Saturday, December 31, 2011

What is Your Sentence for the New Year?

The other day I thought aloud on Twitter of what my sentence or words for the new year would be.  After some time I realized my sentence would be "Slow down."  Slow down to me means relax, say no to projects, cherish my time, and enjoy the moment.  Slow down to appreciate.  Slow down to enjoy.  Slow down with the expectations.  2011 was an incredible year for me as an educator but a very tough year for us personally, so this year, as I work on one of the biggest projects yet, I will be slowing down.  And I will cherish it.

What will your mantra for the year be?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Let Them Film - Another SimpleK12 Webinar Presentation

I am thrilled to have been asked back to do another webinar for SimpleK12 entitled "Let Them Film - Promote Student Ownership in Learning with Video Cameras."  The description is as follows:
How would you like to get rid of the packets and worksheets and offer students an interactive way to learn? Would you like to have students participate in the learning conversation, becoming more aware of their goals and challenges? Then join this webinar and discover ways to integrate video cameras into your curriculum. With this simple tool, students can go on grammar hunts, report their science findings, and teach other students how to do math. We will explore how to integrate the cameras without changing your learning goals, as well as discuss some meaningful activities that you can begin with.

This webinar will take place on January 12th at 12:30 - 1:00 PM ESt and is free!  All you have to do is register so to register just click on this link.  I hope to see you there.

Give 'Em a Break

I used to be that teacher that thought breaks meant more time to do work.  I used to be that teacher that thought that vacation meant the students would forget everything unless I assigned them work to do. I used to be that teacher that thought school was the most important thing in a child's life and I therefore had the right to all of their free time, as much as I needed, to make sure that they were always learning.  Then I had a child and as I see the world through her eyes I see the constant learning.  I see the exploration.  I see the boundless curiosity.  And I am ashamed of my past decisions.

Vacations and breaks are not for school, otherwise students would not get them.  They are for living, for being with family, for recharging and letting the world sink in.  They are for going outside, for reading for fun, for exploring whatever one chooses.  School is not the most important thing in life; living is.  So I give my students a break over the break.  Read a book if you want, blog if you want, sleep in, have fun, and relax.  When you get back we have much to do but until then you deserve the rest.

So give your students a break.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Remember the Wish for My Brother

In November, I wrote a post asking for help in giving my brother Paul a very special Christmas.  He was at the time deployed to Afghanistan and expected to come home before Christmas.  Besides being an incredible trauma nurse and studying to be a doctor, he is also the biggest Maple Leafs fan I have ever seen. So in my post I asked if anyone could help me get a shirt for him and lo and behold it all happened due to the power of Twitter.  Watch the video below how it all went down and thank you again if you were part of the journey in getting the word out.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Ones That Meant the Most

We can all see our statistics and see which posts are the ones people read the most.  And yet those numbers don't always convey those that meant the most to the author.  So I thought why not highlight the ones you may have missed, the ones that speak the loudest of the last year, the ones that meant the most.

  1. Those Things We Carry
  2.   Teachers carry more than the responsibility of teaching students.  
  3. The Story of My Brother The Onion Boy  How there is no such thing as meaningful punishment.
  4. What is Their Sentence?  We often discuss what our own motto would be but I would rather think of what my students' sentence would be.
  5. What Type of Difference Do You Make?  We all know that teachers make a difference in others' lives but do you think of what type of difference you make?
  6. He Was Right There - Words to My Father.  How one man choosing me to be his daughter changed my life.
  7. Saying Goodbye.  Letting go and giving thanks to my cat.
  8. Do Teachers Have the Right to Privacy?    The title explains this fascinating discussion.
  9. Teachers Save Lives Too - We Just Don't Get Paid Like We Do.
  10. An Ode to the Lost   Saying goodbye and letting go to the child that never was.
  11. We Say and Yet.  How our words do not always match our actions.
So there you go, some that meant the most to me this year r came from the most personal place.  I do not know if I will take a break here from blogging, I will blog if the mood strikes me.  So thank you for reading this year and take care.

