Showing posts from 2017

Looking Past the Assessment: Widening the Lens

What I am about to say is obvious, any teacher knows the importance of assessments. Assessments are an integral part of education. They have value in that they provide a probing into performance and progression. Evaluations allow us as teachers, to understand how well we did at facilitating a lesson as much as they demonstrate the acuity of our students. Assessments are necessary for so many reasons: They validate growth, expose deficiencies and make evident the needs of our students. They can be formal like a multiple-choice test or informal like a 1-minute check-in, both of which will indicate the need for enrichment or remediation. Assessments of course, are also formative, monitoring growth consistently throughout a unit of study with consistent feedback or summative, like a final exam or end of unit project. Either way, they are a component we can not displace or ignore. They are tools we need to use for more than just calculating a grade. They need to be a part of the process of…

Looking Past the A: What Does an A Really Mean: Isolated Achievement or Large Scale Connection?

There are three types of learners: those that have an innate talent or skill where understanding and demonstration come easy, those that through hard work, dedication, motivation and practice achieve their learning, and those that always seem to fall short, they struggle and without tutoring or mentoring they just seem to barely make it, but with a little finesse and facade building they can fake their way to a passing grade and even sometimes an A. All of these students receive A's for projects even assessments but they are mastering the content at very different levels. So, what does an A actually mean?

An A is a snapshot, a glimpse of comprehension. The information aligned for them, creating a synergy of assimilation, perception and realization. But, does that moment of synthesis last? When the class moves on to the next lesson is there a retaining of that knowledge? Can a student store this previous evidence into their database to be pulled and added to future endeavors? Will …

Pod Cast Examples: A First Attempt at Pod Casting: Endocrine Glands POV

Notice they are not perfect but that students did include all the vital information in a fun way. These are their first attempt at pod casting. Later on I will include some of their pod casts and it will be obvious that trial and error and experience will make their pod casts more professional. But, as a first attempt, they did pretty well. Now its practice, practice, practice and building confidence.

Interviews, Pod Casting and Collaboration: An Experimentation in Large Group Dynamics

Working in a large collaborative group can be daunting. There are so many voices all trying to be heard, or not heard for that matter. It brings out the best in many people: natural leaders tend to migrate to the forefront. But, it also isolates those quiet voices that tend to be muted by the din of extroverts. Even with the challenges, large group collaboration is a skill every student should be presented with. It pushes them to find their voice and their point-of-view.

Participating in such a high-energy, fluid, environment builds camaraderie as well as strengthening confidence and personal identity. It may seem shaky at first, but given time to overcome the hurdles of personality clashes and the inevitable talking over one another, the process will generally lead to some great results. It reinforces mindfulness and respect and forces students to listen one another.

This week my students had to join up as a team of four to research an assigned Endocrine gland and then as a group com…

The Moment of Inception: A Journey of Empathy

The Moment of Inception

I was twelve, I remember it vividly, I had spilled apple juice on my literature book and the corners of the book were soaked. This had happened in my back pack, a lunch bag explosion that occurred frequently because of the amount of books we had to lug around throughout the day. We couldn't afford a lunch box so my lunches were placed in paper bags, like most of my classmates. But, I chose to stuff mine in the top of my back pack rather than carry it around. Mostly because it generally ripped open at some point, before lunch, spilling the contents all over the floor. The situation made more embarrassing because I was an outsider, a target, and no one would help me pick it up. Instead, they would deliberately stomp on the food or kick my sandwich down the hallway. That day's lunch had a chocolate pudding cup and Mandarin oranges, my favorite, so I was being over protective. Unfortunately this vigilance led to another altercation with my literature teache…

The Adventure of a Lifetime: Anticipation, Agitation, Action!

