Clip this onto educlipper

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Back to School Tips

I submitted an entry to with back to school tips, you can access that here. I'd like to thank them for publishing my thoughts and providing such a forum. There are other great entries with great advice to check out on the site. Here is my entry:

After three months off of being in charge of a class I am out shape physically and emotionally. The following make it much easier to transition from summer break to class work. First off my sleeping habits get off in the summer. At least one week before I have to be back in school I make sure I get back on a good sleep schedule. I make sure I go to bed at an appropriate time and get up when I need to. I also make sure that during the day I am up and productive, especially during the time I would normally be at school.

In our district we go back to school one week before the kids do. There a few things I do during this time that I think are vital to being prepared when the students walk in the door. One thing that always gets me the first week is my voice is not in teacher shape. I am not used to the amount of talking I have to do, especially the first week. So I spend time during that first week talking to my colleagues and hearing about their summer and ideas for the new year. This is good for many reasons, but one such is I get to flex my vocal muscles again. It would only do me so much good if I just sat in my room and got used to being back in the building. Engaging with other teachers is a great way to share ideas as well as get that voice back into shape.

On our grading program we are able to see a picture, along with the name, of each student that will be in our class. I read over the names, determine which ones I have heard and which faces look familiar. I look for names that look tricky, and then do my best to memorize each name and face. This is a big undertaking but you can imagine the impact it has on the kids when they walk in the door the first day after summer break and I know who they are. I think from day one it sets up a relationship that shows that I care about them. Invariably there are a few that look completely different from their picture, but that is a nice conversation piece you can have with them.

I know that this is a daunting task, but it is totally worth it. By the end of the first day of school I try to have every name, first and last memorized. Note: this gets harder and harder with each period. 180+ names is tough. It takes me about a week to feel like I have them totally down. A couple of tips. I have an alphabetical seating chart for their first one. It helps me a lot. I also keep the picture listing on my podium so I can refer to it until I have the names/faces down pat. I try to use their names as much as possible so that I have them down and the kids feel that I care. Whether you try to memorize the names or if you don’t have access to pictures I think you should still read the names and get a feel for who is going to be in your class.

I find the more physically and emotionally prepared I am the easier it is to transition from break to work. Hope these help and give you some new ideas for the new year.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Students Likes/Dislikes about School /Cell Phones/BYOD

After attending ISTE 2012 I decided I wanted to get a group of former students together and use some of tech tools I am planning on using in my class. I hadn't used some of them before with a group of students and wanted to see what would happen when I did. I had another motive as well: I wanted them to freely express how they felt about school/class. It was a win-win for me; I got to test out some great new tech tools and received great feedback from students. BTW, the way I got former students in during the summer was a promise of lunch. Told admin what I was doing and they took care of lunch. This post will focus on the feedback from students as I believe it is beneficial to everyone.

Here are some responses to what students like/dislike about school/class:

Student A "I like to learn interesting facts and history stuff. I like learning to do new things on the computer and learning how to use new programs. I don’t like when the class has to just sit there and be silent and read.
Good lessons have interaction with all the students AND the teacher. I like when you learn about new things and new programs.

Bad lessons are like when ****** makes us sit and take notes while she flies through a presentation. Or when she makes us read a ton of pages and write stuff about it. I don’t know about you, but I find that boring and not useful. I don’t learn anything when I’m bored."

Student B "I don't like sitting and doing nothing, like hearing a lecture. I get bored really easy and can fall asleep really easy when I'm not doing anything. Sometimes taking notes can keep me awake but I don't really like taking notes. I like fun lessons where we act things out or do things hands on. I don’t really love making presentations. I also don’t like writing essays because they are boring and stupid to do.

I think a bad lesson is where all you do is sit and take notes.(like in ****** class she would have a powerpoint and go really fast and write a lot...I didn't like it.)"

Student C "I like to interact with my peers, while also pushing myself to learn new things, learning is something I really really enjoy. Especially when I feel someday I will be able to draw from the things I’ve learned and use them in a non-academic setting. I don’t really like essays, but unfortunately for me, Essays are part of the standardized-education system, and I’m not exempt from the timed sessions of long-dry pages of info, that sometimes don’t serve justice to those trying to show their knowledge and get into college."

