Thursday, March 24, 2016

Alternate Assessment

We had four days before Spring Break. I was looking for something different to do with my 8th graders to have them show me their understanding of percents. We had spent the previous week going over the basics: how to find discounts, how to apply sales tax, how to calculate tip, and how to use the simple interest formula. We had talked about so many real world scenarios while going through these concepts, that the last thing I wanted to do was have them complete the test from the book.

So, what to do? I quickly did a Google search to find an activity they could complete to show their understanding. I quickly found an activity on Application of Percents called Shopping Spree. In it, the students were asked to spend $2,500 to redecorate a room in their house. They were given a list of things they needed to purchase for each room. In addition, I also gave them a list of stores they could shop: Lowes, Home Depot, Bed Bath and Beyond were a few. They were also given percents off all items purchased from each of these stores. These discounts were in addition to any they found the stores were currently giving. Here are some observations from the week:

1. I heard three kids mention they found some items at home. I never mentioned it was homework, but they chose to do some of the work at home. I was shocked because two of them do not typically do anything outside of class.

2. There was no "getting class started". I had 15 8th graders entering the room, going right to their chromebooks, and getting started on the activity.

3. Discussion between students was mostly on topic. I had only a few times over four days that a couple students needed redirection.

4. The students knew who to go to for help. I saw several of them go to a couple of kids who they knew could help them set up Blogger. Others went to different kids who they knew understood how to calculate discounts well.

5. I could meet with the students for a few minutes while the rest of the class was working.

6. The students had a reason to learn the material and that was to apply it to the project.

7. I was surprised how many of them did not know how to do some basic things in Google Drive. We were able to work through things like setting up Blogger, linking Google Sheets to a Document, and sharing a Power Point. I tried to get them away from creating these, but was not successful with all of them.

8. I will need to see how they fared once we return from break. I was able to get most of the "grading" done while informally walking around. I already know they all have their math correct, so I just need to look at their reflections.

I am happy at how the week wound down with this class. I would like to think the activity was relevant and helped keep them focus before break. I will not know if this worked until I look at the products they produced. I had 15 8th graders working past the bell the day before Spring Break started. That is a win in my book.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Bumpy Road

We are starting the process of creating a home grown curriculum at my school. For years, we had a curriculum, but it was just a document that was mostly borrowed from another district. The fact that we did this is material for a separate post, I suspect, but I would like to focus on the steps we are working through as a staff to begin to create a document that is home grown.

Luckily, our principal signed us up for a new program in New Jersey called the CAR (Connected Action Roadmap) Pilot. This program, created by the department of education, is program that gets schools to maximize the work of their PLCs. After attending a workshop held by the department, the group of us went back to our school to begin to explain how the staff is going to begin our journey down the path of creating our home grown curriculum.

As we presented to the group, we explained the road map we were going to follow. As usually happens, we immediately began to face: "Why do we have to do this? How can I do this? I am not a curriculum person. Can't we just pay someone to do this?"

It became quickly apparent to the presenting group, we had our work cut out for us. See, the principal was using the feedback from a survey sent to the staff. The leading response was work on our curriculum, so we had feedback to help guide us toward the most urgent problem of the curriculum. Regardless of the feedback, we are still facing an uphill battle. There appears to be three groups:

The first group is the group that feels this is a waste of time. They do not see the need for doing this work. They are very happy with the way things are. How are we handling this group? By providing them with the big picture overview of our journey. We are giving them "pictures" of what the final product will look like. We are hoping this will help fill in the gaps they might have and get them motivated to work.

The second group is the indifferent group. This group is doing the work, but they are not really enthused about getting their hands dirty because they do not think they are qualified to do curriculum work. They would be okay if this initiative just died like so many others in education. How are we working with this group? First, by showing them they know more than they realize. We are taking small steps through each standard to guide them through the curriculum work.

The third group is the one that gets it. They have the big picture view and are comfortable with the standards and how important our curriculum is. How are we helping this group? Honestly, just by making sure they have the proper resources and staying out of their way. We are hoping this group will continue the dialogue with some of their colleagues from the other groups.

Honestly, we face these same situations working with our students. We have groups at different levels, and they need to be challenged at that appropriate level. The same steps need to be followed when we are implementing a new way of doing things with our staff. These adult learners are going to need the same patience, time and resources as the students in our classrooms. I think many times people assume that adults learn things a lot quicker than kids, but my experience tells me that assumption is incorrect.

