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Yeah! The end of the school year is soon upon us! Which also means you feel frazzled, your kids are spent, it’s just in time for state testing, and you and or a close friend is leaving school a couple times a week wondering how you’ll get through tomorrow.
I take a lot of comfort on days like that by centering on a few things I know about God and I know about myself. Whether I have a great day or a wretched wreck, God has me right where he wants me. You may have seen Jeremiah 29:11 quoted on Instagram or someone’s living room decor –
and you may have thought, “Yeah! I’m gonna start winning!” Welfare, future, hope…these are all good things that we want, right? So true, but I also don’t believe this is always a promise that tomorrow might be rosy. I read this, think about my own children, and sit on, “…I know the plans I have for you…” When I take toys from my boys at bedtime because they won’t go to sleep, my 5-year-old sometimes tells me, “YOU JUST WANT TO BE THE TAKER!” Its funny, because its true, but only in the sense that I know its good to all the sleep you need, and I’ll do what I need to in order to help my boys get there…to understand that I value it and that it is for their “welfare” (to quote Jer. 29:11 again).
Besides remembering that whatever hardship I’m going through is God ordained, I also like to dwell in the Psalms that teach us how to ache to God without losing hope. Psalm 42 came up in my reading plan today, and I found myself wanting to highlight the whole thing… Check it out (emphasis my own):
As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.
When shall I come and appear before God?[b]
3 My tears have been my food
day and night,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember,
as I pour out my soul:
how I would go with the throng
and lead them in procession to the house of God
with glad shouts and songs of praise,
a multitude keeping festival.
5 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation[c] 6 and my God.
My soul is cast down within me;
therefore I remember you
from the land of Jordan and of Hermon,
from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep
at the roar of your waterfalls;
all your breakers and your waves
have gone over me.
8 By day the Lord commands his steadfast love,
and at night his song is with me,
a prayer to the God of my life.
9 I say to God, my rock:
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning
because of the oppression of the enemy?”
10 As with a deadly wound in my bones,`
my adversaries taunt me,
while they say to me all the day long,
“Where is your God?”
11 Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.
“I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” I think the longer you’re in education, the more realize that your “favorite” students, or the ones whose memory you hold dearest, or the ones you take most pride in were relationships that felt really difficult a lot of days. They’re the relationships that take a constant renewal of forgiveness on your part. Countless counseling sessions with any of your friends who will listen. I’ve found that I’m most consistently able to draw on hope for those relationsihps, or for a season of a difficult class because I know that (a) teaching is a marathon, not a sprint, and that (b) whatever the outcome with that student or class, I know God’s at work in me, and that eventually “I shall again praise him.”
“ALL THAT BEING SAID….HOW AM I GOING TO GET THROUGH TOMORROW, CHUCK?”
You know what, that’s a good question. Here are some things that I try to keep myself interested in class as that gas gauge nears E and it’s not quite time to review for finals.
- Throw in a new project. Maybe you’ve gotten into a routine of lecture/practice/lecture/practice and your kids are showing diminishing returns. Throw in a wrench and change things up
- Change your seating arrangement. Seating totally shifts perspective, right! This might solve some other classroom environment problems that were cropping up, too.
- Change YOUR routine. Do you usually get to school early? Stay with the late crowd after-school and prepare for the next day then, instead. (or come in extra early if you’re usually walking in with the kids). Go for a walk around the building during your plan time.
- Try a new website or teaching strategy for that lesson that you’ve done a billion times.
- Spend a day talking with your students. Maybe you just need a class-wide relationship building reset.
- Have 2 more units/chapters left for your curriculum but really only time for one of them? Have your students do a little previewing and then let them choose how they finish out the year.
- Go ahead, start reviewing for your final now! (And still introduce the new content you’ve yet to do). We all know that a spiral style review is going to be more effective than a week-long cram at the end, anyway!
You can do it – finish strong, educators!!
Like most of St. Louis school districts (and the US?), my district had professional development this past Friday, giving the kids a 4 day weekend and everyone else 3 days off.
