Million Dollar Idea

I was jogging, I know shocking. My music went to commercial and the volume went up, then down. Suddenly I thought, that would be a cool innovation for ear buds. Just let them regulate the sound. These annoying commercials that blast your eardrums can be stopped.

The ear buds don’t just play at a certain level, but the put everything to the right level. They could even reduce the outside noise with ambient sound.

Then I went further and thought, in the classroom this would be awesome. everyone could have ear buds and I could talk in my normal voice and they could regulate the volume, cutting out the outside noise and student would hear me. This would be especially awesome for SPED kids would tend to get excited from too much distraction.

Then I went further and thought, wow I could have these ear buds block outside noise with a white noise, then block phones and music for students unless I let them listen, and I could shut off all noise except me when I wanted to talk to them. The control would be the bomb.

Then I realized where I was going on this. This isn’t about making the classroom better, this is giving me more control. Still a cool idea for jogging though.

 

Are you one of the good guys

I’ve been kind of elevated to team leader in 7th grade. I am the teacher with the most experience, though I would argue not the best teacher. However, my experience and my experiences as a connected educator do give me some insights that I think my colleagues appreciate.

The Matrix of Leadership

The Matrix of Leadership

As a consequence of my new power rush, when I’m walking the halls I feel the need to act like what most of us think an administrator should act like. You know what I mean. “Hey you where’s your pass?” “Stop running.” “No, shouting!” (Yes, the last one is usually yelled and I do see the irony).

man shouting I have a problem with authority

Last year these kids were like herding cats. Always going to the bathroom and hanging out during class, sneaking from one bathroom to the other when security came around, then to the nurse’s office, etc…. I didn’t really like subbing for the admin in the 6th grade hall last year. It was exhausting.

I noticed  when accosting these students in the hall that they immediately got defensive and turned away. Then I realized that it was my actions that were causing this behavior.

I was assuming they were not supposed to be in the halls. I was assuming they were in the wrong. But it was my own suggestion that created this.

See, I don’t believe in limiting bathroom passes. I believe in making the classroom a place that students want to be. I believe in reducing the amount of teacher lecture so that if they have to step out for a minute or two they aren’t missing a lesson, they are shortening the amount of time they have to do the work of learning. All of the teachers in my hall treat students the same way.

Right now through the 4 periods I teach I have about 20 kids going to the bathroom and most of those in just two periods. Way too many, but what is the root cause? Is it teenage restlessness or boredom, or taking advantage of me? Could be a combination of all three. The thing is, they aren’t breaking the bathroom and as long as I am not fighting the stream (pun intended) of people going to the bathroom, it will soon stop.

Now as for accosting students in the hall. I’ve stopped. Instead of a curt, “Where is your pass?” I try a more friendly hello. Students respond better, and the couple of extra seconds allows me time to see that most of the time they are actually carrying a pass. Those that aren’t, they usually run and I let security chase them.

I can write a referral if they are doing anything seriously wrong. It’s a lot easier on me and better in the long run, because there is more of a paper trail, the life’s blood of the school discipline system.

School Supplies

I hate school supplies. What happened to, ‘bring pencils, folders, and notebooks for each class’? Sure a trapper keeper or 5 subject notebooks might be nice for some kids, but is it required? Is it required that every single student in your class get exactly the same thing?

What about student choice?

I get the idea we want all students ready for school with the supplies necessary to succeed. And there are definitely better and worse ways to get organized. Do we have to do it for the kids?

 

There might also be some inequity as Bobby shows off the gold-plated trapper keeper thingie, and Carl has nothing. Do we fix it by making everyone buy the exact same thing?

At the school my sons go to there is an exact list and we definitely felt some pressure to fill it all out before the start of school. With parents encouraged to visit school for the “Drop and Run”. I thought it was a great way to meet teachers informally, but my wife felt the shame of not having bought all the right things as we went from class to class. And why does everyone have to bring in two boxes of plastic bags?

Then at the school I work at, there is a school supply list somewhere, that I had no input on. So far one student brought in three boxes of Kleenex and the nonprofit that works with our school gave me a bag with a scrub brush, a box of Kleenex, some staples, and a roll of paper towels. What message did that send to me?

Setting Goals

One of the big keys to success to this year is to teach students how to set their own goals. If they can set a strong specific daily goal then they should be able to direct their own learning.

Yesterday I did an overview of the class and the student and teacher roles. I tried to emphasize that basically our roles are now reversed. They will set a goal each day and I will conference with students at least once a week. So traditionally the student role (which they wrote down) is to listen and learn from the teacher. while the teacher determine what is being taught. However, in this class the student tell me what they are learning and I listen carefully so that I can give them the support they need to be successful.

