Yes I just said I hate Teach Like a Pirate! I admit it, I hate it!
Some of you might be astonished with this statement since I run #sstlap social studies teach like a pirate and have supported the Teach Like a Pirate movement for years. Now that I have your attention I think it is important to discuss why I hate Teach Like a Pirate. The reason is pretty simple but very important to my professional development.
I was teaching for years when a change meeting put me on a path to Teach Like a Pirate. I was looking for resources for my sociology class which I was teaching for the first time in my career. I found Reuben Hoffman's website with amazing resources and emailed him about using some of his amazing lessons. He shared his entire Google Folder and then pushed me to get on Twitter and read the book Teach Like a Pirate. This has forever changed my professional life.
I have written so much about how this has transformed how I approach teaching and professional development. It helped open the door to creating a Professional Learning Network that has been so supportive in my learning journey. The ideas helped me refocus on building relationships as the most important aspect of teaching. It has taught me more ways to engage students in the learning process. It has challenged me to do better and be better. I can't say how important reading Dave's book has been to reinvigorating my educational career.
Recently I have read Play Like a Pirate, Learn Like a Pirate, and have many other books from Dave Burgess Publishing that I am either in the midst of reading or on my night stand. I am a true believer of what Dave is doing to transform education.
So why do I hate Teach Like a Pirate? I hate it because I didn't discover Teach Like a Pirate until I had been teaching for about 10 or so years. In those years I wasn't teaching like a pirate, I wasn't focused on making ticket lessons and building relationships. I didn't have a PLN to support me or encourage me to take risks and learn from failure, or to share ideas with. This isn't to say that I didn't connect with students, or have good lessons. What I am saying is I wasn't as good as I could have been because I didn't know about being a Pirate. I didn't know how to change what I was doing to become the best teacher I could be. I am frustrated that I fell back on doing things the way I was taught early in my career and that was a disservice to my students. I wasn't asked- "If kids didn't have to come to your class would they?" If that was asked to me earlier I know I would have begun my transformative journey sooner.
I have read Play Like a Pirate and want to be back in the classroom using those lessons right now! I want to see what super powers my students would assign the presidents, or how we could use Ken and Barbie or Legos as learning opportunities. I also read Learn Like a Pirate and want to turn my classroom into a student centered learning experience where I get out of there way. I am no longer in the classroom daily, I am a Tech Integrator who works with teachers and their classes to create learning experiences. I promote the Teach Like a Pirate message and get to see their amazing results. However, I didn't get to unlock my full potential or that of my students while in my own classroom.
Why am I sharing this with you- I want every young teacher to know about Teach Like a Pirate! Share this with them, and transform their learning environment. Share it with veteran teachers and again transform their teaching and the experience for their students.
We can do better and our students deserve our best. Connect the disengaged student, motivate the unmotivated student through ticket lessons, passion, and most importantly developing rapport with them.
This week I had the privilege to work with a group of educators in a course called Communication and Collaborating with Google Tools through UWGB. I was asked to take over the course at the end of June and was given the syllabus to use as my guide. I spent the next few weeks creating the assignments and daily tasks that would guide us. I wanted the course to be self paced and put together a number of activities that participants could choose from. Here is the site if you are interested in seeing my vision - gg.gg/TechVenture. I asked the participants to complete and submit three tasks under each tool.
I went into the class thinking all teachers would have experience with Google Apps for Education. I thought they would have experience creating and working in Docs, their Drive, and likely Slides. I quickly found out that the level of experience and comfort level varied greatly. I had some students who had never created anything with Google Apps.
I wish I could say that everything went perfectly, that I did an awesome job inspiring these educators and they had no struggles with learning or using the technology. Unfortunately that isn't the case. There were struggles, there were moments of frustration and there were moment of failure. The reality of learning new skills, especially technology comes with failure. There were lots of questions being asked, most I could answer, but sometimes they wanted to do something so specific that while it could be done it would involve a level of complexity they weren't ready for. It taught me many lessons in how to provide instruction, to listen to these learners as both individuals and as a group. It gave me numerous moments to take pause and reflect. I also saw that same behavior with many of my students. I saw them think about how they could use the technology, contemplate ways to infuse it, or whether a different technology like Microsoft would be easier and more appropriate for them. I experienced their anxiety, their struggle to explore something new. Some dipped their toes in and others jumped in the deep end.
The struggles I witnessed this week remind me how important building relationships and trust are. I spent a lot of time working with these educators individually getting to know them and listening to their needs. I also incorporated a number of activities to help the entire group get to know each other. These activities had little to do with technology, but I think they made a huge difference in how well the course went, especially when the students had time of struggle and frustration.
I have to be completely honest here that I haven't looked at the products students have submitted beyond what they showed me while working on them in class. I don't think I need to see the final products of their labor to comment on the triumphs of the class.
I witnessed the journey of these educators as both a group and more importantly as individuals. I saw the student who had never created a Google Doc create a Site showcasing her work for the week. She also created a page of her awesome creations in a world beyond education. She quilts, creates stained class, and welds yard art to name a few. She brought in examples of her work and showcased a page of images on her portfolio site. She came in now knowing how the tools would fit her unique teaching circumstances to creating numerous lesson activities with a multitude of classes.
I worked with another teacher who took a Choose Your Own Adventure Google Form Template I created and built her own lesson for her 2nd grade students. She is going to create a writing prompt for her students that will allow them to choose which path their take and which story ending their friends wrote they wish to read.
An Admin in the class left thinking about how he could use QR codes to revamp his beginning of the year PD sessions. And most importantly I heard many ideas about how to provide students with a variety of opportunities to use their voice in the learning experiences.
The week was a bit of a roller coaster ride as we navigated our way through the learning process. In the end I am ecstatic to see the progress and final products of my students. I can't wait to sit down to make some tweaks to it and work with the next group of students.
