Thursday, October 31, 2019

Game Changers - Project and Reflection

Reflection is the name of my game this year. I have told my HS students this semester that they are my guinea pigs all year. Everything I do is the first time I try it. Even if it's something I have done before, this is the first time I try it with this age group of students.

Changes are coming. My notebook is riddled with sticky notes of changes to make next time.

I thought I would write a blog, giving you an idea of what that looks like. I share the stuff I use in the classroom, but I don't always share my thought process at the end. So, here it is.

Project Title: Game Changers of the United States

Descriptions: Working in teams, students will identify a person, document, or moment in history that caused our country to shift directions. They will decorate a ceiling tile to dedicate in that Game Changer's honor. A speech will be written and delivered during the "Dedication Ceremony" in class.

Project Instruction Sheet and Rubric >>> CLICK HERE

This project is something I have done on a smaller scale with my middle school students in the past. If you want to read the blog post detailing that project >>> CLICK HERE


Aren't those cool?? I just love how they turned out. But that doesn't mean it was perfect. That doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. When I reflect on what I look at both what went well and what changes need to be made in order to make it better.

What went well?
  • The end result was awesome. The tiles look great in the ceiling and my super artistic students had an opportunity to shine. 
  • On the first day, I had the students make a list of their academic strengths and weaknesses, things they add to a team when tasked with an assignment or project. I had them share the lists with their groups. This helped the groups delegate tasks based on the strengths and weaknesses of their members.
  • For the most part students used their time wisely. There wasn't a bunch of wasted time, but there was time that could have been better organized...for example all 3 group members spend a day and a half researching and writing their speech, then were stressed to finish their tile on time. They could have "divided and conquered" the work so they weren't stressed with finishing the tile at the end.
  • I was worried initially about "content" and what might be covered, but I was insistent that students have choice in their "Game Changers." The great thing was that all groups except for two chose a topic that falls within my scope and sequence. Many choosing something from what we could consider modern history.
  • I took a risk and put together a group that was made entirely of the kids who struggle to participate. They ABSOLUTELY ROCKED IT. I saw leadership, delegation, engagement and I didn't ONCE have to tell them to get to work. They picked a topic they were interested in and have one of the coolest tile designs! I am so proud of them!
  • In general students love working on projects, but to just move from one project to another can be taxing. We are moving into more "traditional" learning methods for the next couple weeks. The students are excited for those and seem to approach class with more confidence and energy. It's almost as if they recognize they got to do something cool and fun and want to do well on even the "regular" assignments so they can keep doing things that are different.
  • The cool thing about this project (one of the many) is that it automatically provides advertisement for the things we will do in class. My Sophomores were asking if they get to do this. Its one of the first things kids see when they enter the classroom and one of the first things they ask about. The tiles create a buzz of excitement.
  • Grouping worked decent. I used a strategy that I detail HERE in this post about differentiating the students who are artistically talented. This made sure that every team had someone who could hold a pencil. For the most part my groups were good. Maybe a couple changes here and there...but grouping kids is the HARDEST part of any project or assignment for me. 
  • The kids are PROUD of their work. They bring in friends from other classes to show off their hard work. :) 

What is needed next time?
  • Each team member will complete the research and write their own speech before we begin working on the tiles. Then they can compare speeches and create one "MEGA-Speech" out of the best of each. This way I am ensuring that each student does the research and content portion of the project. This can also be a part of their assessment. 
  • I will be more specific on what elements I want on the tile. I was pretty general with my tile requirements in order to allow for creativity. And while I got that with some, other's needed more guidance. I think I can find a happy medium. 
  • Timing...The original idea had this be the final project of the year. I was worried though, that I may run out of time and end up cutting it. I still like the idea of the end of the year, BUT it worked well as a mid-term type project. Knowing that this project will be a priority may keep the project in the middle of the semester, but I have flexibility depending on when I want to use it.
  • I try to have a good balance of checking in with the groups and allowing them time to work on self-regulation and time management. They cannot learn how to manage time without me giving them time to have to manage. I always feel like I can do better and helping them with those skills.
  • Looking at how I can increase our audience base. Do I have some sort of online presentation and voting to share out? Do I invite guests? How can I increase the stakes of the presentation pieces.
  • I would love to make over my classroom so it looks like an actual ceremony. Black table cloths, fake candles, snacks and have the kids dress up for their presentation OR dress in character. That would be a cool way to wrap up the project. 

There you have it. A look inside my head and how I analyze the things I do in my classroom. Many changes to come and my classroom is slowly starting to resemble who I am as an educator and reflect my education philosophy. It takes work. But it is worth it!

Thursday, October 10, 2019

How Am I REALLY Doing?

Today, a colleague walked by my room nodded my direction and asked "how are things going?" And I responded with the simple truth...Great! I love it! 

And I wasn't lying I love it. I 100% believe I made the right decision for myself in my career and in the long-run for our family. This is where I'm meant to be. I know it. That clarity has been so comforting this school year. This change is everything I didn't know I needed and I'm SO GRATEFUL that I had the courage to step out there and challenge myself. I love it!

And as I walked back in my room a thought crept into my head... He doesn't really want to know the FULL truth to that question. 

But maybe he needs to. 

And so do you. 

You many times we get caught up in the moment of posting the awesome. The things that make us proud to be a teacher. The things that validate everything we do and inspire others to become teachers. We don't do this to mislead's the fun stuff. It's the stuff that we get excited about and what to shout out from the roof tops...or "tweet" from virtual tree branches. 

But that's only part of the story. Part of the truth. 

So here's the whole truth. The entire thing. Here's how I'm REALLY doing. 

I am STRUGGLING. I am working harder than I have worked in years, only to find myself constantly behind. And not just behind in my grading...behind in it all. Everything. And when I actually get somewhere, Oh I didn't, cause now there's this to do. 

I LOVE HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS. I absolutely love being around their quirky energy. The "bros" and VSCO girls. I love their sarcasm, their hearts, their ideas, their goofy dance moves they do to the "walk in songs" I play each day. I LOVE the conversations we have. 

I'm LITERALLY one page ahead of the kids in the book. Some of this content I haven't even looked at in over 15 years. Some...even longer. Some I can't recall ever having it. I mean, I made a model Mayan City out of candy in 6th grade, that counts right? Teacher Pay Teacher has saved me more often than I like to admit. I am grateful for those...but tired of not having the comfort of knowing it. I know it will come. I'm trying to be patient with myself. 

I cannot say enough about the awesome people I get to work with. Having a team to bounce ideas off of, supportive administration, trust, getting evaluated by someone who doesn't already "know me". There are so many great people to learn from and being a part of that energy is unbelievable.  I miss friends I left back in Cheney. I would love to go have a drink and catch up with them...but there isn't time. I have an awesome PLN that will support me and share resources on a moment's notice. I am so thankful for those people!

I spend hours every weekend working. I go up to the school for 3-4 hours on a Saturday or Sunday and then work in the evenings. People...this is not dedication. This is SURVIVAL. You don't walk into a high school class without a plan. You. Just. Don't. 

I fail daily. I realize within the first 15 minutes of class that I should have done something differently. My lesson notebook is riddled with sticky notes of ways to improve a lesson. I also succeed daily. I find ways to push kids out of their comfort zones and explain how and why the activity we're doing is relevant. I will apologize to these kids when they graduate. Next semester's class will get so much better, and the class after that, and after that... 

That's been one of the hardest things. Knowing how much better I can be, but lacking the ability to be there right away. Giving myself the GRACE to get there. 

I am CONSTANTLY shifting gears. I get excited and start making headway in my World History class...I'm pumped! But have to stop. Time to think of dinner, 2nd grade homework, laundry, and play with the baby. Read to my 2 year old, find Halloween costumes, and help the 5 year old with her sight words. Kiss my husband hello. Shifting gears. Stopping mid-thought to work on another "to-do" list that's overflowing. 

I am gaining my students TRUST. They were "doubters" in the beginning when I told them that I LOVE this profession and it's my goal that they know every single day, there is no where else I'd rather be than in the classroom with them. They're awesome. They're starting to believe me. I have students who love my class. I have students who confide in me. I have students who give me a fist bump everyday and some who stop by when they don't have to just to say hello.

I have students who hate my class. Who love to find little moments to make sure I know how much they hate history and think it's worthless. I love them too. I'm working on winning them over. It takes time. 

I am NOT doing this alone. I have a support system that is making it all possible. My husband has been so supportive and helpful with this shift. We knew this first year would require more work for me than I usually do outside the classroom. But I don't know if either of us were truly ready for it. He has stepped up in a big way and helped to ease some of the guilt I feel for missing out on the things at home while I turn through pages of material at the school. 

I have laughed and cried. I have fallen asleep early each night this week, with full intentions of working after the kids went to bed. I have a presentation to have ready in a couple weeks. Haven't started. I am exhausted. 

Even as the list keeps growing and the days get shorter, I am THANKFUL to be where I am. I know this is making me stronger and better in the classroom. But that doesn't mean it's all a bed of roses and things are great all the time. I struggle daily. 

And I love it all.