Sunday, December 14, 2014

5 alternatives to traditional homework over the holiday break... (83)

Many of us are preparing for and looking forward to the upcoming holiday break. Both educators and students are excited about a little time off and the chance to recharge.

During this break, it's actually quite healthy and beneficial to let go of and remove yourself from work. This break should be focused on spending time with family, exploring personal interests, and at times, just simply sitting back and kicking our feet up.

Likewise, it would be nice for our students to have the same opportunities to use these breaks as actual 'breaks.' It's tough to imagine, but there are students who are buried in homework and buried in tasks that we educators have assigned for them during these breaks.

So, if you feel you absolutely must assign some kind of homework or assignment during this upcoming break, consider these non-traditional alternatives:

Watch a TV channel (age appropriate) you've never watched before: Have you flipped through the available channels recently? There are so many interesting and new TV options nowadays and when it comes to education, shouldn't we be focused on expansion of ideas and exploration of concepts? Imagine a student coming back from break all excited about something he/she didn't even know existed before. Sure, there's lot of trash TV, but there's also quite a lot of wonderful and educational TV that can really broaden our students' minds.

When you are out and about (with an adult), say 'hello' and ask every person you encounter or interact with 'how they are doing': Talk about a neat social experiment! Imagine that when standing in line, or browsing in a store, or simply walking in the parking lot to and from the car... how much can we learn from interacting with others and simply observing and experiencing the ups and downs of basic human and social interactions. Also, think about how this social experiment could go both ways... by being nice to strangers we possibly brighten their day while also being reminded of our influence on the attitudes of others.

Read about something you know nothing about: It doesn't matter if it's a magazine in the doctor's office or an article from the newspaper or something online. Go find something you know nothing about and read about it and learn something new. Simple and easy.

Either alone (if you are able) or with someone else, try and cook something you either never cooked before, or something you've never eaten before: The world is full of wonderful dishes and cooking is becoming a lost art for many young adults in our fast-paced society. Take some time during this break to explore the world of food and get a little experience navigating the kitchen. BONUS... if you can find a family member or relative to assist, the learning experience easily doubles!

Go outside (dress warm and appropriately) and explore a part of your neighborhood or town you've never explored before: Far too often we simply go to and from work and school, and that's it. We end up missing and never seeing the many great places right around where we live. Encourage our students to take time to get outside and get some fresh air and explore what's right beneath their noses.

What other non-traditional homework alternatives would you suggest if assigning homework was a 'must?' Feel free to leave a comment below.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

What if all classrooms were like our kindergarten classrooms?... (82)

If you've never had the opportunity to visit a Kindergarten classroom, you should find time to do so.

To be frank, they are really amazing places.

Typically, there are 20-25 students and one teacher. That in itself isn't that big of a deal, but add in the fact that some of these students have never been away from their parents. Some of the students have never been in an environment where there is structure and organization. Some of the students have never had to walk in a line and some have never been in a public restroom without the assistance of their parents and/or guardians.

In spite of the before-mentioned dynamics, Kindergarten classrooms are really magical places where kids are able to collaboratively and independently create and design. Kids move like a well-oiled machine from one center to the next with very little if any teacher direction. These students, most of whom have never been a part of such madness, are able to find structure and are able to be trusted to do the right thing.

Students are able to 'playfully work together and learn about the creative process: how to imagine new ideas, try them out, test the boundaries, experiment with alternatives, get feedback from others, and generate new ideas based on their experiences.'

Kindergarten classrooms are a hotbed for makers and the maker movement. Kindergarten classrooms are spilling over with exploration and discovery. Kindergarten classrooms beam with pride as kids put their best efforts forward to please their teachers and expand their knowledge of the world.

Kindergarten classrooms are indeed a magical place.

So, what can other classrooms at other grade levels learn from Kindergarten classrooms?

What if 'instead of making kindergarten more like the rest of school, we make the rest of school – indeed, the rest of life – more like kindergarten?'

