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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

8 things the school year has taught me so far

We have just started the fourth week of class. Here are my thoughts

1. It's much easier to blog in the summer. Not sure I need to list obvious reasons as to why, just wish I had more time to carefully reflect.

2. My focus this year is to increase critical thinking. Overall, I think I am keeping to that focus. My lesson plans are designed better, they have a natural flow and go from lower level to higher levels. I think this is the best I have ever started out a year and is due in part to this focus. I start with basic knowledge/comprehension and then move to application/analysis, then finally to synthesis/evaluation.

3. Frontloading your year takes a lot of patience and hard work, but four weeks in I can see that this is going to pay off all year. I am more focused and so are the students. I have had to spend a few days getting students used to using programs such as Google Earth and how to share docs on Google Drive and how to use Canvas. Now after using those programs I don't have to explain as much and students just know what to do.

4. Allowing students to publish thoughts/opinions on a forum such as Canvas, I know other schools use Edmodo or another such program, is not only a great way to see what each student has to say about a subject, but gives everyone a voice. As you know only a few of the same kids participate in class discussions, so this forum is much better at allowing EACH and every student a voice. They have time to consider their answer and thoughts before being put on the spot. Whether they are shy or outspoken all of them have an outlet and time to consider their thoughts before hitting submit.

5. Technology has made some things easier, but it still has bugs and is not the same in person. Nothing beats in person.

6. Students are funny. Here is an exchange from this year. If you know Utah geography this will be more funny, if you don't it's still funny.
In an attempt to get to know everyone I memorized everyone's names. After I was successful I then asked the rest of the class if they wanted to try as well. One such student was attempting to get all the names and came to a student named Logan. She then said she needed a hint. I responded that since it was a geography class I would give her a geography clue. I then said Utah State, which is in Logan, Utah. A good clue that most students would have gobbled up. She got excited and shouted out "Idaho". Now I'm not certain where she was going with her answer, but she had heard his name mentioned at least a few times. Let's face it, she just blurted out without thinking.

7. Everyday and each class is a new adventure. Although I teach the same subject, each class is a different experience. In the morning students are still waking up, after lunch they are wired, and no two classes are the same. Funny how each class has its own personality. It's what makes it fresh and exciting.

8. It's taken me a few weeks but I finally feel like I am fully back in gear. Took me a couple weeks but I have my mojo back. I was energized and physically in shape, but it not in teacher shape. My voice is finally up to par as is my stamina and my wit. I imagine the students feel the same. It takes a few weeks to get rolling. So far this is the best start to any school year I have had. Fingers crossed for best year ever.

Monday, September 3, 2012

My Personal Manifesto 2012/13

Tomorrow school starts again. It is a time of new beginnings and excitement. It is a time of renewal and opportunity. I love the first week of school. It really is my favorite week. I am a purpose driven person and as much as I love the summer, I love having a purpose even more. Tomorrow my purpose begins anew. My personal manifesto this year is to become the teacher I have always wanted to be.

For me that begins with making sure that my room is one of opportunity, excitement, challenge, and safety. Each and every student should feel a part of something grand. All should feel welcomed and valued; especially the ones that need it the most. Each student should feel that they have are free to share and speak their mind whether or not they agree with me or others. They should feel that they are learning and what we are doing is valuable. They should be excited to come to class each day, especially when the weather changes and the novelty of being back in school wears away.

I want to do big things that matter this year. That will require some risk taking and vision, which means that there is the possibility of stumbling and falling along the way. I want to challenge my students to think about themselves and the world in ways they never have before. To see the world from multiple perspectives and opinions and see that there is not one right way to look at things. I want them want to make a difference in their community. I want them to believe that all things are possible and that if they are willing to work hard enough they can accomplish anything.

I believe that teachers have a wonderful opportunity to be inspiring. I want my students to not only dream but to act on those dreams. I want them to want to be better people and citizens. I want them to follow their passion and make their world a better place for everyone. I want them to carry their enthusiasm from the first day to the dog days of winter and to the final week of the year. To seize each day and make the most of their education.

