Monday, May 4, 2015

Saturday School Antics

Our school has Saturday School sessions. This year we have had 7 of them. They are organized to get back some of the average daily attendance funding that is lost when students are not in school. Students come to school for 4 hours and have a snack break of about 15 minutes.

In our school culture, Saturday School is usually considered a privilege or opportunity and an enriching experience rather than as a punishment. There is an attendance incentive for students wishing to attend dances. We have a program which identifies freshmen students who have not earned a passing number of credits; they are encouraged to attend to get tutoring and additional learning skills as well as get some make up work completed. During this time of year many Advanced Placement teachers run classes as an opportunity to take practice AP exams. Some teachers offer Saturday school as an opportunity to earn extra credit.

Since I teach a lab class, I can only take so many students (about 35 or 40) into my Saturday enrichment sessions. I can't over fill my class room because there is just not enough physical space or chairs. Students are scheduled into my sessions on a first come first served basis. My class usually fills up in less than 24 hours. I usually have a waiting list 10 or 15 students deep. You might ask why I have such a following for what would normally be considered  something negative. I think it is a combination of the extra credit available, but also because of the cool labs and fun learning activities we can do in an extended period of time. You can do so many things when you have willing participants and extra time to gather, process and analyze the data.

I love teaching during our Saturday School sessions. I really like the time I get to do science activities that normally could not be done in a regular 55 minute class period. I normally plan a lab and some form of study game or practice and analysis for a test. I sometimes use Saturday School for a chance to work on a project we are doing in my class.

Last Saturday was our latest event and last session for the year before school is out. Since we have finals coming up, I thought I would give students the opportunity to review past tests and compare their performance to their study guides and to practice with a final from previous years. This is where things get pretty interesting, because the day could have been really boring- even if it was informative. There was not going to be a lab this time, so I took additional students including all who were on the waiting list, so I had 43 students in my room. I rearranged the desks for maximum spacing and borrowed chairs and a table from the room next door, so everyone would have a place to sit.

I broke the time into 4 activities. Students reviewed their old tests and study guides. The were not allowed to use their phones to photograph or copy the questions, but they could write notes to help them determine what they would have to study most for the final. I gave them about an hour for that process so they could review a couple of their tests.

Next, I had them write practice final questions on a shared google doc. I have a shared cart in my room with 20 chromebooks and a small set of 7 different chromebooks that I had purchased with grant money. In addition, I have 4 old desktop PC's that we use when we need solo tools. For this activity some students had to share devices, so it was rather noisy- especially when I told them they COULD NOT goof around on the document. Within minutes, someone started a comment bar on the side and the jokes WERE going around which I allowed as long as they were classroom appropriate.  It was a bit of a chore to format the doc in a useful way, but they LOVED the idea that they could watch each other and their teacher working on a document at the same time. When someone discovered that there were too many people in the document they shouted it out and several left so that others could contribute.

Then I gave them the practice test from a previous year's class. They worked quietly for another hour or so on the practice final and later, I gave them a key when they were done so they could check their answers.
While they were taking the practice test, I was organizing their shared questions into a kahoot session. I uploaded their questions and answers with some editing- to be sure the answers were correct and the questions were understandable.

Once all students were done reviewing their tests and checking their answers, we played the Kahoot game. This is where things get fun. The question comes up on the projector  screen and students use their phones, chromebooks, iPads or computers as their responders. It is very competitive. Students answer the questions as rapidly as they can and the system gives them 30 or 60 seconds to click in an answer. Once all students have answered, the game tells them how many points they earned, what place they are in on their device and on the projector who is in the top five. I cannot believe how loud it gets in the room when my students play this game. The students find it super exciting!

When the time came for students to leave at noon, we still had several questions to go and they did not want to leave. So we kept playing until the end of the game. I was just astounded. The class left about 10 minutes past the end time on a Saturday! They kept wanting to talk about what place they were in and how much fun they had been having. We had played jeopardy before and they were never this engaged. They love doing the labs, but this was really fun!

I will have to think about trying to incorporate this into a regular class session more often- maybe breaking it up into 2 days. The development of practice test questions is a critical thinking skill. They must decide what information is relevant. They need to figure out how to pose it in a question format with answers. The idea that they can teach each other something and then check for understanding for immediate feedback is really intriguing to them.

Next year as I plan new activities for Saturday School, I will have to keep this in mind, since it was such a successful and positive endeavor. I cannot wait!