30 March 2013

Emergency Sub Plans - Do You Have Any?

If you're 1:1, and you're doing it right, you shouldn't need emergency sub plans. Post a plan for your students on Edmodo, in Dropbox, their email, or in a Google Drive folder, and let the learning continue!

For everyone else less fortunate...

This is my 5th year teaching - of the 5 years, I've had "emergency" sub plans (for days when you're out last minute and don't have the time or will to put anything together) for one of those years. Kind of.

Top 5 Reasons NOT To Have Emergency Sub Plans

  1. Unless you redo them once a month, the chances of them fitting well into the current week's learning objectives is probably pretty slim
  2. More courses = more emergency sub plans to prepare (unless you want ONE generic plan for every course, no matter if its Algebra 1 or AP Stats; see no. 1)
  3. Having prior plans prepared requires prior preparation
  4. You hate your co-workers and want to push your lesson-planning onto them
  5. You hate your students, and want to completely waste their time for that day(s).
The ONLY Reason You Should Need to Have Emergency Sub Plans

I've finally started to learn it this year - when you're taking time off for your family, you need to be WITH your family - mind and body. I was very fortunate that our spell in the hospital last night was during Spring Break. This ER visit turned overnight observation was very sudden, and had I had classes to prepare for, I would have either severely burdened my friends in the department or burdened my substitute with awful, short, boring lesson plans for my students.

So, I'm finally going to make emergency sub plans for each of my 3 preps. I'm going to adhere to these principles as I prepare readings and make photocopies. (If I were using one of my most trusted subs, I would have them breakout the iPad cart, but seeing as these are emergency plans, counting on your preferred sub would be ill-advised. Kill the trees.)

5 Principles For Emergency Sub-Plan Planning

1. When choosing learning objectives, I'm going to focus on things we are currently addressing in our PLC Smart Goal, or critical skills that consistently need reinforcing. For my Applied class, it would probably be problem-solving skills: setting up problems to find solutions. For Algebra 2, it would be either be solving polynomials, or something about equations of circles. I love circles, and never really get to teach them.

2. Have a back up to the emergency.
Whether it be a challenge problem that could be approached by any level of your students, or skills practice sheet for review, or a writing/enrichment activity (something I did last month was asking how many primes there were from 1 to 100. Easily Google-able to check, but I required factorized proof), I'm going to have a back-up to my emergency plans that the sub can give to any kid that finishes the "real" work

3. Crowdsource your emergency plans.
Do you and a friend (or a couple friends) teach the same course? Pool your resources and efforts, and collaborate to make common emergency sub plans for all of you to use. This strategy fits in great with principle 1.

4. To give yourself ultimate flexibility (particularly in your emergency back-up), keep a class set or at least enough for 2 kids to share of your course textbook in a closet or cabinet nearby.

5. Make it something you'll at least consider grading when you return.
The older your students are, the more skilled they are at detecting busy work. Be kind to your students (and your guest teacher) and chose an activity that may be interesting enough to look through even if the kids are pretty sure you won't be scoring, and will have students producing something that will be of some interest to look at when you return. 

Alright. Who's got my sub plans? 

29 March 2013

(Effective) Teacher Technology Use Is Growing (INFOGRAPHIC)

A friend of mine, +Dave Hallmon , forwarded this infographic from onlineuniversities.com today and it had some points that really grabbed my interest.

1. 68% of students reported in 2012 that their teachers used technology effectively.

It doesn't go into what technology proficiencies made for "effective," or at what level, but that seems like an encouraging number.

2. Of teachers surveyed, 90% have a laptop or PC in the classroom.

This astounds me that is NOT at least 99%, but good for perspective, I guess. Even on days you're upset that your favorite tech tool isn't behaving, it could be WORSE.

3. 3 in 4 teachers say that tech allows them to reinforce and expand on content, motivate students, and accommodate multiple learning styles.

Is it statistically appropriate, then to link my first point, and this one and assume that of the ~75% of teachers that report these benefits, only 7% aren't doing it well? (Probably not, but it would be an interesting test of significance to run)

4. In a study of AP Calc students, the half in a #flipclass model scored an average of more than half a point higher on the 5 point AP exam scale

I feel like my most effective days teaching in AP Stats are the days we clarify misconceptions and reinforce what is understood. Giving lectures, which is something my kids DID ask for more of, seems like a bit of a time waste for kids that I know can and will mostly read/watch when I tell them to.

