Tag Archives: teacher

Response: Hackschooling: Is This the Future?

I read a post on Diane Ravitch’s blog called Hackschooling: Is This the Future? about a TEDtalk by a teenage boy about redefining schools.

He has a valid point. Learning comes from passion.

The whole picture is not just about making schools centered on individual interests without the training– there’s a fundamental point that he makes about the relationship of his teacher (or guide) to his work. He chooses the topic and someone teaches him how to explore it, question it, and master it. Logan clearly has teachers who work with him to learn the necessary skills to execute research, write about it, and then deliver an eloquent speech. Redefining does not mean taking teachers out of the equation; it means that the child’s passions are merely vehicles for teaching skills.

Continuing the Flipped Math Class

Math has been on my mind a lot lately, which is evidenced by my series of recent math posts. The idea of giving the children work to do on Khan Academy on Fridays is working out really well. Clicking around the site has helped me to see how well-differentiated I can make this flipped classroom. Each child has his or her own login, which helps me to track their progress. In addition to tracking the progress, I can coach them and suggest specific strands to work on.

What this does is free up our time to solve real-world problems in the school during math. As we’re working on measurement, I had them do a project in the art room to measure for a tech installation. They came up with two solutions, and we did a shared writing activity to describe the solutions. After that, they each drew diagrams illustrating the solutions and gave reasons to go with their individually chosen solutions.

This complex, real-life problem was so illuminating to me as a math teacher. It allowed me to coach them through the process and see exactly where the challenges were– more so than any dry word problem in a book. They were also very motivated to be at the head of this meaningful project for the school. I’m looking forward to continuing this kind of work with my group.

 

 

A Flipped Math Classroom

I’ve been fascinated in the idea of a flipped classroom. The children I work with are grappling with much more than just how to do math problems. As a result, instructional time can be eaten up with the needs of the class. My schedule this year has allowed me to try out the flipped classroom in a controlled setting. Math is scheduled Monday through Friday, but I am not in on Fridays. There is coverage for my group, but they have been spending the time playing various math games. Over my December break, I had time to think about what the group should be doing to help them with the projects we work on when I am at school. I signed them each up for an xtramath account to strengthen their facts, and I started giving them specific math videos to watch on Khan Academy. I formatted the group, so they can practice their quick facts on xtramath. When they feel ready to move into content, they go to Khan Academy to watch videos and complete activities. I took the time this week to teach them the navigation skills needed for working independently on Fridays without me. There are a lot of skills they need on the computer before just handing the assignment to them, and the lessons gave them time to learn the routine. By yesterday, they were confident. What amazed me was that the same content I’ve been teaching was all of the sudden much cooler when in a tutorial video online– I think kids get sick of hearing my voice. The kids loved the control and the fact that it was on a computer. I can pick different videos for different children to help with the specific skills they need to hone. Fridays will now be much more productive, and I’m also collecting data! It’s so convenient, and the motivation and engagement has increased significantly.

Reflection- Part 2

Writing has encouraged me to think deeply about my craft as a teacher. In addition, my break has given me more time to reflect on my way of working. Combining writing and time away has helped me to further reflect on my previous post I wrote about taking time for myself to both enjoy my work and avoid burnout. An extension of this reflection is the connection to a few articles, this one in particular, I read about a changing the presentation and delivery of professional development to engage more teachers on a meaningful level. Basically, no one looks forward to a lecture at the end of the day– no one wants to watch someone else click through a Powerpoint after a long day at school.

In this digital age, we have changed our way of learning. Most learning happens through our individual drive to learn (as it always has), but it looks different now. It has become more accessible from home, which results in less face-to-face interaction. Teachers seek on their own what they know they want to know. The problem is that teachers want (and need) to talk with other adults who share their interests and have similar experiences– it can be done online, but there’s value in being able to converse with colleagues in a physical setting. Being able to be fully honest in a place where confidentiality is not broken is important.

What can motivate teachers to want to have PD after school within the school community? There’s no question in my mind that teachers want to learn; that’s not the issue– it’s everything else on their plates– being stuck in the day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute and missing out on the bigger picture. It is only natural for many teachers to work like that, but there is a need for exposure to new ideas, bigger ideas, conversations, and reflection.

Here’s the test idea that we’ll try: a small group of teachers will meet regularly to continue a school-betterment project that was started by all the teachers earlier this year. This smaller focus group will continue work on the project, which will deepen our understanding of the flow of academic goals for children and will help create a more consistent reference for the curricular goals for reports, IEPs, conference notes, etc.

The project is intense and will require dedication, motivation, and energy. What’s going to be different is the presentation– we’ll have snacks, coffee, and even a little wine. So, instead of a forced collaboration with only goals and checklists, we’ll get together and work on the bigger ideas– our common interest fueling our learning in a more social and fun context. It seems like it will be more productive this way, and we’ll also feel better about it– not dreading the time we will spend on the project but looking forward to the time we spend on it. The sense of accomplishment at the end will hopefully also come with an interest in doing another project of the same magnitude. We’ll see!

And… Break!

The weeks leading up to a break are filled with anticipation. Everything seems frantic and all I can think about is having time to myself and my family. The final week is laden with exhaustion, depletion, and excitement. Each day begins with a deep breath, a cup of coffee, and a countdown. Routines have never been more important, and academic expectations need to be lowered for everyone’s sanity. Children are so easily distracted by travel plans and holidays and family; their minds are not in the classroom. The same is true for teachers. 

In addition to the extensive report writing that so many special educators engage in over the breaks, there’s a certain rejuvenation that takes place. There’s enough time to enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning without a million things to plan for the day, to bake, to cook every meal, to remember personal hobbies, and to reignite the passion for teaching creatively.

My next couple of posts will be about the new resources and ideas I find for teaching while I explore my own hobbies at home.

Have a wonderful (almost) winter break, teachers. You deserve it.

Differentiating with Technology

When I was growing up, my computer classes were focused on typing and how to use specific programs. As the Technology Coordinator this year, it’s my job to facilitate lessons using technology. My focus is not on the smaller skills like how to save a Word Document, but on the bigger picture: to use computers to extend learning. The skills are absolutely needed, but children learn those skills through use, not through direct instruction (just like language). Every time I’ve gone to PD on a computer program, I find that I already knew 90% of what was presented because I’ve played around with computers. The creative aspect of technology is the part that’s harder to learn and harder to teach.

So far, I’ve worked with two classes in the lab. Our focus has been research on a topic they’re learning in class. One group is a fifth grade group and the other is a second grade group. It is so easy to differentiate the instruction with they way I have it set up. Some children are writing based on their research, and some are having their learning recorded on video. They’re each having a chance to express what they’ve learned in a way that is just right for them.

Before getting to this point, I needed to work on infrastructure– some of which is constantly evolving. The students have a student login with a student email account that I facilitate. I write the students an email as my prep for the lesson. Each child opens the email with their name in the subject, and they have a detailed list of instructions for their assignment. I can find appropriate resources based on their reading levels. My time with the group is maximized because I don’t need to give group directions– children are motivated to understand how to use computers.

Next week, I’ll have headphones for each computer, and I’m going to install a text-to-speech program for the children who will need sources read to them. This will make finding resources so much easier, as I will need to find resources for the child’s listening comprehension level instead of their decoding and comprehension levels. Many more resources will be accessible to them.

It’s amazing to have children creating instead of just filling in blanks on worksheets. They are excited and more invested in their work. I have more to think about for K-1, but maybe we will be able to do something similar with videos instead of writing. I want to move beyond the mindset of repetition and rote learning.

Look for the silver lining.

Any job has its share of good days and bad days. Teaching has a spectrum of days ranging from feeling like you’ve changed a small part of the world in the most amazing fashion, to choking back tears until a free prep appears in your schedule. Luckily I can confidently say my good days infinitely outweigh my bad days. With that said, bad days can be difficult to digest. As teachers, we are so eager to make a plan, follow through with that plan, and assess the outcome. But when a bad day affects ones ability to see a plan through at all, my next thought is “what can I do to change this situation? How can I make it so that this situation is less likely to repeat itself?” When the answer doesn’t come so simply, set in an overwhelming feeling of stress.

Teaching is emotional, intense, and in many ways spontaneous. Unexpected emotions and behaviors pop up during our days. These moments take precedence over the academic plan for our children. If one of my kids isn’t emotionally or physically regulated and ready to learn – how can I expect them to attend, participate, and be an active member of the group? Even though I planned on reviewing yesterday’s content, introducing three new vocabulary words, and having independent work time, it is okay if that plan doesn’t see itself through. Their emotional, mental, and physical needs come first before I can hold them to such a standard.

With all of these thoughts, I also selfishly consider my own patience, sanity, and overall state of mind. What can I do when I’m starting to feel like I’m losing control, not being effective, or unable to spark my kids’ interests. Well, the teacher side of me thinks, obviously I need I reevaluate the situation. I need to think about my role as the teacher and how to set up my room so that all children can be successful. Do I need to incorporate more visuals, more movement, less verbal language, more time for transitions – the list goes on.

Then the human side of me thinks, take a breath, go grab a coffee with Jess, cry if you need to, and envision the glass of wine I will most certainly be having with dinner tonight.

Surprisingly the combination of teacher and human somehow balances out, gets me through the day, and leads me to prepare for a better tomorrow.

As I write this post reflecting on an emotionally taxing day, I am realizing that even putting these feelings into words is a helpful strategy. Whether it may be to a public forum, a text message to a friend, or only for my eyes to see, writing about tough days is a way to let it out of your system. Of course I still feel drained, stressed, and like I’m ready for bed at 6pm. But with that said, I am also prepared to begin tomorrow as a fresh start, learn from my mistakes, prepare my students for a great day, and prepare myself for those unexpected moments that often lead me to think “this really is the most incredible job,” even on the tough days.