Video Announcements Rock

For the past two years I have started almost every class with video announcements. I talk about upcoming due dates, classroom reminders, birthday shout outs, the quote of the day and wrap-up with my catch phrase.

There are several reasons why I do this:

  1. It gives me the chance to do administrative tasks (take attendance, check in with students, etc.)
  2. It keeps me from having to repeat the same thing 4 times in a row.
  3. I don’t miss things as often.
  4. Most importantly, I can present the information in a new way. The hope is that hearing it in a video, seeing a due date on a paper and hearing it live will have a cumulative effect of reminding kids to get things done on time. It doesn’t always work.

I rarely devote more than 6 or 7 minutes at the beginning of the day to these videos. When I first started recording them, I would rerecord them 5 or 6 times to make them perfect. Now, I just keep recording, even if I mess up. Kids love the bloopers. They love seeing me do something silly or say the wrong word. It lets them know that everyone makes mistakes and life goes on. One of their favorite things to do is screenshot when I make weird faces and airdrop them to me.

Most of my videos are just me talking into the camera, but sometimes I do more interesting things with the videos. I’ve done stop motion videos, guest speakers, “guest” speakers (me in a Batman costume for example), anything to make it a little more interesting. These videos take a little more time, so I only do them every once in awhile.

It’s also a resource for parents. I post my videos on Youtube and parents can see exactly what we have coming up each day if they wanted to. It’s also a great reminder to myself if I need to look back at what we were doing this time last year.

Overall, it only takes a little prep work in the morning and saves me time throughout my day.

At the end of the videos I wrap up the same way…

Until next time, book it forward and be awesome!

More than Just a Data Point

Yesterday was the last day of MAP testing. I think I was more nervous than the students. I want the students to do well. I want their hardwork to pay off, and I want them to be able to see growth from the beginning of the year. As I looked over the final scores, I kept reminding myself that those students are not a data point.

Don’t get me wrong, I love data. I think it can be an effective tool when used correctly. I have spreadsheets of all types of measures on my students. I can tell you how much they’ve grown since August, since December, how that data compares to Reading Inventory data, and how that data can be used to track trends in general areas of study. I love trying to figure out the puzzles of the data. Why did a student score extremely high on one vocabulary test but had a low score on two others? Did they come across words they knew on one and not the other? It’s like solving a giant riddle.

One data point is NOT however the defining characteristic of a student, and only tells one fraction of one percent of what they know and are capable of. It’s like determining a baseball players value based on their performance in one game. Even if it’s a pretty big game, that’s still just one tiny data point. It tells a story, but it’s important to figure out what exactly that story could be.

Contrary to what people who have had a conversation about assessments with me might think, I’m not opposed to assessments. I don’t mind that we have a common measure that we look at for one piece of data…as long as we realized that that data point is one number from one day, that should be put in the mass scope of who this student is as a scholar.

I get tired of hearing people emphasize this singular value like the assessment is THE measure of a student’s success and projects all that the student can become in the future. If you ask what the value of the MAP assessment is, many will point to its correlation to the ACT, which then translates into success in college (maybe?). But what if a student doesn’t want to go to college? What if a student sees the value in technical training to become an HVAC technician? What does the MAP test correlate to technical training? It’s just one example, but there is such a limited scope in what we value as demonstrated by what we measure.

I’m all for data, the more the better. But we need to figure out what story we want the data to tell us.

Check out my post on my reflections about college: https://mrstockrocks.com/2018/04/25/college-is-an-option-but-its-just-one-option/

 

College is an option…but it’s just one option

I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about what I want my students to get out of my class. When they leave middle school and go to high school, what skills do I want them to posses? What kind of person do I hope they will be when they leave high school? What will the job market look like after high school, and how can I get them closer to being prepared for life after school?

It’s been a tough thing to think about. How do you prioritize what is the most important? Do I give them exposure to a wide range of experiences? Do I still teach novels in my Language Arts classes or mix in more non-fiction texts? Do I bother with formal essays, a style they will need in high school but not later in life?

I don’t have the answers, but here’s what I have figured out so far. Students leaving high school are faced with a wide range of options and presenting college as the best option for all students is leading many to enter their early 20’s in massive student loan debt with just as many job prospects as they had before they left high school.

To be clear, I think college is the best option for a lot of students. There are many fields that require a specific degree specializing in that field like teaching, medicine, and law. However there are also an increasing number of jobs that don’t care about your college degree. They want trained job applicants, entrepreneurs, employees who can find problems and solve them without being asked. There are a lot of jobs that a certification program will get your foot in the door easier than a four year degree. Then there are the countless ways people can forge their own path and create their own business

I’m a huge fan of the StartEd Up podcast and one of the biggest things the host Don Wettrick stresses throughout is the rise of a gig economy (Air BnB and Uber for example) and contract work. Several recent Forbes articles describe this switch and surmise that by 2020 over 40% of the workforce will be involved in some form of gig economy or contract work. That’s over 40% of the workforce needing to rely more on their ability to find work, interact with clients, negotiate deals, etc. than their college credentials.

