March 27, 2014

Going One-to-One: There Will be Blood

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Unless you have a master plan, incredible support, and more luck than a leprechaun at the end of a rainbow, sitting on a pot of gold, up to his ears in four-leafed clovers, going 1:1 can be painful.  There will be blood.  Its going to be bad (at times), but hang in there, it gets better.

Going 1:1 is like jumping on a moving train.  The jolt of inertia immediately puts you behind.  You're not even sure which direction you want to go.  The only thing that helps you progress is to constantly move forward. Rely on your leaders and PLN to help establish a direction, and just keep moving. You have to have grit.  Its the latest buzz word in education, usually applied to students, but teachers need to have grit to go 1:1.

There will be blood, but eventually, as you learn to work with the train and not against it, you will be progressing, growing, and learning at a pace commensurate with the advancements in technology and learning.

You have your local leaders, an ocean of resources on the web, and probably some tech Jedi's that just became superstars in your school in at 1:1 environment. Use them and may the force be with you.

Our 1:1 Story
End of Year One
More End of Year One
Beginning of Year Two
Mid Year Two
End of Year Two

January 25, 2014

Candy Corn Contest

Have you ever competed in the "Guess How Much Candy Is In The Jar"?  We do it every year at one of the Xmas parties I attend.  I have wanted to do this activity with my kids for the past couple of years and I have just put it off.  So I was looking for something fun the kids could do after our long winter break and thought, why not, let's go for it.

My wife has many different sized canning jars at our house.  So I went and got some candy corn.  I filled up three different sizes of jars and my first project of the new year had begun.  I didn't make it a full blown project.  The kids did not create a presentation and present their findings.  This was more of a quick hitter.

I started by showing them a picture of candy corn in a jar and asked them how many pieces of candy are in the jar.  They were already in.  Then I showed them all three jars and told them whatever group in the 7th grade got the closest by mathematically solving it would get all the candy.  Smiles all around.  I posed the question, "Do you think you can guess closer or mathematically calculate and get closer?"  To my surprise most kids said mathematically.

So we dug in.  I love starting new projects and not knowing where they will end up.  We have learned volume and are pretty good at formulas so that was somewhat review.  Since we haven't had school for nearly a month it was good review.

We brainstormed what information we needed (essential questions), then we created a plan on the steps we would go about to solve this problem.  This part was just ok.  We definitely need some work on this part but it got us started.  Next was the fun part.  I passed out candy, rulers, and jars and the measuring began.  Two of the jars had changes in the sizes so there were two different size cylinders and one was just a straight cylinder.  Some groups saw it and some didn't.  They measured away.

The challenging part is that the candy corn isn't quite a cone and it is not quite a pyramid.  The kids had to analyze and decide which path to take (cone or pyramid) and how to measure it.  Then once they divided the jar volume by the candy volume they got the number of pieces in the jar, kinda.

Since the candy corn is filled up the jar with gaps their answers were the first time to big.  The kids had to guesstimate the percentage of air vs the percentage of candy.  Then as a class we learned how to take a percentage of a number.  Finally for the first part the kids wrote a paragraph on why we had to adjust their original answer and their logic on why they chose the percentage they picked.

After all was said and done we calculated that the candy corn took up about 40% of the jar.  I melted down a jar full of candy corn and it was very close visually to 40%.  The winners enjoyed eating the fruits of their labor, they even shared their winnings with the other kids in class.

January 20, 2014

15th Century Teaching Model Still Highly Relevant

Recently I visited a school to learn about their BYOD program.  I came away with lots of great insights and ideas.  One of them was a teaching method I had never heard of.  The Ignatian Pedagogical Model is based on the Jesuit St. Ignatius Loyola's Spiritual Exercises.  There are 5 basic components: Context, Experience, Reflection, Action, and Evaluation.  Though interpretations seem to vary on how it should properly be implemented, I think the validity of the basic components speak for themselves.

Students must be provided with a reason for learning beyond traditional reasons of, 'state standards require this', 'because it will be on the test', or 'because I said'.  Those might be "context" to a teacher, but they are not context to a student of the 21st Century.  If you don't know or can't explain to your class why they are learning a particular topic, maybe you should look for some real world application or possibly rethink whether this particular topic should be a priority.  Like Daniel Pink says in his most recent book To Sell is Human.  Teachers have to "sell" their curriculum.  If the kids aren't buying what you're offering, you really have no one to blame but yourself.  You can sit back and blame parents or the culture, but that won't change anything and it certainly won't be a valid excuse as to why your students aren't doing well in your class.

After students have real meaning as to why they are learning something, they need to experience it.  Spoiler Alert: worksheets, web quests, and the like are not a way to experience curriculum.  Students have to be immersed into the field of knowledge with real world activities that produce an authentic product.  The construction of the product they produce should take them through an inquiry-based learning path.  Students should then present their product to an authentic audience.

Context and experience should be done sequentially, but reflection should be done throughout the process.  Reflection is such a powerful tool.  Students greatly benefit from metacognition; evaluating their thinking process, finding ways to improve, and just being mindful of their learning habits.  A learning journal shared to the teacher and student would work well. A student blog would be a public platform for students to demonstrate their thinking and learning.  Regardless, a single reflection platform is not enough.  The teacher should have conversations throughout that force students to stretch their thinking and expand their sphere of learning.