When you are feeling under the weather and are stuck in bed with the flu two things happen: You sleep a lot and you reflect. I spent the last five days reflecting on why I became a teacher. I thought about how I learn, how we all learn and grow. Also, how each of us are so unique and beautiful but how we are also connected by three universal themes: adventure, curiosity and conquest of self-doubt and ignorance. No one chooses to be uneducated or illiterate. In fact, the pathfinder and pioneer in all of us needs only to be supplied with the tools of exploration and discovery and with a little imagination, we will always try to answer the questions that our minds ask. It is a human trait to be inquisitive. As educators, we need to recognize this and simply step aside and let students loose on their adventure, devices and implements in hand.

We Are All Adventurers 
At heart we are all adventurers. We love the anticipation of traveling somewhere new and exciting, even if it is …

The Singular Moment When You Lose Faith

I have been judged, ridiculed, even chastised. I have been corrected, "put in my place," even been told off. I listen and rarely fire back, I always think of comebacks or responses long after the person has left. They feel smug, entitled. I feel broken. I do not have thick skin, although I wish I had. As a professional one rightfully expects to be treated as one. When you are not it chips away at your spirit. It hardens you. The joy wheezes out leaving you deflated. Feeling disenfranchised and forgotten. I give it my all every day, never compromising or taking the easy way out. I wake up and decide intentions, which I speak aloud, reinforcing their power, their allure. I repeat them like a mantra.

It is all about perspective. I accept the backlash from being a rogue traveler. I listen to criticism and try to improve myself. I reflect a lot. I take responsibility for my short-comings, of which I have many. I am the only one to blame when things do not turn out as planned. I m…

Turning a Downward Spiral into an Upward Force of Nature

Social media, honestly it is a wondrous thing when it works. When you find a clan of like-minded individuals who elevate your thinking, the sky is the limit. Those distant clouds of intention, solution and conception become a womb of strength below you. Like a stronghold of certainty. You are forever changed. The wisdom, encouragement and illumination of your clansman can take even the darkest moments of frustration and give them meaning.

Isolation of spirit is forever transformed into a conglomeration of ideas. Swirling around you like a cool breeze on a hot afternoon. Tantalizing and energizing you to enjoy the essence of nature. The whistling of the trees, the vibrancy of color and shade, the bouquet of life's aroma. Each layer of wilderness adding another dimension, beckoning you to venture in a little bit deeper. But, if you do not leave some breadcrumbs to track your journey into the clear, you often get lost and entangled in the muddle.

You need to recognize that social med…

Meinertzhagen's Haversack: Using Red Herrings, Ruses and Escamotage in the Classroom

What is Meinertzhagen's Haversack?

Meinertzhagen’s Haversack is actually a reference to the Haversack Ruse, employed by British Colonel Richard Meinertzhagen during World War I. In 1917, the British were having a difficult time defeating Turkey and taking Gaza. To create a ruse or 'red herring' Colonel Meinertzhagen doctored a bunch of fake war plans, put them in his bag, tricked a few Turkish soldiers to chase him on horseback, and during the course of the chase, Meinertzhagen dropped the bag, deliberately.  He had filled the bag with fake letters from home and rations as well as some money, to make it seem as though it was an important bag he really didn’t want to lose. More specifically, however, he put doctored maps and military plans inside to throw them off track. He made sure the nap sack seemed legitimate and valuable. The Turkish soldiers found the bag, or haversack and were so convinced that the documents inside were authentic, that they sent them up the chain of co…

It's A Jungle Out There: A Students Perspective

Introduction: Hurricane Harvey impacted every one of my students in some way. While some lost their belongings and had to relocate, others gave back and volunteered in their community. We were out two weeks and students were watching the news, dealing with the disaster first hand, studying at home trying to stay focused on school, and many were dealing with the situation by just being kids: playing video games, reading books and catching up on their favorite television shows. No matter what activities they participated in over the unexpected break, now each student is dealing with the affects in their own way. Throughout this week, our first week back after the storm and flooding, our actual second week of school, I sat down during one-minute check-in's, at table talks and even yesterday at our first quiz bowl tournament of the year and asked my students questions, listened intently to their responses and gained a lot of insight as to how a catastrophic event like Harvey truly per…

F.O.M.O. Feeling of Missing Out- Harmonizing the Learning Environment After a Setback

