I have recently presented a teacher training, Building Academic Vocabulary in the Science Classroom, with Lisa Walsh and we shared different vocabulary techniques with fellow educators of all levels. We also learned from each other. She shared a technique called Picture Vocabulary. I love kinesthetic activities and was excited to try this activity. If you’re an educator, you’ve probably completed some form of this activity. A great resource for activities like this is The Science Toolkit. I printed the definitions, labels and organs.
For the first activity, students are given either a term or definition when they arrive. Once everyone is ready, they find their match. Depending on grade level, the more alike the definitions can be, the more challenging. Wording can really be helpful in differentiation and challenge level. Once everyone found their match (or thought they had), I then lead the reading and sharing of the definitions aloud. As you see in the photo above, this vocabulary activity was based on the Digestive System. To start the discussion of terms, I started at the mouth and traveled down the system.
Second, each table group of 4-8 received 2-3 organs from the Digestive System. Using our vocabulary, we then built the system. I had a body outline file I used with a past activity, Tour of the Body Systems. I’ve had some Velcro for years. I decided to take the body outline and add the organs with Velcro so I can use it over and over. Of course, I laminated all the organs and vocabulary terms. I was really excited about it, but I had not ever tried this before. It was such a success! Here are some action shots!
My students really enjoyed the activity as well as the fact that the system was not to scale with the outline! We had lots of laughs. We also discussed the limitations of models. Several told me they enjoyed the lesson and liked “learning this way.”
Now that it has been several weeks after the end of the school year and two weeks of writing curriculum and a trip to Mexico, I am ready to reflect on an end of the year review that I did with my learners.
A colleague came to me before our final weeks of school and asked if I’d like to try using Spheros in my classroom. I am ALWAYS game to introduce new technology in my classroom and grow myself, so I jumped on the idea. After discussing a few logistics, I suggested reviewing the body systems for their final exam. I would have three days, which made us all a little nervous…that is not a lot of time to “play” with the devices, plan the tour of the body system chosen, code the Sphero and then present to classmates for review. But, I was confident in my learners. We are a blended classroom and I had been throwing resources, Apps and digital challenges at them all year. They did not let me down (and impressed everyone.)
Steps in Planning:
- My colleague, Monica Champagne, sent me this Google doc to get the ball rolling. I made a few simple tweaks to the terminology and posted it to my LMS for my learners to copy and collaborate in groups.
- A week prior, I had learners download the Lightning App and view a couple of tutorial videos on how to use the app.
- One day before I had the Spheros available for students to “play” with in class once they had finished the day’s assignment. I also had the outline of the body you see in the photos printed (we have an awesome printer in our library!) and ready. Thank you to Trisha Goins, my DLC, for trouble-shooting the size of this outline!!
- Next, was our planning day in the classroom. Groups were larger than I like, but we only have 8 Spheros and with our connectivity, they don’t all always work at the same time. Eight would have been ideal, but we used 5 so we always had a back up. With the groups being large, I wanted to make sure all students were busy. So, I added PlayDough in the mix for learners to create their body system. So, body systems had to be created, the Google Doc had to be completed, the Sphero had to be coded and the hopes of a practice run-through all in one day! Students will always rise to high expectations and appreciate that you believe in them!!!
- Tour Day. I did have to give them about 20-30 minutes to organize and finalize their code, etc. This didn’t go as smoothly as wanted with some devices not connecting, groups accidentally connecting to another group’s Sphero, the code just not working. However, the students loved the challenge and the problem-solving; which is really what it is all about!!!
- Added half day (because it was just so awesome!) so learners didn’t feel defeated and could have a chance to show off their tour of the system.
I would like to add that I had never used Spheros myself or in the classroom before this time. Take risks, educators!! In addition, one of my learners found the fix that helped every group in class in their solution to making the Sphero “speak.” For all the groups in the beginning, the Sphero would complete the first movements and speak, but then stop even though code followed. After problem solving over and over, she found out that after the Sphero spoke you needed to have a timed pause that lasted the same amount of time that the Sphero spoke. I was in awe. She had never coded before and confessed to not watching the tutorial videos!! Her group learned together and then showcased their tour to the class. Then, each of those members went to other groups and helped them with their code. OUTSTANDING!!!
This whole process was amazing. And, it wasn’t amazing due to it’s no flaws success. It was amazing to see thinking, collaboration, problem solving, taking on a new challenge, etc. This is how learning should be. I call it “getting your hands dirty.” We learn by experience, and this is one of the best experiences of the year. And, we did some really cool stuff!!
