I found an online resource that would enable a user to upload spreadsheet data to create a heat map of the United States. This lesson, I thought, would help students combine their skills of data entry and mapping in one, simple lesson. To make it more relevant, I wanted the students to map out the concentrations of where everyone went for winter break. Students would fill out a Google form, copy the data from the results onto a spreadsheet, and upload their spreadsheets to the online resource in order to create their map.
Sadly, the lesson did not go as planned. At all. Here are the three big takeaways I can reflect now that I have had time to think about what exactly went wrong.
One, I assumed the students would be able to complete the assignment just as fast as I did. Like all my lessons, I do them myself to make sure that I am not challenging the students beyond what they may or may not be capable of. It took me all of 20 minutes to complete the assignment, which I though would be perfect for a 38 minute lesson. However, the students really struggled with the directions. Despite my careful attention to the detail of the instructions, many students became easily confused and it took them much longer to complete the assignment. Only about half of the class ended up finishing. I need to remember in the future that not only will students need more structure than I typically do, but also will need much more time to complete an assignment.
Two, my lesson had no hook and no finale. All I expected the students to do was create a map, and, tah-dah! I overheard many of my students asking what the point of this map was and why they had to do this rather than trying to catch up on assignments that have not completed yet. Of course, in my mind, I knew that this map would help them develop their skills further in a way that was relevant to their winter breaks. However, with no lead in, many of my students missed the point. In addition to allowing more time for a lesson like this to develop, students need to be briefed about a lesson. In other words, why do it?
Three, I did not have a backup plan. Worst of all, the map turned out nothing like I was expecting it to. I knew that most of my students would end up staying in California over the duration of their winter breaks, but the heat maps did not accurately reflect this concentration. Rather, it looked more like a singular block of color rather than a gradual concentration like all of the heat maps I've seen. I did test the assignment myself, but not with the level of data the students were working with, and I paid for it with a map that hardly made sense to me, let alone my students. Lesson? You can never be too careful with predicting the outcome of a newly formulated lesson plan.
If anything, I welcome the reality check. It's moments like these when I truly feel I am growing as an educator. I just hope the winter break hangover doesn't last for much longer!