Obstacles occur in every classroom. These complications can be almost indistinguishable and easily overcome or they can be dynamic and life-changing. As educators, how we deal with a disturbance or interference makes all the difference. Either way, large or small, as teachers we need to have strategies in place to help our students recover from them. They need a stronghold on routine and familiarity so that when they re-enter the classroom, their footing is solid. Students need to know that the foundation of the learning environment is consistent with what they remember, what they are already comfortable with. The first few days need to be structured but flexible. Have conversations about what happened, but keep them short and get back to learning quickly. By having a review of previous content, students will begin to feel more connected and at ease. Just talk, make connections, let students feel comfortable with what they have learned, before you add new information. As facilitators,…

A Tear in the Fabric of Space and Time

Nothing feels the same after a catastrophic event. The colorful looks washed out. The vibrant becomes dingy. What was once routine, going to the school, becomes complicated. Learning no longer takes precedence. When students return to school on Monday we are having an activity schedule, so we can spend some time in the morning block to just talk and reassure our students. We have 10 teachers who have been displaced due to major flood damage. We have many students who have been relocated for the same reason and many new students entering our school because they are now living with family members. Things will feel and look very different. It feels like a tear in the fabric of space and time. Yes, I am a huge Whovian (Dr. Who) fan and the aftermath of Harvey feels very much like a blending of two worlds: one shiny and active, the other in slow-motion, every new action trailing behind the last.

The Doctor never runs away from a challenge, well sometimes he does from danger, but he always …

Happiness: Pervasive and Perpetual

What does happiness look like? Pink: wispy, magical, sugary goodness like a puff of cotton candy. The shininess of a Mylar balloon, floating calmly above the excitement and laughter of celebrating children. The perfect semblance of wind and water as a line of surfers, anticipate their next wave. Finding 'flow,' the transformation of thought into purpose, forgetting problems or adversity and losing yourself in the moment. The locality of desire, determination and direction. Yes, happiness is visual and colorful. But, happiness is not merely external reward or acquired revenue. It is communal and boundless, family and friends. A beautiful image only you can see. A smile that emanates from a memory as fresh as the day it occurred. Happiness is also exclusive, cozy and personal.
It is often forgotten in times of struggle or endeavor, yet it is omnipresent. An internal continuance, within us, pouring through our minds, even in the darkest of times. It may trickle or dribble, but it …

There and Back Again

You just want to help. You collect items and deliver them to shelters. You offer your time, they say we have plenty of volunteers at the moment. Go check at this place or that. You walk around in a haze because you honestly do not know what to do. How you can make the biggest impact. Financial donations of course are helpful but not meaningful. You want to offer help to those who are under-recognized. Maybe undocumented. The fear of deportation keeping them in their homes. You want to be anonymous, sneak in and do some cleaning, then vanish into the shadows. You do not speak Spanish, but you understand anguish. You speak devastation fluently. You are seen as a foreigner, so you have to coax your way closer. Smile, offer a hand to shake. They will not let you close but they will accept supplies. They will smile and nod.

There are shelters and churches, food banks and police stations but many refuse to go, to seek help. There are so many in need, that it simply becomes overwhelming for …

'Weathering the Storm' Means More Than Just Surviving

I was working at the Katy ISD STEAM center last Thursday night. It was crowded with high-school students working on their robots. Not a cloud in sight. Students were focused on their task when several phones beeped with text messages, mine as well. It was an update from our district that school was cancelled for Friday August 25th. The hushed voices became a din of excitement as the news spread. Students began to call their parents and I could hear one particular conversation as the student came out into the reception area to be able to hear their parent over the commotion, "Can I stay at Rogers tonight school is cancelled for tomorrow? I know, I do not know why either, but it is a day off." The cancellation was for preparation, evacuation and taking shelter before the storm hit. Yet, with the hullabaloo occurring around me it felt more like a vacation, at least for the teenagers in the building. The adults became somber, knowing that if our district cancelled school, Harvey…