Thank you to Monica Champagne, Victoria Tong and Trisha Goins for your ideas, support and trouble-shooting! Thank you to Bruce Hermans, Emily Froese and Laura Francis for coming and spending time with us as we coded!!
Recently, I and my Digital Learning Coach (DLC), Trisha Goins @heartinlife, discussed #BreakoutEdu. We both were interested, but hadn’t found much in our research. She then texted me and asked if I had time for a breakout activity in my class. I am always game for innovation, and that is how our journey began!
We met several times to design our breakout session for a genetics activity for seventh grade science. We started a little lost as we still couldn’t find a tangible example of a breakout lesson that wasn’t expensive nor broke down the lesson in steps to show the design. We went to Youtube and watched some videos and got some ideas. And, our design started to develop in our planning.
I love the Dollar Tree, a teacher’s best friend. I found two small tool boxes, key locks and combination locks. This does beat the hundred dollar kit you can find online.
The Case of the Missing Chromosome became the breakout activity with four challenges, 1 per group, duplicated for eight groups. Each group of four where challenged to “breakout” their missing chromosome from a normal male karyotype. I set aside two class periods of fifty-two minutes each for completion as I did not know how long it would take the groups. You can see in the photo below, I have a missing chromosome at 6 and 21, one for each of the two large groups. I made these with pipe cleaners.
I designed four challenges, one for each small group of the two larger teams. My challenges were: DNA Model Challenge, Natural Selection Challenge, and a Punnett Square Challenge. I used Learn.Genetics for the digital resources. I love, love this site. You should check it out. (My all time favorite is Lick Your Rat Pups! Seriously.) My fourth challenge was a puzzle with the clue below.
This puzzle was a challenge to me! I wanted to cry at times when I made it. Really, I did. I persevered and did like my product. Well, at least one of them. I’ll share that news in a minutes. So, I don’t know why it was so hard to keep blocks straight, facing the same direction, not flip them, etc. BUT, IT WAS?!! Oh my goodness! I questioned my intelligence and if I should really be teaching young people. Again, I persevered. My husband’s comment after two episodes of Big Little Lies and Shield, “You’ve worked on that for a really long time.” Yep. Be quiet now. Cry a little on the inside.
It took me several hours, but I do like the product. The idea is, that they should know from class, that a flower reproduces sexually. They should put the puzzle of a picture of a flower together and then find the code to the combination lock when they flip it over. The other pictures are of a hydra and a bacterium; which would give them the wrong code. Mrs. Goins used Google Drawings to create the photos that I Mod Podged on the block. I purchased the 1X1 blocks from Amazon. In hindsight, I would not use so much white on the blocks. Three sides all have white corners and even though I did it to be challenging, that lead to some confusion.
However, I mentioned I share some other news? Well, one puzzle wasn’t so successful. My students put the flower together and flipped it over to find a bit of a mess. Mrs. Goins, my DLC partner in crime, tried to help. Then I looked. Hmmm. I gave them the code; which you could kind of see in the mess on the back. Here is their reflection video App Smashing Pic Collage and ChatterPix. (Don’t you love their honesty?!) We were stumped. Mrs. Goins stayed in class trying to make the puzzle work. Our brains were tired. I tried the next day as well and still got my learners’ results. I swear every time I finished a side I flipped it to check the code! Cry a little on the inside. Resist the urge to throw the puzzle across my office.
That was really the only hiccup in our #BreakoutEdu challenge other than my students finished it in about twenty-five minutes! They were intently focused. So, in the future, I will add challenges or make them harder. This was also my learners’ requests. Check out their feedback on this Padlet. They loved the pressure of the challenge, the competitiveness and that it reviewed what they already new, but also challenged in some new ways.
Finally, I wanted learners to summarize their process and reflect on this breakout session for their learning and for my learning. Here is the the reflection assignment to close the breakout activity. On the first day, I had them end with capturing their process and taking the photos listed in the reflection and any others they wanted. On the second day, we completed the Pic Collage and ChatterPix App Smashing sharing them on our discussion board in our LMS (Learning Management System), Schoology. I liked using ChatterPix suggested by Mrs. Goins. It had been a while since I used it and it worked well for this activity.
Hopefully, this helps any of you that may be wondering what is the #BreakoutEDU thing! Let me know if you have questions or comments! Try it! Your kids will love it!
There are so many more things that come along as you become a teacher leader than what’s in your job description. I had a very interesting week that may me think of this fact. I wear many hats in my position: Blended Learning Specialist, Science Instructional Coach and CBL (Challenge Based Learning) Specialist. These are my titles this year. Oh, and I teach a section of 7th grade Science!
