Monday, December 7, 2009

Crowdsourcing Vocab

Panicked by the inflated importance of affixes (prefix, suffix, root words) in our new implementation of testing (the NECAP), and faced with surly 7th graders who have very little knowledge of the same, I raced to Google and to The Reading Teacher's Book of Lists.  What I found is daunting. List after list. Many fascinating (philias and phobias are really cool), but most simply overwhelming. That's over- = excessively + hwelfan = surge + ing forming the present participle.  Just about every word over one syllable has or is an affix. Where to start?

Hey - we are digital (digitus = finger, toe). Why should learning be all about me and my choices? Inspiration (in- = into + spirare = breath) when I read about the hunt for Genghis Khan's tomb. Scientists are using, among other things, crowdsourcing in an attempt to pinpoint the location of a tomb hidden for almost a thousand years. GeoEye satellite images of the probable burial range are being made available digitally to "people" who are willing to scan them, searching for small details that might indicate human activity all those years ago.

It will be crowd that is the source of information, from which each member of the community will learn.

I don't expect to make any money from my lesson plan, so here it is summary form. I make available to my students two appropriate online lists, one of prefixes and one of root words.  Each student chooses one item from either list and "claims" it by writing the affix on the whiteboard.  No duplications are allowed.  That night's HW is the creation of a digital product that teaches other 7th graders the affix, its meaning, and one good new vocabulary word formed from the affix. 

Most students used Keynote for this, a good choice because it exports to QuickTime. But I also have some ComicLife pages, some podcasts, and a an iMovie. We use NoteShare voicememo for quick voice recording (Send to iTunes script then right into Keynote), sound effects from GarageBand, and music from iTunes. All projects will be uploaded to one of our secure web spaces for viewing and learning by 82 7th graders - and 6th and 8th graders as well.  I will be assigning these on your own files as HW over the next month or so, then we will produce another round.

So instead of me teaching from a list, students are doing the teaching and making decisions about what content is interesting. Any surprise that homo was one of the first claimed?  During each core class we are looking at two or three of these very mini projects (30 seconds is an average length). I take the time to include a visual literacy/presentation critique, to talk about new vocabulary, and to do a post-check for understanding. Every presenter can make changes before final submission (that's sub- = under + mittere = send or put). 

I can't tell you how many aha! moments we have had this week! Some concrete thinkers have made abstract word connections for the first time. Most students are picking up on the image -> color -> sound ->  size -> design -> meaning connections.  Rather than rushing to finish, they are rushing to do well.  And the time commitment for students is about 20 minutes.  In class, the presentations are silent (as if viewed online), so presentation plus follow-up comments take five minutes max for each affix. 

How cool is that! I can instantly assess student understanding of word meanings, of the concept of affix, and of the relative difficulty of the new vocabulary.  One boy, for example, chose the root acid, but did not understand how it operates to make new words (acerbic, acrimony are way too hard so he stopped with acidic). He got a new root and we will revisit acid later in the year. 

And I have gotten to tell the story of Genghis Khan and the Mongol Horde (that's not hoard, although in this case the homophones are somewhat ironically connected), one of the great grabbers of all time, and often overlooked by today's middle school curriculum. 

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