Thursday, March 10, 2016

Tic Tac Toe, Show What You Know

There is a growing trend in education, to make things more student-centered.  At our Student-Led conferences this Spring, my friend and colleague, Melodie Harris came up with this AWESOME idea for students to showcase their communication skills.  She was gracious enough to write a guest-blog post about it.

If you need an awesome idea with a catchy title...look no further than Mrs. Harris' Tic Tac Toe, Show What You Know!

Everyone likes a simple game of tic tac toe and that’s what my seventh graders did for student-led conferences this spring. Instead of self-reflecting on projects and setting goals like I’ve had them do in the past, students picked three activities from a grid of nine boxes. It was a showcase of what goes on in my communications classroom.

The Tic Tac Toe paper.

 These 12-year-olds might have enjoyed learning how to write their first-ever research paper with parenthetical documentation, so they choose that one. But that means they’ll do a comma and vocab activity or a creative writing exercise along with capitalization and apostrophe practice because those are the other choices in those rows.

In preparing for this, some students were automatically drawn to the paperless classroom choice.  They wanted to make their parents operate their iPad. But then they were locked into certain other choices they might not have initially chosen. But that’s okay. Stretching them to perform or explain something they’re weak in is okay too.

The enjoyment of teaching a parent about a device!

Of my 63 students this year, only one drew a crooked line on the paper and said, “I can’t find three in a row. I want to do this instead.” I said that wasn’t allowed, so we looked again at what was in the middle that she was avoiding. When I took her to the part of the room to remind her of the differences between singular possessives and plural possessives, she realized she did know that.

Poetry Choices.

 The tic tac toe paper allowed students to show-off how being an effective communicator really is an integrated thing. When students look at a print advertisement and explain the persuasive technique used, they can also find alliteration, or rhyme, or onomatopoeia--and it’s not even a poem—but this is cool because for some, there was no way they were going to pick the poetry performance activity.

I taught these parents too!
Years ago our district made a deliberate choice to call this class communications instead of language arts. We expect our students to do just that. Communicate.

We read, write, listen, speak, research, act, produce, design, and create. Of course I teach grammar and capitalization and vocab and punctuation—but all within the context of quality literature. Sometimes it’s fiction. Sometimes it’s nonfiction. It might be a novel. It might be through technical or persuasive text. We write skits and act in them. We film them. We edit them. We get irritated enough at each other that we have to say I’m sorry. Sometimes it’s serious enough to ask for forgiveness. We know who’s good at coming up with ideas and who can’t spell. We know who loves to act with their voice and who never wants to get in front of a camera. We know who should design the props or make the poster.

Less than a month into the school year, I know this about each student.

I usually start telling them how they’ll react to certain projects. I’ll say something like “Joan will love this, but Colby will hate it. Amanda will choose this, but Adam will want to do it like that.” And it surprises them that I know them so soon. But I have to. Because it’s my job to capitalize on their strengths and make them work on their weaknesses.

No state test can measure that. No one assignment can do that either. And in most cases, a student’s weakness isn’t as big of a weakness near the end of the year. Some might be able to make it their strength. I love it when that happens. I love watching them become what they can become.

So that’s why students had a smorgasbord of activities to pick from at student-led conferences.

Oh, smorgasbord. Wonder if they know what that means. I feel a vocab game brewing.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Kagan in My Back Pocket

I sort of started a quest this year.  I say "quest" because it is a journey that will take research, adjusting/changing long-held practices, and much much reflection.

I want to dramatically reduce the number of worksheets my students do.

To the point that any "worksheet" that is done serves a direct purpose of application or assessment of a topic.

No more time-filler worksheets.  I need to find other ways, more active ways, more engaging ways for students to learn content in class.  But this is hard.  It's hard to assess if students are truly absorbing the information.  However, in reality I'm aware that they are probably not absorbing material on the worksheets either.

Today I reached way back in my "back pocket" and pulled out some Kagan Cooperative learning strategies that reminded me why I fell in love with Kagan in the classroom 10 years ago.  And left me wondering why in the hell I haven't been using it more often.

Today's lesson centered around these essential questions:

Why didn't more slaves escape to the North?  
How did some manage to escape despite the odds?

We have been attempting to answer these questions by studying the context of slavery and laws in the south as well as three primary source documents.  Today's discussion was to tie it all together.  This is usually done with a "discussion worksheet."  Students write down notes about each discussion question and receive a completion grade for it.

