Tuesday, December 11, 2012

When Something Isn't Working, Recognize it and Do Something Different

I have known for about a month that my math class wasn't working. Let me give some background first. This is the first year I have taught math in the last ten. I only have a couple years' experience as it is so I am by no means a master math teacher. Because of my lack of experience I was given the 'high' math group, the idea being that they can learn without me if needed (more on this later.)

I started the year explaining that we were going to spend more time trying to really master the math, not just go through it. To foster that idea, I emphasized that when students didn't show mastery through their assessments they needed to go back, identify the problems, fix the problems and retest. We spent a lot of time after every assessment modeling that behavior. It seemed to work very well as long as the math was easy, it has fallen apart now that it is harder.

A typical lesson runs like this, the first day I would work examples of the new material on the board and then assign practice work for them to do. The answers for these problems are in the back of the book so the students can check their work. The next day I would ask if they had any questions or needed any particular problems shown to them. Usually I ask that question and hear crickets. Then I assign the problems that don't have answers in the back. The third day I answer those questions and do a quick assessment to see if we are ready to move on.

Over time I noticed that several students were not doing the practice work, and doing miserably on the 'ungraded' work. (I try hard to not take grades on any practice.) Not surprisingly, they failed the assessment miserably. I thought they had learned their lesson and they did much better on the make-up assessment a couple days later. I assumed wrong. The cycle is repeating, but their is no drive to learn from the mistakes.

As you can imagine this is a pretty frustrating development. The lack of effort seems to be spreading and I am at the point that I have to change something because this is not working. Do you have any ideas you would like to share?

A Great Time for Reflection

I am using this last full week of class to have my students do a little reflective writing. The topics they can choose from (which you can see on the picture above) can be answered quite simply, but I want them to dig in much deeper.

We need to give our students opportunity and time to think reflectively about lots of things including school. I am really curious to see who chooses which prompt and how they are answered. We will find time this week to share them and hopefully on Friday we will blog them.

What reflective questions do you ask your students?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Is School Learning Valuable Enough for the Time Our Kids Invest?

I heard screams coming from outside so I saunter out onto the porch just in time to see my youngest daughter Quinci flying down the hill on a bicycle. She and her older sister Aidan have been "riding" for a few days. By riding I mean they push their bikes up the hill and coast down it. Quinci is getting ready for the new bike she asked Santa for Christmas. Aidan is helping her learn how to ride.

Later Quinci comes to me with a Sharon Creech book in her hand. She asks me when she will be "allowed" to read it. I was a bit taken aback, I didn't realize that kids had to ask permission to read books (especially my kids in my home). I told her she can read anything she wants to and she is now sitting next to me reading The Unfinished Angel.

What do we teach kids at school that is worth 7-8 hours a day that they can't learn on their own? If a seven year old and a ten year old can teach each other to ride a bike, what do they need a teacher for? How much school time is used to teach things only good for the community of school? Why did Quinci think she needed permission to read a longer chapter book than she was used to? These are the questions that make me wonder about what I am doing at school with my students.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Hayley's Book

Hayley wrote a book, then she read the book to one of the staff at school and asked her to record it and put it on Youtube. Hayley already understands that an audience is very necessary to motivation. 

What makes it necessary for us to feel the need to share with others what we create? I realize not everyone feels this way, but there are a lot of people that do. What are you doing to fulfill this need for your students? For other teachers' students? 

Hayley is giving us a wake up call. If we don't meet her needs to share, she will find another way to do it and there is no guarantee the path she would choose would be in her best interest. If you don't believe me, take a trip through Youtube and see what kids are uploading on their own.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Maybe Your Progressive Teaching Ideas Are Not What's Best for All Your Students

As a teacher that experiments often in the classroom with different teaching methods and exposes my class to different learning methods I see that how students respond differently to them. One of the reasons I change what I do with my teaching and what I share with my students is to allow them to identify what works best for them so they can make informed choices about how they learn best and what they need to do to be successful.

Lately I have become more much sensitive to condemnations of traditional teaching methods. There is a place for these methods in the classroom. They do work well for some students. Many of us are successful products of the old teaching methods. (Yes I know many are not.)

I am not advocating that we never try progressive methods. I am simply saying that all students need the opportunity to learn in their best way. If you summarily reject the past to be progressive, you may be harming some of your kids. 

Friday, November 16, 2012

Edublog Award 2012 Nominations

I have been nominating people for the Edublog Awards for years. It has been a great way for me to show my appreciation for all the hard work they do. Each year it seems to get a little harder to identify 'the best' of the sites that I frequent.

