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Showing posts from April, 2017

Peek-a-Boo I See You: Mindful Awareness of Personal Interactions

Peek-a-boo a time honored tradition of childhood curiosity and discrepancy. One minute our parents are smiling at us, the next they vanish, if only for a second. Nonetheless it is a temporary adjustment of isolation versus community. Not only is it important at this time of the year to let students see we are aware of their presence it is also crucial that they feel we are present as well every day, providing them the opportunity to continue to grow and excel both academically and socially. The moment they feel isolated they will shut down. The same curiosity and discrepancy occurs every day for our students. In one class they are independent and self-driven, in another they are merely a name with little choice or freedom, then they shift to a class with flexible seating, where they find their friends and interact, while in another they are in rows, quiet and compliant. This constant deviation of incentive and stimulus versus mundane and hunger causes students to lose enthusiasm and m…

Now You See It, Now you Don't: Combating the Motivation Doldrums

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The doldrums is a colloquial expression derived from historical maritime usage, which refers to those parts of the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean affected by the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone, a low-pressure area around the equator where the prevailing winds are calm.- Webster's Dictionary

It is that time of year, spring fever, "senioritis", restless anarchy. Students seem to converge at the spot of low pressure where nothing matters anymore. Where balloons are deflated and slowly falling to the floor. Summer is near and their minds and spirits are already there. Now you see it, a brief moment of engagement, they are talking and collaborating. They are focused on the task at hand but rather then immerse themselves in it, look for deeper meaning, they skim the surface only gaining knowledge that is in the shallow end, waders on, where their toes can touch the bottom. No swimming necessary. It feels very much like compliance. The eagerness and curiosity quickly diss…

Mindful Mindset: Trying to Stay Focused and Purposeful at the End of the School Year

The wall. It appears when you least expect it. Brick by brick you tear it down but it slowly rebuilds, eventually in full height appearing before you. Often it is made of sand and with a little tap it swishes apart, blowing away in the wind. Like a mirage. A momentary halt. While others are sturdy, encumbering, impenetrable. I hit the sand walls frequently but with a little breathing and calm focus I can send the sand to the breeze. But, these substantial, rooted structures take a little more time to demolish. I have watched it creep in to existence these last few days, I have struggled with it. But alas it has become fortified and now- a wall blocking my path lies ahead. I am neither happy or sad just stuck. I need to regroup and settle into the barricade, that way I can identify an alternate route. I need a quiet moment or two or three to simply scan the impediment and find a crack. An opening I can use to dismantle it. I have 5 weeks left of school and this obstacle needs to come d…

Skew Your View: Using Prompts to Get Students Thinking

A traditional curricular scope and sequence, lets face can limit the imagination. Any pacing guide forces teachers and students alike into a routine often with little wiggle room to alter. So teachers either have to move faster or leave out some activities that may not truly fit their curriculum. Every lesson has to be purposeful and relevant and connected to the educational standards. Concise instructions create fine lines that students must stay within to achieve the goal. Open-ended questions steer students into a realm of possibility but they often come with an expectation that students should answer it in a particular fashion using certain words or phrases. Still, unfortunately in the box in many cases. So how do we provide opportunities for students to think for themselves, find relevance and interest and also tie back to the standards? The best prompts come from a students ideas, their misconceptions, their curiosity and experience. If they wonder about something they are much …

Once More With Feeling: Our Need to Belong: The Struggles of Childhood and Adulthood

Growing up in my world of being bullied and teased relentlessly, created in me, a wall, too tall to traverse and too thick for sound to cross. This wall, still sturdy and impenetrable to many still casts a shadow over my personality. I go about my daily life sometimes forgetting it is there. Then situations arise where I retreat behind it afraid that others will not accept or appreciate my ideas. It is a human need to belong to something bigger than ourselves, family, friends, colleagues provide us these opportunities. Often, however, as individuals we can not find the level of comfort needed to let them in. To let them see the truth behind the curtain. I see this every day with students. The uncertainty of will I be popular, will I be teased? In fact it still haunts many adults.

As a child, I always felt like the Wizard of Oz, or Willie Wonka, never Dorothy or Charlie. Many asked things of me, expecting me to deliver. But many just took with little regard of my feelings or needs. I k…

"Lets Give it the Once-Over": Cursory Contemplation and Cogitation

Let's face it timing is everything. In a classroom especially, down-time may bring mayhem. But pushing students every second with out a moment to breathe can cause drag and defeat. Students need to be challenged and empowered but they also need a few minutes to just be kids. To tinker, play even just talk to their peers. This transition time between ending a lesson and the bell can be purposeful and authentic but also fun. Cursory contemplation I call it. Quick reflection and spontaneous recall and synthesis. These little snip its of time in my class are not meant to be deep and thought provoking, merely a time to make connections. They should be simple, concise and entertaining. Like a meme. Relevant and silly but also sometimes, albeit rarely when it comes to meme's, educational.

