Tuesday, November 10, 2015

My Blog has a New Home

Please visit: http://www.middleschoolmind.com/the-teachers-blog

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Photo Essays: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

The Global Oneness Project is a great resource for photo essays, this one is called “People of the Clouds”. I loved how these photo essays captured the culture of a group of people and told their story. Follow The Global Oneness Project on Twitter @goproject for free multimedia stories and lessons.

*Check the content first, some stories may be too graphic for the age group that you are teaching.

A photo essay would be a great lesson in any class. Visual literacy can be applied to any subject or content area. I would like to have students create and present a photo essay that shares their culture, or tells their story. I thought this would be a great way to get to know students in the early part of the school year. Students could create a slideshow of their photo essay and share it with the class. If you have a class Instagram, blog or website students can share their photo essays, comment and ask each other questions, so they get to know each other better as well. I think this would be a great community building project.  I also like that a photo essay isn’t something that will scare a struggling reader/writer or English language learner.

Some ideas for photo essay topics in every subject area:

  • All: A photo essay about school culture  
  • Math/Science: A photo essay of the real world applications of a math or science concept
  • History: A photo essay on the topic of civil rights in a then vs. now format
  • Science: A photo essay about a local environmental issue or concern
  • Math: A photo essay that illustrates geometric concepts in everyday things that you see
  • All: A photo essay of a class field trip
  • English: A photo essay illustrating a theme from a novel that is being read either as a class or as a book report alternative for independent reading

I will update this post and share some examples from my class once we have completed a project. I would love to hear your ideas for using photo essays in the classroom as well.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Back to School...Like a Pirate

"Weigh Anchor!" 
Get the year started right by setting the tone for the kind of journey you are about to embark upon. I want my students to leave my room on that first day, and every day-ideally, filled with excitement and curiosity for what will come next. I want them to go home and start checking stuff out online because they want to learn more. When their parents ask how their first day went, I want them to be gushing with enthusiasm over how much fun school is. I am pretty sure that having a lecture about rules is not going to incite any exuberance about school. I know I don't want to come back to my first day of staff development to listen to a lecture about what I am not allowed to do. Before my first day, I am incredibly excited about the possibilities of all of the new things I am going to do. What better way to crush this hope than sitting through a forty five minute lecture about what you can't do?

Pirate code of conduct: 
"I can't wait to go back to school and learn the rules!" said no kid, ever.

I can't fake excitement about rules during a lecture, so I made a slideshow of memes that illustrate some of my pet peeves. After all, I teach middle school, by this time they have heard the similar versions of essentially the same rules at least six times already. I don't want to beat a dead horse and risk being "that teacher". Speaking of "that teacher", I have them create memes for how they expect me to behave as well...what's good for the captain, is good for the crew, right?

"Walk the Plank!" 
Early in my career, I was advised by a veteran teacher, "It's best to start off 'mean' and get 'nice' later. If you start off 'nice' and the class is out of control you can't change to being 'mean'." I am paraphrasing here because this was about fifteen years ago. I'm sure the teacher didn't say "mean", but that was the gist of it. I am ashamed to admit that I payed it forward and shared that wisdom with a new teacher a year or so later. It's been so many years that I don't remember now who I gave that advice to, so I am publicly walking the plank now. My new advice: go read "Create Culture First...Not Rules" on Don Wettrick's blog. There are so many better ways to start the school year! If you have more than five minutes to spare, go through my Storify of the #tlap (Teach Like A Pirate) chat all about back to school, there are tons of great ideas in there.

"Fire in the hole!"
I'm embracing the nickname given to me by a student, Ms. Marshmallow, and I'm going to kick off our adventures in middle school with a marshmallow challenge. I've got my "Stay Puft" beanie and Ghostbusters marshmallow poppers ready. We do a lot of collaborative work in my class and I want to teach them my expectations for their behavior through experience and discussion.

So scupper that lecture and start your year off right!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Student Groups for PBL

How many of you have had that sinking feeling when your teacher informs you that you are going to be doing a group project?

(Insert collective groan here)
hangover meme.jpg
There are so many benefits to working on a project with a group of people, but it can be a negative experience if you aren't working with the right group of people. I've tried many group making strategies including picking Popsicle sticks, letting students choose their own groups, and this random colored cube strategy:
  All of these strategies have produced very random results. Some groups end up being a great fit and very productive, having a great time coming up with a fantastic result; while others argue, participate in disruptive behavior, and turn in an incomplete project.
In an effort to create harmonious groups that not only work well together, but also complete their project on time, I have come up with an inventory of personality quizzes. Identifying your personality type, as well as your strengths that the group can capitalize on, will make your group experience more positive. After all, if you have a group of four people that are all “performers”, but no one with strong organization or reasoning skills, your presentation may be entertaining, but incomplete or lacking in supportive data. A well rounded group has a performer to present, an organizer that makes sure tasks are completed on time, a researcher that focuses on evidence, and a leader that makes sure everyone is included, doing their part, and disagreeing in a scholarly way.


Jung Typology Test:

There are several other types of tests here in the bar at the top if you want to take other quizzes.

Your own analysis-2 resources for further reflection:

Watch this video and decide for yourself :

Find out which faction you would belong in: http://divergentthemovie.com/aptitudetest

I don’t believe these tests are a complete description of who you are as a person. Most likely, you are sometimes one way and sometimes another. It is a tool for self reflection on where your strengths are, that can allow us to create diversely talented teams for different purposes.
Please take some time to take one (the last one that I made is mandatory) or all of these quizzes and use the data collection sheet to analyze your results. I believe that the more quizzes you take, the more data you will have, and the more accurate your findings will be. I took all of these quizzes and was an INTJ nearly every time. After reflecting on your data, comment on this post with your personality type, your identifying color (this comes from my quiz) and what it says about you. Of course, a shameless Star Wars plug is always acceptable too.

A note to teachers: I worked really hard on making this quiz, and have had friends and family take it and we all have agreed that the result are accurate. That being said, there are many pop culture references in my quiz, ie. Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Divergent, that make this quiz more appropriate for middle/high school students.  

   If you would like to use this, a link to my google doc is here.  To find images similar to the Star Wars chart, google search (topic MBTI) ex: "Lord of the Rings MBTI". I would love to hear from you if you do try this out and you have any suggestions for edits.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Discouraging Genius: Is College Prep Killing Creativity?

"Students know how to play the game, and the current game doesn't reward creativity, risk, or choice."

   When will institutions of higher education support creativity and innovation? The current selection process for admissions emphasizes grades and test scores, while teachers are talking about moving away from grades and standardized testing has never been more unpopular, as evidenced by the opt-out movement this year. What does "college and career ready" really mean? How does a GPA or SAT prove that you have humanity, humility, or leadership skills? It may prove expertise, but according to Google, this is the least important of five attributes they are looking for in a new hire.

   This is my Sasha, and she has been playing this get into college game since middle school. 

   She was identified as "off the charts" gifted early on in school. She was a high-achieving "teacher-pleaser", and a "maker" before it was a movement. In a parent teacher conference, her 3rd grade teacher complained of the garbage she would collect in her desk and all of the creations she would be making out of said garbage. Her room at home was even worse; boxes and containers of castaways waiting to be given new life. When a tool is missing, I go to her room to find it; and it's often accompanied by parts of a dismantled electronic device.

   Now approaching her junior year in high school, she has expressed an interest in coding. With the AP class load that she is taking to get into college, she must choose between continued growth in an area she loves, art, or exploring a new interest in coding, because taking fewer AP courses isn't an option. She does like the AP courses, especially the sciences. I thought I could find her a summer course to learn coding, but these AP courses require a great amount of "homework" during the summer; making exploring learning opportunities, during what was once free time, more difficult. During the school year, after school time is completely consumed with sports and homework-no free time there. 

   I try to discourage "grade chasing" over dream chasing, but I am fighting a losing battle against high school counselors that are pushing this college bound agenda. At times, I also feel like I am fighting my child, as well as a culture that tells her that getting into a good college is the defining moment in her young life. She was worrying over what classes she was taking in middle school to be on track to get into the right classes in high school in order to be college bound. I'm unsure where this comes from, she isn't getting this pressure from me. If anything, I discourage college by sharing resources like these with her. 

   I don't buy into the idea that college is the key to success in life, or even that it's necessary. Yet I feel the pressure for her to attend college, like I have failed as a parent if I can't figure out a way to come up with $40,000 a year to pay for it-on a teacher's salary; while still paying for my own college loans. It's not that I don't want my child to go to college, but at what cost? Set aside the rising cost of books and tuition, is college worth the price of a childhood? Why is she so willing to set aside the things she loves in exchange for a degree that may or may not open some unknown door to future success?

Update: The Cycle Continues

   A few days ago, my two daughters and I were having lunch and Sasha says, "I have to take SATs this year." 
   I said to her, "It's summertime, are you really going to start worrying about that already? Come on." She spent months worrying over the PSAT last year.
   My younger child asks, "What's an SAT?"
   Sasha explains is to her in the simplest terms, "It's a test that tells you if you are smart, and if you get to go to college." I wanted to bang my head on the table. She read this post; I wouldn't publish something about her without her approval. She knows how I fell about it; and now she is passing these ideas to her sister. 
   I came across this video while reading a blog today and it is a better response than anything that I could come up with.

   Her painting is finished now, and I am encouraging her to set up her own Etsy shop and sell her artwork.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Are You A Hero?

While researching and planning for a curriculum unit about social justice, I came across 
The Six Attributes of Courage and it occurred to me that during this time of great change in education, these are the attributes that teachers need to have. These are my reflections on my experience with these attributes of courage this year on my quest to become a "techie":

  1. Feeling fear yet choosing to act: Technology isn't going away, and as an older teacher with very little technological skills I had to make a choice: Act or become obsolete myself. I have always had a profound love for learning, as I think most teachers do, but for some reason, technology is very scary. I have decided to view technology as a learning opportunity, rather than the mysterious thing hiding in the shadows of the closet. In a single school year I am blogging, my class is blogging, we are making cool videos and infographics, and so much more. I've experienced more professional development through the PLN that I have found on Twitter in a single school year than I probably have had in my entire 16 years of teaching. I am also more connected with parents and students. Today a student explained to me on my class Instagram page how to contact Siri, and my coworkers think I'm some kind of a tech guru-boy have I fooled them.
  2. Following your heart: Creating a learning environment where students are valued and want to come to school is very important to me. I have no interest in trying to cram my ideas down someone's throat for them to regurgitate. The best ideas that we come up with are just that, WE come up with them. I enjoy going to school because of the learning. I learn from and with my students every day; we are a team.
  3. Persevering in the face of adversity: Six desktop computers that run off of two brains, and a very strict no cell phone policy is a challenge. I polled my class once and only half have cell phones, even less have a computer with internet access at home. I am not going to let a lack of technology, out-dated technology, or my own lack of knowledge get in the way of progress. We are innovators and we find ways to integrate what we have in such meaningful ways that it doesn't matter that I don't have the coolest technology. I use what I can and the pedagogy is on point.
  4. Standing up for what is right: The digital divide is my current cause. Becoming a connected educator has had many benefits, but has been equally revealing of the disparities that continue to persist in our education system. In a previous post on this topic I explained that when I bought myself an iPad, I thought that meant I had a 1:1 classroom (1 iPad for 1 class). I went to a training and chose a session on 1:1 classrooms and quickly realized my error and how much of an advantage students at other schools had over my students. Another disadvantage I noticed was how much on-going training teachers in other schools were getting. So, I continue to look for ways to get funding for tech and pursue every opportunity for free professional development that I can find and then share with others.
  5. Expanding your horizons and letting go of the familiar: As a teacher, there is nothing that makes me happier than connecting with students and developing a positive relationships with them. Technology has allowed me to connect with them and continue the learning beyond the classroom through our blogs and Instagram posts. Today's students are digital natives and I worry that when teachers embrace the podium over the student voice and choice that utilizing technology can allow, students will view schools as archaic institutions of apathy. I also ditched the textbook, years ago, so glad that's becoming thing.
  6. Facing suffering with dignity or faith: I haven't had to suffer this year thankfully. What had been prophesied to be THE worst year of my teaching career, you know, the class that all the teachers talk about year after year that's finally coming your way, well it ended up being THE best year I have ever had. I felt more connected with students and parents and other educators. I had fun because I listened to the students and let them guide the way. I definitely didn't "cover" everything that I had hoped to, but I feel like what we did together was memorable.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

If You Plant a Seed...Your Students Will Read

How do you get kids to read during the summer?

    This summer I am teaching a 4/5 combo, summer reading class. Since we have a limited amount of time together, and there is an expectation of progress in reading, I am emphasizing "time on text" with my students. I have them for only three hours a day. I have not only managed to keep them engaged with text for the full three hours, but at the end of our day, when I say that it's time to clean up I hear a collective "Awwww!" from my students. What?!?! 
    When I come home from school and I am going about my daily business, I hear "Ding! Ding!" I get a G mail alert that a student has posted a new blog post(the first of several that day) about a book they are reading...at home! Wait a second...I don't give homework assignments, especially not in the summer. These kids are reading, at home, and I didn't tell them they had to? Mind officially blown! I need to figure out what the cause of this phenomenon is so I can repeat it.
    The only answer I can come up with is that students love to blog. They like the voice that blogging gives them and they like interacting with each other. Blogging is different from those marble composition books that they write in. The ones that may or may not be read by a teacher every day. Blogging allows students to instantly share their writing and thinking with the entire class, and get responses from not only the teacher, but their peers as well. They equally enjoy reading other students' posts, and giving feedback as well. I enjoy not having to haul thirty notebooks home to read. With blogging, I get instant notifications that a student has written a post or commented on a post, and I can respond right then. If you would like to see this class blog, you can view it here. We are reading "The One and Only Ivan" and I use the blog to give them thinking prompts from the text, as well as links to videos and other resources that supplement the text.

    Kids are very visual and I think having pictures and embedded links to additional information helps to make this a very interesting tool. We were reading "The Lightning Thief" in English, and learning about Ancient Greece in History when my middle school class was blogging. They enjoyed links to interactive maps, authors' websites, mythology pages, and quizzes to find out which Greek god was their parent. Again, I think that the teacher curating high interest and informative content within their blog posts affect how interested the students will be in the blogging. I also think it is important for the teacher to comment regularly, modeling scholarly talk and questioning. If you look at my class blog, the post titled "Blogging for Beginners: Growing the conversation with follow-up questions" and "Welcome to Kidblog" talk about blogging etiquette, but most of that teaching happens in class through mini lessons before writing, or through comments made by me on their posts, when I see a "teachable moment". I don't think kids would be that interested in reading a post about rules for blogging, unless maybe I could find a cool infographic, or an animated video on the topic. I'm still looking. Edutopia has a nice list of digital citizenship resources.
    In addition to responding to my prompts, they have taken to writing their own posts about books that they read, which I am loving. Blogging does NOT just have to be about writing though. I look at blogging as sharing content and ideas. Content can be shared through imagesword cloudsvideos, infographics (one of my favorites), thinglinks, and so much more, don't limit your students to just writing. Keep it simple if you're introducing students to blogging for the first time. Yesterday I showed a few students how to link text in their blog to a video and they were so excited. Once you're feeling comfortable with it, which won't take long because it's really easy, introduce your students to different content that they can create to communicate their message. Since my current students are brand new to blogging and only 9-10 years old, I am keeping it fairly simple for now. I will introduce them to more when they become my students in the fall. For now, it is 
7 P.M. on a Friday of a 3 day weekend and I have gotten eight G mail notifications while writing this post because my students are at home talking to each other about books. Thank you, technology!

Links to more cool blogging resources: