I didn't just play videos games...

As I get ready to return to work on Monday from my holiday break I want to reflect on what I have learned over the past two weeks. Besides learning that potty training is still difficult and that I am not as good at playing video games as I once was, I did gain a lot from the numerous conversations I have had with my PLN. I have broken them down into a few categories below...hopefully you will find something interesting of valuable to your teaching.

Motivational Post:
This post from George Couros was one that I found particularly motivating. This has already given me some ideas that I will be working on in the coming weeks. If you have not read this, check it out.

Favorite New Tool:
This site I originally found on Angela Maier’s blog. It is a great collaboration tool where you can share our desktop with multiple people called "join me". I am thinking of how cool it would be in PD sessions as well as the classroom. Rather than interrupting the entire class I can connect with a small group of students and do individual help and tailor it to the individual student or small group. Very cool potential for collaborative work with colleagues as well.

Subject Area Resources:
I have picked up a lot of subject area resources over the holiday break as well. Many are from Richard Byrne’s blog which is a great resource for all subject areas.They are listed below by subject area as well as a few others I picked up in twitterverse of the break. If you have not been to Richard's blog yet, you need to make a point to check this site regularly and add it to your reader.

Art and Music:
Social Science:
Language Arts:

Lie To Your Kids

After last night’s #ecosys conversation my head was spinning with thoughts and ideas and even more questions. The basis of our great conversation was around the role of parents in education. With that in mind I went back and looked over the tweets and wanted to expand some of my thoughts into a post on what I think a parent’s role should be. Before I get into that understand that I am both a parent and a teacher so I do sit on both sides of the fence. With that being said, these are simply my thoughts and not a policy I have implemented or one present in my school. As a teacher I adhere to the things I have list and as a parent I follow these items myself.

Putting together a list of expectations or guidelines for parents is especially difficult because all families are different and therefore should not be treated with a wholesale approach. Here are things that I feel are expectations that I would like to have and I feel are not too specific to create hurdles for any families.

• Read to/with your child every day. I encourage you to go behind just the Dr. Seuss books (even though I love them!) and create a variety of reading opportunities for your child. If you don’t have access to many books at home borrow or lend of libraries or friends.

• Ask your child every single day about how school was and don’t accept “fine” or “ok” as acceptable answers.

• Lie to them if you need to. This may seem like a bad one but hear me out. In school you might have hated math with a burning passion. If you tell your child that, they will inevitably hate math as well. Personally, I hate black olives and made the mistake of making a comment about this one night when ordering pizza. Ever since that day my oldest son will not eat them even though he used to like them. He just wants to be like dad and most kids do. So, don’t crush your child’s love for learning because of your personal experiences.

• Get your child to school every single day on time. If they ride a bus, make sure they get there. If you drive them, then get them there on time.

• Attend open houses and parent-teacher conferences. Show your child that you care and want to learn how they are doing and want to see their work. My son loves it when my wife or I come into his class to read or play with him.

• Ask questions, ask questions, ask questions. If you are not sure about a grade, activity, or assignment please email or call the teacher immediately. As a parent it is your right to understand what your child is doing and being asked to do.

• Trust, honor, and truly believe that teachers want the best for your child. When you have a question or concern, have this idea in the back of your head.

In making this short list I also thought it necessary to put some guideline for teachers when working with parents. It seemed only fair! Here is a list of teacher expectations when working with parents.

• Treat parents as teammates and not adversaries. We are all on the same team with the goal of student learning.

• Call or email parents regularly if nothing else to tell them their child is doing well.

• Be aware that every family dynamic is different and therefore should be treated differently. Don’t make assumptions based on your personal experiences or stereotypes.

• Make yourself available to parents so they see you as an approachable person. If you see a parent at the mall talk to them…not about their child! Attend an after school event like a sporting event or music concert. Let parents see you as a person and not just a teacher.

• Communication, communication, communication. Be crystal clear in your expectations for student behavior, work, and grades. Parents want to know what you expect of their child in every aspect of class so be overt about this. Don’t force them to guess.

At the end of the day most parents don’t view teachers as approachable and most teachers see parents as an unavoidable part of the job. This is unfortunate and unacceptable when thinking about the child involved. Parents and teachers need to work together to use every possible resource to help a child succeed. Key to all of this is to open lines of communicate and have a relationship beyond the twice a year parent teacher conferences you’re required to do.

6 Videos to Motivate and Inspire

Below are a few of my personal favorite videos that relate to my work as a teacher. Please feel free to share and comment if you have one that I am missing!