I am just days removed from my first ICE conference and have come away with a number of lessons. One of the first things is that ICE is an amazing conference loaded with great sessions and incredible educators. It was a great experience and I am looking forward to returning to ICE again next year. The sessions were filled with amazing takeaways presented by passionate educators sharing some of the great things they are doing with students. I learned about ways to offer Professional Development, creating videos, gamification,
One of the highlights include a guided tour of the resort with keynote speaker, the amazing Adam Bellow. It was an opportunity that happened by chance but more importantly because he is an phenomenal individual who is incredibly down to earth. ICE provided opportunities to spend some real quality time with some really big name educators because it is an intimate venue jam packed with educational awesomeness.
Another cool experience was Steve Dembo's session on MEMEs. It was entertaining and filled with many examples of how to use MEMEs for classroom activities. You can have students present their understanding of a topic using a MEME, a fake tweet, or other short text visual. There were many examples that stood out in his session, but what I will take away from that session was his interaction with his son who was in the front row during his session. Earlier in the day his son presented a session with him. This father son connection in learning made me think about the possibilities to connect with my daughters in creating learning activities.
1. Authentic Learning is Key
I have been a proponent of having students complete tasks for audiences beyond the classroom teacher for years. After attending the session on authentic learning by Tracy Crowley @tracycrowley77 I was inspired by what was truly possible in terms of authentic learning. A couple key points she made were that authentic learning is not creating tasks for parents or another class in your school. Authentic learning is about solving a problem a real world problem. She provided a few examples from her own experience. One of those was elementary students creating PSA video about an issue they were having with their playground. They wrote, directed, and edited the video asking their superintendent to add more wood chips to their playground so their classroom would be a clean safe learning environment. This stood out because the kids were completely engaged and in the end they were successful. Learning needs to be meaningful, authentic and based on things that matter to students.
2. Technology needs to be used purposefully
Tech is a tool and implementing tech into a lesson will not automatically make it better. This may seem strange advice especially at a tech conference but this message resonated throughout many sessions I attended. Technology should not be something that we simply check a box to say we used it. Instead it should be purposefully implemented to enhance best practices. During the lesson planning process we need to have a vision for what we want students to do and how they will show mastery. While I am a huge proponent of technology, I am a champion for engaging students in the learning process even if that means there is no technology involved. I want to see best teaching practices utilized regardless. With that said, we need to continue to assist teachers with their growth in the use of technology. I attended a great session called Techventure where the two presenters created a game based strategy to provide teachers with individualized tech PD offerings. Teachers can do training modules when it fits their schedule and earn badges and certificates when completed. The layout of their site and their vision is inspiring. I am already working on ideas for how to implement this in our district.
3. No matter how many times you interact with someone or hear about a topic there are still learning opportunities.
I don't think this is a new idea for most of us. I am sure there are times when you reread a text, watch a video, or talk to someone about a topic on a second or third occasion. My revelation came when sitting in a gamification session with Michael Matera. He and I first connected a couple years ago and have connected via Twitter more times than I can count. We have been at edcamps and even co-presented a session at one. I have attended multiple sessions on gamification he has presented as well. It was during his mini-games session this past week that I realized that no matter how many times I hear or talk with Michael about gamification I continue to learn. The more we explore a topic the more knowledge we extract about the topic. This is not only a lesson for us on our own quest for knowledge, but should be used to guide our instruction of students. We need to provide students multiple opportunities to engage in important learning. Learning focused on skills such as creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, creation, and inquiry.
4. Not being the smartest person in the room is awesome!
ICE is a conference loaded with phenomenal educators who are extremely knowledgeable and are true leaders of change in education. When attending an event like this I quickly realized I had no chance of being the smartest person in the room. What a freeing feeling. Unlike the feeling we sometimes experience in front of students who have a plethora of questions where we may think we need to know everything. At ICE, I felt no pressure to have all the answers. I found that I could ask questions and best of all I was able to learn and learn from some of the most amazing educators all in one place. I got to turn off my teacher hat and put on my student hat.
5. Teachers are fun!
This conference was a blast. The opportunities to learn were incalculable. I have outlined a few of those already. One of the most significant lessons is that Teachers are truly a fun group of people to hang out with. I got to know colleagues in ways I wouldn't normally in the confines of a school setting. I was able to connect with and learn about members of my PLN that I had previously only known via social media. The true lesson is to let your personality shine through in your classroom! Teachers wear many hats and we sometimes have to take off the hats that get in the way of letting others see more of who we are.
6. Get up early- the plumbers come early and water is good.
The final take away is all about preparation. My colleague and I were able to stay off site with a relative of his. One thing that we overlooked was that the plumbers were coming early on Friday morning. We woke to the sound of the plumbers beginning their work on the water pipes. What we quickly realized is to do the work they needed to shut off the water. This resulted in our lack of water to complete the most important morning ritual the ever popular shower. So ICE was a great experience even with a little hiccup in the adventure.
Thanks to all those who organized, presented and attended ICE. It was something I won't soon forget and appreciate all the connections I made.
I The other day during a car ride with my daughter we embarked on an amazing learning journey. She was watching a video on Slavery from BrainPop. The video did a good job of providing an overview of the issues of Slavery and the causes of the Civil War as related to slavery. It detailed the beginnings of slavery in America and including the Triangular Trade Route, treatment of slaves, and the Emancipation Proclamation. There were some really good details in the video, but as I listened, I was compelled to ask my daughter some questions to delve into deeper levels of understanding.
I asked her if she thought all the people in the North wanted to end slavery, that they all disliked it? After she responded, I added details about my educational journey. That it wasn't until my junior year of college in a African American literature class that I truly began to see history as a complex web of personal stories all told from various points of view. I began to see the events that shaped this country were not exactly what I was led to believe in history text books, or the multitude of classes I had attended.
