand learning possibilities.
PBLs I have used in class have been part of my Ancient Greece Unit. Students not only research an assigned Greek God or Goddess, but compare them to a modern day person who matches the characteristics of that God or Goddess. Students are learning higher-research skills by using library databases, and, at the same time, the assignment is made more interesting and relevant to their everyday lives. Students have also been given challenging PBLs to discuss the downfalls of the caste system in India, to create virtual museums that relate to our study of Ancient Egypt and to write a letter to the principal advocating for Latin to be taught in school, based on our study of Ancient Rome.
The PBL that students seem to enjoy the most that involves writing, speaking and research is creating their own country with education structure, government and economic system. It is amazing to see sixth graders actively engaged in such difficult topics and enjoying the challenges presented to them.
I have found in this age of the PARCC and Common Core that these activities have led students to get the most out of the units by using PBL. They seemed more challenged to complete these assignments, and, based on each PBL task, seem ready to take them on and want to do well on them. Learning about PBL at a teacher professional development workshop a few years ago made me realize how challenging this method of learning can be at first. But once students take part in PBL, they really seem to benefit from the challenges presented by each task.
Another way to support student learning in the PARCC and Common Core era is Formative Assessment. This is extremely helpful in the age of teaching materials that students need to know for PARCC and making sure that students are getting the material, instead of waiting until the end-of-the-unit test. Formative Assessments can include exit cards to have students write down what they understand and do not understand about what they currently are studying; observing students in groups to see if they are getting the material; graphic organizers and practicing presentations to see if the students are fully prepared before they give an actual graded presentation.
Both PBL and Formative Assessments are ways for a classroom teacher, in the age of PARCC and Common Core, to check for student understanding with more engaging and interesting methods. They also allow teachers to make sure the material they are teaching is understood, which is critical for teachers and students in this age of all the educational changes we have been hit with the past two years.
Matt Marciano is a sixth-grade teacher at Long Valley Middle School in
Morris County. He created the “Change The World” project for his students
to complete a year-long project that will make the world a better
place. He was honored as the Think Teachers “Teacher of the Month” for