Reflecting on Blended Learning

Education

One of the many things teaching related that I’ve run across is the Middle School Matters website and podcast.  Being a middle school teacher it made sense for me to learn as much as I can about the middle school mindset as well as learn from others in the trenches.  As I was listening to their latest podcast (show 249), the guys brought up the idea that sometimes we are looking for the one classroom model to teach all students at all times.  They brought up that maybe the idea of blended learning (defined as using teacher driven learning, student driven learning, flipped classroom, etc. where it fits best in the curriculum) is what we need to look at an not focus on only one model.

I’ve always struggled with models of teaching because none seem to fit my classroom just right.  Currently, our school is really pushing PBL in the classroom, and I’m helping pilot some ROLE strategies in the classroom this year.  Others in our district are pushing the SEM model, flipped classrooms, or are emphasizing STEM.  It’s easy to see great teachers using a certain model and think to yourself “I need to try that”.  I think it’s folly though to change the bent of your classroom year after year just to find that the outcomes don’t quite work for you and try again with something different.  Maybe the greatest skill we as teachers can learn is how to use the strengths and weaknesses of all the different methods of teaching combined with intimate knowledge of each of our students to cater each unit to maximize learning and produce based on that knowledge.

If that’s the case, this still doesn’t give us any room to sit back and relax as a teacher.  It means we need to be actively looking for teaching models that we haven’t tried.  We should be scouring professional development opportunities and take advantage of our colleagues with varying backgrounds to expand your knowledge as a teacher.  We should constantly be innovating and learning.  We should take risks, just like we ask our students to take risks in class.  We should relish the chance to get new technology in our student’s hands even if it doesn’t go too well the first time.  The more we push ourselves as teachers, the more we are able to push our students in the classroom.

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First Sunday at Church

Family

Today was Caroline’s first day at church and there was one first during church, one first after church, and one interesting discussion that followed:

One First During Church:

We dropped Caroline off at Little Village, which is the children’s ministry at our church.  We put our parent pick-up sticker on her, left some instructions for the lovely ladies in the nursery, and made our way to church.  We sat with some friends of ours and the service started.  Haley was nervous since this was the first time we’d left our baby with the church nursery.  The service began and everything seemed fine, until five minutes later when the nursery paging service illuminated our parent code which meant we needed to check on our baby.  Haley left to go see what was going on and when she came back approximately 20 minutes later she told me that Caroline had been hysterically crying and had spit up all over one of the nursery workers.  She had gotten her to fall asleep in one of their baby rockers and we held our breaths until the end of the sermon, and then grabbed her and moseyed on our way.  Definitely not how we envisioned Caroline’s time in the nursery, but not the worst I’d ever heard either.

One First After Church:

We met with a girl we knew from church about the possibility of her moving into one of our guest rooms for the fall semester.  We presented what we thought was a great blessing for her, and she thought it would be great.  We’re hoping that this works out and that we can use the gift of our house to bless others.  We really wanted our house to be a ministry opportunity for our family and beyond.  If this doesn’t work out that’s completely ok, but it would be a great opportunity for us and her.  We’ve tried to think through all the possible downfalls of this and really be intentional about making sure we’re above reproach.  The major hurdle was the possibility that Haley were to go out of town.  The solution we came up with was for me to go to my parent’s house for the evenings Haley is out of town just to make sure there is no way for anyone to call anything into question.  Hopefully this won’t be the only time we can use the house God blessed us with as a ministry opportunity.

An Interesting Discussion:

The sermon at church was talking about the local church body and how they are being very intentional about the ways they are encouraging our discipleship.  They laid out their plan for every level of church, from children to adults.  While most of the age ranges made sense, the issue of youth ministry at our church left Haley and I with a big discussion.  Haley grew up with a strong youth group that allowed her to forge lifelong relationships with her friends at school as well as provided adults that consistently loved and discipled her.  Our church’s stance is that they don’t use a “program-driven” youth ministry, and they outlined why that is.  While Haley and I both understand their point-of-view on the topic, we don’t necessarily agree.  Our stance for now is going to be to see how the youth ministry morphs over the next few years and make a decision about youth ministry when Caroline is closer to that age.  Haley and I both agree that we love their children’s program as well as the theology of the church, but we want to have other adults than just ourselves pouring wisdom and the gospel into their lives as they grow up.  It was a great discussion for the two of us and one that we will have to revisit later.

Don’t Get Stagnant

Education

When I was in little league, my coaches used to tell me that if you’re not getting better you’re getting worse.  I never really understood that growing up, but now that I’m on the wrong side of my sporting career it makes sense.  I try to remember that during the summer where it’s really easy to fall back into what we’ve always done before.

Luckily my principal has either intentionally or randomly chosen to change the course I’ll be teaching almost every year I’ve been teaching which keeps me on my toes.  It’s helpful, but as I’ve reflected on the beginning of the school year, I realize that they have always gone well but I’m beginning to wonder if I could do more or do things differently.  I want to front load the first week of school with information gathering about my students to help me in meeting their needs throughout the school year.

The first weeks of school for my school is relationship building and introducing the students to our school.  We have a project based learning initiative at our campus, so last year I put together a PBL for our 6th graders to introduce them to the process we go through for project based learning as a school.  We found in it’s first year last year that it helped the new 6th graders better understand project based learning and the expectations their teachers had for them.  It also helped the kids learn more about the school and our policies up front so they all knew what basic policies (library, technology, late work, etc.) were in the beginning which meant we didn’t need to cover them in our classes individually.  The 6th grade team though it went really well and with a few tweeks it will be done again this school year.  I’ll put up a post in the next few days where I outline this grade-wide project.

While refining the school-wide project, I want to do a better job of understanding all my students from the beginning.  I did some reading on My Beginning of the Year Student Questionnaire by Pernille Ripp and her other post on Parent Questionnaires I decided that I could easily collect a lot of information very easily.  I’m also going to try Curriculum Compacting with at least one student this year, so knowing more about each child’s interests will help me to create projects and products that they find interesting and engaging.

The other big change in my classroom is that I’ve been asked to be in a pilot group of teachers employing Results Only Learning Environment in my classroom as well as Standards Based Grading.  I’m really excited about the change in grading especially.  I know it will be a lot of work in the beginning especially while I’m getting used to it, but I realize that it’s better for my kids.  I need to reread parts of the book to make sure I’m on the same page with the rest of the people who are piloting this concept.

I’m trying to be intentional about changing up my routines as I go through my career teaching so that I don’t turn into a formulaic teacher.  That being said, I want to make sure I’m doing things that have real meaning and purpose for my classroom.  I don’t want to push the envelope just for the sake of pushing the envelope, I want to make sure that it adds to my classroom or is research based.  What are you doing to change your teaching this school year?  Are you getting better or getting worse?

Is Compacting the Answer?

Education

There are a number of things that the average classroom teacher must deal with regardless of location and circumstance.  We have our state or national government telling us what students in our class must master to graduate, we have mandates from our districts for what is going on in our classroom, and we have (for the most part) increased student populations creating and overwhelming amount of children per classroom.  With the vast number of things that are increasing the pressure on teachers as well as trying to work with struggling kids, providing for children with learning disabilities, and entertain students in ways we never thought we would have to how to we find time for everything?  Is it possible that compacting curriculum could ease the pressure on the classroom teacher by allowing the gifted learners the opportunity to achieve higher while allowing the struggling learner the opportunity to have more time and attention from the teacher?

Compacting

Compacting is the idea that we pretest the students in our classrooms before each unit to see what they know and do not know about the upcoming material.  If a student struggles with the material (as most should since you haven’t taught this yet) they move at the same pace you would normally teach.  If a student can show aptitude that meets your definition of mastery you would compact their curriculum.  All this means is that the student would not need to be retaught all the things they already know, but would be given an individual enrichment project based on their individual interests that they would work on while the rest of the class learns the material they have already mastered.  If a child masters certain topics but not others you would have them work on their project only during the concepts they have not yet mastered.

I can almost hear complaints from where I sit typing this out right now.  This seems like a logistical nightmare.  Kids wandering everywhere doing something or another while you are trying to hold class for the kids that need to learn.  The bottom line is that there will not be a significant amount of children being compacted at a given time.  If more than a handful of kids have mastered concepts you are about to teach them, you might think about upping the rigor of your class rather than compact them all.  Some classes may have a few kids while some may have zero children being compacted.  If a child who has had their curriculum compacted decides to distract the class instead of working on their individual project, they can come on back and work on the stuff they have already mastered for the day.  You can then talk with them about the choice they made and they can decide to choose to work on a project that works them in a way that will not distract the class or they can be bored out of their minds while they relearn old material.

Putting it into practice

I’ll be honest when I say that I have not tried this out in my classroom…yet.  I’m going to try it out with one student this upcoming school year and really try and keep great records on how things go.  I want to prove to myself that this can work and that it’s what’s best for the students in my classroom.  I’m excited by the opportunity and I’ll try and report back on what is going on with the lucky child.

East Texas BBQ

Family

Stanleys

My wife is from east Texas.  She grew up in Longview, TX but her parents now live in Tyler, TX (seems spooky that she married a Tyler) so we visit from time to time.  On consistent time we see them is on the 4th of July to celebrate Independence Day.  We spent a bit more time in Tyler than we usually do, which gave me the opportunity to sample some of east Texas’ finest BBQ (according to Texas Monthly’s list).

Having sampled the best BBQ in my area fairly recently, I was excited to sample something fairly close to it.  When I asked Haley’s father (who has competed in BBQ competitions before) where he would go for great food, he never really mentioned Stanley’s as being at the top of the list.  My wife, baby and I went to Stanley’s on a Friday during lunch and initially were worried because the parking was very spotty.  We found some parking behind the main dining area and walked down the metal steps to the bar and live music stage.  No one was playing this particular Friday morning, but we both decided it would be a great place to watch live music…without a baby in tow.  My wife saved a table for our group that had a great view of Beckham St. and I went into the smallish indoor seating area to order.  My wife got a sliced brisket sandwich while I chose the two meat plate with sliced brisket and turkey.  Most traditional BBQ people will go with ribs and brisket, but I love the flavor of great smoked turkey and if it’s done right is fantastic.  One thing I noticed about the menu was they gave you a guide to ordering brisket, prompting you to tell the person taking your order if you’d like fatty or more bark.  I didn’t specify to see what they would give me.  The wait for food wasn’t bad even though we showed up in the middle of a minor lunch rush.  The portions could have been a little bigger, although if I wanted a ton of food I could have ordered the meat of my choice by the pound.  My wife’s sandwich seemed to be very lean brisket, which she enjoyed, while my brisket came with a great bark and smoke ring.  There wasn’t a ton of fat on the brisket, but there was plenty for the portion I was given.  It tasted wonderful and I consumed it without any of the sauce that was placed on our outdoor table.  The turkey was smokey and peppery, exactly how I like a smoked turkey.  The side items that came with my plate were pretty good, but I wasn’t there for beans and cole slaw.  The friends we were there with sampled some ribs as well as brisket and their opinion was that the pork ribs weren’t as meaty as they could have been, but maybe they were from the end of the rack.

All things considered, we really enjoyed our trip to Stanley’s and will definitely be back in future trips to Tyler, TX.  I would love to go check out some live music on their outdoor patio or see what their breakfast menu looks like.  Next time I’m going to branch out and try out some different things to see the scope of their products.

Sleepy Time

Family

This past week our family entered a brand new phase.  Since May 1, Haley (and sometimes I) haven’t been able to sleep in longer than four hour increments.  We went on our annual trip to Lake Tyler for Independence Day and something magical happened.  Without us needing to have her stay in bed crying or do some weird sleeping night feed, Caroline decided it was time for her to sleep through the night.  Four days in a row Caroline has slept in her own crib from approximately 10 PM until 6 AM the following day.  Haley couldn’t be happier and I couldn’t be prouder of my baby girl.  Hopefully she keeps up her awesome work at the game of life!

Coaching Change

Education, Family

This week is one of the biggest in my career as a teacher.  It might be on par with my appointment to department head of the history department at my school and the day I was hired in my district (which was tougher since I was alternatively certified).  This week I officially signed paperwork that says I will teach from now on, but not coach.  It’s a bittersweet ending, but one that is the best for me and my newly formed family.

I have coached since the day I entered the classroom.  To be honest, coaching was really something I wanted to try as well as a way to get my foot in the door with a district.  When I was single, I thought I could coach for the rest of my career.  Sure there were long nights and early mornings, but what else did I have to do?  As I began to progress through engagement and into marriage time became more precious.  Suddenly there were more forces at work pulling me all over the place.  I wanted to do everything, but I was severely limited due to my coaching responsibilities.  My wife and I began talking about what a family would look like and our desires for how it would operate.  We didn’t agree on everything, but we did agree that coaching and family life don’t go together in our household.  We decided that when we began our family it was time to begin looking for the ability to teach but not coach.  I lucked out this year because some situations happened that opened up a full time history teaching position for me to take.  Part of my brain thought I would have to leave my district and search for a position that didn’t require me to coach, but luckily that didn’t happen.

I’m really happy to be able to commit to more family events this upcoming school year.  I’m excited to be able to take off a Monday, Tuesday, or Friday during the football season without being deathly ill.  I’m really excited to be a true department head for the history team.  I’m sad to not be around the awesome group of coaches at my school as much, but I’m excited to begin the rest of my teaching career.