I didn't explain this to her, instead I told her that when I was her age I thought everyone in the North disliked Slavery and everyone in the South wanted desperately to hold onto the practice. I truly saw the North as the benevolent Abolitionists and the South as morally corrupt and despised them. I continued the conversation adding an overview of the economic differences as they impacted the need for the different labor practices. And as I am reading this I realize it sounds like the conversation would go way over her head. I realize I am not doing a good job with the dialogue we had. What I am really trying to portray the learning that I experienced during this conversation.
While I was trying to explain to her the causes of the Civil War especially looking at the idea of how one side was trying to tell the other side what to do I saw the connection between so many other events in history. The revelation is simple. We too often overlook the point of view of certain parties/groups/people involved in history by telling the story from the victors point of view. Now this might not be ground breaking for many, but in this instance it led to a flurry of potential examples. I began to see a multitude of historical events in a new light. We have learned about history from a particular lens that often doesn't include the multitude of perspectives or their complexities.
From this I had the honest question- how do southern states teach about the Civil War? In the North we focused on slavery. Yes as I got older there was more talk of other causes, but honestly slavery was still front and center.
As I began to ponder the question about how the south would teach this, I took a step back and thought about how the south viewed the causes of the Civil War. I wonder if their version would have focused more on the tyranny of a distant government trying to impose its will upon them. The actions of this government in the North trying to take away their livelihood.
The lessons for History!
This perspective lead me to a whole list of similar events in history that made me take pause and consider from a different point of view.
America celebrates Independence Day, how does Great Britain view this day and more importantly the Revolutionary War?
America fought to make the world safe for Democracy, how do the countries where we engaged in war view our presence and our actions?
America worked to create peace in the Middle East. In doing so it funded Iran with the Iran-Contra Affair as well as Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Both countries were waging war agains the other going into battle with American made weapons. How do these people view American involvement and how has that impacted modern events?
America considers the colonists who fought against the tyranny of Great Britain's rule as heroes, yet the southern secessionists could be considered traitors. Or another example the colonists were freedom fighters from America's point of view for standing up to a government trying to impose its will and its way of life on others. Would groups like Al-Queda and ISIS see themselves as terrorists or freedom fighters? Why is it important to consider their point of view?
Japan bombed Pearl Harbor to bring the US into WWII, and America dropped the only Atomic bombs in history on Japan to end the war. How would Japanese teach these events in their history classes? How does the world look at America for being the only country to use these weapons on other human beings and yet today strictly controls who is able to have access to this technology.
How do we tell the story of inequality throughout the world?
How do other nations view America's excess, disposable technologies, and affluent lifestyle, when they are unable to obtain adequate food, water and healthcare?
How do the 42 million Americans living in poverty view politicians, superpacs, the rich debating what is best for America- talking about jobs, entitlements when they struggle daily?
How would the industrial workers in America tell the story of the Industrial Revolution?
How would Native Americans retell the events of Manifest Destiny and Westward Expansion?
How would our textbooks and historical perspective be different if we recorded the Immigrant POV and not just an overview?
How would we view war if we told it from the Soldier's POV like Stephen Ambrose attempted to do in Citizen Soldier?
Our current system of education is antiquated. It is designed to produce workers in and industrial society, not 21st century careers many of which currently don't even exist. The discussion of changing our educational system is not something that I could do justice to in one post. For now let's look at an aspect of education that is within our immediate control to change and can assist in the revolution to improve education in general.
We are in an uphill battle in education. We are fighting TTWWHADI That's The Way We Have Always Done It! Education is rich in tradition however we often hold onto ways that are outdated and in some cases detrimental to our students. I have had many conversations with adults of my parents generation discussing how education was when they were in school. They discuss having to memorize the Preamble of the Constitution, and other facts, never having a snow day, the ruler smacks to the knuckles and other horror stories. Some I find difficult to believe but they do tell the stories with passion. The point being they reminisce about their experiences as being sound educational practices.
There In order to make change we need to first reflect on what we currently do, and what we hope to accomplish. The second part of this conversation should not be done in isolation. To truly understand what our goals for education should be, we need to engage in conversation with other educational leaders. We need to seek out other's to shape our vision for education. Through the examination of our current practices through the lens of where we want to go, we should be able to see areas of best practices and areas we need to improve.
There are amazing conversations about education both the great things happening and ideas for reform occurring daily. These discussions happen in person in school hallways, at conferences on line via Social Media, and in many other ways.
Recognizing that there are so many amazing conversations already taking place, shouldn't there be positive change being made globally? There are a number of issues hindering the positive revolution to reform education.
1. The establishment. There is a large bureaucracy in education that is often difficult to make progress due to the size of organization.
2. Outside forces. Educational decisions are often influenced or made based on powerful forces like legislative bodies, educational supply corporations like textbook or testing companies.
3. Contentment. - There are those who believe that the way things have been are as good as they can or should be. Those who think if it was good enough for me when I was in school, why do students need it today.
4. Lack of Funding.- To create innovation we often have to invest in new or different resources. This is often expensive when you apply the multiplier effect. It is often difficult to get public funding when it is one of the few opportunities taxpayers have a direct say on whether they want to pay more taxes. There is no vote on funding war, or other policies, but there is a vote for education.
5. Lack of cohesive vision.-
There is a definite need for a common vision for education. To revolutionize education and truly change the way we educate and support students we have to not only continue the conversations about the great things happening but to take action. One of the most important aspect of this revolution is the Vision for Education. I have engaged in many conversations about the vision for education. There are many ways I have heard this answered. This is an issue with making the change many passionate educators want to see. We all have our own version of what what that vision should be.
There may never be one agreed upon vision for education, but we need to formulate some non-negotiable aspects of our vision for education. Here are some possible examples:
1. Education must be student centered.
2. Education must be relevant and meaningful for students
3. Education must be engage students as active participants
4. Education must give students voice and choice.
5. Education must develop student skills to be problem solvers, thinkers and creators.
I could add other ideas that should be considered such as rethinking our grading and homework practices. There are still those who think extra credit for turning assignments in early, or bringing in school supplies deserve extra credit. Or those who think we should punish students for not doing homework by down grading them for turning it in late or not at all. Those are topics that people still debate about. These are just a couple examples of why a common vision in education can be difficult to achieve.