(Check out the podcast here: http://www.startedupinnovation.com/podcast/)

That’s a HUGE transition. This is the reality we need to be preparing students for. Yes, they may want to pursue a 4 year degree and that’s great. But our scholars deserve to know that that is just one of many different options. We need to show them what’s available and help them find the path that will get them where they want to go.

For more information about the gig economy check out these articles from Forbes:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/larryalton/2018/01/24/why-the-gig-economy-is-the-best-and-worst-development-for-workers-under-30/2/#44a4d49b5b96

Choice and challenges go hand in hand

Last week my students wrapped up our investigation of World War II. They’ve been reading historical fiction about the time period and learning about the general timeline through class discussions. It was finally time to assess what they had gained from our study. I debated what I wanted them to do to demonstrate their knowledge and finally decided to give them some choice.

There is a lot of buzz around student choice in education right now, but choice isn’t always easy. Too many choices, and it can be overwhelming. Students can spend a whole class period spinning in circles trying to decide on what to do. Giving students limited choices can be stifling and lead to canned responses. I wanted my scholars to have options but still complete their task. To do this I added some challenges to the project, obstacles that would offer guiding limitations. The kids loved the idea of trying to beat the game.

First, I had each guild (table team) come up with an interesting word, any word. I wrote those on the board on a T-chart. The words ranged from flatulence to flabbergasted. It was quite the list. Then each guild came up with a word connected to WWII. They had a lot of the important names and topics we have been studying. I wrote those on the board on the other side of the T-chart.

Next, I explained their goal, the guilds had 45 minutes to create a project that creatively demonstrated their understanding of the the history of WWII. They could use any of the materials I had available in the supply cabinet or any technology resources on their iPads. The time limit forced them to make a choice and run with it. They couldn’t spend a lot of time overthinking their project. They also quickly discovered that they would need to delegate tasks if they wanted to finish on time.

Then I explained the twist. Each group would get two dice rolls. The first one would indicate how many words from the first list of interesting words they had to include in their project. The second roll would indicate how many words from the second lister were banned from their project. It was great.  The most challenging was a group that had to explain WWII without using the words Germany, Hitler, Nazis, and Soldiers.

As the scholars worked, I went around and checked in with each group. Sometimes I would give them suggestions or ask them questions about what they were including. I had to remind a few groups that the info on the project was the main point, i.e. a creative idea is great, but if it doesn’t explain anything about the war then it wasn’t meeting the project criteria.

When the time was up I had each guild share what their project was and why they chose that project type. We also talked about other projects they had worked on in the past. It was interesting because the projects I received were almost as good as projects they had previously spent multiple class periods working on. They had a lot of insight into why that was.

Some projects were better than others. There were a few that were typical posters. But overall I was extremely impressed in what they were able to come up with. They had a lot of choice but the challenges I paired with the choices gave them direction and helped them complete the task. There were posters with flip tabs, a newspaper page, a 3D model, a video news broadcast, a video skit, a comic book, and some other more common posters. 

Kids love choice. I encourage choice as much as I can, but too much choice is overwhelming. Challenges give the task just enough direction to create amazing work.

 

Roses and Thorns

Last week was rough. The students were having a hard time staying focused, assignments were coming in late, and I wasn’t feeling the greatest. Friday afternoon I asked some of my scholars to get out their planners. We’ve been working on keeping track of upcoming due dates, and I wanted to make sure they were filling them out completely. I asked several times and they didn’t get them out. They just kept talking.

After talking/yelling at them about how frustrated I was that I had to ask so many times before they would do anything we sat down and had a little bit of circle time. We shared what we call roses and thorns. Roses are great things that happened during the week, and thorns are struggles that happened. I shared that my thorn was my frustration that students weren’t following directions.

We went all the way around the circle, and the whole time I was processing our interactions before circle time. I was evaluating what I said, the tone I used and whether or not it was what the students needed to hear in the way they needed to hear it at that moment. I decided that I probably should have waited a little longer before I processed with them, but other than that I was ok with the discussion. But I also realized that they needed a reminder that no matter what I have their back, I’m there to support them, and that they are still important and valued in my classroom.

When the circle finally got back to me, the bell was ringing and I stopped them before they left for the weekend. The last thing I said to them before they left was “even though I was frustrated, you are still some of my favorite people.” That was it. Nothing fancy or formal. I didn’t even pull back on my frustration. If I had they would have called me out for being inauthentic. Instead it was just a quick reminder that no matter what happens they are still part of the room 502 family. They left with a high five to tackle their weekends.

I mess up…a lot. As a teacher we always second guess what we’re doing and question whether this is exactly what this student needs at this moment. I’m always wrestling through decisions, but if students know you love them and support them, you can work through any bumps in the road.

For more articles like this check out my article on Edutopia dedicated to new teachers: https://www.edutopia.org/blog/having-an-off-day-josh-stock