Monday, June 3, 2019

The "Season" of Professional Development

I have said it before. Professional Development is one of the key factors in becoming a better teacher. Period.

In the first few years of my teaching career, I struggled to be willing to go to conferences and workshops. It was so much work to be gone during the school year, and summer was my time.  Then I was lucky enough to be invited in to join a Teaching American History grant which would include 40 middle school social studies teachers who would all work to get better. Long story short, I went in grudgingly and left advocating for all teachers to have a group like that. (Want to read more about our HERE).

That experience was all it took for me to become full-on PD focused! I LOVE connecting with other teachers, learning, stealing ideas, and just being around other educators. There is something so powerful and uplifting when teacher get together with the desire to all get smarter!

Here's the thing.

It's summer again. And I am coming across conference after conference that I want to be a part of. I want to present and attend as many sessions as I can.


(Did you sense a "but" coming...)

My "season of life" makes it a little difficult to do those things right now.

By "season of life" I mean the family side... During the summer my husband and I enjoy 2 months of no daycare cost. And...we just added our 4th child in February. So... anyone out there want to take a stab at the cost of daycare for 4 kiddos? The savings is pretty substantial.

My point is... all those conferences and workshops I would love to go to just aren't going to happen this summer (or probably for the next few summers...). Summer is the time I try to make sure my kids don't have to compete with my job for my attention. do I continue to get PD during the summer?

I literally get it at my fingertips when I can. Facebook groups, Twitter, blogs. I read them during nap time when I'm laying on the recliner with the baby. I pin cool articles to read, lessons to check up on, and activities to try out while I'm binge watching Santa Clarita Diet before bed. I try to get what I can, when I can.

Seasons change and I know there will be a day when I can attend a Gilder Lehrman Seminar and put in a proposal to present at summer conferences. But for this season in my life I'll continue to make online connections and write down ideas I come across right at my fingertips!

How are you getting your PD in this summer?

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Taking Risks, the Word Never, and New Adventures

That word "never."

Pesky little devil.

I've said it a handful of times. And she has proven me wrong every. single. time.

I was NEVER going to go to a JUCO. I went, loved it, and am now am an advocate for students to start out there if they can. Its a great way to reduce cost of college and mark off some of those gen-eds.

I was NEVER going to go to Emporia State. The university closet to home, I wanted to get AWAY. I'm now a proud graduate of their excellent teaching program.

I was NEVER going to move back in with my parents. I did. While student teaching. I don't regret it.

I was NEVER going to teach West of Wichita. 13 years in Cheney KS. You guessed it. West of Wichita.

I was NEVER going to leave Cheney. I was NEVER going to leave my middle schoolers for High School.

Wanna take bets on what comes next...

After 13 years at an amazing school working an amazing job, I"m changing things up. I have taken a new position teaching High School Social Studies at Maize HS. I am beyond excited for this new chapter in my life.

Sometimes I still can't believe that it's happening. What am I thinking? Leaving something I'm comfortable with, something I'm good at for something brand new. Something I haven't done since student teaching. (While having 4 kids ages 7 and under...) Cheney has been SO GOOD TO ME, and I've had the opportunity to be a part of many "ripples" of inspiration. (Read about Teacher Ripples here).  But I strive on challenges. I love to take risks. And after 13 years in the same position I found myself starting to want more than my beloved little school could offer. I was starting to get "too comfortable."

It's time for me to take a big step outside my comfort zone and discover new strengths, new challenges, and grow both professionally and personally.

It's time for me to make ripples in a new pond.

And to find a new "never" to try to avoid...

Friday, February 8, 2019

FAKE News of the Past: Historical Thinking Skills in Action!

I started my day today (after two snow days) with this task focused on the question... "Which source is more accurate or reliable a PRIMARY source or a SECONDARY source?

Now...this is not the first time I have asked my 7th graders this question. But we've been full force into some really cool primary sources lately...and I had a feeling they were forgetting their Historical Training from the first of the year and how IMPORTANT it is to really look at the sourcing information and WHY the document was created. What PURPOSE was it serving?

This lesson today was created to remind them of that...AND show them that "Fake News" isn't something that President Trump started talking about a few years ago. It's been around a LONG time.

