Why Are We Learning This?

    I recently read an article entitled, The Surprising Thing Google Learned About Its Employees — and what it means for today’s students. This article discussed several soft skills that students need to possess. The soft skills mentioned in the article are those skills that helped employees succeed in the workplace.After reading this article, 1 idea stood out to me.  It was the idea of a soft skill for being able to make connections across complex ideas. This made me think of this common question from students, “Why are we learning this?”

    The soft skill of making connections across complex ideas I took to include across the curriculum as well. This idea made me think of a book I recently read entitled, “Dumbing Us Down,” by John Taylor Gatto. In the beginning of the book, Gatto mentions 7 lessons that any teacher ultimately teaches further driving a gap between learning and the student. One of these “lessons” was called Confusion.

     The lesson of confusion comes from the lack of logical sequence in teaching. Students go from one class to another with no real continuity. However, the outside world has natural sequences: learning to walk and learning to talk; light from sunrise to sunset; the ancient procedures of a farmer. These sequences make sense. This is not the case in school. There is a curriculum of disconnected facts that students understandably have trouble relating to. There is a lack of coherence within a school’s curriculum. Students go from one class to the next, mindlessly playing the game of school.       

    I would love to see more cross-curricular lessons being used in schools. I find this to be important to help create consistency throughout the day. I feel like students are hit with so much randomness through a 7 period day, it’s too much to take in. If you looked in any student’s locker, you would see a random mess of papers stuffed in binders. Google Drive is becoming the new unorganized locker. Look on any Drive and you will see docs, slides, drawings, and pictures, from 7 different classes, creating a digital mess.  With all the different topics students learn throughout the day, I’m amazed at how they can retain information.

    At the end of the day, I would like to see more consistency for student throughout the day. More cross-curricular lessons. I’m not saying it’s the answer, but it might help students make better connections. It might help students from feeling overwhelmed and asking the question, “Why are we learning this?”

Using Eduprotocols in Social Studies

Context for this blog post: I was responding to a conversation topic about Iteration during a book study.

Last year around this time I received the book, Eduprotocols, in the mail. At first glance, it wasn’t what I thought it would be. It looked like too much math and language arts “stuff”. But, I was going to give it a try…….the book even stated you can read it cover to cover or go to what you need and start tomorrow.

    While reading, Iron Chef caught my eye. It seemed simple enough – create a slide deck about a topic, provide links, let the students design and create.   So, in one night I put together an Iron Chef about Andrew Jackson and ready to use it for my 3rd period class.

    The next day, 3rd period rolled around and we discussed the show Iron Chef then we went through the rules of our Andrew jackson Iron Chef – 20 minutes to create a presentation, 10 minutes to plan a presentation, the rest of class we would present. I’ll never forget the looks on their faces – confused and annoyed. Aaaaand we were off……….

    I set the timer for 20 minutes. Did I mention confusion? Well, let’s add “rushed” to our list of negative words. The timer went off and half the students finished their slide. The other half, well…..didn’t finish. Did I mention they were annoyed and rushed? Now they would have to present.

    They had 10 minutes of prep time to put together a presentation to do in front of the class. Students hate presenting in front of their peers. I cringe when students present in front of their peers. This is exactly what happened when it was presentation time……hatred, annoyed, and cringeworthy. My first attempt at an Iron Chef was a huge failure. As a result, I put Eduprotocols aside and decided to revisit the book another day.

    Even though the Iron Chef was a failure, I knew in the back of mind there was something special about this lesson framework. I loved that students were creating and communicating their findings with others. How could I make this work?

    For starters, I could actually read the book from cover to cover. This is what I did during the summer. The more I read about Eduprotocols, the more it resonated with me. I. LOVE. EDUPROTOCOLS. This school year I made a goal to use them more often, as I was determined to get this Iron Chef thing right.

    The biggest takeaway from the book was using a fun, low key, light-hearted way to introduce each Eduprotocol. Students had to learn the process before using it to learn the content. Before doing an Iron Chef for real, I had students do an Iron Chef on a Big Mac from McDonalds. We compared a cat and dog with the Cybersandwich Eduprotocol. We “frayered” a friend with the Frayer model before actually using Frayer models in class. It’s these little moments that I discovered we need more often when introducing new things to students.

