March 2009


Learning Centers
By
Alan Haskvitz
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Haskvitz
The use of learning centers in elementary and some middle school classrooms has been fairly well accepted as common practice although the concept does have its critics. The rationale for the concerns are related to the time element in that some classes have a set amount of minutes while other teachers have the ability to set their own limits. Secondly is the amount of time making sure students are on task and also the amount of minutes given to setting up the centers. There is also a great deal of planning involved and the funding to equip the centers must be found. By far the most telling argument against learning centers is the fact that some teachers would rather do whole class assignments and feel that the extra work and smaller group activities aren’t to their liking. Add this to the need for many more grading rubrics and you have the adding noise level small groups seem to create and you have a difficult argument to overcome.
However, to those who enjoy the idea of learning centers I recommend starting small and moving ahead as you feel the need and acquire the resources. There are upsides to this type of learning environment, however, as always, no one methodology has ever been proven to be best for every situation. Go with your instincts, talk to teachers who have already invested time and most likely their own money, in creating centers.

Types of Learning Centers

The types of learning styles are numerous from those that deal with the major styles or learning such as auditory, tactual, and visual to those centered around enrichment and a combination of the two. These centers revolve around enrichment activities that focus on the main objective of the lesson and offer a variety of ways to learn those concepts. They are best used after the class as been exposed to a the main lesson and showed some knowledge of its ingredients. Typically, the centers provide more layers to the learning and a deeper understanding of the material. In an ideal world the learning centers combine both cooperative work and individual activities. For example, created a mural as a group and a poem about what was learned from the individual.

Another type of center is based on the mastering of a fact by performing tasks directly related to that acquisition. These skill centers enable a student to see the data in a variety of ways, but also promote repetition to inculcation of the important facts. The main difference between skill and enrichment is the difference between inductive and deductive reasoning. One requires the student to take a set piece of information and create projects from that in ever expanding circles of reasoning. The other is taking a fact and working to learn that fact as it applies to the situation. There is less freedom and more structure to the latter.

A learning center that allows a student creative freedom to express themselves with a limited amount of structure as to the subject matter is worth considering. They can be set up as discovery based where the materials are provided to allow the student to find a variety of answers to a question or even to produce their own questions. These centers are easy to construct once the teacher has a handle on the students’ interests. For example, if the class is studying ancient civilizations pictures, models, building blocks, and other materials can be provided as they decide different ways to construct weapons, protect cities, dress soldiers, and even build a modern day fortified city are all possible.

Here are some centers related to Language Arts that can provide more detail: A vocabulary center; a compare and contrast center for use with reading short stories; a diary center to reflect on what has been learned or to as biography for a character[ a test writing center where students create tests for others to take, an art center where poster are created to illustrate a point of learning or advertise a book or other work; mnemonic devise center where students create ways to help them memorize facts; and a linking center where students use diagrams to link previous learning to present ones.

The key to all good learning centers is the teacher’s ability to break down the lesson into smaller parts so that the learning centers can build on the initial objective. This added to the teacher’s knowledge of the students’ interests creates more dynamic learning opportunities and more on-task behavior. But keep in mind that designing grading rubrics for activities at all these centers is very difficult and might be considered as part of a larger grading package.

Resources

A WikEd piece on Learning Centers in the Middle School Classroom is an excellent short article on the pros and cons of using these centers as well as some suggestions and possible problems. A good read for all levels.

http://wik.ed.uiuc.edu/index.php/Learning_Centers_in_the_Middle_School_Classroom

A Quality Primary Site
A primary learning center site that includes literacy station boards, a PowerPoint how to and even a variation of Bloom’s taxonomy in the form of a printable Marzano’s Level of Thinking that should be part of every teacher’s grading rubric and objectives.
http://www.catawba.k12.nc.us/c_i_resources/\
Summer%20Staff%20Development.htm
Classroom Organization and Workstations
A large link site with valuable ideas on how to arrange and use learning centers.
http://www.internet4classrooms.com/classroom_organization.htm
Kathy Schrock’s Guide for Learning Center
Some links, but mainly books on the topic from Amazon. Always check prices of these books with other sources before buying.
http://school.discoveryeducation.com/schrockguide/edlearn.html
A Teacher Created Site with Fresh Ideas for Primary and Elementary levels.
http://www.mrsmcdowell.com/centers.htm
How to Set Up Your Classroom
Ideas for all types of situations, including learning centers. Worth a quick read.
http://www.eduplace.com/rdg/res/classroom.html