For the most part, I always enjoy these days because they give me a chance to present things I love (or at least like LOL), see my equally-passionate colleagues from other buildings in the district, AND go out to lunch like “normal” jobs.
All was going well Friday – we didn’t get through all of my activities in the 1st session, but we were productive, Bethany won the “Bubblesheet Champion” trophy in the ACT math session, and I was somewhat interested in the session I’d signed up to attend about using our online textbooks with close reading. I’ve come to the opinion that my students generally need a screen BREAK most days, so I purposefully do my readings on paper, but I’m always of the mindset that you might convince me otherwise.
Whatever is best for the kids.
It was in this setting that I wound up overhearing a science teacher from one of our more schools go on for what felt like 15 minutes about how his horrible kids will never read anything, and that they’re all a bunch of gang wanna-bes, who play out the pecking order of the streets by making kids sharpen their pencils and get them pieces of paper.
I have some tough kids this semester, too. I get the frustration of coming to work most days and just praying that today, just maybe, will be one of those days they cut you some slack and you don’t have to feel like you’re throwing the toolbox of tricks at them to get anything back.
I, too, know that frustration of kids just staring at me while I’m waiting for more than 1 or 2 kids to engage in my class discussion. “LET ME TEACH YOU!” is what I am passionately internalizing (and sometimes that sneaks out audibly).
Most days, as I’m reflecting on the day’s lesson, I might be frustrated that so and so did this and that, but at the end of the day, this is my job, and these are my kids. You might call it “fate,” or “destiny,” or “your department chair’s wrath upon you,” – I would call it God’s will – but ultimately, something put you and those kids together, so it’s your job as the teacher to figure that out.
(Yes, it would also be terribly kind and helpful if the students did they’re “job” and exhibited their good “student” behaviors, but as I tell my own children and kids and school, YOU control what YOU can do.)
I thought I was just going to leave the session feeling sad for those students that this man with years of classroom experience could only blame his gang wanna-bes, but as he left the room at the end of the day and several of us found a typo on a website, he left his final impression upon us with, “must’ve been a grad from our district.”
If you don’t love our students, please, just leave.
Was there anything objectively wrong with that statement? Maybe not – it’s no secret that our state test and ACT scores are in the bottom of the barrel, but it was the way, he said it. In a “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” kind of way.
Perhaps this gentleman had just had a particularly tough week, and if I were to see him again next August that he would be filled with wonder and excitement at the coming school year, like the vast majority of teachers. So years we just get more beat down than others. So if he or someone he knows has figured this out and tracked him down, please understand that I know I may be dangerously generalizing his attitudes.
It speaks to the larger discussion coming upon our struggling schools every year about this time, though. “I heard so and so is leaving to go to _______. They didn’t want to deal with ______ anymore.” Sometimes ______ is administration. Sometimes ______ is bureaucratic paperwork stuff we have to do to prove that actually teaching (or attempting as much). Those blanks disappoint me, because those are leadership failures, I think. But sometimes ______ is the students we serve. If you are a teacher who needs to leave for greener pastures because of the kids, please know that I love you, but I’m not going to bemoan your decision.
If you don’t love our students anymore, please, just leave.
I would much rather be in the trenches with someone who (still) has their heart in the fight. Together, we can cry together. Together we can try plan B, C, D, E, F, G, etc, because our love for these God-ordained students is too much to have tried “everything.”
Our students can be troubling, they can be apathetic, but they can also be inspiring, and passionate, and brilliant, if you know where to look and never stop seeking that out.
The topic for Thursday night’s #moedchat was “Out of the Box PD”. I guess the first question was my favorite, because I’m still thinking about it.
I didn’t get the feeling that it was a very popular answer – maybe only because the focus of Thursday’s chat was on TEACHER learning – but the more I reflect on it, the stronger I’m convicted. Wrapping it as a chicken/egg paradigm instead of front burner/back burner makes it a slightly different question, but the principle remains.
