“Do You Need a Ride to School Tomorrow?”

This is going to be a relatively short post because I’ve had an incredibly long day. On my way home from work today, my car broke down, and I had to go through the process of getting it towed to the dealership, getting a rental car, etc.  As my car was being hooked up to the tow truck, I sent out a tweet about it.  Within about 10 minutes, I had a couple offers of assistance from colleagues and friends, but also within those 10 minutes, I had a student text me and ask me if I needed a ride home or to school the next day.  A student.

This is why I love teaching, particularly at a small, Christian school.  Teachers and students get to know one another and genuinely care for each other.  In the best situations, teachers learn who their students are not just as pupils in their classrooms but as people who spend 2/3 of each day outside the classroom, and students see their teachers not just as the robot at the front of the room spewing information but as a human being.

So while I definitely complain about work-related issues (too much, I think), and while I don’t always remember how good I have it, on days like this, I love my job and I love my students.



Monday Morning Roundup #10

Here’s some educational resources I came across this last week.  Enjoy!

1.  The Big List of 530 Free Online Courses from Top Universities – This is a blog post from Open Culture that lists hundreds of free online courses.  Courses cover a wide range of disciplinary topics, from philosophy to computer science.  Use them to fill in the gaps in your own learning or have students watch or listen to clips as part of a homework or in-class assignment.

2.  Practical PBL: The Ongoing Challenges of Assessment – Here’s a blog post from Edutopia that I learned about from my principal, David.  The author addresses how to fairly assess the individual student within group projects.

3.  Game Changers Electoral Map – This interactive Electoral College map allows students to play with a map of the United States and guess which way each state will go in the election of 2012.  The site gives students the history of each individual state in terms of which party and candidate has won the state’s electoral votes in past elections, helping students make educated guesses.  Thanks, Lucy, for sending this one my way.

4.  Chockadoc – Chockadoc is a website full of free, full-length documentaries that cover nearly every discipline.  The documentaries are organized by category, and the site includes a search feature.  FREE.

5.  Brain Pickings – This website is incredibly interesting but difficult to describe, so I’ll let its creator handle it.  “Brain Pickings is a human-powered discovery engine for interestingness, culling and curating cross-disciplinary curiosity-quenchers, and separating the signal from the noise to bring you things you didn’t know you were interested in until you are.”  Check it out.

6.  DIY.org – This is such a cool site for kids and their parents.  Kids can log on, get various DIY project ideas, complete the project, and upload a picture of their work, creating an online portfolio.  In completing the projects, kids develop all kinds of critical thinking and fine motor skills.  While this might not be useful in a traditional school environment, homeschool kids or parents looking for ways to engage their students outside the classroom might find this site useful.

Monday Morning Roundup #9

Here’s a few education resources you might find helpful.

1.  C-SPAN Classroom – I came across C-SPAN Classroom when looking for resources related to the 2012 election.  While I found what I was looking for regarding the election, I found a lot more as well.  There are free resources and lesson plan ideas on a variety of topics related to the social studies.

2.  Infuse Learning – Infuse Learning is a student response system similar to Socrative, which I mentioned in a previous post.  What I like about Infuse Learning, however, is the ability to add images to my questions.  In addition, students can provide answers to questions in the form of drawings or diagrams. The site is FREE.

3.  Storyboard That – Storyboard That is an easy storyboarding tool.  Students can create 3- or 6-panel storyboards, and the website provides dozens of characters, props, etc. to use in the storyboard.  Students could use this in a variety of disciplines by creating word problems in mathematics, creating political cartoons in social studies, outlining a story in English, or explaining a concept in science.  The site is FREE.

Monday Morning Roundup #8

Good Monday Morning!  I skipped last Monday in honor of Labor Day, but I’m back with another roundup of educational resources.

1.  Educreations – If you “flip” your classroom, check out this site.  It may make flipping much easier.  Educreations is both a website and iPad app that allows you to create and share video lessons with a browser or an iPad. Basically, you record your lecture or presentation while using an interactive whiteboard to show your audience images or write and erase as you go.  It’s Khan Academy, but with information in just the way you want it!  You can choose to share your videos via links with just your students or the whole world.  I’ve already created three short videos as a trial for an upcoming unit, and it didn’t take me long at all.  I’ve posted the links on Edmodo for my students to view.  In addition, students themselves could create videos as part of an assignment.  The site and app are FREE!

2.  Learnist – Are you a “pinner”?  Do you use Pinterest to find or share education ideas?  Well, Learnist is Pinterest for educators.  It’s a way of archiving all those ideas for the classroom that you come across while searching the web.  Right now it is in its Beta phase, but you can sign up with an email address to receive an invite.  The site is FREE.

3.  60-Second Adventures in Thought – David Mitchell hosts Open University’s 60-Second Adventures in Thought on iTunes.  These short, animated videos cover famous thought experiments from the Greeks to Albert Einstein.  Great way to introduce a concept or unit of study.  FREE.

4.  60-Second Adventures in Economics – Works the same way as Adventures in Thought. FREE.

5.  Thinglink – Thinglink allows you and your students to make any image an interactive platform.  Upload an image from your computer or the web, then tag it and tag it again.  Embed links to websites, videos, audio clips, etc.  The site is FREE.

6.  Founders’ Constitution – This website from the University of Chicago Press and the Liberty Fund is a great resource for all kinds of documents related to the U.S. Constitution.  It is useful for a number of classes in the social studies.

