Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Students or Lab Rats??

This is week two of a grind that I usually don’t see until mid-May.  Students seem to be “quitting”??  I am dumb-founded?  I even talk to other teachers in different areas throughout my school day and ask:  “Do the kids do anything for you guys right now?  Do they care about anything?”  The answer usually comes back to me as a barrage of venting about the same struggles they are having.  “When we care more than they do .. When we are putting more work into learning than they are .. “ are comments that seem to come out way too often.  I don’t disagree at all.  These are teachers that are creative, hardworking, experienced, passionate, young and experienced.  We are all perplexed by the low motivation and lack of effort students are putting out. And it seems to be increasing.

 Even when kids are given opportunities to re-take a test, they don’t unless it is under a D.  There are a few that always do but those students are few and far between these days.  I have seen it over and over again in my classes.  I teach health education!!!  It’s not rocket science!!  Kids will still get a D on a quiz that they can take twice but say “It’s too much work, I passed”  Maybe I am only speaking about my community?   Maybe this isn’t happening all over but either way my question is why?

I have all my lessons via video (vodcasts).  None are over 20 mins and the shortest one is a little over 4 mins.  My students get virtually no homework other than the videos and a short online quiz a couple times a week.  We do a lot of group work, problem solving, activity based things in class.  They are not sitting and getting anymore.  That part of class has been great for me.  Kids say that my class goes by so fast, but most are unprepared for the activity because they don’t watch the vodcasts?  And the “catch-up” process can be laborious.  Unfortunately, I don’t have computers in class and not all kids have iPods or phones.   I keep saying this should work better than it is!!!?  I don’t get it.  I’ve been a lecture based teacher for 17 years now and I wish I would have started this process a long time ago.  The class is going much better now than in the past, but this should still be working better!!?  It is engaging; higher level thinking, activity based, why aren’t kids eating this stuff up??  Tons of questions roll through my head as to why kids are working harder to NOT do anything … anywhere??

I was venting like this to another teacher who is flipping her science classes and she said something that hit me like a dump truck.  She said “The kids are getting tested to death and they are sick of it!”  BAM!  I wonder if that was it.  Our district has us handing out CBA’s (Common Based Assessments) like they get $100 for each one we collected!  I am not in a core class so the CBA tidal wave hasn’t really hit my shore as hard as other areas.  Math, Science, English, Reading …. Tsunami!!  In talking to a veteran math teacher he expressed how he has no more autonomy in his class anymore.  Work on a problem, take a test, work on another problem take a test …. on and on it goes. 

My co-worker in science said the same thing.  So much is riding on these CBA’s in our district we can’t even teach anymore …. Data, data, data!  More data …. Even in the Physical education classes, they have to do one day a week of in classroom work AND do 20 mins of sit-down reading in the gym on a regular basis.  Instead of going to Phy. Ed. Class to be active, now we are telling kids to sit down more??!  My kindergartener (Who LOVES Phy. Ed) had to sit and color one day as part of the “instructional time”.  He said it was his low for the day … his FAVORITE class was his low that day?!

I think kids are tired … they are sick of taking tests, they are sick of being rushed through everything, they are sick of seeing teachers in panic mode all the time because of all the data that may or may not come from these tests.  Kids are having breakdowns at a crazy rate according to our 2 counselors who are doing the work of 4.  (We have a student body of 1600 and have 2 counselors – down from 4 a couple years ago).  Another symptom that may show kids are done with the “testing model”! 

Today, I stopped.  I gave the kids an organizational graph, a packet and a website and said we have two days to do this and it should only take one, work with whoever you want, use the website, use the packet, listen to your iPod we just need to have these done by Friday.   You could have heard a pin drop!  It was like I gave them crayons and a Scooby Doo coloring book and they were in the zone.  You could almost hear the room go … “ahhhhhhhhhh”.  It was another confirmation that they are tired.  No testing and no major pressure and the brain could slow down and work at a reasonable pace. 