  • Best Group Blog: Education Rethink John Spencer and Chad Segersten are always posting diverse, thought provoking ideas. A must read for any person interested in education.
  • Influential Post: Sometimes posts are influential because they have a huge reach, sometimes they are influential because they have a huge impact regardless of the reach. Being a Social Outcast by Solal Bauer reminds me of the power of blogging for our students. If you want to read a post that demonstrates the importance of sharing and conversing, start here.
  • Individual Tweeter: Jabiz Raisdana aka @IntrepidTeacher Twitter is more than a place to share education links and practices. It is a place to share ourselves and I know of no one that exemplifies that better than Jabiz.
  • Teacher Blog: Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension by Pernille Ripp is everything you ask for in a teacher blog. Pernille is honest, thoughtful, and reflective. This is a model teacher blog that centers on the classroom. Why aren't more teachers doing this?
  • Free Web Tool: Kidblog is the best free web tool because it makes it very easy to give students a voice on the internet. If we are all about kids, our tools should reflect that too.
  • Best Open PD: EdCamps They reinforce the value of face to face collaboration and sharing without ignoring the need to collaborate and share online.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

A Very Successful Writing Activity

To start with, I didn't come up with the idea for this writing activity and I regretfully admit I don't remember who on Twitter told me about it. I really hope they read this and leave me a comment so I can fix that.

Today my class tried out a new writing activity. It might as well be called speed writing because I can't think of another name. We started with a topic and I gave them three minutes to write. when the time was up I added another story piece. After three minutes I added another. Here are the prompts and extra pieces:

  • Today my class took a surprise trip to the zoo.
  • then Mr. C fell into the gorilla pit!
  • Mr. C started poking an alligator with a stick
  • then Francisco (one of my students) came back with no shirt on
  • When we were ready to leave, we discovered Jason (another one of my students) was missing.

At first the writing prompt didn't inspire many of the students, but when I added myself falling into the gorilla pit the writing took off. I spent twenty minutes watching my students write furiously and listening to them giggle as they wrote. When we were finished the students asked to do it again. In fact they asked to do it again the next time they came back to the home room! 

Here are the two stories we managed to get published on our new writing blog. 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

LiveScribe Post On My Donors Choose Project

Part I

Part II

This is my first post using the LiveScribe Pen. What do you think? I would love some constructive feedback. Was it worth the extra time to listen to the post? Did the pictures help or distract? 

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Bambi, Frankenweenie, and Storytelling

In 1975 I attended the re-release of Bambi at my local theatre. I am sure many of you had a very similar experience. As 'Man' entered the forest my anxiety rose, when the Great Prince broke the news to Bambi that, "Your mother can't be with you anymore." I completely lost it. That was my first experience with storytelling that could really manipulate my emotions.

My youngest daughter had a similar experience last night. We went to the theatre and watched the movie Frankenweenie. Without ruining the plot, Quinci was absolutely mortified throughout the second half of the film. I think she was equal parts sad and scared. 

My first instinct was to take her and leave. I didn't because (as bad as it sounds) I was really enjoying the movie. The homage Tim Burton made of this movie is amazing. 

After the movie was over I thought about what had happened, remembering my own experience with Bambi. I was really devastated for days over the death, but I still remember the movie. Having watched it several times with my own children I still have that sadness present. I don't think this is a bad legacy, it is really a gift.

As teachers our goal is to make a qualitative difference in our students. We want them to attach an emotion to the time we spend with them. We want to be remembered. Storytellers know this inherently. They tell stories that are emotional to them in a way that transfers that emotion to the listeners. They make us feel. Maybe we should learn from them.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Creating a Visual Sequence of Events

Having finished the book Peter and Wendy we are now making a visual sequence of events. The pictures will be displayed first in the hallway and later in the room (for comparing and contrasting with the future versions of Peter Pan's stories.)

A visual sequence is a great way to help kids that have trouble reading visualize the story. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Real Learning is Messy, Embrace It

Here is Stephanie working through an expression with a variable. I just introduced this concept today and there was a lot of push back from the students. Apparently they didn't want to be challenged. This is a real lesson where this wonderful student struggles and is slightly embarrassed about it. We have to push kids beyond their comfort zone and allow them to struggle. We have to push them to show what they are doing and how they are doing it. If we are fortunate they may even share what they are thinking too. Compare this to a Kahn Academy video. Which do you think is more valuable? Why?