It is however worth engaging in the difficult conversations to challenge our own thinking and that of others because each time it leads us closer to making changes in our own and other's educational practices. The real change in education may come through grass roots activities generating large support that eventually grows into systematic change. We must start with dialogue on vision and mission and back it up with modeling best practices for others to emulate.
I have been fortunate to work with some amazing educators in my career. In recent years many of those have come through online collaboration and connections via Twitter or other social media. Those interactions have formed me into the educator I am today. Colleagues were there to support me when I needed it, but more importantly to challenge me when I wasn't measuring up. They pushed me to want to do more and be better. I am by no means an exemplary educator, who did extraordinary things with my students. I am someone who has that as a goal but isn't there YET. I think there are a lot of teachers who aren't there yet. These are the individuals we need to support and provide guidance in their journey.
In my new role I am fortunate to be invited into teachers' classrooms and assist in both planning and execution of lessons. This for some is difficult because they are vulnerable. They know there is another set of eyes in the room making note of what happened, or in some cases didn't happen. This in my opinion is a good thing. I used to invite others into my classroom. It leads to great conversation and growth if both parties approach it this way.
They're not there YET moments!
When I am in classrooms, I sometimes see or hear things that make me cringe- like "You need to do this because it is worth a lot of points." I cringe because I used to say that early in my career. It was how I was taught and taught to teach. I used phrases like that and I take notice of it because I once was that teacher trying to do their best to get kids to buy in, to connect, and accomplish the goals. I now know points and grades don't motivate students, in fact I have had some of the most amazing products and learning experiences happen when there were no grades assigned. I also take notice because I realize our young teachers are still being taught this way and they need help breaking away from those traditional methods to truly unlock their own potential of that of their students. They are on the cusp of greatness, they just aren't there YET! Our conversations are a way to help unlock this potential and we both learn from the conversation.
When observing areas where teachers aren't there yet, I approach it with my coaching hat. Meaning I am there to help them grow and move forward, not judging them. We can all do better and most of us are aware of that fact. All teachers need to be encouraged and shown a reason for making that growth and changing because let's face it change is hard.
The Call to Action!
How do you support your colleagues? How do you help them grow and prosper?
We all have opportunities to help other teachers whether it be those in our own building or connections made online, we have the chance to make positive change. Each of us has the potential to make a positive impact on those around us by doing some simple and some difficult things.
First the simple things:
The Difficult things
As I was finalizing this post, I came across this challenge on Twitter from two amazing Admins, Shelly Burgess and Beth Houf - LeadLAP Challenges This is one in a series of challenges for Leaders to embark on creating a positive school culture. I love this week's challenge of visiting other teachers' classrooms. During our observation cycle we were expected to get into other teachers' rooms to observe. This was a great experience because I got to see great teaching. It gave me great insights into how to connect content and to build relationships with kids. I saw a lot of different content areas and many different teaching styles. I would encourage you whether classroom teacher, or admin to take on these challenges. Visit classrooms, see what is happening and start conversations to learn and grow together.
What are the top 5 things you would like to change about education? - Go list them now!
What are the top 5 things you would like to see change in your own school or district? Name those!
I bet it didn't take you long to come up with a list of 5. You may even have been an overachiever and come up with 15 things without blinking. Why is it so easy to come up with the things we don't like about our current reality?
Now that you are hopefully pondering the potential for change, let's talk about making change!
Changing Student Behavior
If you have been in education for any amount to time I am sure you have experienced some issue with student behavior that you wanted to change. These things could be very minor things to potentially defiant behavior.
During my career I have found myself in this situation, and at times I struggled to find the proper response. I share my failings because I want to be very clear when writing these posts that I am not in a position to judge others. As the saying goes, to err is human, and honestly I am very very human. I have not always lived up to the ideas I am going to share in these posts, but I at least realize that the way I have done it in the past were not best practices.
What I have realized in my own reflection of situations is that we need to ask better questions. I have many times asked the easy question, and what I mean by that are the questions that led to my expected answers. The questions we really need to ask are those that challenge our current practices and force us to evaluate and modify our beliefs and values.
There are a few scenarios I have encountered in my career that allow us to investigate and find out more about our students and our classroom environment.
Scenario 1 - Student Behavior
There is a student you are struggling with in class whose behavior isn't inline with your expectations. We can fill in the details for what those behaviors are. The behavior has prompted your decision to contact other teachers who have this student enrolled in their class. This is the critical point in your quest for making change.
Potential Pitfalls - Asking the wrong questions
Don't ask if the student is a behavioral issue for others! Asking if others see bad behavior is a negative question. Whether the response is yes or no doesn't help resolve your issue with the student. To Illustrate this, if the teacher responds yes, this potentially reinforces the belief that it is the student alone who is creating this behavior and that you can write this off to the student being a behavior issue. This leads to little or no change in the teacher and also tends to create a strained relationship between the teacher and this student and could result in broader negative classroom consequences.
If the teacher responds NO, you still don't have insights into what motivates this student to behave in this manner. You are still searching for the resolution to your issue and a way to connect to this individual student and help them feel connected to your classroom environment.
Potential Resolution - Ask better questions
In the above scenario, the teacher made an effort to learn about their student, however as pointed out, the question likely doesn't result in the information necessary to create a successful resolution. When inquiring about student behavior whether with another teacher, guidance councilor, administrator, coach, or others we need to ask better questions. I also think we need to enlist people beyond school personnel to help us get to know our students. We should contact parents, they know their kids and have tremendous insights into their own child's behavior. Also think about their peers when beginning your inquiry. I put this group last because I think you need to choose both your questions and those you ask those questions carefully.
Focus on the positive
Why are students behaving the way they are in my class? We looked at a potential question that tends to lead to validation of the idea that the student is a behavioral problem. How do we avoid that pitfall? Ask questions that seek to learn more about the student.