Tomorrow each student starts out fresh. It doesn't matter what they have done, good or bad or not at all, it matters what they do from here on. One of my favorite sayings is that if you want to be an A student then act like one, do the things that A students do. I need to heed my own advice and realize that if I want to be the teacher I dreamed about when I decided to become one, then I need to act like that teacher.

So here's to making this the best year yet. Here's to taking the excitement of Sept and spreading it to January and extending it to June. Here's to becoming the teacher I have always wanted to be. It begins tomorrow. My personal manifesto for this year is to make sure it never ends.

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.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

3 Main reasons projects fail and how to fix them

As I prepare to get more into project based learning I decided it was necessary to look at what doesn't work so that I could properly plan projects that do. This of course is my take from experience and watching what others do work.

Problem: The project itself. I have seen all sorts of different projects throughout the years; some good, some bad, and some really bad. Where I think many teachers go wrong is in the very beginning the project itself is just simply not a good project. I am not going to show examples, but these are questions you should be asking when you come up with your project. It is authentic? Does it allow for student choice? How does it show their knowledge of the content? Is it possible? How much help/assistance will I need to give as the teacher? Is is worthwhile? Would I be willing to do this if I was a student? Does it really accomplish what I want it to?

Solution: Inquiry based student choice projects with teacher guided assistance. Give the students ownership over their work. Let them do what they are passionate about. I have a project that I do at the start of the year in geography where students essentially create their own country. They get to make the decisions. I have found it to be the best way to teach all the stuff I need to for the first term. In the end they have an authentic student project. I teach the content for the week and then they add to their country whatever piece we are going over. They get the content and then decide what they want to do with content as it applies to their country. They make all the key decisions. I provide the information, they have to evaluate, synthesize, analyze, and apply it to their country. Note: Every year I have to revamp a part of this to make it better. I am still figuring out the best way to do this project myself

Problem: I think where most people get it wrong is they assign a project and then 8 to 10 weeks later it is due. Along the way they will bring it up and say remember your projects are due in 3 weeks, 2 weeks, 1 week and so forth. They haven't broken it up into digestible bits. It is a huge chunk and too much to digest at once. Plus if never really revisited or worked on with deadlines you are setting your students up for failure.

Solution: Set up manageable deadlines that will naturally complete the process without a mad rush at the end. If I were finishing a room in my basement I wouldn't do it all at once. I would first decide what my plans would be for the room. Then I would determine my materials, supplies, and tools. I would make sure I could do it and ask for help if needed. I would then work on the framing, then add electrical and insulation. After that I would bring in sheet rock and tape and mud it. Finally I would paint it. That's how we do it in real life, so why don't we do it for students in our classes. For example; have students decide what they are going to do for their project one week. The next week have them write an outline and determine what they need(research, materials, supplies). Then have them finish a piece of it where either you or students can give them feedback so that they can alter and fix anything they need to. By making manageable deadlines you ensure that they are not only working on it, but properly finishing one piece before going to the next. Not only will more students complete their projects they will be much better because you have given them needed structure with helpful feedback.

Problem: Grading. I have seen many arbitrary grading systems where teachers will just say I think this is worth X amount of points. Many times students aren't given enough guidance on what they need to have in their project to make it good. They will rise to the level of the expectations. If there are no clues provided as far as what they need to include then they will guess and most likely guess wrong. If we revisit the finishing a room in my basement example if I was planning on sheet rocking the room but wasn't told what type of sheet rock(thickness) type of tape and mud I would go to the store and be totally frustrated. I wouldn't know what to do, so I would either guess and I may be right or wrong, or I just wouldn't do it. If you aren't giving your students a plan then you are setting them for frustration and failure.