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Juan Teaches Division

In this video, one of my students teaches division. What I find interesting here is the way he asked questions. It is very easy to see the influence past teachers have had on the way he perceives he needs to teach math. What do you think?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

We Are Having Trouble With Voice

I chose the "Voice" trait to emphasize at the beginning of the year. As you can imagine, it is a pretty difficult thing to introduce. The students are so used to writing like they write, not like they speak and that makes all of their writing sound alike.

I am considering having the students partner up to "tell" their story to (think scribe.) I believe they will be much more likely to be able to capture their voice better. 

One downside I can see is the speed the students can record the writing at. In a perfect world each student would have access to a recorder and take care of it that way, but it isn't feasible. Besides, I think there is some value in the immediate feedback they will receive from the scribe. 

So, what do you think? Am I missing something negative here? Are there extra benefits I am not thinking about?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Today I Lectured My Class

Jon Becker asked me to write down some of the things I talked to my students about today. The lecture was off the cuff so I don't have a real record of what I said, but I am hoping to write here a reflection of the spirit if not the actual words of what I said.

Class, we have talked about the behavior you have exhibited in the hallway already this week. I have explained to you why we have to follow the school expectations for the hallway. I don't require you to do anything that I don't think is important for learning. I have told you that several times.

When we are in the hallway we have three expectations: don't touch the walls, walk in a single file, and be quiet. Notice I didn't say 'don't talk'. I don't mind if you say something to the person in front of you as long as it is quiet.

Why are we supposed to be quiet in the hallway? We aren't learning anything there. We use the hallways to get from here to where we are going, not because it is a learning experience. We need to be quiet in the hallway because when we are loud we keep other students in the other classrooms from learning. When we are part of a community we have to choose to put our wants and desires behind the needs of the community. We aren't affecting our learning by being quiet in the hallway, we aren't there to learn. We do affect other's learning when we are noisy though. We need to put our wants behind their needs.

Touching the walls may not seem like a big deal, but if you knock something off the wall it will be a big deal. I have seen students do that many times and the teachers that put things up in the hall are not very nice to students that tear them up or knock them down. I don't want you to experience a mad teacher yelling at you in the hallway in front of other students and I hope you don't want that experience either.

Why do I expect you to walk in a single file line? There isn't always someone coming down the hallway that you are blocking. It isn't because the hallway isn't wide enough either. It is simply because when you walk side by side you want to talk. I want to take away that temptation. I don't want you to inhibit other students learning because you can't wait the few minutes it takes to get back to the classroom to talk.

Now let's talk about your behavior here. You have been given a lot of freedom that other students here do not have. When it is 'your time' you can move to where you want, sit by whom you want, and spend your time doing what you see fit. I even give you the freedom to not do the work if you choose, as long as you are not keeping others from learning too. You, in my opinion, have the right to not do the work. You have the right to be as dumb as you want to be, but you don't have the right to make others dumb too. You have a lot of freedom here.

The problem with freedom is you have to remember you are part of a community. You need to realize that what you do affects others. You need to be responsible. What happens when everybody decides they don't want to follow the expectations of the community? We get chaos. When everybody does whatever they want to things get out of control. Unfortunately, when we can't control ourselves others have to step in and do that. I don't want to be that person. I don't want to be your jailor. I want you to put the community in front of your wants.

I realize you have not had this much freedom before. Unfortunately, if you don't learn how control yourselves the freedom can and will go away. I know you are good kids. I know you don't want me to be the kind of teacher that makes you sit in rows and won't let you talk. I know you want to do what is right, so let's start doing it now.

I am actually pretty surprised at how easily it came back to me. I don't think this is everything I said to the class, but it is probably 85-90% all here. I also want to point out that I actually did use the words expectations and community with my students. I didn't dress up the pig, he is wearing his original clothes :)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

My Room Deconstructed

This post is meant to explain some decisions I have made with the set up of our classroom. I won't know if it is successful for some time. When we (teachers) make this many choices for our community we are bound to make some mistakes. 

This first picture is what you see against the back wall, right when you walk into the room.
 This area is meant to be a place where students can relax, read a book, or catch some educational videos. I have a couple exercise balls that will be placed in the area later. I am not sure that this is the right space for them yet, I may be better served having them used by the students at their desks or tables.
 Above the relaxation area are two frames full of school memorabilia from when I attended this school and later attended our high school. The left frame shows a few examples of the grades I earned. I was not a great student at the elementary or junior high level. In retrospect I see how lazy and disinterested in school I was. There really was very little beyond the library that interested me. Also included is my high school graduation program and my acceptance into Missouri Southern's Honors Program. I plan to have conversations with my students about how I changed from being a poor student to a good one and the reward I earned from the hard work.

