Good Stuff

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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:

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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. 

Can You Blend?

I was recently asked to write a guest blog for TASA’s (Texas Association of School AdministratorsVision 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?

Why?

  1. Learning becomes personalized, differentiated for each student.
  2. Preparation of students to be successful in our ever-changing world.
  3. Students becoming the owner of their education.
  4. 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!

Where?

  1. Within the classroom
  2. In the hallways
  3. Learning labs (additional room designated with personnel for working online)
  4. 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.

How?

  1. With BYOD (bring your own device), cart checkouts, computer lab checkouts and 1:1 devices
  2. Learning management systems (Schoology, Edmodo, Blackboard, Canvas, etc.)
  3. iTunes U, Google Classroom
  4. 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.

When?

  1. 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:

Traditional Instruction:

  1. Warm-up on overhead to get students focused 5-7 minutes
  2. Teacher lectures and works math problems on the overhead/board 30 minutes
  3. Students practice what they have observed 10-15 minutes
  4. Close class/assign problems as homework

Blended Instruction:

  1. Warm-up/Formative Assessment for focus 5-7 minutes, could be overhead, Google form, Socrative, Gizmos, challenge problem, etc.
  2. Teacher give direct instruction 10 minutes
  3. 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
  4. Teacher possibly gives a workshop open to any student who needs/wants further examples modeled 5-10 mixed within the full classroom time
  5. 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!

Horses & Goats & Prayers, Oh my!

I have been thinking a lot about my teacher beginnings and the funny and not-so-funny happenings; which have become my stories over the years. My next few blog posts will be a series of “learning moments.” I want to start with a now, funny story of Horses and Goats and Prayers!

So, my first year of teaching I wasn’t really supposed to actually be teaching. I was hired as an athletic trainer, non-teaching position. As experienced teachers know, assignments can change in a moments notice before school starts. So, I was now teaching a section of PE and Speech! What?! I did have a background in PE as my major was Exercise and Sport Studies with a minor in Biology.  Speech was an interesting assignment. Hmmm. You may have guess that I wasn’t certified to teach Speech by now while you read. Well, I wasn’t and the principal got his hand slapped for that move….but, I digress.

My Speech class turned out to be one of my all-time favorite experiences. New teacher, no curriculum, no certification-hands down one of the best experiences of my teaching. I think fondly of that class.

It was about my fourth week of school and we had read our favorite children’s book to warm up to talking in front of the class. We had completed our obligatory All About Me speech and were working on our How To speech.

The day had come for speeches. My first district was a rural one and we had completed a How To Change An Alternator, How To Bake A Cake, etc. I called on my next speaker and she said, “Okay, we have to go outside. I’m doing How to Tie a Goat.”

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Me: “You brought a goat to school?” Not quite sure how I managed to ask this question as my jaw must have dropped to the floor.

Student: “Yeah, my Mom has my goat outside.”

Me: “Your Mom has your goat outside right now?” utterly in shock.

Student: “Yes.”

Me: “Okay, {pause} let’s go outside.” as I FREAK OUT IN MY HEAD!!!!

Here is the conversation in my head as we walked outside: “Oh my gosh, can we go outside?, Is this okay? They brought an animal to school!, Oh my gosh, I’m going to get fired, I guess it was nice while it lasted…”

We get outside and Mom pops the hatch back of the SUV and my young lady proceeded to show us How to Tie a Goat. Now, I grew up in the country and raised many animals including goats. So, it wasn’t that I was new to animals, rural areas or even goat ropin’.

The whole time she’s giving her speech my internal dialog consisted of: “Oh God, please don’t let the principal come out here. I don’t see anyone about, please don’t let anyone see this. Pay attention to her speech, Sunny, your grading this! Please don’t let the principal to come our here. Hurry up!” Make it back to the classroom. Whew, it was a close one. No one is the wiser.

Day Two

Speeches continue. I call on a young man that is not too keene on school, nor does he talk much. The strong silent type. He has his speech! HE HAS HIS SPEECH! SUCCESS! YES!

Student: “I’m going to do How To Saddle a Horse.”

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Me: “You brought your horse to school?” thinking,  that’s a LOT bigger than a goat. I don’t think your Mom brought it to school in the back of a SUV. Crap. Why didn’t I ask if anyone else was planning on bringing an animal to school. *Me now: “Rookie mistake!” 🙂
Student: “Yes, I brought by trailer and truck. It’s okay I’m in Ag.”

Me: “Okay, let’s go outside.” as I cringe and say another prayer.

We arrive at the trailer. The student already has his horse ready and tied to the back of his trailer with the tack ready for his speech. He gives a fantastic speech! I am so proud. Guess what same dialog in my head. I think I’m going to get fired and sure hope that a principal does not walk by – why would they? We are in the remote back of the school, right? Nope. Just about the time the young man is finishing his speech not only the head principal, but the associate principal BOTH walk up!

I’m petrified and braced for the worst.

Principal: “You think outside of the box Strait (my maiden name).” as he keeps his stride moving on.

What?! I wasn’t dead. I not only wasn’t fired, but got a compliment!? Note to self: Ask if any other students are bringing a freakin’ animal to school!

My most favorite story to tell other teachers, but especially new teachers. It’s great lesson in flexibility, taking risks and trusting your students.

Do any of you have some great stories to share? Please share in the comments! I would love to read them!

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