Student learning should be the primary focus of a school or distict over teacher PD because teacher learning would have to be a part of the discussion to serve that goal.
What happens when teacher learning comes first? Reflecting on my own career gives me a few things to consider.
1. Saying the right thing and having an instructional plan that LOOKS good takes precedence over evidence and results.
We can have high-quality PD and high-five each other for the great conversations we have at edcamps, other conferences, or on Twitter chats, but there’s a big step between knowing best practice, attempting best practice, and ACHIEVING best practice. In my own experience, when MY learning is most important, its tempting to blame anything that is unsuccessful in my classroom on various student factors.
2. PD that does not focus first on the impact of a strategy or tool on students serves only the people in the room.
I am not a fan of “cool tool” sessions at conferences or PD trainings that focus on one particular tool, because in my own experience, my excitement to squeeze that tool into my own classroom sometimes results in a negative impact on learning as students hurdle the tech to learn the content or demonstrate their learning. If “how will my students use this” or “what challenges will my students face” is the first question, we risk complicating an environment that is already difficult to navigate for high-needs students.
The first semester I had iPads in my classroom, I tried giving a final exam on the Socrative “clicker” app. From my perspective, this was a slam dunk. My students had already used the app several times, so I knew they liked it, and while you could not put images into your Socrative quizzes at that point in time, I had gotten around it by printing copies of the exam with Socrative setup as a bubblesheet. What I thought was the big advantage for me and the kids was that Socrative was going to score their responses as they worked, making the feedback immediate – they would not be stressing for hours to find out how they did on the final. There was only ONE problem – Socrative forces the students to work linearly through the exam, so anyone that would normally skip around and do the work they were most comfortable with first could not. On top of that, if a student accidentally pressed a response different than what they wanted, there was no way to go back and change it. Bottom line: for as much added benefit as Socrative provided with its immediate results (and easing my grading burden) the times kids were penalized for an errant finger resulted in a net impact of ZERO at best.
3. Focusing on teachers’ learning needs FIRST ignore the needs of the students in their context.
Instructional design 101 demands that before you prepare any instruction (or in this case, provide training for teachers to better teach the students), you conduct a needs assessment to meet the students where they are culturally, and what they bring to you in prior knowledge.
The students’ learning must come first because they are the school variable that is always changing! Yes, there are circumstances for which meeting a set of students will require more training for a teacher, but that is in response to the student context.
WHAT DO YOU THINK?
The critical nature of building relationship with students has been an overarching theme to my identity as a teacher this school year. My heart felt burdened with an insurmountable task as the first day approached in August, and it continues to dominate my end-of-the-day reflection into the spring.
No, you can’t just go sit in the office today.
Yes, I hear everything you say. Even under your breath. (Because I think its important to hear more of what you’re saying than just x=4)
Yes, its breaks my heart that its not even halfway through the quarter and you’ve already decided you won’t try.
No, I won’t just go away because you obviously have enough people in your life that just ignore you because its easier.
The ethnicity of my students has not really changed since I started 6 years ago, but this year I perceive that many of my students see me as a the white guy that cannot or will not understand them.
Do you ever feel that?
I don’t believe its an accident. The title of this blog, Evangelizing the [digital] Natives, is really about the importance of teaching and training technology use even to the generation often perceived as “getting it,” but tonight I do want to talk about Jesus, ethnicity, and mission.
If you’re a teacher that’s a Christian, you must believe that just as He has with your spouse, your family, your friends, and your co-workers, God has placed you and those students together. And its about more than just math. (or English, science, art, history, personal finance, etc). The objective is different depending on the kids you get any given year, but the mission is always about God’s Kingdom.
In the book of Revelation, the Apostle John write about a vision of heaven that he receives from Jesus. Sure, a lot of it is symbolic, but surely this is not:
9After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
This post is not about prayer in schools or religious freedom. It’s about acting intentionally for “all tribes and peoples and languages” because that’s what God says heaven will look like (And so we should practice the same here).