One strategy I use is What if....this type of questioning stimulates fluency, flexibility, originality and elaboration. They get to discuss with their table groups, or the whole class on occasion, q…

STAAR Wars: May The Force Be With You: 8th Grade Swap Day

The human body, a topic 8th graders have not discussed since last year. In fact it is a unit lasting an entire semester. In order to review for the STAAR test 8th grade and 7th grade science teachers swap students for a day. So today I am teaching a crash course about the human body systems to 8th graders, many of whom I taught last year. It is exciting to reconnect with these students.This could cause some behavior issues for some, but with a concise lesson plan disruptions are at a minimum. It is a different feel for sure. The vibe of each class is more chaotic causing a sense of imbalance. But after a little prompt from me it calms and they settle into a routine. 8th graders carry themselves differently, they definitely have a little more spunk in their interactions with teachers and they carry with them a sense of spring fever knowing that in less then six weeks they will be high-schooler's.

The classes I am teaching are GT classes so as much as they try to pretend they don…

Superheroes of Learning: Tinkering, Play and Authentic Activities for Student Growth

Humdingers, illuminating inquiry, makerspace, interactive edcamps, experimental design, games and toys to represent science concepts, debates and prove me wrong. These are just a few authentic, active activities that I implement in my classroom to steer the focus of learning on students through play and personal choice, performance and participation. A student-centered classroom is a place of flexibility, interaction and choice but as much independence and personal learning that is present in this classroom design, there also needs to be consistency and teacher created options to help students find their voice. The performance tasks need to vary and the tool box needs to include plenty of instruments, gadgets and appliances like a makerspace, full of a la' carte alternatives. A student-centered classroom needs to offer not a set daily menu but rather an a la' carte menu where students can pick and choose the courses they are hungry for as they enter the classroom.

Just because…

Buzz Buzz: Texas Quiz Bowl State Champions!

August 2016, I am sitting in my classroom watching my Texas Quiz Bowl team practice. It is our first year, the students are raw. Very inexperienced, clumsy, and they know very few answers. I am inexperienced, nervous, I have never coached a quiz bowl team before. We are rotating in teams of five to identify our strongest players. Our first ever tournament will be in a few days. I honestly have no idea what I am doing. I bought packets, registered three teams and now I am trying to get organized. It is a bit overwhelming seeing as I also mentor Future City, National Science Bowl and TEAMS an engineering competition. My head is just a confused mess. But, I watch my team for a few days and choose who I feel are the strongest players, never expecting to win anything just to gain some experience at our first tournament. I was wrong, we took 2nd place overall at our first competition, also a surprise to the other teams who have been competing for years. But, the win was a trifecta of circum…

An Interactive Edcamp: Mini-models and Catastrophic Events

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An Edcamp can be spontaneous, as my classes have done several times this year. Where I just put placards on tables and students sat down at the table that interested them. Then they just talked and shared information. Other times, I let students create demonstrations and share them. Students moved around from class to class and learned about various topics. We did this as a grade level for ecosystems. It was a two day event culminating from a 3 day decoration of our classrooms as different ecosystems: mine was three types of forests. Today I decided to have students have an interactive edcamp where they created mini-models of various catastrophic events and then they got into groups to share and demonstrate their models. This was the end of this unit and the beginning of our next unit which is succession.

Students discussed the impact these events have on weathering, erosion and deposition as well as how the weather or geological events cause damage to the environment. The models were…

A Follow-Up Discussion "They Will Tire of it Eventually": How to Plant The Seeds of Change

After class change, the reason I could not stop and engage in a fruitful conversation previously, I decided to return to the scene of crime. I found the same two teachers, still complaining but this time about a different student. I decided to begin a calm conversation about strategies I use to help these students feel more a part of the community. When they feel like they are hear, you allow them to be mobile, you give them a role, a purpose they feel connected. I told them I do not have the same problems with these students. To keep it positive, I added that when a student is tired or overwhelmed often their behavior changes. We need to make sure we pull them in daily. I told them about my 1-minute check-in's and that this is the best tool to help me make a connection with these students. After we check in daily they feel like their opinion matters. They see the positive smile I give them, the encouragement I show when they get to choose where to sit. The patience I show by mere…

"They Will Tire of It Eventually" : Six Words You Never Want to Hear About Your Students

Tire, a word with so many meanings: bore, dispirit, exasperate, overwork. This phrase has always perplexed me. Usually it was said about me by my grandparents, when I was outside running around like a ten year old, or unfortunately by my teachers, who believed I would tire of being lazy and off-task in class. I have never heard it used in a positive way, it definitely brings a negative connotation with it. I hear teachers saying it in the hall on occasion in regards to misbehavior behavior or complacency of one of their students. But, today I was privy to a conversation where two teachers were complaining about the same student. This time it drudged up memories of my childhood and it frustrated me. I absolutely loathe generalizations and complacency from educators. This is how students fall through the cracks, get labelled, have judgments placed upon them when they are not allowed to defend their actions. I had to leave the conversation before it steered into one of a lot of questions…

Quiet Observation: A Mingling of Cultures

A science center, a residence of discovery, exploration and robotics. A meeting place where schools, students, and cultures come to discuss and exchange strategies and ideas. A mingling of interpretation, skill, competitiveness and ultimately solutions. I am simply quiet, observing from a far as cultures from Israel, China and America smile, shake hands and embrace as they meet each other for the first time. A gathering of like-minded, scientific-minded students whose purpose is to brainstorm and collaborate about robotics. The engagement, generosity, excitement is in the air. The din of hundreds of conversations blend together almost harmoniously, a common goal, a unified frame of mind. It is awe inspiring to see these three vastly different cultures, no politics, no social segregation, no judgement, only science and purpose. Robotics.

The posture, mannerisms, facial expressions are so different. Jovial and outgoing versus restrained and determined. Yet both cultures very happy to be…

Students Subdueing Statistics: Interpreting Graphs and Data Tables

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I made posters of five colorful data tables, graphs about catastrophic events and the varying information about location, damage, and impact (see below). I thought they were colorful and that the information was straight forward. Most of my students interpreted them easily but more students than I thought struggled with the meaning and relevance of the information. They didn’t see the big picture, the connections. So I sat down and watched them as they went up to each one. I listened to their ideas and discussions. Then I reflected on why this skill, this very important skill of reading and interpreting graphs is such a struggle for many students. I thought it was just because they do not look at them very often. But it made more sense after I asked them some challenging questions. That was when I recognized the gaps between reading, interpreting and analyzing data representing in tables, data charts and graphs.
In science, it is critical that students be able to interpret graphs and r…

I Spy With My Little Eye.....Tink..Tinker...Tinkering and Engineering

I spy with my little eye...a mindset for learning. A place to tinker and design, create and build- a makerspace. Tinkering is a uniquely human activity, combining social interaction with individual creativity, forging a place where play and learning intertwine. When we allow students to take risks- create, destroy, rebuild, tinker, alter, rebuild- we are letting them experiment with their own ideas. We are letting them discover their own voice. A makerspace lets teachers take a step back and give students permission to trust themselves and think independently. Tinkering is what happens when students try something new, something they do not quite know how to do, guided by whim and fancy rather than rules and instructions. When you tinker there are no directions, there are also loads of mistakes but no failures, no rights and wrongs, simply trial and error. In a classroom this is the synergy of student ingenuity, making connections and habits of mind, an opportunity to see things in a d…

To Blend or Not to Blend? Is that still a Question?

What ever your term of choice: blended, hybrid, or flipped, a classroom that is designed for students, run and operated by students, is a classroom in which learning is happening. It should be an arena of flexibility and learning tools where voices are in harmony and opinions are valued. Blended learning is a mix of technology and hands-on activeness that allows students to set the pace, place and demonstration of their knowledge and understanding. Where as a flipped class is entirely in a students hands, with very little facilitation from the teacher, a blended classroom is a balance between on-line assignments over-time and authentic, interactive, and active learning experiences students complete in class either together or independently. It is unrealistic to believe students do not need a teacher to help facilitate their learning. But it is very realistic, as an educator, to step back and let students take the lead. We are no longer in an atmosphere of "sage on the stage"…

The Happiest Place in School: A Student-Centered Classroom

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Much like "The happiest place on Earth" adage for Disneyland it is more then just a saying, its an experience, an energy you feel as soon as you are in the parking lot. The anticipation, the excitement, the sound of laughter and joy. As a child, I lived in many places but the majority of my young adulthood, I lived a half an hour from the "happiest place on Earth." I had a yearly pass, visiting it as much as possible. The Disney vibe was very much integrated into my psyche. I knew very early on that when I became a teacher that the feeling of discovery and adventure found at this theme park, was what I wanted my classroom to be, "The happiest place in school, an interactive, engaging, student-centered atmosphere where most lessons were "rides" of inquiry and each unit was a land of enchantment. A flexible, challenging, interactive community based on interest and choice not traditional handouts, note-taking and homework. A blend of technology and hand…