Monday, November 26, 2018

100 Things...

One of the best pieces of advice I've ever received was this...

"Find the best teacher you can, stick close to them, and steal any ideas you can from them to use in your own classroom."

And the best teachers out there will always let you steal from them. The best teachers are those who aren't only trying to improve themselves, but they love to see other teachers get better too. That's what we all see those in our profession get better everyday. 

Today's blog post is an idea that I stole from one of the best. 

T.J. Warsnak. And he really is one of the best...a finalist for Kansas Teacher of the Year this year. So, yeah, I'm going to steal anything I can from him...and this is a good one!

The idea is to get the students involved in discussion and brainstorming. This is when you're looking for a large list that the class can use to start something new. In my case I wanted the kids to brainstorm different ways to present information. T.J. used the goal of 250 things for his high schoolers, I modified it down to 100 for my 7th grade students. 

Today we needed ideas on ways to present information. You the middle school level, when I say create a "presentation" 9 times out of 10 I get some sort of slide presentation...Google Slide or PowerPoint. The kids get tunnel vision. Today, I didn't want a slide presentations, so we started with the whole class brainstorm activity 100 Ways...

My students sit in teams. I have 6 teams in my room and each group was given a small white board and an Expo marker. I explained that we need to come up with as many ideas on how to present information as we can. Their task was to write down as many presentation ideas as possible in 3 minutes. They could (and should) use their Chromebooks to Google ideas. As a class I set a goal for 100 ways to present material.

When time was up, we shared out. I typed up their responses as they shared out. It was OK to repeat ideas, so "talk show" might have showed up 3 different times. Who cares. They came up with talk show. And debate, and mock trials, and Spark Video, and Game Shows, and Timelines, and over 100 more!

This was awesome! A great way to spur discussion, get all kids involved and give them a goal to reach. You should have seen the eyes of my 7th graders when I said our goal was 100 things. And how proud they were at the end when we reached it! 

Then we preceded onto our activity for the day...Mystery Box Challenge. A SUPER fun way to engage students, force creativity and collaboration, while working under pressure. Want to know more about here!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

"Polish it Up" Day

As a building this year, we've discussed the topic of mastery grading quite a few times. We look at the positives and challenges of moving in this direction. The results have been that I am engaging in some serious self-reflection on my policies in class, and how I go about allowing for kids to truly show their best work and continue learning.

I've started small. Allowing redos on assignments and assessments for students who struggled. This is largely student-initiated. I make a comment on their grade in the grade book simply stating "Can be redone for a better grade" and pretty much leave it up to the student to take it from there.

This is a challenging shift. Students aren't accustomed to having the opportunity to redo their work. Middle school kids often fall into the "just get it done so I don't have homework" trap all too often. How do we shift their thinking from "get it done" to "learn the material"?

It's a work in progress. I'm working on ways to find time within our school days to work with students who need help. It's hard. There's only so much time within the school day, and outside of that just isn't a possibility between activities that students have and the current demands of my family life. I am currently expecting baby March I'll have four kiddos under the age of 7. I don't have the luxury (or the energy at the moment) to spend much more time on school outside of the contracted school day. So that leaves me with trying to search for creative solutions within the 8 school hours of the day.

Enter... .Polish it Up Day!

While scrolling through Twitter one night before bed (the MAGIC of Twitter PLN is the effortless scrolling that results in great ideas!) I came across a teacher who was doing a "Zap Zeros" day on the final day of the semester. Allowing students to turn in any late assignment that was a 0.

Ohhh...that's something I can work with.

I don't have a ton of 0's...I pretty much accept work throughout the semester, BUT I can use this idea to help with our "time" issue and allowing students the opportunity to improve. Growth mindset.

The last day of the semester before Christmas break, I plan on offering the class period to any student who wants to improve their grades. I'm calling it... Polish it Up Day! Students can work on any assignment, essay, or assessment that could improve their overall grade. This opportunity won't just be open to the students with low grades, but ANYONE with ANY chance at improvement will have the opportunity.  So the student with the 68% has a chance to bump up to a C and the student with a 94 has a chance to increase also! Growth mindset and continued learning is something that we should instill in all our kids, not just the ones who struggle.

This is the first year I'm trying this. I plan to promote it to students and parents in the next coming weeks and hope to have many students take advantage of this opportunity. Could you think of the possibilities if we were able to offer this throughout the school on that last day? How many kids would love the time to improve?

Does your school have a system for allowing students the opportunity and time for redoing assignments and assessments? Have you run into some struggles with this? Do you have solutions? I'd love to talk with you more!