It’s February, Black History Month, so our student news in the morning is featuring short interviews of local African Americans talking about success. By default, many of my students tune out the Star News and would rather just talk to classmates around them or bury their face in their phone, but I’ve made a very obvious point of emphasis during this month to focus attention on Star News.
Today, I got this question: “Mr. Baker, why do you care so much about this?” [Yes! He noticed I cared!] To be honest, I don’t even remember my answer, but I love that he noticed. It’s more logical for English teachers or history teachers to openly care about race because they must discuss its role in literature and history. It’d be weird NOT to address it, but I think many STEM teachers (and students) view their subjects as transcendent of it.
You can imagine a teacher saying something like, “I don’t care if you’re black, white, brown, purple, or green – you’ve gotta solve an equation.”
Yes, that’s a true statement, but the context of that truth is different because of the difference in how my students interact with the general culture. I don’t have any lessons on African number systems, or projects on famous African-American mathematicians, but I think doing “culture” that way would do my kids a disservice. I polled them recently on if they wanted to do a “Black History Month” themed math lesson and the summary of their responses was a resounding, “Eh.”
When we are culturally responsive one unit at a time, or as an obvious add-on, it continues to strengthen a disconnect between my students’ life experience and “real” math.
My students don’t need more lessons on the contributions of Benjamin Banneker to geometry, they need more tools to address, communicate, and solve the problems of their community.
HOW CAN WE USE EDUCATION TECHNOLOGY TO ACCOMPLISH THESE GOALS?
Your use (or lack thereof) of technology in your class can do a lot to sculpt students’ self-perception, their outlook on math relevance and their capacity for future success.
I think schools with high percentage of racial minorities need to be the MOST innovative with their use of technology in the classroom, because I don’t know about you, but the only time I see brown children doing cool stuff in the media with technology is when Bill and Melinda Gates are posing for photo-ops. Schools with high-needs students MUST make bold, creative budget and resource decisions so that kids can stop waiting for the next (grant funded) savior and know that having or not having is often about intentional budget choices
You must be MORE uncomfortable with letting the kids use technology when you are MOST afraid of it getting trashed. You’ll probably be one of many adults that was highly protective of the new technology around them, but you might be the first to let them kick the tires. Show them how to care for it, and have consequences when they aren’t, but let them USE it.
Leverage social media and Web 2.0 tools to give your students an audience for their work. As far as interactions with my students, i think the prevailing attitude is that what they say or do is only important as an athlete or musician – that their only worth to the Internet is highlight reels and music videos. This is true for any kid, but tell a kid that you’re so proud of the work you know they’re going to do that you want to put it on the Internet and watch the pride or shock in their reaction.
You’re in the classroom you’re in with the kids you have for more than just teaching your subject and giving tests. You’re all there to work to the greater glory of God, and you’re there as the teacher to nurture an environment that reflects God’s will for His creation as “all tribes and peoples and languages.” Let’s use education technology as a tool in service to that.
Remind 101 is a website and mobile app with one singular purpose – sending text or email alerts to your subscribers’ cellphones or inboxes. Its used mainly in an educational setting, but there’s no reason any organization with a need for quickly distributing information to its members could not utilize Remind 101.
We’re hosting a Remind 101 session in our building this Friday during our half-day PD, so I wanted to get ahead of those that may be curious and give you some reasons NOT to use Remind 101.
1. You don’t have a smartphone. Or a tablet. Or a computer.
Oh, you do have at least one of those? Nevermind. There are many ways to access and send Remind 101 messages! I don’t have a smartphone, but I use the website and the app on my iPad equally.
2. You don’t know how to write an email.
Sending a Remind 101 alert is as easy as sending a short email message. In some respects, its easier, because you do not have to address it to individual recipients. You just click on the class, type the message, and it goes to every student that has subscribed to that class. Even BETTER than email, you can schedule the message and control when it gets sent. I usually type my messages during class, but set it up to send during passing time or after school.
3. You don’t want students to have your cellphone number. (or you don’t want to be responsible for knowing your students’ numbers).
