Friday, May 12, 2017

Get Started Creating Student Led lessons

      As a teacher I sometimes feel overwhelmed when I think about teaching the Next Generation Science Standards.  How can I possibly have my students creating, designing, and modeling when they are struggling with just understanding the basics.  I teach at a school of mostly low income language learners.  The students do not have a lot of background experiences to apply and struggle with the vocabulary. The old California Science Standards were mostly in the depth of complexity level one asking the students to just know and identify. It was challenging to get through teaching them the concepts and still have time in the pacing to have them demonstrate their knowledge in an end of the unit project that was teacher directed. Now I am suppose to get them into the depth of complexity level four with creating, designing, and modeling.  Thinking about it makes me feel like I am at the bottom of Mount Everest and I have to get to the top with no supply of oxygen.  Until I decided to let go and just see what can happen when I put the students in charge of their learning.

This is the hook I created for my Newton's laws unit.  

        It started with me creating a hook for Newton's laws that got the students questioning why.  I had an idea of the type of questions the students would come up with based on what they were seeing but the ones they actually came up with far surpassed my expectations.  I took their questions and as a class we decided on which ones they wanted to find the answers to.  Then instead of me directing the lessons and giving the students the information I provided them with different ways for them to investigate and learn while trying to answer the question.  I gave them video options, online investigations, hands-on stations, and readings.  The students could choose which ones they did each day.  My job was to monitor their learning and offer support when they asked.  At the end of the day the students meet with their groups to discuss what they learned and how it applied to the questions.  The students were engaged for days and the best thing was that they were actually learning the concept and enjoying themselves.

       I admit that as I started this unit on Newton's laws I had a rough roadmap of what I wanted the students to learn but I didn't have all the details figured out.  I was letting the students fill them in and seeing where they would take us.  At the end of the unit I wanted the students to create a zip line that could carry a raw egg but I had never done the project before.   I found different ideas online but nothing that seemed to have what I wanted so again I decided to let the students take the lead.  I set up the challenge and gave students the parameters and then I let them go.  They created their own containers.  They created their own way to test the different variables like rope type, angle of the line, and amount of weight in the container.  Some groups struggled with making it work and some groups struggled with problem solving when things weren't working.  The conversations that were happening, even with the struggling groups, showed how much the students were actually learning and that they were applying the concepts they learned during their earlier investigation of the hook questions to this activity.   I discovered that by allowing the students to take the lead they were able to accomplish a lot more than I originally thought possible.  Even the students that struggled throughout the whole unit still learned more through this type of investigation then they would have learned if I took the typical way of teaching.

              Doing this unit reminded me that not only were the students acting like scientists but I was also.  Scientists ask what if, why, and how and that was what I was doing.  I changed the variables of how a lesson was taught to see what if.  What if I let the students take charge? What if the students decided on what they wanted to learn?  What if the students decided how they wanted to learn?  What I discovered was that by giving the students the control I also helped them to become better decision makers, better problem solvers, and they became more confident in their ability to learn.  So I challenge you to do the same.  See what happens when you let students take charge of their learning. See what happens when you ask what if?

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

The paperless classroom debate

With the introduction of Google classroom, Microsoft OneDrive, and digital testing more schools are opting to go 1:1 and are moving toward going paperless.  Is going 100% paperless really what is best for the students.  I'll list some pros and cons and let you make your choice on what will work best for you.

Benefits of Integrating Technology and Going 100% Paperless

1. Going "Green"
Going paperless is good for the environment.  It reduces paper waste and helps protect our natural resources.  Many teachers have to buy their own paper and supplies for their classroom.  Going paperless reduces the amount of money spent on making copies for students

2. Organization
With every assignment online assignments will not be lost in the students black hole of a back pack or left at home or on the playground.  Students have the potential to become more organized by keeping assignments in folders so they are easy to access and find. 

3. Twenty-first Century Digital Skills
We are now in the digital age and with that employers are looking for people that know their way around computers.  Going digital will help give students the skills they need for life in the workforce.  They will learn how to research and use reliable sources.  They will learn basic word processing and presentation skills.  They can be given the opportunity to try out multimedia presentations and really use their creativity.

Consequences of Going 100% Paperless

1) Less writing on paper
There is a lot of research out there that supports the benefit of physically writing information down on paper.  The act of writing helps the brain remember and retain information better than just reading or listening to it.  Typing notes is not as beneficial as actually writing notes down.

2) Internet is down
One of the biggest fears for those that go paperless is having the internet go down or getting a power out.  If you are not paperless than you don't have to worry about not having the internet your lesson can continue.  However, if you are 100% paperless you will need to modify or completely change your lesson for the day.