    Here is where iteration fits into this topic…………we do the same Eduprotocols week to week. Once a week, students complete an Iron Chef. Once a week, they complete a Cybersandwich. Once a week, they complete a Mini-Report. As they get better, we use these tools as a stepping stone create bigger and better things such as annotated maps, comics, our cereal box president project.

Voice and Choice

According to Spencer and Juliani in the book, Empower, students spend an average of 400 minutes a day in school. How are they spending all 400 minutes? I see my role in the classroom as a guider, NOT a controller. Students learn best when they have choice and voice and create their own pathways to learning and understanding.

The approach to my philosophies are through my experiences. I have sat in the desks of Room 303. I have sat through all day PD sessions, and it can be agonizing. This is why I feel choice begins with seating. If students want to sit at my desk, floor, my center table, etc…. this can help with creating a comfortable and trusting learning environment. (YES, we will have conversations about choosing seats wisely. YES, if their seat choices are not conducive to a productive learning environment, then I take over.)

One of the simplest words I can say to students as their teacher is, “Yes.” Students have wonderful ideas and and are waiting to unleash creativity. Often times, this creativity is held back by the teacher. Saying, “Yes,” builds an environment of trust, learning, and allows students to show what they know in multiple ways. Plus, I don’t want to grade 120 of the same product over and over again! Does all of this seem messy and chaotic? Sure! But, that’s the beauty of it all. Factory models and standardization do not create success in school. Choice creates learning and trust, and this should come first!

Doing Different with Technology

Most view me as the “tech guy.” I guess I understand why…….I use technology all the time. It’s rare to find me making copies. Often times though, I feel like I’m viewed as the tech guy for the wrong reasons.

I don’t use it because it’s cool. I don’t use it because others want me to. I don’t use it just so I can say, “Hey, look at me, I’m awesome with technology.” I use it for one simple reason: Doing Different. Doing different needs to happen for students and myself on a yearly basis…..for growth and learning purposes.

Teaching is different. Our world is different……..and we need to change with it. Outdated methods can take a hike. Don’t get me wrong, I throw in paper and pencil when it’s necessary (For example: collecting new information or offered as choice). But, each year I’m discovering more meaningful ways to use technology and getting students to use the 4C’s (creativity, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication).

Creativity

This year, I’ve had students make awesome projects with colored pencils, paper, Legos, Playdoh. Again, this was their choice and it worked for me and them. I give students lots of choice in creativity……I don’t want 60 of the same project. That’s a recipe for boredom.

My 2 favorite apps for creativity are: Adobe Spark and Buncee. Adobe Spark is great because students can make awesome infographics or professional looking videos. Plus, it’s easy to use!

I described Buncee as Flipgrid, Canva, and Google Slides smashed together. Students can show their creativity in so many ways with this app. This was a recent find late in the year, so I’m still exploring it’s potential. But, I can tell you this – it’s easy to use and students loved it.

Critical Thinking

Through Iron Chef, Cybersandwich, and Mini-Report Eduprotocols, students are researching and learning to evaluate sources and information. (Click Here to learn more about these Eduprotocols) They have freedom to collect information they find important for the topic of study and create their presentations.

I love these Eduprotocols because I have gotten away from worksheets, fact memorization, and me controlling the learning. Students process the information in their own ways, and decide for themselves what important enough to share with others.

Why did I decide to different with Eduprotocols this year? It’s a simple answer: School is not about out-remembering people anymore. It’s all about out-thinking, out-creating, and out-sharing each other.

Collaboration

My favorite tech tool for collaboration is Google Slides. I use this app with my weekly Iron Chef and Cybersandwich Eduprotocols. I started the year super, anti-Google Slides because it’s the default, easy go-to for projects. It drove me up a wall everytime a student turned in a boring presentation. Let’s be honest though, I was mad because I didn’t have good ideas for students to use Slides. However, Eduprotocols changed my mind, and gave me a reason to get students talking, creating, and sharing.