Student D "I like when we use different activities to learn about new places! I like to use different features on the computer to create presentations and other things. I don't like when teachers just sit there and lecture us about boring stuff that’s hard to understand.
I like lessons when you have a type of activity to go with it, it helps to understand what we are learning about.
I don’t like the lessons where the teacher makes you read the text book cover to cover instead of the teacher explaining it themselves."

Student E "A good lesson is one that doesn’t always have to be finished. In physics we almost never finished a lesson because we always went deeper into a concept that the teacher didn’t intend on teaching. A bad lesson is one where all you’re doing is copying from a page of the book, because that’s all it becomes; copying. Another bad lesson is when the teacher moves on too quickly because they feel they are crunched for time. If they speed through a new concept, it never is solidified and comes back to bite you in the butt since you didn’t learn it."

A few observations...students know busy work is meaningless work...good lessons have students and the teacher interacting...students don't learn when they are bored...students want to be engaged and learn new things...lecturing and taking notes is not engaging...validation of effective/less effective teaching practices.

On the subject of cell phones in class and BYOD the answers were much more thoughtful than I believe we give students credit for. They considered the potential problems and benefits.

Student A "Using cell phones in class would be beneficial for SOME people. Some students would use it the way the teachers intend for them to use it, others would get distracted by all the other things that can be accessed in the world of cellular technology. It would be a good idea to have students, instead of using their cell phone, to use a laptop or ipad. Those can be less of a distraction and they are bigger so the teacher can see what is on the screen and know whether the student is doing what they are supposed to or not. If you don’t have a device to use, you could take notes on paper and use your friends notes for the rest of what you didn’t give. Also, sometimes they have laptop carts that they could pass out to the students without the benefit of having their own device. They can email it to themselves and open it whenever they need or they could print it off and keep the paper with them."

Student B "I think using cell phones in a class could be useful. However you have to use it responsibly. kids can use the computer without going to bad sites all the time...we might be able to use phones to help us in school without texting all through class. I think teachers and students need to look into the options of using cell phones in class.
I think bringing your own device is good because you could take notes....I have my own laptop and I wouldn’t mind being able to take neat, nice, readable notes. People don't really like to go to school because its not fun...using electronics could help people want to come. My phone doesnt have internet and stuff on it, but I have my own laptop. so I could take notes and send them to a friend who missed that day or to a friend who doesn't have something to help them. But a lot of people have i-pods, or smartphones."

Student C "I don’t think kids can be trusted with their cell phones in a free school setting. Cell phones are a great, wonderful commodity, and if I had a smartphone in class I know I would benefit, but the fact is, that for cell phones to really improve the public school setting, kids would already have to be dedicated and driven to improving their education. There are so many kids that just don’t care, and giving them access to more time-wasting games would just deepen the rut of poor education and lack of enthusiasm for the “generation of entitlement”.

BYOD? I don’t know, I think it would be a great plan, the only trouble is getting lower income families, or kids whose parents don’t allow cell phones until an older age, to supply a device of high enough caliber to be able to be compatible with the technology used. What if the kid brought in a late-90’s brick phone? One thing that I really like is that KSL talk-radio, 102.7, has a 5-digit text in number (57500) and radio listeners can text in, and they read the texts on the air. I’ve done it several times before and it’s totally free and really easy. There’s definitely great ways that BYOD would work, it would just be a problem of getting all the kids to bring in a device.

Student D "I think that the use of cellphones is good but my thoughts are that not every student will have a phone so it might be an advantage to those students who do have phones.
I think the BYOD is a good idea!! For the people that may not have phones they will have other devices to use so it would be fair to everyone."

Student E "I think cell phones/ipod/smartphones are great, but with great power comes great responsibility. I’ve seen many good students get bored in class because they felt they didn’t need to learn, and so they pull out their ipods and play games on them. Thus, in turn, they distract other kids who probably should be learning, and so a few “good” students quickly drop to low grades and can’t get back up to where they wanted to be. I agree with the slanted font man, if I had a smart phone, I think I could benefit from it. As well as many others. But at the same time, kids who already don’t care about school aren’t going to suddenly care more and want to learn using their phone. They’ll just dink around in class and nothing good will come of it.

