Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Interactive Spirals

I started using interactive spirals from the very beginning. Over the years I have tried different systems but always come back to the spiral. I learned about the interactive spiral (IS) at a TCI (Teachers Curriculum Institute) training. An interactive spiral, is a binder, spiral or composition notebook (I let students pick what works best for them) that becomes a working portfolio of their learning. In the beginning I was much more rigid with pages but over time I have adapted it for my own teaching style. The basics are: One side of the the spiral is for the teacher (notes, handouts, the learning), the other side is how the student processes that information (analogies, poems, mind maps, thinking maps, drawings, speaking bubbles, and creating something from the information that is provided.)

Every interactive spiral starts with a cover page, a table of contents and each unit needs its own cover page. I tell my students that unit page - it needs
  • A quote from the chapter (I usually guide students to pull what looks like an important sentence)
  • Images to represent the topics you see
  • 3 key vocabulary terms
  • Essential question (I provide)
  • 3 or more colors (No white, black and blue don't count)
  • No white spaces

Resources you may want to check out: 

Note taking ideas: 

The key is to have the students make it their own. Student at the end of the school year have this beautiful, and personal story of their learning that has meaning to them.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Textbook Project a PBL Gone Right

Every now and then you get something right. When my state adopted new learning standards for Texas History, the class I had taught for over 13 years. As we all know, the money in districts goes to subjects that have end of the year test.  I knew that we would not get the resources we needed for a long time. There aren't even that many resources online for it.  The only major website that has information is produced by college professors, a little above the lexicon of a 7th grader.  

Knowing that our textbooks would not meet their needs in two years I decided to act.  I had my students create their own textbook. I used our districts chunked TEKS, or standards similar to the common core.  Each six weeks students would adopt a TEKS and create an interesting interactive piece that students could learn from as they use it. 

It was my first project based assignment.  I told my students that it was an experiment.  They seemed to like the idea that they were doing something for future students...and that I had no idea where it would lead.  I know some teachers feel like they always have to be the expert about all things, but I find students love it when you are learning with them and are honest about it. The first year I ran into a couple of surprises. 
  1. Initially when given a choice students will always pick the easiest thing. I thought for some reason they would use the time to create beautiful imaginative masterpieces.  They went straight for the PowerPoint and essay writing...strange right? 
  2. Given enough time and support students will try new things.  It isn't a natural instinct to do something where you do not know how it will end up but with enough support and encouragement they will try new things...eventually.
  3. There is power in the cloud.  My computer died three times the year I assigned this project.  Make sure the students turn in to a Google folder, or on Edmodo so if there is a meltdown you still have access to it. 
The textbook is still out there and kicking.  After year one, I was moved up to 8th grade.  Now a dear friend is carrying out the project having students fill in the blanks, and add "stuff" to it that make it super fun, and interactive.  He has noticed the same surprises.  Creativity takes practice, time and a community where risk are celebrated.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Problem with Inquiry in PBL

Via TeachThought
Last year after a single day of training, I took the plunge and attempted the impossible, 100% PBL (Project based learning) classroom.  I spent a month of my summer planning, organizing and creating.  When the students came in we were pumped and ready to watch the learning magic, complete with fireworks and dancing unicorns.  Fast forward six weeks into the school year.  I hated the students they hated me it was mutual...very.  The parents were confused, angry and eager to give me a piece of their mind. Everyone was begging for worksheets and the students were telling me of these amazing teachers that lecture everyday and let them take notes or not and how this was truly the best teaching they knew. It hurt. I died a little inside.

I learned 3 huge lessons from this giant failure.
  1. Give students structure to succeed.  Middle school students struggle with the inquiry process. They aren't there yet and need structure for success.  I could see it but was unsure how to provide them the structure they required. They were new at it and didn't know what to ask.  TeachThought posted the above graphic and I am so printing it for my classroom as a tool.  What I ended up doing was I broke down the questions.  We discussed them and added them to a classroom reference (large sticky note) to go back to and add to as we go through our pbl. I have them write them down and then I would ask them to use those to drive their research.  

  2. Inquiry isn't copy pasting.  A group of my little darlings in the beginning thought if they wrote down everything then they were doing what "I wanted." They didn't understand that volumes of information did no good until it had been interpreted. The bulk instead got in the way many times hiding the true meanings they were looking for.  I modeled using Thinking Maps to explore cause and effects, and timelines of events.  The lure of writing less was enough to encourage some to use this technique. For some though it was a battle all year.     

  3. Failing isn't bad. Trust me it doesn't feel good.  The true lesson is in how you respond.  When that first PBL tanked.  I could have easily blamed it on poor training and gone back to the old ways.  But instead I sat down with the students and we talked about the entire process.  We discussed where we felt it went wrong and how we can improve it for the next time.  This is when I got some students begging for me to "teach at them." And instead of shaming them for being lazy.  We talked about what it was they really wanted from me as a teacher and the root of their request.  After discussion we discovered it is easier and that they are not use to doing this kind of work. I explained that even though this didn't work out like we wished we are still going to keep going because the research shows this has too many benefits to give up on.  

Monday, July 14, 2014

My Nerdy Obsession- iTunes U

This summer I have discovered greatness.  It isn't new but this is the first time I checked out iTunes U.   I have taken all sorts of fun and free online courses.  I have learned about branding myself, and looked into writing techniques. 

