Monday, August 19, 2013

I'm going to FAIL this year!

The cliche goal setting post is upon me. You know the one, where we all become optimistic, SMART goal setting educators. Come June we look back and realize that we probably dropped the ball some time in October and then reset our goals around New Years' and dropped the ball again around February break and then said eh, there's always next year. Since I'm a whopping 7 days until school begins, let's take a look at my goals from last year as I remember them now and see how I did.

1. Flip my Civics course and have it ready (all lesson/all units) to go by day 1.

  • Well, I flipped. Flipped out is more like it. There were times I felt I couldn't get it done, but I did. While I'm not sure you'd call what I do truly flipping (well, I suppose there is no "definition), I love how I'm teaching the course, I love the changes I'm making, and I love the feedback I get from the students.
  • For this year I'd like to continue on this path, continue listening to the students, and add in more personal reflection (see #4 below). I think where I'm moving too is a place of problem and project based learning with writing infused into the course. I like it. 
2. Take 4 graduate courses (2 in the fall and 2 in the spring).

  • Why do I always do this to myself? I took 2 in the fall. Stopped going to the second (I had already taken the course topic twice before) class after the midterm. Spring I only took one.
  • This year I'm again attempting 4, but with a better plan. Since I'm doing my practicum in the fall, I'm only "teaching" 3 classes (instead of 6) and then Guidance 9 on Tuesdays and Thursdays so fall won't be trying, but there's always the spring!
3. Replan as I go my Honors World History course to include more discussion, more groups, more projects, and try a flipped lesson/unit in the spring.

  • Ummm what was I thinking? With teaching 6 classes, taking 4 graduate courses, and already replanning a course, what made me think I could replan a second course? Seriously, optimism in the summer is more like delusion!
4. Continue blogging throughout the year.

  • See #3 above! Although I wish I had kept blogging. I think it would have helped to flesh out ideas I had and implement new ones. But most of all just served as a sounding board for myself, even if I never actually posted it!
5. Stay engaged with like minded individuals online.

  • Like #4 above, it would have helped with the "self-care" aspect I always forget about!

I'm sure there were more, but this is what I can think of and BOY DID I FAIL! My umbrella goal for this year is simple I want to FAIL. Yes I am setting out to intentionally FAIL. I know sounds negative and quite the opposite of what I should be doing, but hear me out!

Step 1 in FAIL is FOCUSING. 
  • I need to focus on what is important. I need to take time and assess what needs to be done now, what can wait to be done, and what can just plain never be done!
  • I need to learn to appreciate what I have. That means my support systems around me, my family, my colleagues, my friends, my students, and my PLN!
  • I can no longer afford to say yes to everything that everyone asks me to do. I must learn to cull my interests to those that truly excite me and that I have a passion for. Rather than wanting to be helpful to everyone in every situation, I can be most useful to people when my skill set and interests match up.
Step 4 in FAIL is LAUGHTER
  • Laughter is the best medicine of all. I want to laugh more, I want to laugher harder, and I want to laugh wholeheartedly this year. I want to enjoy life, after all you're only 29.1 once right!

So who else wants to FAIL with me this year?

Friday, July 26, 2013

Sunday River Practical Ed Tech Camp

Earlier this July while I was checking the #Edtechchat on Twitter I saw that there was one ticket left for the Sunday River Practical Ed Technology Camp run by Richard Byrne. Since my school is going BYOD next year I wanted to find new technologies that would be applicable to my students to engage in collaboration, curate their own content, and seamlessly integrate technology into my teaching practice.

Covered Bridge near Sunday River

Two tools that I can see myself implementing in various ways are Google Earth and ThingLink. I've used Google Earth for years, but have wanted to use it for virtual field trips and didn't know where to start. I also have tons of photos from our overseas school trips and personal vacations that I would love to use in class, but besides showing a slideshow and annotating them live each time I wasn't sure what I could do.

I can pare these two pieces of technology together to make many lessons more relevant and interactive. Secondly and perhaps more importantly, students can use both of these tools to create their own products and then share them out in presentations.

