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Showing posts from January, 2017

Leadership is Empowerment: Unshackling Student Potential

Leadership is not something every student aspires to. In fact, many students are way more comfortable letting someone else take the lead. They feel comfortable in a role of listener and follower. But it is important to get them out of their comfort zone and guide them to roles of captaincy, to steer the ship and delegate the responsibilities of  stewardship. Those whom you feel are the least likely students to influence others will shine if you give them the opportunity. Leadership can be supreme commander of a discussion or even pioneer of tinkering and creation, either way feeling like you have a say, your ideas will be followed, your guidance will be admired is a feeling every student should have. Sometimes they just need a nudge in the right direction.

Setting up a classroom that lends itself to self-direction, community and leadership is easy when you place desks in a communal layout. I have round tables, standing desks (4 pushed together) and science slate tables placed in trian…

Annihilate, Cultivate, Substantiate: Imagineering a New Mindset

A fixed mindset is one of staying comfortable in a bubble. Sticking with the routines. Never venturing too far away from normalcy, the traditional way of thinking that has shaped you. A growth mindset, is one of tearing down the box, seeking new opportunities to broaden your horizons, having an open-mind and free spirit. But is there different levels of a growth mindset? Can you be a free spirit but still be caged in by doubt and lack of ingenuity? What is necessary in order to truly embrace a growth mindset? Thinking about changing and actually innovating and reflecting, and growing consistently are two different stages in a complex web of adventure, set backs, and leaps forward. In order to encapsulate a call to action, a mission, to not take a stance but a running pace we need to cultivate, substantiate, and annihilate certain aspects of our psyche and schema.

Annihilation can be a messy process. To completely destroy or obliterate part of our thinking can be scary. But it may be ne…

A Carnival of Adventure or a Fortress of Solitude?

The image of a fortress often includes a large castle or wooden encampment atop a hill overlooking a city. A thick, guarded wall surrounding it. A barrier of protection, security its main purpose. But, generally it is constructed to keep others out. Not a prison to isolate, but a sanctuary to shelter. Unfortunately this citadel, for many students and teachers, becomes a stronghold, a fortification that hinders rather than defends. It puts us in a place where we begin to fear what is beyond the gates, deeming it the enemy, when in fact it is reinforcements. Teachers have this same insulation causing us to be hesitant to lay down the draw bridge and let others pass the great moat we have put in place around us. But in this profession we need to not be a fortress of solitude but a village of like-minded individuals. The townspeople who each have a unique attribute to provide for the town: blacksmith, carpenter, or shopkeeper. Each lending their knowledge in order for the town to fight of…

Welcome to the Battlefield

As teachers we all want to feel like we belong. That what we do in our classes and beyond makes a difference. We seek acknowledgement of our hard work but often it goes unnoticed, unless we brag and shout it from the mountain tops, a quality I myself try to avoid at all costs. I share on Twitter and Voxer but not in my own school. I just do not want to start waves when there is already tidal currents abound as it is. As teachers we go to conferences and read great books about teacher voice and leadership- but we often hold ourselves back for the fear of negativity from our peers. It is difficult to be a leader, no matter how positive our personalities are, how inspirational we may be, there will always be those who dislike us or are jealous of our accomplishments.

Teaching is a profession that I feel should be all about recognizing and celebrating accomplishments that have improved the learning of our students. I am not talking about test scores, but day to day classroom activities wh…

#ObserveMe

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The thought of someone coming in your classroom for any reason is unsettling for many teachers. They worry about judgement and ridicule. They stress about administrators and their colleagues seeing that they may not be perfect every day. That some lessons are more engaging and active then others. They want to know when any visitors may arrive so they can prepare their students, make sure they are on their best behavior. This to me though is limiting, I want visitors to pop in anytime and check out what is going on in my classroom. Whether it is active and loud, or simple and reflective, come on in. I was always curious though how to get people to come in during the school day. How do you advertise per se without sounding like you are tooting your own horn?