It made me think … why are the ones who are working least with the kids making all the decisions about what works?  Even school boards … how many have classroom experience?  Should administrators be required to teach one class?  All these questions came to me.  I don’t have the answers but I do have opinions and experience that testing kids to death isn’t working.  It’s like a big experiment and these kids are the lab rats we are patiently waiting on to give us results on a doctoral hypothesis.  With changes in education these days a teacher’s voice isn’t able to ring out anymore.  There doesn’t seem to be the checks and balances we used to have.  I just need to work more at teaching in a way that works while I still can.  My flipped class is working better than my class was when I lectured but I still have a ways to go.  I guess we are proving that the saying “Paralysis by Analysis” really can happen. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Flipping ... Work Smarter Not Harder

My first semester flip is about over and so far it has been a lot of work but it has paid off.  I have a renewed energy for teaching in new ways.  My brain has been stimulated a ton.  I have learned new technologies like Socrative, PollEv, Edmodo, Twitter, QR codes, etc … I have made new connections with educators online and in person.  What a ride so far …

My blog post today is another A-HA moment as to why the flipped model seems to be a method I will continue to incorporate as I continue to hone my craft.  I had an all-to-common event happen in class where a student was removed from class due to behavioral issues.  This was a student who consistently did no work, missed a lot of class and butted heads with about every teacher he had.  It was a matter of time before he reached a point where he was “below the line” so to speak.  So, due to this behavioral issues the administration intervened and he is spending the remainder of the semester in “in-school” suspension.  He is still enrolled in health class so I still need to give him the work to complete for the remainder of the semester (approximately 2 weeks).

Now usually I would need to rifle through the text, identify the content we will be covering and then come up with either questions from the text or an assignment, project or worksheets to give him.  Initially I fell back on old habits and started going through the book and racking my brain for content.  We have 3 more vodcasts left to finish this semester and as I was adding those to the checklist of things for him to do … the light-bulb went off!  “This kid is missing like 10 vodcasts & quizzes from the semester!?  Why am I creating new stuff when he hasn’t done the “old” stuff yet??”  Viola!!!  I simply printed off his missing video work (Quizzes & notes) and gave that to the cooperating teacher in ISS.  All the info he needed was already done, he just needed to watch the vids, take the notes and take the quiz for each. 

Now I don’t want to seem like I am just casting this poor student off, but  true to the purpose of the Flipped model, the learning was HIS responsibility and he has all the tools he needs to learn the content – he just hasn’t done any of it yet.  Now he has that opportunity to get his work done, get some badly needed grades in the books and prepare for the upcoming semester exam.  I don’t have to create busywork for him or re-create the content.  The content is already there just waiting for him to take advantage of it.  No extra stress on my part, no extra work on the cooperating teacher’s part, just a little guidance, direction and youtube …. ;-)  The prep work is done … he just needs to do it now.  No new “busywork”, just the necessary course content that is available to him 24/7.

It almost seemed too easy but I’m not sure when teaching (or learning) turned into being hard and frustrating.  It is so satisfying to know that I can still provide the same quality of education to a troubled youth at the end of the semester as I have been able to provide for the gem of a kid all semester.  The information is set up to be there when the student decides to access it. 
Will he do it??  I don’t know … that is up to him.  I know that when he decides … the information will be there waiting for him!!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Skype & Polleverywhere Combo

I recently did a skype activity while also using polleverywhere as a way to generate discussion.

The Story ....
My health classes were just beginning a unit on Addiction. To start the unit off I usually share a story about my wife who, in her younger days, didn’t make such good decisions.  She had gotten involved in the party lifestyle at a young age and by the time she had reached her junior year she had gotten into an alcohol related crash that totaled her car and broke her right femur in 22 places.
After seeing how a lot of her friends were drinking AND doing drugs she got rather bitter about her “consequence” when she only drank … thus thrusting her into a more hardcore party mindset.  By the next year she began experimenting with drugs and even selling drugs.  She wound up getting into a 2nd accident where she crushed her right ankle.  There was irreparable damage to her lower leg/ankle.  This time she “woke-up” so to speak and realized that she couldn’t keep living this kind of life and made some positive changes.
The set up ....
The first class day, I share the entire story (pictures and all) with the class.  I usually do a big dramatic rendition of the events as if these had happened to two different people that I knew.  I reveal at the end this happened to the same person.  It is kind of entertaining because I get a lot of comments like “what is she stupid?”, and “you’d think she would’ve learned?!” …. Then the big reveal … it was my wife (I usually show some family pics and let them figure it out … it is a shocking revelation.  (My wife and I have been married 17 years and I have been doing this for a while so I have had my wife’s blessing.  She would also admit that in those days she wasn’t real bright so the comments aren’t offensive but ring more truth than not.) 

