Yesterday I was out of the building. Like many teachers, I hate missing school because we lose the day of instruction; and with a block schedule, that can lead to large gaps in the learning process. After being out of the building yesterday, I returned this morning to a simple two sentence note from a substitute. It read, "Students worked the whole block. They are really into their projects."
I know this class well and it isn't a stretch to say they are among the best music appreciation classes I have ever taught. They are insightful, committed to their work, and they continue to demonstrate a vested interest in the art of music. What is interesting to me is the contrast between who this class is today and who this class is on day 1 each year.
Every Year Starts the same
My first activity each year is called "State Your Purpose." In this activity, students explain their reason for signing up for Music Appreciation in 1 tweet, about 280 characters. Many don't even use 100 to get their point across. I tend to get a few outliers, but the common thread of answers essentially read something like "I don't sing, I don't play an instrument, and I can't draw but I need to graduate high school."
While I have come to expect this answer over the years, I must say it always stings a bit to have students who are just not that interested in my subject area. I know that every teacher in the building can relate to that. However, we are still charged with the task of maintaining an orderly class, progressing every student through a curricular program and assessing their progress.
So who are these self-motivated learners?
Why do i care?
So the sub left a good note; the class did what they were supposed to do; why does that matter? It matters because I am watching the effects of positive learning experiences play out each day in my class. I am watching the development of student efficacy and executive functioning skills as students navigate a classroom environment that relies on them, not me.
What do I do with my time if I'm not running the show? I talk to kids, I evaluate their work individually, and I provide targeted feedback on their performance to help move them forward. I know that this isn't a brand new concept. Problem-based learning has been around for decades, but the LATIC framework gave me a structure to employ tools, strategies, and ideas that I have been reading about for years.
In short, learning took place in my absence and I can't wait to facilitate my next block and see what the students have built. It's fun changing the perception of my content area in this class because many of the students thought it was "going to be boring." In the long run, by creating challenging and relevant educational exercises, I am ensuring that my job as a teacher is necessary and essential. No modern machine can target feedback to an individual the way I can. I know my learners and how to meet their needs because putting the students in charge has freed me up to know them better.
Reading is a must!
When it comes to applicable cross-curricular skills, reading is at the top of the list. Beyond the walls of the school, reading is an absolute necessity for leading a healthy and productive life. While reading and literacy are regularly represented as ELA skills, they permeate every discipline in an important way.
Literacy simply defines the ability to read and write.As content specialists, much of our time is spent trying to make students literate in our area of expertise. Many of us are presenting daily tasks that require students to write about the content area. Math uses practice exercises that require one to read an expression and follow a series of written steps to solve the equation. Thus, a student must be able to read and write using math specific language; this is math literacy. Science is based on research and a desire to investigate the world around us. This research is published and built upon through decades and centuries. Students read and engage in experiments that will prove or disprove a hypothesis; then, students will reflect upon their findings using science terminology. Once again, this is literacy.
The same arguments can be made for every subject area in the building and this is why it is important to consider how teachers are implementing opportunities to read in every content area.
Creating a Meaningful class reading experience
Many classes use current events as a basic reading assignment. Maybe it is time to think about how we can make them more meaningful to students. Reciprocal Teaching is a tried and true group reading strategy to ensure students are reading for understanding and depth.
Teaching these skills can give you A 2:1 effect
It is very possible that a student could define their assigned role and be unable to facilitate the role correctly in this practice. Before you complete a full reciprocal teaching exercise, I would advise the teacher to complete at least one reading through each of the four lenses. In other words, take a class reading and practice summarizing as a group. For the next reading, everyone in the class is going to play the role of the questioner and progress through the reading sections with that mindset. In theory, that would prepare your class to attempt a reciprocal teaching reading for the fifth in class reading.
Why does this matter? Research concludes that Reciprocal Teaching can have a 2:1 effect on student achievement. That is reason enough to try for me. As always, the iCoaches are here to help if you want to learn more about this or other literacy strategies. Email icoachMK@mhrd.org to set up an appointment!