Friday, December 23, 2011

How We Became that Room

“...And if you walk into our room you may be surprised at the noise and the mess, but to me that means the students are engaged.”  So ended an elementary teacher’s presentation to my class on classroom management and I was horrified.  Noise?  Mess?  Not this teacher!  I was going to run my classroom like a machine.  Those kids would know routines for everything, even down to when they could sharpen their pencil, and they would love me for it because that was part of my expectations as well.  Equipped with all of my Harry Wong ideas, I was ready to whip these kids into shape and they would be so thankful.  After all, how could anyone possibly learn in noise or out of their desks?  
Now some years later I look around our room and we are that classroom.  The one you can hear coming down the hallway, the one where students are splayed out on the floor, discussing, laughing and gosh golly sharpening their pencils whenever they like.  There are no laminated rule posters hanging on our walls, there are no reminders of how to get their stuff or how to come into the classroom.  There are no sticks to move or stars to give.  Just a classroom being run with the students and by the students.  To the untrained eye it may seem chaotic.  After all students crave routines, even in their classrooms.  But if you look closer, you will notice they are there.  Students get to work and stay focused, they treat each other with respect.  They tell me in the morning when they forgot to do their homework and they ask to work on it during recess or to get it to me the next day.  They have their things organized, they know when I need their attention, and they know how to treat each other.  Behold, the managed classroom without the overt rules.  
I did not start this way, in fact, I am not sure any new teacher should.  As a new teacher it is so important that you discover who you are as a teacher, that you discover your own best practices and then start to question them.  Question the ideas you are taught and see how they fit into your vision.  I was taught that I should post the rules of my classroom so that the students would be continually reminded of what the expectations were.  Except I like clean walls, and I don’t think students need constant reminders.  Down came the posters and my room somehow got uncluttered.  I was taught that I had to be the ultimate authority in the classroom or it would turn into Lord of the Flies, except I found out that by sharing the authority I created autonomous learners that were much more engaged.  I was taught that students would learn better if they were rewarded with stickers or A + but found that we didn’t need the extrinsic motivation if the learning was worth it.  How did I learn all of this?  By watching my students and questioning my own practices and then trying it.  I was terrified the first year I threw out the rules.  When I told my students there would be no rewards and no punishment I thought I would have a riot on my hands, kids who refused to work, homework that would be weeks late, and instead?  No change.   In fact, the kids shrugged, no big deal, they knew they had to get to work.  
So this year I did the unthinkable; I didn’t tell the kids the rules.  I instead asked them what the routines should be and what type of classroom they envisioned.  They discussed without much of my input and that was it.  We didn’t make a poster, we didn’t all pledge to follow the rules, we moved on to more exciting things.  Now students live up  to the they expectations set and they help each other work well in the classroom.  If a day is louder than normal, then I know we need to get out of our desks and I adapt our learning to their moods.  By being clued in to what their behavior is telling me, we have a lot smoother days because I am not trying to squeeze them into my box of expectations.  They are in the truest sense of the word active learning and teaching participants.
So how can you make this work for you?  Start to question what you have been taught.  Question those tips and tricks you were given that didn’t seem natural to you.  Ask yourself how do you learn best and then ask everyone else you meet.  The answers may surprise you.  Ask the students; their voice is the most important one in the room.  Yes, that’s right; their voice, not yours.  Create a space where the students feel comfortable, welcome, and have ownership.  Show them you trust them to make great decisions and then give them an opportunity to do so.  Change your curriculum to fit their needs and get them moving; long periods of stationary work lead to restless bodies which means their minds have long since wandered off.  Have i fit their age; I teach 5th graders so I can expect a lot more autonomy than I can from a roomful of kindergartners, but even our youngest students can own the room.  And most importantly; believe in your students.  Believe that they have buy-in in the room, believe that they care about it, and then give them a learning experience that they actually do want to care about.  Tear down the authority between you and them and give them a chance to prove you wrong.  Give them a chance to show that they can work without the overt rules, that they can set the expectations, that they can rise to the occasion.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It's the Least We Can Do

De Cito Eindtoets Basisonderwijs.Image via Wikipedia

In this numbers obsessed society, test makers have figured us all out.  They have realized that if they make the test long enough, tedious enough, and fill them with multiple choice or scantron-able answers then we will assume they are valuable.  What more is that they have figured out that they can even sell us software that will grade the tests for us, break down all of the date, and create a nice graph.  Testing done.  Results at hand.