Needless to say, we are moving along this journey as an entire staff. We will continue to provide the differentiated approaches to guiding the groups through this journey. We will have a lot of bumps along the way, but it is a journey we will face together.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Why Do You Do It?

My head was spinning with all the new information. I was having a hard time remembering the different programs and/or applications that were just shown to me. To be honest, I could not have remembered half of it if you offered me a million dollars to try and list them. I do remember saying to myself, as our tech guy was quickly leaving my class before we both had to head out to lunch duty, "This could change the way I do things."

The last few years, I have found myself uttering this same phrase repeatedly. Saying it to myself as I attend an EdCamp, participate in a Twitter chat, share information with my colleagues, and participate professional development sessions. To be honest, I am constantly searching for new ways to do things in my classroom: new projects, apps, getting the kids to blog, and implementing essential questions more consistently are just a few things over the years.

I had a friend of mine, who is not a teacher, ask me the other day: "Why do you do it? You have 20 years in, you know your material, the kids generally like you, so why keep pushing yourself?" I honestly did not have a very lengthly response. It was not full of a lot of teacher jargon using the latest catch phrases to make me sound effective as a teacher. I had a great interview response I was prepared to give, but found myself saying this simple sentence: "Because it is what I ask my students to do."

I work hard to walk the talk in my classroom. I want my students to see me making mistakes, challenging myself to learn more, asking questions of myself and others. I want them to see that learning stuff is fun. That figuring out a problem that we did not previously know can make us smile from ear to ear. That hard work can lead us to where we want to go. Things may not be handed to us, but that does not mean we can not have it. We just need to work harder for it.

How does this all relate to me being part of the Compelled Tribe Blogging challenge? I guess I was looking for another way to challenge myself. I know the importance of blogging regularly, but unlike exercise, it is not something I have implemented regularly. I am hoping my participation in this monthly activity will encourage me to be consistent in my reflection. If you are looking for a great post on constantly looking to get better, see this post by Rich Czyz (@RACzyz on Twitter) Titled Plussing. I think his post does a better job explaining why I am joining this project better than I could.

Oh, and what were the things our school's tech guy was showing me? How about Symbaloo, Desmos, and the latest search/citing choices through Google. If you have not taken a look at these, you really should. But be forewarned, you will have a headache from all of the new information. But, if we are doing it push ourselves and our students, then it is a pain worth getting.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

My "Glass" Classroom

I love being inspired by other people. I love learning about the latest pedagogy, website or app to use in my classroom. Being a connected educator allows me to learn anytime anywhere.

The latest chance for me to implement the above mentioned scenario was this week when I noticed the topic on the weekly Twitter chat #Hacklearning. The topic was about creating a Glass Classroom. I was immediately interested in this topic. I have been implementing a few new ideas to try and increase the transparency in my classroom.

The first way is by increasing my use of Google Classroom. I am fortunate that all of the students have accounts for Google Drive. This allows us to utilize Google Classroom daily. I was able to find a way, with a lot of help from our tech guy, to link the assignments I put on Google Classroom to a google calendar that parents can access. My ultimate hope is that they sync this calendar with their own. Ideally, this would be great to have on their smartphones so they are updated instantly. I know I have some students that have done this to help with their organization. Sure beats the small spiral notebook I carried around with me in school!

Secondly, I have started diving into essential questions more in my classroom. My students were asked to spend a few weeks thinking about an essential question centered around the topic we are working on. For example, my Algebra students were working on factoring polynomials. As a result, I was asking them to consider a time in life when breaking something down, or simplifying it, can help us better solve a problem. I was thrilled with the responses I received. They ranged from a discussion of breaking down major league baseball to how a doctor breaks down symptoms to attempt to cure a patient. I am hoping to share these responses with you next week after I check with the authors.

I am also in the process of having the Blogger option made available for our 7th and 8th grade students. I am hoping this platform will give the students a platform to share their thinking and learning with a wider audience. This venture has taken a little longer than I would have liked because of administrative rights within the server. I am hopeful in the near future to be able share my students' thinking with you.

So, with all of these additions, do I have everyone on board? Absolutely not. I just had two students last week as me, rather disbelievingly, "You put our assignments on Google Classroom?" In addition, with my linking the assignments daily to a calendar, I still have a parent that will claim they were not made aware of a project due date. I am always looking to improve communication with everyone and feel the above additions are going to help me achieve that.

How do you share what goes on in your Glass Classroom? I would love to hear from you...