Solution: If you want great projects you need to provide a rubric that shows students the elements of a great project. Again, they will rise to the level of your expectations. They want to know the specifications so they know how to build their project. There are many great rubric creators out there. Make sure you have the categories you want such as Subject Knowledge, Neatness, Creativity, etc...Not only will it help your students know what is essential in their project, it will help you grade them as well. You don't have to be arbitrary, you see if they met the criteria for each element of the rubric and then grade accordingly. It will make your life and your student's much easier and better.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Journey and the Destination are equally important

Yesterday I took my kids on a hike up a local canyon. Our destination was the waterfall at the end of the hike. I hadn't been on this particular hike for about four years and had never been on their with my younger kids (9,11). It's not an easy hike and turned out to be longer than I remembered it. During the hike I could't help thinking about how the hike was like life and in this case teaching.

The hike to the waterfall took about 1 hour 45 min. The beginning was full of annoying switchbacks filled with sand as we zigged and zagged to to the top. The sun is bearing down and there is nothing to look at. But it's necessary to get to the top. It reminds me of frontloading the year with teaching students procedures. It's not all that exciting, but necessary to get them to go where you want them to.

Once we got in the canyon we were sheltered by the trees and near a fast running stream. It was peaceful and nice to get out of the bustle of day to day life. Most of the journey was uphill. I kept thinking we were close only to realize that the waterfall wasn't just around the next bend. It became increasingly more difficult as my nine year old struggled in parts. A few times he needed physical help, my eleven year old was more self sufficient but at least once or twice needed a hand. I couldn't help but think of my role as an educator to help out and give students what they need to succeed. Sometimes its not what they want. Sometimes they get in a tangle and need our help, other times they figure out on their own. As we watch and guide them we evaluate what they need to improve and how we can best support them.

As we neared the waterfall, without knowing we were, I asked a group that was going back if we were close. They said yea, but it's still at least 15 min. I said that I thought we'd be there by now. They replied we kept thinking the same thing. But its worth it when you get there. I smiled to myself knowing that I had just thought about turning back. We had gone almost 2 miles it was nearing 2 hours and we still had to hike back. "But it's worth it" That's what kept me going. I knew it was, yet I had forgotten, it had been a while since I had done the hike. While in the grand scheme of things the school year is short, as you go through it, there are times it seems like the end will never come and you wonder if it's worth it. You know it is and you are on the right path, but it would be so much easier to stop and do something else. Those are the most important times to keep going.

Finally we turned a bend and there it was. And yes it was worth it. The kids looked for rocks. Why they do this I don't know? I told them they could only take a few, but they were taking them back, not me. We rested had a few snacks and just enjoyed the site. It was worth the struggle and would be worth the way back. All I could think about was that I needed to make sure that my destinations were worth the journey. I do believe that the journey in and of itself is an important thing, but it should take you somewhere. I am a big dreamer and want to do worthwhile projects and assignments. I want the journey to take me somewhere special. I have reflected on my past years and made some major changes for next year. I want to have a fantastic journey take me to an amazing destination.

Funny, I think the way back was fraught with more problems then the way up. We did it much faster, just over an hour, but got off track countless times. I let the kids lead the way and a few times they picked the wrong path. I have to admit I wasn't really paying attention until we all realized we were on the wrong path. They looked at me to fix things. One time I had to cross the stream forage through the brush before finding the right path. It reminded me why I was there. It would be nice if we could just say learning is completely student centered and go off on your own. But these are impressionable kids that usually act and say before they think things through. They still need guidance and support. I kept thinking it's okay if we get off course as long as we are moving cause in the end I know we will find our way.

Pace was an interesting thing to consider as well. On the way up I pushed the pace and they followed. On the way back, they led, and although messy at times we still went at a good pace. Each kid moved at a different speed and ability level. It was a microcosm of my class. Differentiation is one of the toughest things in education, but really important as well. Every student is unique and should be treated as such. I think it's the toughest thing for math teachers, if a student doesn't get it, there is no time to slow down and get them up with the rest of the pack. I have to think there is a better way than the way we do it now.

When we finished the kids talked about how great it was and how glad they were that we went on the hike. We were all tired and grabbed and pizza and downed a lot of water at the house. It was hard and long, but worth it. I couldn't help thinking that the journey is just as important as the destination. You need to make sure your going somewhere and that the somewhere is worth going to. That is the burden of teaching; how to get each unique student to believe they can do it. All I can think of is "But it's worth it." Easy to say in July much harder in the dog days of winter in January when the honeymoon period has long since worn off. Waterfalls are hard to imagine with the icy roads and snow covered landscape, but they will come in May and June if we keep moving forward. Just remember it's worth it and then get the students to believe it as well.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Why Reflection is important

I would say that reflection is one of those things that we all see the benefits from, but we don't do enough. During the school year we are genuinely busy creating lessons, grading, and doing all the things we should be doing as educators. When the bell rings most of us are spent, emotionally and physically. I believe that's why I started writing this in the summer and not during the school year.

Veteran teachers are able to make adjustments on the fly, whatever didn't really work 1st period they change it for 2nd, and so forth. I think sometimes we mistake this for reflection. True reflection requires getting to the heart of the matter which usually isn't a quick fix. We may mistake reading a different selection or watching a different video, or altering the assignment as fixing the problem. That may or may not be the case. True reflection causes us to delve deep into why we planned the lesson the way we did. Did we include higher level thinking? Was the activity too easy or too difficult? Did the lesson really do what we thought it would? Is there a better way of doing it? Etc...You get the point. You can make a split second decision between periods and change things make them better for your next class. But getting to the heart of the matter is a different process that requires much more thought.

I believe that reflection is the key to start of anything new, especially the school year. It's important to contemplate where you have been, what did you accomplish--and likewise not accomplish, what worked and what didn't, what would you do differently, what would you like to add? These questions give you a framework to begin planning for the future. What better to know where you want to go, then by looking back at where you have been?

We need to spend more time reflecting and making it part of each day. I know that's easy to say in the summer, but now is a great time to start making it part of our everyday routine. If you can't do it now, how will you possibly do it when you have less time.

Here are a few ideas:
Time: Set aside a part of the day that works for you. Could be during your prep period, or after school, or maybe after you had time to decompress at home and instead of watching tv you spend 30 min reflecting.

Blog: This is a natural way to communicate your feelings. It doesn't matter if you have hundreds, thousands, or even one follower, the important thing is that you do it for you.

Collaborate: Talk to to trusted colleagues about what you are doing. They don't have teach your subject or even be teachers themselves. Sometimes just sounding off is enough for you to see what you need to do in the future. Other times you may get just what you need from someone else.

Feedback: Ask students what they learned, what they liked/disliked. They ALWAYS have an opinion. They may not care about why you do something, but they will care about what they are doing in your class.

Connect: Reading what others have to say is a very powerful tool. Whether its tweets or blogs you will find a world wide community out there. You may get a great idea or advice or even be able to give it. Get on twitter and figure out how to use it. Here are a few ideas on who to follow and here on twitter and using it as a personal learning network (PLN). I have found it to be an unbelievable resource. The possibilities are endless.

Be positive: Just cause things may not have gone the way you wanted is no reason to feel like the world will end. I have a saying that I live by, "I will never have two bad days in a row." I will fix whatever I need to, most of the time it's me, and make sure the next day is better. That only happens with a positive outlook. You are the ruler of your class, you have the ultimate decision what happens and how it happens. Remember attitudes aren't taught they're caught. If you have a good attitude it will flow to your students, the opposite is true as well.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Video Game Predicament

With the new Batman movie coming out I felt the need to blog about my thoughts on critical thinking and engaging students in class. My son just turned nine and for his birthday he received Lego Batman 2. With the weather being so unbearably hot and the game being so new, he has spent a lot of time playing this game. I have to admit I was part of the Super Mario generation so I have a soft spot for video games. That being said I would like him to be more active than he is. But before I kicked him off I sat down and watched him play.

As I watched, my eyes opened to the possibilities that were in front of me. This was not a game about going from point A to point B in a certain amount of time. It required a lot of thinking about how to get out of each level. I watched him struggle to figure out what to do next as he navigated Batman around the board. He had to break and build things with the legos on each board and then figure out how to use them to get to the next level. I was impressed with the level of sophistication that the game provided. It wasn't just lower level thinking, it required analysis of the setting, predication of what was to come, synthesis of the items to build and then do something with, and evaluation of situation.

I was mesmerized as this game hit at the higher or critical thinking levels that I want my students to have. He was definitely not a passive, but an active learner. He was applying, analyzing, synthesizing, and evaluating. Some of the levels took him a lot of time to figure out what to do. In many cases he failed again, and again, and again, yet undaunted he kept trying. All I could think about was how can I bottle this for my class, what will be my lego batman?

Here are a few quick observations:

First, contrary to popular belief, students aren't quitters. Most of our students are gamers. They fail again, and again, and again, yet keep trying to power up or pass a level. Might be the complete opposite of quitting. So why do some of them seem to quit in class? I would argue that they don't see the need to "power up" or "pass the level" in our class. We need to do a better job helping them see why they should be engaged, what the benefits are, and how to do it. This doesn't mean we need to put on a show. Let's not mistake entertainment for engagement. I would contend more guided student choice with well defined and outlined goals will help alleviate this. It is important to remember these kids will spend hours trying to pass a level on a video game that actually gives them nothing in real life. Just think if they catch the attitude of learning and gain skills and see the point of succeeding in class/school/life. They are not lazy or quitters, they just need direction and motivation to become engaged. Remember in words of David McCullough, "Attitudes aren't taught they're caught."

Second, we spoon feed our students too much. I had a professor at the U, George Henry, who I will forever be grateful to for many reasons, one such was patience in getting students to think. He would ask questions and wait. And wait. And wait some more. It could get uncomfortable and awkward. We have trained students to wait for us to answer our own questions. They don't have to think, we do it for them. I would say this is one of the deadly sins of teaching. My advice is to never let them off the hook. Wait as long as necessary for them to answer. It will be hard at first. You have to train yourself as much as your students. Once they know they have to think and supply the answers they will. I promise.

Thirdly, show them the big picture. Sure its important to teach our content, but we must also teach skills. If students understand there is a reason, and a good one, they will be much more willing to get involved. Believe me they know when you mailed in a lesson, just like you do. They can sniff busy work a mile a way. Show them the big picture first and then how each lesson is a part of that. They want to believe in you.
"Confidence sells--people believe in those who believe in themselves. No one wants to be stuck in a room with other people who feel like they don't belong there. Stop wondering if you are good enough. Know you are, and start acting like it."--Simon Black

Fourth, provide meaningful lessons and authentic assessment. Inquiry is one of the latest buzzwords in education. Inherent in inquiry is passion. It is the driving force to figure out why. Everyone has passion for something, though sometimes it seems buried deep down. We need to unleash that passion. I believe it starts with inquiry coupled with meaningful activities. Why not let them make a few choices in what they do? If you know that they will be much more engaged, understand the material better,go from passive to active learner, and then go from lower levels to higher levels of thinking, why wouldn't you do it? Have them make a movie, a photostory, a prezi, or better yet a website. You can have smaller assignments along the way to build their content knowledge and skills and then culminate with a mind blowing final project. Guaranteed your students won't ever ask again why they have to do a particular activity, because they chose to do it.

