Saturday, March 1, 2014

Popplet: Supporting son's writing homework… he loves to build!

Used as a mind-map, Popplet helps students think and learn visually. Students can capture facts, thoughts, and images while learning to create relationships between them.  This is how it helped our family:

My son is a typical 1st grader who loves to build.   Many times I will get home from work to see an extra-large airplane made of construction paper on the living room floor.  He loves getting cardboard boxes to build space ships or jetpacks.  Lego’s are a fan favorite at our house (side note, the Lego Movie is a must see, great movie with a better message).  He enjoys the 3 in 1 Legos, creating multiple possibilities from the same set.  I would say his top building game is Minecraft on the Ipad.  The creative and building aspects of Minecraft allow players to build constructions out of textured cubes in a 3D world.  Extremely exciting for a 1st grader!  It is all he wants to talk about.   Unfortunately, as much as he loves to build, the opposite is true for homework

Homework can be a challenge for him, particularly writing assignments.  He becomes very frustrated, not because he is unable to do the work, because he thinks it is boring.  We try to make it a game and provide some incentives from time to time.  We always “talk it up,” showing excitement when he brings it home, giving accolades for his effort, and breaking assignments into chunks so it isn’t as overwhelming.  His homework is appropriate (needed practice) focused on skill building and the writing assignments seem to connect to student interests and ability level.

Over the mid-winter break he received a writing assignment that was challenging, lacking interest to even start the homework.  He was asked to write about his hero, directions were clear and expectations were appropriate for his ability level.  With that said, it was like pulling teeth to get him motivated (not that I have ever pulled teeth… I’m sure it isn’t easy).  He picked his hero, that was a great conversation (made my mom happy, see his Popplet below); however, he had no interest in putting his thought into words.  We tried to create a brainstorming web to organize our conversation, had no interest.  Can you believe it???  The son of a principal has no interest in his writing homework… actually, reminds me of myself when I was a child. 

So, I introduced him to Popplet.  He loves to build, figured this might be helpful… building his mind-map using technology.  His attitude quickly changed, using the app to “build” ideas was exciting (or at least more acceptable than writing).  I even think he had fun!!!!  Check it out:

He did all of the typing, with limited help w/spelling, then copied onto provided sheet without complaining.  
Finished product:

Popplet is a great brainstorming tool that motivated him differently than other strategies we have used.  Of all the tricks... this one worked (at least for this assignment)!  Check out the website if you are looking for a new way to motivate your new writers... at home or at school!

As a final thought, if you are required to give homework (my HW philosophy is for another post), make it as exciting, purposeful and relevant as possible.  Be mindful to the amount you are giving.  Try to create homework experiences that motivate your students.    Differentiate your homework based on need and allow for choice.  Please, please, please… do not provide busy work that students (families) might resent, this will only hinder your goal of creating an excited life-long learner. Provide homework that will strengthen your classroom teaching and support student engagement, empowering them to learn. 

Have a great week of teaching!!!! 

Keith Howell

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