31 May 2015

Is it Tech-Ready? 3D Solids Town Project

A large part of my job as self-appointed edtech evangelist in my building is seeking out opportunities for my colleagues to take something they are already doing that works well and take it to an even higher level with technology enabling them to learn more, share more, or show more.

Last week I was inspired by a 3D solids project my mentee and another Geometry teacher did earlier in the semester. I did a Google Sketchup project last year to assess 2D area, and one of the greatest tools in Sketchup is its ability to easily create 3D solids, so I asked Colleen and Emily if we could have a chat about their project.

Our discussion was centered on these 4 questions:
  • What were you assessing with this project?
  • Why did you choose to assess those goals this way?
  • How do you feel your project went?
  • Would using the technology bring added value to this project?

So is this project tech-ready? As far as simply evaluating ability to calculate surface area, volume, and write linear equations, I think it translates nicely, however (and I think this was a surprise to Emily), you do lose the physical, tangible skill reinforcement of measuring a physical object if you take this project into Sketchup. With the emphasis we're trying to place on graduating kids that have and/or are ready to gain technical skills, I think it might be worth it to keep this as a paper-based project, or at most provided Sketchup as an option.

I have really enjoyed seeing these projects on the walls the past month, and I'm impressed at the evolution it represented in instructional design from the last project these Geometry classes. It was a good integration of some Algebra concepts that are sometimes hard to put in the Geometry curriculum, particularly in this unit. However, since this is an ed tech AND math blog, let's explore some ways we could go further next year.

What are some things we could do to keep the tangible skills but still enhance the learning experience with this project?
  • We were talking about having kids check the workability of their word problems by having their classmates solve them - you could generate a rich feedback loop having kids post their problems on Google Classroom, a student blog, or Voicethread and require kids to respond and give feedback to a set number of their classmates. You could do the same on chart paper in the room, I think, but moving that opportunity online keeps the feedback more easily accessible (instead of a giant piece of chart paper), and opening up the number of people who could comment on any one student's problem.
  • Have students decide the surface area or volume they want for each 3d solid and then create and print the net for the solid themselves using image editing software. Even MS Paint would work. :)
  • Students chart the lines of their streets on an online graphing utility like Desmos, and just enter the placement of their physical 3d solids on their poster as coordinate points. This option would keep a map-making element to the project with a tool more approachable (and accessible) than Sketchup. 
What other ideas do you have, readers? Do you think the physical measuring skills are not worth the limitations they place on the type of product the kids can make and share? Is there something else we can use technology to enrich and enhance the experience while keeping the physical manipulatives?

27 May 2015

My PBIS Lottery System

I initially came up with idea of using a lottery system in your class as a universal, Tier 1 support for PBIS one year ago this week, but never felt the "need" to implement it until this semester. I got to a point where I felt like I had a handful of students negatively influencing a large percentage of my class to act out in ways that they did not usually exhibit in one-to-one interactions with me.

Let me address some criticisms that I had to address for myself first:
1. Kids should not have to be rewarded for good behavior. 

While I probably still believe that's true, my PBIS lottery system (to me at least) was far less about the reward and much more about being able to catch students doing good. It changes my attitude toward my students when I'm walking around the classroom looking for opportunities to hand out a ticket, than when I'm patrolling for off-task things to come down on. I, the TEACHER, feels better about my class as a whole on the days I give out more tickets, and I think the STUDENTS feel better about their relationship to me.

2. I don't want to spend a ton of money on this.

I had a mixture of monetary and privilege rewards. Over the 6 or 7 weeks I ran the lottery this semester, I think I ended up spending less than 15 dollars on candy that I bought at the dollar store. On "normal" weeks (the weeks I remembered to do the drawing on Friday and/or I felt like I had passed out a "fair" amount of tickets), I gave out ONE $1 candy bar/box of candy between all of my students. There were 2 Fridays in which I gave out a box in each of my hours because I had missed one (or two) lottery drawings on previous Fridays. Buying it all at once sort of felt like a lot because I have a general policy of never buying treats for my students, but spread out over the entire semester, it was money well spent.

Privilege rewards started as one kid per classing winning the right to listen to music on their headphones all week (which is, sort of (?) against the rules in our building, but worth the trouble it may have cost me for ONE kid in the room). After the first week, I added in privileges that made the tickets work more like class "money," which I'll discuss in the next bullet.