Each day my students will have to come in the classroom and write a goal on a post it. then at the end of class what they did to reach that goal.

We practiced today. The goals were very broad. Things like learn something new, or be a better student. Not bad goals in themselves, but the lack of specificity will make the goals meaningless.

We practices by setting a goal for the year. At first it was still, be a better student, listen to the teacher, but as I went around the room and spoke to each student or table we started to get more specific.

Now we have goals like: straight A’s or come to school with a positive attitude. Further we have specific actions we can take to reach those goals. Do homework everyday for 30 minutes. Read one book a week, smile at 10 people.

I think we are almost ready to set daily goals. For now here is my goal.

Personal Education Dedication Statement

This Year in Teaching

I can stand in front of a classroom all day long and teach. I’m actually pretty good at that. I explain well, I have a deep understanding of my subject so when half formed questions come up I can usually see where they are coming from, but this is not the way I teach. This method of teaching meets the needs of students like me, but I don’t teach students like me. Most people at the age of 13 don’t want to sit and take notes from a teacher. they want to talk, move, text, snap, whatever, anything except sit and take notes.

I won’t try to incorporate all that into my teaching. That would be forced. What I will do is to allow students to take more responsibility for learning. For me this means projects. I’m calling what I am doing this year project based learning, but it isn’t quite fully that. We have one project for each unit, but they are not always natural teachers of the content.

For example the first project will be rewriting a song so that the lyrics teach operations on rational numbers. The project, could be more natural if we asked the student to explore sound frequencies, but I am not going for pure project based learning, I’m going for standards based learning.

I know studying song lyrics won’t teach anything about operations on rational numbers, but writing the lyrics correctly will. Maybe it isn’t project based learning right away, maybe call it project based assessment except that the project will be given first and students can choose to learn from me or through other resources until they feel confident enough to finish the project (or test if they prefer that sort of assessment).

The organization of each unit is pretty simple. (and I use the word unit loosely as we mostly group units by strand of mathematics) Introduce the CCSS standards, walk students through how I make standards into objectives, have students break the objectives into learning targets through the questions they have. (a KWL chart) Next introduce the project and show how it meets the objectives. Show students resources we have that will allow them to learn the target skills  necessary to meet the objectives and allow them to choose how and when to learn those skills. (Still individualized learning and not personalized (or vice versa I always get those confused), but giving a lot of voice to the students).

The important thing is the student choice. They don’t actually have to do the project. They can learn all the skills from me and then take a test, they can learn all the skills, from another resource such as Khan Academy or CK12 and take a test. They can learn on their own and then do the project. They can learn on their own and then do a project of their own choosing. It doesn’t matter as long as they check in with me at least weekly and are working towards the goal as measured by mastering learning targets.

We will see how this shift in learning goes. Oh and did I mention we are also going 1 to 1 and shifting towards Standards Based Grading? I actually don’t think I could do this without those two elements, but first things first changing the culture of the classroom. No more work turned in for a grade, instead steady feedback on a long-term project.

Student Review

The school year is over time for me to give my first ever student survey of my teaching. I basically took my questions from http://ukiahcoachbrown.blogspot.com/

Questions Was I well organized? Did you understand what was going on? Did you learn how to learn independently? Do you think I improved since September? Did you feel safe? Were you, as a student, treated with respect?
Average 7 7 7 8 8 8
Overall 8

I think the students were much nicer to me than I would have been, or am I just too critical?

I’m not surprised the organization is low. I think I am pretty good at setting up a system, but not very good at sticking to it. That and 7th graders tend to pull me off task. It’s something I will always need to work on.

I’m also not surprised students were confused a lot. First that can be related to the organization, but I think more importantly it comes from the way I teach. We tried to do a lot of problem based learning and the students didn’t like that very much, especially at the end. Near the end of the year I had students beg me for worksheets and tests.

Even though the rubric we created was more like step by step guides many students still struggled with what and how to create a project. For example the second page of our last rubric had a list of components. Still students struggled with what to do. My mantra for the last week of the project was, “If you are not figuring out probability you are not doing your project right.” Still I had students spending hours on their game boards that didn’t include any form of probability at all. Sometimes teaching is like banging your head against the wall.

At least we learned something. Next year our projects will start with these very detailed rubrics, but I will actually shorten the work-time. What happens is students still work, work, work up until the final due date then turn in a project that doesn’t meet the criteria for success. No matter what feedback I give to them during the project, they only listen when I put a grade into the grade book.  (Not everyone, but quite a few anyway).

After the grade goes in and they see that low grade about half the students ask how they can make it up. So the plan is to allow everyone who wants to reopen their project and make improvements. It was my experience that after the grade is in and isn’t acceptable to the student that they begin to care.