Hitting the Pause Button: A Week In to School

Anticipation of this storm started early. The hum of worry echoed through the hallways as early as last Monday. Our school even had an emergency weather drill on Thursday. It become more real when school was cancelled Friday but even then the rain stayed away for the most part. Many became complacent and felt they were not going to be affected. Saturday came and a few showers occurred but still most of Houston remained basically dry. Over night Saturday my neighborhood flooded. As did much of Houston proper. Evacuations are numerous. Streets impassable unless you are in a Hum-V. The National Guard made its way through a few hours ago. Bringing the realization that this disaster is only going to get worse. Boats and tall trucks are rescuing many, yet, on my street children were splashing in the streets as the announcement was made that our school district is closed until after Labor Day. But for adults, this is when reality set in. We are trapped in our houses for days to come.

We have…

The Power of a Classroom Graffiti Wall: Personal Expression

Why Graffiti?

Graffiti is a way of creating. An art form of expression. Intricate and unique, colorful and dynamic. On exteriors of buildings and underpasses it builds a sense of mystery, an announcement of presence and authority. These same levels of interpretation and articulation run deep in a student-centered classroom. Having a location where students can declare and comment on content is a great way to bring voice to even the quietest of students. Anonymity is appreciated. Fluidity of vocabulary and artistry is crowd-pleasing. As much as a beautiful mural of graffiti is work of art, a classroom graffiti wall is an intricate weaving of demonstration of knowledge and personal narration and style.

What is a Graffiti Wall?

A large space, preferably a black board. Chalk just creates a feel unlike any other writing tool. Smearing and powdery, creating a sense of urgency and impermanence. I like to leave it blank for a few days, letting students see the need to draw and add their flavor…

Why So Serious? Laughter is Good for the Soul.

Farce, hilarity, wisecracking, three tools that are often neglected in the classroom. However they are useful ammunition. If used effectively they will not just brighten up a complacent learning environment but they will transform it into a haven of connection, cognizance, comfort and delight. This year, for me joy and mindfulness begin with a humble laugh and creating a humorous and compelling place where smiles occur daily and respectful banter is common place.

That first chuckle, giggle, guffaw. The moment their deadpan expressions turn into audible grins. This is the juncture when our classroom transforms from a stage to a society. Give-and-take becomes the norm. Quiet shifts to orderly networking. Each voice an interchange, communication seems like witty banter between characters, seamless and charged. The humor of a learning environment is a two-way street. An avenue of laughter, all the while, being one of academic attainment. Joking around may seem off-task but it builds rappo…

Magical Mystery Tour: A Calling Card Extravaganza

It was about 1:30 in the morning, the eve of the first day of school. I was restless, couldn't sleep. So I just stared into the darkness of my room and envisioned a blank wall. I tried to imagine what a wall, that would encompass my mindful philosophy and student personalities, would look like. In the past, I have used 'All About Me' and other colorful handouts for students to share their backgrounds and interests. But, these stayed up for a few days, maybe a week and then ended up in the recycle bin (student choice). So I wanted to do something different this year. Incorporate the same basic idea, but also have it purposeful and relevant every day. A long-lasting and impactful design where students were building a community not just talking about themselves.
What came to mind was my UCLA quad community board. There was everything from lost cat signs to I need a partner to study fliers. It was always a messy, hodge-podge of student communication. This intrigued me. I knew…

A Student-Centered Classroom: Design with Students in Mind

August 16th, a year that will live in merriment. A student-centered classroom becomes even more so by doing a few simple things. Colliding with science is my moniker on Twitter as well as our class blog and website. So it made sense to use it as our class motto. A vision is important and this created a sense of wonderment and magic as they entered the room. I also call our room a community and we start the year off with a group 'mingle' activity and creating our own motto's and logo's. These are then hung on the wall, on our community board. But, alas that is a topic for the next blog post.

When I was designing my wall space I decided to go minimalist. To leave the responsibility to my students so they feel connected to the community arena completely. The back wall of the classroom is a giant collision board where students will add articles, pictures and any other artifact they desire, to build the 'big picture' and make connections between concepts. I got it …