Saturday, November 10, 2012

Encouraging Students to Have Pride in their Work. (Part 1)

My 8 yr old (Aubrey) created a home design on  Her 6 year old sister (Sydney) was clicking around and switched to one of her previous revisions.  Aubrey was furious because she thought she had lost all her work.  She was yelling at Sydney.  As I tried to calm her down and said we don't need to yell.  She said "Dad I know, but you don't know how much hard work I put into that!"  It dawned on me, because she created it and had ownership of  it she was extremely proud of her work.

One of the biggest problems with my class was that to often kids didn't take any pride in their work, they didn't care.  Why would they?  It is hard to care about their 845th math worksheet in their academic career or their 397th math test.  There is no personalization, BORING. 

Now that we have switched to project based learning and have students create presentations and present them, I am seeing a change.  They get to create their own presentations.  We give them many choices and have very few requirements or restrictions.  They get to be themselves.  By having them present their work they take ownership of it.  I have had numerous students want to present their math journals to the other kids.  They put the time in to make it good.

The math teacher in me every once in awhile rears its ugly head and I wonder if I am doing enough "math" problems.  Then I see a presentation or have a conversation with a student who is interested in what they are doing and it reassures me of this, taking pride in your work and wanting to be their best can't compare with a repetition of problems.  Before they would leave their graded test on the floor, now they are asking to present work to their classmates. You can argue the old school way of teaching is better for standardized tests, but I'm not going back. Never will.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Redskin Rule got them Talking!!!!!

I either heard this on T.V or I read it on twitter.  The redskin rule is a meaningless interesting stat.  Since 1940 there have been 18 Washington Redskins home football games the weekend before the election.  In either 18 out of 18 or 17 out of 18 (Bush Vs. Kerry, long story) this has rung true.  If Washington wins the home game then the incumbent party wins (Obama) and vice versa is if they lose then a new party takes over (Romney).  I showed this to the kids on Monday and had them vote, not on their personal views (which let's be honest is their parents view understandably), but on their thoughts whether this rule would ring true or finally be busted.      

The kids from the looks of it were split 50/50.  I had a couple of kids tell me today that they were looking forward to watching the election tonight to see which way it goes.  Our Social Studies teacher also let me know that the kids were asking him questions about it and he had a couple conversations on correlation vs. causation.

They are talking.  This means they are interested.  This means they are thinking and talking stuff.  They are talking.  They are interested.  They are having fun.........they are learning.

Photo Credit: [Source]

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Middle School News Team

One of the many things I love about my school, Wabash Middle School, is that we offer something for every student.  I have never seen such a small school with so many opportunities for diverse student interests.  We offer everything from tennis to Spanish Club.  Our newest edition is the APAX News Team.  Since our school is 1 to 1 we have incredible digital potential.  We have about 20 students who do a variety of jobs.  We meet everyday in our after school Computer Club.  Some days we have several stories to cover, on slow days we just hang out and think of fun things to include in the next broadcast.  I work with another teacher-sponsor who was a journalism major at one point.  She writes or at least edits most of the script, and I handle the video editing.  We are planning to hand this off to the students eventually, but its middle school.  One the things I love about this is the diverse group of students who are involved.  We are attracting new members all the time and the APAX News Team is all the rage in Wabash.

This is a perfect example of the fantastic opportunities afforded to 1 to 1 schools.  This would be very difficult without our infusion of technology.  You can follow our broadcasts at our website found here.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Pick your poison!!!!!

Kids are kids.  Halloween is coming and kids love it.  I have two projects we are doing in my class within the next two weeks.  One is an individual project and the other is a group project.

Project #1 Individual Project
This week we are learning perimeter, area, surface area, and volume.  Simple concepts, but ones I have found kids mix up.  The first step in solving one of these problems is to know which one to choose.  How else would you know which formula to select?  I am going to create categories for each topic and let the kids dress up for Halloween and try to win that category.

Here are my categories.

Largest Perimeter
Smallest Perimeter

Largest Area
Smallest Area

Largest Volume
Smallest Volume

Largest Surface Area
Smallest Surface Area

Overall Most Creative = Student has to enter one of the above categories to be eligible.

On Halloween, Wednesday the 31st, we will take pictures of each costume and calculate the category they choose.  I will put the winners on my website, they love that stuff.

Project #2 Group Project
This project I stumbled upon at the end of last year and have been waiting to try it.  There are artists that create "canstruction".  Can sculptures of ever day things and drawings.  They are usually used in relation to a food drive.  Just so happens our student council is having a food drive.  I offered to help collect from the other classes if we could have the food for a week later to let the kids create "canstruction".  I think after we make them we will either connect the shapes to the above topics or have the kids ask their own question and solve it.

