Sunday, June 11, 2017

Embracing the Fidget Spinner Fight

This is a combined blog effort with English Middle School Mania

The 2016-2017 school year is officially over for us! We are so beyond ready for summer. For weeks we’ve been fighting the “fidget spinner battle” and that combined with trying to keep students engaged during the last week of school got our wheels turning. As teachers we tend to understand the last week of school is often something the students aren't going to put much time or effort into, they're "checked-out" and so are we. We were both undecided going into the last full week of school (That's the beauty of teaching for a combined total of 21 years, we could pull something together over the weekend!), then I said, "Wanna do a project about Spinners?" Of course Andi’s answer was “yes.”

Our Eastern Hemisphere teacher also got in on the action. So, we started creating it on a Thursday, and continued adding pieces over the weekend. However, we’re really proud of what we came up with:

Learning Objectives
Students will:
  • Collect data.
  • Graph and analyze data using circle graphs, scatter plots and box plots.
  • Calculate mean/average.
  • Convert time (minutes to seconds) using proportions.
Students will:
  • Collect evidence for and against spinners as fidget toys
  • Present an argument to:
    • Persuade your teachers and principals to accept and see the benefits of fidget spinners
    • Convince your peers to stop spinning and to see the challenges it causes for others
Students will:
  • Research toys through the 20th-21st centuries
  • Generate a list of the top 20 toys of the 21st century
  • Design a toy

You can find the Math piece here and the ELA piece FREE here. The projects were actually pretty great! The students loved working together for the four days, and even though we only had four school days left in the year, a lot of the students really worked hard to create a solid presentation for our last full day. They took ownership of their learning and their projects.

For math, I wanted to focus on applying useful math skills in a meaningful way. I also wanted students to apply skills that they had learned this school year. I not only wanted students to take ownership, s wanted them to answer that age old question, “When am I ever going to use this?” Students were given opportunities of choice and were able to share their opinion of this hot topic. Although the ELA focused on the debate of the topic, students had to take a stance and develop a survey question for their position of “To spin or Not to spin?” with statistics in mind. The math of this project focused on collecting and analyzing data to back up their argument and test the quality of these overnight sensations. The price of these little gadgets range from $5 to $40 and are made from a plethora of materials. After gathering all the data and creating displays, students were expected to analyze their data in such a way to decide if price and materials plays a role in how well a fidget spinner spins.

For ELA, Mrs. Adams wanted the students to focus on one last argument piece. Articles were chosen to outline positives and negatives of spinners as a useful fidget. The students also needed to create a survey to track their argument. Some of the groups were surprised. They thought everyone would vote yes in favor of spinners in the classroom, however about half of the students they surveyed were against them. After gathering all the data and creating displays, students were expected to present their math data and their argument showing evidence to support their stance on spinners.

This brought us to this blog post today. I thought of how we embraced this item that has become the bane of teacher's existence. We took something that challenged us and turned it around on the students. As many say, “if you can’t beat them, join them.”

What we as teachers need to do is help our students take ownership of their learning. We need to help them make that shift. I think Ownership is the biggest shift in education. Ownership is by definition the “fact of being an owner.” This may not be true for all but when you own something, you have a sense of pride about it. You want to show everyone and you sometimes brag about it. When you think about all of the buzzwords and phrases that have been around for the past 10 years: project-based learning, one-to-one, flipped learning, blended learning, flexible seating, flexible spaces, genius hour, makerspace, growth mindset... What do they all have in common? We're trying to put the student in charge of the learning. All of these things were also created with the student in mind and tend to promote a student centered environment.

Why do we get so frustrated over small objects spinning in our peripheral vision? It's because we feel like they are distractions from the learning. They usually are, but that's because the students are taking ownership of everything in front of them instead of their own learning. It is also frustrating to see the way fidget spinners are being marketed. Let’s face the fact that they are indeed toys.