I have a hunch that at least a segment of these higher AP scores are because the brighter kids benefited more from the self-paced learning afforded by the video model, but it's significant enough for me to give it a shot next week when we return from Spring Break.

26 March 2013

Curate: 4 Ways To Use Storify to Focus Your Research and Ideas

I felt this way often as a student - (who are we kidding, I feel this way as a blogger often, too) - you sit down to write out an essay, research outline, or journal entry, and have a general, broad idea of where you want to go, but CANNOT BEGIN. Where do you begin?

Let the social media search tools at Storify.com give you some ideas. Here are 4 ways to try:

1. Get unstuck.
There's a search box on the landing page. Use it a little like Google's "I'm feelin' lucky" and see what a word gives you. I used "statistics."

I'm going to use the link with that guy with his back to us to find alternative texts/blogs for my AP Stats students to read. Boom. You could do this in your classroom in a current events discussion, or pre-reading activity to activate prior knowledge or misconceptions on the day's/week's topic.

2. Use Storify to archive everything said on a given hashtag, or everything your friends have said during a given time period. Tonight I used Storify to produce an archive of our #statschat.

Archiving tweets/status updates/images can help you find that one tweet you saw that one time in context with others. What's it matter that you found it, if you can't remember why? :)

3. Compile multiple resources on the same subject. 
Once you go to create a story, you can search Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Instagram, YouTube, and Google Search for results on your keywords. Here are some resources on "solving linear equations."

A teacher could use this to compile reading/viewing material for in or out of class, students could be tasked with developing their own stories as content experts in a jigsawed lesson, or students could use Storify as digital notecards for their sources on research papers. If you trying to co-teach/co-learn to make your students' studies more relevant, you could use these multiple sources (that kids find) as a place to begin study choices. I wrote more about another tool for co-learning and relevance here.

4. Digital Storytelling 
Have students create a timeline or narrative of an event using news articles, images, video, and tweets. This digital storytelling could lead students in investigating content-specific material to model their understanding of how something happened and why it is/was important. Students could do this with any history subject, a new scientific theory, economics, mathematical problem solving, etc. I've done mine on the 2012 Cardinals' playoff run.

Tech Tip: Check Your Spelling With Right-Click

Are you a chronically poor speller?

You can right click in most any text editing platform to get suggestions for correct spelling. This is the kind of tool that you probably notice anytime you right-click something for another purpose, but perhaps forget when you really need (like me). This doesn't encourage the practice of ignoring errors in the first draft (sorry comm arts teachers), but if you're like me and want to eliminate your red squiggles as soon as possible, the spell-check-right-click will save you time from spell-checking the entire document.

Forget no more!

Here's what right-click spellcheck looks like on many of your favorite tools -

20 March 2013

Give Your Students More Control (and Make Yourself the Hero)

How many times have you thought,  "Now would be a good time to bring a student up to the board to work out a problem and have some more students interact in forming a solution..." but hesitated, or refrained from following your instinct because you knew they weren't going to be able to get through it at nearly the pace you could yourself?

Wait. Is that the point?

A student-centered classroom is messier and crazier because that's how kids work. A student-centered lesson does not look perfectly sequenced and free of error because the students are in draft mode. If they had all the connections and outlines to make a perfect presentation, there'd be no need to cover it.

I've you've ever helped a toddler or small child with a life skill, I think you'll know what I'm talking about. I went to the store with my 3 year old on Sunday night and I enlisted her help in "the problem." (Putting groceries on the conveyor belt and them sacking them up at Aldi).

Spoiler alert: she couldn't do it alone. :)

But there were some things she could. She proudly hoisted those rice cakes onto the belt, and tried her darndest with the pineapples. When it came time to bag, I think it took her all of the time I was bagging everything else to put the two rice cakes into their own canvas bag. It obviously took time, but she was able to problem solve, engage in some productive struggle, and eventually worked it out.

Fast forward to my AP Stats class today. I have a student who has missed a ton of time recently because its music competition season in Missouri and he's been practicing/performing different places. He's the type of kid that never does any homework or extra practice, but manages to get by alright with what he picks up in class.

