Beginning of the Year Classroom Learning Ideas

Over the years I’ve posted about lessons and activities I’ve used successfully to start off the year. Here are some of them in case they help:

1) “Getting To Know You” is how I started my year with my students that not only was successful and getting them to know each other better, but was a great way to end up with my first seating arrangement for the year, and starting to teach them how to support and include each other.

2) Write It! is a writing game that I originally learned in a writing inservice class. Not only is it great at getting students to write, it also familiarizes them with each other’s names AND THEN becomes a great way to scaffold them writing quality blog comments. I did not share the blog comments piece in the original post, so I’ll do so here. Go read the original post first.

After your students are very comfortable playing the game and writing blog posts, use the format of the game to have your students write quality comments on blogs. When my students first blogged many would leave comments like, “Nice post.” OR “I liked it.” OR WORSE: “nice poste” OR “i lickd it” with no punctuation – that would be the entire comment. Then one day I thought to use the game as a scaffold. I’d explain that when they left blog comments they had to start (just like the game) with a “nice comment” like, “Your post was interesting to read.” OR “I like how you describe things.” OR just whatever. Next they could write anything else – perhaps sharing a connection to the post or a general comment, BUT they had to leave a question at the end (just like the game).

Why? Because it made them think about what they read, it required them to analyze something about the post to praise, and by asking a question at the end (along with a link back to their own blog!) it encouraged a conversation. I especially encouraged students to find posts that connected to something they had posted themselves – “Nice post about your new kitten. I don’t have a cat, but I wrote a post about my Grandma’s dog you might like. Here’s a link to it. Do you have any other pets?”  - Have your students comment on your own class blog at first so you see how they are doing, then let them loose on other class blogs.

3) Baseline – is a post for those of you that get started blogging fairly early OR take some kind of a baseline writing assessment at the beginning of the year. For years we were required to get a baseline example of writing to chart growth during the year’s benchmark writing assessments. I would have the students type up that assessment without correcting any mistakes they noted – then we had an archive of a baseline piece right on their blog. Sometimes we would come back to that piece, cut and paste it into a word processor and re-write. Students would chuckle at the mistakes and lack of grammar, or perhaps realize they were much better now at word choice and describing than they were. Great way for them (and everyone else) to see growth.

Well, that’s all for now.

Learning is messy!

 

Posted in Blogging, Brian Crosby, Education, Literacy, Making Connections With Blogging, Student Access | 1 Comment

HackEd ISTE 2013

 

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Just spent the day at what used to be called EduBloggerCon (and a few other iterations over the years). As always great folks having conversations about where education could / should be going.

Now I’m actually sitting in the Bloggers’ Cafe at the end of the day … blogging … used to do this more often, kind of feels good.

I’m not going to go into all the conversations I had today, but instead focus a bit on one notable takeaway. Several conversations I had today with individuals centered around that we are having the same conversations about the same topics (how much things need to change, and we need to get people onboard, what we could be doing,  how to do that, how to speed up that change, … you get the idea) and that it is really getting old and nothing seems to REALLY be happening.

I’m as frustrated about that as anyone out there (here? … wherever), but one takeaway I had about that today is that we are having those conversations with more people from more places. The first EduBloggerCon 7 or 8 years ago had about 30 attendees (more or less). Today, hundreds were in attendance and many were new faces. Having those same old conversations (and they weren’t all old topics BTW) is important I think. Maybe its not enough, maybe it won’t lead to change fast enough, but until enough people hear the message let’s keep at spreading it.

I’ve also heard for years that certain blog posts / topics have already been written … I think we have a whole new group online now that would benefit hearing about some of those same topics. Perhaps now that more and more stakeholders are connecting this is the time to re-visit and refresh those past conversations … maybe more ears are listening? Am I off base here?

Learning is messy!

 

 

 

Posted in Blogging, Change, Education, ISTE13 | 4 Comments

A Professional Learning Community/Network Example

Or: “Why many educators find Twitter and other social networks indispensable.”

I’m currently attending the NSTA STEM Forum and Expo in St. Louis. Last night while taking a class on using telescopes in the classroom,  not far from my house in Nevada I got an email request from a teacher wanting to know if there was a way to live stream from her classroom so that the chicken eggs her class is observing could be watched all night so as to not miss their hatching.