Public Speaking: A Necessary Evil

Picture it.  It’s 1992, and I’m standing in front of my 7th grade class about to recite from memory the opening passage of A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.  You know the one.  “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”  We had to memorize either a poem or book passage of our choosing for the annual school speech contest.  Why did I choose that particular passage?  Who knows?  I don’t think I’d even read the book by that point in my school career. For whatever reason, that’s the passage I chose, and that’s the passage I was about to recite.  And then…my mind went blank.  My brain and body froze.  I couldn’t remember the first word of the passage let alone the last. I stood there with 50 eyeballs trained on me, and I began to quietly cry.  At that point, there was no way any words were coming out of my mouth that day.  Lucky for me, I had a kind, understanding English teacher who gave me time to compose myself and regain my confidence.  The next day, I recited the passage, getting each word correct and even making it into the next round of the school’s speech contest.

This past week as my students debated one another in front of the class, the memory of my 7th-grade self came back to me.  Some of my students were practically hyperventilating before the debates.  Their hands and voices were shaking while their faces ranged from shades of green to red and back again. Having once reacted similarly to speaking publicly, I felt compassion for my students even as I made them perform.  I too used to absolutely abhor talking in front of people, and while it still is not necessarily my favorite thing to do even as a teacher, I’ve become quite comfortable with it.  Yet I only became comfortable with it over time as I continually got up in front of groups to give a presentation, a lecture, or a formal speech.

Given that my students are seniors speaking in front of students they’ve known since kindergarten, I was surprised by how uncomfortable so many of them were to speak formally in front of their peers.  In discussing this with a colleague who acted as a guest judge of one of the debates, we determined that we – as a faculty – probably don’t require enough formal public speaking on the part of our students.  How often do we ask them to give a formal presentation and assess it as such?  Once a semester, once a year, not at all?  Oral communication is such an important skill, and it is a skill that needs to be taught not just in our English classes.  No matter the subject area, we can have students do formal presentations.  They can present a project, give a speech, participate in a formal discussion with another classmate or two.  Nearly all, if not all, our students will be asked to speak publicly in college and beyond.  It only makes sense that we make it a point to get them up in front of their peers from time to time, give them the chance to freeze and experience that feeling of helplessness along with the knowledge that, if they do indeed crash and burn, it will not be the end of the world.

So along with all the other goals I have for my students this year, and believe me when I say the list is ever-growing, I am adding one more goal.  I am making it a point to require at least 2 formal presentations of some sort throughout the year in each of my classes.  I’ve already got my first formal presentation in AP European history planned, and I’m working on the others.  Anyone else want to join me?

Crash, Burn, and Up in Flames! Cue the Laughter.

“So how’s that new government curriculum shaping up for you?” you ask.  If you’d asked me a week ago, I would have said it’s going great, but over the last two days, I’ve hit a bit of a snag.  I’ve been meaning to write a post giving an update on how things are going. Well, here it is – the good and the not-so-good.

The first two units went well.  Most of the students wrote some thoughtful responses to the question, “To what extent is democracy the best form of government?”  They included in their responses references to de Tocqueville and Madison among others, and overall, I was pleased with the first unit.  Ditto to the second unit.  For the major assessment of that unit, students created original political cartoons advocating either a Federalist or Antifederalist position on the Constitution.  In general, the political cartoons were good, some particularly so.

In addition, I had a wonderful “aha moment” while grading the students’ political cartoons.  I’ve mentioned before the difficulty of creating good rubrics, but it seems like I managed to put together just the right categories and scores on this particular rubric because grading the cartoons was a breeze.  More importantly, I truly feel like students received the grades they earned.  I guess it’s true what they say; practice does lead to improvement.  Well, I’ve been practicing writing rubrics for a while now – it’s about time I saw the improvement!

So the start of the year got off to a pretty good start.  Most students seemed engaged, and I was enjoying the whole experience of teaching government more than I ever had in the past….That’s when unit 3 hit.

For unit 3, the students grappled with federalism, and as the major assessment for the unit, students participated in formal debates on topics related to federalism. Working in groups of 2 or 3, students researched the issue, prepared arguments, anticipated how to counter the opposition, etc.  After two days of listening to and assessing debates, I felt…well, confused.  Some debates went fairly well, some were mediocre, and others were train wrecks, to put it bluntly.  After one particularly poor debate, I felt both disheartened and embarrassed, as I had a fellow teacher there as a guest judge.  She must think I’m an awful teacher, I thought.   And then I thought, Maybe I am an awful teacher.  In that moment, I resolved that I would never do debates again!

But then, I took a deep breath.  I tried to put things in perspective.  I reminded myself that some students did very well, and the unit can be tweaked and improved based on the knowledge I’ve gained this time around.  For instance, I know that in the future I will provide more scaffolding for the students, and I want to include time to meet with each group individually before the debate to go over their research in more detail than I did this time around.  I also reminded myself that, as much as I hope my colleagues think well of me, in the end what they think isn’t the most important thing.  Do I wish my students had performed better in front of my fellow teacher?  Yes.  But it’s over and done with at this point, and now it’s up to me to decide how to improve this unit for the future.

So as appealing as the traditional lecture-test format of instruction may be after a particularly rough day of debates, I’m still committed to trying the inquiry-based approach.  On the whole, I have had more good days than bad with this approach, and as difficult as it can be to keep things in perspective when a lesson is going up in flames all around me, that’s what I have to do.

Oh, and one more thing.  When you crash and burn, and it’s inevitable that you will if you commit to improvement and innovation in the classroom, it’s good to be able to laugh at yourself from time to time! 🙂