I have no delusions of grandeur. I know my kids projects won't look like this, but I do know they will turn out great.

So pick your poison and have some fun with your kids.

Computer Club

The summer before my school went 1 to 1, we tried to prepare for any foreseeable problems our students, parents, or teachers might encounter.  One issue was Internet access. There are many in our community who suffer from unemployment or underemployment and roughly 70% of our students receive free or reduced lunch.  What are students supposed to do if they have homework and they need the Internet to complete their work?  While they likely have local hotspots, friends, or relatives who have Internet, as a school we can't ask them to "just figure it out" without a reasonable option.  My experience has been that students are efficient excuse machines, and if given any legitimacy, they, and their parents, will overrun you.

Thus, the creation of Computer Club.  Computer club is an after school, supervised place for students to  work on homework or just hangout and use the school's Internet access.  This is also a place to get help with computers.  Teachers often send student to me in Computer Club to learn how to use iMovie, iPhoto, or some web tool.  Teachers themselves regularly drop in to get tech advice or troubleshoot a problem.

To be fair, lots of kids come to Computer Club to play non-educational games like Minecraft, and hang out with their friends. However, one could argue this is a great alternative to having them walking around town getting into trouble or returning to an empty house because their parents are at work.  Last week I sat up and surveyed the kids in Computer Club.  There were several athletes using it as a pre-practice study hall, there were 2 kids discussing their new blog and how to promote it, our APAX News Team was planning their next broadcast, about 12 hardcore Minecraft builders hunched over their computer, and another 6 or 7 kids floating from group to group socializing and casually working on homework.  It was exciting to see kids engaged in what they were doing and having fun in school.  Computer Club has been an integral part of our 1:1 plan, it has also become a time for clubs to assemble like APAX News Team and the new upstart SWAT Team (Students Working to Assist Technology).  Great things are happening in little Wabash, Indiana, and like our announcements regularly say, "its a great day to be an Apache".

Monday, October 15, 2012

Group Project, Individual Grades

Collaboration is a 21st Century skill, and despite the social nature of today's youth, it doesn't come easy.   Leaders need to learn how to delegate work and direct people in an effective way.  Shy students need to learn to speak up.  Socialites need to learn to stay focused on the task at hand.  Group projects are a great opportunity to learn collaboration skills, but they can also be disastrous, especially when it comes to grading.  Its inevitable--someone doesn't pull their weight in the group, the group gets a low grade, and suddenly its 'not fair'.  While the old adage is true, life is not fair--group grading should be.

Last year I experimented with a grading style that helps to avoid this.  Rather than grading the entire group at the end of a project, I grade the students individually based on their contribution.  I formatively assess throughout the project, and by the end of the project I usually have a pretty good idea of who has done their work.

In addition, I like to design my projects so that each group member is responsible for an independent part of the whole final product.  In the end, the group must find a way to put all of their work together into one presentation.  Its important to make each independent part so that the other group members don't rely on the completion of another student's work.  For example in my recent project Exploring the World Project, students had to research the most amazing physical features in the Eastern Hemisphere.  They each had to make several presentation slides, create a map, and create a written explanation of how each physical feature formed.  The group had to combine their work into one presentation, map, and written paper.  Of course Google makes this very easy.  When the group presented, each group member presented their independent parts.  When they were finished, we graded out individually.  Life was finally fair.

Monday, October 8, 2012

K-12 Alignment

Districts have made attempts to align their curriculum from kindergarten to grade 12 for years.  Common Core standards and state content standards before them furthered this idea.  I reflected on this idea recently with a colleague and we had an epiphany. It shouldn't be K-12 alignment, it should be H-12 alignment.  The "H" stands for home.  The inclusion of parents has been the missing link in curricular alignment.  It has been pointed out recently by a great video produced by NBC that students who come to school behind their classmates fall further behind every year especially during the summer.  Why have we never seriously addressed this?

There are no easy solutions, but schools must make a revolutionary effort to bring parents into the schools, not just in elementary, but through student's senior year.  It seems parent involvement wanes as students work their way through school.  Parent-teacher conferences twice a year is a paltry attempt to involve parents in their student's education.  Parents need to be in the school, have knowledge of and participate in learning activities, and also be held accountable to their student's education.  Teachers are held to the highest order of accountability for a student they have for an hour each day.  Isn't there some kind of incentive we could offer parents?  Clearly the incentive of a better education is not enough.  What about free textbook rental?  What about a tax credit?  If we want to revolutionize American education and compete in a global world, education must begin and be sustained at home.