Here are 10 things you will see in any good kindergarten classroom:

  1. Children are playing and working with materials or other children. They are not aimlessly wandering or forced to sit quietly for long periods of time.
  2. Children have access to various activities throughout the day, such as block building, pretend play, picture books, paints and other art materials, and table toys such as legos, pegboards, and puzzles. Children are not all doing the same things at the same time.
  3. Teachers work with individual children, small groups, and the whole group at different times during the day. They do not spend time only with the entire group.
  4. The classroom is decorated with children’s original artwork, their own writing with invented spelling, and dictated stories.
  5. Children learn numbers and the alphabet in the context of their everyday experiences. Exploring the natural world of plants and animals, cooking, taking attendance, and serving snack are all meaningful activities to children.
  6. Children work on projects and have long periods of time (at least one hour) to play and explore. Filling out worksheets should not be their primary activity.
  7. Children have an opportunity to play outside every day that weather permits. This play is never sacrificed for more instructional time.
  8. Teachers read books to children throughout the day, not just at group story time.
  9. Curriculum is adapted for those who are ahead as well as those who need additional help. Because children differ in experiences and background, they do not learn the same things at the same time in the same way.
  10. Children and their parents look forward to school. Parents feel safe sending their child to kindergarten. Children are happy; they are not crying or regularly sick.
I don't know about you, but this list sounds pretty good for ALL classrooms at ALL grade levels...

'We live in a world that is changing more rapidly than ever before. Today’s children will face a continual stream of new issues and challenges in the future. Things that they learn today will be obsolete tomorrow. To thrive, they must learn to design innovative solutions to unexpected problems. Their success and satisfaction will be based on their ability to think and act creatively. Knowledge alone is not enough: they must learn how to use their knowledge creatively.'

So, what if all classrooms were like Kindergarten classrooms?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Don't coast to the end of the semester, speed up... (81)

With things like Google Hangout, Facetime and Skype, learning and instruction shouldn't be limited to a learner's "zip code."

Check out this note LEGO sent to parents back in the 1970's... LEGO just might have been onto something.

Contemplate this... is our goal to help students have success IN school or life AFTER school? Those should coincide, right? Do they?

Check out all the versions that existed before the most recent version of Google Glass... this is why we should always try to be in a state of BETA.

Try a little "Moonshot thinking" in your class. Moonshot thinking is choosing to be bothered by the impossible... and thinking differently to make the impossible possible.

How does school compare to everyday life?

Here's a simple question and way to engage students in problem-based learning; "What bugs you?"

But, keep one critical point in mind when doing problem-based learning... if the kids don't care about the problem, then we won't get the desired effect.

This is a letter a student wrote to their teacher after some changes were made in regard to playing the 'game' of school:

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Brave new world... (79)

Nearly 50% of occupations today will no longer exist in 2025. New jobs will require creative intelligence, social and emotional intelligence and ability to leverage artificial intelligence.

Workspaces with rows of desks will become completely redundant, not because they are not fit for purpose, but simply because that purpose no longer exists. Read the entire article here:

1,000 U.S. hiring managers revealed that eight in 10 view creativity as important to success yet they find that the majority of students are unprepared for the workplace of tomorrow. Read the entire article here:

Tier 1 skills needed to succeed:

Tier 2 skills needed to succeed:

Tier 3 skills needed to succeed:

Read the entire article here:

Google determined that “G.P.A.’s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless. ... "We found that they don’t predict anything." Read the entire article here:

So, where does the Union R-XI school district fit in this brave new world?

Where will the students who will graduate from Union R-XI fit in this brave new world?

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Preventative check-ups before the autopsy... (78)

Formative assessments are frequent, timely, specific, and informal in nature. They occur during the learning process in order to modify teaching and learning activities to improve student learning. If nothing changes with instruction and student learning as a result of the formative assessment, then it wasn't a formative assessment. Formative assessments typically involve qualitative feedback (rather than final scores) and should most commonly be considered practice, thus any grade and/or feedback shouldn't be considered in a student's final grade. 

Formative assessments are the preventative check-ups at the doctor while the summative is the autopsy...

Check out this great article via Edutopia on efficient ways to check for understanding:


Sunday, October 26, 2014

So, how do we actually do redos and retakes? ... (77)

Well, first of all, we need to agree on this:

We also need to believe that each student has a right to a grade that accurately and correctly depicts what a kid knows...

We must also agree that a kid doing redos and retakes on the SAME EXACT assignment/assessment WITHOUT participating in some kind of a 'relearn' process is a waste of time.

What about a request to retest document...

You might even like this 'relearn' document:

What does my student need to do in order to be reassessed?

After completing an assessment in a standards-based class, the student can ask for a reassessment using the process described below. 

1. The student gets a copy of the reassessment agreement from the teacher and completes the “Standards to Reassess” section to choose what standards the student wants to be reassessed on and at what levels.

2. The student completes the “Preparation Information” by picking a few activities that would help with relearning the material. The student then arranges a meeting with the teacher to discuss the agreement. The teacher may require specific activities to prepare for the reassessment, such as completing missing assignments. Any activities selected by the student or teacher must have evidence that it has been completed.

3. Together, the student and teacher will decide when, where, and how the student will be reassessed in the “Reassessment Information” section.