This video is an advertisement for the new Windows cell phone. I like this video for one key reason. We need to unplug from technology and plug into the world around us. Sometimes we are so caught up in our blogs, tweets, updates, and youtube that we lose sight of the critically important things right in front of us which to me is people. Whether it is your students, children, spouses, of friends, we need to not lose sight of those human connections that are still of vital importance even in this digital world.

This next video was recently blogged about by George Courus and I cannot get enough of the video. I can’t believe that I see educational worth in a Katy Perry song, but I do. Not only does this song have an inspirational message but what the high school kids did was nothing short of amazing. The collaboration and effort that went into making this video in inspiring to me as a teacher. It speaks volumes to what kids can achieve when they work together towards a common goal. Also, this is an experience that I am sure everyone of those kids will carry with them for the rest of their lives.

Bullying is a pretty hot topic right now across our country with too many negative examples to point to. This video is a nicely done anti-bulliyng PSA that has a great message. There are no words but you can clearly identify what is being done and the message being sent. I think it hits the role of the bystander in the bullying-victim dynamic and how a simple gesture can stop bullying and make a huge difference.

After you watch this video I think the message will be crystal clear…no excuses, ever! This is a video that applies to athletics, education, and every facet of life that I can think of. As a person, you need to look at what you have and use that to accomplish your goals rather than looking at what you don’t and using that as an excuse.

The next video is very short but is one that I play quite often and is my current ring tone on my phone. It is my two year old son making a bold statement that he is Superman. Why would I include this? I did because as a two year old he thinks he is and can be Superman. He has never been told he can’t do something and therefore has dreams with no limits. I hope that we can all feel the same way and dream big as educators, parents, students and whatever other role we play. We can all be Superman if we want to and work hard enough!

The last video is one that is no surprise to any educator out there. It needs no introduction but is surely worthy of a re-watch even if you have seen it. Daniel Pink explores what motivates us and it goes against what most people would think. It is great food for thought and has clear connections to our work as educators.

Self-Directed or Participatory Learning

Tonight’s #edchat topic is the role of participatory learning in schools. If you are like me, that term is foreign to you. In my world we use the term self-directed learning. While I think those terms are interchangeable I wanted to dig up some resources for those that this might be a new concept for.

In my own experience self-directed learning is an integral part of our school district’s mission statement. Therefore, we put a lot of emphasis on it and it is a focus within our planning and instruction. First, there are two things that are often misinterpreted at self-directed or participatory learning. Number one is that a student simply participating in class you is an example of participatory learning. That is not true. The second misinterpreted activity is what some teachers call “seat-work”. They think that if a student is working quietly at their desk they are engaged in self-directed learning. Again, this is not true.

Self-directed or participatory learning implies that a student is involved in every aspect of their learning. There is inherent choice in what they do and how they choose to demonstrate their learning. When appropriate they are also involved in the planning of learning activities. Below are some additional resources for more in depth information as well as light reading before tonight’s discussion.
  • Review this overview of the philosophy behind self directed learning. This also includes a listing of some of the benefits of self-directed learning as well the role of the teacher.
  • Here is a post with some references to Howard Gardner’s work with multiple intelligences and a discussion of what the author refers to as the attainment model.
  • This is a very in depth post on the various stages of a self-directed learning model.
  • Look over this wikipedia post about “informal learning” which is loosely related to self-directed learning.
  • Check this post out about self-directed learning in a specific gifted setting with links to some other resources.

Grades for Learning or Learning to get Grades?

Teachers have to give homework and have to grade everything their students do. This is a belief that many teachers still hold and certainly the belief that nearly all students and parents have. I remember as a student asking my own teachers, “Will this be on the test?” If the answer to that was, “yes” I would make a note to write that down or study that a bit harder. At the end of the day I knew that my grades determined my class rank, my GPA, and ultimately played a role in my college choices. I was less concerned about what I was learning and more concerned about what my transcript looked like. If I was asked to redo an assignment and it was not going to change my grade, I would have probably passed on the opportunity. For me, school was about learning to get grades, not getting grades for learning.

Today students are still concerned with these items because they are still key indicators to at least get our foot into a college door. I don’t see a future where grades are completely out the door. As long as colleges look at class rank and GPA, we will need to provide a grade for every student.

So, how do we change the grade obsessed culture that we have in our schools? Well, as I have written about before, standards based grades is a start. For one, it takes homework out of the equation as far as a graded item and grades are purely a reflection of learning towards a set of standards. Homework is viewed as practice for an assessment activity. As a basketball coach, I don’t grade my players on how well they practice; it is the game that counts. However, my players know the relationship between practicing hard and the results in a game. Why would that be any different in a classroom? Partly because school has culturally centered around a grading philosophy that graded homework, participation, group work, compliance, assessments and nearly every single thing a student did while they were in the classroom. In my classes, more than 70% of the work that I ask students to engage in is NOT graded…and they do it anyway! My students are seeing the connection between the work we do in class and the assessments at the end of a section/chapter/unit.