After our department trips overseas, I like to share the photos I've taken, but after that I rarely do anything with them other than posting them to a website to share them with family and friends. With ThingLink I can annotate the pictures with many more pieces of information. For example, a picture of me in front of the Acropolis could have video attached that I recorded while there, a wikipedia article on the Acropolis, a podcast of a professor who was lecturing on debates at the Acropolis, a link to the virtual tour of the Acropolis. While doing this we can also use Google Earth to gain many other pieces of information, such as how far it is from where we are, where it is in relation to Sparta, how high the acropolis is, among many other pieces of information that students can brainstorm to answer.

Constantly in this conference, I was thinking, why in 2013 are we still doing...a poster board presentation...a in person discussion? There are so many other interactive options out there that can keep the classroom relevant after the bell rings and keep kids engaged in learning. Isn’t a goal of education to encourage students to become life-long learners who are responsible for that learning?

There were so many more applications that were introduced, discussed, and played around with but I don’t want to bore you! A future post will have a rundown of other applications and technology tools that were discussed. I certainly will post about how I am using new (to me) technology in my classroom over the course of the school year, so stay tuned!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Reflective Learning

After much thought and consideration, I feel like I have some direction for the changes I want to make in my Civics class in the coming school year. Reading through my previous students’ comments, quiet contemplation, as well as bouncing ideas between myself and others, I have a plan. While it may not be solid and it may will change, I’m ok with that!
Here are the broad problem categories I identified in the beginning of July according to my students:
  • videos were too long
  • quizzes were too frequent
  • video content wasn’t seen as connected to in class discussion and activity

These weren’t the only problems they described to me, but I feel that these are the three main problems that most of their other issues can fall into.

I agree with the above concerns and I’d like to add my own
  • lack of student engagement in the classroom
  • need to improve and increase student creation and independence

So how am I going to tackle these issues? 

1. Videos
  • First, revamp my videos. 
    • I watched a bunch of other History/Social Studies teacher videos on YouTube, not any one person in particular just many. Quantity in this case showed me, that what I was “teaching” in my videos was too long but not necessarily too much. There was a lot of extraneous talking and that needs to be minimized. When I first started this journey one of my goals was to cut down on the lecture time and increase discussion. While I've done that, I can certainly do a better job on Version 2.0.
  • Secondly, a quick overview on video is just fine.
    • The details can be discussed within class, within the activity etc. 
  • Thirdly, I’m going to also give multiple options for the same assignment. 
    • I realize that students learn different ways, but I wasn’t implementing that knowledge. I don’t care how students interact with the information, just that they are prepared for class. So if watching a video, reading the text, or researching it themselves is going to get them to the same place, I’m happy!

2. Quizzes

  • First, reduce the number of quizzes. 
    • This past year I gave a quiz for each video. Which caused quizzes to happen frequently. Students tended to feel overwhelmed and with the retake option, they may be taking a quiz on a concept they had reviewed and a new concept in the same day. This created confusion as well as them not doing their best.
  • Secondly, increase diversity of questions on quizzes.
    • I definitely need to change up the format of quizzes.
  • Thirdly, go back to paper and pencil quizzes
    • Students were very vocal about not liking "clicker" quizzes. Socrative seems to be good for formative and informal assessments, but if I want to quiz them on something that will appear on a summative assessment later (final, end of unit test), then I need to do pencil and paper at least at this point.
  • Fourthly, encourage and insist that students take retakes only AFTER they have studied and proven they have reviewed the material.
    • Not sure how I am going to do this, but am continuing to think about it. I am keeping the 30/50 threshold though, much to their dismay.

3. Connecting Videos/Reading/Research to in class discussions and activities

  • Be more concrete in the first units with connections to give them tools necessary to make connections in later units
    • One common phrase I heard throughout the year, "What does this have to do with what we watched?" Or, "what does this have to do with Civics?"
    • I want students to be able to make those connections on their own
    • First unit on Government beginnings (historical reference, theories, purposes etc.) I plan on talking about different types of modern governments and how they each address the four purposes of governments. Students will have to determine how they address them in similar and dissimilar fashions.
      • Students will watch videos on types of governments, purposes of government, theories of government
      • In class students will discuss modern day governments, work in small groups to compare and contrast
4. Increased engagement, creation, and independence

  • I don't quite have a set plan of action for this problem. I'm hoping that the changes above will help to address this, but also realizing, that since this is a semester course I can change what isn't working in the fall for the spring.
  • I want to encourage more engagement, creation, and independence in my world history courses as well, why should this be limited to one course!