Another simple site with eight rules to follow when setting up your classroom.

http://www.ehow.com/how_2055186_incorporate-learning-centers-classroom.html

What to consider before setting up the audio learning center. Includes dealing with media players, headphones, and more.

https://www.audiolinks.com/Articles/LearningCenterArticle.shtml

Sparklebox is great

This site has a variety of lessons on all areas of learning and most grade levels. Take your time and explore the many avenues that this free resource from Great Britain provides.

http://www.sparklebox.co.uk/
http://www.sparklebox2.co.uk

Interactive lessons that could be  used for computerized learning centers in many subject areas and elementary levels. Here are some examples:
http://www.pasadenaisd.org/sailon/grade3.htm
http://www.pasadenaisd.org/sailon/tech_appsK2.htm
http://www.pasadenaisd.org/sailon/grade5.htm
http://www.pasadenaisd.org/sailon/musick_5.htm

Literacy Learning Center Ideas and more
http://www.catawba.k12.nc.us/c_i_resources/literacy_links.htm
Learning Center Ideas
More detail and some creative ones, too, that use multiple intelligences.
http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/mi/implementation_sub1.html#2

Cute and free printable sites to label learning centers

http://www.bulletin-board-idea.com/center_signs.shtml

Learning circles used in an inner city classroom

These ideas can be used by all teachers. An extensive article with emphasis on cooperative learning.

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3666/is_199408/ai_n8725444

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Twitter in the Classroom

http://www.reacheverychild.com

It is difficult at best to keep up with the latest in technology let alone find an acceptable use for it in the classroom. Add to that school policy on cell phones, Internet blocking software, and the epidemic of text messaging and teachers are doing well to hold their own.

Now comes Twittering. This is essentially text messaging limited to 140 characters and it is can be sent as broadcast messaging and Instant Messaging to one person or several. Twittering can be limited to friends or as a subscription. However, its importance in the classroom, if allowed, is its potential to motivate students to share ideas and to even improve their note taking abilities.

First, you need to register your name. Try http://twitter.com for a video and more information. You can also practice on that site and you can follow others who can provide ideas and guidance. I suggest you make your Twitter stream private, there is no need for it to be on the Internet. This also makes it mush safer for classroom use where you can communicate with your students and answer questions in nearly real time, if you have the time.

Remembering that Twitter is like Post It Notes, quick and to the point, and not email, which is more formal and has many more functions. Twitter is fast, and if you want to get more involved there are hashtags, a Twitter search engine http://search.twitter.com/ and Retweeting.

To start to use Twitter students must sign-up for your Twitter feed and you obviously need to budget time to answer the Twits you receive. After that I recommend you start small and expand as your time and interests permit. Remember to make sure you have administrative and parental approvals.

Here are some ideas I have come up with for the public school classes. First, a quick review of what was covered and what is going to be covered in class that day or the next. Secondly, a few quick review questions and some good websites to add depth to a lesson. Thirdly, privately seeking questions from students who don’t have the moxy to ask in class. Next, the ability to quickly relate what is happening in the news to the class and make teachable moments more meaningful and more personal. http://www.reacheverychild.com/feature/teachable-moments.html And, Twitter can also be used to share ideas, help absent students keep up with work, and provide homework assistance.

What may be the greatest use of Twitter is the networking possibilities with students around the world. For example, while your class is studying Japan’s involvement in World War Two students in Japan could be sending messages about their perspective. As the visionary Marshall McLuhan envisioned, Twitter makes possible an immediate Global Village.

