If you don't know what mini courses are well you are in luck, because I am going to let you in on what they are by telling you about them!
Anyway enough my attempt at humour. Mini-courses are a chance to give students some choice and freedom in what they learn by having teachers teach random, awesome, passion projects. We had sushi making, Taekwondo, engineering, drawing, geocaching, swimming, Chinese cultural appreciation, budgeting, and the list could go on. I led boardgames and it was awesome to have my class filled with kids who wanted to strategize and learn some new boardgames. My good friend Austin did "Anything you can do I can do better" where he battled kids at their talents. Today I got to be him (as he was doing some awesome pro-D and, frankly, my mini course didn't draw enough attention (oh vell, you can't win 'em all). It was pretty fun to see kids talents and have the humility of losing to them (and the joy of taking them down). All in all they beat me. I am not gymnastic. So I got schooled in that. I can't play Mario apparently; got schooled in that too. I also can't play advanced piano (who'da thunk?!). I am apparently skilled at eating Pringles and grapes. I also did really well at push ups, so that made me feel good. All in all it was cool to step into the shoes of my apparent twin.
I don't know if I strike you as the type that sews a lot; I assure you I am not, but I had a vision for how I wanted to start this year. I wanted them to work together, to learn a new skill, and have that skill be tangible. Sewing hit the mark, and for $7 a kit, it wasn't too bad. Students have been learning all about vexillology (think Sheldon Cooper's fun with flags) after watching excerpts from Roman Mars' Brilliant Ted Talk. They got excited about designing and today we learned how to do basic stitches. I never thought twelve year old boys would get into this, but they LOVED IT! Such work in patience and fine motor skills, and hey now they might be able to fix something that breaks.
Every Friday morning we have professional development. Yesterday we were working on assessment. We had ten minutes to draw a self portrait. I was pretty happy with mine, but the point wasn't so much to draw as it was to take a risk and give feedback in kind, specific, and helpful ways. It was a great process to see what people see in your own work, and to learn how to give feedback in clear ways. This is something I look forward to applying in class, because I have a hard time giving feedback that is more specific than "This is awesome!"
All right, so I am catching up a bit, and I don't have a fun little media piece, but I have to say I love band camp. When I was a kid band camp was only for people that were extra awesome at their instrument. I never got to go. I didn't practice my trombone enough. I could have been a great trumbonist (I am not sure what the noun is, and this is the least dirty version I can come up with), but I struggled with perseverance and pushing myself to actually practice. At our school band camp is for everyone. It is basically boot camp for learning. The amount of change that you hear in two days time is inspiring. Even the squeakiest clarineteers (yup making up words left, right, and centre) sounds like someone who has played for years. I wonder how I can do this in class more and more. Students have a resilience if there are high expectations set for them. This year I am pushing students to push themselves, and I could see how when they have people who believe in them and push them, they are able to achieve anything.
Maybe people have done this before, but I felt pretty cool to do this. My wife inspired me with a new notebook she purchased. Rather than being lined or made with a grid, this paper has vertices. I was lamenting earlier to my class how I hate that I cannot write straight (in fact my board penmanship causes some of my biggest teacher feelings of inadequacy), so I wanted to fix that. I projected the same matrix of vertices onto the board and then just copied them with permanent marker. I love it, because I can still write, but my whiteboard is now also permanently graph paper without being too distracting by having lines. In the words of my British colleague "brill!"
This year I get to teach science again. I forgot how much students get into the mysteries of science. This is a fun little discrepant event that I remember from when I was in grade eight. Pouring CO2 into a candle just looks like magic for kids. I thought my document camera picked up sound, but unfortunately I did not get the oos and aws that I was hoping to capture but they were in abundance. It reminds me just how curious their minds are, and how much they want to know what they can't understand. Hopefully we can keep up this momentum.
In order to get students to start track progress and take their learning into their own hands, I am really pushing SMART goals. Students always say they want to improve their grades or study more, so this year we are working on more actionable steps for them to achieve these goals. Right now we are just working on creating goals, but we will soon be doing daily tracking, reflection, and choosing actionable steps. I am excited to see how this will push students as it is really something I have not done frequently.
Over the last few days we have been unpacking students' self reflected learning needs. The shared what they know to be true about how they learn, we did a gallery walk to look for trends, we shared trends, and then we worked toward building common knowledge around how we will act in our class. This has been student driven, and I have just helped them put them into words. We vote to see if we agree with them, and then we put them down. I will rewrite them (read "type them") in much neater format and create a display on them when we have got at least three strong norms to work with. Students will then be responsible for setting goals and finding actionable tasks for them to participate positively in the classroom. I can't wait to see how this affects the culture of our class!
I think I have written about my try before you buy style, but this week, on a whim, I narrowed it down. It started in math class, but it has been working for everything. I told students that we are going to be Explorers this year in all our subjects, but it it means we actually have to take risks and not be worried to change.
A student pointed out today that it was like the scientific method, which I thought was absolutely brilliant! It is essentially. It works, and it give students a good model for risk taking. Today we did that with a gallery walk on goal setting. Students wrote down goals that they could have for their lives (I gave them the four categories). We then practiced leaving kind, specific, and helpful feedback on their goals. As we continue to work on how to set goals and reflect on the, we will be introducing S.M.A.R.T. goals, but it was great to hear kids already saying, "That goal doesn't really tell you what you need to do to achieve it." Oh man, the gold, the sheer gold.
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...