Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Wifi vs. Whiteboards

I am a young high school English teacher. 

So young, in fact, that I have been mistaken for a rogue student escaping into the parking lot during lunch by a truancy officer. Don’t get me wrong, when I am not a miscommunication away from Saturday detention, I don’t mind looking youthful. I am actually pretty thankful for that youthfulness, because it allows me a connection to student culture that helps me understand the way my kids think. It isn’t a perfect connection, because in the words of multiple students, I am totally not cool. But, whatever.

This connection has made me more aware of why classical sit-and-get education is losing students’ attention; consequently,  I try to build lesson plans that meet kids at their ever-changing needs. Lately, I’ve been feeling the effects of being caught in the middle on the issue of cell phones in the classroom. Often times I refrain from engaging in conversations about devices with colleagues older than me in fear of creating a generational fissure, or slightly less dramatic, an awkward silence. I often hear this generation of high schoolers described as disrespectful, lazy, and cell-phone dependent. As a young adult only a few years removed from “this generation,” I always wonder if my cell phone usage ever inspires those descriptors. Then in true millennial fashion, I get back on my cell phone.  I certainly agree that it isn’t easy to get kids to set down their devices these days, but I don’t always think they should have to.

Ask any veteran teacher what the biggest change in classroom culture is over the years and those darn cellphones are always front and center. I hear and respect that struggle. Kids do take each and every opportunity to text, post, FaceTime, play games, plus my personal two favorites: “I’m calling my mom I swear,” and “I’m just changing the song I swear.” This can be disruptive to learning time, distracting to others, and straight up annoying to teachers. I’ve even read the headlines claiming technology is making our kids stupid. I read those headlines on my cell phone, where I also track my health, do research, keep my family in the loop, pay my bills, write lesson plans, showcase my work, and answer emails. You get the point. My cell phone allows me to be my most efficient self, and I never pass on an opportunity to teach my students to utilize the tool in their hands.

In the time it takes me to ask students a simple question, their cellphones allow them to define my question, find current events on my question, locate disagreeing points of view on my question, and type their answer to my question. Why is this such an outrageous thing? All I see is an opportunity to build skills faster.  For example, during a discussion on colorism and how it can be influenced by religion and culture, I started using the genocide of the Rohingya people as an example. I backtracked immediately because I questioned whether my 11th graders would have any idea what I was talking about. 3 students mentioned that the genocide was on the Snapchat news feed. Instantly, half my kids were reading about it in the NY Times straight from their Snapchat feeds and relating it to our other examples. If my English classroom is truly centered on critical thinking, creativity, and innovation, how could I possibly ban that type of instant understanding?

Sometimes high school teachers create a tech-free bubble under the guise of teaching students discipline and self-efficiency, but most careers are becoming more and more tech dependent. Instead of banning cellphones, we should be teaching kids how to use them as a support resource. Our kids have the world at their fingertips. Who else should be responsible for teaching kids how to hone that power sensibly in a professional setting, but teachers? I understand that push-back comes from a complicated and sensitive place; there is always an underlying fear that teachers could easily be replaced with tech. It terrifies me too, but I like to think the human connection and mentorship that happens in a classroom is not so easily overthrown. I hold true to the sentiment that teachers are the irreplaceable spark leading students to knowledge they wouldn't otherwise pursue. I choose to do that leading through the obnoxious and constant Reminds I text to my students daily.

Don’t get me wrong, from time to time I do enjoy speaking to my kids’ faces instead of their glittery, over-priced, plastic phone covers. So I do make it clear to my students that there are times the cell phones need to be out of sight in order for them to show mastery independent of their devices. Kids ignore me all the time, and I am not immune to taking up a cellphone in a frenzy of indignation and sass. I just want to do what is best for my students. In my mind, that means I cannot ignore a future where they will be expected to have a comprehensive grasp on technology, whether we teachers do or not. So until my district is 1 to 1 (a blog post in itself), my classroom will be the place cell phone batteries go to die.


Friday, March 9, 2018

Homework Survey

I give very minimal, focused homework in AB and BC Calculus, and I asked the kids what they thought of the process.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Horizon Report 2017

If you have never seen the Horizon Report which is published annually, I'd suggest you take a look at it. There is so much information packed into the report, and it focuses on trends and problems with technology in schools. This year's (2017) report seems to focus quite a bit on redesigning learning spaces and the way students learn through projects and collaboration. It also brings the addition of Computational Thinking into focus not just for technology classes, but as a type of thinking that will be necessary in all disciplines and the future workforce. 

I'd suggest starting with the Executive Summary on page 4 for the overview and the trends and challenges identified by the report on page 5. The report itself is long and detailed, but the summary segments give a pretty clear and usually accurate picture of where technology in education is heading.

Where do you and your classes fit in?

Horizon Report 2017

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The Power of Reflection

One thing I feel that we, as educators, never have time for is feedback.

Throughout the year there is an exponential flood of information, duties and assessments we are all trying to stay on top of. Sometimes I feel as if there is so much that I barely have time to grade and isn't this one of the most important things we provide for students?! Don't the children need feedback?! Well yes. BUT, this isn't the feedback I am focusing this post about. I am talking about feedback as educators.

I am sure there have been times we throw out the occasional, "So what did you think about this project?" We may get a half-hearted reply but nothing where the students really put thought and analyze all outcomes. I made it a point to focus on feedback last year and to put more thought into planning my curriculum for the current year.

I put together a class survey where I could get feedback on myself, the activities we did and their use of technology. The results I received were invaluable, and even going back through them now, I am picking out things that make me smile and things that I want to go back and look at closer. Here are some of the questions I used:

If you look at the first section, they are centered around the students general feelings about me. I take it to heart when I am not reaching my students on more than just a curriculum level. I try to build that rapport with them on a daily basis so I know when students are having an off day and even just their learning styles etc. So the first sections is for my use as a person. 

The technology piece was mainly due to my sudden increased use of technology. Overall, I felt like last year I was more about quantity... an app for this, a website for this, a program for this. I was all over the place. I think it showed in the more personal comments students used. Did the students feel that I know knowledgeable and could help them with technology? Yes. But I felt like I needed to choose a few, focus on those until students were experts, and then put that into our toolbox until we introduced a new one. That has been more of my approach this year. So to new teachers who feel that they need to do EVERYTHING.... you don't! Pick a couple you want to use for the first semester and embrace the beauty and nuances of them. Your kids will know what will work best for whatever project they are working on better than giving them a huge list all at once. 

Another thing that is important not to forget about... there are still students who learn best from YOU! Not every student is capable of picking up a computer and learning all of math from a computer, or chemistry from a video. My students let me know this as well. Some still loooove having a teacher presentation. This is where you can use this information to group kids and still provide this for them but maybe differently. Maybe in a small group. Maybe in a teacher webinar that they can pause and rewind. Thick outside the box. :)

So this last part was probably my favorite because you really get to see what students are thinking. One thing that really stood out to me was one student actually said that we used technology "too much" in class. This really made me take a step back and look at what I was doing and did I go too far. I say yes and no. Yes, because of the WAY I approached it and no because I just wasn't doing it the right way. For my class, and Science especially, I cannot take away the hands on things students need to experience. I needed to be able to incorporate it as a learning tool and not a learning objective. 

Okay, now to the moral of my post: Take time to reflect and get feedback from your students. Use it. Students are super honest and have very little filter. They will tell you like it is. Even if you construct a simple survey to give to students at the end of the year and then you don't open it until planning for school next year... that's okay!!! It takes effort to reflect... and I think more time should be spent on this part. #SBVanguard has been a great tool and a great gift of time for just this. Use this to your advantage! Thanks for reading. I can share this template if you want it. 

Tour of Knowledge with Linear Relationships

Lead4ward shared and created an awesome way to review for any content subject. If you like more of their template/idea list click HERE

Tour of Knowledge was used to review Linear Relationships with my academic classes. My partner Lucia and I began with STAAR released questions (which were also provided on Lead4ward) and we eliminated all of the answer choices and questions attached to the problem. 

This means that students were given a table, graph, situation, or equation (if you would like to see what they got click HERE). From this they were then given a list of mathematical representations they could create and add to the initial task. 

Here are the instructions on how it should run:
1. Organize students into groups of 3 or 4. 
2. Each group is given a different colored marker. 
3. Teacher posts 7-8 posters around the room representing visuals.
4. Groups have 3-4 minutes at each station to record what they know about the visual  Students are responsible for checking previous group work, adding/editing/correcting the work and then adding more to it. 
 5. At the teacher’s signal, groups rotate to the next visual  repeat step 4. 

The mathematical discussion was out of this world! I absolutely loved it and needed to share for anyone else who is wanting something in which students can collaborate, teach each other, brainstorm, and communicate. 

Here are some of the awesome final products! 

Tracking Sheet Progress

I revamped my Mastery Connect and tracking sheets this weekend since so many students had not completed their checkpoints.

Luckily when I try do this next year, students won't need to be completing so many checkpoints at once. As we  focus on a grammar skill, they can take their checkpoint, complete their tracking sheet, and move on.

Students didn't know which TEK to color in after they took a checkpoint on Mastery Connect, so I took the tracking sheet & added all of the codes. I created a check off list so they could go through and check what needed to be done. I modeled it and let them go. Some students were good to go while others were still confused. I worked with them one-on-one to help them get organized!

It's a work in progess..

Tracking Sheet


Mastery Connect check off sheet I created this week.

Choice in the classroom

It is easy for me to support student choice when students demonstrate their learning.  I have been giving choice in the way students acquire new learning without much thought.  WHY haven't I dedicated as much time to creating student choice at the beginning of a lesson??  As I evolve as a teacher, I see the student role with choice as such a crucial piece.  I have to be deliberate and purposeful in every piece of a lesson so that my students can perform at their highest level. 

I surveyed students to find out what they wanted to learn more about and many chose our city's government.  The students are just beginning a project to find out what goes on in the inner working of Houston's government departments.  I did my research and found 8 proposals that are on current city agendas.  I gave students the choice to investigate on of the proposals that I found or find one of their own. 

Hurricane Harvey hit our population especially hard.  Many students want to be a part of the effort to make drainage better.  A few have chosen to create a way to deliver grant information to homeowners.  Other students want to pursue their interest in Houston's cultural affairs department.  The kids even found the plans for a SBISD school to be torn down on the Planning Committee's February agenda.  They are pumped to design a new school for that location. 

I love the energy in the classroom right now.  The students know their work is relevant and I often overhear discussions of how they plan to present this information so that it can be sent to city leaders.  We've heard back from several department heads.  They have answered student questions, sent video links and encouraged their learning.

Now is such a fun time to be a teacher!  I love the freedom and innovation that teachers are given.  It allows REAL LEARNING to happen in classrooms.  It energizes me to learn more and do more.  #knowbetterdobetter