So... our bell work had them answering the question, and 95% of my 7th graders said "primary sources are more accurate because they come directly from that time period." 

THEN... I pass out four documents. Their task is to work together with their teams to place these in order from MOST accurate to LEAST accurate based on what they see. teams are also instructed to make sure everyone in the group understands how and why they ranked their documents.

Next... I instruct them to very quickly decide if each one is a primary or secondary source. This takes less than 30 seconds.

Now... I ask for a "spokesperson" in each group to stand. This person rotates to a new group as the "guest." Each team then explains how and why they ranked their sources to their "guest." The guest is encouraged to question their judgement. (Often times groups are very similar in ranking, but it does lead to some great conversations. After the guests thank their "hosts" for a lovely visit, they return home and we begin our class discussion.  - - Side note: did you catch all the ways for social learning and interaction with this one activity? Get your kids up and moving!

First I direct the class to our bell work question. Which source is more accurate. Usually through this discussion kids start to remember that this is a "trick" question. The answer is "it depends..." we discuss this and they all start to remember how important it is to look at the source and the purpose of the document.

Then I shock them with the news...that ALL FOUR of these documents are primary sources. We talk about how important it is to look at the purpose and how they're going to spend some time analyzing the advertisement poster.

The worksheet guides them through the poster looking at the audience, pulling out important information, and realizing some misleading information. At the end, 7th graders have to rank the accuracy of the poster from 1-10 and back up their reasoning with evidence that they encountered.

I love this lesson for many reasons. One is just the timing of it. I'm able to review the importance of sourcing a document, historical thinking skills, primary and secondary sources, and touch on how these skills were just as important in the late 1800s as they are now.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Group Grading Conundrum: Contracts May Be the Answer!

"How do you guys grade for group projects?"

Have ran into that question probably 3 times within my PLN just this week alone. I totally get it. This is hard. How do you make it fair,  how do you teach kids valuable skills, how do you justify it with parents?

As someone who does a lot of projects in class, both individual and group, I have played with many different options. My recent favorite is to have my students create a Team Contract.

This is not a new topic. I got the idea while dipping my toes in the PBL world and reading Ginger Lewman's book; Lessons for LifePractice Learning. That book is a MUST for anyone who does projects in class. Even if you don't go "full-on" PBL there are tips in that book that will make you a better educator period. Read it. You'll be glad you did.

Click HERE for a link to purchase the book.
Anyway... Here's how I set up a group project. The more time and effort you put into the set up of this, the better results you'll get out of your kids.

I always start by explaining that in team projects there is always more to learn than just the content or topic. We learn life lessons and skills that will be used in our work life in the future. One of those is contracts. Most places require employees to sign a contract agreeing to things like salary, benefits, work schedule, among other things. Why would we not want to incorporate that into our work in the classroom?

I take this suggestion straight from Ginger's book... Do's and Don'ts. What do we like about group work? What don't we like? Why? How can we solve those "problems" that tend to come up in group work? My teams in class brainstorm answers to the questions.

Next, I ask more questions... What is our goal? What do we want to accomplish? How are we going to be successful? Do we have specific talents that can help the group? Where do I struggle and need help? How can my group help me in my weak areas? How can I help my team members?

Now... I have my teams open up a Google Document and share it with everyone in the team AND ME! They spend some time talking about these questions...specifically outlining what they need to do to be successful, what do they need to avoid to be successful?

Once they have their lists... I have them start to tackle the difficult topics.

How do we want to be graded?
What is fair?
How do we handle absent team members?
How do we handle team members who aren't pulling their weight?
How do we handle team members who are controlling and won't allow for others to have a voice?

I do stop and talk a little about contracts in the workforce and how employees are expected to "hold up" their end of the deal. I explain...if I don't show up to work, I don't get paid. (This is a great example to show this year as I'll be going on maternity leave and can explain how that works... and that after I exceed my allowed "sick days" I'll start receiving a smaller pay check.)

As a team...THEY need to decide how they're going to handle teammates absences. Are you all going to get the same grade regardless of attendance? If you miss class, do you have to make it up? How? Who communicates what needs to be done?

Teams discuss and write in their contracts how they want absences to be handled "grade wise."

This takes it completely out of my hands and puts it in theirs.

Talk about taking ownership over their learning.

Here is an example of an absence policy created in a contract for my 8th grade class. This was for a project that would take a total of 5 work days (I'm on a block schedule, so each work day is 75 minutes over a two-week period)
10% of the grade will be taken off if a person misses school for each day they miss. Unless they make up the work missed outside of class. It will be the job of the team members at school to email the person what they need to do. If they don't do it, they lose 10%. 
See...pretty cool right! I do suggest that all teams have an "unless" option. Because kids get it. They're not always in control of their attendance at school. Everyone needs the chance to "make up" for being gone. Most groups are good with this.

The next topic the kids tackle in their contract is "strikes." Strikes can be given out for specific things team members do (or in this case, don't do). Usually so many "strikes" is equal to a % loss in points on the final grade. All reasons for strikes and the penalties are detailed and documented in the team contract. An example...

Strikes will be given for the following reasons:

  • Off-task for more than 5 minutes
  • Going to the bathroom more than one time during class
  • Goofing off with other teams
  • Playing games instead of researching
  • Not listening to other opinions. 
1 strike = -5% of the grade
3 strikes and a person can be fired.

Yep. You read that right. A team member can be fired. This is real life. If you repeatedly don't do your work, you won't last long at a job. The same can happen for this project.

Now...I have only had to "fire" a person one time, and the team really did try everything they could to get this person to work. This was a unique case in which the student ended up doing a completely alternate project and other factors were involved. It is my job as the teacher to try to make sure things don't escalate to the need to fire anyone. BUT just having the option there, tends to put a "spark" in some of those lesser-motivated team members.

Lastly...this is the really important part of the contract. I meet personally with each team and go through their contract. We did this for two reasons. I know what MY expectations are as the teacher and grading. Some teams are really strict with their policies and some are more lax... it's my job to understand what they mean. 2...this allows me to add in helpful tips to make their wording more clear. By the time the meeting is all done everyone in the team, including me, understands the "terms" of the agreement.

I am also able to remind them that THEY are responsible for DOCUMENTING what happens with absences and strikes on the contract. I know who has missed class, there is a record of that, but I don't know if the person has "made up" their part. That has to be documented. Teams are not allowed to say "Billy = 2 strikes" without detailing WHY and HOW Billy received the strikes. Billy also must be aware...we're not here to purposely sabotage anyone.

In the end the contracts are SO HELPFUL to me throughout the project process. I can pull up a teams contract at any time and see how things are going. When it's time to grade, I just open up the document and make adjustments to the grades as specified in the contract.

A couple things to note...

This is a LEARNING process. It takes time for kids to learn how to do this, and even longer for them to actually hold their peers accountable to the contract. For example... I had a two 8th grade girls come up to me the day a project was due and tell me about how their third teammate ended up not doing much of the work.

I simply said...Ok, that's fine. As long as you've documented the strikes in the contract, I'll make sure the grade is taken care of. - - They looked at me sheepishly and then said that really they never said anything to her and there aren't strikes. They didn't realize that she wasn't working.

Ohhh. Now, there's more of a problem. I cannot and will not just lower this team member's grade without documentation. That's not right. I explained that this is a good learning moment for them to hold their teammates accountable throughout the project and not on the last day at the last minute. Hopefully next time they would do a better job... without documentation I won't lower the grade.

One of the hardest things for kids to learn is to hold their peers accountable to the work. Contracts in group projects make for so many GREAT learning moments, and by the end of the year, these middle school kids have learned some very valuable lessons that have nothing to do with content.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

When Less is More

Sometimes we have a tendency to forget. We forget how things really and truly are. We forget our audience and end up being disappointed with the results. When in reality, it's our fault.

I want to share with you today a moment where I realize how far I have come. How much I have improved over the years as a teacher. This week, I decided to resurrect an old assignment. It's probably been 6-8 years since I did it last (I know this because the last modified date was 2013). I'm surprised it even opened up on my computer.

I was reading it, cringing the entire time.

Good idea.

Poor execution.

I had a HUGE paragraph as the instructions on the page. How stupid of me. For a two main reasons...