Except if we are to test students, then at the very least we should look at those tests.  We should try to decipher their answers, create our own data, and meet with them to discuss it.  Yes, a multiple choice test is cleaner and easier but it also provides less of a view into the heads of our students, into their thoughts, into their learning.  A clean test that a machine can correct provides us with data, nothing else, points to be graphed with no clear direction or at the very least not a very detailed one.

So if we must test the children, then do them the favor of correcting it yourself.  Give their work the time and effort you expect them to put into taking the test.  It's the least we can do.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

How We Fail Young Students with Facebook

Image representing Facebook as depicted in Cru...Image via CrunchBase

A gaggle of 5th grade girls all sit around a lunch table obviously in a deep discussion.  As I walk past them, one word makes my ears perk up and my step slow...Facebook.  Immediately the teacher in me wants to interrupt, remind them that they are 10 and 11 which according to the law means they are not allowed to be on Facebook, and yet I don't.  I let them and their conversation be and instead head to my room and ponder the hypocrisy that is the age restriction on Facebook.

To be a legal member of Facebook you have to be 13 years old.  The site makes this very clear, and yet we all know that the this rule is being broken on a daily basis as 4th and 5th graders sign up and start using the site.  And while we can sit here and discuss how kids are just too young to handle to the responsibility of such a decision at that age, I think we should instead move on and discuss the real ramification of these sign ups:  Kids that are not being taught how to use the site safely, because we choose to pretend they are not signing up.  And yet, they are signing up, and they are using it to their full potential; the good, the bad, and the bullying.  So rather than releasing educated students onto a social media site, we stick our heads in the sand, cover our ears and pretend it isn't happening.

So as teachers we are once again put in a situation where we cannot teach kids skills that would be beneficial to them in the long run.  Skills they for sure will need in middle school.  Rather than confronting Facebook head on in the classroom and discussing how to use it, we ignore it, give stern warnings, and move on as if this will stop kids from signing up.

In America we seem to have a tendency in general to cover our ears and pretend kids are not doing things they shouldn't, rather than actually teach them how to do it safely.  Just look at how sex ed. and underage drinking is being treated.  So as a society we would rather hold up the rule and say, "Well, they shouldn't be doing this!" rather than face the facts and give them the proper education to handle it well.  Again, this discussion isn't meant to be about whether kids are too young to be on Facebook, much smarter people have written oodles about that.  It is to bring up how we as a society should be giving kids an education in social media before they start to sign up rather than trying to patch things up later in life.

We fail these children when we pretend that they are not on Facebook at ten years old.  We fail to teach them right, to show them how to behave and move around in a virtual social media site.  How to deal with being friends with people or un-friending, how to post properly, what not to post, and how to treat others with respect.  By being a restriction that is still so easily accessible to children, it becomes the ultimate must do.  And perhaps Facebook isn't what is so scary about this whole thing, but rather kids that have no idea how to use it properly.  And that is for us to fix, if society would let us.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

How Do You Get Kids to Pay Attention?

I see a lot of articles discussing how to get the attention of students and am continually amazed at what these advice pieces seem to miss.  Often the advice includes asking questions, which I agree with if they are the right kind of questions; please don't ask them what page you are on, that does not count as a great question.  It also includes giving students an incentive "The first 5 kids to buckle down will get to pick what we do next!" Or even to have a vote on something totally irrelevant to snap them out of their boredom; "Raise your hand if you like Christmas!' 

It is not that I am better knowing, but I shake my hand at all that is missed through these suggestions.  How about instead of bribing or tricking students into pay attention, we offer them learning opportunities that they actually want to pay attention to!

I know most of us are under guidelines for what we need to teach, but, a lot of us also have a choice in how we teach that.  How about we transfer the choice to the students?  How about rather than telling them what to do, we explore it with them, thus creating natural buy-in.  Now I am part of a scripted math program as well and there the rigidity is more noticeable.  Instead of bribing the kids, we work hard and then we get to do more in-depth explorations.  I change it up often, even if it just means having the students move around and we do a lot of $2 whiteboard activities that involves all of the students rather than me standing up in front talking.

The point is; if we want students to pay attention, make it worth their time.  We cannot keep expecting them to pay attention just because we want them to.  Just because we were forced to pay attention in class doesn't mean we should do the same thing to our students.  It is our chance to not do school to them as it was done to us.  Take it.