3. Kids aren't going to care about a small chance at candy.

For some kids, this did end up being true, for a couple of reasons. I had some students that I think legitimately valued me noticing them more than they valued candy. They didn't increase their positive behaviors because they wanted candy - they increased because they wanted me to notice. Those kids were a total win for this. For the other set of kids, after the first week, I added in the right to a hallpass, or a brand new pen/pencil for any kid that needed one for the price of one ticket. This actually made the tickets much more valuable, and solved a huge problem for me that I don't like NOT allowing kids to have the freedom to use the restroom, but had set up an environment for myself in which I was making the decision for a kid dozens of times a day. For my own sanity and free cognitive capacity to actually TEACH, I let any kid go (during an appropriate point in the lesson) if they had a ticket.

So, should YOU try out a classroom lottery?
Yes, yes, you definitely should. There were several kids that I think the lottery ended up saving our relationship this semester from being terrible to at least civil, but more so, for the change in ME that I felt/experienced.

I felt a lot of joy being able to reward the behaviors/actions I was trying to encourage without feeling like I was taking money from my family or giving away too much of myself emotionally. I noticed a difference in my attitude toward my students even period to period if I forgot to have my tickets ready for one of my classes.

(As some of my students pointed out on my end of semester survey), it really gets under my skin some days when my level of care for my students' learning/character was much higher than their own. While I can hope that eventually those problems will iron out with wisdom and/or maturity, even if they never do, I can control MY attitude, and on many days, this lottery was the tool that got me through the hour with my sanity.

Logistical concerns:
The first thing I did was draw up some tickets with the design tool on Canva.com (which I also often use for graphics on this blog and my school's website. It's awesome.)
You can export from Canva as a PDF or PNG - the PDF version of this page provided a MUCH nicer product. The PNG wound up with a lot of pixelation.

To keep kids from potentially photocopying the tickets, after I printed a sheet, I numbered them by hand in series. A couple times I forgot what number I had left off on - that didn't really matter so much as that they were numbered at all. The two times I had no idea what number I was on, I just started at the next whole hundred. (I left off somewhere in 04**, but couldn't remember exactly, so the next time, I just started at 0500).

This is how they ended up looking when passed out.
For the drawings, I used a random Halloween bucket that a teacher had left in the back of my room at some point in the past. It wasn't secure, so I had to just take the tickets immediately before the drawing, but it was good for getting your hand in their and shuffling the tickets.

My Next Steps
I definitely plan to continue my lottery during summer school this year, although I may have to increase the frequency of drawings since the whole "term" is only 2 weeks for one of my classes.

The most PBIS-y component of lottery that was missing was that I never posted an official list of positive things students could do to earn tickets. Most students picked up on the implicit messages of "Do your work," "Volunteer for something," "have your scientific calculator," and "ask a good question," but posting a list was something that I know I SHOULD do, but never got around to. Its a matter of equity in knowing the classroom procedures.

26 May 2015

The Worst Way A Student Makes You Feel Uncompassionate

 A student makes several mistakes of effort, attitude, or has just struggled with the content and is certain for a failing grade, yet comes to you right before the end of the term asking if they "still have a chance of passing." 

You've provided numerous retake opportunities, assessed in multiple formats, and taken other late work in an attempt to get as many kids over the hump, but you STILL feel like crap telling a kid they aren't going to get credit.

I'm sure this is a sign of compassion for my students, but it's super frustrating, right? As teachers, we can spot these situations coming by midterms, we try the things WE can to save the ship, but until the light bulb comes on for the student, our hands are tied.

How do we recover from this (to face the torture with just as much heart and compassion next year):
1. Expect continual improvement from yourself.

What leaves me open to guilt about these students is self-doubt that there was something else I could have done to save this student. "If only I'd..." If you can find peace with yourself that you continued to perfect your practice in the art and science of teaching, then I think you can silence a lot of your own what-ifs.

2. Conference with the student about the course failure.

You''re hoping they at least learn something from the experience, right? I had a reflection piece in my final this semester that asked the students what content skills and academic skills they learned this semester. With the particular student that prompted the image above, after giving her 2 more chances at a retake test over semester material, she said, "but I can't do any better - I don't know this stuff." My next point to her was that her statement told ME that the grade was a good reflection of what she had learned. "But I need my credit..." Maybe she could use more conferencing. ;)

3. Find a way to make someone else's day. 

The reason you teach is to care for children, change their lives, and make someone's day. So you didn't shine rainbows for this student on this day, but finding another student to share with might leave you with a more even scorecard.