Bringing your own device would be alright, but (and not that I would care personally, or that many would) some kids might feel left out or shy away from working with kids who can bring a device. I also think it would work much much better if it was for group projects. If the class is split up, there is bound to be at least one student with an ipod/ipad/laptop that they could bring to help with the project. It also brings familiarity. I’m not going to use a school computer in real life. I’ll have my own computer without any blocks or restrictions."

observations...can see the benefits of cell phones, but also problems...complicated issue without an easy solution...

Of note all of these students are good students and like school. I would really have liked to have a better mix of low achieving and middling students who don't really like school, alas, much harder to get them to come in during the summer. Overall I was pleased with the thought students put into their answers. More than anything it validated effective and less effective teaching practices and the complexities of cell phones in class.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Real Goal of Education: Create Life Long Teachers & the Skiing Analogy.

This post is inspired by a thought that I can't shake out of my head.

We learn 85% of what we teach. Therefore we need to foster life-long teaching
--Christine Renaud

I believe that having students develop critical thinking or higher order thinking skills should be our main aim as educators.

How We Learn

10% of what we READ

20% of what we HEAR

30% of what we SEE

50% of what we SEE and HEAR

70% of what is DISCUSSED with OTHERS


95% of what we TEACH TO SOMEONE ELSE

William Glasser

So whether it's 85% or 95% it still is the highest form of learning possible.

Here is my analogy to kick things off: If I wanted to ski I could sit in a class and learn all about the history of skiing and the science behind the equipment. I could learn about how to stand on the skis and how to turn and shift my weight. I could sit and listen for days about everything that has to do with skiing and have a lot of knowledge about skiing. But none of that makes me a skier.

When we teach without having our students apply, analyze, synthesize, evaluate, and create we just fill their heads with knowledge. Which is okay, but it just makes them good at jeopardy and trivial pursuit, it doesn't make them a skier.

Sure we need to explain concepts and give students knowledge, but for them to really get it we have to strap them in the ski boots and send them off down the hill. Learning is filled with missteps and falls. When I was learning to play chess I learned much more from when I lost then when I won. When I learned how to ski the falls taught me a lot more than staying upright ever did, in fact the falls taught me to stay upright.

Keeping all this in consideration I have decided to have my students teach more. Fridays at our school are chaotic and short. I barely have time to take the roll before the bell rings. In the past I have done quizzes on Fridays. With this new frame of thinking as student as teacher, I will be instituting Student Teacher Fridays this year.

Here is my plan I am going to have students in groups of two with three groups presenting on Fridays. But not every Friday. I think I will wait at least a few weeks before they begin teaching. They will be given the topic we will be covering the week they present a few weeks in advance to get ready. Each of the three groups that presents will be given a slightly different aspect. For example if we are studying the five themes of geography one group would have location, another regions, the other place. Just so we aren't getting the same material from each group.

We all know that when we first started teaching we didn't really know what we were doing. I want them to be successful and prepared so I will be helping them out by having them prepare by using critical thinking assignments.

Knowledge students will do one of the following:
Make a list of the main events.
Make a timeline of events.
Make a facts chart.

Comprehension students will do one of the following:
Write a summary report
Cut out or draw pictures to show a particular event.
Illustrate what you think the main idea was.
Make a cartoon strip showing the sequence of events.

Application, Analysis, Synthesis, Evaluation students will do all of the following:
Determine importance of the material and create an outline of the main objectives for your presentation.
Create a presentation using Prezentit, Sliderocket, Prezi, Slide Six, Vuvox, or Projeqt.
Create a five question quiz that cover the most important parts of your topic.
Present in front of class.

Students need structure and guidance to be able to feel confident enough to get in front of the class and present. This list is not exhaustive or comprehensive and is certainly subject to change. Right now it is a framework of the ideas I have in my head. I will have them turn in their material a few days before so I can help them out and make sure they are ready to teach on Friday.