The possibilities are vast, but remember that some students may have to pay a fee for such text messages and so check before hand and always make Twittering an elective. Of course, students can set their Twitter so all messages come as emails, which is the only way to really avoid these charges, but this does remove some of the immediacy of the Twitter concept.

There are some ideas posted here that are used by a professor in Texas that might key some ideas for the public school classroom. http://academhack.outsidethetext.com/home/2008/twitter-for-academia/

Obviously, there are down sides and caveats to using Twitter in the classroom and all such ideas need to be supported by the administration. But there are upsides as well. Imagine the students following President Obama’s by subscribing to his Tweets or getting Tweets from students who are under duress around the world.

As a teacher you can also use Twitter search to find other educators and learn about conferences, ideas, and even share lessons and concerns.
Other areas to explore include edmodo. This service enables teachers and students to send files, links, and even assignments to each other. Teachers sign-up for an account and create a class code. Students sign-up and the messages are held to just those in the loop. A great tool for ESL and gifted students and others who need a differentiated curriculum.

http://www.edmodo.com/faq/

Twitter in the Classroom (University)

http://academhack.outsidethetext.com/home/2008/twitter-for-academia/

And

http://chronicle.com/wiredcampus/article/2699/a-professors-tips-for-using-twitter-in-the-classroom

Twitter in the Classroom

http://www.marketingpilgrim.com/2008/01/twitter-in-the-classroom.html

Some insights into how Twitter can help you as a person.

A little vague, but stretches the reach of Twitter and helps one understand the value of such a program outside the educational realm.

http://blogs.zappos.com/blogs/ceo-and-coo-blog/2009/01/25/how-twitter-can-make-you-a-better-and-happier-person

21 Ways to use Twitter in the Classroom

http://docs.google.com/Present?docid=dhn2vcv5_118cfb8msf8

Seven Things You Should Know about Twitter

http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7027.pdf

Huge listing of free technology links

http://www.reacheverychild.com/feature/tech_day.html

Teach with Computer Games

http://www.reacheverychild.com/feature/computer-games.html

Clean up your computer

http://www.reacheverychild.com/feature/new-year-cleanup.html

Free virus software

http://www.reacheverychild.com/feature/virus_protect.html

Free software for Teachers

http://www.reacheverychild.com/feature/software.html

Protecting your students and yourself on the Internet

http://www.reacheverychild.com/feature/internet_safety.html

Other technology resources

http://www.reacheverychild.com/computers/index.html

Educational Software

http://www.reacheverychild.com/computers/software/index.html

Beware that there is a clear agenda in some of the works distributed by this organzation.

Educators are getting offers of free DVD/CDs from IZZIT.Org and should remember that there is no free lunch. These offerings need to be researched before using in a public school setting as they may only offer one side of a story. According to sources, the idea for this organization came from the Palmer R. Chitester Fund which was created by Bob Chitester, with startup money from the Bradley Foundation to create right wing “popular” media, and lately has taken to distributing educational materials based on the reporting of such people as John Stossel. It’s Idea Channel distributes videotapes on conversations between mostly members of the right wing movement on topics ranging from political science to economics to history.

From Wikipeadia

The organization currently known as izzit.org was initially called In the Classroom Media. Izzit.org provides teachers with materials on current events and other topics for in-classroom use. According to the Palmer R. Chitester Fund’s website, 195,000 teachers used their materials in 2007, reaching 18 million students; the Fund claims that 1 in 4 secondary school social studies teachers used their materials in 2007.

The Idea Channel currently markets the documentaries produced by Free to Choose Media, as well as interviews with mainly conservative thinkers in the fields of Business, Economics, History, Literature, Science, and related fields. The Idea Channel’s website also offers streaming video of some of these productions.

Beginning in 1999, the Palmer R. Chitester Fund provided funding for Stossel in the Classroom.”