Whose Choice is it Anyway?

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Photo by Letizia Bordoni on Unsplash

I had a moment today. It was kind of big.

I like giving my students feedback forms. I use them a lot! I use them in the beginning of the year, after big projects, check-in times, and at the end of the year.  I like the feedback and the information that these check-ins provide. One of the questions I asked my students at the beginning of this year was, “What is one thing Mrs. Finger can do to improve your experience in this class?” Kids responded with several, “Nothing, Mrs. Finger is great!”, (which is lovely. I could stop looking at the others and rest on my laurels)- “More coding,” “Learn more tools,” and “More freedom.” There were other similar responses, all of which I have tried to incorporate into class so that my students would feel more engaged and empowered. Thankfully, no one said, “she can leave us alone to do as we will.”

The end of the year we do a big project that basically lasts from April until the end of May and in the past, this has been a coding project. I love to teach the kids coding and this end-of-year project has been a highlight (for me).

The children have learned about several ancient civilizations and using Tynker, they share their learning about three of the five civilizations. This year I have decided to make a change: I decided I would let them choose which digital storytelling tool they would like to use share their learning. They will all have the same initial content from which to work: the GRAPES of the civilizations (Geography, Religion, Achievements, Politics, Economy, Social Structures) as that is the lens through which they studied, and from there they can choose their storytelling tool and go. This year they have used Google Slides, Animoto, Tynker, and MySimpleShow. Since Adobe Spark just became available as an edu tool, I won’t have time to introduce it for this year but will definitely add it next school year.

The introductory class went off without a hitch. Kids were excited about the project and eager to get started drafting their outline. They loved the idea of having a choice to use one of the tools they used this year. I figured with choice, they would choose something they felt comfortable and skilled using and therefore would be more engaged in the project (this is not to say that the previous years’ students using Tynker as their sole option were not engaged- they definitely loved the project, but it was easier for some than others).

So today I had the first group of students ready to get started and I was excited to  hear their choices.

Until I started to hear their choices.

Until many of them said they wanted to use Google Slides.

Not that there is anything wrong with Slides. There is not!

I guess I was just expecting them to go another route. Animoto or My Simple Show. Or Tynker since I know a lot of the students like to code.

And so I asked them why they were making the choice they were. I figured it best to hear their reasoning.

  • No text limits (like in Animoto and My Simple Show)
  • Freedom to be creative with text boxes, shapes, arrows
  • Easy to manipulate
  • Limitless images and creativity

OK. I took some deep breaths. I reminded them that they should choose something that will highlight their creativity and skills and not choose the easy way out. Perhaps I was trying to sway them into making a different selection.

That is where the big moment came for me.

I gave them a CHOICE. They made it. I have to live with it.

I suppose one cannot give a choice unless one is ready to hear the answer.

And, one cannot give a choice hoping to hear an answer.

I still have two more classes to introduce this project and I have two more classes to get myself ready to hear their choices.

I can do this.

 

 

 

Happy “20CHAI”!

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How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world ~Anne Frank

Welcome back! In case you are questioning my title, 20CHAI refers to the new year, 2018. In Hebrew, the number 18 stands for Chai meaning Life. If you want to get technical and use gematria (pronounced with a soft g like in gem) the two letters that make up the hebrew word, Chai (the CH pronounced like you are trying to tickle your throat), are Chet (CH pronounced as above) and Yud (yood) represent the numbers 8 and 10 respectively and when you add them up you get 18. So 18 is the number that Jewish people often refer to as Chai.

So, I thought that with the new year being Twenty-Eighteen, it would be interesting to think about it in terms of positive psychology (since we are implementing at my school) and ask the following question, what will I do to improve LIFE this year, be it mine or those around me? This first article offers a new way of thinking about getting started.

I am generally not one to make resolutions, but Dr. Lea Waters proposes reframing our resolutions/goals and using our strengths to help attain them.

When we place the bulk of our attention on improving a strength we are starting at a higher baseline, and this is where we really have the potential to thrive.

Next is a list of books on wellbeing and character from the International Positive Education Network that I am looking forward to reading. Improving your wellbeing will have a ripple effect on those around you at home and in the workplace so selecting from here will be a step in the right direction for our 20Chai year.

Over the winter break I had the wonderful opportunity to learn from from amazing educators during #DitchSummit, one of whom is Dr. Pooja Agarwal. Agarwal’s presentation was on improving learning and retention by using non-graded, spaced retrieval practice throughout the learning. As she said in her presentation, it is not just about getting information in, but about getting it out. She proposes many research- and evidence-based ways to do this. You can read about them here in her retrieval practice guide and can sign up on her site to get email updates as new research, resources, tips, and articles come out. Implementing some or all of her tips will be helpful for your students (and you) and improve school and learning life for them.