The goal of Jesuit education is to move the student into action, not simply the personal satisfaction of learning (source).  To me, in a school setting, this is a flexible component that can be worked into the "Experience" portion.  Once the student has the knowledge, what will they do with it?  Is the product they are making the final use for this knowledge?  Can it be incorporated into future learning? Can students take political action such as writing to their congressman or writing a letter to a newspaper or company? The "Action" component is a great way to exercise the new learning that has taken place and justify the context you provided initially.

As with all things education, assessment is important to get right.  While I don't think there is a "right" way to do this component, there certainly are some wrong ways, such as ending this teaching model with a multiple choice test.  We usually advocate for students to present everything they learn to an authentic audience, a group of students, or one-on-one to the teacher.  Our motto is: you can't hide from a conversation.  The ultimate summative grade should be discussed between you and your student.  No time for that?  An alternative would be to build a rubric as a class before you start your project in the experience phase.  In addition, you can put formative evaluation benchmarks along the way to see how students are doing.  It may be a completion grade for a journal entry or a qualitative grade on the weekly set of journals.  Either way, its nice to work in a few smaller grades into a larger project.

The Ignatian Pedagogical Model doesn't need to be a large project.  You could probably create a one-day lesson using this model.  Its simply a structure.  An apparatus that supports curricular content and instruction.  I like it because it is so simple; the five parts are very easy to understand.   The five parts address educational best practice and allow for great depth, yet they can be flexible and easily addressed.  In addition, I think students would learn to adapt to this method.  They might be critical about the context or curious about the action that follows.  These are both good signs that they are buying what you're selling.  At that point you got 'em, everything else is easy.

January 6, 2014

How to Make the Perfect [Assessment] Cocktail

Assessment can be a sticky issue.  We know best practice is not a multiple choice test, yet that is the preferred method state standardized tests use--due simply to the ease of grading, way to lead by example ;)  So, do we use best practices or inferior methods that prepare students for a bogus test designed primarily for PR and political fodder?  Tough choice right? While it may be an easy philosophical decision.  The pressure from administration can often complicate things.  My general belief is that if a student can pass my assessment, they will do fine in a multiple guess test.

We often sit around and talk about assessment, specifically 'what is the best way to know what students know'.   I think we've concluded that it depends on the situation.  What is best in a science lab is not what is best in twelfth grade AP English.  While the specific assessment models don't always hold true across all the disciplines and developmental levels, the concept usually do.  Such as the concept of self-assessment.  I think this is a powerful assessment concept that should be worked into nearly every activity you wish to use as an a recorded assessment (grade).  However, it isn't always the most reliable option.  Self-assessment is best when balanced by a teacher assessment.  Obviously the teacher provides a needed perspective in the overall assessment of a given activity, and probably should be given the highest weight.  That being said, another valuable perspective are the students' peers.  If the student presents their work to the class, the class should have a say in the assessment.  The same is true of working in groups or presenting to an authentic audience.  A group assessment is a great ingredient to authentic assessment.

If you are truly interested in really learning what your students know its good to account for multiple perspectives.  If you are looking for a fast way to grade... well... find another profession because you're making all the rest of us look bad.  And while we're on the subject its OK not to grade everything you do in your class.  I once met a teacher who took 55 grades in a 9 week period---thats 1.2 grades per day!  To sum up, assessment is best thought of like a cocktail.  One part self assessment, one part group assessment, and one part teacher assessment... and, it should always be used responsibly.

December 18, 2013

Billboards and Commercials in Math

Our kids just recently did a project where we were learning the order of operations.  We connected it to commercials or billboards.  Here's how it worked.  First the kids created two order of operation problems.  They had to have 5 out of the 7 steps involved.  The problems also had to have a negative number and a fraction.  After they made their second problem correct they were to go back and make the problem wrong by doing the steps in the wrong order.  I know this sounds crazy, but it actually really helps them to understand the steps.  Plus it ties into a part of the project that comes into play at the end.

Our entry event was to watch some funny commercials and some funny billboards to get them interested.  Their goal was to create a funny or clever commercial that had words that went in the same order as the order of operations.  For example:

Parentheses = Pancakes
Brackets = Bacon
Exponents = Eggs
Multiply = Milk
Divide = Doughnuts
Add = Asparagus
Subtract = Snake

I tell them a crazy story about a neighbor that has to eat their breakfast in a certain order as an example. It was fun to see how clever they were with their commercials and billboards.  They presented them to the class.  Half the kids probably made commercials using Imovie and Garageband.  The other kids used, smore, or to create billboards.

Finally on the last day they rotated to every other groups computers and used the other groups problems. They had two objectives.  First they had to figure out which of the two problems was right or wrong by looking at the steps of the problem.  Finally after they found the wrong problem, they had to solve it with the steps and get the correct answer.

Most kids can recite Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally, but they really are not good at applying the steps to a problem.  The thing I love about having the kids make up problems is that they are always harder than the problems form our 7th grade book.  The kids had a lot of fun trying to make the other kids laugh with their commercial or billboard.  They also love keeping track of who gets their problems wrong.  They take a lot of pride in stumping their classmates.