When meeting with the teacher, parent, etc. ask them "What are some good things you are seeing of this student?" Imagine the difference in potential responses compared to the previous inquiry. This changes the focus to being positive and something you as a teacher can use to build a relationship with this student. If you find out they like to hunt, bowl, read, run, whatever it might be, you have information you can now use to explore this interest with the student. If it isn't an interest to you, let them teach you about it. I have had many conversations about engines, video games, stereos/electronics that were well beyond my on knowledge level. Each conversation let the student showcase their interest and let me peek a little more into their personality.
Another aspect of this conversation is that your questions could be directed to both academic and behavioral performance. In both cases the responses provide more detail to help us resolve poor behavior or academic issues because we can utilize this information to build a positive relationship with our students.
Scenario 2 - Student Engagement
I have seen students who don't speak a word in my class laughing and telling stories with their friends in the stands of a sporting event or at the lunch table. I am overjoyed at seeing that they have a group that they feel comfortable enough to share themselves with. At the same moment I am struck by that ominous notion - If they are so gregarious in laughter and storytelling here, what is the obstacle for them in my classroom? What do I need to change to assist them in their journey to be confident and comfortable in my classroom? How can I make them feel like they belong in OUR classroom?
My initial response to this situation is that I need to build a relationship with this student. I need to look at the actions I describe in scenario 1 to begin learning about this student. I also know this must include creating opportunities to spend time with the student in conversation. I know it is easy to say get to know your students, and that is the most important thing. I say this with the understanding that we are all faced with lots of expectations and demands that pull us in different directions. However if we put student relationships above all other things in our classroom environment, many other things take care of themselves. I also say this honestly admitting that I didn't always put this first in my classroom and didn't always break down those barriers with my students. I don't have all the answers but can speak to the fact that not making relationships my first priority had negative consequences on my learning environment.
1. Give up your stage! - Being the sage on the stage where you dispense information to students with few or infrequent opportunities to participate does not bode well for relationship building. You hold the keys to who and when can have a voice in your classroom. I am not saying that Direct Instruction has no place in education, but it can't be the one and only format.
You need to put the students in situations where they are collaborating or working independently. This provides you with opportunity to observe, and jump into conversations with the students.
2. Meet them where they are! - Catch them at the door and engage them as they walk in. Sit with them at least a few minutes at lunch. Anything you can do to show them you are interested in who they are. This is not about academics, but about them as a person.
3. Genius Hour- While I definitely gave up the stage and tried to do more to engage with students outside of class, the greatest game changer was Genius Hour. I instituted this in my class, and it provided so many opportunities to get to know more about students and their interests and passion. I can't say enough about giving students an opportunity to follow their passions. They will shine and the insights into who they are is priceless.
4. Give Students Choice! - Much like Genius Hour, give students opportunities to decide how they will demonstrate their learning. I have heard teachers say, my students have checked out- My response, how can we check them back in? Why aren't those students interested in our classroom or our activities? Provide students a variety of products to choose from. This could include a choice board where you have skits, songs, essay, movie, advertisement, art work, etc. that students are able to adapt to their personal learning strengths.
The other important aspect is to create meaningful learning activities. Students will engage when they believe the activity is valuable to them.
Scenario 3 - Homework
Homework has become a debatable topic in the past few years. Some think homework is key to learning, others that there are multiple obstacles to student completion and so we shouldn't assign it. I started in the camp of assigning homework because I was told it was an expectation. Students were expected to work to earn credit. I was also told that if students didn't do it they weren't being responsible. To not do homework was showing insubordination to class expectations. I heard and likely even said, well they wouldn't be failing if they would only do the homework. What I learned was this mindset created a barrier between myself and my students. I battled with them about doing their homework. What was lost in that behavior on my part was that by giving students a zero for not doing homework didn't show their level of understanding of the concept. I have found many issues with how I had dealt with homework during my early career. I share those failings in hopes that you will engage in the conversation to find a better solution for you and your students.
What if when students don't do homework we ask not only why they don't do it but go further - what is the purpose of homework and am I assigning meaningful authentic work?
1. Don't Grade Homework! - If homework is a part of the learning process, but not the end result, then why grade it? I stopped grading homework my last year in the classroom. I provided students opportunities to engage in the material outside of class, but used it as formative assessment. Students would come to class and we would discuss the learning task. The task showed up in the grade book but counted as 0 points and 0 percent of their grade. I just recorded it to help track their progress and provide more details to aid in the discussion of student progress.
2. Assign Meaningful Authentic Work- This can be the most difficult to change to achieve. However it is also the most important to truly change the dynamics in your classroom. I am not claiming to be good at creating meaningful tasks on a regular basis, but I have seen the tremendous positive response by students to these tasks. I have heard of teachers having students spend hours working on what they called side quests, and my students have demonstrated similar as part of non-graded Genius Hour projects. When students are interested in the task and see value in completing it, they will do amazing things. They will put in extraordinary effort and the results are phenomenal!
3. Don't Assign Homework- If you struggle with homework, and it hasn't provided the educational benefits you were looking for, then don't assign it. If students can do well on your assessments of learning, cumulative projects and tests, but don't do the work, then is the homework necessary?
I struggled with homework for a long time. I described this struggle earlier. I must admit that I only made it to suggestion 1 in my transition. I was working on reinventing homework to fit suggestion 2, but definitely had not embraced number 3.
I am not here to tell you that there is one perfect view on homework, but rather to challenge your thinking on the topic. I have freely admitted my shortcomings in all of these areas and decided to write this post to generate conversation. I wish others had challenged my thinking earlier in my career. I have always found that when others question what I am doing or why I am doing it as an opportunity to reflect on my practices. Sometimes I have been justified and strengthened in my professional practices. Many times the challenge has lead to change in my methodologies that have helped me grow and improve as a professional but more importantly as a person.