Communication

My favorite tech tools for students to share information with others…..

  1. Flipgrid this app pairs nicely with the Cybersandwich. After students research their topic, then compare and share with their partner, they share their findings through Flipgrid. It’s easy to use, fun to grade, and allows students to learn from each other.
  2. Screencastify this app goes nicely with the Iron Chef and plays nicely with Google. This is a great presentation option with the Iron Chef because I dislike the awkwardness of live presentations in front of the classroom. Plus, this screen recorded captures the presentation and can leave the students face off of the presentation (some students hate having their face in videos). When the recording is finish, it automatically saves in Google Drive. I have the students embed the videos on a Google Slidedeck, watch them, and give honest, constructive feedback.

I use technology to get students using the 4C’s. Of the 4C’s listed, the word cool is not one of them. Before stepping into the world of tech, ask yourself, “Why am I using this tool or app?” If you can’t think of a good reason, then don’t use it. If it seems overwhelming, start small and try one thing at a time. Afterall, we must do different – not only for ourselves, but for our students.

 

 

Days of Doubt

It was April of 2005 and we were playing our rival – The University of Indianapolis Greyhounds. I played tennis for Northern Kentucky University from 2001 through 2005. When I started in 2001, I was never the best player, but I worked hard, kept my mouth shut, listened, learned, and worked my way to scholarship and playing 5th singles. I played a lot of matches in my time, but I always think back to that ONE match in April of 2005.

In this particular match against the Greyhounds, I was playing 5th singles against a tough opponent. The match was a back and forth battle, and I lost a close first set 7-6 in a tiebreaker. I lost many first sets in my time, but I lost this particular set in the worst way possible………my opponent hit a second serve off of a 1/2 inch wide crack in the court. The ball bounced 2 courts over and I never had a chance to put it in play. It was a tough way to lose a first set, but I had to keep my head in the match.

At this point, I could stay mad and give up or keep fighting for my team. Keep fighting for something bigger than myself. I stayed positive, dug in, and kept fighting. That first set reminds me of school on certain days. Some days are awesome with great lessons, students are engaged (just like the great back and forth first set), but all it takes is 10 seconds to create doubt (losing the set with a 2nd serve bouncing off a 1/2 inch wide crack).

Today at school, I had one of those days of doubt. Doubt that I can teach. Doubt that teaching is the right choice for me. Doubt that I can make it the rest of the school year. This doubt creeps in when I worry about things I can’t control, when things get a bit a noisy. It’s times like this, I call on past memories to remind me of something greater.

I often think about this tennis match from April of 2005 when things get tough. Tennis has given me so many great memories and has been very good to me throughout my life. It’s this particular match that lifts me up and reminds me to keep fighting. This is exactly what I did. I forgot about the 1/2 wide crack and I battled. I refused to miss a shot. I was relentless. This match lasted so long that, the sun went down and the USTA official moved everything indoors. It was my match that clinched a 5-4 victory for the team. I put adversity and things I couldn’t control aside and I battled for my team.

As for my days of doubt with teaching, I often remind myself of past tennis matches. Just like I had 7 other teammates counting on me, I have 120 students counting on me everyday. I remind myself that teaching is about rolling up my sleeves and getting after it. There will be tough days and days of doubt, but keep fighting and just teach.

 

First Impressions Are Everything

Whether you’re meeting someone, going to an event, or beginning a new lesson, first impressions are everything. I’m writing this piece as a reflection of a comment I made on a podcast recording the other day. The comment I made related to taking some time to have some fun when introducing something new with students. Sometimes we get wrapped up in the day to day routine of school, introduce things to students, and don’t think about the first impression they have of a lesson, technology, or content.

Last year I read about the Iron Chef Eduprotocol and was on board and ready to go. I was together the slides for a lesson on Andrew Jackson, blasted out the slides through Google Classroom, and timed the students 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, we switched to presentations. ABSOLUTE. DISASTER. Why? Because this was something they never did before. Thinking about the process and content is enough to make anyone’s head explode……….then tack on a presentation……….look out!!! If I tried to do an Iron Chef again with those students, I would have a mutiny on my hands because they had a bad first impression.