I didn't want to make copies today.  I didn't want to have to force kids to pay attention and write down stuff they weren't invested in.  I didn't want to ask a question and watch the blank stare on 3/4 of the students in my room while the 1/4 answer everything.

So we didn't.

We did Kagan.
  1. I had students in teams of 3 or 4 and told them to number off 1-3 or 1-4.  I then numbered each group in the room. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6.
  2. I explained that I would ask a question off the discussion worksheet, and allow for the teams to discuss an answer.  All members of the team needed to know their answer and be ready to respond aloud if called upon.
  3. After a minute or two of discussion time, I took a dice to roll for a group number.  1-6
  4. Once the class knew which group was on the hot-seat, I took my handy-dandy little spinner (from a Kagan workshop) and spun it to land on a number (1-3 or 1-4).  That numbered person in the group had to give the group answer aloud.
It was SO MUCH MORE AWESOME than a worksheet. Because...
  • I could visually see everyone in the class participating in the discussion over each question.
  • Students LOVED the randomness of the spinner and the anticipation of having to respond.
  • All level learners were able to answer questions correctly.
  • Everyone participated!

I couldn't have asked for a better class discussion.  I was so excited for each class to come in so we could "play" again.

I asked each class if this was better than a worksheet.

The response was a rousing cheer YES!  MUCH BETTER!

Ok's time to dust off your book, read through your strategies, and start making your methods more of a staple rather than a last-minute resort.

You just might be the key to my quest!

Monday, March 7, 2016

A Good Problem to Have

There are so many advantages to connecting with other educators through conferences, workshops and social media.  But I'm starting to see a problem.

I have too many ideas.

And not near enough time.

Don't get me wrong.  It's a good problem to have.  But still a problem.  Here's my list of the BIG things I want to do this summer.

1. Archaeological Dig Tubs:  This is #1 on the list because it's consumed my head most of the school year.  Plus it effects possibilities with the other things on my list.  I want to create tubs filled with a sand/dirt mixture and a variety of historical artifacts for the students to have to dig up and connect to a larger theme.  The one thing about this one... money.  I've written a couple grants in order to try and get some funding for this idea.  If the money doesn't come, this one get's the boot.  At least for another year until I try again.  (See what I did there?  Growth mindset!)  If the money does come, I've got a lot of shopping and researching to do!

2.  Skype in the classroom:  I recently stumbled onto a presentation done by Dyane Smokorowski (@mrs_smoke) about the many different ways that Skype can enhance the classrooms of all ages and content areas. I love this idea.  A way for my students to connect with other students around the country, experts in the field, and experience virtual field trips.  So cool!  I love the idea of combining task #1 with #2 by searching for an archaeologist who would be interested in participating in a Skype interview with my students...

3. Breakout EDU.  This is the newest one I've come across.  It is SO COOL and I'm attempting to hold back my enthusiasm because I'm approaching obsession level.  I have P/T conferences tomorrow and 1/4th a school year to plan for, grade, and teach.  But seriously.  Creating a Breakout EDU for my classroom is all I can think about at the moment...  If #1 doesn't happen this year, this one moves to the top of the list!  Much easier to attempt to get funding for a $99 starter kit, than artifacts, dig tools, and dirt. Ohhh....but can you imagine the AWESOMENESS of the two combined?!?!  See, this is what happens...

4. Updating Curriculum Map:  I'm making changes (what else is new...) and that means some serious one-on-one time with the content I currently teach.   I need to figure out a way to consistently integrate current events that parallel the historic topics we study.  This is SO IMPORTANT...but I seem to continually run out of time...  I'm in love with the website, Newsela.  This will play into my plans in some way!

5. Classroom Organization:  I moved into a new classroom in August.  New as in "brand-spanking-new!"  It's wasn't completely finished.  I received all my cabinets by the end of November.  I pretty much took the stacks and boxes that were sitting around my room and threw them in no particular order onto the shelves and in the drawers.  I'm going to have to get in to my room at some point and figure out where it's all going to go.  And what can go in the trash...

6.  Play with and figure out Google Classroom.  The more I hear about it the more I'm thinking I need to start using it.  I balked when it first came out.  I have gone "all in" with educational programs before that sort of fell flat.  I was waiting to see if Classroom stuck around and what other teachers were saying about it.  I think it's time I started figuring it out.

And I only have 3 months "off."

And another 1/4 of the year to get more ideas.  Sheesh!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

What I wish "they" knew...

In my preparation classes to become a teacher, technology was a factor.  I learned how to set up a website, how to save to a flash drive or floppy disk, and came up with ideas for lessons that incorporate technology for students to use.