The crux of positive psychology is “Other People Matter”. This next article, “The Magic of Validation” from the Cult of Pedagogy will help improve your relationship with students, colleagues, family, and friends. In it she discusses and offers ways to change how you listen to and respond to others thereby showing them you are hearing what they are saying and acknowledging their feelings (not necessarily changing your viewpoint, but seeing their perspective). Just the slightest change to how you interact can make a big difference on your relationships. Did you know that the way you respond to someone else’s good news has a large impact on your relationship with that person?

Last up are two resources to enhance your teaching repertoire for writing workshop and teaching least common multiples in math (actually, Kaplinsky’s site is one I have shared before and there are numerous resources for teaching countless other math concepts).

The first is a playlist from TED Ed for writer’s workshop mini-lessons. Here you will find 25 videos that are 6 minutes or less- most of them less than 5- on topics ranging from writing more descriptively, how to make writing more suspenseful, what makes a poem, and word choice.

The last resource is a complete lesson from Robert Kaplinsky and he uses a very funny scene from Father of the Bride with Steve Martin to illustrate the concept of least common multiples.  You will definitely want to check out his other lessons for students from K though 8 including algebra 1, 2, and geometry.

Images from Pixabay and Wikimedia Commons respectively.

 

Gotcha, You’re Late!

I recently read When Grading Harms Student Learning from Edutopia and re-watched Rick Wormeli’s videos Retakes, Redos & Do-Overs Part 1 and Part 2. Both spoke to the idea of the messages we are sending students when we give them only one chance to do something– whether it be a test, paper, or project– and when we give them a zero or points off for turning something in late:

“This project has no value”

“It’s ok if you don’t learn this”

“You’re off the hook”

Doing these things misdirects our purpose. Miller says in his article, “Is grading the focus, or is learning the focus?”

As educators whose mission it is to inspire and encourage a love of learning, foster grit and resilience, and encourage students to have a growth mindset, is this really what we want to be saying?

 

 

 

More Than Just Music to Their Ears

5146079703_24f8fea201_m“If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”
Rudyard Kipling, The Collected Works

I read a fantastic post about how teachers are using Hamilton the Musical in their history classes and it made me think about how I learned. My mother would say she taught me everything I know while singing to me in the bathtub and during potty training. While I may beg to differ on ‘everything’, I do believe that I learned a lot through music: the ABCs, how to spell my full name, the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence. Ok, the last was not while in the bath, but it was learned on Saturday mornings when Schoolhouse Rock came on in between cartoons.

There are many ways to use music to help boost memory so I thought I would share some sites you can use in your class to help improve your student’s memory for facts, concepts, and details. You can read here and here for more about tips on how to engage your students and improve memory.

  1. Teaching the American Revolution and Founding Fathers? Here is Hamilton, the Musical soundtrack on YouTube
  2. Teaching grammar, history, math? The complete Schoolhouse Rock on YouTube
  3. Flocabulary has a great channel with videos for digital citizenship, Social Studies, English, Math, and more
  4. History for Music Lovers has 53 videos on many historical topics and figures
  5. Harry Kindergarten Music is for the K-2 crowd

There are so many more to find, but why not have your students create songs to help themselves and others learn the way our 4th graders did?!

photo credit: Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds via photopin (license)

How Things Catch On: Marketing Your Lesson’s Message

4281814950_7feffddb9d_mI took a great course from Wharton through my favorite online learning site- Coursera. The course was called, “Contagious: How Things Catch On” (currently called “Viral Marketing and How to Craft Contagious Content”) and I loved learning something new. However, while it is a marketing course, I think it has applications in education, especially for teachers who are trying to teach lessons and concepts- which is all of us!

One of the questions Professor Berger posed in the course is Why do some messages stick and others don’t? As teachers we can edit this to read, Why do some lessons, topic, concepts stick while others don’t?

There are six principles of “stickiness” that make up the acronym SUCCESs:

1.Simple– “Less is more”

We can apply this idea to our lessons. What is the one idea (maybe two or three max) that you want your students to walk away with today? Use analogies to help relate or compare the idea or concept to something your students already know and understand. Find the core then pull your students in, leave them wanting more tomorrow. Simple opens up a “curiosity gap”.