Finally, its okay to get a bit messy with this. As I watched my son fail again, and again, I realized he didn't have to get it right the first time. That goes not only for the students, but you too. We may stumble along the way, but that's okay, students may fall, that's okay too. They will get back up and so will you. Since this is about Batman it seems fitting to add this in from Batman Begins. "Why do we fall down Bruce? So we can learn to pick ourselves up." Not sure if that isn't the most valuable lesson we can teach anyhow. But not only for them, we too need that reminder as well.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

New beginnings after ISTE 2012

First things first. I titled the blog after one of my favorite phrases that I use in class. It is the basis of my teaching and who I am. I have great passion for this profession and have always wanted to do my best at everything. I am hoping this blog will serve as place for me to put my thoughts and ideas. A place to discuss what I am doing in class, how it is working (or not working), and how it can be better. I have always liked the idea of reflection and see this blog as a great starting point. I also want to collaborate and discuss with the world the great ideas that are out there. We live in the age of world wide sharing and connectivity. This is lesson #1 learned from ISTE and where I will start my thoughts.

As a first timer I was in awe at the grand scale of ISTE, I had never been a part of something this big and this powerful. There were people from 63 different countries represented at the conference. But what was most impressive to me was the collegiality of everyone and I do mean everyone that I spoke with. At every session I was in I met other talented and like minded people from all over map who all were happy to meet and greet. It was like being in a big family reunion where everyone was totally interested in meeting everyone there. It was beyond refreshing. However, it wasn't just about politely meeting and happily greeting everyone. It was about sharing ideas, collaborating, listening, and reflecting on a scale I had never seen. It was as if I had been living in a tiny cave in Utah and didn't know that there were others, so very many others who thought like I did and wanted to share and learn as much as possible. It became my biggest takeaway and made we want to be more connected. As a quick aside I started using twitter to follow the conference and others and realized how great a tool twitter can be in getting the word out. I have read other's reflections from tweets that influenced this undertaking. One thing I love about educators is that they have passion and compassion, a willingness to help others and share ideas. This has never been more evident in my life than at ISTE. The world wide web has created world wide community.

The next takeaway is that information means nothing. We live in the information age. Information is more readily available now than at any other time in history. Not only is it readily accessible and available, but more people than every before now have that access. Adam Bellow stated that since last year's ISTE there have been 49,000,000 new websites put up. When I want to know something I will go look it up. I can get the answer within minutes, sometimes seconds. I can continue perusing sites until I am satisfied that I have the answers I want. I may be directed to an article, a video, or a message board. I can read other's opinions or reviews on any subject. Technology has allowed us access to unprecedented volumes of information, some better than others, but information nonetheless. The issue isn't getting the information, it's what to do when you get it. How do you use it? It is what you do with the information that matters. Getting students to think critically and evaluate the information is what is important.

Takeaway #3 The coach doesn't have to be better than the players. I am fairly tech savvy and able to figure most things out. That being said I have never used a wiki in my class and plan to implement on this year. Before the conference I was very hesitant and felt that I had to be the expert and know it backwards and forwards before I could introduce to the class. I wanted to be the coach and the star player. After ISTE I realized I not only needed to just be the coach, but it is okay if the players are better at it than me. My job, like any good coach, is to get them to play to their potential. As teachers we don't have to know a given program better than the students. What we need to do is know how to get them to organize ideas, determine importance, evaluate and synthesize information, and critically think about what they find. Today's teachers need to move from behind the desk and worksheets to moving around the class and pushing kids to their potential, challenging them to question and evaluate. And plus if you can't figure something out go back to takeaway #1 and go to the world wide community. Someone there will help you.

There are other smaller takeaways but the last one is that if you are teaching today's student as you did yesterday's you are robbing them of tomorrow. Because this is the information age we need to get away from teaching in lecture style and move to inquiry and project based learning. The following graphic shows what I mean.

We need to take students from the passive learning (most boring and meaningless) to the active which is more meaningful and exciting. I am going to move to more project based learning this year. How? I'm not really sure. My next post will be more about what I have found, my ideas, and how I plan to do it.

ISTE was great. I enjoyed it a lot. I felt connected to world wide community of like minded and bright educators. I felt empowered to implement better and positive changes in my class. My ideas to change the world seem more realistic, as is always the case, just gotta figure out how.

Feel free to comment and join the discussion. My email and twitter handle are to the side. If you follow me, I'll follow you ;)