If you want to continue teaching the way you were taught and the way your parents were taught, stop reading NOW. If you want to embrace this shift: Try, and really do it, don't just say it, but try to focus on one of those phrases from above. If you already do one, add in another! All of these practices are meant to help students take ownership of their learning. Which should be the ultimate goal, to get the students to care equally or even more than you, as an educator, do about their learning or education.

As educators, we should focus on only what you can control. This means if you are the only teacher embracing student ownership, so be it. You can't control the others in your building or on your grade level team. You can also say over and over that you wish the parents would instill this concept themselves, but you can't control that either. You can only control your classroom.

So, when the next annoying fad comes in, embrace it. Your students will love you for it and will learn so much from it. Show your students how they take ownership of that fad, and they can take ownership of their learning too. Enjoy the end of the school year if you are finishing up. Rest, Relax, and Rejuvenate over the next few weeks. Tell me below what your students were obsessed with and how you could have incorporated it into your instruction.

Until next time,

Friday, June 9, 2017

Flipping over Math

For the past year and a half I have embarked on a journey to flip my 7th grade math class. Since I have officially end the 2016-2017 school year, I thought it was fitting to reflect on my process, achievements, and struggles. As I sit here, I think about:

  • What went well?
  • What can I improve? 
  • How to use the feedback I received?

I guess I'll begin with the basic question, "What is a flipped classroom or flipped learning?" Flipped learning is when content is delivered electronically prior to the class before the content will be applied. Students take notes or study the lesson on their own and come to class with knowledge of the topic. There are tons of layouts but I personally like to use: 1) videos to deliver the lesson, 2) a quick assessment to show prior knowledge or area of need, 3) quick mini review at the beginning of class then, 4) application or further instruction in small groups depending on student need during class.

What went well?

Given that I began transitioning to a flipped class after 1st Quarter in 2015, I feel that I was better prepared this year and the students received the idea of flipped learning better than my previous students. Students knew exactly what was expected since the 1st 2 weeks was dedicated to practicing what flipped learning would look like and the parents were clearly communicated with about the process. Last year I used a Google Site to house my content while this year I used Schoology to hold all the videos and quick checks in a single assignment. I found that this change simplified the process for my students.
This is from last year. I used a Google Site, Videos (Youtube, Learnzillion
I posted the assignment in Schoology, my school's LMS, then added a link to
to my site. Even though the link never changed, I would drop the ball and
forget to post the link in the assignment sometimes. Students would use 
that as an excuse. That would drive me bananas but I could be angry since 
I forgot the link.
This screenshot is from this school year. I gave the students what to write in their 
table of contents of their notebook, the essential question(s), and instructions. I 
posted the video, notes, and questions in a Schoology quiz. This automatically 
graded the questions and students are also able to submit their notes directly in 
the Flipped Lesson. I stressed to the students that notes are most important and 
answer the questions to the best of their ability came second. It was more important 
to me that they had solid notes than correct answers. I used a rubric to check notes.
Students received a participation grade for notes.

Here is my generic "Rate Yourself" question that was included in every 
quick check. When grouping for the lesson, I would look at student 
performance on the questions first and at the self reflection questions second.
I would build tiered groups:
  • Level 1- Small group with the teacher
  • Level 2- Additional practice with a group or partner
  • Level 3- Extended practice or application
I am also excited to report that about 80% of my students would complete the flipped learning nightly. That is a great improvement considering the 30% of students completing it the year prior. My goal for next year is to have at least a 95% completion rate. I am not sure how to go about achieving my goal at this time but I'm working towards targeting parental support.

What can I improve?

There are several things I would like to improve. To begin with, I'd like to use videos made by myself almost exclusively. There are some YouTube channels that I love so I will probably use some 3rd party videos but using mostly my own is the plan. I plan to record a majority, if not all, of the videos this summer. Some of my favorite channels include: Don't Memorise, Khan Academy, PBS Math Club, and MashUp Math. I am hoping to build my own channel up so that my channel can make another teacher's list one day. I'd also like to improve the parental support. Our math textbook is not the best resource for parents when it comes to helping their student at home so I'd like them to become an ally. The videos are for my students but parents will find them help when they are trying to help their students navigate math standards. I'd also like to improve the in class activities to apply concepts. I'll like to set up centers and have student assigned to two centers each day.