I was at a conference last week and low and behold someone mentioned the #ObserveMe movement. I was intrigued and went tot heir website and read about the strategies many teachers are using to invite others in, and how they are gett…

Delusional Discrepancies

I startled awake the other night, 4:12 a.m., eyes half closed, in the dark, I forgot where I was, who I was. This confusion kept me in a state of the "in between" for a moment or two, before the reality of the quiet humming of my fan brought me back to the here and now. I closed my eyes and tried to fall back asleep, but to no avail. I decided to reflect and write in my journal. I have no idea what broke my sleep but it did open me up to some great ideas. Those moments of clarity, when all else is dim and distant. These delusional discrepancies that create the back drop of who we are. In psychology lingo a delusion is belief or intention that even when contradicted stays steadfast in our mind. When you are half asleep, this is when most delusions appear. Then slowly as you wander back from slumber they become clarity losing their idiosyncrasy. These divergent discrepancies become compatible and converged into our schema.

How can we combat these delusional discrepancies- as t…

Let's Get Ready and Roll on to Something New

Transitions of course are the key to the quick, smooth, effortless change of course in a classroom. For me they can be an opportunity for brain breaks, turn to a partner, even 5-2-1 activities. My signal is a raised hand, a count down 5-1. Rarely does this not work and most of the time I raise my hand and others will get the class quiet before I even have to count down. Those seconds are the difference between calm and chaos. But to me they aren't really my transitions just the change-over. Transitions are those times when I am allowing students to find the connections, formulate the pattern, see the big picture. This week there was one such transition: heredity to asexual reproduction. Students understand that reproduction is fertilization but they often do not cross the bridge between uniformity and diversity, genetic randomness versus cloning, the importance of mutations and variation.

This year my team decided to teach types of asexual reproduction after Genetics. At first it …

Aces up Their Sleeve: Give Them Something to Believe

Students need something more then rhetoric, words, they need something to believe in. They need something more then words on a page, videos on the screen, they need tangible, active, experiences where they are the orators, designers, editors. This freedom for students is often smothered out early on in their education. Teachers need to expose them again to the excitement, curiosity, spectacle of knowledge. These subtle yet effective tools can be used to make learning a stage, the aces up their sleeve. Students need their hidden gems that they feel comfortable pulling out of their arsenal at a moments notice. When they have a treasure trove of strategies they are more prepared for any pitfalls or hurdles they must traverse. These obstacles can be self-created or brought about by a misunderstanding of the content. It is one thing to help them understand the content, it is another to help them figure out their best assault against confusion or frustration.

To provide them with a choice o…

Can You Change a Sloth into a Raptor? Transforming Students

What is a sloth? They are named after the capital sin of sloth because they seem slow and lazy at first glance; however, their usual idleness is due to metabolic adaptations for conserving energy. Aside from their surprising speed during emergency flights from predators, other notable traits of sloths include their strong body and their ability to host symbiotic algae on their furs.- Wikipedia

Birds of prey, also known as raptors, refer to several species of predatory birds (i.e. birds that hunt and feed on rodents). The term "raptor" is derived from the Latin word rapere (meaning to seize or take by force).These birds are characterized by keen vision that allows them to detect rodents during flight and powerful talons and beaks. -Wikipedia

We all have them students who are sloth like, slow to process information, by no means unintelligent, just slow moving students who either over-analyze or hyper-correct every assignment. These students who gather information in a different …

The Day After: Analyzing the Results

21 teams...7 schools....many many months of hard work...culminates...in this day. January 21st a day where junior high students from across Houston (1 from San Antonio, 1 from Dallas) competed in the Future City Competition 2017. Most school brought one team, several two, I was ambitious and brought three (by invitation from the host.) This is my tenth year as mentor for teams in this competition. Seven years in Georgia, and my third here in Texas. The Future City competition over my ten years has gotten more grueling and competitive. In Georgia each year there were about 132 teams, here in Houston on average 28. The rubric has changed making the requirements more challenging. Each region wants to make sure they send their very best team to nationals in Washington D.C.

It is a tough competition including many components: Playing Sims City (a video game) combining a presentation on every aspect of the game compiled into a power-point presentation, reflection included. A city descriptio…

The Calm Before the Storm: Overconfidence Can Lead to Under-performance

Most athletes or competitive players call it "choking." That moment when you take the stage, kneel before the starting block, begin your performance and just before the first word...or movement..you freeze, or lose your concentration. This lack of focus causes your confidence to wane, your voice to crack or muscles to seize. Basically you fumble, hit the wall, time-out but before you let the momentary lapse take over you snap back and continue sometimes flawlessly, sometimes not. I see my students do this at science competitions on a larger scale: stuttering in a speech, or knocking over their model. But, it also happens on a smaller scale in the classroom. Students who feel they know everything there is to know about a certain topic, a bit arrogant, a bit overambitious try to conquer the hill become king, only to find themselves at the bottom as a serf.