Another step to take is to devalue grades. Don’t make them a point of celebration or punishment. Celebrate the learning successes of the students without a letter grade being the means of that celebration. Many of us have online grade books that parents can access 24/7 to see how their child is doing. I do not keep my grade book as up to date online for a reason. I hold on posting my grades until a student has had multiple opportunities to provide mastery of a skill. This way, parents can see only a final result rather than the entire process. This helps a student focus on the learning activities and not their current letter grade or average in the class. With that being said a critical component of the parent piece which is important to me. Due to me not posting grades as regularly, I am in constant contact with any parent who has a student who might be struggling. My conversations with them are around their learning and not a grade that has been posted. This also shifts parent teacher conferences that used to center around grades and now to learning targets and overall learning progress.

Wrapped up in all this is still that underlying question that a student will ask which is, “Is this going to count in my grade?” As teachers continue to evolve grading practices to reflect more student learning than compliant behaviors that question should change to, “Is this going to count in my learning?”

Things will go wrong...

As many of us head back to work tomorrow, or if you are lucky like me you will be heading back the following week, we think of the second half of the school year. If you are like me you are excited about the new things you will be trying whether it is a new lesson idea, web 2.0 applications, or technology tool. Another thing that we often do is try to prepare for those things that will not go our way. I am a realist and know that there will be problems, hiccups, and things that will not go as I plan all the time. As I teach my students, I am going to get my crystal ball out and predict what will go wrong in 2011 in my classroom. However, I will also think out a solution which is a skill I try to impart on my students as well.

Problem: The internet will go out when I have an entirely internet based lesson and an administrator in observing.

Solution: I will get into my bag of tricks and use this as a teachable moment for both me and my students. Regardless of the topic, I will have students discuss and collaborate alternative activities with the same goal of the original one. I will get out the poster board, textbooks, LRC resources, and whatever resources available that day to get my students to reach the day’s target.

Problem: I will have a student miss two weeks of school that will include either a new unit or an assessment and I will have to play catch-up.

Solution: While the student is out, I will send home lesson materials in the form of handouts, videos, readings or anything else that mirrors what we are doing in class. I will differentiate the work so that it works for the student’s current circumstances but arrives at the same result as those in class.

Problem: I will have a great website/tool that I discover at home and when I get to school it will be blocked.

Solution: I will use my PLN on Twitter to find an alternate site that does the same thing. In addition, I will work with my school administration to show its value and work on getting it unblocked.

Problem: I will have a parent blame me for a student’s grade or progress in my class.

Solution: I will be open in my grading procedures and provide constant and comprehensive feedback on all graded assignments. This will help parents understand what their child’s grade is and how it was determined. Key is to keep parents informed and on the same side in regards to their child's education. I will invite the parent in for a conversation to avoid the miscommunication that often takes place via email communication.

Problem: A student will refuse to participate in a class activity or complete an assigned task.

Solution: I will assign tasks and construct activities that maximize engagement for all learners. If there is a specific task that a student refuses to do, I will offer them choice in an alternative activity that will meet that same learning target.

Problem: The paper towels will run out in the 7th grade hallway right after I have completed rinsing my hands.

Solution: I will shake my hand vigorously and I walk to the other boy’s bathroom in search of a full paper towel dispenser. I will then ask my custodian to fill the empty dispenser! :)

I encourage you to make your list of potential problems simply as a way of recognizing them before they hit you right in the face. Then you can be prepared and they will not be nearly as big of a stressor or a problem.

Student Projects

I wanted to step off the soap-box for a few moments to share some student work that will hopefully generate some ideas for those of you returning to work after your holiday break. All of these are my students and work they did for my classes.

The first video was created by a student as part of a special feature we did for our incoming 5th grade students. One of the most difficult thing for incoming 6th graders is the combination locks on their lockers. So, one of my computer club students made this at home and we used it in our orientation video.

This next video was done by a student in place of a book report in my Language Arts class. The students had to do a review of a biography and present it in any format or manner they wanted to. This student chose a stop-motion style video to share the major plot of his story.

Another video worth sharing was done by a student in my Social Science class. He chose to create a small video about King John and the creation of the Magna Carta. While this is very short, for a 6th grade student, he understand the basic concepts behind the creation of this important document.

The final video is one that have numerous examples of. In my Language Arts classes we do vocabulary activities and one of the things students often choose to do is to create a video with their word(s). This was done by a few students with one of their words.

All of these examples were done by 6th grade students as part of an assignment in which I gave them choice in the product they created. I always tell them where they need to go, but never how to get there...