Sunday, March 19, 2017

Everyday Field Trips From Your Phone

The teachers that made the greatest impression on me and whose lessons I still remember were those who made relationships with their students a priority. Sharing appropriate personal experiences and connecting those experiences to learning and to the lives of your students can not only help establish great relationships but it can also connect the learning for students to real life situations.

Why not use a tool that you already use everyday to help you? I'm talking about your cell phone video camera. Think of the things you do every week and how you can relate it to the concepts you teach your students. Don't just tell them a story; take them with you to experience a real-life activity.

I was at Zilker Park yesterday for some exercise and as I walked, I stopped to examine some of the native plants. I am currently co-teaching science with Michelle Zuniga, a 3rd grade teacher (@QueenLaTeachaMZ) during her unit on animal and plant adaptations.  I started thinking about all of the relevant things I could show her students if they were with me on my walk. What if I could share it with them virtually? I was walking anyway and was carrying the best tool for the job- my iPhone.

I returned today, iphone in hand and ready to accomplish two tasks; walk 3 miles and show the students how plants and animals have adapted for survival in the environment around Zilker Park. It's not Nat. Geo. quality but I wasn't aiming for that. You can make a fast video on your phone as you go about the things you do in everyday life while at the same time make connections and build relationships with students. Here are some other ideas for simple videos that can help students connect school to real-life:


Reading- Going to the library- what I'm reading, what do I enjoy about reading, where do I like to read? If I just finished a book that made me laugh out-loud, why not record my experience at the moment to share that joy of reading with my students? Make it less than a minute long.

Math- "When am I ever going to use this in real life?" Show them in a video. Take them to the grocery store (yes you will look stupid but it's for the kids).  Which box of macaroni and cheese is the best deal? How much will 2 pounds of shrimp cost me? How about making a double batch of Chex mix- They will have to add fractions together to get the correct amounts. You can even invite them to try making your recipes at home with their family. Go to the movies and calculate what time your movie will get out. Other scenarios could include the gas station, sewing, gardening, or going to a baseball game.

Science- Watch the lunar eclipse, check out the Monarch caterpillars on the milkweed plant in your backyard, whip up mixtures and solutions in your kitchen. Do certain types of metal pans boil water faster than others?

This is not an exhaustive list by any means but you get the idea. Grab your phone, talk to your students and show them that the things they learn in school are connected to the real world they live in. Inviting them in to a small part of your life will create a personal bond with them while doing the things you are probably doing anyway!

Saturday, March 4, 2017

That's Genius! Solving Educational Challenges Through Blended Learning Part I

When you work in a district office rather than on a campus, you lose that day to day connection with the one thing that is central to a career in education; the love of working with kids. An opportunity came knocking recently that reconnected me with students and energized my sense of purpose. I received an email from a middle school assistant principal needing a solution for some students who had worked their up the intervention ladder and needed to fill their schedule with meaningful learning. This small group of students in an ELA intervention course and were told they could work their way out which, to the surprise of administration, they had. Now, needing to live up to her end of the bargain, the assistant principal was looking for a solution.

I suggested a blended learning model solution that would allow the students to take a high school course online and get a jump start their freshman year. The 8th graders could choose to enroll in Art I, Foundations of Fitness or Health. As an added incentive for students and my desire to try something new, I included a genius hour component. Students would work on a project of their choice on Monday's and Fridays with Tuesday-Thursday being dedicated time to work on their high school course.

My example- I'm going to do a project too and use to model the
process for students.
I gave each of the students an interest survey to start them thinking about a project and to guide me in curating resources for research. I also created a Google Slides template for them to dig a little deeper into a subject of interest. Between these 2 sets of information, I was able to create a playlist of videos and websites for them to explore their topic and start formulating some specifics for research.

I found it fascinating to read the interests of the students. Sometimes, with all of the requirements of content we have to teach, we forget these young people have things they are genuinely interested in that do not fit our school agenda. It was also notable that because kids are not used to being given the freedom of choice in learning, they were hesitant to break out of the "school" format. Many of them included on their interest survey that they could research their topic in the library or on the internet and do a PowerPoint on it. I want them to move beyond that. I want it to be authentic.

One student is very interested in soccer and wants to know how to become a good soccer player so she can get a scholarship for college. I have given her a playlist including videos of some of the top women's soccer players, tips for improving specific skills, websites for soccer camps in the area and workout routines for women players. I'm hoping I can guide her to identify some key skills she could work on improving, setting some specific goals for improvement and getting her connected with some high school players. She can use her genius hour time to work on this project and develop her skills.

Another student wants to learn about the many beautiful places in the world and is interested in helping others. He also happens to be a soccer fan. I have included in his playlist some videos on charitable groups across the globe that involve students. One of these is called Charity Ball and was started by a 14 year old boy to raise money to purchase soccer balls for kids in developing countries. I'm hoping to tap into his interests from several different angles and get him involved in some service work.

It is still early in the project but most of the students are doing well in their online courses. Although I am not with them daily, I have invited them to join a Remind group and have set them up in a Google classroom to share information and communicate with them regularly. They go to the library daily to work online and do their genius hour research. The librarian touches base with them and is set up to monitor their online work and encourage and help them if they are having difficulty.

After conducting research, students will have to create something- a product, process or event and present it in some way to a broader audience. This can be in form of their choice and may include items such as a website, a Google Hangout on Air, an event, an audience of peers or a public display.

It is very important to me that the students successfully complete their online high school course. I think this will be a great self-esteem booster and will start them off on the right track for high school. Genius hour is a means to build a love of learning through relevant and authentic exploration and as a motivator to stay on pace with their online course. If this experiment works well, I'm hoping it can lead to more conversations with administrators on how blended learning could be a solution to other educational challenges.