The frame on the right contains reminders of the extra-curricular activities I participated in as a student. There is a picture of myself in our 8th grade play, A Little Rascals Christmas. I have a newspaper picture of me making a tackle during a football game as a senior. (My form is pretty sweet too :) I also have some clippings from being on the golf team. I really think being active outside of class helped me to be a better student.
 This is our class library. It doesn't yet have a lot of books because I left my classroom library behind when I left 5th grade three years ago. The reason it is mobil is because I want to be able to move things around the room easily. I can create large areas of space very quickly this way.
This is my IWB. My plan is to use it mostly for small group work. I think its value lies literally in the hands of the students. 
 This the is the back, left corner of the room when you walk in. It consists of a record player, a sound board, amplifier, and a couple large speakers. I can hook up the electric guitar and my electric ukulele for the students to play with. They can also play with the conga drum. I am hoping to spend some time teaching the students how to read chords and play some rhythms. How great would it be if we formed a band?
 I pinned this shirt on the bulletin board because I love the pop art feel of it. The shirt is from Walt Disney World (my preferred vacation destination) and it depicts a cowboy holding a churro. I read an article where the artist said that the picture was inspired by Sergio Leone's westerns. I included this in my room because I want my students to be inspired by real art. I also have a couple Ork prints that I will be putting up later after I find the right frames. Hopefully we soon will have a lot of student art work on the walls as well.
 On the left wall I have a station with two computers that will be used by the students. I have enough computers for each of my small groups to have computer access.
 Underneath the computers is a shelf where I have hung grow lights. We will be growing plants soon. I wonder if our community will choose flowers or food? I am hoping for food ;)
 This is a 50 inch HD TV I bought for the classroom. I have hooked up a Blu-Ray player and an Apple TV. I can mirror my iPad or my iPhone onto the television screen and this gives us a lot of flexibility. Students will be able to manipulate the images using the iPad. We will be able to see our class videos without covering the windows and blocking the natural light. I really can't wait to see how we find different ways to use this.
 Here is our class aquarium. It is empty because the community is going to decide what we will put in it. Here is the lesson plan we will be using. I sure hope they make a wise decision. I don't want dead fish floating in it.
 This is my Photosmart printer which allows me to print wirelessly from my iPad, iPhone, or Nexus 7. This is going to be mainly used for printing pictures documenting our year together. Soon we will have pictures being placed around the room by the students which show what they are learning. Below is an example.

 Above my desk (more on that later) are my diplomas and a few certificates I have earned. I want my students to be aware of my accomplishments. This is important because I am a hometown boy and I want them to know that being from Noel does not mean having to work at the local chicken processing plant.
 Here is my desk. I tried very hard to do without a desk, but I just couldn't do it. I really need a place to call my own. Because I realize how important it is for me, I have integrated that thinking into my classroom. I have three tables in my room for students to sit at and eight desks. The desks are put together in a table arrangement but I have explained that if a student needs to take a desk and move it away from the crowd so they have their own 'space' they can. We need to be very cognizant of the students that need to feel ownership of something in the room to be comfortable.
 Finally, as you leave my room this is what you see above the door. This was a gift from my brother because I am a fan of Spongebob. I put this up because I want my students to see that I appreciate having fun. It is a both a insight into my personality and an opportunity for the students to see that enjoying something that may not seem 'cool' is okay in my classroom.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

LInks to my August Lesson Plans

Here are links to the GDocs for my August Lesson Plans:

Creating Community Norms A lesson in government.

Class Pet Project A lesson in ecosystems.

Who's Voice Is It? A lesson in writing with voice.

Peter Pan Deconstructed The First lesson will revolve around Peter and Wendy (1911)

These plans aren't finished and will I will continue to update them as well. I have turned on commenting and would love any feedback you are willing to provide.

For the first week and a half, the whole class will be together. Starting the full second week the students will be leveled for a 50 minute Reading class and a 50 minute Math class. This gives me seven days to spend doing whole day or half day projects. The plans I have created are reflecting that longer, unbroken time period. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Knowing Content Doesn't Guarantee a Great Lesson

Realizing your lesson is going bad is horrible, but it is really magnified in a room full of professional educators. I was in the second of back to back sessions at the Joplin Technology Summit last Friday when I looked up and realized I had lost my audience. It wasn't as though I was surprised, I knew I was foundering. My train of thought had left me at an unknown station and there was no way I was going to be able to catch up on my tired legs.

