29 November 2014

2-Way Mirror: What Dance Class Taught Me About "Each As My Own"

We had a motto (mission? slogan? value?) in my district 7 years ago when I began teaching that went something like, "Treating Every Student Like You Would Your Own." That's a great principle to teach by, but it only really works if whoever applies it HAS CHILDREN. Before (and even when they were still infants) I did a lot of things in the classroom that weren't necessarily bad, but that I would do differently now that I'm seeing my little ones grow as learners.

A couple of years ago, I got take my daughter alone to a make-up dance class during the week and watch through the two-way mirror. The experience was thrilling and nerve-racking, to watch your kid doing something they love, but not really getting to enjoy it with them. Obviously, I don't have a two-way in my high school math classroom, but how would that change my behaviors if I did? How would that change my parent interactions?

It BROKE MY HEART to sit there and watch Lucy struggle with something the other kids were having more success with (she's still working on the formal aspect of dance over improv, and this make-up class has older girls in it), but there were two things I see parents do that I did not feel because I watched it happen:

1. I didn't blame the teacher. We know that parents know their kids best, but that should also mean they know where their child struggles. I made a mental list of things I saw Lucy needs to work on.

2. I didn't blame Lucy or myself. I could SEE her effort, so I know that she needs more practice, and more feedback. We've all heard "I was never good at _______" be used as a reason for a child's lack of interest or success in math class. I've never had formal dance training, but I know watching that class that I want my daughter to feel good about herself as a dance student, so I'll do whatever I can to assist in that.

What the two-way mirror made me reflect about my own behaviors in the classroom is how much time I spend redirecting one student, again and again, at the expense of many others? Is that right, or not? How many chances does a kid deserve? (One of Lucy's go-to lines when she's in trouble for not obeying is, "Can I have just ONE. MORE. CHANCE?!")

I actually started the first draft of this post a year and a half ago. It was Lucy's first experience in a "classroom" and my first experience as a parent of a "student". The conclusion I would have made then was that, yes, sometimes we need to let a kid go so the bulk of the class can get a chance to learn what they need to know (In the case of the dance class, it was particular movements, in your math class, it might be solving quadratics). I think NCLB showed us that when our strength of our focus is on bringing up the very, very bottom, that rigor of instruction gets dragged down with it. 

A year and a half ago, I still wore my teacher goggles as a parent. I was disappointed Lucy wasn't keeping up, but I understood the dynamic on the other side of the mirror as the teacher repeatedly redirected her to stay on line, to listen, and to follow along. I felt more compassionate for those kids that struggle, and their parents that are doing the best that they can, but I can't say it was affecting my practice. 

This school year, my middle child, my oldest son, started pre-k in a special ed classroom at our school district's early childhood center. We've entered the world of IEPs, progress reports, and letters home in backpacks. My wife spent a day in his classroom a few weeks ago and said he spent at least a 1/3 of his time there blowing bubbles. There's a kid in his class that struggles using "safe hands" (hitting) and with general impulse control, so I'm sure that Landon gets to spend of lot of his time on choice time because he's a nice, generally compliant kid. He generally likes school, and when a lot of his time is spent blowing bubbles and eating goldfish (his speech therapist has been giving him one for each produced sound), its no wonder!

Here's what I get now about the students in my class, and their parents' expectations -
When you work out "each as my own" in your classroom, you realize that it doesn't work best for any kid for when you attempt to put all kids into a group. Some students and families are better adapting to it than others, but "getting by" is not the way that I want to remember any of my own children's experience. When I was on the parent side of the 2-way mirror, all I wanted was for Lucy to get all of her teacher's attention all of the time. No big deal. ;)

So how does that work practically?
We have the impossible task of giving each student as individual and appropriate an experience as we can. We have to go the distance for each kid as long as I would my own children. Even if my students' parents don't have time to call me or come chat with me at conferences, they still want the best for their child, so I owe that to them. 

21 November 2014

Socrative Interactive Assessment in 30 Seconds

I've written more about the Socrative app/website before, but have been tasked with presenting in a slim 25 minute window to our school staff, so I wanted to refine my experience to the elevator pitch.

Socrative is...
  • an app
  • a website
You can use Socrative on...
  • PCs
  • Macs
  • Tablets
  • Smartphones
I've used Socrative for...
  • exit slips
  • quick check-ins
  • surveys
  • test review
  • quizzes
  • unit exams
  • final exams
Socrative questions can be...
  • short answer
  • true/false
  • multiple choice
Quiz navigation can be...
  • student paced
  • teacher paced
  • randomly ordered
You could spend...
  • 5 seconds
  • 5 minutes
  • 5 hours
...preparing your assessment in Socrative.

It really is a versatile tool! For more info, read can read further about Socrative on this blog, or visit Socrative.com

18 November 2014

How Do You Define a "Calculator"?

As our technology shifts from being based on hardware (music player, camera, "computer," telephone, datebook, notebook) to based around software (all of those things living on your smartphone or tablet), we've also seen a shift in the tech capacity of our classrooms.