In the end I want to create skiers in my class and the only way to do that is to strap on the boots, grab the poles, and go down the hill. I'm certain there will be spills as well as moments of brilliance on the way down the hill. That's fine, it's part of the learning process. It's what all of us do everyday as teachers. And that's how we learn, we teach.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Week 1 homework 140 character intro

This year I decided that I am going to have all of my students sign up for a Dropbox and Google account, if they don't already have one, as their first assignment. I am teaching five geography classes and the student government course this year. As part of their intro to these new programs I am going to have them go to my school site and fill out a Google form. This will ask basic info and allow me to collect their new gmails.

I will be using Canvas Instructure this year which has a lot of great tools, but there are many different platforms you could use. I am going to create a course page for each class and then import their emails to invite them.

Their first task, to get them more accustomed to the tools and especially each other, will be to create a 140 character bio and put it on the message board. I will have mine on each page as an example. They will be able to comment on each others as well. Not all the students use twitter, but since we are a 140 character society I thought this would be a good, fun way for each student to introduce themselves and get to know each other and our platform.

We will discuss proper netiquette and safety before I turn them loose. There are many ways to have your students introduce themselves, for me this accomplishes a lot of things at once and will be engaging and fun for all.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Curiosity in the classroom 3 thoughts on how to use the landing on Mars in ANY class

Thought I'd start with one of my favorite scenes of all time from Dumb and Dumber

As an educator the landing on Mars should have got you excited about the possibilities in the classroom. After all isn't NASA just a big classroom full of motivated students?

What we can learn from the Curiosity landing in your class

1. Anything is possible. Granted NASA has funding you don't as an educator, however, that's not the point. You could have all the resources in the world, but if you didn't know how to use them properly it wouldn't matter. Next time you or your students come up with a crazy idea like landing on Mars don't focus on why you can't do it, focus on why you can. I have found that when taking the positive approach even if we don't quite reach our destination we still get somewhere and in some cases make it further than the original plan. Dare your students to dream big and the results will be like landing on Mars.

2. Project based learning ROCKS! Is there a better current real world example of PBL than Curiosity on Mars? Look at the curiosity/excitement this has caused. Want your students to be this excited and passionate about class, then have your students create real world projects that they are passionate about. The results will be amazing.

3. There is something for every class. Some of you are saying well but I don't teach science. Yea, neither do I. Sure science teachers will have many opportunities to make lesson plans, but so do the rest of us. A few ideas. (Not going to cover science as I think it's too easy) My point here is to get YOU to think how YOU will use it no matter what you teach.

Math: Calculate flights from earth to all the planets. Figure out what it would take to get humans on Mars. Calculate gravity and what the difference would be here/there. Find the circumference of Mars and other planets...Really there are so many different math ways of looking at the flight. Awesome potential.

Social Studies: Evaluate the overall impact of this landing? Compare the landing on the moon to this, contrast differences. Compare the physical geography of Mars & Earth. What is weather/climate like on Mars? Analyze what would have to happen to have a colony on Mars? What happens if we do find life of Mars? You get the point...

English: Creative writing about trip to Mars, life on Mars. Write an editorial about the Mars landing. Report on the event for a newspaper. Essay on the impact of the landing. And so forth...

Art: Show the photos taken from Mars have students draw/paint their own. Have students make a collage/paint or draw pictures of what they would show of their planet to others. Paint/draw alien life. Again many possibilities...

Foods: Plan a trip to Mars figure out how much food you will need to take? How will you prepare this food? Make Mars inspired recipes. Cooking in space; how is it different, what alterations need to be made? What types of foods can be taken to space? Prepare meals under space travel conditions. Lots of fun here...

Health: How fit does one need to be to go in space? What are the risks healthwise of taking such a flight to Mars? What health benefits are there to space travel? What preparations would one need to make medically before going to space? What effect does space travel have on the human body? Is life on another planet possible from a health perspective? Interesting stuff here...

