Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Stuck, stuck, stuck

This Slice of Life March Challenge is not going well this year.

I've had issues with internet connection.
I haven't been able to keep up with my students' slices.
I'm not finding small moments to write about every day.
I'm experiencing what many of my students go through every day: I don't know what to write about.

I know that one of the best ways to get past writer's block is to power through it until you come out the other side.
I know that giving up too early can be a mistake.
I know that this is temporary even though it doesn't feel that way.
I know how important it is to write every day.
I know that there are always small moments worthy of reflection.

And, I'm behind on commenting on the posts of others.

I know all of this and yet I'm stuck.

I'm going to take a and-this-too-shall-pass stance. We'll see where I am tomorrow.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life, March Challenge, Day #11


Sunday, 8 March 2015

No WiFi

Missed two days of writing.
The WiFi in the hotel was not working when I needed it.
So, I had to admit that I was going to miss slicing for two days.
I had to let go.
It's not about the prize.
It's about the challenge.
Pushing myself to write more.
I am behind on commenting, as well.
So, now that I've commiserated with myself,
I'll pick myself up and just start again.

Another day.
Another opportunity to get it right.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life March Challenge, Day #8

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

A Sampling of Student's Slice of Life Stories

Yesterday I blogged about how students were resisting the Slice of Life Story Challenge this month. Today, after a full day at the #innovategraded conference in Sao Paulo, I opened up their Google docs and discovered a treasure trove of amazing slices. Please respond in the comments. I know my students would really appreciate that!

Slice #1 - Go eat dinner
“Wendy, dinner is ready!” Mom yelled out.
OK. I’m coming, just one little piece to work.” 
I don’t want to miss the thing.
“Well, be faster.” Then, she turned to do her “job”.
Finally I finished, but I don’t want to move my poor body anymore. I’m like a snail moving so slowly. My legs are like full of the iron so I couldn't move it, but still I get into the dining room and get ready to have my dinner.

Slice # 2 - Selling and Buying
My dad and I were eating dinner when suddenly he proposes that our family sells our house in Houston and buy a different one. I said, “OK...How about we get the new house in California?” Then, my mom replied, “Yes! But, not L.A. How about San Diego?“ “Ooh, or maybe San Francisco!” I replied. But in the end my dad said, “I think we’ll just keep it in Texas.”

Slice #3
Today we went to a school called Einstein for an orchestra practice. The orchestra rode on a loud bus until finally we got there and tried to play the song we have been practicing for weeks. It’s a crazy mash up of different songs like Bullfight

I got ready to play. I took a deep breath and looked over at S, the only other cello player. One, two, three. One two, three. I tapped my foot along with my mental counting. After all I was just practicing. "NOW!" I thought. My bow made a soft movement on the string. SNAP! Went my string. Well, it wasn't the first time.

Slice #4 
Life is like basketball you pass by people and also people hurt you. I like basketball because it helps me take out stress. I get in the zone and forget the world around me like I’m somewhere else. Like also the feeling of the ball brushing my fingertips and I dribble. I like the wind blowing in my hair.

Slice #5 
“For the first 20 minutes you’ll do independent reading,” the substitute for our absent teacher said. “And then we’ll go down to the computer lab to do you reading MAP testing.” The whole class gasped. We weren't notified of this test. Several people groaned.
            
MAP testing is a test all middle school students do at the beginning and middle of the year. There were two tests - math and reading. I liked the math one better because it was just easier for me.
            
When it was time for the test, I focused really hard and blocked out the sounds of chairs squeaking. I started to get a rhythm in my mind: to read the passage, look at the answers, and click on an answer. Read, look, click….Read, look, click….
            
Finally I was done, and I have to say that I was pretty impressed and pleased about my score. It was above average. I clicked done and enjoyed the last few minutes of class reading The Maze Runner.

Slice #6
I bounced on the seat as the car drove. My music was bursting in my ears, but that’s how I liked it. As I was looking through my phone to pick a new song, because I didn't want to listen to another Fall Out Boy song, I noticed I had three unread text messages. Then I saw the people who sent them. All people from New Jersey. "Wow," I thought. "I haven’t texted these people in a long time. Might as well text them." I responded to all three people and then decided to also text three more. I turned off my phone and sat listening to my music, Sarcasm by Get Scared. After a while someone responded. It was Mary Louise, one of the people who didn't text me first.
“Hey,” she replied.
“How life in NJ?” I asked.
“Snowing now.”
Although the conversation started boring it became more interesting. Then someone else responded, Sasha. Sasha was one of my closest friends in New Jersey. She was the first friend I made when I moved to New Jersey.
“HIIIII” she replied.
“Dude it’s March 3rd. I’m coming March 27th,” I answered excitedly.
“ya. IKKKKK”
“Sooooo excited!!!!!”
“Me tooooooo!!”
As we kept talking we came to new topics and discussed many different things. I was so happy to be able to talk with my old friends.