It isn't as though I didn't know what I was talking about. I am the expert in #Comments4Kids. I was there from its very beginning. I created the Comments4Kids blog. I have even shared (much more successfully) the same presentation at the Midwest Educational Technology Conference two years ago. I know this stuff. What I didn't do, is prepare the lesson as though I wasn't an expert (or more importantly that my audience weren't experts.)

I had just completed a very successful session on blogging using Kidblog.org. I built background by discussing blogging. I kept the particpants actively engaged by doing peer sharing and even at one point having them get up and change seats just to give their brains a quick break. It was exactly what I had planned it to be. I wish I had planned the second session the same way.

I jumped straight into commenting without building background on blogging. I realized my mistake almost immediately and tried to correct it, but I think it was too late. Because I made assumptions about who would attend the session, I my design was poor and I became as lost as the crowd.

As I reflect on it, I realize that I trusted too much on my knowledge of the content. I thought because I was an expert on commenting I didn't need to spend much time planning and it really showed. I'm glad I had the opportunity to reflect on it afterwards so that I can strive to not make the same mistake again.

Here is an article published on the Joplin Globe website about the Technology Summit. I am pleased that someone got something positive out of the session.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Blogging Isn't the Answer to Your Students' Writing Needs

Yes, I am an advocate of student blogging. Yes, I helped create the #comments4kids meme on Twitter and made the Comments4Kids blog. Yes, I have presented both online and face to face on the value of blogging in the classroom. Yes, I know that blogging isn't the answer to your students' writing needs.

While reading some blog posts by college students today and mixing that in with my thoughts on what I am going to present next week at a technology conference session on blogging I had a conversation with Nancy Van Erp that helped me clarify my thoughts.

To become a better writer, practice is required. Along with the practice there needs to be specific feedback that addresses issues with the writing. It simply isn't enough to praise the fact that the students wrote something, or that addresses the content of the writing without touching style or context. Let's face it, specific writing feedback on a blog post is very difficult for the writer to take. Imagine having your shortcomings exposed to the world!

I am not suggesting there is no value in posting work that isn't polished. If that were the case most bloggers would never post a thing. What I am saying is that for teaching writing, blogging isn't the best choice. Your students will learn much more and be less likely personalize their mistakes if you have those conversations face to face.

Where blogging shines is through the ideas shared and the conversations created by posting online. If that isn't the goal of your writing assignment, perhaps you need to rethink the medium you have chosen for your students to use.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Define Success

I am a husband, a father, a son, and a brother. I am a writer, a reader, a musician, and an artist. I am youth leader, a conference presenter, a learning community member, and a mentor. I am a photographer, a gamer, an athlete, and a napper. In my spare time I teach.
I am a practicer of many things, but a master of none. Because I do so many things I fail regularly and spectacularly. I share my failures and the occasional success.
I agree with some opinions, disagree with others, and often have no opinion at all.
Am I a successful adult? If so, why am I successful. If not, why not? Was my education successful?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What Uncomfortable Part of Teaching Are You Working On?

There is a lot more to a successful classroom than a networked teacher and a great lesson plan. I have always been willing to try to creatively create lessons that are both engaging and ambiguous. Truthfully lesson design comes very easy to me. Unfortunately the more important side of teaching, creating personal relationships with my students has always been hard for me. My goal for the beginning of school is to create opportunities to spend one on one time with every student. I want to grow a real learning community in my classroom and I need to be willing to invest myself into my students. I am moving into some uncomfortable places. What uncomfortable part of teaching are you working on this summer?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Who Are You Discipling?

Over the summer I have been sharing with the youth group the book of Matthew. Throughout the book it becomes very clear that Jesus is the teacher and his class is 12 men. Read through the book and you will quickly understand that when Jesus taught it was directly to them. When he addressed a crowd, the lesson was still pointed to the disciples, that is why he often gives further instructions to them after the crowd left. Jesus knew he had three years to mentor the men who would later be responsible for sharing his teachings. He was focused on them. He mentored them. He changed their lives, and in turn they changed millions more. How does this relate to your classroom? Every class has a few students that need more time, more attention, more of you. You are in a unique position to take them in, give them a little more of yourself, and impart upon them the understanding they are valuable. It isn't enough to say 'you matter', you need to live it. Be an example to them. Make them your disciple. If you are really committed to making this world, your school, and your class a better place then start with a few students.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Comment on Blogs Week

Some bloggers write because they love it, some write because they can't not write. Some want to create an audience, some want to express their thoughts. Whatever the reason, when it comes to writing bloggers need the encouragement that commenting brings.