Band/orchestra/choir: Learn the music to famous 'space' movies (Close Encounters, 2001, E.T. etc...) Make up your own song about space travel, significance of event. How would playing an instrument/singing be different on another planet or in space shuttle? Prepare a playlist for space travel that has as many different types of music as possible, whet do you include and why? If there is life on other planets what music would best represent the human race? Why? More fun here...

Computer Tech: Make a multi media presentation about the flight. Keep a multi media blog about the findings from NASA's website. Document the history of space travel using Prezi, Meograph, or whatever program you want. Create a website about the event. Great creative ideas here, lots of possibilities.

P.E.: Well I figure you have the Olympics to spring off of this year. Right now everyone wants to make in 2016, make them feel it's possible. I'm sure there is a Mars tie in for you, but I know if I was teaching I would focus on Olympics.

This is just off the top of my head. I'm sure you have your own make it happen.

Friday, August 3, 2012

3 thoughts to foster engagement and excitement: the waterpark analogy. (this is more for you than your students)

Is there any place more fun than a water park?

We have a local waterslide/swimming park. It has a nice community feel, isn't overly large, but not on the small side either. There is plenty for kids and families to do while at the park. My kids and I have a season pass and have gone a few times already this year. What I am about to admit I am not entirely proud of, but it has a happy ending and makes a good point. Most of the time we go I let the kids do their thing while I do 'more important' things. I am busy taking care of all sorts of things on the phone: I check my tweeps, send a few, make necessary and unnecessary texts and phone calls, I write my thoughts on evernote, and do all these 'more important' things. I use this time to get a lot done while the kids are playing. As I look around I am not alone, in fact far from it, most other parents are doing similar activities or even less than that. I can make excuses such as at least I took them, this is pressing business, I really need to get a hold of that person, there is nothing worse than a sunburn(a true belief I hold),etc...You get the point. I have to admit I don't really like going and find it a drag and do all I can not to go, or when I go to be 'busy' and just watch, well sort of, as the kids have fun. That all changed the other day.

I decided I was going to not take the phone or any other device in and solely focus on my kids. Was I in for a kick in the pants. For 2 hours we raced on the slides, played tag in the pool, made trains with the tubes, floated the lazy river, had a great time together. I honestly didn't think that place was all that fun before that day. Really it was just me. The kick in the pants came because I like to think I am fun and not that type of dad. I am the type that does get involved. I won't use a cell phone at my kid's performances and games, I watch and make sure they see me watching them. But for some reason I viewed the swimming park differently. I don't know why. You would think it has tons of potential. My problem was I wasn't seeing clearly. You could even say I was blind.

So what does this have to do with education? Everything.

#1 Be World Famous. We have to see our classroom as a waterpark with all sorts of engaging opportunities. I mean how blind was I not to see that I was at a place set up for fun? What place could be more fun than a waterpark? It's a place to connect with my kids and build relationships with them, it's a place to have fun, and lots of it. Our classes should have an atmosphere of excitement and awe; a place with endless possibilities and grand rewards. At the start of the year I tell my students that this class is not really world geography it's really world famous. They look at me funny and I continue to say it is, and when you believe that, it will be. I mean how different would you feel if you got up to go to regular school or got up to go to a world famous class? Can't even compare the two. Tell your class they are world famous and you'll be amazed at how they respond. This may sound cheesy but I get excited each day as I drive to school because I know I am going to have fun with my world famous class in a waterpark of our creation. I promise it works.

That means #2 is be that teacher you dreamed about being when you decided to become one. Inspiring, engaging, exciting teachers don't give drabby, boring worksheets everyday. They have students create websites and projects that blow your socks off. Look I get it, not everyday are we going to have all that energy, that's okay too. You can take a day off here and there if you need to, you just can't take them everyday. Get involved, be engaging, get out from behind your desk, get to know your students, if you make it fun for you it will definitely be fun for all. Do you remember all those lame worksheets or boring lectures when you were a student? Yea neither do I and neither will they. Be creative and create an atmosphere where anything is possible, and it just may be.