Slice #7
Today I was going outside of Ms. Milla`s class and I found Pardo playing el burrito. I said, “Pardo, let's play." “Yes,” he screamed happily. Then, we were passing the ball until they threw it right into my nose. Plack!!!!!! It sounded.  I heard people laughing. Hahahaha, it doesn't hurt a lot. Then, Mr. Muenker said, “David, I think you should`t stop it like that," and I hear more laughter.

Slice #8 - The Accident
I was running. My eye was on the ball. I could see how it went up in the sky. I jumped to get it, but I didn't feel the ball hitting my head. I felt as if a rock had collapsed in the right side of my forehead. “I feel bad coach,” I said. He looked impressed. “We need to go to the nurse,” he exclaimed. Then, when I looked in the mirror I saw two big balls on my forehead.

Cross posted to Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life, March Classroom Challenge, Day #4

Project Based Learning with Suzie Boss

Today was day #1 at the #innovategraded conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

This conference is all about innovation in education, and how to start this process both in your classroom and at your school.

Today I attended a day-long workshop with @suzieboss on Project Based Learning (PBL).

Here are my top 10 takeaways:

  1. The teacher must plan and implement the driving question, the end product, the first day lesson, and the learning engagements along the way.
  2. When teachers are new to PBL, it's critical that they design many parts of the project for students. 
  3. The driving question should be action-oriented and appeal to students' interests. 
  4. The initial activity must grab students' attention. 
  5. The audience for this project must be authentic and add value to students' learning.
  6. PBL is inquiry based and allows for students' individual questions.
  7. PBL is not the same as projects because the latter often do not have lasting learning value.
  8. It is not necessary to do PBL all the time. Depending on a teacher's particular situation, once or twice a year may be all that she can manage.
  9. It is important for colleagues to collaborate with each other on the design of a PBL project even if not everyone will be implementing it in their classroom.
  10. Finally, it is important to scaffold students' learning through mini lessons and check-ins along the way.
Tomorrow there will be many 30 - 90 minute sessions on a variety of topics. I look forward to continuing on this learning journey.

If you have experience with PBL, I am particularly interested in hearing your thoughts on developing an effective driving question, ongoing and final assessments, and PBL timelines. 

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Slice of Life - Take #1

I had a moment of weakness today, and a revelation.
I lost my composure with my students.
I was desperately frustrated. Is there even such a thing? If there is, then that’s what I was.
I had a grand plan: to ignite an explosion of writing in our class.
I thought my students would jump at the chance to write about snippets of their lives for at least 25 days.
I wasn’t prepared for the backlash.
My students didn’t buy it. They kept pushing back and no matter how hard I tried, they didn’t seem to understand the instructions.
And. I. Slowly. Became. Frustrated. Then. Angry.

But because I had faith in my plan, I persevered. I was certain I could convince them that slicing every day was going to be fun.
I was wrong.
Here’s a dirty little secret: my students don’t like writing personal narrative. They don’t like to write about themselves.  And, if you don’t like to write about yourself then the Slice of Life Challenge will be ineffective as a way to encourage more excitement around writing.
So, I don’t know where to go from here.
I’ll be thinking of possible solutions.

Your ideas are welcome.

Monday, 9 February 2015

My One Little Word - Confident

My One Little Word (OWL) for 2015...drum roll, please...is..."confident"!

I came about this word fairly quickly during the last two weeks of 2014.

I started by making a list.

The first word on that list was "confident". Then, came a stream of words and short phrases - assertive, confidence, be myself, just do it!, health, communication, exercise, and change. My methodical but slow search for the perfect OLW for 2015, made me realize that the word "confident" addressed or subsumed all the other words on my list quite nicely.

In order to be assertive and stand up for myself, I need to be confident in my professional abilities and expertise. That way I can speak eloquently for whatever I want to accomplish in my job.

In order to focus on my health during 2015, such as exercising more, I need to be confident that I can develop a daily 30 minute exercise routine, whatever shape or form that happens to take.

In order to be myself, I need the confidence to trust in whatever gifts I can bring to the table and that these gifts will be welcomed by others. This last self-knowledge has always been hard for me; it's connected to communicating what I want and need in my personal and professional relationships.