I’m currently at Practical Ed Tech Camp learning about the practical uses of all sorts of resources that will help me to bring in more technology as well as ways for my students to curate their own content and ideas. More to come on Practical Ed Tech Camp once it wraps up! But here is a teaser photo of my view from my hotel room. The Camp is being held at Jordan Grand Resort Hotel - part of Sunday River. Perfect for a 3 day getaway!

Learn about Richard Byrne who put this amazing conference together here. His blog is very useful for all teachers looking for practical application of technology in their classroom, no matter the grade level!

View from my room at the Jordan Grand Resort at Sunday River.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Reflections of Year 1 - I'm still alive!

What a year it has been! I'll be honest, I'm not sure where to begin, I have so many ideas flowing through my brain. There are many things I want to tweak, change, and just plain throw out from the previous year. I knew this would be the case even before I asked for feedback from my students.

At the end of each semester, I asked my students to fill out an End of Course survey for me through Google Docs. Both groups did so, but second semester students were much more open and brutally honest. Perhaps because they knew they wouldn't see me for two months! Truth be told, their honesty has helped me, where they may have thought they "tore into me" I see critical feedback which is part of the process. While it may be harsh, I can see through it and perhaps read into why they feel that way. A few of them left their names and I am grateful for that, others did not, which was their choice and I am still grateful for their feedback. Below are word clouds (made possible by Tagxedo) that summarizes some of their free response answers! In future posts, I am going to talk about real hard changes I am making to the course, but here is what has propelled me into a weeks worth of reflection so far!

Here is the positive!
Students favorite activities/units
These units are ones that I want to keep doing, add more to, and truly make into PBLs (Problem Based Learning Units). Most of them are at the beginning stages of that, and perhaps might be why students enjoyed them. They had more flexibility in how they showed me their understanding and how they went about learning the objectives.

What students enjoyed about the class
This is the qualitative data, the "make me feel good about myself" stuff. But in reality, it has EVERYTHING to do with the students I had this year. I don't know what it was, but this year (my 6th year) was my favorite year in all my classes, flipped and non-flipped. I had more fun and a better understanding of my students this year than I have in the past, which may be why the students (most, not all) enjoyed this year as well.

Now onto the not so positive reviews/remarks. However, I still view these as positive (forever the optimist!), because they show me that I will always have room for improvement and I should never become "comfortable" in doing something. I would be considered, if after my first year of trying something new, all my students were amazed and loved this. I am thankful there were some who questioned and challenged me, because it is they who are helping me become a better educator! I'm doubtful they see it that way though!

Units/Activities students didn't like
The word cloud above doesn't show the whole picture, many students added other comments next to what they didn't like, which was extremely useful. They told me why they didn't like something, how it could be better etc. These nuggets of information are invaluable! These units are where a lot of work will be done this summer, I want to include them into the fold of PBL and allow students more of a choice in showing me how they understand the objectives. If there is a group project, allow them to work alone if need be. I, as much as the next guy, understand the pitfalls of a partner who does nothing! I am still a proponent of working on at least one group project a quarter though! 21st Century Skills of collaboration!

The one below is more of a puzzlement however!
Least favorite parts of class
I am unsure of what to do about this one. This is definitely what I need to reflect on the most and will certainly be a future post!

I hope your summer is off to a good start and good luck with your reflective process!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Relaunch and the living's easy!

Ten months have gone by and I have been silent. I started this blog last summer as a means to be reflective and transparent. This clearly did not work as I planned. While I may not have written about my year, I can say that I have been reflective which has been a nice process. 

My new goal for summer vacation and beyond, to restart the blog with my summer adventures of making the changes necessary in my Civics course that have come from student suggestions, my own thoughts, and new research and learning. Secondly, to write about my new adventures in trying to become a school counselor. This fall I will be starting my practicum at my school in the counseling department and I couldn't be more exited!

So be on the look out, I am recommitted and excited to restart my blogging journey!