Keep the Focus as the Break Nears

We are all a little antsy and just a little busy as the holidays draw nearer.  To keep the focus in school and still have some fun here are some things we have been doing in my room.
  • Start a lunch time book club.  All three 5th grade teachers did this so that the students had some choice in book.  We meet once a week to eat and discuss the latest chapters.  I love the extra connections being created between classes.
  • Get up and move.  We have increased our dance breaks as the break gets closer.  Except now we tend to listen to holiday music from around the world, nothing like "Julebal i Nisseland" to get their bodies moving.
  • Participate in something global.  we are doing the holiday card exchange this year and the students are so excited to see the mail we are getting.  They are also learning about other parts of the country and world through the letters. The cost: 30 stamps!
  • Take the time to appreciate.  We don't have a lot of time but I try to tell the kids either face-to-face or via post it note how much I appreciate specific things about them.  It starts a wave of appreciation which boosts morale.
  • Keep busy.  The less we have to do, the more we can focus on the upcming break.  So we keep working to reach our deadlines and the reward is no homework over break.
  • Mix it up.  Our schedule has been a little more flexible to fit our moods more these weeks.  So if the kids are super antsy we get out of our seats and learn in a different way.  This is not the time to force them them to sit still and listen (is it ever?).
  • Have some fun.  I love to show educational videos when we have minutes left at the end of the day or during transitions.  This week we started watching crack us up videos as well to get us in the spirit.  George Couros shared this video to my students' delight.
  • Relax - it might not all get done.  Teachers seem to get more controlling and more frantic the closer break gets.  The exact opposite should happen.  get excited with the kids, set the tempo and then have some fun.  Learning is meant to be fun, so do your part.
  • Let them choose.  Buy in is much larger when the students get choice.  I scrapped my original social studies project this week so that the kids could work on something of their choice.  They get to work right away and stay focused through the whole period.
What do you do to keep students working and have some fun?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

When the World Continues to Turn - Goodbye to My Morfar

Today I woke up and received the news that my incredible morfar or grandfather had closed his eyes to the world in the middle of the night.  This man who lived 95 years and was married to his soulmate for more than 60 slipped away peacefully, certain that he had fulfilled whatever destiny he had been given.  So as the world continues to turn and I still gather my things to go to school, I move forward honoring his memory and cherishing the moments where he made me feel like I was his favorite grand child of all.  I really think I was.

Grief is a selfish emotion.  We grieve because the world does not stop and take notice of the giant hole we feel all around us.  We grieve because we get no more time, no more memories, no more chances to ask them to tell that story again.  We grieve because death is cruel and necessary.  Grief pierces our heart over and over until we hopefully as ancient people ourselves finally feel our hearts give in to the world. 

We honor this man as we move on and pick up the pieces.  As we circle around my 98-year-old grandmother who now stands alone against the world.  We remember him and his love for us every time we look at my daughter, Theadora, who shares his middle name.  She too loves life fully and stubbornly.  She too makes you feel like you are her favorite in the whole world.  Through her eyes, the world continue to spin and the night sky gains another star.  Sleep well Morfar.


Monday, December 12, 2011

A Father Helps His Son With Math

Last night as I sat in the San Francisco airport waiting for our flight home, I could't help but listen in on an exchange happening across from me.  A father sat with his child helping him with his math homework.  My curiosity was first peeked because the lesson they were doing was one I had just taught that week which meant the boy was a fifth grader.  And yet I stared fascinated as the dialogue continued:

Father - how did you get this solution?

Boy - I am not sure...

Father - Well, if you don't know it is not right!  Erase it properly and do it again.

Boy starts to erase the page...

Father - Now how are you doing this problem?

Boy starts to explain how he has been taught but is interrupted.

Father - That is not the correct way, why can't you understand that!  That is not how you do it.

Boys' shoulders visibly slump.

Father - You need to get this done right now and do it right or we will erase it again.

As I sat there, horrified at this exchange, I almost jumped in and offered my help.  But I didn't because it wasn't my place.  Yet in my head I could not help but go there.  How do parents expect us to teach a child to love math when this is how they help with homework?  Obviously this father was frustrated, it was a Sunday evening and they were traveling, so that time was not the best to do anything that required brain power for the boy or for the father.  Why do it in public like that?  Why humiliate your own child with a raised voice?  The effect on the child were immediate and very apparent.  That child did not want to do his math anymore, he did not want to learn the method the father wanted to teach him.  That child lost a little more faith in his education and I wonder how he felt?  I felt horrible for him and I felt bad for that child's teacher who had no idea that this boy had struggled with the math and that his father had helped him in such a way.