Obviously, this strategy is unsuccessful when you aren't in class. So, there was some very basic understanding and vocabulary that he was missing from like, 2 weeks ago. When "Ryan" asked if we could do an exercise from the book together at the board, I welcomed him on up. 

Here's how it went:
  1. Ryan picked a problem - the other students evaluated it as something we could handle or not.
  2. Ryan read aloud the paragraph introducing the exercise (I LOVE that there are no problems in my Stats series that practice skills out of context)
  3. Ryan begins to write given and inferred info on the SMARTboard - his classmates respectfully correct his use of vocab, and then have a good conversation amongst themselves about different aspects of the problem set-up - I pretend I'm not really listening.
  4. They come to a period of uncertainty that they cannot resolve about how to apply the test hypothesis to the normal distribution - once I can feel them starting to look to me for a clue, I give some reinforcement to what one student has already said, saving the day, and allowing them to continue.
Warning: Making yourself the hero is NOT about preventing your students from writing some "wrong" things, finishing the problem for them, or taking back control. It's subtle, but its about finding a way to use the words/ideas your students have already posited, and making a connection or affirming someone's hunch to redirect the class down the right path.

I think Ryan learned more today because we were at the students' pacing, not my own. I'm in consistent need of reminder that it doesn't matter how much we get through if (1) we're going to have to do most of it over again, and (2) students aren't learning because the pacing is inappropriate.

Better examples and discussions are far more effective than more examples and discussion.

18 March 2013

Adding Mystery and Intrigue to Your SMART Notebook Lessons: Boxes and Screen Shade

Which of these normal, everyday slides from a normal, everyday Notebook lesson grab more of your attention?
What's behind those squares?
You can take the content you already have created in SMART Notebook (or PowerPoint for that matter) and up the interactivity of your lesson in a matter of seconds. By using the Screen Shade or boxes to cover text, images, or writing, you give opportunities for students to:

  • what's next in a story
  • the next step in a mathematical solution
  • connections between two ideas
  • meaning of new words in context
Signal importance - I feel like my students skim over or miss even the bold words in texts, sometime, so I like that some books highlight, but you can even go the next step and emphasis with a box. 

Focus - When I'm hoping that I say the right words to communicate a concept to a student in the 30 seconds I have their attention, the LAST thing I want is for them to be focusing on something ELSE related to the lesson on the SMARTboard.

The greatest ally to misunderstanding in math class is misinformation. 
"You wrote it on the board, and you said..."
"Yes, but not at the same time..."
Encourage interactivity - that kid may not want to write a lick of the information you're sharing, but you better believe you may entice them with a chance to drag a box.

Now you've got, "Remember when you went to the SMARTboard and moved the boxes? That's what you need to use right now," in your back pocket, even though its surely no where on a piece of paper. :)

Screen Shade:
Between boxes or Screen Shade, the easiest of the two to implement would be the shade. Pull up your content, put up the shade, and drag to reveal. I use this most often in my Algebra class to ask, "What do you think I did next?"
The Screen Shade icon
Drag at your own speed...
Using boxes is a bit more complicated, but FAR more customizable. Here I've used boxes to cover up the solution to an example I grabbed from my online texbook using the screen capture tool (the camera icon)

12 March 2013

Link Shortening - It's Not Just For Tweets

Imagine you've engineered a beautifully scripted web-quest for your students...
...and no one finishes because they're all making the same URL typo.

You've got a document shared in your Dropbox or Google Drive that you want to send your students to, but forgot to...
...hyperlink on your class page, put it in the shared folder, or grant permissions to student viewers.

Few things frustrate me more when my students are targeted to specific URLs than the inevitable typos that lead them to erroneous or dead pages. Maybe its the students at our school, but they almost always just assume that MY link was wrong, or that I gave them the wrong link.

To mitigate this frustration, I stole a social media trick you probably use without even thinking:
I shortened my links.

In social media, the purpose of link shortening is to save characters in order to maximize your content. For the classroom, link shortening comes down to this: implementing your lessons, making your job facilitating easier, and kid (teen)-friendliness.

