Monday, February 20, 2012

Do You Carousel With Your Students?

Well, I’m sure everyone has heard that Ann and I have the best dance moves around.  Seriously, how could you not know about them when our students’ are shouting about our insanely cool moves from the rooftops!  Thanks to our students’ endless encouragement and amazing growth we show no shame as we frequently dance our socks off to celebrate their progress.  We have perfected some pretty interesting dance moves this year, including the Dougie and some kickback moves from the 90s.  The choreographed routine we are the most proud of, though, is the Carousel.

The Carousel is an instructional strategy we have developed throughout the year that ties to the Perfect Storm, our philosophical approach behind the development of our 3/4/5 Multiage Program.  This “dance of the minds” is an interactive experience that addresses the needs of all 50 individuals within our classroom, while focusing on a particular topic or content strand. 

Every amazing choreographed dance has a few common factors:  purpose (Why is the dance important?), location (How should the stage be set?), costume (What should it look like?), music (What should it sound like?), and moves (What should it feel like?).  
Here are these elements within the Carousel…
Purpose- Identify the Message of the Dance:
·         Choose the content(s) of focus
·         Identify the standards/expectations
·         Determine the performance outcomes
Location- Set the Stage:
·         Create enough rotations for students to be in groups of 3-4
·         Establish opportunity for Real-World connections at EVERY rotation
·         Provide hands-on materials, manipulatives, and/or resources at each rotation
·         Display a visible timer, set to rotate students every 2-3 minutes
·         Direct students to rotate clock-wise
Costume- Dress the Part:
·         Become Mrs. Frizzle and engage them with a crazy outfit to match the content
·         Allow students to carry a clipboard, pencil, and recording sheet
·         Encourage students to put their heads together and stay a GROUP during the process
·         Expect that the classroom will be busy like a hive of bees, with visible movement at every glance
Music- Hear the Beat:
·         Set the timer to chime every 2-3 minutes (we use Timer Tools); students automatically move
·         Promote communication and collaboration during the process
·         Anticipate noise as students engage in discussion
Moves- Feel the Beat:
·         Require that students rotate quickly and begin next task
·         Remind students to record their thinking
·         Float gracefully around and take time to jot notes and observations
·         Be careful not to disrupt the flow of learning
To us the Carousel is more than a content-based experience, but rather a necessary instructional strategy in the 21st Century.  It creates an opportunity for authentic communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.  A Carousel is a learning experience that allows for rich dialogue, thinking, vocabulary, and action.  At each rotation students do not encounter problems with the purpose of seeking out one right answer, but rather the approach a situation or scenario that will cause reason to utilize the 4Cs.  Students should be expected to record their thinking as evidence for learning, for the next step in the process.

After the dance is done, so to speak, we gather together and discuss each of the conversations encountered during the experience.  Students self-assess their recording sheets, analyzing their thinking.  They then identify their “got it” targets and “need it” targets.  These become their goals for future individualized learning. 

We have used the Carousel in a variety of ways:
·         As a review of fractions
·         As a pre-assessment for Earth Science
·         As a introduction/exploration of measurement
·         As application of the elements of design in art
·         As a springboard for literary devices and grammar
·         As a formative assessment with literary genres
The Carousel has become our “go-to” strategy because it allows to use to meet every child where they are, as we provide an entry point for a range of levels at each rotation.  We carefully craft/select the question, scenario, or project to allow each child an opportunity to explore the content at hand.  Through collaboration and communication students are empowered to self-discover new knowledge to later apply to other situations.  Real-world examples and connections provide authentic learning experiences.  This is more than a differentiation tool for us, it is a way to provide students with an genuine way to interact, problem solve, and relate to the world around them.
Our classroom is known to be quite loud during a Carousel.  As 50 students are conversing, the voice level increases.  The timer chimes and students immediately rotate, which causes a quick bustle of movement.  Laughter can also be heard, as students enjoy the interactions occurring.  But what could be more powerful than true excitement and engagement within our SLC?  Sometimes you just have to dance….

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