NOT A PROBLEM! Students sign themselves up using the class code you provide and Remind 101 takes care of all the phone numbers. The only thing you see are your students’ names and YOU never even have to enter your number.
4. You want your students to be responsible for ALWAYS writing down the homework off of your chalk/white/SMARTboard.
Sending reminders and alerts to their cellphones will train them to be lazy. Just make sure you’ll hold yourself to that same standard when it comes to your own text and email alerts. I get the responsibility angle, but does that mean we SHOULDN’T use a technology at our disposal? Honestly, if I could get a text alert every Tuesday night at about 10 o’clock to make sure I put the trash at the curb, it would change my life.
5. Homework is really just a tool to punish kids who refuse to do it.
Sending a reminder to a kid’s phone would increase the chance they might study on any given night, and you won’t be able to triumphantly enter a zero into the gradebook the next day.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Our students look at their cellphones ALL DAY LONG. We compete all day long for attention with Instagram, Twitter, and text messages from family and friends. Remind 101 is an easy to use tool that puts your class information right in front of their faces.
I offered a challenge to the Web 2.0 Resources course I’m teaching for teachers in my school district – start a blog and reflect on your journey.
Ar least one of them must have been interested, because just a heartbeat after I issued my challenge “homework,” they asked, “Which website would you suggest?”
Touché. I had not considered that question. 🙂
So, without further ado, here’s my take on leading blogging platforms for teachers who want to share their craft – both successes and failures.
Note: While i enjoy it as a blogging platform, i did not include Tumblr in this list for teachers because we block it on the filters in my district (and i assume thats true for others).
Blogger is (for now) my platform of choice.
- Integrated with Google, so it plays well with images you may have saved in other Google services, and can track your user stats easily with Google analytic tools.
- TONS of options for customizing your layout or design, whether you know HTML and CSS or not.
- mobile user focused layouts available. (You dont want your blog to be a pain for someone to navigate on their phone or smaller tablet
- One-step sharing to Google+ helps get your post in front of an audience
- It’s a little difficult to find other teachers to follow within Blogger, which would also mean its a little difficult of other teachers to find YOU.
- How many people “follow” my blog? (Subscribe to it such that when I update they receive an email, or it is fed to them through an RSS feed) I have no idea. This is hard to track in Blogger.
- The only thing you can do on the iOS app is publish basic text and plug in photos. Not even any embedded HTML, so I really must ALWAYS write from my desktop or macbook.
While Blogger is my main squeeze, I cheat on it with WordPress because my wife uses it and sometimes I get blog tool envy.
- Reblogging. Did you find another blog post that is inspiring you to add commentary on or write your own on the subject? Reblogging puts that post along with your own text onto your blog. I think it builds community as other teachers share ideas, and it can drive a little more traffic to your own blog.
- Following other blogs and finding your subscribers. WordPress has a reader built within it, which makes it easier to find other teachers, read other teachers, and find out who else is subscribing to you. This is what I most wish Blogger had.
- Built-in user stats are more easy to use AND more extensive than Blogger. All or most of the data on the stats page of WordPress is available for Blogger bloggers if you also use Google Analytics, but who wants ONE MORE TOOL to check? I mean, you just added blogging to your list, right? 🙂
AMAZING iOS app
- Short on HTML and CSS customization. If you use the free version, you’re pretty stuck in the official WordPress templates
- No custom widgets on the free version. (although there are some official WordPress widgets you can add)
Edublogs has been around since 2005, so they certainly have the most experience with teacher and student blogs, and (in my opinion) have a lot of polish on the product. The platform is built on the bones WordPress publishes for companies, so operationally, it quite similar.
- COMMUNITY. Edublogs has a tab on their home page that takes you to a page organizing the community of edubloggers according to interest. Whereas I can do a search on WordPress.com and find many relevant teacher blogs to my interest, the Edublogs community page lists TOP blogs in that category. I see value in that because I don’t want to sift through potential junk.