This week I temporarily filled some other shoes as a PE teacher! We had a need for coverage for PE so the PE team could have a UbD (Understanding by Design) planning day. Another teacher leader and myself volunteered to help so that the PE team didn’t have to be split for their planning session. Why didn’t they just get subs, you say? Well, they did. However, you can’t just have four subs in PE when you have to remember about safety and procedures. We needed some experienced staff present too. The perk is I got to wear sweats! I got a little sun and got to cheer on learners as they jogged the straights and walked the curves!
I’m also pulled for standardized testing because when I’m pulled multiple classes are not disturbed. I’m also pulled in emergencies when sickness surprises in the morning until a sub can be contacted, etc. But, you see with leadership comes the extras that you may not be prepared for in the beginning. However, if you are adaptable and flexible, it will all balance out. If not, you will not last. You’ll either burnout or decide you don’t like this leadership thing.
Sacrifice is a big part of the role as well. When others see you as a leader, they will look to you for advice and help — a wonderful thing! You’ll find yourself flinching at times because you really need to get that quote for a purchase order so your department may dissect frogs or you’re way behind in grading and this time was set aside for that purpose, or you promised to design a menu board or a Blenspace for a grade level or fellow teacher. But, you’ll happily go and you’ll help because that is how you are made. Whether you are a natural leader or you have a specific title, you’ll need flexibility and the ability to sacrifice.
Like teaching is the hardest job you’ll ever love, teacher leading is challenging but oh, so rewarding.
Many years ago I watched this movie I’d call a “c” movie. The “c” comes from growing up being forced to watch these bad movies because we had one TV and my Dad chose the movie! Remember those old Kung Fu movies where they just grunted a lot and made Kung Fu movements? Yeah, those. So, I started a rated system of letter grading for them. He’d just laugh. But, it was the summer in the middle of the night and I watched it. I can’t remember if the name of the movie was Lather, Rinse Repeat or it was just the moment at the end of the movie that pulled all of it together. (A Google search did not help me.)
The storyline was a group of grown friends stay at the home of a friend’s whose parents are selling the house in which she grew up in and the whole group had memories there. So, they stay one more night and party like they used to or tried. The culminating point of the story is that they haven’t past the best parts of their life as they thought, they just need to lather, rinse and repeat. Have you ever tried it? Followed the directions on the back of the shampoo bottle? Well, if you have, you’ve experience a much richer lather and fuller experience.
For some reason, this movie kept popping into my head at the most random moments; in my classroom, in our PLC time, researching, etc. It kept coming up. What came to me is the connection within the classroom. When educating our students all of whom have very diverse background experiences, we must lather, rinse and repeat often. We must let them experience our content in multiple ways so they can grasp the meaning and connect to their prior learning; and hopefully, close the performance gap increasing their success.
Today I facilitated my 7th grade science class in constructing a social contract. I always love hearing what they have to say and it is very eye-opening at times. If you’ll let them, students will remind you of what is really important. They should have a stake in their classroom from lesson design to classroom environment. Above are the common themes share by each table. We discussed that these were probably more for me to know as their teacher and they agreed. But, don’t you just love them! I would want to be in that class! As educators we need to constantly reflect and ask ourselves, “Would we want to be in our class?”
Check out this video of their products from group collaboration. This is what they came up with in small groups as what they wanted to their class to be like. There is a lot of good stuff here!
Our final product:
If we honor this contract, the learning will take place! I hope that you too allow your students voice and choice in the classroom and honor their needs and wants as best as you can this year! I’d love to hear your great activities. Share in the comments section.
I was recently asked to write a guest blog for TASA’s (Texas Association of School Administrators) Vision in Practice blog. I really enjoyed this activity as it helped me further organize my thoughts in a more specific manner factoring in my growth as an educator and experiences learned.
Here are my thoughts:
Blended learning is most definitely a moving target. It is an intangible that can look very different as it is molded to fit specific educational programs. This also makes it very hard for parents, students and even educators to understand. The basic definition of blended learning is instruction that is part face to face and part online; leveraging technology for the benefit of the learner.
Blending can be overwhelming for even the veteran blended educator. For most, the visual of students being left in a room with a computer and without a teacher comes to mind and it’s often said by the student that that the teacher “doesn’t teach me.” This happens to be one of the best qualities of blended learning. The fact that the educator moves into a facilitator role as the students drive their own learning is a hard change for all stakeholders; but one that needs to take place to transform education. Reasons for blended?
- Learning becomes personalized, differentiated for each student.
- Preparation of students to be successful in our ever-changing world.
- Students becoming the owner of their education.
- It is best for learners.
Blended learning allows students to take ownership of their education while personalizing through differentiation for each individual student. This personalization and ownership is gained by facilitating opportunity for students to have voice and choice in their own learning; which in turn empowers each individual allowing students to not only to gain understanding of content, but to develop the soft skills of time-management, balance of coursework and the ability to make choices. Educators have always had a tremendous job. Imagine, however, today’s learner. Information is at their fingertips and our world is changing due to developments in technology. Educators today must prepare students for careers that do not currently exist. Talk about a moving target!
- Within the classroom
- In the hallways
- Learning labs (additional room designated with personnel for working online)
- Home, think snow days
Many times educators feel the pressure to have a specific space like a learning lab with personnel for student management to be able to blend their learning. That is a best-case scenario; but rarely available due to budget costs and space. Blended learning can truly take place anywhere. Blended educators typically call this organized chaos. It can seem overwhelming to think of each student working at their own pace and choosing different paths to get to the same goal. It can look like stations in a way, collaborative groups, it can be all students plugged in and working individually or a little of every type of instruction. To add to the room space leverage the hallways surrounding your classroom where you can allow students to spread out; while maintaining student observation. Another major plus to blending is the fact that your use of technology (see how below) allows students to access their learning anywhere; when sick, when missing school due to UIL activities, snow/ice days, etc.
- With BYOD (bring your own device), cart checkouts, computer lab checkouts and 1:1 devices
- Learning management systems (Schoology, Edmodo, Blackboard, Canvas, etc.)
- iTunes U, Google Classroom
- A multitude of Apps and web-based tools
Once again like the space, some educators think you can’t blend learning unless you are a 1:1 classroom, school, etc. This is not the case. Blending can take place with BYOD to cart/lab check outs to 1:1 devices. If all you can do is use student’s devices in BYOD, use it! They can do a lot on their phone or other devices. Think group work, jigsawing activities, stations, etc. With cart checkouts and computer lab checkouts, educators can plan for one to two to three days a week, depending on availability, for students to work independently and their own pace. While students are working independently, the educator is free to facilitate learning and activities giving more time one-to-one interaction; which brings us the the differentiation blending allows. With the leveraging of technology resources to allow students to work individually or in small groups, educators can incorporate workshops, small group support and individual support. Whether you are using another space, the hallway or every nook in your classroom, designing your blended instruction allows the educator to differentiate for learners in need of more support or more challenge. While students are working independently, students can be called into a small group session with the teacher. Data from formative assessments can be used to group learners according to need for further reteaching or deeper challenging. In addition, workshops can be designed to allow for learner choice in attending according to their need.
- The time for innovation in education is now
We as educators and stakeholders are at a crossroads in education. Now is the time to innovate and transform education for today’s students. We are no longer in need of traditional education at its whole. We are in need of a redesign in which we do not discard all practices, but are creative with the time and resources we have. Do students need a fifty minute lecture? No. Might they need a ten minute direct teach? Yes. For example in a fifty minute classroom:
- Warm-up on overhead to get students focused 5-7 minutes
- Teacher lectures and works math problems on the overhead/board 30 minutes
- Students practice what they have observed 10-15 minutes
- Close class/assign problems as homework
- Warm-up/Formative Assessment for focus 5-7 minutes, could be overhead, Google form, Socrative, Gizmos, challenge problem, etc.
- Teacher give direct instruction 10 minutes
- Students work individually in the learning lab or collaboratively work on problems, differentiated small groups are created with data from the formative assessment 20-30 minutes
- Teacher possibly gives a workshop open to any student who needs/wants further examples modeled 5-10 mixed within the full classroom time
- Close class/assign a few practice problems or 3-5 minute video of further instruction
Blended learning is the combination of best educational practices while leveraging technology to empower students to guide their own learning and strengthen their personal skills. Transforming our instruction will prepare students for a future of their own in a world that will require connecting to and collaborating with a global community; while maintaining a competitive edge.
What experiences have you had with blended? I’d love to hear from you!
As I worked with a colleague on our next topic, Empathy, in our Leading Innovative Change Series through our Tech Tuesday professional learning community (PLC), I reflected back on my own experiences.
To add to my personal Learning Moments Blog Series, a very dear to me student came to mind. After four years teaching and coaching north of Houston, I was ready to move back to the Dallas area closer to family and away from the humidity and bird-sized mosquitos! I found a job on the Irving side of Valley Ranch. As I started the year, a young man (we’ll call him JA), asked me to sign a form for him. I gladly took it and said, “Ok, what is it for,” as it didn’t look like the normal school form for anything. He said, “Oh, my PO.” In my mind, I thought PO. What’s PO. And it dawned on me, Probation Officer. It made me wonder about him. I was still getting to know my students. As I progressed day to day, I watched this young man. I saw pleasantness, courtesy, calmness…I saw love in his eyes. His eyes that were as deep as wells, showed love and kindness. I wondered, Why does this kid have a PO?!”