#3 Get ALL your students in the water. We all know that for even good reasons some kids will disengage. Some will do anything not get involved. They may or may not be hard to deal with, they may be socially awkward, they may be rough around the edges. It doesn't really matter why. I can't think of anything more boring than sitting in class for then entire period and doing nothing. I would be bored too. I was when I was at the waterpark. It didn't matter that everyone else was having fun, I was blind to it. Now not all of these kids will jump in with you when invited, some will, but some will still refuse. Don't take it personally. They are probably fighting some tough battles. Give them a time to rest their worries and concerns. Make sure they feel welcome and valued even if they don't acknowledge your concern. I have had many students after the fact thank me and say that they always felt welcome and safe in my class and that they looked forward to class everyday, even if they didn't really do well or get involved. We have to realize that some things are out of control, however, some are not. The time that student spends in your class is what is in your control. Get them to get involved as much as they will allow themselves. Again I go back to the saying Attitudes aren't taught, they're caught. Is your's worth catching?

As school will be starting here in the next few weeks make sure you are not blind to possibilities. Make sure you see your class as world famous and it just might become that.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

How to cover the curriculum, hit at all levels of critical thinking, and still make an authentic student centered project

After my last post I realized I needed to revisit my own project and make improvements. To begin with let me explain the project. I believe in creation, I believe in student ownership, I believe passion is the driving force of learning and excellence. Because of all that I came up with my Create a Country Project. I think it is a nice blend of content and creation. In the end, which I might add is a great place to start planning, students will create a map of their own country that includes: a physical map with landforms, political map with cities and populations, climate map and climagraph, culture page, resources and economic activities, and government page. This covers a major portion of the state core and gives them a reference point for when we study different parts of the world throughout the year. Since I already know my destination now I can plan how I want to get there.

The following is how I have decided to implement this for the start of the year. Hopefully this will be helpful to you as well.

I. Students will create their own country using the spatial elements.
II. Students will rank/order the importance of each characteristic and support their choices.
III. Students will explain what they would do differently if given this assignment again and why.

Part One: The result for this part is for students to pick a place on the map using lat/long coordinates for where they would like their country to be. They must include a written summary for why they chose the position they did. Each day we will have mini lessons that cover the material. The point here is we are building from scratch and as the teacher I am giving the students the skills necessary to create their project.

Part Two: The result for this part is for students to create a climate map and a climagraph for their country. Their written summary will answer "How does location affect your climate?"

Part Three: The result will be a physical map of their country. Using actual physical maps as reference, create the landforms that would be in your country. Written Summary: Explain why you landforms are there (e.g. how were they created).

Part Four: The result will be a political map of their country. Place cities in your country and figure out the population of each (using real world data as a “realistic” guide for the numbers. Written Summary: Why did you place your cities where you did? Were these good spots for your cities and why or why not?

Part Five: The result will be a culture page. Use computer resources to find and create a picture culture sheet about your country (food, clothing, religion, etc.)
Written Summary: Compare and contrast your country’s culture with the culture you live in.

Part Six: The result will be a land use and resource map including economic activities. Written Summary:What are some problems AND advantages your country would have based on your resources? How would you solve some of the problems?

Part Seven: Students will write a summary as to why they chose the government system they did examining pros/cons of different types of government.

Part Eight: Overall written summary of the project including reflective piece where they explain what they would do differently if the could do it over.

In the end they have an authentic product where they applied, analyzed, synthesized, and evaluated the content. As I have it planned it will take about a week to do each part of the project(save part eight). There will be mini lessons each day that will present the material/content and then the students will have to then use that in the creation of their own country. This is not a project where you say in 8 weeks you need to create a country and have a physical, political, and climate map. I will be guiding them along the way and they make all the decisions along the way. I have tried to ensure that I have covered the material, hit at all levels of critical thinking, allowed students the ability to choose and create.

Note: There is a lot more to it than just this list. I didn't think I needed to go over all the day to day lessons. I thought an overview was more appropriate for this forum.

This is a journey for myself as well and I have made tweaks each year to improve the overall quality of my teaching and the project itself. After all we need to be the #1 model of learning in our class. Attitudes aren't taught, they're caught. If you are bored, imagine how they feel. If you are full of energy and passion then your students will be as well. Remember why you became an educator and then act the part.