I use none of that in the way it was intended.  Everything has changed.  

Technology has been a part of my teaching career each one of my 10 years.  Although, I never would have guessed how fast and drastic the changes in technology has occurred in the last three years.  The lengths that technology has advanced in education have shocked me, and I've still got a good 20 years left.    

In the 10 years I've been working as a teacher, I have found myself on both end of the technology spectrum.  I have been completely lost and not excited about new changes while relying on someone else to help me or teach me the new tech.  More recently I have found that my role with technology in school has evolved to more of a leader/instructor on incorporating tech in the classroom.  Never would I have thought 10 years ago that I would have an elective class that focused on using technology to broadcast various media projects created by 7th and 8th grade students.  

But here I am.  

Over the years, and throughout my role with technology I have found myself muttering "I wish they knew..."  When I struggled with technology there were things I just really wanted those who "got it" to know about me and my journey, why it was a struggle, or what caused my hesitation.  Now that I'm more of a teacher in the area, I find I have a whole new set of wishes for the "other side."

This post is not meant to point out one side as being "better" than the other.  More to raise awareness for all of the teachers behind the front lines.  Those of us who are expected to incorporate the vastly different technology that is placed in the hands of the students in our rooms.   

I have reached out to other teachers in my district and PLN for the "wishes" they have.  These come from teachers of all disciplines, ages, subjects, and technology levels.  

To the "tech savvy" teacher.  Here's what those who struggle with technology wish YOU knew:

"Don't laugh or say 'YOU don't know that?!' when I ask a question."

"Don't make fun of me when I don't see something that is obvious."

"Tell me step-by-step how to do something, don't take the device away and do it yourself."

"Don't tell me to stop doing something the 'old way,' if I decide to try the new tech or program, I will."

To administrators:  "Don't force me to use technology in my class without providing training in my subject areas.  If I teach math, don't have a social studies techie person trying to show me how to use a device in my classroom, the majority of their presentation will include social studies examples, not math."

"Don't tell me to 'get with the times' and then laugh" - - Please don't do that.

"Time is a factor. I wouldn't mind putting more tech into my classroom, but finding the time during the day to teach the program or app, explain the project, work time for the project, and presentations really cut into the time that I have to teach the content I'm required.  Teachers are asked to do more and more with less time." 

"I teach art.  Students come to my class expecting to work with their hands, not a technology device."

"It is difficult to plan lessons or devote much of my classroom to technology when it can be unreliable."

To the traditional teacher.  Here's what those who are using technology consistently in their classrooms wish YOU knew:

"First, I wish my not-so-tech-savvy colleagues knew that I am willing to help!  I don't always know who is interested in learning a new skill or strategy, and I don't want to seem to pushy.  But if someone asks for help, I am more than willing to start from the beginning.  I have learned a lot through trial and error, I'd love to save you some time!"

"I was not always tech savvy.  I learned.  I started small and tried one thing, and then another. Once I saw the power of using technology in the classroom I was hooked and wanted to learn more."

"I don't do EVERYTHING online.  Some of my colleagues are under the impression that I have gone totally paperless and that to use technology you have to go 'all in.'  I still do plenty of things paper pencil, it just depends on the project."

"I always have a backup plan. Technology can be fickle, so I always have alternative in mind if it doesn't cooperate."

"When it comes to Google, its hard to make a mistake that you can't "undo". I work with a lot of people who are hesitant to try something because they don't want to screw things up. The undo button is your friend! (so is revision history)."

"Do not take pride in NOT knowing anything about the computer--especially if you are a teacher--you should want learn, learn and grow, and learn more--you wouldn't like your students saying that!"

"Pick ONE thing, one small thing, and learn it, practice, do it, and do it again until you're ready for the next thing--don't be absolute and just throw your hands up and say, 'I'll have none of it!'"

"Don't think you can just take a technology project/assignment that has been practiced, taught, and researched by another teacher and just 'do what they did' if you haven't spent time learning the technology.  You will struggle to understand what the students are doing, answer any questions, and will end up frustrated with the results. Try out the technology you are asking your students to use."

"If you have more than five years left in education, get on board and start attempting to use more technology, it's not going anywhere."

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

Which side do you tend to be on?  How is using technology in the classroom easy/difficult for you?  What do you wish the "other side" knew?

**A special thank you to all the teachers who helped me with this blog post!  Maybe this will help break down the barrier between "tech-savvy" and "not-so-tech-savvy" teachers**

Coming up...a post from the other side of all this technology.  The students voice their opinions!