I thought of USTREAM, but I haven’t had reason to use it in awhile and when I checked it out I could see it wasn’t going to meet her needs. So I went to Twitter to see if the network of educators and various “techies” and others I’ve been fortunate to be part of could help:

My Twitter Request

 

 

 

About 5 or so minutes went by and lo and behold Chris Craft from South Carolina chimed in. He suggested using Google Hangout … then when I balked somewhat, he filled me in as to why it should work:

Chris Craft Twitter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Note my typo in the last Tweet – it should say “so I’ll have…” not si)

In the meantime I touched base with the teacher that requested the help and set up a time next week when we will try to make this work (or a variation of it) well in advance so we have time to problem solve. I’m not positive it will work (at least in part due to limitations on my part) but it gives us a solid place to start and a resource (Chris) I can go back to for clarification if we do run into issues.

I lament all the time along with many of my colleagues that we don’t share these examples of how a PLN helps … is really indispensable anymore. So when this happened I made sure to share … but there are many examples and it is hard to always share. Hope that helps clarify PLN’s a bit more.

Oh! And I’ll do my best to share how it goes!

Learning is messy!

 

 

 

Posted in Education, Messy Learning, STEM, Teacher Access, Twitter | 1 Comment

A sign of the times?

When I visited an elementary school today I saw this on the door to the computer lab:

EScomputerLab

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning is messy!

Posted in Education, Reform | Leave a comment

STEM-ing the Tide of Education Reform

NOTE: This post was originally published at the Voices from the learning revolution blog.

“Everybody in this room understands that our nation’s success depends on strengthening America’s role as the world’s engine of discovery and innovation. And that leadership tomorrow depends on how we educate our students today—especially in science, technology, engineering, and math.” (STEM)

President Obama to a gathering of CEOs, scientists, teachers, and others. September 16, 2010

STEM is the new education buzz-word, even the president has been talking it up.

I’d have to confess though that this attention also worries me. I’ve been to conferences where everything on the vendor floor displays a sticker announcing how — whatever it is — it’s “aligned to the Common Core State Standards and STEM!” I’ve even visited a school that claims it is a “STEM Academy” because (it brags) teachers are mandated to do at least 15 minutes of science EACH DAY!

If any of this sounds familiar, it’s the same approach and attitude that led to technology getting a shady reputation in education. Another “big idea” that is inevitably reduced to a subject or activity — something teachers must spend another chunk of precious class time on. It’s typical education “reform.” Instead, what we need to do is transform. STEM, done right, can help make that happen.

STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) is not a separate subject, and you don’t “do” STEM just by doing any one of its pieces. One of the reasons I took my current position was that I recognized that STEM education has promise in leading us away from each subject only having a singular focus — its own chunk of time in the schedule. STEM demands that we teach lessons and pursue projects that connect all the subjects represented in its acronym. In this day of narrowed curriculum, that is a very important distinction!

The STEM connection
So how does STEM education differ, and what does it have to do with connected learning? One way to think about STEM is in the context of that desirable learning strategy we hear about now and again: “taking the time to go deep.” One of the big complaints about NCLB “reform” has been the narrow “surface” learning its accountability mechanisms have produced as a by-product. STEM provides in-depth experiences that students share and can therefore discuss, explain and argue about.

A STEM unit often starts off with a science activity that introduces the concept and leads to the initial research. Besides library books and internet searches, that research should now include communicating with experts. Email, blogs, chats, video-conferencing and other social networking tools and strategies not only add to the learning by involving advisors and collaborators, but teach students how being connected should be part of their learning process.

In addition, a true STEM experience involves the “E” – Engineering. Students should be building something or improving a design. Solving a problem through building and improving involves trials and testing things out, in other words, collecting data, the “M” or math component of STEM. By analyzing performance data, students can make adjustments to their design — quantifying what is really best or most efficient.

Students working in small groups will learn as they note differences in design and efficiency between their creation and those of other groups in the room. And we can up the “connected learning” factor by having them partner with peers beyond the room — students anywhere in the world who are working on the same or a similar activity.

Taking it one step further: what if the groups our students are working in include students in other locations? What if the groups in my class in Nevada have virtual members who are in British Columbia or Scotland or India?