It is still too focused on grades, but this is the first step. If I can teach students to see the relationship between the rubric and the grade maybe we can start getting students to pay attention to feedback before the grade goes in the book. It’s a thought anyway. My next post will have more detail on the changes we are going to make for next year.

This does lead me to the next rating, “did you learn how to learn”? I’m surprised that rating is so high, but maybe because most of my class time seems to be spent dealing with students who struggle with rubrics and only look at grades.

I’m glad I improved in the eyes of the students, they felt safe, and respected. This is the most important part of course. Students feel safe and respected, but perhaps not safe enough because many still don’t take risks in their work. I’ll try better next year.

Getting My Sea Legs Back

Working on a ProjectComing back to the classroom after almost 7 years has been a rough adjustment. The textbook  we have is, in my opinion, garbage, so I spend a lot of time creating curriculum. Thanks goodness for the Internet and sites like betterlesson.com. Then there is the new evaluation procedures which require a lot more work on the teacher’s part. Finally, we are a SIG school so there is paperwork and data collection everywhere.

This week I finally went full in on the problem based learning (PBL) bandwagon. I’ve talked about it for years, but I’ve always fallen back on the teacher directed lessons. I’ve tried to do the Madeline Hunter formula, Hook, Model, Practice, Evaluate or I DO, WE DO, YOU DO TOGETHER, YOU DO. I see the logic in the formula, but at the end of the day what happens is the students who are good at school get it, the students who are bad at school don’t, and the behavior problems are behavior problems because they get it and are bored or the don’t get it and don’t want to ask.

I didn’t think my kids were ready. I spent a week preparing them and they still think a good student is defined by how well they listen. I emphasized trust.

I thought I had to trust that everyone can and will work without me watching over every movement. They have to trust each other to do the work. Everyone has to trust me that they will be ready for the quiz.

I wasn’t sure if I could trust them. I took the plunge anyway. On Tuesday, I shared the problems and stepped back. I didn’t even assign problems, I gave a choice of four. I didn’t choose groups. I set parameters:

  • Choose someone smarter than you
  • Someone who works harder than you
  • Someone who will keep you out of trouble.

The task Tuesday was to read the problem, decide what it means, and then split up the work. It went pretty well, but a lot of groups didn’t really fill out the work assignment sheet.

For Wednesday I displayed my one slide.

Working on a Project

Before the bell even rang I stepped into the room and said, “You do not need me to tell you what to do, you do not need to wait for the bell, you can start right now”. Then I went back into the hall for duty. When I came back in most students in most classes were working.

On Thursday I said the same thing. I stopped them for 5 minutes so I could show a sample presentation on a project nobody had, then they went back to work. They were supposed to finish the bulk of the work on Wednesday and finish the bulk of the presentation on Thursday for presentations on Friday and Monday, but the word bulk gave them permission to not actually be finished and still feel the pressure to actually put in work. One group finished. One came in for lunch to do bit of extra work.

In my lowest class students worked and asked questions. I taught the one lesson I would have taught at the board 4 times, but this time everyone listened because they wanted to know how to solve the problem.

In my class where I have a lot of strong personalities it was silent. I went from group to group and they were all working and didn’t need or want any help.

It isn’t all roses though. I have two students in one class who have failed to join a group, despite being assigned to two. They now try to wander the room and join random groups. When I ask them to stop they blame me. I have one student who is in a group, but still doesn’t do any work. And of course I have a lot of groups that are busy trying to create a presentation, but  have no idea about the math they are using.

I’m ok with most of this. I wish the two students would join one group and do some work, but there are more issues than just math there. I hope that during the presentation we will have some decent feedback and they can learn from that. If not from students then hopefully from me.

Finally, today was the dreaded question. Will this be graded? Well yes, but it will only be worth up to 2% in the gradebook because we have to use a Common Formative Assessment which will be the quiz. I would much rather grade this project and put that into the gradebook. On the other hand for those students who fail the quiz, and there will be a few, this will be a good lesson on doing the math first and worrying about presentations second. They can always retake the quiz and if last quarter is any indication almost half would have to anyway.

Stages of Instruction

The Delivery

I’ve always been the type of teacher that likes to design a good lesson plan then forget about the student aspect.

There’s a story of college professor who says, ‘I just delivered the best lecture of my life, it’s too bad no one was there and listen to it’.

That’s the mindset of a person who believes education is delivering information. I don’t. I just find it very easy to fall in that trap. I can spend time developing a wonderful lesson and then deliver it and feels like everything’s going great then I look at the exit slip or the quiz the next day or the next week or whatever and find most of my kids fail.

 

MIley Cirus OMG

My brain is like, ‘what happened?’