 Usually after the presentation, I am flooded with all kinds of questions about her shoe raise, what did her parents think, does she still drink .. etc.  Schedules don’t always allow for her to come in, and she can easily get frustrated when a teen looks at her with the “Yeah, but that is you … I am not THAT dumb” kind of look  ;-)  she isn’t as refined as I am … tee hee

The "Light Bulb" ....
Wondering how to make the personal experience a little more convenient, I got the idea a year ago to use Skype!!  Viola … we could have her in class and the kids can interact and talk to her and she doesn’t have to leave the house.  Some classes only need like 20 mins and another might take the whole hour??   Most of the time I would get a few good questions and then kids would sort of “time-out” so I wanted to generated more discussion.  This year I started using Polleverywhere in my classes and realized this was a perfect complement to a Skyping activity.  The kids can send questions and I can monitor and read them in a flash.  It worked awesome!  Kids could ask questions and not worry if they were getting too personal and it allowed me to re-word questions that might be confusing otherwise.   My next challenge may be to have the presenter open the poll on another device so he/she can see the questions as they come in.  My wife, for example, could have the poll up on her iPad while she is skyping us on the computer.  That way she can see the questions as they pop up in real time and can answer them accordingly.
I realized that with the Flipped classroom model gaining popularity and classes starting to use Skype and other video chatting platforms it seems to be a perfect complement to each other.  Even with a guest speaker, it allows kids to text questions during a presentation as they think of them, and I (or the presenter) can answer them as they come in.  It can also be a check at the end to see if all the questions got answered in the presentation.  I was also able to use the Mobile app so I can monitor the poll right on my smartphone and not be tied to a computer.  It worked very efficiently.   If your presenter has this technology, I think it could be a very engaging way to interact with a presenter.

 I hoping to schedule a few more Skype sessions with some “experts” in the health & Fitness field next semester and I truly think that Polleverywhere is a great tool to use to help draw questions out of students.  Maybe this is old news for those out there using technology, but using skype and Polleverywhere in tandem was a great success.  So if you are interested, give it a try.

 FYI … The kids like the Tweet option in polleverywhere and the feature seems to be the easiest as you can “push” your polls to mobile devices.  Just my observation … J

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

“Words with Friends”

This is a review game that is great for having the kids go through vocabulary that has been covered during the lesson.  You can use words/vocab that are core words as well as supplemental vocab that you have used throughout the unit.  There are a lot of variations you can use to the game but the overall idea is to get the students thinking about the vocab/definitions and figure out what the word is.  I usually use this game as a review for the human sexuality unit:

The basic plan ….  
I have done it a couple different ways:

Teacher led:  Here, I would NOT give them the list and tell them where the word will be played and then give them the definition and have them work to spell the correct word.  (Ex.  I would say “Using the ‘L’ in LOVE going down, what is the male reproductive organ?”  The students would then scramble to spell the word PENIS.  Then I would say, “Using the ‘P’ in PENIS what is one of the fluid producing glands in the male reproductive system?”.  They would scramble to create the word PROSTATE … and so on.

Student led:  Here is where I would give the students the letters and the list (with the code key) and let them go on their own.   The students receive their bag of letters (I have them laminated for reuse over the years) and a list of definitions.  For this activity I created a code key for them to follow so they would know what words get combined.  The code key is shown below:

 So basically, we start the game off together to get the first word set (LOVE) and then the rest of the words start to build off of that.

Teacher vs. student led really depends on how structured you feel you need to be with your class.  I have done both and they both work fine.  The student led is a little more planning but not too bad.  I allow them to use notes, phones, iPods, etc . . . . to look up definitions.  Ideally they use their notes to show that they have them to study for the test/quiz!  These are all terms we have covered in vodcasts and in class so they should have them in their notes. 

 Other variations:  Really the sky is the limit for this activity. 

 Crazy Crossword:  You could give them letters and have them create their own crossword graphic organizer.  Have them spell & interconnect as many words as they can and see how many they can create. 

Word races:  Say a definition & see how quick they can spell out the right word

Really this activity can be used in any unit and the kids seem to respond to it pretty good.  They seem to like finding all the letters and making the words “old school” style.

I know there are other variations that could be created, so this was just a little peek into what I have done with a “scrabble” idea.  I have a copy of the list I use with code key on it HERE if you want to check it out.
Here is a little video of a student led version: