How a silent discussion opened the door for my students

I sat with the group, silently observing their small group discussion. Although normally she finds ways around it, on this day,  my student who struggles with stuttering had an almost impossible time getting her ideas out. When she is nervous, the words seem to break apart in her mouth. I know she has amazing things to say, because her blog is thoughtful, sweet, and expresses the thoughts of a deep thinker, but speaking to others while being watched was making that ability to dig deep into a text and pull out the heart of an idea invisible to the others. I knew I had to do something.

Backchannel chat and Twitter to the rescue.

In preparation of a student led, Socratic discussion, students had read almost half of Twelve Years a Slave, by Solomon Northup. They had close read passages, analyzed them for ethos and pathos, and written countless short answer responses. I had asked them to come up with open ended questions in anticipation of this discussion, but I didn’t think putting this student on display was fair to her. So I proposed a silent, Twitter style, chat instead.

First, I created a free backchannel chat at http://backchannelchat.com/. Then I created an assignment in Google Classroom with the link to the chatroom. I explained the format of a Twitter chat, with Q1 representing the first question and A1 its answer. I reviewed the norms of a good discussion, with interaction between its members, and let them appoint a student discussion leader. Students typed their favorite open ended question into the public comments on the assignment, and the discussion leader added the appropriate Q1 etc. to the question and pasted it in the chat. She monitored when student comments seemed to die down and added the next Q when it seemed to fit.

The chat was a success. Not only did the student who struggles with stuttering have success, but several of my more introverted students shone as well. In fact, if you look at the exchange they had in the above screenshot, you can just see the connections building. It was epic. I will definitely do this again.

Finding my “why”

Do you know your “why”? Your reason for doing what you do? What gets you out of bed every day and helps you know your purpose on this planet?

I’m a dive into the deep end kind of a person. I’m the one who’ll stay up all night, because the book just keeps getting better and better. I’m the one who looks up, realizing it’s been hours since I started playing Skyrim and now I desperately have to pee. (I’m also the Queen of TMI, so sorry about that.) I’m the one with a plate overflowing with work that I just can’t say no to. I’m the one working full time, part time, and attending college classes, all at the same time. I rarely stop to look at the big picture, the why of my life.

Let’s admit it: I find reflection painful, like being asked to look at myself in a mirror. Reflection always makes me see the wrinkles, the silver creeping into my hair, the loose skin and persistent fat rolls that six months of Weight Watchers and twenty pounds of weight loss just doesn’t wear away. Reflect? Ugh. Do I have to?

Well, when two administrators I admire, Bobby Dodds and Neil Gupta, both independently talk about the importance of establishing just WHY you do something, I know I have to sit up and take notice. So hear goes:

The why that is in the center of all that I do as a teacher is: I want to empower students to think and learn for themselves. Knowing my why helps define my purpose going forward.

So, do you know what your “why” is?

Props to Bobby Dodds for sharing the above YouTube video, which I plan to use to help students define their “why” this year.

Image attributed to https://www.flickr.com/photos/editor/

 

Game on!

Often the biggest barrier to innovation is our own way of thinking. –George Couros

Ever wondered how to implement gamification into your classes beyond kill and drill review games? Me, too. Last year, I tried implementing Classcraft last year, but it didn’t quite fit. The excitement wasn’t there, and the energy to gamify flagged when kids leveled up enough to get their favorite outfits. I was just debating whether or not to try again when my husband stepped in.

He’s my favorite sounding board, because he believes I can do anything I set my mind to achieve. And when I told him about my epic fail to make the energy spike in my room, he jumped in with an awesome idea: create a storyline that is more epic than merely leveling up.

Some wild drawings later, we came up with this: a massive game of RISK, with students trying to dominate the world of the classroom. With his background in geology and our backgrounds in gaming, he painstakingly came up with a world map for my kids to dominate.

Each Classcraft team begins in a city on the map. They move one hexagon for every assignment they turn in on time. Together, the team is more powerful, but each member can go on their own to explore the map. As they conquer each square, they will uncover side quests that align with the unit we’re about to begin. Some quests will be available only for higher level characters. Each team has a resource they must first find and then protect from the other teams, and teams can challenge each other in a Boss Battle to conquer the world, all while deepening their connects to each other and to the content of the course. Students who fail to complete their work cannot move forward in the game and risk weakening their teams. One team will rule supreme, as kings and queens of our kingdom. After dominating, they can move on to conquer the other continents (that represent the other classes I teach.)

Gaming ties right in with my desire to create deeper connections within my classroom, as well as fits right in with the novel we read this summer, Ready Player One.

Let the games begin, and may the odds be ever in your favor!

Photo credit to https://www.flickr.com/photos/94086507@N00/

 

Living the mantra

I believe my abilities, intelligence, and talents can be developed, leading to the creation of new and better ideas.–The Mantra of an Innovative Educator, George Couros

This is my 18th year of teaching. Some might think that after so many years of teaching, I’d be sitting back on my laurels, dusting off those overheads and worksheets, and sunning myself by the pool this summer.

Anyone that thinks dusty worksheets live in my room doesn’t know me.

I am always trying to find the next, greatest thing in education. I want my students to leave my room knowing they have learned something they can use in the future, to know that their time was well spent. I know that I need to keep my saw sharp, because I know Stephen Covey is right: that 7th habit helps make me a better teacher.