How to use the feedback I received?

I received feedback from parents, students, and colleagues. I was told that the doodle notes and notes outline was very useful for the students. A parent should concerns that here students never knew what to write down in their notes. I plan to have outlines and doodle notes ready to go at the beginning of the school year. A student told me that the notes without the quick check question was less stressful for them. I was told that the questions created pressure for them. I don't think that I will eliminate the questions since I use the results for planning and instruction. I been told by parents and students that they like the flipped learning model as well as be others who much they dislike the model. Parent say that I am expecting the students to teach themselves by utilizing this model.

I plan to take this summer break to relax and unwind. I also plan to use this time to improve my classroom practices.

Until Next Time,

Getting "Social" in the Classroom

Getting "Social" in the Classroom
Students are always eager to make connections with school and teachers outside of school, but there is a spotlight on keeping those connections appropriate. This year in my class I've incorporated social media into my classroom to allow students to make those connections outside of school. I have a class Instagram page and twitter hashtag that I've been using. Students can share with me or see what's new by following the hashtag. It took me almost the entire school year to relinquish some of my control a bit and allow students to post to the class social media outlets.

My job tags. The coffee cups are seat numbers. Jobs are assigned by seat locations. Job assignments change daily.

Allowing students to somewhat "run" these accounts were always the plan but sometimes it is hard for me to let go of some of the control. I created nifty tags to assign different jobs daily to students. Tweeter and Instagram photographers are included on the possible jobs list. This year I utilized the Tweet Master and Instagram Photograph. I set up a team Youtube page that I plan to use next year and I'm thinking hard about a class SnapChat. SnapChat will the hardest for because I do not fully understand it's purpose but my students love it and it given the opportunity to teach me about something. My Tweet Master is supposed to summarize the lesson, pose a questions, or tweet something that they learned or thought was pretty cool. The Instagram Photograph post cool pictures from class with a caption. When I post, I post about the lesson, inspirational repost, and I pose questions and give prizes to the students who comments with the correct answer first. I'd love to do more student create video as review, explanation, or a Vlog.

Check out my class social media feeds:
  • #mathinroom202 on Twitter: I used a hashtag instead of setting up an account. Students will be to use the hashtag from their own accounts.
  • @MathinRoom202 on Instagram: I actually created an account on Instagram. I sometimes post questions and give prizes out. I also post student work and notes for the day.
Other examples for classroom uses of Social Media:
  • A book talk twitter chat.
  • Twitter chat study session OR chapter review.
  • Instagram survey with using emojis for different responses.
  • Weekly/Unit rewind Youtube video to wrap up the content and highlight the most important things

What does this look like in a classroom?
  • Of course I post things but in class students access to a "Master" that I have social media apps on. 
  • They know my expectations and what is appropriate/inappropiate. 
  • Students what the last 5-10 minutes of class to post if it is their job in place of the exit ticket that the rest of the class is completing.
  • Students end each post with their first name and last initial.

Things to keep in mind:
  • Parents must be aware and kept in the loop.
  • Students must be taught your expectations and the guidelines. You may have to model what this looks like.
  • Students must see examples of what to do AND what not to do.
  • You must trust that your students will make good choices.
  • And if your students do not make good choices, you must have consequence already outlined.

In closing, I've got awesome feedback from my students about the Classroom Social Media outlets.

"I really like the class instagram page, because it is fun to follow and answer the questions that you post." -Gabby

"It's cool" -Jhay

"I haven't really kept up 😬 Sorry, I've just been grounded, but otherwise for what I have seen of it, I feel like it's fun." -Jessica

"I feel like it is a smart thing to do because kids like social media and that is a way to put school into social media." -Connor

"It's a good idea because then we can see how others do their work and we can learn from them." -Micheal

Until Next Time,