If you have all of your links already hyperlinked on a file or webpage, your best bet will probably just be to get one, simple link.
No frills link shorteners: (More info here)
If you haven't yet archived or curated your links in one place, bundling them together may save you a step with these tools.
Bundling link shorteners: (More info here)
As an example of how this might work, I bundled all of these link shortener links with bit.ly here.

This is what the page of bundled links will look like for your students (or you)

I helped my department chair through this process one day last week. There was a Google Doc she had created for a career exploration activity that had several hyperlinks embedded in the doc. When I came into the lab, her students were pecking away furiously, copying the URLs from the paper handout she had photocopied for them.

The process was simple:
  1. Set the document's share settings to "public" or "anyone with the link"
    • If the file is not currently on Google Drive, use the upload button next to "create," then do step 1.
  2. Copy share link
  3. Paste share link into the text field at tinyurl.com
  4. Write new shortened link on the chalkboard
I asked her about the experience later that day:
What's been your experience with having kids type in URLs to go to websites for your lessons?
Kids usually do ok, but some kids take forever.

How did using a link shortener to share your document help students complete your lesson? 
Liked it.

Would you try this out again? 

Which do you think you would rather do - send students files through InSight, or share documents from your Google Drive in this manner? Why? (Note: InSight and SynchronEyes are our current and former computer lab management software installs) 
I liked it when I had a document to share, but unsure about if I just wanted to send them to a link. I kind of hate insight anyway... I liked synchroneyes better :) 
Not a rousing success for her, I guess, but I helped another teacher use it to share a file (our kids don't all have Google Apps accounts) the next day, and she was very grateful for the process.

UPDATE: The same teacher interviewed above used a link shortener today to send her kids a SMART Notebook Jeopardy file reviewing exponent rules for the students to play against each other in the lab. Here's a picture of her implementation.

If you want to test the student experience for yourself, just use her link! tinyurl.com/KingEX

11 March 2013

Playing School: 6 Easy Ways to "Play" in Your Secondary Classroom

I know my 3 year old daughter has a bit of a misconception of what I do at school...

We're part of a great Parents as Teachers program that comes to our home once a month to work with the kids and "assess" them every few months according to developmental norms for their age. From Lucy's perspective, Ms. Chris comes over to play with her and Landon. She doesn't know she's learning, and she certainly isn't aware that sometimes she's being tested. Its just fun.

She knows that Daddy goes to work and is a teacher, so when I told her that Ms. Chris is her teacher, she made this connection:
"My daddy's going to work to play with boys and girls."
I'm not suggesting that your entire curriculum needs to be game-ified (although MangaHigh is my favorite) or that we need to change teaching styles (if you're generally a curmudgeon, you'll feel and seem fake if you try to do what someone else thinks if "fun"), but that everyone in the room will be more productive when a little bit of play is introduced.

And honestly, I think its good for all of us. Some days, I feel like this:

My wife, who stays home with our two little ones, is a great blessing to me because she saves me from most of those days. She has her own struggles as our children's first teacher, which she blogged about yesterday and has me reflecting more on today. (Being a good mama on a bad day)

Do you ever get so caught up in learning objectives, your curriculum and or mastery of content that everything else going on in your classroom gets lost? I did this to my daughter yesterday morning at the breakfast table. Good. grief.

Per the morning tradition, I was reading to Lucy out of the Jesus Storybook Bible during breakfast while she ate her cereal. Beth reports that the kids usually really enjoy this time and always ask, "More Bible, please! And cereal." This is where my "teacher" training totally got in the way of Lucy totally enjoying the morning's reading of The Prodigal Son - instead of just reading the story, showing some excitement, doing my very best character voices, and letting the narrative do its work, I kept checking for understanding and comprehension. With my 3 year old. Sure, she was able to answer my questions and was "engaged," but she certainly didn't really seem to enjoy the story. She asked for more, but kind of in a "this wasn't as great an experience as usual" kind of way. LOL

After some gentle(?) encouragement from Beth (who always supports my character talents) to just read the story, I'd say Lucy and I both had a much better time, and she was asking the questions the second time around.

Kids expect to have fun, enjoyable, memorable experiences at school because that's how they begin their educations. Somewhere in the system, we (I) kill a lot of those expectations because there are tests to prepare for, kids that don't "deserve" to be rewarded with a fun lesson, and content that doesn't readily lend itself to games.