"Just do it!" and "Be myself" are really about the same thing - going after what I want and deserve rather than sitting on the sidelines waiting for it to be delivered to me. An administrator once said, "If you want something, go after it. Don't expect others to come to you. It doesn't work that way."

After I chose my OLW, I searched for a dictionary definition of confidence and found the following three definitions - (1) the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust; (2) the state of feeling certain about the truth of something; (3) a feeling of self-assurance arising from one's appreciation of one's own abilities or qualities. Of these three definitions, the third one was the one that resonated the most with me. My dirty little secret, according to my family, is that I don't have a full appreciation for my own abilities and expertise. In fact, I am in awe of people who seem to have this quality or at least pretend that they do. In the big scheme of things, is there a difference between the two? I read somewhere that "if you act as if", then that "acting" will become reality.

Therefore, a focus on building my "confidence" in 2015 will mean taking risks with the knowledge that if I want something, I better go after it. No one is going to give it to me on a silver platter.

Maybe 2015 will be the year that I focus on writing that professional book that has been incubating inside me for years? Who knows? The only way I will know is to confront my fears with confidence and grace.

There! I said it! Wish me luck.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Genius Hour

Four weeks ago I implemented Genius Hour with my grade seven students. As is wont to happen when I implement something new in the classroom, I read and think about it a lot before I finally do it. But, that doesn't necessarily mean I have a well-thought out plan for how I'm going to do something! It's more of a skeleton of what we're going to do and depending on how my students respond - I am rarely prepared for what they will say or do no matter how long I've been teaching - I will make modifications as we go along.

In order introduce Genius Hour to my class, we viewed a couple of motivational videos of Caine's Arcade. Then, we talked about finding something you are passionate about and using Genius Hour to work on that interest. In my eyes, this was enough to launch the first Genius Hour work session, so the week following the Caine's Arcade videos the kids got to work on their Genius Hour projects. I would address any unforeseen events or problems as they presented themselves.

On the first Genius Hour class day, I was surprised that so many of my students had come to school with a fairly good idea of what they wanted to do. Some had even brought materials for creating an Iron Man suit! However, even though they were enthusiastic and got to work right away, I felt uneasy. Shouldn't I have them prepare and plan their projects before they start working on them? Shouldn't they pitch their project to the class and me, first? Shouldn't I approve their projects before they start working on them? Shouldn't I put a limit on how many students work together? What should I be doing while the kids are working? How much should I probe? How much should I just stand back and watch? How can I be sure they are learning anything of value, including the mandated standards and benchmarks for my grade? (Even as I write this I know there is much learning going on, maybe more authentic learning than during a regular content area class because everyone is working on something they developed and are committed to seeing through from start to finish. However, since I am the only one in my school doing Genius Hour, I want to be prepared in case I am questioned about the educational value of Genius Hour.)

During the second Genius Hour class, I had my students respond on paper to the following three questions: "What am I not OK with? What do I have? (I interpreted this question as: "What skills, expertise, etc can I bring to this problem?) And, What am I (we, if working with others) going to do about it?" I found that these three questions allowed students to shift from the mentality of Genius Hour as "free time" to Genius Hour as "serious work/play/explore/learn time". I haven't talked to my students this explicitly about Genius Hour. However, yesterday (our third Genius Hour class), I had students determine the purpose of their project: to teach, persuade, or create something for others. Although some are clearly not seeing this connection yet, I trust that the more we focus on how a project is going to impact or influence others, they will start to see a clear and intentional purpose to what they're doing during this time.

I can already see that some of their projects are nearing their completion stage so when we get back after Carnival break, we will talk about getting ready to share their projects with others, namely their classmates for now.

So, although I should have probably followed a different progression to Genius Hour - viewing Caine's Arcade's videos, individual reflection and class discussion on the three questions mentioned above, and a write up of a project proposal - things have been going well. I am particularly encouraged by my students' self-reflections at the end of Genius Hour. Yesterday, they wrote these in their blogs and although this took longer than I had expected, it was time well spent as the kids learned how to navigate their blog, write meaningful entries and work with me to polish them and make them appropriate for publishing.

When I am nagged by doubts about whether or not this is valuable time taken out of a subject area like social studies or language arts, I think about all the planning, writing, reflecting, conflict resolution, and negotiation skills that my students are using in a project of their own choosing during school time. And, I am comforted and certain that this is a good use of one hour of our time during the week.

If you have implemented Genius Hour in you class, please leave a comment about your experiences below.

Note: The three questions mentioned above, plus many other great resources including videos, templates, articles, and posters, can be found in Joy Kirk's LiveBinder for Genius Hour.