Monday, January 27, 2014

Using Technology: Discovery and Collaboration or Cheating?


Have you ever watched a child, teenager, or young 20's play a video game? Now I don't mean a game like the traditional Pong or Pac-Man, (yea...yea...showing my age...) I mean any of the numerous productions of late. Whether its Mario, Halo, Harry Potter Lego, League of Legends, Minecraft, or a million other titles?

If you are my want to sit and play...struggle with the many buttons, get surprised when you accidentally push the right combination that makes your character produce some amazing move that saves you from the bad guys, and really just plow through the game. When you get to a point where you just don't get might mumble a few things and then go to the fridge and actually venture into the yard to rake those leaves.

Discovery and Collaboration

Now that is not how our off spring play...first of all they somehow have total command of the many triggers and buttons...but we will save that thought for another time...most of all they use others to help them figure out the obstacles that are in their way... What?!!! You didn't realize this... Ohhh, yes..they get on-line...go to Youtube...Google their question, get on-line, contact a friend, and talk with each other while they progress through the game together in their different houses...There are so many ways to figure out how to beat the game...! beat the game! They know that they don't have to try, try, try, try, and try...They just have to find the right person who has already beat that character, boss or level and voila! they are through to the next section!!! They are resourceful! Nothing stands in their way...except maybe bed time or a father who really wants to talk about something (You know that's what we exist to do...don't you?) right in the middle of the battle of their life!

Is it cheating or something else?

Unfortunately, these types of strategies run contrary to what we as adults were taught when we were in school and college. We were told that there is one right answer and that using others to help is cheating. In our classrooms it is imperative that we start looking at how we could encourage the collaboration kids use to beat video games. (I don't mean looking over another kid's shoulder to copy or plagiarizing some article that was written fifty years ago). I mean creating the activities and asking the questions that would require them to discover the resources that may deliver them the answers that they seek. Collaborating. Seeking solutions. Overcoming obstacles and developing a critical eye to determine what is good advice and what is just lame!

We live now when we can Google anything...or go to YouTube to find answers...(Need to change the Cabin Filter in you car? Could cost you a YouTube...Boom There it is!!! Saving dollars!!)

Changing the Work

Are they analyzing poetry? Looking at the symbolism of an author? Searching for information to decide whether Hollywood has re-written history or not? Trying to find out what an astroid is versus an asteroid? (Yes...I wrote those words correctly...) Trying to figure out the solution that is used as a catalyst for some chemical problem? I'll bet if you gave them the opportunity to...they could find resources for the answers...and then could create scenarios where these resources could be judged for appropriateness and correctness...finally creating a defense of what the best answer(s) is (are) to their quest ...

Technology creates so many opportunities for discovering the unknown...lets use the strategies that kids are awesome at and incorporate them in our classrooms. Ready...Let's Play and Learn! Collaborate and Discover!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Communicating with Parents and Students: The Fabulous Free Blog

Want to help your parents help you with their kids?

Use a blog!

Take a look at the following reasons!

 1. You can place your assignments for the whole semester, if you are that prepared.

 2. You can place your class notes there.(If you have a SMART board or some other interactive white board... you can actually select sections from your notes, save them, and send them to your blog.)

3. How about this, you can record yourself (Flipping the Classroom)and post a version of your lesson where you explain what you will do in class tomorrow or what you did in class today. 

4. You can place helpful links. 

5. You can post audio recordings. 

6. You can place your syllabus, your calendar, your project instructions, your supply list, etc.,  etc., etc. 

 As a parent...the most helpful teachers were those who kept up their blogs. It meant that I knew that my kids had homework and I knew when it was due... It meant that I could refer them back to the teacher's instructions or helpful hints or links and videos...Wow!!! (Come know what I mean...almost every parent has to have had this conversation...

How was school?
Do you have any home work? 
Not really? 
Lets go check the blogs...
rats,...forgot about that...

Cool, huh?

Talk about an excellent resource.
 Soooo....What are you waiting for?!
There are 1000's of teachers blogging everyday!
Its easy!
There are many free blog sites...I have already done the Google search for you!
Follow this link....

 Here are some teacher blogs to look at...

Have fun! But don't put it off...go, go, go!!!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

One amazing, “Gotta Have” to be successful as a teacher: Mindset

Teachers can inspire a desire for learning. They can create a need to discover. They can spark that little corner of the mind that wants to dream about what could be.  What helps the best teachers do all of this? I firmly believe that it is the correct mindset.