Creating an amazing lesson plan is like creating the perfect recipe. It takes planning organization a vision and most importantly repetition and reflection. Few get it right the first time so we need to examine what went well and what doesn't work.
The first step in creating a lesson should be to decide what your learning outcomes should be. When searching for the perfect recipe you need to figure out what you want to make. If you have a sweet tooth, you have to decide between a torte, cake, brownies, cookies, pies, etc. Let's say you choose cake, you then have to decide chocolate, carrot, red velvet and the choices go on as well. There are so many potential choices made in this process that it can seem daunting. The same is true of lesson planning. Both are essential to the process. In order to read your desired outcome, you have to define it clearly. In Lesson planning, if we want students to walk away with a specific understanding, they need to know what it is we want them to know.
Today I am working with teachers as they design unit plans and lessons. They are using Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe. I am a fan of this curriculum design methodology. You need a clearly defined goal and then think about desired results. What will students learn and do with the content. What Essential Questions will students wrestle with and what will they produce to demonstrate their level of understanding. This is the framework for a lesson plan much like you have your vision of what your desired desert will look and taste like. Now you can begin to pull together your ingredients to achieve your goal.
Now that we have a plan for our desired outcomes, we have to fill in the details to turn the idea into reality in our classrooms. I will admit that throughout my career I have pillaged and plundered lesson plans. I am a huge proponent of beg borrowing and stealing others great lessons. However just because it was a magical experience in their classroom doesn't mean you will be able to reproduce that spark in your students. This is the premise for this post. While I think finding inspiration in others lessons and ideas, in the end you must make it your own and adapt it for your learning environment. Just because something is amazing for others doesn't mean it will have the same results for you.
One example of a great lesson that I borrowed was from Bill Bigelow The Cherokee/Seminole Removal Role Play. I found it amongst many other Zinn Education resources. I liked the fact that it put students in position to make the difficult decisions that those in the past also had to make. I thought students would be able to channel the spirit of their group by embracing their roles and thinking about the impact on themselves and others of their decisions. The students would spend time creating their position and then debate the issue. I did the lesson as was instructed, but if flopped. Students didn't embrace their roles. They didn't fully see the interests of their group or the impact of the decision they were making. They weren't able to truly comprehend the complexities of their assigned roles.
Something was missing! Just like great recipes that have been fine tuned throughout the years, so are great lessons. Sometimes the things that make them great are little things that the author doesn't put on paper or is something that is less tangible which is the culture that has been created up to that time.
I contacted Bill Bigelow and told him about my experience and he told me the key for him was the planning section where students work in their small groups and create their position statements. This is time where he has conversations with the groups. I had students create the statements, however I didn't jump into their conversations as much as I should have. I didn't delve into their thought process, challenge their ideas when they didn't match their historical counterparts thinking. I didn't push them to dive deeper about the consequences or to justify their decision. He had some suggestions for questioning and conversation starters that I hadn't thought about because I wasn't the author. I need to know that key piece of the activity in order to raise my version of the lesson to the next level for my students.
I figured out what was missing in this lesson. The challenge to teaching is that each lesson just like a recipe is there are key elements that can make or break a lesson. We know this in our own classroom. One class period will rock a lesson, and the next won't measure up even though you taught it the same way. Each experience is dependent on the human beings engaged in the experience and as we know each of our students is unique. What resonates with one student or class may not have the same level of connection for all students.
Teaching is an art and we are all unique artists, each painting on a unique canvas that is our classroom.
Sharing lessons and ideas is caring. The more we share the more we grow and it's good for kids. So continue to share, however with the power of Twitter and other social media we are able to contact or be contacted to help others find those key elements that make the lesson a magical experience.
Lesson planning requires a clear set of objectives that should start with the end in mind.
Lessons like recipes should be constantly reflected upon and refined to reproduce the great product repeatedly.
This past week I ran my first 10K. Previously I had only been able to run 4 miles, so this was a major accomplishment for me. I had planned on running this with my daughter with the expectation that we would run and walk together to accomplish this. Well the week before the run my daughter got sick and wasn't able to do it with me. I decided I would still do it, I mean I paid for the registration and had the t-shirt, so why not?
When I got there I was nervous, doubting that I would be able to run beyond the 4 miles I had previously done. I met a couple of people before the race and we started talking about what brought us out that morning and what our motivation and goals were.
I met an 11 year old and his mom who were running it for the second time, and he was looking for 10 minute miles. I thought wow, I haven't done that in my few runs this spring, so that would be difficult. But part of me saw this as a challenge. If an 11 year old can do that pace, so can I. Well that was my mentality at mile 0.
The Elite runners start at 8 am while the rest of us move through our corrals listening to Chariots of Fire waiting for our turn to meet the challenge that awaits us. Some look at this as a training run, others a personal mission. I mention this because before I started the race, the Elite runners were finishing the course. The top finishers crossed in 29 minutes, my 5K was 31 minutes so by now you can probably figure out I was not on a training run or an Elite runner.
Why the Title?
You are probably wondering why I would use such a self serving title to a post about how I am an average runner at best. Why do I think I am incredible? What did I do that completing a 10K was so amazing that I should write about it and take your time to read it?
The answer could be that for 1:03:45 I felt like I could do something pretty special in my own life. As I ran those 6.2 miles through the streets of Green Bay with about 14 thousand other people, and seeing so many others come out to support I was inspired.
The sincere and true reason for the title is that it isn't about me. The above story is what inspired me to write about how we can apply this to eduction. I definitely don't think I am incredible, I know I didn't set any records for this run. In fact I am finally finishing this about 2 months after I started because I struggled with the title. The premise for this title is that we can all be incredible at times, at least we can feel this way. The crowd, the people I met, my kids and family after the race made me feel like I had done something pretty special.