Humor me for a moment and tell me this - which of the following are "calculators?"

All images under Creative Commons license
Did I surprise you with any of those choices? There is probably some debate between #6-8, and the thought of 1 and 2 being very useful to you might be amusing, but my point is that what we call "calculator" has evolved to match the power of our technology. 

Most everyone I teach with grew up with access to a graphing calculator (even if it was a TI-81), so its quite natural to have your students use it in the same way, but there was a lot of debate in the 80s about whether or not kids should be using calculators, and then again in the 90s about kids using graphing calculators. 

To me, the next phase in this discussion is the use of physical calculators with algebra solvers or apps like PhotoMath (which I wrote about here) or HomeworkSolver (picture above as #8).

Similar to how students hover over the problem with their device's camera in PhotoMath and identical to how a student would use Wolfram Alpha, students enter the equation to be solved and what is returned to them is a step-by-step solution that gives them the value of the variable.

I found a kid using this app a couple of weeks ago while he was working on practice solving some level of inequalities. The discussion went something like this after he came to show me all of his answers.

"I'm done, Mr. Baker"
"Cool. Next time, do that all by yourself."
"What do you mean? I did do this!"
"Nah, man. I watched you over their on your phone looking at the answers."
"This is just a calculator!"
"No, calculators just do things like 9*6=54"
"You CAN do that on here." [which wasn't a lie]

I was kind of stuck. He was right. I finished with what I feel like is a cop-out answer: "Well, you can't use that in here." That's fine that I set that rule for class, and I am responsible for making sure this kid can solve an equation in Algebra 1, but it ignores the real debate.

What constitutes a "legal" calculator in your classroom? 

  • Is it scientific? (Better stop giving those order of operations problems, and operations with integers, then.)
  • Is it scientific with a muli-line display? (Don't assess your kids ability on fractions, then. Those have a fraction button. They also simply irrational numbers.)
  • Is it a graphing calculator? (Are kids "cheating" then if they use their calculator to produce a graph on their paper "by hand?")
Let's frame it in the context of our real job - which calculator best prepares our students for the "real-world" ahead of them?
If I'm answering that question for myself, the least I get to is to allow graphing calculators at all times, and I'm still on the fence about algebraic calculators. We need to change what we ask of kids in our curriculum, because we can't erase the technology.

11 November 2014

Student Tips for Dividing Polynomials by Monomials

I used one of my exit slip writing prompts today and these were the results. Some of them are actually useful, and others might only be useful to the kid who wrote them, but seeing the confidence on a kid's face when they leave knowing that they were able to give a tip about what we did in class is priceless.

07 November 2014

What's It Mean to Innovate?

Source: dictionary.com
Do you think of yourself as an innovative teacher?
What do you think of this definition?
verb (used without object)innovated, innovating.
1. to introduce something new; make changes in anything established.
It's all relative, I think. What may seem like innovative instructional methods (new, challenging to the establishment) could be common place somewhere else. What I might do with my students on my class iPads when we are writing or even drilling with interactive practice might look innovative to a teacher who doesn't have individual devices for each of their students, but would be ordinary in an established 1:1 environment.

Here's a quick list contemporary buzz-word areas of innovation:

  • STEM-integrated focus
  • STEAM-integrated focus
  • Game Based Learning
  • Project Based Learning
  • Flipped Classroom
  • Flat Classroom
  • Virtual School
  • Global Classroom
  • Parental Involvement
  • Special Needs Learning
  • Makers Spaces
  • Robotics
  • Coding
It doesn't take long reading blogs, scanning social media, or sitting at a technology conference to know that there is a wide range of implementation across education of all of the items listed above. Imagine you were in a school that does the flipped classroom very well and you were feeling very average as far as your implementation. If you were to move to a school in which NO ONE was flipping, you could make quite a name for yourself using the exact same instructional methods you had been using at your old school. When you have new skills and knowledge to share, don't you feel more innovative? I wonder if +Jon Bergmann still feels like an innovator now that he's been doing the flipped classroom for a decade. 

Do you have to be pushing the envelope on more than one of these areas to be "innovative," or just hitting one really well? Is there a layer of influence to earn the title of "innovator"? If you are the only teacher you know doing something new and no one knows about it, is it a "worthy" innovation?

Perhaps the answer is that "innovative" must be have a dynamic meaning because its definition is so subjective to its context. Remember, incandescent light bulbs were once an innovation.

Here's my own definition of innovative education technology practice as we teach at the end of 2014.

It should really go without saying that the teacher is using technology in the classroom, but where the "innovators" are defined begins in the varying degrees of student use of technology in the classroom. During an accreditation visit two years ago, we lost a lot of points for student use (or lack thereof) of technology in the building, so you don't have to be too far on the scale here to be a tech "innovator," but in a different setting, more would be required. 

So back to the "Are you an innovator" test. Let's just use the definition for where you are.
Are you making changes to what is established? Do you introduce new ideas?