First. I forgot who I was teaching. 13-14 year old kids. They don't want to read paragraphs. In reality, non of us want to fuddle through an entire paragraph filled with detailed instructions. I'm sure the kids NEVER actually read it.

And I'm sure I was frustrated when they would ask me questions that were "hidden" in that paragraph. I'm sure I responded with... "Didn't you read the instructions?"

Second. It wasn't CLEAR. Yes, I had included all that they needed to do, but it read more like a blog post instead of getting right to the point. Kids need clear expectations on what to do. They are capable of doing great things, following directions, and being independent... if we, the adults, are crystal clear on what we are asking.

In the case of teaching middle school students... LESS IS MORE.

The last few years, I have almost lived by that phrase... I try to see how much can I tell my students in the fewest words possible. My directions on worksheets now consist of one sentence if that and bullets or steps if a larger project requires multiple steps.

And when you really sit down and think about it... we are the same way.

No adult wants to read three paragraphs of information to be told to do one thing. Why would we think kids want to? We are who we teach.

Less is more people.

Try it out. Cut your directions down to the exact NEED TO KNOWS and I bet you get just as good or better results.

Be clear. Be short. Don't ramble.

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Social Studies Shorts

Wanna a quick and easy project for your students, that embeds content and technology, doesn't eat up a ton of time, and has LOTS of options????

Look no further than "Social Studies Shorts."

This isn't a new idea for a project. Our English teacher has done it in her ELA classroom before, and I thought it was cool and filed it away into my "someday I'll try that" folder.

Then I was reminded of it by Adam Topliff, an awesome teacher in my PLN. He did it with his 8th graders over the Articles of Confederation, and I figured it would be a great thing to use as my "semester final project" for my 8th graders over Lewis and Clark. I believe he got the idea from education consultant, Curtis Chandler. (You should follow both on Twitter @mrtopliff and @CurtisChandler6 ) for great ideas.

As I've said before, I don't typically do the same thing year after year. I am always looking to revamp and find new ways for students to work with the content. One thing that does typically stay the same in my history classes is starting with an essential question.

I love to present the question at the start of a lesson and then spend the next few days having the students investigate and prepare to answer the question. It's HOW they answer the question where I'm always looking to shake things up.

This year, I took a lesson over Lewis and Clark that I've done pretty much the same way the last two or three years. The lesson is a good one, a Structured Academic Controversy (SAC). I wrote a blog about it last year...find that post here. That lesson comes from SHEG. I am using the same materials from the SHEG lesson, but the end result isn't a structured debate between students, but a short film created instead referred to as "Social Studies Shorts"

Check out this video example of a Social Studies Short.

When Mr. Topliff tweeted that he was planning one of these for his students, a little light clicked! That would be a fun alternate way to answer our big Lewis and Clark question. So I set to work creating the project.

***I will note, that I may have been VERY specific about requirements and details on the rubric. I find that the first time I do a certain type of technology project the more specific I am helps the kids figure it all out. Later in the year, if this is presented again as an option, students are given more "freedom" for creativity.***

The Essential Question
Were Lewis and Clark respectful to the Native Americans they met on their journey?

STEP 1: Gather Evidence by completing the evidence analysis chart. There will be 5 stations for students to rotate through. Each station has a different document to analyze. This will be done at the student's own pace and can be done with a partner if they choose. (Evidence from SHEG activity… )

Quick image of the document. For full access scroll to the bottom of the page.

Quick image of the document. For full access scroll to the bottom of the page.

STEP 2: Fill out the Persuasive Graphic Organizer Sheet. This will be done individually using the information learned while studying the evidence provided. (I just searched for "Persuasive Essay Graphic Organizer" and picked one that I liked)
STEP 3: Prepare the Social Studies Short
  1. Create a Script of what to say on camera.
  2. Content MUST HAVES:
    1. Introduction: Title, who, what, when, and where (basic information about the expedition.)
    2. Answer the "essential question"
    3. Provide at least THREE pieces of evidence to back up claim.
    4. Acknowledge the counterargument and its weakness
    5. A conclusion Statement.
  3. Visual MUST HAVES
    1. Essential Question Typed and printed.
    2. Locate images and create other text that can be used as you narrate your video.

