I've been pretty adamant about having my students collaborate on activities since I began teaching thirteen years ago. In my opinion, collaboration is the single most important of the 21st century skills, but it is also one of the most difficult to effectively teach. Google CS First has created a number of lesson plans that provide everything a teacher can use, from beginning to end. I have been using Hyperdocs all year, but the lessons Google is providing are beyond anything I've done.
I chose the "If/Then Adventure Story" to really focus on the learning goal of collaboration. Students work together to create a "choose your own adventure" style story, the kind I LOVED as a kid. I assigned students their partners, whereas they have been choosing their own all year. There were a few grunts and groans, but nothing too serious. Google provides a succession of videos, tasks, and reflection surveys that students use to complete the assignment. I showed the first video and sent my class on their way. I am truly a facilitator with this activity. Students who do not normally even talk to each other are working beautifully together creating original stories and using collaboration techniques such as consensus and voting to complete their adventures.
One problem I've always had with group projects is the equity of work distribution. Inevitably, there are always a few students who do not carry their weight. The beauty of this project is that while the flow of the story is collaborative, and each group starts together to brainstorm and determine plot, setting, and characters, the completion of the project is individual. After the title slide and the introduction of the story are complete, the kids can work independently, but in proximity to each other. They could also work in total collaboration, from beginning to end, but I wanted to try it this way for the first time.
Take a look at some of the stories; some of them are A LOT of fun!
In Fall 2015, I presented PD on School Culture and Climate (see below), with a focus on the neuroscience that explains many of the behaviors we were seeing in our students. I have been passionate about this topic for as long as I can remember, and continue to be motivated as my school district has taken on the Whole Child initiative with full force. I attended the "Paths to Potential: Building Resilience" conference today at Stockton University's SRI & ETTC, and am convinced, now more than ever, that students cannot move forward until their trauma is recognized, addressed, and treated. Just as suicide prevention, dyslexia, and blood-borne pathogen training is required in New Jersey, the state should focus on creating Trauma Informed Schools.
Michael McKnight, Atlantic County Education Specialist, presented on this topic. He argued that we should integrate what we know of neuroscience, psychology, and pedagogy in a "neuroeducation." One quote (from Dr. Nicholas J. Long) he used struck a chord with me: "The problems kids cause are not the cause of their problems." As a teacher, and as an aspiring administrator, this is the core of my philosophy in why I build relationships with my students, and in how I discipline. The two cannot be separated.
New Jersey's AAUW TechTrek STEM camp was held last week at Stockton University. The journey to get there was long for the campers. Each girl was nominated from her middle school, wrote an essay, interviewed with a team of volunteers, and was ultimately chosen to be one of the sixty-two girls who were accepted. Each camper's family paid only $50 for the week; the rest was paid for by the American Association of University Women (AAUW), community donations, and alumni donations.
Their week consisted of core STEM classes (Coding, Cybersecurity, Makerspace, Sustainable Water, and Aeronautical Engineering), afternoon workshops (hands-on engineering as they made flashlights and paper race cars, geometric art, origami, Unifix Cubes, Chemistry of Cuisine, Little Bits, tie dye, lasers, etc.), and field trips (the FAA at the William J. Hughes Technical Center in Galloway, drone flying, nature walks, seining Lake Fred and analyzing the collected specimens in the lab). In addition, they slept in the campus dorms, ate surprisingly tasty cafeteria food, and participated in nightly activities such as fencing and volleyball. They also made ice cream, watched Hidden Figures, and participated in numerous team-building exercises. On Thursday night, the girls dressed up and networked with dozens of professional women from our community who work in STEM-related jobs. Here they learned about fields of study they had never heard of, as well as discussed both the challenges and advantages of being a woman in STEM.
I had the privilege of working as the curriculum coordinator for the program, as well as teaching the coding class. We used a program called Earsketch, where students used the Python language to code their own songs, layering pre-made tracks and adding effects to create (mostly) aesthetically pleasing music. When planning this core class, I had no idea what kind of experience my campers would have had with coding, so I planned as if they had very little. Surprisingly, I was right. The majority of the girls had completed the Hour of Code annually for the last couple of years, however two of my eleven students had never done any coding at all. The most advanced of the girls had never used anything more than the block coding found in Scratch or code.org. We started with a number of fun unplugged activities to teach computational thinking, debugging, and functions. By the end of the week, all of the girls had created a song that they were proud of and excited to share with their loved ones when they got home.
I played each girl's song for the group, they had a blind vote, and we picked a winner. Here is Mei's song:
Here are rest of the songs. Click on the links, click Run, then click Play. We had about twenty minutes left of class on the last day, so I tasked my campers to create a music video with Mei's winning song. It took them a few minutes to get started, and then they split into two groups. Here is what one group came up with:
I know I shouldn't, but I am incredibly envious of these girls that they had this opportunity and these experiences. More so, though, I am honored that I was allowed to be a part of this program and experience it vicariously through the girls. They were SO happy, and SO grateful. Being with these girls reminded me why I love being a teacher; they were eager, respectful, and motivated. I cannot wait to come back next year!
Here are some photos from our day of field trips. (Ignore the short red-heads. They might have hitched a ride from my house.)
There are definitely bumps in the road when it comes to standards-based grading. If you've read my previous post from the beginning of the school year, I was going to make a go at modifying grades for my class so that students assign themselves a number to reflect how well they are meeting standards in my Literacy and Media Technology class. They would choose a 1, 2, or 3 depending on whether they were not meeting, meeting, or exceeding expectations on a particular standard. I found that our reflection conferences were reaching near ten minutes each, and there was no way to efficiently meet with each of my students in a reasonable amount of time (to assign "grades"). Additionally, as I teach a technology course where I have groups of students with a wide array of ability and aptitude, I found myself helping students in between each conference, usually taking from three to eight minutes each. Because reflection is a priority to me, my students complete a reflection survey at the end of each activity. The data I collect from these is invaluable, but I have not used them as a grading tool. Frankly, I do not even want grades!
Following an observation, I discussed my methods and struggles with my Curriculum Director. She suggested that it was impossible to grade using standards only, unless the entire school is set up the same way. There has to be a complete change of mindset and one teacher is not going to be able to do this. There has to be complete buy-in of the philosophy that it is the learning that matters, and not the grades.
Teachers, please share the difficulties you've experienced in transitioning to a standards-based grading program, and how you have overcome them. Administrators, what process did you take to transform your school?
I sent the parents of my seventh and eighth grade students this letter today. I am seriously so pumped up about this. Even though last year brought with it a new subject for me to teach, I still wasn't very excited. From the literature I've read, to what I observed in my own classes over the last few years, I knew something was missing. My students did not care about their learning; they only cared about their grades. I saw this just this morning when a parent emailed me to ask why the one grade I had put in so far was a 2.5 out of 3 and not a 3 itself. This was a participation grade based on a 3-point scale that I have gone over with my students and is hanging at the front of my classroom, but the student did not tell her mom this. I decided this summer that things had to change. I was going to make a real go at motivating my students to invest in their own learning. The letter linked to above describes what I have come up with.
Yesterday I went over in detail how we were going to do things in our class. As soon as I said I wasn't going to grade anything this year, mouths dropped open. But then confusion set in. I admit, it is confusing. I think it's going to take a lot of practice for all of us. But the rewards have the potential to be so beautiful! I cannot wait to have conversations with my students about their work and to see their pride when they realize how much they have learned.
I will go into a little more detail here, for anyone interested in trying this out on their own.
The Big Standards Sheet
I chose about 20 technology standards from the New Jersey Core Curriculum Content Standards (NJCCCS) and four Common Core standards related to Speaking & Listening and Writing. Those standards line up at the top and the activities will be listed on the left side. After I explained what we were going to do this year, as far grading, my students used the simple 3-point scale listed on the spreadsheet to rate their current status for each of the standards. In the future, they will use a scale like the one below to assess their progress on the standards covered in a given project.
How will work be evaluated?
Here, I have chosen four standards that align with the first project. They will rate themselves a 1, 2, or 3 based on where they feel they are now for each of the listed standards. Students will only assess themselves on four or so standards for each activity, and they will put their ratings on the Big Standards Spreadsheet shown above. The goal will be to ultimately show growth in each column of standards, not to come up with a score for each activity.
Following each activity, my students will answer four questions regarding their work and progress in a Google Form (like this one). We will use their responses when it is time for conferences.
Given the research done on motivation over the last thirty years, and how observational feedback should replace grades, I decided I would conference with my students twice per marking period, in the week before grades are due from teachers. My students will tell me what they think their grade should be, and they will have to justify their decision. For support, they can bring their projects (which will be in the Google Classroom and/or their student-created website, and their Big Standards Sheet. I will bring to the table their reflection responses, the results from the simple Form I made to track if they are paying attention to the Speaking and Listening standards, and any notes that I have taken during the marking period. Edutopia put out a really thoughtful list of reflection questions that I will definitely use. I don't want the questions themselves to be predictable and these will be very helpful.
I'm still trying to wrap my head around this part. Instead of entering the project itself into the Assignment part of the online gradebook, I could enter the standards that we used during that time period. Here I could put the grade my students tell me to put, from a 1 to a 3, with 1/2 point increments possible. Or, students can tell me a single grade that I can enter. So, the only assignments parents will see are my bi-weekly participation entries (that are mandated) and the one grade reflective of their growth that marking period. I'm leaning towards the latter. If a student has not shown growth in a particular area, and maybe only has a 1.5, then their letter grade will be low, and parents will definitely have a hard time with that. I would love some input on this, Dear Reader. How have you fought the Gradebook beast and won?
If you did not click on my parent letter, which also details my rationale and goals for the year, please click here.
I will teach twenty-three (23!!!!) different groups of students this year. Every time I start with a new batch of kids, I need to go over our classroom procedures, but I never can remember what I've already said. I end up repeating myself and omitting more and more as the year goes on. This year I decided to put it all into a slideshow I can share with the kids and post on my school website. In addition, I want the kids to have ownership of the procedures, so I will put my presentation off until the second day. First, I will group my students into 2's or 3's and have them create class procedures for certain topics. Then, I will edit my slideshow, if necessary, and present on the second day. Students will have ownership of the document (to a degree) and will be more likely to buy in to the class procedures.
As a teacher, I have the luxury of putting my children in a camp for two hours each morning for a few weeks so that I can have some "me" time. I've been alternating days at CrossFit with yoga and immensely enjoying the balance of the two: beating myself up to get stronger versus pushing myself to stretch and grow in my practice. I had an a-ha moment yesterday while practicing yoga; I can apply what I've been doing to my body to my experience as an educator over the last few years.
This past Spring, I finished a two-year program to earn my certification as a principal. In the months since, I've been scouring the newspaper every morning, visiting my bookmarked school sites every Tuesday and Friday, and playing detective looking at various districts' Board notes. I have revised my resume countless times, spent hours making sure my cover letters are absolutely perfect, and became excited every time the phone rang only to get disappointed when I saw that it was only CVS or the American _________Society calling again. (Fill in the blank, they all call.) Everything I've done in the last two years has been to build my resume, increase my professional network, and distinguish myself from every other applicant by being the most well-read of professional literature, or the most willing to be innovative in the classroom. My students have certainly benefited from this, but they have not been my focus. My career has been my focus. I decided that I was willing to drive fifty minutes from home for one or two years so that when something became available closer, then I would be "experienced." I know that the administrator's life is a harried one, especially if you have young children you desperately want to spend time with. Add the extra hours on to a commute, and I would never be home. Why am I trying so hard for this life? I've had enough.
Post-interviews, I've been told that I was the "second choice" at least five times. At first I was excited that I was so close, but years after earning my supervisor certificate, and I am still a teacher, it is only frustrating. Moving forward, though? I'm going to sit back. I'm going to enjoy my life as a teacher again. I'm going to enjoy my summers off, I will enjoy my children while they are still young enough to play with, and I'm going to work my butt off for my students, not for my resume.
Am I giving up my search as an administrator? NO. But, I'm not going to let it take over my life, and I'm going to enjoy what I have now. I'm tired of beating myself up for being "just" a teacher. I'm tired of always waiting and not letting myself experience what is happening RIGHT NOW. Instead, I will stretch myself to try new things, and continue to grow as an educator. When the right position comes along, I'll be ready. In the meantime, my life is beautiful. I'm going to be present and enjoy it.
In early 1998, the news of Bill Clinton's scandal with Monica Lewinsky spread like wildfire. I was finishing up my senior year of college, and like everyone else, fell prey to the media's assault on this woman. My friends and I talked about her in ways that I am embarrassed now to admit. She was demonized, scapegoated, and ridiculed. She was at the epicenter of a maelstrom that any sane person might end their lives over. I have not thought much about her in the last eighteen years, so when I was searching for something to listen to on my way home from work, and saw her name and title of her speech in a queue of "fascinating Ted Talks" (and noticed the length is the exact duration as my commute), I decided to take a listen.
Lewinsky's message is so on point with the culture we live in today. As it was the beginning of the Internet Age, her scandal was the first of its kind to play out in the media with such unrelenting force. The barrage of information that played out from this scandal was available 24/7, and the attacks on her character forced her into hiding for years.
The Internet is the superhighway for the id. ~Monica Lewinsky
It is from this scandal that the "Culture of Humiliation" was born, Lewinsky argues. We exist in a world where not only do we have access to the news whenever we want it, but we can share it, comment on it, and literally embarrass people to death. Our children are growing up in this world where norms include trying your damnedest to humiliate each other. Adolescents and teenagers take pictures and videos of each other, post them online, and then sit back and watch their friends' (and enemies') lives unravel. Instead we need to teach our children to be "upstanders." Instead of being a bystander, people who stand by with indifference, we need to do more to promote behavior in ways that include writing positive messages, reporting cyber-bullying, and not sharing that which will shame anyone.
Many character education programs already have ideas like this integrated in their message, but we need to attack this problem from the digital perspective, because that is what our children know. Focus on social media: digital citizenship, digital footprint, media literacy. Do it from a young age; 3rd grade would be a great place to start. I teach these topics in my Literacy and Media Technology class to middle school students (about 10% of the school population), but the message needs to reach every student, every year. Let's change the norms so that online bullying (which has usurped physical bullying in causes leading to suicidal ideation, according to Lewinsky) is immediately rebuffed and ridiculed. Our children are invested in the digital world; this is not going to change. But when even the good kids (and adults!) get a kick out of laughing at videos of obese people falling or their friends making horrible (often sexual and/or illegal) mistakes, something needs to happen. As Lewinsky said in her eloquent speech, a cultural revolution needs to take place.
I'd like to do more and am looking for ideas. What do you do to convince your students that social media's superpowers should be used for good and not evil?
When the stars align and you attend an EdCamp unconference on Physical Movement in the Classroom on Saturday, and then are handed a pile of Tesla Amazing Magnetic Notes (okay, I smuggled most of them out), you can make magic happen on Monday. My Literacy and Media Technology class has been working on Tier 2 words related to our course of study: evaluate, analyze, cite, controversy, etc. To prepare for the summative assessment on Wednesday, we used these awesome static cling notes to in a "HeadBandz" style review. Each of the terms was written on an orange magnetic note and placed on a student. There were three synonyms for each term, each written on a different color. My goal was for the students to find their orange mate and stick the three synonyms to each person. Unfortunately, due to the nature of middle school skin and cotton hoodies, some of the notes did not stick. So, we moved on to Plan B and had them use the board. With the white board, students were easily able to move the terms around until all of the matches were solid. To ensure that all students participated, I went through the "finished" matched sets and asked students, especially the reluctant ones from during the activity, if the sets were accurate. If they were not, I had them get up and fix them. Eventually all of the sets were matched correctly. As a computer teacher, I don't often get the opportunity or have a purpose to have my students get up and move around, but today showed me that I really do need to make more time for it as the level of engagement was high for the majority of my students.
This weekend I had the pleasure of attending my sixth (or is it seventh?) EdCamp at the William Davies Middle School in Mays Landing, NJ (where I work). However, as a co-Organizer, this time was different. I did not host any sessions, but I was able to attend (at least for a few minutes) every session as I was the resident photographer of the day. My goodness, these sessions were some of the best I've ever been in. They were pure EdCamp: discussions rather than presentations. Conversational and participant-driven, rather than pre-planned conferences. What was interesting to me was that I found a common theme in many of the sessions, one I would like to continue to pay attention to and plan to help integrate into my school's character development program for next year: the theme of media literacy, digital citizenship, and the removal of the invisible cloak that many students feel they have when they are on social media. This topic will not be effective as isolated lessons, but integrated and mentioned at every opportunity.
While the total number of attendees was on the smaller side, each session certainly had enough people to have valuable conversations, with plenty of ideas for everyone to bring back to their own schools. Personally, I have connected with four people I met on Saturday, either to get more information on a topic, or help someone else. We had an incredible number of sponsors this year resulting in almost enough prizes for everyone, regardless of the raffle. Yes, they are held on Saturdays, but there is no doubt that EdCamps are the most valuable professional development we, as educators, have available to us.
I intend this blog to be a reflection journal of sorts, on topics such as teaching, leadership, pedagogy, and tacos.