Once I experienced those I had to try out some history courses.  The best part about college for me was listening to my older professors tell their stories.  They paint pictures of lives, times and tragic events with such passion I feel like I am there.  I love history.  I have found something like my old college experience on iTunes U.   "Teach-In on America's Founding" is a collection of teachings about our country's founding with national leaders in civic education throughout the United States. It is like hanging out with the grown ups at Christmas and hearing about the old days.  The video, George Washington's Gift by Professor David Hackett Fisher made me want to sit cross legged at his feet and listen to him over and over. He describes Washington like a dear old friend.  I have already watched the hour long video 3 times.  So good!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Web tools for teaching: Diffen

Every teacher has a different process and I think mine changes each summer. This is the time we book our doctors appointments, dig out those recipes, see family, check those cleaning projects off the list and (my favorite) find fun stuff to do next year.

A few web tools for Sunday:

Do you ever need two things to be compared quickly for students? Go to Diffen.  So cool!  Super easy to use and you don't need an account to compare.  First pick two things say presidents.  Type in their names and then click compare. Viola!  Beautiful chart that break down information for students in an easy to understand manner.

I love this. So easy to use and beautiful end result. Or even better...Anti-Federalist v. Federalist

Thursday, July 10, 2014

#Teacher Party

I know, it is July, this "school being out" is truly old news.  But not for me.  I was super smart in May and signed up for professional was good but it was a week.  The first week of summer.  A week I say.  Then I was presenting at ISTE, for the first time.  So the next three weeks were burned by me fixing, redoing and practicing my presentation.  EXHAUSTING!

Just as I am starting to feel a little burned out my break has finally arrived.  So what do I chose to do with all this newly found extra time? Sit on the sofa and hit the Netflix classic, Destination Truth, while I pound away on my laptop.  This is basically a description of my paradise...Josh, laptop, and that sofa. Honestly, I have been getting up at 4:30 am to go to boot camp but as soon as I come home I shower and nap.  Hardly athletic. 

It has been so nice to be home.  I finally have a minute to process and discover all the cool tools I saw at ISTE. (I promise I will tell you all about them, eventually.) I have started working on rebranding myself..and jazzing up the blog as you may have noticed.  

I want to celebrate my newly found summer with everyone.  I can't think of a better way to party then to save money and shop.  Good times!!

Head on over to my store (here) and enjoy!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

3 Ways to Win an Audience as a Presenter

I didn't think it would work.  I found out on Twitter that applications were going to close soon for the largest education technology conference in the world.  We had a week to get it turned in.  No time to actually put in a winning application.  Little did we know the power of our mad writing skills.  After three to four hours of research I sat down with my very good teacher buddy (VGTB)  and we hammered out a work of art and hit submit.  My VGTB had to submit a presenter proposal for her doctorate class.  I did it because...well I am a dork and like to keep pushing myself.  I love teaching and sharing ideas.  But I know I need to grow as a teacher trainer.   I saw this a huge opportunity to throw myself in the deep end.

We found out we made it and well, we were completely shocked.  Elated.  Giddy.  Terrified.  Yup, but it was so far away we could relish in the idea of it without being overwhelmed by the stress of what it meant.  I don't know how it happens but it seems that the Spring semester just vanishes.  Poof. There I am in June. Kids long gone from the classroom and I am sitting in a sweaty hot building with three day old hair in a pony, wondering when the last time I showered and trying to figure out a way to stay true to our description while showing our elite audience something new and innovative. 

The presentation that we had given in our own district was not the one we ended up taking with us.  For that matter, the presentation that we brought up with us was not the one we gave two days later.  We shed blood, sweat and tears dumped and organized in that presentation. Through the process we learned three keys to win over an audience.

People do not want you to waste their time. They spent a ton of money coming to conferences and they want to leave with something that will give them ideas to move forward or will actually be something they can immediately apply in the classroom or the office. 

We were obsessed with giving them as much as we could.  We created hyperlinked e-handouts for them to look at and refer to later if they wanted.  We were constantly, obsessively,  adding to it and fixing it for them to use. 

Our session was about authentic learning and how to assess it. We worried it sounded a bit general so we made sure to include tons of examples of how authentic learning looked in our classroom and how we assessed it.  We included student made videos, and pictures of projects. 

Teachers love to talk.  Love. To. Talk.  It is the second biggest reason that people go to conferences. They go to see friends from other states, Twitter PLN and to spend time with those friends in their district they don't get to see very much.  This is their chance to learn from each other and they want that time to do so in their session to process the connections they are making as you go through the session. 

Our session was an hour.  Not very long at all but we still had to give time for processing chats. We struggled with how we wanted to facilitate conversations in a crowd where everyone could have a voice. We settled on strategic tweet outs that answered questions.  The tweets were a fine starting place but looking back we needed more.  More of them really talking to each other in some way or another. The tweets were great but the conversations after the session would have been so much more powerful if they had occurred during instead and everyone could have been there to hear and take part.

This is the most difficult.  I have been to plenty of sessions in professional development where we are given something to do that is a giant waste of time.  It is a time filler...I teach I can recognize those very quickly.  Teachers want to be involved, working with the information and learning in an authentic way.  If the session is about gaming then we should be testing games, assessing games and practice making games. 

Our session was about authentic learning. They should have been looking at a problem they were having and deciding on a authentic conclusion.  We ran out of time. Looking back this was a huge misstep for us.  We were super fortunate, the group was patient understanding.  They forgave us for this.  If we had it to do again I would have cut the amount of student examples and research and given them a chunk of least twenty minutes to sit and create, practicing what we were talking about.  They had the e-handout to refer back to they needed to get their hands dirty.

I think the main reason we didn't lose most of them was our passion and excitement for what we were talking about- that goes a long way.  Plus, let's be honest we are pretty adorable especially when we are hyperventilating and waving our arms around like crazy people. 

Over all it was a great experience.  That is the best part about throwing yourself in the deep end you sink or swim.  We was ugly and way too much splashing around but we made it and are even planning on doing it again next year...if they let us.