Now the challenge of STEM collaboration takes on new dimensions … staying in communication across time zones, being responsible for getting your part done, being able to share your learning in a way that is understandable to students in different contexts and cultures. Will connected teams use blogs? wikis? email? Google groups? Dropbox? Live meeting spaces? Weighing the advantages and disadvantages of various combinations of virtual partnering is all part of the learning.

Now imagine connecting with an expert in the field you are working in… asking questions, sharing insights, getting tips on design, learning from their experience. All this connectedness can be a huge asset; done well, it can become a vital and very “sticky” part of the learning.

Expanding STEM across the curriculum
As the overall project continues, the potential connections afford many opportunities to vocalize and clarify thinking, as well as the motivation to do quality work because you have authentic audiences. The writing and communications work should also be deep. This can involve creative writing and sharing experiences through stories, poetry, music, video, art of various kinds (STEAM!), and more.

Blending STEM with “connected classroom” strategies is a powerful learning model — a highly active learning model. For this to work well in schools, however, we have to have innovative thinking, teacher autonomy and flexibility in scheduling. These essential components of “going deep” with teaching and learning have been eroded away in the last decade. If we are truly going to integrate and embrace STEM education and innovation, we will have to revive them.

The possibilities of authentic, globally connected STEM projects that flatten curriculum walls, engage students through curiosity, and ignite their natural desire to solve challenging, worthwhile problems is why I am personally promoting the STEM concept. I see it as a way to bypass the most misguided aspects of current “reform” movements while promoting — even requiring — critical and creative thinking and true innovation.

Learning is messy!

Posted in Brian Crosby, Cooperative Learning, Education, Field Trips, Inclusion, Messy Learning, STEM, Student Access, Teacher Access, Technology | 1 Comment

A “Crushing” STEM Experience

Today was one of those great days when I get to work in classrooms … 3 fourth grade classes … 2 of them in the same school I visited, and 1 class 2,000 miles away. First I helped set up a “Mystery Skype” call with a class in Illinois so they could basically play the 20 questions game to figure out where each class was. Maps and questioning techniques came into play and new friends were made.

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the Skype call I stuck around and another 4th grade class joined us so we could continue their study of the atmosphere. Both classes were recently involved in the PongSat program that sends experiments to near space in ping pong balls with weather balloons. We crushed a few soda cans, which was a review for them … although they had never had an explanation as to why the cans crush … they have only been thinking and writing their ideas about what is going on.

So today to give them something else to think about – we did this:

 

Next students shared their thinking about the science behind what happened, and then I led a discussion using their ideas to get them to a better understanding. Then the teachers had me show them a video of a high altitude balloon bursting from the air pressure and asked them to explain how that was related. All in all a great experience.

Learning is messy!

Posted in Education, Messy Learning, STEM, Student Access, Teacher Access, Technology, Video Skype | 2 Comments

RECON – Recruiting citizen scientists to explore the outer solar system!

I’ve been busy of late. This week is the NSTA conference, but last week I was included in a team being trained to be part of a project funded in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF) called RECON - Research and Education Cooperative Occultation Network.

Each of the initial 10 teams (which will expand to 40 during the project) was given a Celestron CPC1100 telescope, a  MallinCam B&W Special video camera and more. We spent 4 days last week training at the WNC Jack C. Davis Observatory in Carson City, Nevada. When we do our assigned/scheduled observations we will include middle and high school students in our teams and train them to set up and use the telescopes, cameras and other equipment, as well as the science behind the project. So the students will help collect the data for the project … sometimes at 2 or 3 in the morning!

Setting up telescopes for a practice observation as part of our training.

So exactly what will we be doing? From the project web site: “Our project will consist of a linked network of 10 telescope sites and eventually 40 sites, across the western United States. Each community participating in RECON will be expected to gather a team of 2-6 members. As a team member, you will be working within your community and collaborating with others in our network to collect astronomical data.”

