One thing I’ve wanted to work on for the past couple of years is my ability to lead people who don’t think like me. It’s really easy to modify people who are on the same page with your, but pushing people to try new things and do things differently has always been a struggle for me. This week I took a new tactic with my department, and that is requiring change in small baby steps.
My department falls short in its adoption of technology of any kind. We have half of the department that does a very good job with technology and innovating in the class room, but we have another half that isn’t as innovative as our principal or our district is wanting out of us. In the past I would have allowed our campus technology person to present some technology and ask for people to try it out. This would lead to the tech-savvy people trying it out and reporting back to the group how it went, while the non-savvy people would get the pass on having to try something new. I want for everyone to get a taste of trying something with the possibility of failing, so I tried a new tactic.
This week I gave them a goal to be on Twitter for fifteen minutes over the course of the next two weeks (since we have Thanksgiving break next week. I based my number on an article I read extolling the virtues of Twitter as professional development and figured I would give my department a little more time than the article says. We each took a different educational hashtag to put into either Twubs or Tagboard and look for interesting articles. When we get back to school after the break, we’ll share our findings from Twitter and I’ll talk about using it consistently to innovate as an educator.
When my principal came to me at the end of the year last year telling me about the ROLE classroom and how she would like me to attempt it (with some other teachers) one of the things that made me leery was the idea of students assessing their learning for the grading period and giving themselves a grade with my assistance. I have now gone through this process with all the students in my class for the second grading period and I think that I have come to some decent conclusions.
First I think that students are more honest with you than you would think. My first grading period I was shocked at how many students were well thought out in their evaluation of themselves without much guidance in how to do so from me. Unfortunately for my students, since it was also my first time through the process I was still learning how to coach them up. This second marking period I added a Google Form for them to fill out beforehand that allowed them to process how they did this grading period and set some ideas of what their goals for the upcoming weeks will be and what their grade should be. The kids did even better with some prompting than they did when we began for the first time. I would say that 90% of my kids had a grade that I would have given them myself. The other 10% took a little bit of conversation to help them understand why their grade was either too high or too low. In the end, I reminded them that the grade is not important to me at all, I just want them to have an accurate representation of their growth this grading period.
Be careful with your prompting of children. I found that my kids had many of the same goals and usually they had to do with any prompting that I gave them to help them think through their growth. We finished a PBL late in the grading period and with that came a ton of different ways that my students could grow themselves for next time. When I reminded them to think through this on their Google Form, they all gravitated to one of a few basic skills for their goals. My hope was for them was to use my suggestions as a way to brainstorm specific skills each student needed to work on, but what I got was the path of least resistance.
The only other thing that I’m noticing with this process is that it takes time. For my classes, it’s taken me between two and three full class periods (of 50 minutes) to get a grade for every student. I have been asked a few times if I thought this was worth it, and I can legitimately say that I think this classroom experience is growing my students in ways that I could not have even planned. It was not evident in the first few weeks of trying, but the further in the school year we go the more convinced I am that this way of teaching is revolutionizing my classroom. I’m excited by where my classroom is heading and look forward to see where it is going to head in the future.
This last week was the first round of presentations for my classes. I go into this first round every year hoping that the kids will come into middle school with and innate ability to present information that they have learned. I show them previous presentations that have wowed me and point them to some of our eighth graders to help them with their technique. Without fail, there are always a few groups here and there that do an unexpectedly good job presenting for whatever reason, but realistically no group of students is any better than the rest at presenting.
It frustrates me too because our eighth graders are so good at presenting by the time they leave. I can’t help but wonder if the teachers are doing something in different ways that I’m not or if it truly is more about the age of the children. I don’t want to believe that 6th graders cannot physically or mentally handle presenting and just need practice, but the more I have students present the more I think that’s the case. If anyone out there has any suggestions please let me know you’re experiences because I almost feel like I’m getting down on myself.
I’m not too sure why I have always shied away from Minecraft as a teacher. Maybe it’s because anything that students want to play instead of doing school related things is difficult for a beginning teacher. Maybe it’s because our district hasn’t put it on every computer and iPad, unlike other games of this ilk. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been a bit stubborn and needed to change my attitude about something my students love to work with. Any way you look at it, my attitude changed this week and I decided to step out and give Minecraft a chance.
In my Texas History class we’re talking about the Texas Revolution and I want my kids to understand the battles, understand the momentum swings throughout the course of the revolution, and put themselves in the shoes of the Texas freedom fighters. With that in mind, I was putting together a project for our revolution unit I decided to try two different ideas that seem to be big hits with my students so far:
- Create a reenactment of two battles of the Texas Revolution using Minecraft. For each battle include at least two recommendations for the Texas army that would have aided their campaign.
- Create an audio recording of yourselves doing a play-by play commentary of one of the battles of the Texas Revolution. Be sure to describe major events, momentum swings, and who ultimately won the battle.
I wanted my students to be creative in their projects, but what I found is that the students are getting wildly creative with these two options specifically (there was one more) and have actively asked to get more time to work on these rather than doing other things. All free time this week was spent with kids working on these projects instead of leisurely activity. The kids really want to do well on these two because I think I tapped into some deep passions of my students without necessarily planning it that way.
I’m finding that my Minecraft kids are happy because they have a deep passion for Minecraft. They were going to be playing it anyway, so why not give them an educational reason to play it? On top of the engineering related reasons for them to play, now they can get another view of important battles in history using it. I’m also finding that my athletes are really pumped about the play-by-play option. Most of them watch sports religiously and are keenly aware of good and bad sports announcing. I tapped into this passion with this project and the kids have already decided in their groups who is going to by the “play-by-play guy” and who was going to be the “color guy”. The passion I’m getting for both is making me very excited to see the end results here in a couple of weeks.