This battle of wits, internally of course, can be damaging causing reluctance to try again or it may just make them strong…

Don't Forsake Tactile for Technology: Technology is a Tool not a Goal

Technology, in most schools, is considered the true innovation. Without the latest Apps, Gadgets, Simulations, software a classroom is considered behind the times, unimaginative, traditional, boring. Many teachers say "Students will not learn a new concept unless you connect it to technology," or "Their attention spans these days are so short they need the flash and bang of technology to engage them." These flash-bang technological applications can be useful if they are relevant. They are worth while, only if they are purposeful and meaningful. Technology when over used, saturates the classroom, almost creating an atmosphere of virtual reality. So if we balance between tactile and technology are we doing harm? Or, Are we doing students a favor?

I have six laptop computers, none of which log on in less then ten minutes, so honestly what's the point? I use them only for Word or Power-Point. I also have 3 class i-pads, which have some pretty good Apps but only 3, …

Vocabulary Jumble: A Pictorial Adventure in Heredity

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The 7th grade Genetics unit has a lot of vocabulary. To me the cornerstone of any unit is the vocabulary but it is often covered through rote memory, Quizlets, worksheets, writing and defining words in a self-created glossary. I wanted to come up with a more community driven way to get the words visualized and put into memory without having to memorize a text book definition. first I gave them a simple reading about Genetics. It was a basic overview and embedded in it are tons of  vocabulary but they would have to find them. So I asked them as they were reading it to circle any words they could tie to Genetics. About 20 total. This was the 10 minute interval. Then the 5 minute interval was having them at tables discuss why they chose the words they did and to basically compare notes. Then students came up to the board and drew a pictorial definition and the word on the board until we had a full vocabulary jumble. Then we briefly for 2 minutes discussed the board. This was a mini less…

5-2-1 A Quick Makerspace Activity

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I use the makerspace as much as I can. Almost daily. But I think it works really well in quick bursts. As brain breaks or 5-2-1 at the end of class to reinforce a lesson. There are so many different materials in my makerspace, I do not always open up the whole space. For the 5-2-1, 5 minutes to design and make, 2 minutes to explain to the class, 1 minute to dismantle and clean up, I choose a few materials and roll them out on a cart or place them at the front of the space. This is definitely a strategy that needs modeling because getting the timing down takes several sessions. But once they complete the activity a few times, they are a beautiful thing to watch. They dismantle as another group is presenting, then as groups are switching they quickly put the materials back. It looks like a fine oiled machine.

Last Friday in the last 8 minutes of class I decided to have a 5-2-1 because the days activity was kind of dry, Mendel's Theory of Inheritance. A short video, a collaborative c…

Teachers Block: Its a Thing

Staring at a blank, white screen, cursor blinking.. .. .. .. incessantly..why..can't..you..think..of..something..to..write. The frustration adding to the chaos in my mind. The words vanishing as soon as I think of them. Nothing I want to say seems valid or worth typing, I simply pause. This is such a bad place to be in as a writer. As a teacher, worse, with 30+ eyes staring back at you, wondering why you stopped, why you seem confused, why what it appears to them, you seem disinterested. But in reality, your mind has been flooded to saturation, too many things to do, teach, organize, complete, that your brain just gives an error code and shuts down. This can be for a moment or for several. How do you get back on track now that your students have also seen the error code? How do I sort through the chaos in my processing? How do I shrug the temporary set back off and reconvene the class? I laugh, "Brain fart." or "Epic fail." My students laugh. Then I set them of…

Demonstrative and Determined

We all have that student, the one that speaks a little too loudly, often resulting in odd looks from classmates. The one eager to say hello when they see you in the hallway. They have no reluctance to outwardly show their affection. They energize me every day. I simple smile when I see them. This type of personality often is joined with a deep sense of determination. Little deters them from a goal set by themselves. They will always volunteer to share their projects or answer questions. When I sing or dance to keep the mood upbeat and focused, they are the ones who jump up and sing too, with not even the slightest embarrassment. They are simply infectious. Every class tends to have at least one. So easy to teach because all assignments are perfect, turned in on time, they always go up and beyond.

These students however are often perfectionists and I need to help them constantly let go, be finished. Help them see that failure is o'kay. It is what we do with the failure that is impo…

Tweaking the Trajectory

It is dead silent, all eyes on me, my mind is wandering ferociously trying to figure out how to make this discussion change course. Tweak the trajectory. The mood is not energetic like normal with students practically jumping out of their seats ready to get started on the days activities. This, what was supposed to be a quick blurb introducing the lesson, has morphed into a moment of confusion. The topic of Genetics can be challenging with all the vocabulary and abstract concepts. Of course phenotypes we can see but the genotypes of heredity the chromosomes, genes, alleles well, they are as abstract as you can get. So blank stares continue as I briefly search for an anecdote. A real world, relevant topic of debate, heated debate actually, cloning. Just the word evokes fear in the hearts of many. Science Fiction horror stories of technology taking over the world, clones taking over our lives, basic mayhem.

"What if...?" I say quietly.....My simple use of the word cloning and …

A Legion of Learners

My goal this week is to discover new simple ways to switch areas of my classroom over to my students. Flexible seating is working great. Allowing students to move about, switch table groups, meet new people is a great community builder. Collaborative groups are very much a part of daily life in our room. Sometimes I secretively set the teams up based on personalities, skill and even possibility. The more opportunities my students have for flexibility and self-determination the more my students will be open-minded toward the curve balls I tend to throw at them. Rather than dodging the pitches they catch them or swing the bat. They do not always result with home runs but they always end with a base hit.
I have been Voxing a lot and listening to some absolutely amazing educators. They inspire me every day. Today, two such insightful individuals: Alana Stanton and Teresa Gross, opened my mind to new arrangements of furniture in the classroom, but also letting students have access to the w…

Inheriting the Nature of Cohesion: A Teachers Passing of Traits to Students

Cohesion, or collision of thought. Mind over matter. Relevance and interest meet common sense and contemplation. How do we as teachers get students to inherit these percussion's of ideas and behavior? Setting the stage for action does not always mean this passing of traits or semblance of knowledge will occur. I know from experience that what I think is an awesome lesson is not always what my students find engaging. Relevant maybe but not necessarily of interest. I find that to truly get these traits or encounters to collide and gel, they need to be deliberate based on personal opinion, operation, and reflection. In other words, active and authentic but also personalized. Personalized learning is cohesion. Ultimately isn't that what we want for our students? A colliding of mind, purpose, and choice.

How can we do this? Today I was a docent, nudging my students to walk about, learn from each other, appreciate the art and listen to the stories behind the artifacts. Rather than g…

Pioneers of Possibility

As a wise man just wrote to me a few days ago, "Your students are making ideas, making assumptions, and making conclusions. Inquiry is mind-making and mind expanding." This has stuck with me since. I truly believe that as a teacher my responsibility is to teach my students how to teach themselves. To show my students there is a light inside them that only they can ignite. Learning is the "big dig" the construction zone, the last piece in the puzzle completing the big picture. The pieces of the jigsaw, the cones and hazard signs, the land mover all tools at their disposal. They are the engineers and architects while we are the foreman. It is my goal every day to let my students make. Simply have a quiet moment to make something. 

Students make both tactically and mindfully: using both hands and mind. Teachers tap into these using active, authentic learning experiences where students see their own tools whether a box of crayons, a container of play-doh or an ipad. Any…

Disneyland: An Example of Classroom Design

I remember going to Disneyland growing up. Back then, I will give away my age, in the 1970's they did not have season passes, but rather a booklet of coupons. You actually had to pay more for E tickets, the ones you used for Space Mountain or Pirates of the Caribbean. They only gave you 4 in the book. Imagine going to Disneyland and having coupons and when you ran out, no more rides. I remember when the Matterhorn was finally completed, I was so raring to ride it. I got in line only to discover when I got to the gate I was too short to ride it. I was so upset but calmed down when I realized, at least I still had another E ticket. Instead of using it then and there, I went to FantasyLand and rode the Dumbo Ride and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, they were C tickets I had plenty of those. The last ride of the day a D ticket, The Haunted Mansion. Still exactly the same today as it was back then, why change what works.

At Disneyland there were 5 different lands to visit : AdventureLand, Fr…

Scientific Rotation

At first I though what a great idea. Then as it sunk in I began to realize I would have three days of someone else's students. This began to worry me a bit. Then I remembered not 6 classes of this particular lesson but 24. Is this a good idea I asked myself. But, I refuse to give up on a challenge, so I got my team on board and after one day back from the holiday break we began, scientific rotation, or three days of students rotating around between teachers to learn about humans in space. Rather than teach all 8 topics we each chose two and well we became experts at these and created what I was hoping would be engaging lessons.

I was warned, "you have to be careful of this student, this period has these students who will misbehave etc.: I chose to ignore their warnings because it was only for one class period and who knows maybe they will "behave" not my words, for me. Thursday one teachers students, Friday another teachers students, Monday the final rotation of a d…

A General Absence of Motivation

A morning like any other. Drowsy, coat laden children meander in dreading the day to come. First period, my one class that seems unexcited and utterly despondent with school, every morning. The announcements play, the pledge is muttered with hands on hearts. Then the simultaneous screech of chairs as students scootch in. I am tired too of course, sipping on my morning cup-of-joe. It is 7:25 and the darkness of the Katy sky still lingers. I take attendance and they remain sullen, half of them with heads on their tables. This is the moment I choose to ignore the general absence of motivation, in fact I reject it and insert my own reality. I take a deep breath.....tell a joke, ask a probing question. A little more focus, eyes now making their way to the front of the room. Motivation still absent. But then I pull a ball of play-doh,  wicky sticks and pipe cleaners from the makerspace and ask one simple question..."What can you create that tells me about today's topic, Genetics?&q…

Embrace or Retrace

As a learner myself, I of course at times feel frustrated and discouraged, while other moments feeling the mastery of a skill or inspired to take on more challenges. I see the world only through my eyes and my eyes can betray me or the vision they display can set the stage for personal growth. A growth mindset is a choice not taken by all. Fear and discouragement can lead many to a corner of fixed ambitions. But with a little nudging we can lure them out at least for a little while. Change can be scary. Chaos is not a goal of many. Upsetting the status quo maybe but not utter anarchy. Many teachers shy away from situations of rebellion or resistance for fear of such anarchy. But, uprising's need not be disorderly, only a disturbance in the force. This interference leads to change either subtle or boisterous. We can either embrace it or retrace and move in reverse.

Engagement does not always mean bells and whistles. Over my years of teaching it is often the quiet moments of a perso…

Rebellion is Built on Hope

I just finished watching Rogue One for the first time. I can't believe it took me so long to see it, but illness prevented me from seeing it earlier. Amazing movie, no spoilers I promise. It just inspired me in so many ways that I have to write about it. There are two quotes that stick with me the most "Rebellion is built on hope," and"I'm one with the Force. The Force is with me." They are two ideals I will add to my 2017 repertoire. I have to admit I have always been a rebel. As a child, I questioned everything, was big on problem-solving (took apart the phone and remote many times) and was always outside rough and tumble with the boys in the neighborhood. I never had many friends but my imagination always took me to distant galaxies and magical landscapes. I grew up in a world of fantastic movies like E.T., Raider's of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, and Close Encounter of the Third Kind. What a time to be immersed in film as a child. These movies helped me…

Curiosity Never Killed A Cat

"Curiosity killed the cat" is a proverb used to warn of the dangers of unnecessary investigation or experimentation. A less frequently-seen second part to the statement "curiosity killed the cat" is "but satisfaction brought it back" I had never heard the second half of the statement before. But it makes sense. Often we get boggled down with useless information, erroneous data and personal opinion that muddles our focus. The important thing to remember, I tell my students often, is to formulate a plan, implement the procedures, and reflect on your findings. Always have a goal in mind before beginning any lab. Whether it is observation or experimentation the goal will keep you aligned with your curiosity. The second things become complacent and convoluted is the moment the energy or life of the project dies (or the proverbial cat).

Curiosity didn't kill the cat, actually the lack of organization, confusing procedures, or lack of focus did. Curiosity is …