This summer, to sharpen my saw I am:

  1. Continuing with Weight Watchers online (I have lost 20 pounds since March, and I’m looking to 30 more for a healthy BMI.)
  2. Taking tri weekly water aerobics classes and trying for at 10,000 steps or their equivalent
  3. Taking a graduate class from Wright State (I have two more to complete my 18 credit hours, making me officially College Credit Plus certified and bringing me to Master + 25, the maximum education on our contract salary schedule)
  4. Finishing my Google Certified Teacher, level 2 test (I just completed Level 1 this summer)
  5. Participating in weekly #ohedchats
  6. Learning about Voxer and reading Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros

What will you do, to keep your saw sharp this summer?

Image courtesy of Empowering Students to Lead

Video Platforms for Teachers

Have you ever had to miss class for only one period, and didn’t want to have that class fall behind the others? Well, that’s happening to me today. Because I love technology and because I love my students, I often experiment with ways to help them learn. Today in class, we’re reviewing two college style composition techniques: the rhetorical situation, and the academic summary.

Students are fairly comfortable with rhetorical situation, so I used my favorite interact video app for iPad, Touchcast. Touchcast has amazing interactivity, which allows for viewers to click on the screen and interact with embedded videos, websites, and more. Of course, because this video was for later today, I couldn’t get too fancy. I like Touchcast because it is easy to use, edit, upload, and create content. Here’s the video I made today:

The other video creation tool I used was the Snagit extension, by TechSmith. This one is awesome, because it easily creates a screencast. I can’t actually be on the screen, but students can hear my voice, and see the words on the screen. Here’s the video i made, below:

So, which video would be most helpful to you as a learner, from TechSmith or from Touchcast? Explain in the comments below!

The Secret to High Performance

The science shows that the secret to high performance isn’t our biological drive or our reward-and-punishment drive, but our third drive–our deep seated desire to control our own lives, to extend and expand our abilities, and to make a contribution–Daniel Pink

In my district, I have been part of a grand experiment. We have students who have failed traditional classes, and we are trying to help them recover their credit. This concept is not new. The experiment is students take classes through Blackboard on an individual basis, with teachers as mentors to help them.

Imagine their consternation: unlike every other summer, when they’d get their “packet of worksheets” to slap together and mail away, we met in the computer lab. As each student logged in to our virtual learning site, they had individual lessons to complete. Suddenly, they were being asked to actually practice and understand concepts, some of which did not match with what they’d learned the year before. Rather than letting them drift off into failure, I sat with a different student each day, modeling for them how to learn online. I had to do it–most of them were working on math courses that I knew nothing about. As we worked through practice problems and wrote down formulas (or googled the formulas,) I showed that room full of mostly boys that I cared about their success. And most of them finished.

Fast forward to spring. This school year, teachers were facilitating Blackboard courses for students. The teacher was at another site, so “all” the mentor teacher had to do was to motivate the students to finish. That fall, I taught next door, teaching a high school class for college credit. Now it was my turn with this new group of students.

Right away, I noticed a big difference between these students and my summer school kids. They wanted to sit away from me in the room, with their computer screens turned so I couldn’t see what they were doing. They saw me as the enemy, the one who they needed to game in order to do what they wanted. Only one student had completed her coursework for the fall; the rest were barely started. There was no Motivation 2.0–no stick or carrot big enough to make them care.

Being the person I am, I couldn’t sit behind my desk and grade papers, as I suspect the teacher before me had done. I sat down with each student and quickly determined that at least four of them were all in the same course. They were supposed to be reading The Alchemist, which is a pretty great book, but no one even had a copy. So we sat together, all five of us, and started reading the book out loud. Soon our group swelled to six, as another student with the same course joined us. It was still pulling teeth, and I’m sorry to say that although my six got through one semester’s worth of credit, another student dropped out, one went to juvenile detention, and a third had to cram several courses worth of credit that summer so he could graduate. No student could be said to have high performance standards. They finished because I cared, because I was unrelenting, not because of their own desires.

It’s now a little over one year later. Teachers this year have more control, as they grade their credit recovery kids’ content, but students still have no autonomy. The work feels meaningless to them. Just another thing to check off their list. So how can we make it doing something that matters, doing it well, and doing it in the service of a cause larger than ourselves?

I’d love to see a new way to recover credit. Couldn’t we have a grand project, like a service to the community project, where they work towards their credits by doing for others? Couldn’t they, for example, create a community garden, researching and writing a proposal to the community for fundraising, using their math skills to compute how much soil, the depth of the seeds, and more? And we could can and donate the proceeds? What do you think? Could it work?

This post is in response to reading Daniel Pink’s Drive for my Twitter Bookclub, #TBookC. Join us as we discuss Part 2, The Three Elements, on Thursday, May 14 at 9 EST, or as we discuss Part 3: The Type I Toolkit on Thursday, May 21.

Pawns or partners?

Now that I’m (mostly) done with teaching Higher Ed, I should have a little more time to write. By next weekend, I’ll start expanding on these posts. 

As part of a Twitter book club (#TBookC, which meets 3 Thursdays of every month at 9 EST), I am currently reading Daniel Pink’s Drive. Part one discussed the idea of intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation, and which tasks suffer from extrinsic motivation.

Part 2, the section we’re discussing this week, moves into various theories of workplace management. Specifically, it looks at controlled vs autonomous work environments. It strikes me that the dichotomy of the two environments is very similar to the difference between teacher centered and student centered learning. This post will explore how both environments might work within a school.