- Professional development. New to blogging? Take the “Edublogs Teacher Challenge.” It’s like a self-directed online course in blogging.
- Mobile-friendly. I set up everything on my iPad.
- COST. Unless you pay $7.95 a month to get a pro account, you might as well have a WordPress.com or Blogger account. The power of Edublogs is in organizing all of your students’ blogs in one place and having control over who sees your posts and their posts, but you have none of that power with a free account.
The favorite thing about Kidblogs is how they market themselves. Essentially its, “Do everything you would on Edublogs, but for free.” There’s a chart on this page spelling all of that out.
- WordPress platform. Just like Edublogs, its built on WordPress’ product for hosting your own blogs, so the platform is easy to use and manage.
- TONS of privacy settings. If you’re writing only for your class and your students’ parents, you can completely lockdown privacy by making your blog visible only to individuals who login from that class. The younger your students are, the more important this is, obviously.
- Have your students blog and reflect with you. (For free this time, as opposed to Edublogs). Set up accounts and blogs for your students and manage their posts, comments, and privacy setttings.
- There’s an iOS app, but it’s slow to be updated.
- It’s called KIDblogs. My high schoolers are always super sensitive to being “grown,” so I don’t know how jazzed they would be with sharing their super thoughtful reflection from their Kidblogs account.
- Just like WordPress, a little short on the customization of the layout and design. That’s a con for me as a teacher that likes that, but it might actually be a positive for kids who are going to spend all of their time on the layout instead of writing.
Whichever tool you choose is up to your needs. Giving each of these an honest assessment, I would feel comfortable using any of them, with a slight reservation with the kidblogs name. I’m a grown man, for crying out loud. 🙂
If you’re going to write WITH your students, I would strongly suggest Kidblogs, but I would at least peek over at the Edublogs community and professional development pages. I know I will.
THIS IS GREAT.
“In AP Stats, communication is essential.
Here are some thoughts and ideas to keep in mind:
A strong conclusion has linkage between a computed P-value and a defined significance level (alpha). This is the computation piece. The art of statistical writing is taking this numerical result and using it to reach a conclusion about our population.
My students write, write and write, and my boards are covered with samples, which we critique and revise. I like to randomly assign students to work together (I often use playing cards for this), so that “group think” does not set in. I want students to debate language, and I can see from afar which groups are on-point by having them on boards around my room
My document camera is also a valuable resource here. As an opener, I’ll have students examine a homework problem, and write their conclusion on an index card. Random cards are selected and critiqued.”
This is GREAT advice for anyone wanting to being with standards-based grading. A pseudo-system is keeps the training wheels on and allows you to get your feet wet without changing everything about your current structure.
- Shift from tracking by chapter to tracking by concept.
- Allow opportunities for students to show growth.
- Don’t grade homework and practice.
- Provide timely and effective feedback.
- Spiral concepts throughout the curriculum and your assessments.
- Give shorter, more frequent quizzes.
- Assess what you value.
- Provide clear goals and expectations for performance.
- Encourage risk taking, failure, iteration, and experimentation.
- Do what works best for your students and your situation.
A traditional system done in the spirit of SBG is much, much better than an SBG system done poorly. (Trust me, I’m speaking from experience!)
My little ones started homeschool preschool this week. So excited to see them learn and watch all of the thoughtfulness my wife puts into her planning. It’s made me refocus on my own role in teaching them once I get home.
This week marked our first week of homeschool preschool. Does that surprise you? I feel like it surprises a lot of people. I mean, my husband is a public school teacher. We support our schools. We support a strong community-based school system. The school district we live in isn’t great but we could send our kids elsewhere. The district Chuck teaches in has one of the best early education programs in the state, and it’s within walking distance of his building. It’s not a matter, for us, about feeling like public [or private] schools aren’t good enough.
Our homeschooling discussion actually began when we were still relatively newlyweds, not soon planning for a family. Oh a whim we picked up a book from the bargain bin one day called, “Crunchy Cons” by Rod Dreher. The premise of the book was that there are people who can cross the line between…
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