Saturday, January 24, 2015

Is what you are teaching or assigning useful?

Have you ever stopped to evaluate if the tasks you are assigning your students are meaningful? Are they useful?  It really is a good question.

Often as teachers we spend so much time trying to cover a scope and sequence that we do not always make time to really self-reflect.  I know I have been guilty of this.  There is always so much to much that feels important.  What do I leave in?  What do I take out?  I don't think this struggle will ever get easier.  Every year you have to evaluate your students needs and make decisions about what they need and how you long you need to spend on certain concepts and units.

This semester I am taking two graduate classes: a class on Creativity and a Curriculum class.  This past Thursday we had our first creativity class.  I am really excited about the discussions we will have.  I think studying the concept of creativity is such a fascinating one.  Like you often do in a college class on the first day, we reviewed the syllabus.  As we went through the expectations for the semester, I found myself appreciating the tasks we are being asked to do.  They all felt useful. Every assignment is given with a purpose - with a sense of how it will help us in future tasks as graduate students or scholars.

It reminded me that as teachers we need to stop and do the same thing.  I try to always give assignments with a greater purpose in mind.  At the same time,  I know that I occasionally need to be reminded to make more time to self-reflect.  The things I teach and the tasks I assign need to be done with deliberate intention.  We all need to ask questions like:  Is this meaningful? Is this going to be useful?  Sometimes we do something just because it will be fun.  And that is okay too on occasion.

What questions do you ask yourself as a teacher when you take time to self-reflect?

Friday, January 16, 2015

New books to accompany Wonder by RJ Palacio

Have you read Wonder?  Better yet, how could you not have read Wonder?  It is such a great book with such a great message.  Wonder has so much material in the story for great discussions with students.

Well, RJ Palacio has written two more books to accompany Wonder.  

365 Days of Wonder: Mr. Brown's Book of Precepts

In Wonder, Auggie's teacher, Mr. Brown, is always sharing quotes with his students (which he calls precepts) and asking his students to gather quotes as well. In 365 Days of Wonder, Mr. Brown explains some of his philosophies as a teacher in a section for each month of the year as well as reflecting on some of the events from Auggie's first year at Beecher Prep. Mr. Brown also gives a quote for each day of the year.  This book would make a great follow up to reading Wonder.  You could discuss Mr. Brown's point of view on events from Wonder.  You could discuss individual quotes and their meanings, as well as applications to the story and applications to your student's daily lives.

One of my favorite strategies for incorporating journal writing into my classroom is also to use quotes as writing inspiration.  Well, this book is amazing.  Now, you have a collection of 365 quotes that could easily be pulled into journal writing ideas or even put the book in a writing station/center for writing ideas.

Julian's Chapter

RJ Palacio has also written a short ebook called  The Julian Chapter.  It is the bully's point of view on Auggie's year at Beecher Prep.  This ebook would be such a great follow up to Wonder to discuss point of view, forgiveness, and even discussions of bullying in general.

Have you read them?  If not, you should!

Also, if you are interested please follow my personal blog where I am sharing about my experience and dinner ideas for the paleo diet and Whole 30 at Balancing the Backpack.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Teaching Inductive and Deductive Reasoning

Once a week I teach Speech and Debate.  Last semester we focused on Speech.  This semester I am going to introduce Debate.  I was the president of my Debate team in High School.  To this day, I still believe it was one of my most valuable experiences in school.  I learned so many thinking and speaking skills that translated to real life and other experiences.

This is my first time to teach Debate myself, so we are going to figure it out as we go (like so many other things in teaching).  I went ahead and registered my classroom with the National Forensic League.  We are a long way from competing, but if I am going to teach it I want to teach with the goal of eventually building a team that could compete.  The National Forensic League has a lot of great resources, so I am excited to check it all out.

Another resource I purchased this summer was the book Make Up Your Mind: A Classroom Guide to 10 Age Old Debates.

The book is broken into 10 chapters with each chapter focusing on a different topic.  It deals with philosophy, science, history, etc. and all of the topics require students to think critically about an issue and consider two sides of the issue.  There are topics such as nature versus nurture and discussions of American identity. I will definitely incorporate some of the other chapters into language arts because many of the chapters include writing tasks; however, you could easily incorporate a lot of the chapters into other subjects based on the topics. It actually would also make a good resource for taking discussions of point of view to the next level.