That is why for this week, July 9-15 I am unilaterally declaring Comment on Blogs Week. Encourage your favorite bloggers by leaving a comment or two on a post this week! Please feel free to share the posts you commented on through Twitter as well.

Update: My friend Matt Townsley suggested a hash tag for Twitter so here it is: #icommented
Use this hash tag with a link back to the post you commented on to encourage more comments!

I Got Your Flipped Class Right Here!

I am going to start this post by saying I understand completely the desire to make the classroom work better. I am not against trying something new, especially when the goal is to make a positive learning change for the student. I do think we need to tread carefully before we change the entire climate of our classroom because everyone else seems to be doing it.

There are a lot of implementations of flipping that are being touted. I have had many conversations with my favorite flipper Brian Bennett and a few with OG flipper Karl Fisch about it. I won't comment on my opinion about all forms of flipping, just the idea that flipping means students learning content from the classroom outside of the classroom. Being a very outspoken critic of homework in general, I don't like the idea at all. In fact, I have a flipped classroom proposal I would like to advocate for.

The truth is, this is not a new concept. The idea has been around a long, long time. You may recall Google's 20% idea and the classroom application has been around for a while. As applied by the teacher it gives kids time every day (or week) for them to learn what they are interested in during school hours. So here is my proposal:

What if we really flipped the classroom and 
instead of sending work home with the students, 
they brought the work from home to school?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Tablets Are Great for Reflections

I bought an iPad and Apple TV for my classroom this year. I love the ability to mirror what is on the iPad onto the tv. I can see a lot of opportunities for students sharing their learning with it. That isn't the main reason I wanted the iPad though.

Today I bought a Nexus 7 after reading about it during the Google I/O conference. It will compliment the iPad because it meets a very particular need for me.

Next August my students will walk into a very different learning environment than they are used to. I have specific goals for them including an emphasis on writing, problem solving, and reflecting. Students will write in composition books. (I may write a post explaining why at some other time. It isn't because they don't have computer access.) Students will experience math and science through problem solving, not just following steps. Students will be reflective learners.

The last emphasis, on reflection is where the tablets will really shine. I will create a tumblr blog for them to record their reflections to (using their app on the tablets) throughout the day. Because they can record audio or video quickly with it, they will need much less time writing their reflections using a keyboard (they haven't had typing yet). They won't even need to disengage from the learning to do it, they can show what they are doing while they reflect.

I am pretty excited by the possibilities of students taking ownership of their learning and of their reflections.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I Would Like to Propose a Radical Change

I am constantly complaining about school being more of the same. High school classes teach what students should have learned in junior high while they teach what should have been learned even earlier. Even colleges/universities are in on the act, not only teaching the same things that should have been learned in high school, but requiring students that don't meet their "standards" to take remedial classes so that they can then take classes that are the same as the ones they took in high school. (Is this the best our colleges/universities can do? If so, how sad.)

I would like to propose a (radical?) change in our ed system. I don't think the concepts are new, not even sure that the way I put it together hasn't been done before. If it has, good on them. I hope it worked.

  • Students would focus on tool and background knowledge acquisition. Emphasis would be placed on logical thinking skills, problem solving skills, reading, writing. They would have art, music, health and physical activities integrated into their curriculum and not as a stand alone class. 
  • Students would choose strands of learning they wished to pursue. The students would continue to build skills and acquire background knowledge through their learning. Emphasis would be on creating. Students would be expected to conference with teachers about what they are learning and how they are showing what they are learning. Students would also be required to teach lessons on what they learn regularly to others (students, teachers, community members) during workshop days.
  •  Students would spend the first two years exploring the fields they are interested in pursuing. They would work closely with educators in those fields and emphasis again would be on creation and sharing of knowledge. 
  • Students would spend the last two years apprenticing. Two years would allow them time to try out several different occupations and get experience and feedback from both the master workers they apprentice under as well as educators in the field that would observe them. The last semester (more or less depending on what was needed) would be spent by students creating a personal narrative (through tools of their choosing) that explains their journey through their educational career. The emphasis would be on how they plan to use what they have learned after they graduate. Degrees would be awarded in the fields that students apprenticed successfully in. 
Obviously this is a very generic outline. What do you think? 