22 May 2015

Can Your Students Hide?

The schools that we need demand different. They need to support the open and transparent world that is exploding around education. This begins with pushing students into the center of the ring. In the center, there is no room to hide. It is a place of full engagement where real questions about real issues are being addressed with real solutions that will impact real people. - Dr. Robert Dillon, @ideaguy42

I was reading the preface in my friend Bob Dillon's first book tonight and was struck quickly by this paragraph. 

I've attempted several different ways to make this school year we're wrapping up next year the most student-centered, project/problem-based, and driven by student collaboration and conversation. What I found out quickly (and continued to observe) was that its been more evident than any of my 7 years teaching this year what students can or cannot do, which students are putting in the work, and which students are waiting on me to do most of the work of learning.

I think its safe to say I've had the most real conversations this year and talked about more "other" things beyond math (in the midst of projects) this year in the midst of communicating rationales and learning objectives and developing hooks for my students. 

I think its also safe to say I've had the most cries this semester that I "never teach." That "[the students] don't do anything in this class." That "[some students] haven't learned anything in here." A lot of the time a kid makes these complaints about not doing anything or not learning anything, that kid is more right than he or she is wrong. Particularly if their idea of "learning" is that I go through examples at my SMARTboard, give them a worksheet, and then expect them to regurgitate the process on a quiz a few days later. Things get messier when you try to push students to the center because things get less predictable. The importance of relationship (or lack thereof) in learning becomes more evident.

When you can't hide, you feel uncomfortable if you're used to living in the shadows, right? You're vulnerable. Your weaknesses are exposed and you can only survive on your strengths for so long. Coming out of hiding and thriving is only something that happens if you are in an environment safe for risk and vulnerability?

How do you model this?
How do you get your students to buy-in to change?

Even if students were not particularly successful in traditional lecture-homework-quiz-test/project classrooms, I've found they still might prefer that model because although they have more autonomy in a more student-driven classroom, they also have more responsibility (and accountability) for their learning. The more I've allowed my students to dictate what we do in class, the more I've seen this push-back from some of my students. 

This post has become one of those more-questions-than-answers type of discussions, which I guess is reflective of where I'm at with it practically. I WANT a more student-centered classroom, my students NEED a more relevant, responsive classroom, I know how learning like this looks for MYSELF, but I'm got several challenges I don't yet know how to address in my CLASSROOM.

What do you know, readers? Can students hide in your room? What's your student-centered classroom go-to strategy?

20 May 2015

He REALLY Said That! - Episode 8 - Can You Be Replaced By a Youtube Channel?

Sparked by reflections on conversations I've had with students the last couple years about flipped classroom models and their perceptions of teachers who use them, I signed up for a session at last Saturday's EdcampSTL Express titled "Can You Be Replaced By a Youtube Channel?"

The conversation went so well on Saturday, I wanted to extend it with my colleagues at school.

In this episode, Ed and I sat down with a history teacher in our building to talk about YouTube content, the importance of relationship, and what really constitutes "learning" as defined by credits on a transcript.

Subscribe to the He REALLY Said That Podcast! iTunes | other devices

03 May 2015

Is YOUR School #FutureReady? Here's What Some Students Said -

I had to pleasure of "crashing" the St. Louis Regional Future Ready School Summit last week as a part of the volunteer team, so I've been reflecting a lot on my own practices, some of the decisions we make as a school that we do have control over, the decisions our district makes that I have no control over, and how all of that meshes together to affect the "future readiness" of my students (and figuring out what that really means.)