And: “RECON – the Research and Education Cooperative Occultation Network – is a citizen science research project aimed at exploring the outer solar system. Funded by theNational Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Astronomical Sciences, this project involves teachers, students, amateur astronomers, and community members from across the Western United States to conduct coordinated telescope observations to measure the sizes of objects from a region called the Kuiper Belt. *

Our goal and mission is to measure the size of many trans-Neptunian objects (TNOs), while making authentic scientific research more accessible to local communities. We are discovering more about our solar system – and we couldn’t do it without the help of our citizen scientists. We’d love to have you on board – to get involved, please contact us.

*To find out more about the Kuiper Belt and our 500-km long citizen science observation network, visit our Project Description page.”

It will be interesting to see how I do at work the day after an early morning observation! Fortunately the observation site for my team is at an observatory less than a mile from my house. I’ll hopefully report back as we make observations … the first one should happen in May.

The Reno Recon telescope set up and ready to go as soon as it gets dark.

Learning is messy!

Posted in Digital Video, Education, Messy Learning, STEM, Student Access, Teacher Access, Web 2.0 | Leave a comment

NSTA 2013

 

 

 

 

 

I’m in San Antonio, Texas, this week to attend  the National Science Teachers Association conference. I might help during a presentation or 2, but other than that I get to be a conference attendee without many commitments to be anywhere specific, so I’m planning right now which sessions to participate in.

I used to attend NSTA conferences regularly, and have presented at a few. But something happened 10 or so years ago that made attending science conferences, or even science trainings rather moot. The good news is that, at least right now, there appears to be a realization that narrowing the curriculum had some disadvantages. School districts I work with that block anything that is “social” – are now taking a second look in light of the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards that were released the day before this conference began – and that is good as well. The collaboration and communication pieces that the CCSS and NGSS both tout are the main reasons behind this epiphany, so I’ve jumped on the bandwagon and am riding it as hard as I can before the powers-that-be change their minds.

Well I’d better get going or I’ll miss my next session.

Learning is messy!

Posted in Education, STEM | Leave a comment

STEM in the Connected Classroom

I was gone to Boston last week to an “Engineering is Elementary” training so I was remiss in sharing my newest post at the “Voices from the Learning Revolution” blog. The post is entitled “Going Deep: STEM in the Connected Classroom.” It’s my brief attempt at discussing where we are with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) and some of what needs to happen if the promise of STEM education is to be realized. Head over and leave a comment if it strikes a chord with you.

Learning is messy!

Posted in Education, Reform, STEM | Leave a comment

Help make sense of this (Updated)

UPDATE 2/12/2013: I’ve had several responses to this post through Twitter and face to face that have used logic to make their point. I totally agree this is nonsense, but I’m looking for written or spoken authority that has clout … something I’ve missed so far in the CCSS or education policy or law or ??? that is unequivocal on this point. I’ve also gotten an earful from middle and high school teachers of content that point out that they then are responsible for their content area not just at their grade level, but in this case students that have almost NO background K-5 that show up in their classrooms … YEP, that’s a big point here, besides the engaging content and more that is missed. Original post below:

I hear occasionally that K – 5 teachers are told that they no longer teach content area standards in science and social studies because they “teach the Common Core”. They are to address the science and social studies only through the CCSS in English/Language Arts. This is proved, they are told, because the Introduction to the CCSS ELA specifically states in the fifth paragraph:

“Literacy standards for grade 6 and above are predicated on teachers of ELA, history/social studies, science, and technical subjects using their content area expertise to help students meet the particular challenges of reading, writing, speaking, listening, and language in their respective fields. It is important to note that the 6–12 literacy standards in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects are not meant to replace content standards in those areas but rather to supplement them.”

Note, it specifically states “…that the 6-12 literacy standards in history/social studies, science and technical subjects are not meant to replace content standards in those subjects…”. Therefore since K-5 is not mentioned in the same way, some are using that omission to mean that the CCSS can (and in the case of a school not making AYP – should) be used to narrow K-5 curriculum to only the literacy standards in social studies, science and even the arts – but not their content. I’ve even heard, “When a teacher walks through the door of a K-5  Title 1 school, they give up their right to teach content beyond ELA and Math.”

So, beyond common sense and logic unfortunately, how do we help teachers under these restrictions disprove this interpretation? What can we point to that has authority? Please share in the comments!

Learning is messy!

Posted in Change, Education, Inclusion, Literacy, STEM, Student Access, Teacher Access | 3 Comments