2. Unexpected– Novel or surprising

We need to make our messages novel or surprising. We need to hold our students’ attention so that they want to find out what happens. If they think they already know what is going to happen, their minds may wander. Add something unexpected to keep their attention and interest. “This is not about doing something crazy, it is about violating expectations.” (Berger, Week 1)

A few years ago we had Judy Willis -educator and neurologist come to speak about brain-based teaching and learning techniques. The principle of making our messages novel, unexpected, or surprising is a brain-based methodology. Information and stimuli need to be selected and accepted by the Reticular Activating System. To get through the RAS, information must be novel, changed or different. If information is not selected by our RAS, it will not reach consciousness and not be retained. To sustain the attention we can use Discrepant Events. D.E. are novel or unexpected so the RAS will let them in; they’re predictive because you already are thinking one way then you throw in a discrepant event and people are curious.

“Once you have their attention, you empower your students to become engaged in their learning process. Using wonder (discrepant events), humor, movement, change, advertising, and provoking curiosity capture students’ attention. They will be ready to focus on the sensory input (information) in the lesson . . . ” Judy Willis

3. Concrete– “Show, don’t tell”

As teachers we can apply this principle of concreteness to our practice. We can use vivid language & images that help students imagine/visualize/see the message we are trying to make stick. The question we should keep in mind is, Can you see it?

4. Credible– Use statistics and information in a WOW way

Just like we can use analogy to help students understand new concepts by comparing them to things they already know and understand, we can share statistical information with our students in comparison to things they already know. For example, we can make a numerical analogy to give large numbers a context, California is larger than the 12 states that make up New England and the Middle States or 20 of Rhode Island (source).

5. Emotional “How can we get people to care about what we are saying?” (Berger Week 1)

The principle of using emotions to help messages stick incorporates concreteness as well. Concrete ideas generate more emotion. The more something pulls us in, the more likely we are to remember it. The more we are able to evoke emotions in our students with the concept or idea we are teaching, the more likely the students will care about and remember what we are saying. So we can do this in many ways. In social studies and history, we can utilize personal accounts, reenactments, experiential learning, and historical fiction  so that we can pull our students into that time in history. If we think about the emotion we want our students to feel then we can design the lesson’s message to evoke that emotion and make the message of the lesson stick.

6. Stories

It is much more interesting to listen a story than to just a list of facts and figures. It also helps with memory because stories often trigger emotions, allow the listener to create images in their head, and make connections to things they already know. Additionally, “stories are easy to retell.” (Fahey)

For some highlights from the course, you can check out my Storify.

How will you use SUCCESs to make your content stick?

photo credit: beautiful bun (Shannon 139/365) via photopin (license)

What Will You Learn Today?


“It’s essential to keep moving, learning and evolving for as long as you’re here and this world keeps spinning”

Rasheed Ogunlaru

paper-1100254_960_720My love affair with learning started way back in second grade when my teacher let me help lead our reading group. She empowered me. I wanted to do well and it was easy because I loved to learn and I had room to do it in my teacher’s class. I was able to progress as far as I could because my teacher allowed me to. I did not have to stop and wait for others.

Flash forward 4 decades (which makes me feel old) and I continue to love learning. In fact, if I don’t know how to do something, I will learn how rather than pass the task or job to someone else. When I began my current position, I was not tech savvy; I was not even tech knowledgeable (if that is even a phrase). But, I took it as an opportunity to grow in a new direction.

One of the ways I love to learn is through Coursera. I have taken four of their courses: Computer Science 101 from Stanford, American Education Reform: History, Policy, Practice from the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania, Contagious: How Things Catch On (now called, Viral Marketing: How to Craft Contagious Content) from the Wharton School, and Introduction to Marketing, also from the Wharton School. Currently, I am deciding between choosing from these Coursera educator courses  or continuing along the business route just because I can.

As educators, it is vital that we both continue our own learning and share this love with our students. We need to show our students it is ok to say, “I don’t know,” and then show them how to ask questions and how to seek out the answers. We need to show them that when we do not know something, we will stop to find out, and will share what we learned when we do.

So, what will you learn today?

CCO Public Domain Image from Pixabay

It’s Time for (#November)Change

4515043369_311a0e502b_mYesterday I had the good fortune to be an attendee at another ItsLearning webinar featuring Alan November. I pretty much jump at any chance I can get to listen to or read something by this great educator.

This week’s webinar was titled, “Putting Pedagogy in the Driver’s Seat”. The big idea and take away from this is that we need to redefine the role of the learners and as teachers we need to shift control to our students. As teachers, we are often the ones who design and deliver problems for our students to solve; we need to teach our students how to ask the right questions, how to find and design their own problems to solve, and how to self-assess.

You can view the Storify here, then we can talk about how we are going to begin letting go of control.

photo credit: Gear Shift, Seat Ibiza (2005) via photopin (license)