2 Tough Days and A lot of Questions

I thought teaching middle school was hard…….until I’ve spent the last 2 days with my daughters – Leni (3 years) and Teddy (5 months). When I’m at school I don’t always know what goes on at home which means I make up what I think should go on. As a result, when I get home and the house is in chaos, I’m disappointed. I refrain from comment, but it’s hard for me to hide my facial expressions. These last 2 days, I figured what exactly goes on day to day. The answer is…….you never know what in the hell will happen……….sometimes it’s a good day, sometimes a bad day.

Managing 7th and 8th graders is tough enough, but nothing compared to a 3 year old and a 5 month old. What’s going to keep Leni happy? What’s going to keep Teddy from crying? Will Teddy take a bottle and sleep for more than 20 minutes? Will we make it to ballet on time? Did I bring enough clothes and diapers with me? Do I need a bottle? I expect things to go as planned, but this isn’t one of those gigs. I think that’s what stresses me out – the unknown. Kudos to my wife for doing the day in and day out parenting. Our daughters are healthy, happy, and sweet as can be and she gets all the credit.

All of this had me thinking, however; sometimes we think we know what students go through. Partly, because we were students. Sometimes we assume and make up the things we expect of them. The truth is, we really don’t know what they go through. Maybe it’s tougher than we think.

What if we followed a student’s schedule for one day? Class to class – 50 minutes at a time. One subject after another…….most of which isn’t cross curricular. Learn. Forget. Learn. Forget. Learn. Forget. You get it. Would this exhaust our minds? Would we have a better understanding of what they go through? Would a full day seem easy to us?

I know I asked a lot of questions here. But, these questions I don’t have answers for. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the answers……….but for one day I would like to follow a students schedule to find out.

It Matters

As a teacher, I am easily asked hundreds of questions per day. Some about content. Some about life. Some that make me think. And, some that make me laugh. For example, the other day a student asked, “Why did you become a teacher Mr. Moler?” I responded with, “This might sound cheesy…” Then another student chimed in, “You can’t be cheesy, you’re a vegan.” The other day, a student asked me a question I have never been asked………

“Why do you share so much stuff on Twitter and Instagram?”

Usually I have an answer. This time I didn’t. So I stopped and I thought about it, and here is why I share so much stuff.

In the moment when students are creating and learning, it might not seem important or matter to them beyond a grade. However, learning should go viral and inspire others. I love sharing student work and “stuff” because it matters to me. Good, bad, indifferent…..it all matters to me. Plus, I know it matters to, and inspires, others. Stop and think about it…….how many times has New Richmond Middle School student work mattered and inspired others around the world? Countless times, and that’s pretty cool.

 

A Change

Three weeks ago I decided that Social Studies was not important. Instead, building community, listening, practicing empathy, and creating connections was more important. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, this has been a rough year for me with school changes, student behaviors, and consistency. The icing on the cake was a student saying, “I love this class, but I don’t know anyone.” That was said in December and I felt like a failure. The cherry on top was a group of students that walked in and asked me, “Mr. Moler who do you think won the fight?” I lost it. 

Rather than go negative, I thought back to June of 2019 and the best keynote speech I ever heard from Joe Sanfelippo. He preached, “30 seconds is all it takes to change culture.” The next day, I wrote my message up on the whiteboard, “It’s not the amount of time, it’s what you do with the time. In a 7 hour day, you have 840 thirty second chances to connect to someone and make a difference in their life.” I took a chance and we took 2 minutes to send an email or text to someone and thank them. It made a huge impact – some students were scared to push send and some began crying. But that was alleviated when they received a nice reply. HUGE IMPACT. After 3 weeks, we devote Thursdays for taking 30 seconds, but I have noticed many students doing this on their own during the week. 

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To help students get to know each other, I took a chance and implemented a Monte Syrie idea of Smiles and Frowns. At the beginning of class, I say each student’s name and they have an opportunity to tell me something that made them smile or frown in the last 24 hours. We do this EVERYDAY for 5 minutes. At first it was awkward, especially for 7th graders. However, more and more students are sharing. We have applauded successes, and gave pats on the back for failures. I’m seeing a community being built. Students are hearing each other’s names. We are getting to know each other. I wish I started this at the beginning of the year instead of 3 weeks ago. What happens in week 5? Week 10? Week 20? I haven’t a clue, but I’m seeing some great results now.

This Isn’t An Educational Post

This isn’t an educational post. It’s more of an eye opening experience brought on by fate. Four weeks ago I was sitting on the couch, stuffed from overeating, and heart beating rapidly. I’m 36. My heart shouldn’t be beating rapidly while sitting still. By chance, by fate I happened to select a documentary which would change my life.

Forks Over Knives was the documentary. I was thinking it was about an unsolved crime or murder in small town America. Oh boy was I off. The next thing I know, I’m captivated by data and factual evidence stating why we shouldn’t eat meat and dairy. Here is one of the pieces of evidence that caught my attention…..

 

Right then and there, I decided to go vegan and focus on plant based foods. The data, the clinical studies connected to me. The people in the documentary I could relate to with their blood pressure and acid reflux medication. I was tired of being 36 and feeling over 55. This was my chance to change.

Here are the changes that have occured in 4 weeks of a plant based foods diet:

  1. I have lost 12 lbs.
  2. My blood pressure is back to normal.
  3. I’m down to 1 acid reduction pill per day.
  4. I’m learning new ways to cook food.
  5. I’m learning how to spice food.
  6. I’m starting to internally feel better.

Is this an educational post? After typing this out, maybe it is more of an educational post than I originally thought. I’m learning new things about myself. I’m learning how to take care of myself. I’m learning new recipes and learning a new way of life. Overall, I just feel better and that’s important to me and my family.

Doing Different in Social Studies

As I reflect on my teaching, I feel most of what I do fall just left of engagement on the continuum. Maybe I’m being too hard on myself, but I usually am. However, this is tons better than where I started five years ago with Social Studies.

When I reflect back on my first 2 years in the classroom, it was based on compliance. Sit down. Here’s a worksheet. Here’s a webquest. Here’s a packet. Read Chapter 2 and answer these questions. Here’s a map. Let’s go over last night’s homework. When I reflect on these things, it kind of embarrasses me but I guess most of us have been there, done that. I was closer to compliance than engagement.

Now I am closer to engagement with sprinkles of empowerment. I’m not where I need to be, but the classroom culture I’m striving to create is so much different than it used to be. This school year, I have grown to appreciate having 5 different things taking place within  the 50 minute period. It’s typical to have 3 students just starting a hyperdoc, 5 students choosing to create with legos, 2 students choosing to write, and 4 students choosing to do a Flipgrid to show what they know. These are the days I see engagement through choice. These are the days that would have freaked me out 5 years ago, but now make me smile. 

The “sprinkles” of empowerment I have found this year come i the form of Wonder Projects.  I got this idea from John Spencer and used it at the beginning of the school year. I liked using it at the beginning of the year because students chose whatever they wonder about, researched, and create a way to share what they learned with others. It gave me a chance to learn more about the students and their interests. I began using this same format at the end of units. 

When we reached the end of a unit, I would ask the students what they wonder about the colonies, or the American Revolution. I would encourage them to think of something that interested them, or they wondered about, and explore it further. It was open ended, lasted a week, and we shared out. Was it perfect? No. But, it gave them a choice and a chance to learn more about a history related topic further. 

Here is an example of how we shared out along with project examples.

How the Heck Do I Use This? – 3D Printers in Social Studies

I’m currently wrapping up a 3 day workshop called Makers and Shakers at the Cincinnati Public Library. In short, this workshop involves the use of a makerspace in education. The Cincinnati Public Library has a great makerspace complete with button makers, 3D printers, recording studio, book publishing machine, UV printer, laser cutter, sewing machines, and a vinyl printer. If you’re like me, you might think, “How the heck do I use these objects in Social Studies?” One item that stood out to me due to its popularity was the 3D printer. Between this workshop, researching ideas, and discussion, I put together some ideas.

A common misconception about makerspaces, especially 3D printers, is they are only related to Science and Math. Boy was I wrong. To begin, I used the 3D printer because I have never seen one in action. I started simple and printed a blue outline of a tennis racquet.  Check out my time lapse video here. All it took was this one experience to get me thinking about the use of a 3D printer in Social Studies. Here is my list of ideas:

  1. research ideas leading to the American Revolution, design a game, use a 3D printer to design and create game pieces
  2. What needs to change with monuments? Research someone who needs a monument. Design, and print a monument for that person.
  3. Design your own coin, symbol, flag for a country,
  4. Who would you add to Mount Rushmore? Research a historical figure and use 3D printer to add that person’s face.
  5. Which invention changed lives the most for Americans? Research, design, and print that invention. Use flipgrid or writing to explain why you chose that invention.
  6. Class timeline – each student prints an object related to time period and arrange chronologically.
  7. Find a broken or destroyed artifact – design what you think it looked like before it broke.
  8. Design (fill in the blank) in the style of Greeks, Romans, Middle Ages, Renaissance, etc…
  9. 3D print 13 colonies so they fit together. – research and explain geography’s impact on the economy and people.
  10. How would you define an event, time period, or decade? Design and print a related artifact. Use flipgrid or writing to describe.
  11. Challenge the students to think of ways to use 3D printing.

What are some ways you can think of using a 3D printer in Social Studies? Use the comment section below to share your ideas…..

 

 

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?”