Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Student Centered vs. Student Led

This morning before school started I was sitting in a meeting where a question was raised about the difference between a student centered activity vs. student led activities. I will be honest that I have not taken the time to really consider the differences so the explanation was something that stuck with me for the rest of the day. We were told that a student centered activity could look like a groups of students working in small groups on an activity that was teacher directed (teacher is driving the learning) while that a student led activity is going to be the students leading the learning.

Second block I co-teach an Algebra 1 class that uses ALEKS as the curriculum. My co-teacher, Suzanne Riesen, and I are going to make a better effort to integrate some hands on, small group, problem solving, real-life application type math activities this term. Our goal is to spend half a block, once a week doing these sorts of activities as a whole class. This was week 1 and we grossly under estimated how long we were going to need. We thought 40 minutes was going to be plenty of time but an hour into it we knew it was going to take the full 88 minute block because the students were so engaged. The activity we picked for this week was Dan Meyer's Popcorn Picker. It was fantastic; maybe the best day all year.
The students were introduced to a video of Dan Meyer filling up two cylinders, each made out of an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper and wondering which cylinder would hold the most popcorn. We randomly split the class up into groups of two and three and they discussed what they thought. A vote was then taken and the majority students who were quite passionate that the cylinders would hold the same. My co-teacher then gave a little direction and we circulated providing the groups with just the right amount of support as they worked their way through the problem. They were encouraged to use technology to look up formulas or even do a little research. Each group had a little different strategy on how they wanted to tackle the question and nearly everyone wanted to build a model. We had some students teaching others and one boy even got up in front of the class to explain his method to solving the problem. There were student centered and student led activity happening in tandem. Our classroom was loud with chatter, students were asking for supplies like tape and rulers and engagement was at an all time high. I'm fairly certain fewer students asked to take the bathroom pass out today than normal (can you measure student engagement with that piece of data?). We have a student who needs to take sensory breaks once or twice during the block. She didn't leave once today.
I spent the rest of the day really thinking about and looking for more examples of student centered and student led activities. My day ends co-teaching Physics with Mike Mohammad. Our experiences together will no doubt be further explored in future blog posts. After all, we've been co-teaching for at least eight years together. We completed many hours of curriculum work last summer and during one of our conversations I asked, "could we paint the front of the cabinets in the lab for more white board space?" The possibilities are endless with what these blank spaces could offer. We've used them to creatively group students, illustrate a concept while working with small groups and students will use them when working out problems together. It was something so simple and now I can't imagine not having them. 

The class started with a formative assessment on energy using the Smart Response clickers. After a little lecture and some demonstrations we set the students free to either finish up calculating data from the recent marble roller  coaster or begin working out this unit's problem set. We encourage the students to work together on the problem sets. As I looked around the room, there was the group that I was working with at a lab bench who required a little bit of scaffolding and diagramming, there were groups of students working together at desks and then there was a back lab bench full of loud boys. These boys were marking up the cabinets/white boards and debating what formulas to use and what steps would be necessary to find kinetic energy with the given information. Mike circulated answering questions of the small groups and monitored our boys from a distance. The room was bustling with both teacher led (I think that's probably what I'd classify what I was doing), student centered AND student led activities. 

As we look to meet the needs of classes full of diverse learners I think there needs to be a balance of all three approaches to instruction. Our learners have different needs that are going to be met through different means whether it be teacher led, student centered or student led. 

This one way to look at personalizing their education. 

Monday, November 9, 2015

We Never Win an Argument With a Student

I have had the opportunity to hear Todd Whitaker speak twice. Once I was at the state AWSA conference (2006ish) and the other was just a few weeks ago at the inaugural, "What Great Educators Do Differently" conference held just outside of Chicago. I find him one of the most engaging speakers I've ever heard and his message is one that has stuck with me since I first heard him. At that time, his book, "What Great Teachers Do Differently - Fourteen Things That Matter Most" had only been out for a few years. I had a copy of that book and often referred back to it when I was feeling a little lost and re-reading it became part of my annual mid August routine. Then, in 2013 I purchased the second edition, "What Great Educators Do Differently - Seventeen Things That Matter Most" and while I did my annual read back in August (okay, maybe it was more of a skim this year), I'm currently going through it again right now.

One of my favorite chapters is when Whitaker discusses what great educators do when confronted with challenging students (Chapter 5:  Prevention versus Revenge). First, we are reminded of his three golden rules of the classroom:

Never yell
Never use sarcasm
Never argue

These are rules we all need reminding of from time to time. I've spent quite a bit of time recently thinking about the, "Never Argue" decree. There are always going to be students, every year, who really challenge even the most skilled teacher. There is always going to be one student who the others look to set the mood in a class. There is always going to be one student who tries to run the class. These are the students that teachers can never argue with. The teacher will never win because the student cannot afford to loose with an audience of their peers.  

I find that staying calm, getting to know the student on a personal level so I can redirect emotions and never arguing is an effective way to manage student behavior. I also know the power of a positive phone call home. I try to make at least one a week and often look for something positive in my most spirited students to celebrate with their parents. The parents are usually taken aback by my phone call and have even tried to challenge me on my positive remarks regarding their child. It's a good feeling to make these phone calls and even a better feeling when that student comes to class the next day walking a little taller, ready to learn and works with me. I do struggle with maintaining this positive behavior because there is no magic bullet to managing behavior. This is where making that student feel like they do matter, they are important and they know each day is a new start is important. 

This is how I prevent misbehavior. 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Trying to Be a Connected Educator

Nearly eleven years ago I was a prolific Mommy blogger. I documented everything. I took a humorous approach to tell our story of playing man to man defense while adjusting to parenthood with twin boys. The blog started as a way for me to involve family members who didn't live in the area but it turned into something more. It was an outlet for me to reflect on my journey as a twin mommy but it was also a means for me to connect with other parents. I learned more from my Internet community that I ever did from a book, which I had plenty of. I got tips and tricks about everything from how to grocery shop with a double stroller to travel suggestions with infants. This connectedness with a blogging community was strong for nearly six years and then Facebook exploded. How I connected and learned from other parents changed. I could now connect with my smartphone through Facebook and Twitter. Writing a blog entry became cumbersome as finding time to write was hard. After all, my sons were no longer taking naps and I was getting back into the professional world...full force.

It was around this time I got back into reading professional journals and books. I was asked to attend a number of leadership conferences and became inspired to get connected to another community. This time it wasn't a parenting community but a professional community where I learned, reflected and found inspiration. I joke that I lost a summer to Twitter sometime around 2010.

This school year I'm on cycle, meaning I'm being evaluated for the first time using Danielson's Framework for Teaching. Unlike many of my co-workers, this process doesn't scare me or overwhelm me. It's even been suggested by another teacher that I'm not taking it seriously enough. However, having completed National Board Certification (twice, actually if you count the renewal process) I look at the evaluation experience as one I'm going to go through with someone; my evaluator. While I've always maintained that National Board Certification was the most valuable and gratifying professional development I've ever completed, it is completely void of feedback. I already have high expectations for my students but I have higher expectations for myself. I expect that I will be a better teacher after going through the process because of all the reflection and documentation that is required.

So here I am, ready to put it all out there for the world to read along with me. I'm not unrealistic about where this new blog will take me or who my audience may turn out to be. I anticipate reflecting on my leadership and classroom experiences; professional development opportunities I'm given as well as lead; and reflect on books that I'm reading. This is mostly just a place for me to grow, reflect, and share my thoughts and ideas.

And, maybe, I'll make some new connections out there.