3) Less Oral Communication
With students on their devices for most of the day one fear is that students will have less communication with each other.  This is a big concern for language learners that require lots of oral communication practice.  There is a difference between communicating in a digital format where tone is hard to read.  Oral communication, which includes tone, is an important skill to master and needs to be incorporated daily in the classroom.

As you can see going paperless and choosing not to go paperless both have their benefits.  You will need to decide what works best for you and your students.

What I have chosen to do

Although I have a chromebook cart in my classroom I have chosen not to go 100% digital.  With 85% of my students being language learners I felt that I needed to incorporate writing and oral communication into my classroom so I have decided to go 70% digital.  My students start off their units with an inquiry investigation.  Sometimes this is a online inquiry and sometimes its a hands-on.  In either case the students work together in pairs and groups so that they are forced to talk orally about what they are observing and learning.  I then move onto a flipped lesson.  The students get the information from a video but are required to take written notes from the video.  They then have to go back and create questions from the notes they take.  They then move onto science stations.  One station is an online station that they usually do in pairs, one is a group collaboration station, and one is a teacher-led station that allows me to meet the needs of my students.  Notice that so far half of their assignments are written and half are digital.  From there my students take all their notes, review and analyze them, and work on a digital interactive notebook.  Once that is done they have a project.  I usually give them choices.  Some of the choices involve using the chromebooks while others are non-digital.  Lastly they take their assessment online.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Genius Hour for Middle School- How to Make it Work

This year I incorporated Genius Hour into my 8th grade physical science class.  It was a learning experience for both me and my students. The first semester was spent figuring things out. There were many amazing moments and many failures.  Trying to figure out the logistics of keeping track of what my students were doing and learning was an adventure in itself. We also had to figure out ways to work around the restrictions imposed by the districts firewall, no youtube, no blogging, no video creation.  Here is what we learned and what worked for us.

Getting Started:
- I decided to do this with my Pre-AP science students every Wednesday. I chose Wednesday because that was our collaboration day and class time was shorter.

- To introduce Genius Hour I showed them the video from A Pep Talk from Kid President. You can find the link HERE. I then had them come up with some really bad ideas which I borrowed from the bad idea factory video.

- Next I created a digital notebook for them to put all their Genius Hour information in.  They had to create a complex question that would require weeks of research. They then had explain why they chose that question and what product they will create with the information.

- For their first project during first semester they were not allowed to work with partners.  They had to take the first journey on their own and learn how to deal with struggles. They were allowed to have the same ideas but the research and product had to be their own.  There was a lot of growth happening this first semester because of it.

- The second semester I allowed them to work in groups of up to three people.

Checking In / Accountability

- At the beginning of the class I had them post two quantitative goals they were going to do that day.  Example: Today I will find two reliable websites with information on my topic.  Today I will fill in one full page of my research notes making sure I cite my source.

- As the class was working I would walk around and ask questions about their research.  Why they thought a particular site was reliable? How they could use key words to get better results in their search?  

- Every 15 minutes I would do Goal check ins and have the students read their goal and do a quick self evaluation to see if they were working towards the goal.

- At the end of class the last 3-5 minutes I had them fill out a reflection survey.  They had to restate their goals. Explain if they met them or not.  If they didn't meet them they had to explain why and if I could do something to help them with their project.

- Their digital notebook was where they recorded all of their research notes and information so I was also able to look at their notebooks to make sure they were using reliable websites and recording information.

Presentation / Product
- During the first semester I required every student to create a product and then share their journey through a TEDtalk.  I felt having the experience of doing a TEDtalk and sharing what they did and their journey was important.  I will continue to have them do that for their first Genius Hour project.

- For second semester they were not required to give a TEDtalk, instead I allowed that to be there final product with the knowledge that it would be taped.

- Some of my students did ebooks for their final products. Many produced websites. Some did Powtoon videos or Prezi's. A few made their own videos with WeVideo.  The ones that did videos had the most challenges since most of them required the videos to be uploaded to YouTube, which is blocked by my district.  The chromebook video creators that upload to their drives were also blocked.  We made it work by individually making time to upload them to my Youtube site and work from there but some students just decided to create a website instead.

- If you have iPADS creating video infomercials would be a way to go using iMOVIE.

Below are some of the example websites, videos, and music compositions my 8th grade students created.


The most important thing to remember is that Genius Hour is an amazing journey for both you and your students. When students are given the opportunity to investigate and learn about ideas that are important to them, magic happens.