One of the chapters was on inductive and deductive reasoning, which turned out to be a perfect introduction to debate (in my opinion). We read about different types of inductive and deductive fallacies that are used in argumentation. We  then read an article about Bigfoot, claiming its legitimacy as a field of study.  They had to read through the article to find evidence of the different types of fallacy arguments.  It made for great discussion.

We easily could have followed up by looking for articles from current magazines and online sources to examine for the arguments.  As our closing activity, they had to write a letter to an editor of a newspaper making their own "ridiculous" claim and convince the editor why it is valid using the different inductive and deductive arguments. Here are a couple of the examples they did:

How do you teaching critical thinking and different types of reasoning in your classroom?  Do you incorporate debate or public speaking into your curriculum?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

January Vocabulary and Spelling Choice Menu (Freebie)

Remember me?  I used to blog.

Well, I decided to enjoy my winter break.  I'm not going to apologize for that.  It was awesome.  I slept a lot and watched way too much Netflix.

I am looking forward to getting back into a regular blogging schedule though.  Today, I have a freebie for you.  My middle school students are doing SAT vocabulary words this year.  Back in October I made a vocabulary menu for them with writing choices themed for the month for them to choose from to do a writing assignment with their vocabulary words.  I decided to make another one this month and plan to keep making them each month. It is a fun way to give your students choice and challenge to be a bit creative.

You can get a copy HERE.  I made a version for vocabulary and a version for spelling. How do you give you students choice in practicing their spelling and vocabulary words?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Fun Ideas for Spatial Reasoning

The last few weeks have been so busy as I know they are for everyone. Grad school, being a teacher, and Christmas makes for the most crazy month of the year.

All teachers know that in the week or two before winter break the kids are so full of energy and excitement, it can make for chaos.  I try to do some fun, hands on things and creative projects in December to harness some of that energy and excitement into something productive.

One of the skills in Math I really want to work on this year is spatial reasoning.  It is a skill that is easy to overlook, but one that many kids today I think lack.  I am finding many students even in middle school still struggle with underdeveloped fine motor skills and spatial reasoning.

Well, I found this project on TeachersPayTeachers that looked like a lot of fun.

The project is for the kids to design a model of the North Pole and build a 3D model of their design.  The packet also comes with Language Arts extensions to do some writing assignments and a presentation. We used it for math, so we just did the design and the model.  It also had a great alternate assignment to use the South Pole for the kids who do not celebrate Christmas.

They came out really cute though, and they had a lot of fun with it.  It was a great hands on project that required logic, creativity, and spatial reasoning.  They have this whole big list of requirements to meet that really challenge them.

My next goal in the Spring is to some type of project with Architecture.  I am hoping to incorporate some real world examples and maybe some photography and end with building something.  How do you incorporate spatial reasoning in your classroom?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Resources for Flipped Learning

Did you read my last post that summarized what blended learning was?  If not, you should check it out.  Well, one of the more common forms of blended learning is flipped learning.  Many schools and districts are experimenting with flipping some of their lessons.  The idea behind flipped learning is having your kids watch videos of lessons or lectures at home or on their own time, and then you can use class time to do projects, discussion, and practice.

Getting started with flipped learning can seem overwhelming. The idea of having to create a ton of your own videos and then find a way to easily share them with your students seems daunting.  I thought I would share a couple easy suggestions to help you get started.

Resources for Videos Already Made

These are suggestions of websites that already have a lot of videos and you can search them for ones that might apply to a lesson you want to teach.

WatchKnowLearn - WatchKnowLearn is pretty easy to search.  They have a pretty big selection of videos by lots of different subjects and domains.

LearnZillion - LearnZillion focuses on Common Core resources so the videos are for Math and Language Arts.  Most of them are short, engaging, and pretty easy to understand.

KhanAcademy - This one is obvious.

StudyJams - I really like Study Jams for Math and Science.  The videos are short and animated,  They are a little cheesy, but they are good for summarizing information and making it easy to understand.

Resources for Creating Your Own Videos

Creating Animated Videos 

Below are resources for creating short, animated or photo-based videos.  These seem like they would be fun and engaging.




Creating Videos with White Boards in the Background

The iPad has a lot of great apps for this, but for web-based options here is one:


Storing Videos

A lot of websites have file size limits, so some of them can be tricky to use.