Monday, June 18, 2012

They Don't Love Your Subject (and That Is Okay!)

I really love reading about the American colonial period and the revolution. I have a very large library of books on those time periods. Yes, I am a history geek (at least over that period of time.) While I taught fifth grade I was always tickled to share my love during our social studies class. I had a lot of passion and a wealth of knowledge to share. I just didn't understand why so many kids found it to be not their thing.

I realize something now that I didn't then. This may also come as a surprise to some of you. Not every student loves learning about history!!!! (Ridiculous I know, right?) Actually, it isn't.

Every teacher becomes a teacher because something in the content they learned really appealed to them. Perhaps it was math class that set them on fire, or doing experiments in science. I would make a bet that some even get into teaching because they love spelling! (about as alien a concept to me as calculus). Because we love our particular pet subject, we expect our students to catch our enthusiasm and realize that the coolest teacher they have ever had (in my case very true) loves it, by gosh they will love it too! They really have no choice because, after all, it is the best subject they will ever be exposed to. (Have you heard my talk on Peale's Mastadon? Such a fascinating story.)

The truth is, not all students will love your favorite subject. Not only is that okay, it is preferable. We need to allow our students the freedom to follow what they are passionate about. We need to love our students enough to let them not share our passion.

Friday, June 15, 2012

#EdStuff: A New Twitter Hash Tag

I have created the #EdStuff tag for people that want to post ed stuff, but don't want to tag it with the the chat based tags such as #edchat or #fifthchat. Feel free to use it as you will, for it is good for all ed stuff!

So Why Do I Feel Guilty?

I am working on a storytelling unit and am to the point where I am considering what activities I will expect my students to complete. While I will give them some choices as to these activities, there will be some that I am going to require. Yes, you heard it right. They will not have a choice.

I do believe that students should shape their own learning. I do believe that when we choose what we want to learn, we are more motivated and learn better. I also believe that sometimes students have to learn things they may not normally choose to learn. I do not refer to ridiculously complex geometric proofs that are completely useless to 99+% of the population, I refer to skills and content that are necessary for becoming a more competent learner. So, why do I feel so guilty?

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Blogging and the Writing Process

Stephen Anderson tweeted out a link to this post: Making Paper Blogs to Prepare for the Online Experience. While the post makes a good case for it, and it makes a lot of sense if your students have limited online opportunity my reaction was not positive. My thoughts are not based on the content of the article, they were formed before I read it. 

My first thought was that if we teach students that their early drafts are not worthy of being seen by others, it implies the early part of the writing process is bad. If we teach writing as a process and that their first drafts should not always be their last, we also need to teach that there should be no shame in sharing their writing at any time during the process.

If we are going to use blogging as a platform for student writing, shouldn't we make it repository of the process of writing as well? Students believe you only write something once because that is all they see. Perhaps if we have students model their writing process publicly we could dispel that misrepresentation of writing.

I reacted to the post title this way because I have been struggling with how I want to approach writing in my own class. I have decided that I want to impress upon my students the value of all of their work. We will be collecting all of their writing throughout the year in composition books. My goal is to have several filled by the end of the school year. My hope is that my students learn that they should value all of their writing, that a first draft is not necessarily the last, and that by archiving the work they will be able to see the improvement in their writing over the year. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Graduation Day

I survived enjoyed two graduations this weekend, one for my eldest daughter who graduated from college and one from my second eldest who graduated from high school. For some reason the college graduation didn't affect me very much. The students for all intents and purposes were very successful. They had "made it". That wasn't how I felt after today's graduation.

In this class were many students that I knew personally, either because I taught them in school or because of church. While I felt some pride in their accomplishments, I realized that many of the students I was watching had few prospects for their future.

Traditionally less than 25% of the graduating class at my alma mater go on to post secondary schools of some sort. This means the average student in this class is finished with their education career. This to me is depressing enough, but today I had another thought. Some of these students are now leaving behind the only place where they have been safe, well fed, and emotionally cared for.

I have no idea what to do for these students, I am not sure anything can be done for them now (at least through the school.) What I do know is that the future many of these students face tomorrow is much less hopeful than it could/should be. They may see it as the beginning of their dreams, but for many it may be the beginning of the end of their dreams. Sometimes the "real world" sucks.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Reflections on #EdCampStL 2012

Wheel of a Handmade Cart found at Jefferson National Expansion Memorial
I wrote two posts on my experiences from the first EdCampKC: A Rather Painful Reflection and The Don'ts of Attending EdCampKC. Feel free to read them.