When you became a teacher did you really understand the demands on you to be more than a deliverer of content? Did you know that kids of all ages need role models? Did you know that they also demanded you to be a disciplinarian and at the same time caring and understanding? Were you ready to meet with parents? (Did you really think that you would never have to talk with them?) Did you ignore the very obvious fact that all kids are different and have many needs? This is why (there is much more to it but I’ll move on for now) the correct mindset is oh so important.

The best teachers know that the kids they are assigned are what is important. They recognize that every one of them needs to have some attention. They develop plans around instructional strategies that engage the kids’ minds. They think a little different. They think with a creative voice that encourages them to take chances. They see the school building, fields, neighborhood, the web, the world as their classroom. They are constantly looking for ways to make the children exclaim…I get it!

 When a child pushes back, the great teacher doesn't take it personally-he sees it as a challenge to try and reach that child.  He doesn't give up. He schemes and plans to drag the kid into the world of learning. He doesn't strike back with rhetoric or sarcasm. He becomes a sculptor determined to chip away at the marble walls that that kid has erected to reveal the child within who truly is eager to learn.

Do you have the mindset that will let you be Indiana Jones leading the kids on an adventure of learning? How about Ms. Frizzle taking the kids on another unique field trip?! Come on, maybe you wish you were the greatest scientist ever or the most amazing philosopher (You don’t have to really dress the part just think as if you were these characters.) Working with kids is one of the greatest challenges but it is also the most rewarding! Come on you know that you have experienced that moment when the flames ignited.  When the light bulbs came on! When you reached that most perplexing of all kids! But you must have the mindset that sets you free to develop the lessons that engage. You “Gotta Have” the mindset that will let you inspire the children to imagine, explore and discover! 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Resolutions for 2014: Four Must Dos for the Classroom.

Are you trying to make a decision about what you should focus on in your lessons? You should be.
How could I best help my students?
We all make New Year's resolutions. Why not one about four "Must Do's" that will help you help your students the most. No matter what programs are out matter what some guru wants to sell you...No matter what the political arena believes about efficiency and teaching...Experience, working with school children and driving change in schools, has shown me that if we focus on the following four concepts...our students, our kids, will do so much better at all levels. So what am I talking about?

1. Formative Assessment

It is important when delivering the instructional content to find out what the kids know or don't know. The teacher has to make time to create assessments that are non-graded that provide information about whether the child understands. The teacher then uses that information to make adjustments to instruction. This is all purposeful, not random or by accident. It is useless if the information gathered is not used to adjust the instructional process.

2. Feedback

It is extremely important to provide instructional, not judgmental, feedback to your kids. They have to know what they do not understand or have not done correctly. Feedback is an art. It needs to be timely and informative. Timely, by the way, is not a week later or after the next test has been administered. Instructional feedback explains, whereas judgmental feedback is...good job, best work ever, try harder, yuck... Hopefully, you get the picture. It is also important to point out that an X is not instructional feedback.

3. Vocabulary in the Content Area

If a child cannot read or use the essential content vocabulary then he will fail. The kids have to be able to understand the words. That means the teacher has to use vocabulary strengthening instructional strategies like, identifying the essential vocabulary, creating and using interactive word walls, previewing, pictures, graphic organizers, reviewing, Frayer models, etc. This does not mean memorization of massive lists of words. It does not mean that the kids are working with the words out of context. It takes time and once again vocabulary instruction is purposeful.

4. Grading Practices

Finally, have you had someone else analyze your grading practices? I mean look critically at what you do? Are your weights of your assignments out of balance? Do you use toxic practices like zeroes on a 100 point scale? Really, do the almost never can be overcome and a child will give up. Do you rely on averages? Why? Does it matter to you that the child is performing better toward the end of the unit but his grade is low because he did not get it in the beginning? Do you have many, many grades therefore making them worthless? Do your grades include behaviors (tardies, disruptions, subtractions for late work,etc) as well as points or percentages for the academics? If so, it means that you have ameliorated your grades by combining different information. Grades like these do not represent the student's level of understanding the content. How about grades for group work, projects and notebooks? Ask yourself. Who is doing the project? Does the notebook grade reflect understanding of the content? Group grades are just not right. The kid has no control of the other group members.

In designing your plans for the rest of the year, you will have better success if you institute these four "Must Do's": Formative Assessment, Feedback, Vocabulary in the Content Area, and eliminate toxic grading practices. You will have a greater understanding of what the children know, don't know, and need. Try it. It costs you nothing and, if you are true to using these tools, you will be able to drive the kids to greater understanding and hence, success on the road to graduation and after graduation.

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