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

 

How do we redesign education?

Last summer my school applied for and was selected as one of 14 schools in the state of Kansas with the mission to redesign what school means in the 21st century. We were given permission to reflect on and change anything we felt would truly make the greatest impact on our students. After conversations with the state and the district we only had a couple of rules:

  1. We had to stick with our current beginning and ending times for the day (district)
  2. There would be no additional funds for this redesign (state)
  3. We had to stick within the current state standards (both)

For more information from the state check out: http://www.ksde.org/Agency/Fiscal-and-Administrative-Services/Communications-and-Recognition-Programs/Vision-Kansans-Can/School-Redesign

I am one part in this giant cog of change and redesign. It has been at times challenging, exhausting, frustrating and rewarding all at the  same time. And we aren’t even close to finished.

 

Personally, the biggest way this has impacted my teaching is it has forced me to reflect on everything I do. I’m constantly asking myself why I teach a lesson a certain way, use a certain novel, or even why I teach novels at all. It’s definitely a humbling and scary question to ask myself everyday: why? Why is this important for my students and how do I want this lesson to impact their lives after they leave my classroom?

Over the next few weeks I’ll share some of my current teaching questions I’m wrestling with. Please feel free to share, post, comment, and question. Part of the way I grapple with things is to talk about it with others, and chances are that your insights will either challenge me to rethink my philosophies or allow me to strengthen my beliefs on certain topics.

I always tell my students at the end of every video, and I think it’s fitting here:

Until next time…book it forward…and be awesome!

Teach Students the Why

This weekend I spent a lot of time reflecting on what the students know and what they don’t know yet. On Friday they took a quiz and, along with a couple of assignments, I realized that I did not do an adequate job preparing them to read a non-fiction text. This was especially troubling, because we were already half-way through one.

I had to regroup, so I made a list of all of the things that were the most vital for understanding the text and the one that stood out to me the most is something that has been a theme of mine all year. I didn’t tell them the why.

Image result for freedom walkers

We are currently reading Freedom Walkers by Russell Freedman. It’s a great text about the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Many of the students know who Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks are, but they don’t know the details of their story. To them these are two figures from a long time ago that we talk about in school.

Today I decided to focus on the why. I started by asking them, “why did I choose this book out of all of the books I could have selected?” They had some great answers along with some superficial but still true responses. We talked about the physical book: the font is bigger, fewer words per page, and there are pictures on almost every page. We also talked about the importance of the Civil Rights movement in history. Several of the students brought up the importance of learning about history so we don’t repeat it. Finally, several students brought up comparisons of things that happened during the movement and how they relate to the world today.

Overall, it was a great foundation that I should have started with at the beginning of the unit. The next thing I asked them was, “how would you have ended segregation if you grew up in the 1940’s and 1950’s?” They struggled with this question like I knew they would. After a couple of minutes, instead of asking them for their answers I asked them how difficult it was to decide on a strategy that would end this massive problem. Then we talked about having a laser-like focus on a problem. We talked about how the bus boycott was meant to end segregation on buses, but their hope was that it would lead to more progress. We talked about taking small steps toward a bigger goal.

I’m hoping this moment to regroup will set them up for success later on. The hope is that in a few weeks they will decide on their own challenges, their own movements they want to start to make the world a better place.

 

*This is a post that I wrote while I was still setting up my new website. It’s a couple weeks old but still pertinent.

Giving my students real-world application to their writing

This week I learned just how little I actually know about the political system and showcased my struggles with my students.
To begin, we spent most of the week reviewing the STOP writing strategy (suspend judgment, take a side, organize ideas, plan more as you write) and the DARE writing strategy (develop a claim, add supporting ideas, reject the other side, end with a conclusion). The goal was to give the students tools in their writing toolbox to formulate persuasive writing in a more cohesive manner.
This week’s topic was based on a Newsela article on the laws involving dogs riding in cars. The students read the article and then outlined whether or not dogs should be allowed to ride in cars. At the end of the week the goal was for them to write a persuasive essay.
Thursday night rolled around, and I started planning for the essay and realized something. In the 10 years since I left college I have never once written a persuasive essay in the real-world. I haven’t sat down to write a 5 paragraph essay about my views on year-round school or whether or not students should have cell-phones. It’s not a practical experience and won’t directly translate into something they might actually do after high school. I know there are some benefits of writing an essay like learning fundamental grammar rules and organizing ones thoughts in a coherent way, but I thought I might be able to cover those same topics in a more applicable way.
At that point I knew I wanted to take the lesson a step further, but I had no idea what I wanted the students to do. What could I have them do that they might actually do in the future? I decided someday they might feel strongly about something and want to notify someone influential that things needed to change.
I decided I wanted them to write to their legislature about the importance of creating a law (or not creating a law) banning dogs from riding in cars. The problem…I had no idea who they were supposed to write to. I started searching the internet for our local congress representatives and realized it was EXTREMELY difficult to find. I either found our national representatives or found a list of local representatives but no list of which district the school was in. After 7 or 8 different searches I finally figured it out. I found a great map of the districts in the area with a listing of each representative for that district.
When class started I told them about my struggles to find the information. I showed them the map and explained which representative represents their address (our school covers 3 different congressional districts). Then I had them write a letter to their representative. The next time I do this we’ll actually send the letters to the representative (I want more prep time before I feel comfortable doing this).
This was terrifying. I know embarrassingly little about the political system, but I used that as a teachable moment. The students watched me struggle through finding answers and the final product was something they might actually end up doing someday.
 