One of the most common questions I have encountered this year is "How do I organized all of these digital things?" The hardest part of this question is defining the "things" we are hoping to organize. For this reason, I have divided my recommendation into 3 different levels. These applications are centered around the organization of tasks, reminders, and digital resources.
Level 1: Free, simple, and familiar Google tools (Google Keep and Reminders)
Level 2: Free and collaborative task management with Wunderlist
Level 3: A powerful, do it all, pin-board application called Trello
I have chosen not to include a popular application called Evernote because there is a significant cost to access the tool set. I think Evernote is great, but as I have stated before, my goal is to provide tools with little to no cost for the user.
Let's dive in.
Level 1 - Google Apps (Keep/reminders)
As a Google Apps for Education district, we have a large set of tools at our disposal. If you haven't used Google Keep before, we'll think of it as Digital Post-It notes.
Pros: Easy to use, impossible to lose a note, familiar format for an easy digital transition, Sticky notes can be assigned to categories, A chrome extension can be added to help you save websites and digital materials directly to Keep with one click.
Cons: It's basic, what you see is what you get... (I think this is a pro for those looking for a simple solution)
Summary: If you are looking for more power, continue to Level 2, but I think many of our faculty and staff will find a home with Google Keep if they persist and make it part of the routine.
Level 2 - Wunderlist
Wunderlist was my gateway to collaborative digital task management a few years ago. This is a to-do list style platform. If you like to make to-do lists and want checkboxes with a satisfying "bell" sound when you check them off, then Wunderlist is the app for you. Wunderlist also makes it easy to share lists with others.
Pros: Pretty simple and intuitive to use, I like that you can assign notes to subtasks, Collaborative (lists can be shared with others to help with group tasks), That bell sound is very satisfying and can be addictive!
Cons: Definitely more of an investment to get going, Requires installation of additional apps on your computer (Google tools are just accessed through the internet browser, The notes section a welcome addition but pretty limited.
Summary: If you are looking for more options and collaborative options, I believe Wunderlist is a wonderful step to take. The ability to add subtasks and notes can be extremely helpful when you are unable to finish larger projects in one prep period. On a personal note, the Langer family grocery list now lives on Wunderlist so we never forget an item.
Getting Started with Wunderlist Video
Level 3 - Trello
Trello... Wow, what a tremendously powerful and free system for all types of task and project management. I moved to this platform about a year ago and it has made a major impact on my ability to organize my work tasks. Essentially, they have built a digital bulletin board, but you can have multiple. I have a pin-board for Instructional Coaching, General Teaching, Clubs I Advise, Resources I don't want to lose. While Pintrest is a pin-board style setup, it is more social media based. Trello is a legitimate powerhouse for managing tasks, collaborating on projects, and keeping track of the many hats we wear as educators.
Pros: By far the most powerful and visually appealing option in task management. Integrates and facilitates most projects and tasks the way I need it to. It is collaborative if you want it to be and private when you need it to be. Subtasks, links, resources, due dates, and a ton of other features can be added to individual cards. Each card can have independent alerts setup as well.
Cons: This will be intimidating for some people. The capability is high, but so is the investment at first.
Summary: I am impressed with Trello on many levels but I love how it integrates with all types of links and platforms very well. I find the drag and drop setup to be very intuitive even though you can get so deep into tasks and subtasks. It will take time to learn, but if you start with one board, one list, and a set of cards, the learning curve is manageable.
Google Docs, Sheets, and Drive all provide unique collaborative tools, but sometimes sharing and editing the permissions of documents can be confusing. When it comes to sharing documents securely, it is important to understand the different permissions you are granting to others.
It is important to be sure that you are only providing editing rights when necessary. When you share a document and hand editing rights to another user, you are handing over a large share of rights for someone to make use of the information contained in the document. In addition to editing the document, editors can also add other users and share/print the document. In many classroom settings this is not a problem, but if you are handling sensitive information or only seeking input on a file, I would share a file with View or Comment rights instead of full editing rights.
The PDF below provides detailed instructions for maintaining and securing digital rights within the Google Education Suite. Please feel free to reach out to email@example.com if you have any questions!
Building DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP is important!
The internet has grown into an incredible resource catalog for teachers and students, but as the internet continues to grow and develop, so does the need to train young learners how to navigate the digital world safely and securely.
Created by Google, Be Internet Awesome is a digital citizenship platform and curriculum. This program is designed to help build responsible young users of the internet and provides some terrific resources for teachers and parents.
"To make the most of the Internet, kids need to be prepared to make smart decisions. Be Internet Awesome teaches kids the fundamentals of digital citizenship and safety so they can explore the online world with confidence."
This digital curriculum contains over 60 pages of activities, educator notes, student goals, scenarios, and discussion topics. It is available for free download HERE. The website also contains an interactive platform/puzzle game called Interland. This game uses puzzles to teach skills and thought processes that should be employed when using the internet safely. I only got to play a few levels, but I was rather impressed with the game. It was far beyond a simple internet game.
If you are interested in learning more ways to integrate digital safety into your curriculum, please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With more resources than I can possibly cover in one blog post, BioInteractive is setting the bar very high for free classroom resources. This online platform offers a wealth of science articles, course curriculum, data sets, online labs, and videos. The topic list below just scratches the surface of how robust this resource is, and it is free!
As we continue to look for ways to supplement student learning, it is important for us to provide multiple outlets for students to engage with our content area material. The classroom resources alone make this a must visit for all of our science and statistics teachers, but I also see an opportunity for English teachers to integrate informational text from a different subject area. The video below gives a brief overview of the website structure. Please feel free to reach out if you have any specific questions or need help locating a resource!
real-world experience in the classroom
For the second edition of the Morris Knolls Minute, Joy Mazur came down to A-31 to share details about an exciting new course offering at Morris Knolls. We have a strong tradition of community service with programs like FCCLA and Joy is now bringing those opportunities into a daily curricular environment. We also had a chance to preview the upcoming fall play, She Kills Monsters.
As we wrap up quarter 1, I want to personally thank everyone for the support of our new iCoach offerings. Our first podcast had over 150 listeners and I look forward to continuing to showcase the talented veterans at Morris Knolls.
Google Drive provides a substantial amount of organizational power and storage capability, but it can also become a black hole of hard work. It is important to choose an organizational strategy for your files and sort your new files with regularity. This will help you avoid an accumulation of unnamed and/or unsorted documents in the main drive.
We currently have a few videos under our Resources tab that can help you navigate your drive and other Google Apps for Education. If you are new to Google Drive or you learning more about how to organize within the Drive, the attached Cheat Sheet can help acquaint you with the button locations and actions at your disposal.
Be sure to stop down this week as we are discussing all things Docs and Slides. Whether you are collecting and grading student essays or offering a collaborative presentation opportunity, Docs and Slides are powerful tools that can provide unique opportunities for consistent Formative feedback throughout the learning process.
Google Docs and Classroom:
The video below highlights how the new grading and commenting features in Google Classroom can improve the formative feedback process for digital work in your classroom.
UPDATE: So after Brandon created that awesome video, Google updated Classroom to allow teachers to post Materials in the Classwork Section. Therefore you can now create a topic, named "Resources" or whatever you like, and then post your go-to materials in that section and pin it at the top. This should help alleviate some of the issue!
The screencast below goes through the new features of Google Classroom this fall. Many teachers have noticed a few missing options that were used in previous years and the video below offers some methods to work within the new platform structure. A summarized list of the changes is also included below. Please let us know if you have any further questions.
The iCoach MK workshop blog catalogs all of our workshop materials and new resources in one location.