Friday, May 30, 2014

What Drives You?

This morning started off like every other school day. I am at the gym by 5, home by 6 to enjoy a quick cup of coffee before getting my kids up to start our morning routine. During my coffee time, I enjoy checking out my Twitter feed to read about the great ideas that are shared by my Professional Learning Network. As many of you know, there is one post that you read every once in a while that really sticks with you. Really makes you think. The topic bounces around in your head all day, to the point that you can not shake it out of your head...

That is exactly what happened to me when I read this post by Eric Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal) entitled: What Drives You? Mr. Sheninger does an excellent job of providing his readers with several excellent points about what "Drives Him" to do what he does everyday. That made me think: What Drives Me?

I have had this question bouncing around in my head all day. Why did I choose this profession? Why do I do what I do everyday? Why do I love coming to school everyday? It boils down to this: I enjoy helping people improve. As a teacher, I love working with my students to help them get past sticking points in their learning that allows them to understand things they previously struggled with. I love helping students learn things they were convinced they could never do.

In addition, I love helping them in nonacademic areas as well. We have all had the students that are just excellent students. There are very few (if any) areas academically they can do better. Instead, I may try to help them overcome their fear of public speaking, getting better organized, learning how to take a joke or something as simple as just looking someone in the eye when speaking to someone.

Do not get me wrong. I know I do not have all the answers. Many times, my idea of helping someone is by pointing them in the direction of the person who knows more than me. That someone could be another teacher, a colleague or even another student. By doing that, I am hopeful that person will be able to give them the feedback they need to progress past their sticking point.

I am hoping to continue this belief when I obtain my first administrative job. I love discussing teaching and the art of teaching with people. I enjoy discussing topics that I read about on Twitter or someone's blog. This leads me to another thing that "Drives Me": Constantly Learning. I am passionate about reading whatever I can get my hands on that pertains to our profession. I have read numerous books, magazines and blogs trying to learn as much as I can about the greatest profession on Earth. Then, I love sharing that information with my colleagues. It is my hope that by sharing what I have learned, I create an environment where everyone is open to sharing ideas and techniques. An environment, that as professional educators, we are excited to collaborate with each other. By doing this, I hope to create a constant back and forth discussion amongst my colleagues that has one purpose: to make each other better!

Thank you, Mr. Sheninger, for sharing your thoughts with us. Thank you for giving us something to think about. Thank you for providing us with questions to challenge our thinking. Thank you for "Driving Us" To Improve?

So, to keep the discussion going...

Friday, May 16, 2014

"Smart board, Parting is Such Sweet Sorrow..."

I love my Smart Board. I love the lessons I can create with it, the games I can share with my students and the presentations I can make. I always make sure there are extra light bulbs for the projector in case it breaks. Heaven forbid I go a couple of days without standing in front of the class using it...

Needless to say, I have not "powered up" this machine the last two weeks. No, it works fine. I have just committed myself to more project based learning with my students. During the last two weeks, I have had students throwing a Frisbee to calculate their experimental probability, a group shooting baskets with a Nerf ball for their Probability Project and another group with markers on their hands from making their game!

That is right, I have tried to create more of a Maker Space in my room the last two weeks. After spending some time reflecting, I have created a list of tips or suggestions for anyone attempting this:

1. You can not worry about noise: They will laugh, talk, giggle. But, as long as they are productive, I am okay with it.

2. Do not try and clean up until the end of the day: Early on, I tried to clean up my room throughout the day. I quickly realized I was missing interacting with the students. That's my job, right?

3. Apologize to the custodian. Repeatedly: Things will not be as neat as they were earlier in the year. Wear it like a badge of honor.

4. Know where you want them to go upon completion: Be prepared for the group that finishes in half the time. Know how they can extend the project. Or better yet, let them figure that out for themselves. For example, I asking a couple of 8th Graders today about the Science Fair, they began researching the idea of creating a school app!

5. Be a good swimmer: It is tougher to swim with your students than stand and serve as a lifeguard!

6. Provide them with steps (dates) to complete parts of the project by: This will help the student(s) that struggle(s) with time management.

7. Be flexible: Know what you want them to demonstrate to show understanding. Do not care so much what medium they choose to do so.

8. Be able to juggle well: You may need to be working with a group reinforcing a skill while listening to another group work out some struggles while finding your stapler that a group needs to use!

9. Be prepared. For most things: Understand that somethings will arise that you did not expect. Regardless of how well you planned.

10. Be well rested: Planning for a day where I am at the front of the room does not even come close to how tiring it is after "swimming" with your students for the day.

11. Still allow redoes/retakes: I have had several students take my feedback and alter their presentations to show a higher understanding of the concepts. I loved it!

Now, I still plan on using my Smart Board. I am not going to have it removed from my room. Come to think of it, I will be powering it up next week...for my students to give their presentations on a Recreational Center they are pitching! May have to dust it off before the students get in that morning.

Did I leave anything off my list? I am really excited about the changes taking place in my room. My students are working and creating this late in the year. I am learning (slowly) how to scaffold from the lessons to extend the learning experience further. Would love your feedback/suggestions on this.

Friday, May 2, 2014


What a great day. After spending over nine hours the last four days watching my 8th Graders work on their state assessments, I could actually teach today! I was looking for a great way to get the kids re-energized about learning after taking those "silly" exams for four days. I found two great projects for my students to work on: Create Your Own Carnival Game and How Will I Survive?

The Seventh Grade just completed a unit on Probability, and I wanted a different method to evaluate their understanding of the different standards within this topic. The groups were asked to create an original game of chance. They were provided with a brief introduction and then turned loose. Within fifteen minutes, I had students bouncing ping-pong balls into cups to test the Experimental Probability of someone winning their game. What I really enjoyed watching was how the students reacted to their errors. They quickly realized that adjustments needed to made to their game. Some had to make it more challenging, others less so. I thoroughly enjoyed circulating around the room listening to the discussions of each group. I was there simply to ask questions to get a deeper understanding of the concepts the were calculating or a change they made to a process or procedure. It looked like a circus in my room, but man, was there a lot of learning going on!

The Eighth Grade will be tackling a project on budgeting and working with graphs (How Will I Survive?). Here, they are given a job and a family status to factor in while creating their fictional family budget. They are being asked to research where they are going to college to earn the education for that job. In addition, they will be gathering information about the kind of car to drive as well. I was very happy to hear them question each other. They asked why someone was choosing to go there when a cheaper school was also available. In addition, a number of students whispered to me that they were looking to buy a used car to save more money. All I could say to them was: "Welcome to the Real World!"

What a great day at school! What a great change of pace for both myself and my students. Do not get me wrong, there was still a lot of planning that went into these activities, but when you see the excitement on their faces, it is all worth it. We did not crack open one textbook all day, yet it was a day full of learning...For ALL of us in the room!

What projects/activities have you done just to throw a change-up to your students?