14 October 2011

Making a mess


One of last year's more memorable Spanish 1 lessons involved blindfolding students and making them touch slimy things. We are preparing for a bake sale so we can ship the supplies we collected for La Laja in Colombia (hopefully, along with some video cameras to share messages between our students and theirs), so I broke the lesson out earlier this time. Plus our school's STEM theme this quarter is nutrition, so, why not? Algebra will help calculate nutrition labels after science and health classes talk about calories, so it works out!

Planning
I've condensed the unit in the interest of making our bake sale happen by November 3rd, and in the interest of keeping our dishes marketable for such an occasion. Also, instead of opening up the whole internet and insisting on country-specific dishes, I checked out all of the viable Spanish-language cookbooks I could from the library (and bought a couple myself). I had Sr. Sexton thumb through them to find bake-sale-worthy foods, and I scanned and uploaded 19 recipes to my Edmodo library for student perusal.

Vocabulary
1. I gave students a list of 23 ingredients gleaned from 2 or more of the 19 recipes--in English. They then worked with partners and the Edmodo folder of recipes to try to figure out how to say those ingredients in Spanish. We talked a lot (I in the TL) about using context clues like cognates, measurements, pictures, and structure to figure out what was what.

Still some tried using translators. And they got results that were not applicable to the recipes they would be interpreting. We had a long talk (not in the TL) about the importance of forming connections and how translators formed ZERO connections compared to the plethora of ways recipe interpreting would.

2. I gave students slips of paper with the words printed on them. I told them (in the TL) to divide all the words into 2 categories (most went for solid/liquid) that they could explain. Then I had them copy the catetories into their notes without English, thinking they could review using semantic connections. Then I had them come up with completely new vocabulary categories, 3 this time, and copy those. "Advanced" kids who got ahead had to try 4. I shot down alphabetical arrangements, which have been shown to do nothing for meaning acquisition.

3. We interpreted part of a Spanish Wikipedia article about dulce de leche to reinforce the idea of interpreting instead of translating and how to use context clues like cognates, discourse structure, and background knowledge, to apply a couple of the other vocabulary words from the list.

4. We practiced vocabulary with a powerpoint of images for each word.

Set up
I procured the ingredients not available in my cabinet and, with Sr. Sexton's help, filled sealable baggies, each ingredient in its own baggie--double for liquids (though I did forget the miel). I numbered these baggies with permanent marker on both sides, aligning with a corresponding list. Then I ripped up some fabric remnants to make blindfolds.

I gave students directions in Spanish, had them make one long table out of several trapezoid tables before I spread the baggies out on them. Then they chose partners. Each partner had to number a piece of paper 1-24, which would be filled out by their associates who guided them while they were blindfolded.

Snags
Unblindfolded partners wandered away from their impaired partners leaving them stranded. Blindfolded students tripped over cords and dropped baggies of oil, milk, flour, and oatmeal. Most of the baggies ended up at one end of the table, resulting in major bottlenecking. Most of the baggie numbers were rubbed off by the time it was the other partners' turn to feel.

Solutions
When blindfolds switched heads, I decreed (and resorted to English) that blindfolded partners line up on one side of our "banquet table," and the unblindfolded on the other. Unblindfolded parties were henceforth required to hold the baggies for their sightless counterparts and stay with them; baggies were to be evenly exchanged and distributed. Spills were to be cleaned up as soon as they happened (hooray for the parent who works for a paper company and got us oodles of paper towels!). I referred to my list, guessed as best I could, and vowed to put stickers on the baggies next time.

Conclusion
Given freshman maturity levels, it was probably wiser when I did this lesson closer to the semester mark than when they were still basically middle schoolers. Also, even though this worked better than trying to get the whole class to attend to one pair at a time (as I did with much smaller classes last year), my carpet was not, shall we say, grateful for the original modifications applied to the lesson. Perhaps this would be better accomplished in the cafeteria? I should also have Lysol wipes instead of baby wipes on hand, and a broom and/or vacuum, with sweeping and/or vacuum time built into the class period with pre-selected "volunteers" to accomplish said sweeping and/or vacuuming.

 I should probably pick the partners ahead of time, too, and lay out guidelines for good partnership in a blindfold-related situation.  And though I justified doing this experience first so it could inform the Piramides game, students probably needed more practice with the vocabulary before diving into blind guessing, so I really should have done that and possibly Pictionary before this lesson, too.

Still, I heard students guessing what the substance was, prompting each other to say it in Spanish, giving each other clues, so, though it was a mess in so many ways, I think I'll probably still make it happen again next year.

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