I started thinking about this post as I ran the first few miles. I was feeling good, there were people playing music and holding signs cheering for loved ones and friends. As I progressed along the course, there were people spraying garden hoses to cool us off, others handing out cups of water. After mile 4 I started to feel the strain of running, my feet started to hurt, my pace slowed a little but then I started to see the signs saying "You are Awesome!" not directed at anyone individual but all of us. I felt like I was being supported by everyone out there. I pushed through mile 4 then 5. I reached mile 6 and was tired, but the crowd was amped up was so loud and positive, I couldn't walk, I had come so far, I needed to finish. I rounded the corner to the finish line the last few hundred yards and tried to sprint (I use the term loosely) but didn't have anything left. I finished and was tired but exhilarated. I ran the farthest I had ever run. I was close to my 10 minute pace, and I had people cheering me on. A side note, my feet hurt so badly after the run that I struggled to walk back to my car, which I couldn't remember which direction I had parked, so I experienced the agony of da Feet
For anyone who has participated in an organized event like this whether a run, as a member of a sports team, you have likely had people cheer and support you. However there are groups of our students and many of our colleagues who may not hear how awesome they are often enough. I found in my run that as the crowd cheered I became more energized, and pushed myself to finish strong.
Make Every Student Feel Incredible!
In our classrooms do we provide this support to all of our students? Do we treat them all as they are amazing? They are all different, but all of them and teachers all need to feel like we are doing good things. Getting excited when a student who doesn't normally participate shares something will likely help that student feel valued and be more willing to share more often.
How powerful it is to have a cheerleader rooting for you, supporting you and letting you know that you can accomplish something you think is difficult. I began to think about how we can leverage this with our colleagues and students. How can we be the cheerleaders for them? They need to feel supported, cared for and most importantly that they are incredible and capable of phenomenal things in their lives. We need to build them up every chance
Students need cheerleaders, fans, boosters and most of all people in their corner regardless of the type of student they are. We are here for them, never forget that and always let them know that is your first and most important reason for entering school each and everyday.
I am someone who loves hearing ideas about connecting the contemporary world with my classroom. I used to love playing Jeopardy in high school as a review game. I now love seeing, hearing and using modern concepts of game shows, or reality TV in my classroom or helping others to create these for their students. A colleague Josh Gauthier @mrgfactoftheday did a presentation using the Amazing Race and Google Maps that was really cool. It like many of the concepts I want to discuss here, added the element of competition. It was amazing sitting in a room of educators and seeing how much the atmosphere of the room changed once the idea of a prize or winner was introduced.
I want to share some ideas, some that I have heard from other people and may had added some of my own twists to. I hope if you find something interesting here and use it that you would share with me the way you used it and how it went. I love hearing how things are used so I can learn and grow. I don't ask so I can take credit. I shared a concept about using Speed Dating about a year ago and had lots of responses about how people were incorporating it into their classroom content as well as PD sessions and lesson planning. I was amazed at the creativity and imagination applied to these applications. I was so appreciative that people shared their incarnations and results with me because I shared those ideas with other teachers who then used or tweaked the new methodologies in their learning environment and more and more people benefited from the sharing and conversations around a simple concept. With that in mind, I want to share some of the ideas about using Reality TV in the classroom.
EDIT to post- I put this post down for a couple hours today to grade some papers from my grad class and hang out with my kids while they were in the pool when I saw #edumatch chat starting up. As part of this it was mentioned the idea of Shark Tank and I commented I had a post in the works about this. Then I saw a link to a post about someone else's take on it. What I found as I began reading it is that unlike my post that is based on the concept, and discusses the potential, this post discusses what was actually done with teachers and students participating.
Here is the link to Shark Tank goes to school by Natalie Orenstein outlines Mari Moss's 8th grade class as one example.
What follows is my post with the concepts of both Lesson Plan Shark Tank and Students being put into the Shark Tank as presenters themselves. I wanted to give credit to those who initiated this idea and acknowledge their efforts. I appreciate the ingenuity and contributions to furthering education.
Shark Tank Reality Check
Shark Tank- the high pressure environment of selling yourself, your idea, and your hard work. In the end you are evaluated, judged to be worthy or unworthy of someone else's money. So how can we use this premise in Education?
I read a tweet or heard someone share the idea at a conference of having teachers engage in a Shark Tank Environment. I brought this up to teachers in my grad class recently and saw the look of terror come over some of the teachers in the room. So what kind of environment could we create that would make teachers visibly uncomfortable? Ask them to enter the Shark Tank accompanied by their lesson plans. When the doors swing open they see the three to five chairs elevated slightly and sitting in these chairs are their students. Stop, pause, reread the scenario if necessary. You walk in and students are sitting in the judges' chairs. Your task, like those on the show, is to sell your ideas to the panel of investors, this case your own students. What are your ideas in this case, are your lesson plans. Now to actually make this work, you would bring in one lesson plan and sell sell sell your vision. Another concept might be to present your vision for the course, present an overview of your vision for the term.
Students would listen to your proposal, ask questions, probe you for information, and give you feedback. This feedback could be constructive, or brutally honest and devastating depending on the student just like the judges on Shark Tank, their personalities and interests vary.
Realistically it would be a challenge to do this with all of our lessons, BUT if we don't consider our students reactions to our lessons, we are less likely to succeed. If when considering this scenario we are truly scared of student's responses, or if we know their responses wouldn't be good, we need to scrap those lessons and rethink what we are doing. We should be student centered and always consider how this will be perceived by our students. Telling students I know this is boring, or really tough stuff and then lecturing at them doesn't cut it. We can do better!
Now that I have thrown out the challenge- I must admit much like when Dave Burgess proposed the question would students come to your class if they didn't have to, or could you sell tickets to your lessons would not have resulted in favorable responses. It was like a kick in the stomach. I thought good things were happening, but Dave set a pretty high bar. Very similarly, the idea of having students evaluate our lessons is scary and I don't know that many of mine would have had unanimous support. I share my shortcomings because admitting that you have growth potential allows you the freedom to achieve those higher standards. I worked hard in the past few years to increase the number of ticket lessons and creating an environment students wanted to be a part of. Each year I set a goal to improve, to have more ticket lessons and to continue to build relationships with students so they knew I cared. I am still a work in progress, and the idea of presenting our lessons in the Shark Tank is to get us to do a self evaluation and make a plan for our personal growth.