Attending an EdCamp is different than attending a typical conference. When you show up there is an understanding that the day's learning is supposed to be fluid. The biggest barrier to entry is not knowing the people that are in attendance. Strike that, actually going with people you know may be an even bigger barrier!

EdCamps are about sharing and learning together. A big part of your experience should be spent finding people to talk to so that you can create relationships that allow you to learn from others over years instead of hours. I strive to take time to appreciate the people that I have made friendships with online when I finally meet them face to face. If you come with others, don't spend all your time with them. The more people you meet, the better your experience will be.

I was fortunate enough to have my wife Dianna and my eldest daughter Teal also go. We didn't attend the same session because we have different interests and different needs. This is important to recognize. You are there to learn to be a better teacher, identify your interests or your deficits and go for it. Let your friends do the same with theirs.

In retrospect I didn't learn any earth shaking new tools or methods that I can employ immediately so that my students all become elligible for Mensa but I created more opportunities to learn through creating stronger bonds with my online friends. That was well worth the personal day and the 5 1/2 hour one way drive it took to get there.  

Thursday, February 16, 2012

How About Unconferences for Students?

I am thinking about extending what I have experienced to my students. What about having an unconference for them?

My idea would be to have an evening or a Saturday where students would have the opportunity to come together to share their passions. I realize that a 50 minute time limit would probably be way to daunting for most but the eldest students, so I think we could adopt some of the times used at teachmeets. We could have 7 minute presentations, 2 minute presentations, or others of various lengths. These smaller times would also work much better for an evening (and more accessible for younger students).

I do have questions that need to be worked through:
  1. Could the students sign up ahead of time so that they could be scheduled and have opportunities to practice their presentations? If so, would that go against the spirit of the unconference? 
  2. Would this be a student led only conference or would adults be allowed to present as well? If so, they could fill gaps in the presentation and perhaps have to wait to sign up the night/day of the conference thereby keeping some of the spirit of the unconference.
  3. It seems like it would be easy to plan. I would need to get access to the school and advertise. Am I missing something significant?

Can You Present at a Tech Conference Without the Tech Being Your Main Focus?

 At the Midwest Education Technology Conference I presented a session called Differentiating Instruction Using Basal Readers. Here is a link to my presentation. As you can see it isn't very flashing (heck it isn't even what I would call engaging!) The presentation was made this way on purpose, I didn't want to make my session about tools, examples, or flash.

I think that there is way too much focus on tech tools at technology conferences. If we truly believe that the goal of school is student learning, tools would be ubiquitous (including hardware and software tools). Exposure to these tools are important, but not the most important thing we can share. While we do need these types of sessions, we really need sessions that model how learning is happening in classes with those tools.

I new that my session title would be very noticeable. There was no word in the title that suggested technology or tools. Here is the description of the session:

"Are you required to use a basal reading series in your classroom? Would you like to find ways to integrate technology and help students differentiate their own learning opportunities? Join William as he describes how his students used digital tools such as bogs, Paint, Audacity, iTunes, and iPods in reading class. Learn how to let go of teaching and have your students engage in learning."

The focus of my session was to show how I allow students to choose the tools they need, digital or analog, to help themselves learn. I did share a few tools that were used regularly by my students including Visuwords for vocabulary but I did not dwell on them. I intentionally kept the discussion on the ways I helped the students learn how to learn vocabulary, skills, and comprehension.

After the presentation I reviewed the evaluations I received from the attendees. I did receive a couple that had the technology parts marked down, including the less than engaging slides I created. Overall the evaluations were very good. I even had one comment that said it was the most useful session for their classroom they had attended. So, I guess you really can give a presentation at a tech conference without the focus being on the technology.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Are EdCamps Too Technocentric?

Image by Scott Warren

As I prepare mentally for #EdCampStL next month I think about what I would like to see offered for break out sessions. I think that there is real opportunity to have conversations about curriculum, discipline, and teaching methods, but I worry that most of these conversations will somehow revolve around technology.

I understand that many of us that are aware or becoming aware of these opportunities find out about them online or from others who are online. I would suspect this skews the audience towards those that prefer to use technology in the classroom. Does this intimidate other teachers attending? I suspect we are missing very large groups of teachers because they don't know about the events yet, or they are scared off by the perceived attention toward technology.

Is this true? If so, what can we do to involve more diverse groups of teachers?