Youtube - This is probably the most obvious and easiest option.

Schooltube and Teachertube - These will have more protected backgrounds than Youtube, but I found they had file size limits that did not work with what I needed.

Edpuzzle - This is my favorite solution that I found.  We use Edmodo and this ties into our Edmodo account.  I can upload videos without a limit.  I then assign the videos to the kids on the day that I want them to watch them, and it gives me a progress update on how many people have watched them.

What are your favorite resources for creating and storing videos?

Saturday, November 8, 2014

What is blended learning?

Since I work in a blended learning environment, I thought it might be good to share some information on theories and models of blended learning.

What is blended learning?

Blended learning is essentially a blend of a traditional school and online learning.  Usually, online learning courses are used at a physical school location and blended with face-to-face instruction and small-group student interaction to personalize learning for students. HERE is a post from Blackboard with some overviews of different definitions.

What does blended learning look like?

Blended learning is considered by many to be the future direction of education. As technology leads to an ever-increasing globalized world, we want students to be prepared for the 21st century.  One of my first introductions to the ideas behind blended learning was Sir Ken Robinson's ted talk on "Changing Education Paradigms."

Now to better understand blended learning, it is good to understand some of the different approaches to this new form of educating students.   You can find a good article to summarize them here HERE.

Clayton Christensen in his book Disrupting Class explains the need for disrupting innovation.

Sustaining innovations are meant to improve existing models of doing things, where disruptive innovations offer something new or a completely new way of doing things.  You can read HERE for more information about Christensen's ideas on these two types of innovation.  It is not that one type of innovation is necessarily better than the other.  Many times in industries both are needed for different purposes and in different situations.

In the world of blended learning, some models are considered sustaining innovation and some are disruptive innovations.

Sustaining Innovation Models of Blended Learning

The Rotation Model

  • Station Rotation
    • This model works really well in a workshop (reading, writing, or math) approach to teaching.  Students rotate through different dedicated stations, with online-learning being one of those stations in the classroom. 
    • Other stations would be small-group instruction, games, projects, centers for practice, etc. Stations are usually all completed within the self-contained classroom.
    • Stations require a lot of modeling, scaffolding, organization, and routine. 
  • Lab Rotation
    • Students rotate through stations, but one of the stations is a computer lab for the online learning. 
    • In the lab, students work at a more individualized pace through usually reading or math content/practice. 
    • Labs are supervised by an assistant, not necessarily a certified teacher. 
    • This frees up the teacher to spend time doing small-group instruction without having to focus as much energy on classroom management because not all students are in the room at the same time. 
  • Flipped Learning
    • This approach is one of the most common "buzz words" in teaching right now.  
    • Many schools and districts are transitioning to flipped learning.In this model, usually students watch videos of a a teacher lecture at home and then come to class to practice and apply the concepts from the lecture.  Thus, the normal process of lecture in class and homework done at home is "flipped."  The "homework" is done in class.
    • Be careful not to over-use this approach because watching too many videos at home for too many subjects could quickly get to boring.
    • Difficult in schools where students have limited access to internet at home.
  • Individual Rotation
    • In this approach to rotations or stations, not all students may have the same rotations or online courses.  
    • Teacher can assign and use as needed.

Disruptive Innovation Models of Blended Learning

The Flex Model

The private school I work at would be considered a flex model.  We use online-learning content created by vendors to deliver the instruction in some courses.  We pair this with small-group projects, some face-to-face teaching, and a lot of individual tutoring. Students in the same classroom may work at different paces and levels, providing a lot of opportunity for acceleration.  We also have other courses where more of the instruction may be directly from the teacher, and we use technology for enrichment, practice, application, student engagement and choice, and demonstration of learning.

The A-La-Carte Model

In this model, students may take just certain courses completely online to supplement other face-to-face classes they take at a physical school.  This can be a good option when a school does not provide the particular course that a student wants or needs in person.

The Enriched Virtual Model

This version of blended learning is used in often in graduate school programs (like Executive MBA programs) for their online courses.  Much of the content is taught and discussed online, but the class will have required face-to-face classes periodically to enrich the online content and provide opportunity for face-to-face discussion or a project. At the collegiate level, this option provides flexibility for individuals who are pursuing further higher-education while working.

Have you used any version of blended learning in your classroom?  How do you use technology to help differentiate in your classroom?
Pin It button on image hover