4. Once all of the relearning activities have been completed, the student will show the necessary evidence to the teacher, and both the teacher and student will sign the “Reassessment Approval” section of the agreement. 

5. The student is now ready to be reassessed as described in the “Reassessment Information” section. The reassessment agreement supports your student’s learning by:
- Ensuring that relearning takes place before reassessment. 
- Identifying the specific steps the student must complete to be reassessed.
- Clarifying the reassessment process for both the student and the teacher.
- Identifying exactly how the student will be reassessed so there are no surprises.

Or even this one:

You could also take a moment to read what @rickwormeli2 thinks about 'redos and retakes done right.'

@rggillespie has some great thoughts on this topic as well:

And, if you need more of Rick Wormeli, check out these two videos:

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Top tweets from the 'Rick' event! ... (75)

Please don't forget to take a few minutes to complete the PD survey from the two days with @rickwormeli2.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Can we all agree on a few things... (74)

Something that is difficult vs. something that is rigorous...

Asking students to write down and spell all 50 states on a blank map is going to be difficult for most students. Though difficult, this task is not rigorous.

A rigorous assignment would be... collaboratively design and create a presentation focusing on one of the major events in America's history that has affected and/or played a significant role in our current 50 state structure. Be prepared to present this to your classmates and be able to justify/explain why this particular event was so significant in America's history.

Rigor is about complexity and depth. Rigor is about skills that are transferable to other content areas and beyond. Rigor allows for multiple correct answers and rigor is NOT about doing more of something, it's about appropriate level of challenge for each student.

What is differentiated instruction really?

  1. Differentiated instruction is a teaching theory based on the premise that instructional approaches should vary and be adapted in relation to individual and diverse students in classrooms (Tomlinson, 2001).
  2. Think of differentiated instruction as making the learning experience personalized and customized for each student every single day during every single activity.
How important is class time over the course of a school year?

You teach at least 6 classes or 6 hours a day (this accounts for both elementary and secondary teachers). Imagine each 1 hour block takes about 5 minutes to get started and ends about 5 minutes early.  

This means that roughly 10 minutes out of every 60 minutes are underutilized. Over the course of the day, this means that roughly 60 minutes out of every 360 minutes are not spent learning.
Over the course of a typical 5 day week there will be 300 minutes not spent learning out of a total 1,800 potential learning minutes.

Over the course of a typical school year of 174 school days there will be 10,440 minutes not utilized for learning. Let's be realistic and cut that number in half because we all know there are assemblies and other events that cut into learning time throughout the school year. That leaves us with 5,220 minutes of time not spent learning.

5,220 total underutilized minutes divided by a typical 360 minute school day = 14.5 days (or almost 3 weeks) per school year we are letting slip through our fingers. 

The value of an assessment lies only in what is done with the feedback/data as a result of the assessment...

If we aren't doing anything with the feedback/input we are getting from the assessments our students are doing, then we are wasting our time and their time. If we aren't allowing our students to do anything with the feedback/input they are getting from their assessments, then we are missing out on a huge opportunity for student empowerment as part of the learning process.

Frequent, timely, specific & constant feedback is the most important factor in improving student learning and educator effectiveness...

Hattie's research is quite clear on the positive effects of feedback in the educational setting. This goes for not just students, but also educators. It's also worth noting that for feedback to be effective, students and educators both need to see it as formative in nature and not summative. Read more here about the powerful effects of feedback:

Sunday, September 28, 2014

A few questions to ask yourself... (73)

1). What percent of your students are going beyond just compliance and are actually cognitively engaged in deep self-driven and relevant learning?

2). How often are students in your class offered the opportunity to move around and get 'the blood' flowing with some type of physical activity?

3). How often are kids in your class able to work in teams and work collaboratively on some type of group learning activity?

4). When was the last time you read a professional book or article and you tried something new as a result of what you read in the book/article?

5). If you had to describe the perfect and ideal classroom, what would be your top three most important characteristics?

6). How confident are you that your students could tell someone who doesn't teach what you teach specifically where they are struggling and where they are succeeding in regard to their learning?

7). Let's assume audio was recorded for an entire week in your classroom. Of all the voices that are heard during that time, whose voice do you believe would be heard the most?

8). If you eliminated all the grades in your classroom, do you think students would still actively participate and continue learning?

9). If a group of teachers from another school district who taught a similar content/grade came and observed your classroom, what do you think they would say in their post-conversation?

10). If you were the principal for the week and you got to observe every classroom in your building, what would you want to see in all the classrooms?

11). What's the ratio of consumption to creation in your classroom when it comes to the work students are doing?

Sunday, September 21, 2014