We do not always see the damage that homework creates outside of our room, or how well-meaning "helpers' distribute their knowledge.  All we see is how it affects the child in the long-run, how their love of learning diminishes and we wonder what we could have done differently?  Well sometimes not assigning the homework is a huge step in the right direction.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Thoughts on Professional Development

  1. Why do we even call it professional development? Being in education is so much more than just being a professional and development happens continually around us. Perhaps we should call it something different like expanding as an educator or how about just growth? Either professional development smacks of something that can only happent at a set time and is just not true, which leads me to my next point.
  2. Why the limitations on what counts as pd? I often learn more spending an hour with my reader or even engaging in a twitter chat. Depending on who you immerse yourself with provocating thoughts abound, as does reflection.  Go into a teacher's lounge and engage in a conversation, I think they have gotten a bad rep unnecessarily.
  3. Who says you have to be an expert to conduct pd? I think there are many people in educations that are experts at something, oftentimes, they just do not know it because nobody gave them the title. Go to an edcamp and see how many experts are there, heck, go to a school and be amazed at all the knowledge. We don't need a fancy title to have something valuable to share.
  4. Get rid of the limiting agendas. There seems to be a perpetual fear that if administration or whomever is putting on this pd doesn't set an hour-by-hour or question-by-question agenda that all of the time will be worthless. That the conversation happening will only be moaning and procrastination. Maybe sometimes but not all the time, let those involved set the agenda and then trust them; there is far too little trust in education overall.
  5. Enough with the crazy buzzwords!  I don't feel like listening to someone discuss what a 21st century learner looks like...hmm 5 foot 2, brown hair with a smile?  Or even how the flipped classroom is going to save education.  Common core standards, differentiation, value-added learning, PBIS and any of the other billions of acronyms hunting us all.  Just give me titles I can understand and a discussion worth participating in.
  6. Give me a chance to participate.  Much like our students crave the recognition that their voices matter, so do PD participants.  How else explain the back channels happening at even the tiniest of conferences?  I have been tempted to pass notes even, anything really, to ask  my questions, get some feedback and get the discussion started.
  7. Enough with the stories.  Educators love great stories and we all have them.  Our aha moments, that kid that we stayed teaching for, those parents that challenged out assumptions, yep we all have them so let's acknowledge that and move on.  I love a great story over dinner but not the ones without a point and sometimes at PD sessions they just drain time.  
  8. Fair enough if you have something to sell but perhaps keep it to the end.  I had the chance to sit through an inspirational speech where the much paid presenter kept starting stories only to never finish them because we could read how it turned out in his book.  Seriously.  If you are sharing a story make it relevant and tell the whole thing.  
  9. Do you really need a Powerpoint?  I know it is so cool to bash Powerpoints but I think there is a huge reason for that.  If your message is short, sweet and to the point give me some pictures to go with it, have dancers perform it behind you, or skip it altogether.  Images behind you are a direct competition to your words so pick wisely.
  10. Keep it short.  And not just for my attention span, but also because even the most incredible learning opportunities will lose their luster after the message is repeated over 40 minutes.  Shorten your message and open up for conversations, participation or even brainstorming.  

I Can Understand Those Parents

We are in California, visiting with my family, and Thea is socializing with her 2nd cousins. Watching from the sidelines is this nervous mother. I want to jump in. I want to explain that Thea is really loud and excited because she loves playing with other kids. I want to apologize for her rambunctiousness, chalk it up to nerves, and then make them embrace her. Except I don't. And I won't, because I know that this is how children learn to develop friendships. That this is what parents do; let go and hold their breath.

I know my daughter is a little whacky, she has oodles of personality flowing out of her like a river run wild. She loves people, she loves to give hugs, and she loves to be the center of attention. She is willful, stubborn, and loud. Qualities that may harm or help later in life. I know that when she starts school I will have to fight every urge to be "that" mother. I will have to stop myself from emailing her teachers on how best to engage her, on how best to calm her. I cannot be the mother that fixes the friendships or the assignments. I cannot be the mother that stops by just to check in.