Here is what I learned from that experience……use something light hearted and fun to introduce a lesson, technology, or content. Here are 2 examples of ways I introduced 2 lessons this year:

  1. I introduced presentations and presenting with the Worst Presentation Ever. It was a fun, lighthearted way for students to create presentations using Google Slides, give feedback, and learn how to present by doing it the wrong way. Here is a link to the post.
  2. I learned my lesson from last year’s Iron Chef. This year, I introduced the Iron Chef with a simple lesson on Thomas Paine. The reading I provided was organized, to the point, and below grade level. I was fine with this because I wanted the students to understand the process. In one class period, they collaborated, created a presentation, and communicated their results. Each time we did the Iron Chef thereafter, it got a little bit more in-depth.
  3. I just started doing 8-parts with my class. Students analyze a painting or photo and find nouns, verbs, ask questions, consider the audience, etc on a Google Drawing template. The students finalize their analysis by writing a paragraph using all 8-parts on the Drawing. The first we did this, however, we used a silly photograph of a girl drinking Sunny D off of a countertop. The students laughed, but learned the process of 8-parts. The second time we did 8-parts with a historical photo made it so much easier! Here is an example

At the end of the day, take some time to have some fun when introducing new lessons, technology, or content in class. It will create a fun, relaxed atmosphere and the students will most likely associate positivity with the lesson next time it’s used. Remember, first impressions are everything.

 

 

Why Traditional Tests?

4 days ago, as I was beginning to discuss a final project for our Constitution Unit, and a student said, “You don’t give tests. This class is awesome.” I replied with 3 words, “I hate tests.” In the moment, I wish I would have said more, but my heart took over as I muttered those 3 words. But 4 days has allowed me to use my head to craft a better response in this post…..Why do I hate tests?

I am known for having a good memory. However, my earliest memories are foggy or nonexistent. Any memory I can conjure up is connected to how it made me feel. The following memory I’m about to share created a negative feeling.

My junior year of high school, I took the ACT on a Saturday morning. I was at a local high school in a plain classroom, barren walls, and wooden desks arranged in rows. It was a struggle for me…….the words, the questions, the numbers……..everything was a struggle. It gave me this hopeless feeling. Time was up, I hopelessly handed in my test, and spent the next few weeks waiting.

The weeks seemed to drag on, and I knew it wouldn’t be good. Finally, my results arrived and I received a 15. I knew a 15 was awful, I felt awful. But what did this score even mean? I read the results and it said I would struggle getting into colleges. It said I would struggle with the content in college. This means one thing……..I had to take it again.

I went through the whole process of the ACT again. Saturday morning, plain room, my struggles….blah…..blah…..blah. Once again, I waited weeks and weeks and finally received my results. I got an 18. The interpretation was the same – I would struggle in college.

Due to these results, I had to take a remedial reading class at Northern Kentucky University (NKU). This class didn’t count towards a credit. This class put my credits out of balance and I had to attend an extra semester. Furthermore, these results weren’t good enough to get me into the College of Education. Why should a test be the only result that proves someone would struggle in college? Why should a test make or break someone’s career path?

Despite to my score predicting my collegiate struggles, I graduated with a 4.0 GPA. This GPA while also playing Division II tennis. Despite my score not being good enough for the College of Education, I took it a 3rd time and got the bare minimum of a 23 to get accepted.

Why do I hate tests? Because they prove nothing. People see you as a number instead of seeing your talents. Knowing big words doesn’t prove success. I remember my feeling of worthlessness and inferiority because of a number. I wouldn’t wish my those feelings from years ago on anyone.

Instead of tests, I like projects for students to show what they know. Projects have a human element to it allowing students to get creative. It’s great seeing the different ways students use the information to show what they know. Projects allow students to problem solve, collaborate, and use 21st century skills. It’s interesting to see how students interact with each other on projects. At the end of the day, I’m not out to be the cool teacher or the awesome class. I feel projects are a better way for students to use multiple intelligences, 21st century skills, and better represent what they know.