I learned over time that he has a twin brother that was always getting into trouble and who was not kind in any way. JA being the good brother he is, would always back his brother which got him in trouble as well. JA became one of those students whom I would fight you for, a surrogate son of sorts even though I was not old enough to be his mother. Maybe and little brother. I say this because I did develop the relationship with him that allowed me to stop on the side of the road when I saw him trying to look “hard” with a group of boys he did not belong with to tell him if I ever saw him there again with those boys that I would lead him by the ear to my truck and drive him home to his mama. That got some, “yes ma’ams” out of him. He knew my threats were not empty.
One day, JA, was in a neighboring class and was brought out in the hallway because he was so upset. I joined as I was on conference, the teacher was a friend and it was JA! We learned that he was upset and crying-a 17 year old boy crying at school-because he was caught “slap fighting” and this would be his third strike and he would go back to juvenile detention. On our campus students could not “slap fight,” the act of play hitting and rough-housing, as it would typically turn into a rumble between students.
Oh, well… I wasn’t having that! I marched straight down to the principal’s office and said let me talk to his PO! The principal trying to talk me off the ledge said he would talk with her and explain things, etc. After much debate, I told him I would trust him to handle it. I was skeptical, but he did handle it to my liking. He later told me that he had never had a teacher come in and go to bat for one of the “bad” kids.
That’s just the thing. Yes, JA had been in trouble and yes, he was a teenage boy and “slap fought” in the hallway not remembering that behavior was not allowed. That’s how boys go through their entire life! What a ridiculous thing in which to send a kid back to juvenile detention! Are you kidding me?!
I could empathize with JA. I could understand how being a teenager is hard enough even when you don’t have a brother bringing you down. I have lost touch with JA, but I think about him daily. I wonder how he is. His mom finally separates him and his brother by sending JA to a private school so he could be his true self.
So, I challenge you to see all your students with empathetic eyes; especially the ones whom give you gray hairs and make you rethink your professional decisions. I could have written off JA at the first signature on the PO form like so many others. Make those connections. Grace goes a long way.
Do you have stories to share? Share them in the comments.! I would love to hear of the ways you’ve shown empathy with your students.
To continue my Learning Moments series, I want to share a story and a connection to an activity my Digital Learning Coach (DLC) and I lead in our campus’ Tech Tuesday Professional Learning Community (PLC.) Today we launched our Leading Innovative Change Series (Inspired by George Couros‘ The Innovator’s Mindset) in our Tech Tuesday PLC. We started with getting back to our beginnings and why we chose the teaching profession before we jumped into innovation. We wanted to remember why we are “here” and what keeps us going. We used the Teachers2Teachers toolkit for #whyiteach to focus our thoughts for today’s PLC time. Take a look! (Check out the hashtag #whyiteach on Twitter.)
When thinking of the why behind teaching a memory came to my mind of my first year teaching. I had a student, we’ll call him Tommy, in my first year who was assigned ISS or Alternative School often due to his use of weed and lack of shall we say focus. We’ll as all teacher’s know if a student is assigned one of these alternatives to their regular day, you have to make an assignment and send work for the day(s). (And, this was before technology.) If you’ve read my previous blog, Horses, Goats & Prayers, Oh My!, you know that I had the surprise assignment of PE and Speech my first year of a non-teaching position!
Tommy was in one of my PE classes; in which I had to just makeup work for him to complete as it was an activity class. Since I knew why he had been assigned to ISS and his extracurricular activity, I made him research Cannibis – the effects, longterm issues, etc. This evolved into writing essays as to how weed was going to help him be successful in the future. He knew every time he was in “need” of an alternative assignment I would get creative with the assignment and center it around his use of weed.
Well, after this year Tommy joined the work program offered in the district. He was able to work and alternatively finish school as he was behind his fellow classmates. Two years later, Tommy found me in my new (fitting) teaching assignment, Biology, in a new classroom. Why did Tommy come find me? To show me his cap and gown as he was graduating from high school. As I am typing, I’m getting goosebumps. This still affects me nearly 15 years later. This is #whyiteach. When you can see success like this from students in general and, especially; in those circumstances where they have a few more hurdles in their way.
Why I Teach:
Today was one of those days that was just uplifting! It is great to learn more about your fellow educators and remember the reason(s) we go back day after day to a very demanding job with little light at the end of the tunnel at times. Today we remembered the real reason we teach: our learners.