I don't know how other parents do it. I do not know how they can place so much trust in their chld's teachers and just let go. I don't know how we as teachers can just expect it every year on the first day of school. But we do and we get upset when parents intervene too much. We shake our heads at their long emails,take a deep breath when they surprise us with another visit. I now understand the parents better. I now get the need to explain, to protect, to guide. I do it for my own child.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Those Little Words

I am proud of you.
Look at what you did.
You can do this.
Explain this to me
What else can happen?
Thank you for today.

Small words, big meaning.  Those words we choose to share with those we surround ourselves with every day.  Those words we do not ponder or carefully measure out.  Those words we do not plan for, study, or write down lest they be forgotten.  Those are often the words that carry the most weight to our students, to our colleagues, to ourselves.

A smile, a hug, or even a look in the eye.  Those speak volumes every day.  The little things we do matter more than we know, so be aware and give enough of the happiness you should feel waking up every day knowing that you are part of the change, of the hope, of the incredible world that is ours.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Why I am Not Going to Win an Eddie - And I am Ok With That

Ahh the Edublog Awards, affectionately known as the Eddies, are upon us and with that comes all the "Vote for me!" tweets and posts as well as the misgivings people have about awards.  And boy does that get boring after a while.  But let's be real here for a second, it is nice to be recognized by someone that your blog is worthwhile.  In fact, it is really nice.  I was lucky enough to be nominated in 3 different categories, all new to me, and all way out of my league.  Most influential post...did you see who I am in company with?  So that is why I am certain I will not win, and I am ok with that.

The thing is, I am still fairly new to this blogging world.  I started 1 1/2 years ago not intending to write to anyone but just as a matter of reflection for myself as I changed my teaching dramatically.  In that time I have shared many personal stories as well about losing a pet, various competitions, and even the heartbreak of losing a pregnancy.  This blog has morphed into a true reflection of my life, my dreams, and my fight for students first in education.  And for that I am proud.  I look at some of the contenders in the awards and I realize that I have far to go, many miles to walk and mountains to climb before I reach their level.  It simply is not my time.

So if you stumble upon the EduBlog Awards take some time to read the other people.  Discover new blogs if you feel like it and weigh their contribution.  Don't worry about how long they have been blogging but rather whether or not you have been moved by their writing.   Worry about whether it speaks to your heart, or whether it changes your mind.  Then vote for them or maybe don't even vote but add them to your reader.  Celebrate the diversity of the voices out there and know that being nominated is indeed an honor, but not a necessity to be a great blogger.  My biggest prize from blogging are the connections I make, the comments I get, the ways I am challenged through  discussion.  I win that every week, and that I am ok with.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Damages Done

I have been thinking a lot about damages lately, and particularly the damages we sometimes inflict on our students unintentionally.  Those things we think we are doing for the right reasons or because someone told us we had to and how they end up hurting the very kids we are trying to help.  Things such as testing, report cards, missing recess, and other work-ethic creating tasks.  Or what about the words of wisdom we share with our students when we discipline?  Or the call out of a kid in front of the whole room because they weren't paying enough attention when we wanted them to?  Rewards or honor roll to make sure some kids feel valued while others do not?  Those damages that we don't think much of but that over time are sure to change the kid somehow.  Those are the damages I ponder.

In the end, I think back to the kindergartners that come into our lives the first day of school and I wonder what we do to those kids?  How do some of them turn into troubled adults when they started out alright?  What part do we have in the mess that is created? How much damage do we do fooled by good intentions?  I don't have the answer but it is making me think.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Dangerous Weapons in School, Or When You Remove the Permanent Markers......

Recently, and no I am not making this up, we were asked kindly to confiscate all permanent markers from the students.  It wasn't that there had been a huge problem with students using these to write on things, but there had been a couple of incidents and it was therefore deemed necessary to ban permanent markers in the 5th grade totally.  After all, it is much easier for us to ban things rather than teach appropriate usage.  To say I was perplexed at the approach is an understatement.