If the idea of entering the Shark Tank is too intimidating, but you still feel that student feedback is important, then enlist students to be your sounding board. In the past few years when we tried new lessons I spent some time debriefing with students about what they liked. What went well and where I could improve the lesson. I set up expectations for the conversation to be constructive but honest. I told them that I was always trying to get better and needed their help. There were sometimes that things were said that I didn't like, but overall students had insights that I wouldn't have come up with on my own. They had experienced both the in class work and the outside of class interaction with both the content and peers that helped shape their experience that I wasn't privy to. All of this helped me reconcile my perception with reality and make change. I would encourage you to debrief with students, not only about the content, but more importantly the learning experience.
Shark Tank 2.o
Using Shark Tank with students in the classroom where their work is evaluated by a panel of experts. My first idea is not very divergent from the show. When I taught Economics as a student teacher, we had a class that was called Economics and Entrepreneurship where each student had to propose a product and their classmates voted on which to build. The class was set up to create a business with manufacturing and marketing groups.
Economics - What if instead of building the product and business, students present a business plan. They come up with an idea for a new product, service, etc. and after doing research, they present before a panel of business people from your community. Something to benefit the students in this process would be to bring in business mentors who could assist students with their research and development. This economics lesson could be very elaborate involving a multitude of people and actual products, or more in the realm of visionary. Who would make up the judges would depend on who you have access to in your local community.
Social Problems - I worked with a colleague this year on a service project where we used the KIVA micro-loan project. I wrote a post about it earlier (May). Students researched one of the potential campaigns and then had to present before their class to decide which would be funded. The cool thing is that there was real money available for the winning cause. The class had three students who were the judges and make the final decision. I wasn't able to see the days of voting, but I would definitely push for these to be set up more like the Shark Tank model where the judges are tough but fair. They were in charge of real money and making investments that would make a difference in real people's lives. From what I saw the days I was in the class, students were taking if very serious and working towards making their presentation the best it could be. An extension could be to partner with local businesses who would be willing to pledge their own funds to the project and hear what questions and ideas these individuals might have.
History - There are many opportunities for students in history to use use the concept of Shark Tank to create real world presentations. I did one that could easily be turned into the shark tank if I had given my intended audience a little push to be more skeptical of the presenters. Two years ago I had students present before the head of the school board, the superintendent and my building administrators as to what they thought should be taught in schools about how the world came to be. This could be Scientific explanation, the Big Bang Theory, or Intelligent Design, a higher being creating our universe, or a combination of ideas. If I had changed the scenario slightly I could have created a much more intense venue for the presenters to not only share their ideas, but be in competition somehow for the votes of the audience. The votes should not be based on what idea was presented because it is too controversial, but rather how well the ideas were presented and how well they were able to defend their position. This would have been an assessment of their content knowledge and their ability to persuade. I think this could have been very good for some students and very difficult and challenging for others. As it stood, I found myself more of a cheerleader for my students than worried about which stance they took. I wanted them to succeed and knew some students hadn't had a lot of academic success prior. Turning this into the Shark Tank for some would have been an exciting experience and for others a traumatic event.
Math- I am not a Math teacher nor do I pretend to understand the complexities of math. But after watching shows like Numbers and Big Bang, I was thinking about the way they discussed math. Math was a way to solve problems and there were a multitude of methods at their disposal. My thought here was if teachers created a problem based activity for students to delve into there could be opportunities for divergent thought. Some students or groups might attack the problem one way while others look at it another. Some might use one formula or others apply it differently. My vision was for students to present their plan of attack to the sharks in the tank. This could be a panel of experts from a local business, engineering firm, etc. who recently had to solve a similar problem. The students could present their plan of attack to the sharks, get some feedback, but not necessarily be steered away from their thinking. At the end they present their final solution and here would be where the sharks vote on which solution they think would have completed the task most satisfactorily. I apologize to the Math teachers out there who might be thinking that is a poorly constructed lesson plan. I am not a math teacher, but putting my thoughts out there, I hope you say- I can do better and do it! Make it happen for your students.
Science- Maybe this is because I liked the show House, but this idea came to mind. Students would be presented with an illness, a case with symptoms that the patient is exhibiting. Their task would be like in the show House, to present their idea for the best method of treatment. In the show House, the main doctor used to have brain storming sessions where his team would discuss the symptoms and make a case for their best course of action for the patient. In this case the sharks would take the place of Dr. House. This is probably pretty advanced thinking for high school students, at least it would have been for me while in high school biology. But think about experiences where students could apply their knowledge of science and have to defend their thinking.
The Wrap Up!
If you read this post to the end, you might be thinking that the lesson ideas that I tossed out there would not fair well in a Shark Tank Lesson Plan show down. I don't disagree. I didn't spend a lot of time building up the plot lines or adding hooks to grab student's attention. I didn't provide much in the way of detail or learning targets. The lessons were simply my brainstorm session trying to comprehend how Shark Tank could be used with students as the entrepreneurs in the scenario.
What resonates with me about the Shark Tank idea is that there is Real, Meaningful, Honest feedback by people invested in the outcome. With lesson plan sessions, we get that by brining in the students in our class. They are definitely invested in what we do because it directly impacts their experiences in school and life. What about providing students opportunities to do things where their audience is directly invested in the outcome of their learning journey? How can we create activities where students are doing things that matter to people beyond the school building? How can we flip the experience to be one that creates community involvement in a multitude of subject areas? How can we tap into student passions and desire to learn, create, and develop a sense of investment in what they are learning and doing?
These are all big questions that I don't have quick quotable answers to. I struggle with this but want to help make this a reality for students whether it be in the buildings I serve, or students across the country or world. I want to see students engaged in learning that matters.