I did an awesome job of delivering the lesson. I went through each example slowly and carefully. I scaffolded each step in the problem. It was very clear. I asked for questions and there were a few. When I asked questions about how to do the problem students could easily walk me through it. I was even careful to ask students who I knew would have problems understanding, and I didn’t let them off the hook. I stood and waited until they gave me an answer, then I used the Socratic Method to lead them to the right answer.

Michael Caine "I fialed you"

I was confident everybody knew this, so how did they fail?

 

And that is a very easy trap to fall into. You see it all the time, everybody’s looking for the best curriculum, the best textbook, to teach from. Reformers come in and create scripted lessons, telling teachers exactly what to say, and how to say it. What questions to ask and what answers to expect. Some curricula even talk about common misconceptions and how to use them to enhance the lesson. At the end of the day learning is not about delivering information it’s about the student’s understanding.If they don’t understand it then it doesn’t matter what delivery method you use.

 

Taking it PBL style.

 

I’m trying very hard to break away from the traditional style teaching where I deliver information and students write it down and then regurgitate back to me. It’s hard to get away from it. All of this emphasis on meeting standards, you look at the standard, you find the lesson that meets the standards. Then you teach the lesson and do a quick quiz on it and say ‘oh good 70% of my students understand’. The problem is everything seems to follow the same general format – hook, explanation, and an exit slip. It’s still dependent on delivery.

Go Fish

Next week I start a problem based learning unit. I created my own, I hope they go well. I just have this nagging feeling that I have no idea what the heck I’m doing. Comments and suggestions are welcome Housewarming, Mortgage, Retirement, Reflections.

As I run up to this week I’m trying to prepare my students for working in a problem-based learning environment. This is difficult because I’m not so sure how to do it. I started the year saying the words, “You (students) have to take responsibility for your own learning”.

The problem is that, for the most part they aren’t and I’m not forcing them to. (I have another bad habit of doing things for people when they should be doing it themselves.)

To Do List

I have to teach my students to monitor themselves. It’s going to be a learning experience for my students as well as myself. How do I get them to effectively monitor their own learning? How do I keep them on task without chasing them around the room and saying, “hey get back to work”? During class, I’ve been asking what makes a good team member? What makes a good teacher? What makes a good student? I tried some team building stuff from Kagan. I just hope that I can continue to be consistent on this. I also created some daily reflections sheets.

 

One thing that happens to me as a teacher is I set the kids on a task and then I step aside to do paperwork for 10 seconds, suddenly there’s a line in front of me and the first questions is quick so I answer, the next thing I know there’s 12 people in line and instead of students working intently in the groups students are gathered around socializing about this that the other thing and it’s not an effective learning environment. What I would like to do is to emphasize trust. I will trust that they will do work and they can trust that I will provide the resources necessary to learn.

 

Monday is the first day. We’ll start by writing contracts. What will we do as students, what do we expect from our group? What do we expect from our teacher? What do we expect from ourselves?

Next, the groups will examine the problems and decide what exactly they mean. They will have to determine what a good project should look like. Then determine a checklist of activities they will have to do to complete the project. Finally, assign tasks to each person in the group.

My task the first day it to not spend too much time with one group. Just a few minutes at a time and put them on the right track. Don’t answer questions, just ask.

How Will I Manage My Classroom

Some thoughts.

Please respond with your thoughts, criticisms, or whatever. I’ll probably never implement this in my classroom, at least not at this raw stage, but I’d like to know some thoughts.

 

Creativity has been on my mind this last couple of weeks. Listening to half an interview with the Author of “Imagine” on NPR.

My take was it goes like this. First, you study hard and learn everything you can. Second, when you get stuck you take a bit of a break and let inspiration strike. Third, you work twice as hard to make that inspiration a reality.

The next day I’m discussing motivating students. How do we get the trouble-makers in the back of the room who never want to do any work, to actually do any work?

Realization, you don’t. We spend our creativity and effort getting the students who want to be involved excited and working and learning.Let the trouble-makers choose to join or not.

So much in our school culture is about motivating the bottom students.

At the Federal, state, and district level we spend money, time, and effort bringing those students up to the middle and what happens? The next year more students are falling behind.

At the individual school level:

We require the trouble-makers to keep busy and not disrupt the classroom.

  • No phones
  • No talking
  • Here’s a worksheet if you don’t want to participate in learning
  • Read a book

The object really is avoid the time-consuming power struggle of “I may be forced to come to school, but I’ll be damned if I will learn anything.”

We wait and let the passion and/or excitement infect the trouble-makers and they choose to get involved in the classroom.

I will not waste my creativity trying to convince someone who is dead set on not doing any work to learn something. Instead I will use my creativity to increase the excitement for those who do want to learn.

Let their excitement draw the others in, or not. Their choice not mine.