A perennial favourite around these parts is my war with of integers. It has been well liked by many students and teachers, and I just love how many goals it hits. It has students doing math before they are learning rules. It gives a strong visual, and breaks down a moderately abstract concept, into clear, decipherable components. It nixes tricks, and instead provides a strong conceptual basis for how integers work. I want to move from it at some point, but I am stuck because it works so well. But like so many things, when it becomes to easy it becomes boring. I think that for this year I am going to incorporate some Malcom Swan style tasks that I learned from the incomporable Cheese Monkey at TMC15.
Every year we have a chance for teachers and students to do a week of "What they want." It is always incredible. Normally I have done board games, and I loved that but this year I wanted to branch out, and have students do some "making." So a colleague and (Mr. Malnis) and I did the fantastic Toys from Trash. It was great to show kids some cool things, and have them just make them. Very few directions, we just made some examples, and told kids, "Go!"
Seeing where kids go with that is always rewarding. They love adding their flourishes, and the 1.5 hours went almost instantaneously: such good stuff!
I am really trying Genius Hour this year. I have done it before, and it hasn't gone great, but I have seen other teachers really pull it off. I am really pushing that in some way they really need to demonstrate learning, and learning that pushes themselves beyond where they are. I really wish I knew more about it, or could make sure that the learning I want to see will happen, but I can never know for sure. I am inspired by some of the ideas that have come out so far, and I think if my kids can actually stick beyond the hard parts, there will be some really cool learning.
In recent years I have really tried to focus on not bring a teacher so much as just being. Yes, the cliche of "Just be yourself" is something I have tried to learn and be. I want to goof around with my kids, not because I want to be the "cool" teacher but because I want kids to know that being themselves is worthwhile. This includes me singing stupid songs, telling stupid jokes, playing board games with students, making obscure nerd references, and simply just letting go.
Yesterday it meant playing around with Siri before school started (yes I wrote this one day late). Why do I think this is so important? A) it builds community and relationships. A certain level of trust forms because (at least I think) students see the vulnerability of a real person. B) when I need to level with kids and be serious they know that I mean it. They know I appreciate their senses of humour, their wacky personalities, and their oddities, but in some cases there are moments that are just inappropriate for that. That's a pretty powerful tool in the teacher Suisse army knife.
Today I realised how much I need to push this norm in my classroom. Every year I tell students when I give feedback a will avoid negative feedback. I will avoid use of the word "not." Even if it is a simple as swapping, "Billy Bob can't add" with, "Billy Bob should focus on his adding skills." Both phrases speak of BIlly Bob's struggle with addition, but phrase encourages and empowers BIlly Bob to have a growth mindset rather than fixed (which is all the rage these days). This year I am encouraging my students to do the same. Whenever they assess themselves or others, in any way, they must do so and avoid a "not phrase." If they use a "not phrase," I will simply say, "Make it positive." It is tough when you begin, but I am interested to see how my classroom culture might change with this norm. Maybe it will flop, but maybe it will build a group of confident, growth oriented, learners.
I am trying to have students teach and present more and more. I can read books about Mesopotamia, but if they can learn it themselves, then I feel I have done them an even better service. We did expert group research, with a graphic organizer, see previous days, and then students had to prepare a one minute presentation for their groups. The task expectations were that we listened actively, asked questions afterward and tried to learn from each other.
All sorts of things happen with this kind of task: lack of information, varying preparation from each individual member, and vary skill levels of these mini presentations. What talked about today as a class was what worked, and what needed tweaking. I love the focus on the positive (what can we improve or tweak) rather than what we did poorly, and students were able to articulate quite well, what achieved at (what was working). I look forward to seeing how these presentations improve.
This year I (admittedly begrudgingly) took on two extra classes of French. That means on top of my homeroom class, I am teaching five groups of French class. All the grade sevens and sixes in our school. 27 * 5 = A freaking lot of kids to remember. Now some of my high school colleagues are saying to themselves, "Welcome to my world bud!" To which I must admit, I agree, but I still have to struggle through being an elementary teacher and all that entails.
That all being said, I am surprisingly finding it enjoyable. I never thought I would, but this age is so excited, and ready to learn that I can't help but look forward to it. I still have a LOT of work to put into it, and it is not going to be easy, but getting to more kids, and enter into their story is so worthwhile. So, le francais... Allons-y!
I have done it once. It wasn't the greatest, but I have seen teachers in my school pull it off quite well. This is of course Genius Hour (Google 20 time may be another name you know it by). So I am giving it a shot. What I do love about it, is we are going to direct it towards our Language Arts objectives. They will not be assessed on their "product" but they will learn how to present well, and how to share their learning, no matter what it is. Today we talked about level of questioning: surface level, compared to deep questioning. We discussed how a surface level question might lead to a deep question, or how for some people a question may be deeper for some than others. "How do I bake cookies," could be a nothing task for some kids that have been cooking and following recipes since they were five. Someone who has never been in a kitchen though no needs to learn how to measure, follow a recipe, test if an item is finished cooking, and even clean up responsibly. These are huge skills if you are a newbie to them. I hope this goes well. Next week we will be writing grant proposals, so that they can prove to me that they will put the effort in to something that is reachable.
Teaching students research skills is still one of those things that I am trying to figure out. I don't want to give them so much direction that I am doing the research for them, but I also know saying, "GO RESEARCH STUFF" is entirely unhelpful. In my life, frameworks have always helped. It is one of the main reasons I love graphic organizers. They give me a framework for finding the Big Ideas of a topic. Students worked in partners to get some basic knowledge of Mesopotamia. They are working in expert groups and are responsible for one of the sections of this graphic organizer, then they will be sharing out their findings. This isn't a perfect lesson for me, but I love the aspect of sharing, presentation, and building big ideas.
Exploding dots is the bomb! Pun intended. We are doing a review of place value so I used my broken calculator to instigate this investigation. I cannot hand reviewing in the sense of "doing the same thing we already learned." I try, rather, to introduce a newer deeper understanding of an older concept. This is right on the verge of a grade seven's ability but for the most part students are really catching on. If you have never heard of exploding dots or James Tanton, you really need to fix that!
If you have never heard of a 180 blog, let me fill you in. #teach180 is all about sharing your daily life in teaching. It is a way of small form blogging, reflecting on what you are doing, and sharing with the world. Check out these...