It’s time for some TweetUps!

In education it’s easy to get bogged down and let frustrations get the best of you. To counter that I’m constantly trying to find ways to build my students up. I tell my students why they’re awesome and try to encourage them anyway I can. Sometimes that isn’t enough. Sometimes my words don’t hold the same weight as their peers.
That is what spawned the idea of TweetUps. TweetUps are little slips of blue paper meant to look like a Tweet that students use to write positive messages to each other. They are a chance for students to put some positivity in the world, tell their classmates why they rock, and tell them they aren’t going unnoticed.
tweetup2
Here’s how it works:
There is a box on one of my shelves for students to put completed TweetUps in. Once a week I pull all of the TweetUps and read them in a special edition of my daily announcement videos. The students love hearing Tweetups about them, about their classmates and also sneaking in some inside jokes.
Here is my latest TweetUps video. A student created the theme song, and another student is currently working on a logo:


It helps create a great classroom culture of building others up. Students can take credit for writing a Tweet or they can keep it anonymous. The nice thing about anonymous tweets is I can share some TweetUps about great things kids are doing, and they don’t know it’s from me. Sometimes it’s better that it sounds like it came from one of their peers.
Usually part way through the year I ask if anyone would like a list of students who haven’t received a TweetUp yet. There are always a handful of students who take the challenge and make sure that every student in class gets recognized. I’m always cognizant of the need for tact on this. I don’t want students to feel embarrassed about not receiving a TweetUp yet and I also don’t want them to feel like their TweetUp is insignificant. So far everything has worked out perfectly.
Once the TweetUps have been read on video they are hung up on a bulletin board. When the bulletin board is full or there is a good transition time (during Winter Break for example) I take all of the TweetUps down and hand them out. It amazes me how many students keep the TweetUps in their binder for the rest of the year.
TweetUp1
I can’t take full credit for TweetUps. Below is the PDF of the TweetUp form that I use. My wife designed it for her 5th grade classroom.
tweet ups
TweetUps are a quick way to make a positive change in the classroom.

Our quest up Everest

Today marked my 3rd annual trek up Mt. Everest with my students. It coincides with our reading of Peak by Roland Smith and usually falls on a day about halfway through reading the novel. It is by far one of the most fun spins to a normal reading day.
It all begins with a hook…
Our journey began yesterday towards the end of each hour. I played a “voicemail” I just received on my phone the students “just had to hear.” The message informs them that they have been selected to go on a special excursion to ABC on Mt. Everest.
Then I passed out climbing permits for the students to fill out, which I collected at the end of the hour.
IMG_0108.HEIC
The prep work…
After school the classroom transformation took place. To begin I put half of my desks in my reading corner (I told my students that corner was off limits because of a rockslide). This freed up a lot of my room for the students to set up their “camp sites.” Then I created a giant mountain out of construction paper. I also hung up some pictures of yaks and turned a couple of coffee thermoses into oxygen tanks (it’s the details that make the day fun). Finally, I created a mountain on my classroom door.


Climbing up Everest…
The students started in the hall waiting to enter Base Camp. I handed them their climbing permits and told them about the camps they could choose from: 3 pods of desks, a floor table, some comfy chairs, and the fave, a tent set up in the classroom. They were sent in one guild at a time to choose their camp site based on their guild standings.
Once the kids had their camps set up, I let them create a team banner for their campsite to replace their current guild crests they’ve been using since August. They also had a chance to create new names (my favorites were the YetiYetis and Blizzard Shakers).

While they worked on their banners I let them come over and get some hot tea to “warm up” like they do in the book. Many had never tried hot tea before. I let them add sweetener and honey to it. We also did a mini-lesson on appropriate responses when someone offers you a gift (only two responses: thank you or no thank you).

IMG_0026.HEIC

The kids spent the rest of the hour reading the next chapter in the book at their camp site.


The finale…
The highlight was at the end of the hour I broke the bad news to the students. One of the groups in each hour got frostbite and unfortunately lost the fingers on one of their hands. I had a dramatic dice roll to determine which group would get frostbite. That group then had to spend the rest of the day not using the fingers on that hand. It was hilarious and fun. I saw kids in the hall all day trying to figure out how to carry their books and open doors with their missing fingers.
The cleanup…
The hardest part about the day is cleanup. This year I came up with a solution. To begin I let my homeroom students have a snowball fight with the paper snow on the ground. They loved it. Then I let them play paper basketball with the paper snow into the trash cans. It was great. They were having fun and cleaning at the same time. Finally, I bribed them with some more hot tea to help me reorganize my desks.

Overall, it was an exhausting but great day.
The future…
Next year I’m hoping to add more team building activities around the campfire, team chants and songs, and then have them share some campfire stories they write beforehand.
It’s things like this the kids remember.