1. Listen to music (and I don't mean classical).
I believe the research that classical music helps students learn, or raises tests scores, and have a Mozart playlist on Spotify for my "everyday" music, but sometimes its good to indulge yourself, or your students and play something you and/or they really like.

If you're afraid of the lyric factor, allow yourself to have a lyric-check policy. You don't want to play anything offensive, so go ahead and check those lyrics with any of these 5 tools. You can also search on Spotify, Playlist.com (or even YouTube) for "clean" or "edited" versions.

2. Laugh at yourself.
I shared this image with a few of my classes last week. I used it as an example of how I always try NOT to stand, and then the kids told me the ways I DO stand. At least they're watching. :) (Apparently I have this arms crossed, shoulders hunched thing)

3. Give high fives, elbows, fist bumps.
This is my number one ice breaker when I have a crummy attitude toward a student or they have one with me for the day. Its also a day-maker for a lot of kids. Henry Wong advises in The First Days of School that you give out hugs as students enter the classroom. That's obviously inappropriate (and often times undesired) to do with secondary students, but free high fives in the hallway? Just make sure to pump the hand sanitizer.

4. Use color.
Students don't suddenly lose their taste for colorful, welcoming, designed classrooms just because they're older. Sure, you probably didn't have that bulletin board class in your secondary ed courses that all the elementary teachers rave about, but that doesn't give you an excuse for boring, blank walls.

And don't stop the color there - let your students color. Your interactive whiteboard, tablets, and even regular whiteboard have dozens of colors of available to them. Don't YOU get bored writing only in one color? (Bonus points for having your students color code their notes. For example, each step of a  solution in a math class is color coded to show process, or in a Lit class, character notes one color, themes in another, and foreshadowing in another).

5. Have kids create.
Lucy's teacher recently just told her to draw a picture. Lucy was just doing something she loved, but Ms. Chris was assessing all kinds of spatial, kinesthetic, and imaginative benchmarks from just a few marks. With proper pedagogy of learning expectations and scoring guides, I think its possible to do the same with secondary students.

Giant rolls of butcher paper, video tutorials, stop-motion lego, ebooks, regular books, songs, websites, images, etc. Here are some iPad specific examples. They can even create mobile games for assessment, review, or constructive activities. (Free game designing tools)

6. Play boardgames as a class or in small groups, but make requirements for moving correct responses to questions.
I like this for:
  • Differentiation - you can ask different groups different questions
  • Immediate feedback
  • Collaboration
  • Quick gratification
Implementation tips: 
I see my kids collaborate more willingly and effectively in their game teams when I stick big whiteboards in front of them.  There's magic in those insanely expensive pens.
Project a physical gameboard with the pieces using a document camera, create your own simple version in your interactive whiteboard software (I did this fairly easily with squares and rectangles for Monopoly, and was able to make 3-way Connect Four), or find your favorite web-based version.

What's most important? 
Making the effort, and trying play that feels natural to you. Just like different instructional strategies have higher yields in different settings, what play works in the classroom next door may well flop for you. Don't give up, and don't punish yourself. 

Have fun.

05 March 2013

#flipclass Tip: Bundle Your Tutorials in a Playlist

You're dipping your toe into the flipped class model. You're previewing videos and sculpting guiding questions. You're creating your own tutorials. Maybe your students are, too.

Now where's the best place to put them all? Email? Class website? Link on the whiteboard? Tweet? Text message?

Wherever you put them, the most important piece is consistency. If your students know they can return to the trough, they'll keep coming back for more. (This is true of sharing amongst resources with any target audience, really.)

Before you get burned out on making sure you embed/link/tweet out the newest video every day, let me offer this suggestion:

Bundle relevant #flipclass videos together in YouTube playlists.

Benefits to bundling:

  • You'll be able to add new videos to the playlist directly from YouTube
  • Students can see a sequence in material and develop their own connections between content
  • Related videos on a topic/chapter are within the playlist, keeping your students' eyes on the content you've picked for them
  • Instead of embedding or sharing new links to videos daily, you can embed or share the link to the playlist only as often as you change chapters/topics. (Bonus points for teacher efficiency!)

Here's how to do it: 

An example of my own:

Here I've previously grouped together trig tutorials for my Functions students from my favorite YouTube tutor, PatrickJMT