One of my class topics this past week was the development of the earth's atmosphere. Like so many concepts in science, our understanding is based on data, but has to be pictured in the mind's eye by anyone learning about it. We can't see the atmosphere now, and we especially can't see what it looked like in the far past. So, helping students develop a way to visualize the invisible is as important as having them just remember a sequence of events. In fact, I would argue it is more important than having them remember a sequence of events: Once a sequence can be pictured, there is far less for a mind to have to remember.
To help students visualize the sequence of changes undergone by our planet's atmosphere, I had them make a digital story. These were simple: They drew panels, cartoon style, and wrote a simple script. They photographed the drawings, strung them together using iMovie, and recorded a narration. My job as their teacher was to edit the narration with them, to make sure it was accurate. Here is an example of one finished project.
The first time I ever had students make movie productions in class, it took a very long time. The finished work was well polished, and with the help of our tech department, all projects were strung together into one long movie. It was a Production--with a capital "P."
Last week's work falls at the other extreme. We didn't spend very long making these movies. The initial stories were done in about forty minutes, and we spent part of a second class showing them and then editing the narration for accuracy. They are productions-- but small, and well worth their time. Here are the ways I have been able to list, so far, for why the atmosphere movies helped my students:
1. They had to use both recently used vocabulary and recently learned concepts to tell the story.
2. They had to picture the events and symbolize the un-seeable.
3. They took what was presented to them as factual information, and created their own understanding through words and pictures.
4. As their final editor, I have a chance to formatively assess their understanding and improve it before misconceptions took too firm a hold.
5. Because they showed their work to each other, they had an authentic audience for their "publication."
I am fortunate that by teaching in a one-to-one laptop program, not all productions have to be large or particularity time consuming. Technology provides a great advantage for visual learning!