So this got me thinking, if we remove the permanent markers, what else should we remove from the students?
  • Paper - not only can this create dangerous paper cuts but it can also be used to communicate secret messages or ideas.  Highly subversive stuff if left in the wrong hands, and let's face it, all students hands are wrong.
  • Pencils - this master weapon can be used to write these aforementioned dangerous messages, and also if you sharpen it really really well it is a dangerous weapon in itself.  (For more bad usage of pencils duo check out #pencilchat on Twitter - there is some scary stuff there)
  • Rulers - ever see a kid spin a ruler on their pencil - 'nuff said.
  • Compass - sharp points and the ability to poke things, no more of these.
  • Scissors - who allowed this stabbing and scratching tools into the classroom in the first place?  Gigantic bad idea.
  • Erasers - these things can be thrown at other people and also used to erase things we want to see such as notes being passed and wrong answers.
  • Textbooks - these mammoths of knowledge create backaches for kids, they can be torn apart by devious students and dropped on someone's foot.
The more I think about this more I see the problem here.  These kids are not equipped to handle any of these tools maturely and I am sure there are more out there that need to be banned.  Think of how wonderful this will be; then all the students will have to do in a classroom is listen tot he teacher filling them with knowledge.  Win!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Merry Christmas from Us


Some Questions to Ask Yourself as You Prep for the Week Ahead...

Ah the weekend, and for most educators that means lots of prep getting ready for the week ahead.  As I prep this weekend, these are the questions I ask myself...
  • What is the goal of the lesson?
    • This essential question was one I learned the hard way when I student-taught.  My principal observed a lesson that just fell apart, a big horrendous mess, something that could not be salvaged.  After the lesson he asked me what the goal was for that hour?  Met with a blank stare and no answer, I swore I would always know what the goal was of something I subjected my students to.  We owe it to them.
  • How will the kids be involved?
    • I moved from sage on the stage to student-driven last year so this question is huge in my prep.  In fact, I often ponder assignments for a while before I write anything down just so I can figure out what my students' roles are in it.
  • How much talking will I do?
    • We know there is essential information in each lesson that needs to be communicated but do I have to be the one communicating it or can it be discovered or explored?  This changes widely from the concept being taught, but I do try to limit my lecturing as much as possible. Teacher talk goes down = student engagement goes up.
  • How will I change it up?
    • I need change as much as my students, so how can I make this concept fresh again. The students have been taught many of these concepts before (we work a lot on a spiral) so how will it look and feel different this time?  This questions also leads to how many different activities can we do within the time?  
  • What will they work on?
    • What will the students be doing during this lesson?  Are they note-taking, creating something, researching etc?  What supplies do I need and how much time do they need to be successful?
  • Will there be a product?
    • Does this tie in with something they are creating?  Is this a longer-term thing or very short?  I realized this week with the Hour of Wonder that students do not need that much time to create something meaningful, what they do need is for the teacher to stop talking and let them explore.
  • Where can the students decide?
    • This questions drives all of my instruction decisions.  How can the students take ownership of whatever we are doing?  After all, I already have a successful education, now it is their turn; school has to be about the students and not about the teacher.   Often they have better ideas than I do!
A peak into the mind of Pernille as I prepare for next week's lessons.  What types of questions do you ask yourself as you prepare?

Friday, December 2, 2011

An Hour of Wonder

 Innovation Day is something my students have already started asking me about.  This fantastic day, also known as FedEx Day, is a day set aside for the students to explore whatever they choose, create something and then deliver a presentation.  However, Innovation Day will not be until the end of the year.  So welcome Hour of Wonder instead.

Hour of wonder is rather simple; the students get one whole hour to explore whatever they have been wondering about tied to a certain unit, within that hour they must create something and then present it the following day..  We were studying the European explorers and they had quite the list of questions, this therefore wrapped up our unit much better than any test could.

So how did it go?  Brilliantly.  The students were engaged and teaching each other new information.  Two boys discovered that James Cooke was the first European in Australia and in Antarctica and they thought that was really neat.  Others built ship models, created posters about other people and whatever else they had wondered about.  I had supplied construction paper, anything else the students had to figure out themselves.

Innovation Day can be harder to fit into your schedule but Hour of Wonder is not.  Think of all those hours leading up to vacations or disrupted blocks because of assemblies or something else.  Why not turn those over to the students?  Have them explore what they are curious about and then share it with the class; you will not be disappointed.

PS:  Little prep went into this.  I revealed the project Wednesday, they brainstormed and then did it on Thursday.  They didn't need approval or anything like that.

Pete decided to create a stop motion video 


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