According to the Future Ready website from the +U.S. Department of Education, a #FutureReady school commits to...
  • Fostering and Leading a Culture of Digital Learning Within Our Schools.
    • Future Ready district leadership teams work collaboratively to transform teaching and learning using the power of technology to help drive continuous improvement. We work together to protect student privacy and to teach students to become responsible, engaged, and contributing digital citizens.
  • Helping Schools and Families Transition to High-speed Connectivity.
    • Future Ready districts conduct comprehensive diagnostic assessments of the district’s technology infrastructure and develop a sustainable plan to ensure broadband classroom connectivity and wireless access. Future Ready districts work with community partners to leverage local, state, and federal resources to support home Internet access outside of traditional school hours.
  • Empowering Educators through Professional Learning Opportunities.
    • Future Ready districts strive to provide everyone with access to personalized learning opportunities and instructional experts that give teachers and leaders the individual support they need, when they need it. Future Ready districts provide tools to help teachers effectively leverage learning data to make better instructional decisions.
  • Accelerating Progress Toward Universal Access for All Students to Quality Devices.
    • Future Ready districts work with necessary stakeholders to ensure that all students and educators across the district have regular access to devices for learning. Future Ready districts develop tools to support a robust infrastructure for managing and optimizing safe and effective use of technology, so students have opportunities to be active learners, creating and sharing content, not just consuming it.
  • Providing Access to Quality Digital Content.
    • Future Ready districts align, curate, create, and consistently improve digital materials and apps used in the support of learning. Future Ready districts use carefully selected high quality digital content that is aligned to college and career ready standards as an essential part of daily teaching and learning. Teachers are able to share, discover, and adapt openly-licensed materials and teaching plans.
  • Offering Digital Tools to Help Students And Families #ReachHigher.
    • Future Ready districts make digital resources available that help access expanded college, career, and citizenship opportunities. Future Ready districts promote ways to leverage technology to expand equity through digital activities such as completion of the FAFSA online, virtual counseling services, college scholarship search tools, and online advising access, all of which help to return America to the nation in the world with the highest college completion rate by 2020.
  • Mentoring Other Districts and Helping Them Transition to Digital Learning.
    • Future Ready districts work to design, implement, and share their technology plans. Future Ready districts join regional summits, participate in an online Connected Superintendents community of practice, and publish their Future Ready technology plan at a site such aswww.MyDistrict.org/FutureReady.
How is YOUR school doing on these measures? The Dept of Ed partnered with +AT&T and +McGraw Hill to offer a dashboard to district leadership teams for self-assessment, planning and data tracking. Its a great tool for focusing your team on the vague idea of "21st century learning."

After the first day of the summit, I was curious what my own students thought about that, so for my second day out, I left the following writing prompt for them:
The way I wrote the prompt, the kids understandably took it down to their experience as students, but I was surprised to the extent that many of them said it was because their teachers didn't care about them. I don't know how different the results may have been with higher performing students (these were my juniors/seniors who have failed at least 1 semester of math and many of which will not move on to Algebra 2), or with kids from a different district, but rather than focusing on student use of technology and the lack thereof in most of our classrooms, the narrative I saw developing as I transcribed in the handwritten responses were that my school is failing students (in the sense of not fulfilling our mandate to prepare them for what's next) not because of irrelevant work, but mostly because teachers either did not care, were not good teachers, or both.

You can read the full text of student responses here.

The ones who DID respond positively usually referred to career and technical ed classes we offer (business, food, Project Lead the Way), or in offering the ACT or scholarship information, which almost hits on the second to last Future Ready principal listed above, but still discounts the technology that can be leveraged to enhance those opportunities.

I've also included a few word clouds trying to best visualize the narrative I saw developing. If you read the full responses, I think you'll agree none of these quite "get" it, but the ones where "don't" is most prominent come close.

So what do you DO with this information?
I'm pretty sure part of the discrepancy between their responses and the Future Ready principals was a combination of the way I worded the prompt and the students' own experiences. Obviously they wouldn't have anything to say about teachers' professional learning opportunities or mentoring other districts in digital learning.

What I DO take away from this is that a school's first priority should be in setting up procedures and systems that let students know implicitly and explicitly that they are cared for and who they are and will become matters. The Summit welcomed Dr. Tiffany Anderson of +Jennings School District, a district close to mine that has taken the pledge and seen a significant turn around from unaccreditation to accreditation in the last several years to tell the Jennings story.  Dr. Anderson laid out three principles they use to guide decisions in the district: relationship, pedagogy, and curriculum. I think its easy to tighten up pedagogy and curriculum - those are processes and fixed by training. Relationship is harder because relationships get hard and ugly sometimes. Relationships are made of people and people mess up.

The day can best be summed up for me and my students in what I tweeted just as Dr. Anderson was wrapping up with her experience guiding the students through understanding and expressing their feelings surrounding the Michael Brown and #Ferguson protests in our community last fall.