STEP 4:  Video your short.
  1. Find a video partner.
  2. One videos with the iPad while the other presents
  3. Switch roles
  4. Complete any final editing need and upload final product to Google Classroom.

Here is an example of a finished video from Nolan.

All in all, they enjoyed this project, I was able to integrate technology effectively with my content, students studied primary and secondary sources in order to back up their claim, and work collaboratively to film their videos. Social Studies Shorts will definitely make a repeat appearance in my class this year! 

I love the versatility of this project. So many options... and it can be as long and detailed or short and sweet as you need it to be. Individual or team project...larger project answering an essential question...or explaining a single vocabulary word in context. Lots of options to fit your classroom needs!

I will mention, that when I told the students that this project "used to be done as a small round-table debate" they REALLY wished we would have done that. I found that they were really into the topic and wanted to discuss their opinions. If I do the "Social Studies Shorts" with this topic next year, I will do it as a follow-up to the debates.

Want the resources for this project and not just pictures? Click HERE for my Google Folder!

Friday, December 14, 2018

Reflecting and Making Tough Decisions

I have said this many times, the best teachers are reflective teachers. They make changes based on what went well and what didn't. They listen to the students, because sometimes these "kids" have some pretty great ideas on how they would like to learn. 

And when they're not ready. 

Sometimes, they come right out and tell us. And sometimes they are a afraid to say just what's on their mind. But if you get to know your students as more than just the "kids in your class" you'll start to be able to pick up on what they're NOT telling you... but showing you. 

My 7th graders have been working on a really cool project over our "Bleeding Kansas" unit. I stole the idea from a high school teacher. The project involved the kids researching a person and then "becoming" that person for a press conference style interview.

I LOVE this project idea. I love the depth of knowledge and rigor attached to it. The kids don't just research and regurgitate the information back, they truly have to get to know the person they researched and infer their answers based on their knowledge. Cross-curricular research skills, oral communication skills, and historical thinking. Win - Win - Win. 

For me. 

And then last night, while I was awake and couldn't sleep at 3:00 AM, I started playing little signs over and over in my head. As much as I didn't want to admit 7th graders weren't ready for this.  Some of the signs were...
  • The questions I kept getting... "Is this really in front of the class?" "How long do I have to be up there?" "Can I have my research form while I'm presenting?" 
  • The kids in tears during our "soft deadline" because they were so anxious and nervous. 
  • The emails I got the night before our due date. I NEVER get emails from kids at home. I got three after 9:00
  • The emails from parents giving me a "heads up" about their child's nerves.

And then I started to think more about my classroom and why they may not actually be "ready." 
  • This is their first BIG project with me that involves research, cited sources, and a presentation. 
  • The presentation is not only an individual one, but it also requires some high-level thinking front of their peers.
  • We haven't actually done ANY type of oral presentation in class. Nothing. 
  • They haven't even done any speeches or presentations in their ELA class for me to "piggy back" off of. 

One of the things I love about being a teacher is the amount of control I have in my day. For the most part, my principal trusts me to teach my kids the content I'm required and do it to the best of my ability. HOW I decide to do that is completely up to me. I can make changes as I see fit. Sometimes those changes are easy. Sometimes they're more difficult. 

By 3:30 AM I had made the decision to change it up. The focus of this project wasn't the oral presentation. It was the research skills and content surrounding the important people during the turbulent time period leading up to the Civil War. Instead of orally presenting to in front of their peers, 7th graders would create a Spark Video about their person. Within that video they were still required to make inferences based on what they learned and answer specific content-related questions. 

This was not an easy decision. I LIKE the press conference project, and I am a big advocate for challenging your students and making them step outside their comfort zone. I put A LOT of work into creating it, but it's not about me. This was a HUGE jump outside the comfort zone for some. Creating fear and anxiety was NOT the goal. For the record, I still think this is something middle school students can do, but I think it is more suited for the end of 7th grade (at the earliest) or 8th grade. I will revisit this project again.

Sometimes doing what's best for students means putting aside your own pride and the amount of work that you put in to it, in order to get the quality of work your students are capable of.