Saturday, September 17, 2016

A week with DBQs

Greetings colleagues! This week in my classroom we worked on the Jamestown DBQ. For those of you that may not know, a DBQ is a document-based question. Five years ago, I was trained by the DBQ Project. Ever since then, I have been in love with DBQs. DBQs are very beneficial for students: they are analyzing primary and secondary sources, they look at one's point of view, they create inferences, and importantly (for me) the materials are all pre-made! I have seen success with students using DBQ materials and will use them in any classroom that I ever have.

As I have said in previous posts, my current students do not have the same drive or work ethic that I have seen in past years. I knew that how I have used DBQs in the past would not quite work. The staff was trained in Kagan strategies a couple of weeks ago, so I thought I would attempt some of their strategies with the DBQ materials. 

Numbered Heads Together: The students picked a number (1-4) in their groups. They answered their questions individually, then presented their response to the group. They had to explain where they got the answer, and everyone had to agree before they wrote down the answer. Was this successful? The students liked this one the "best," but I think that's because it was the easiest. The students tried to use this strategy every time we answered questions. I didn't care for this approach as much because the students did not put in much effort. It did, however, hold the students accountable for answering at least one question. Every student was engaged in the task, but it was compliance more than engagement.

Team Stand 'n Share: The students picked a number (1-4) in their groups. They answered their questions individually, then met with other students in the class with the same number. They shared out their answer and made sure that they all agreed. One student (whose birthday was closest to that day) shared out to the class. Was this successful? I liked this strategy better than numbered heads together because the students had to share out and ensure they had the right answer. The students had the right answers across the board. Knowing the students had the right answer was a nice change of pace. Again, every student was engaged in the task, but it was compliance more than engagement.

Find the Truth: This was my take on find the fiction. I created a multiple choice quiz on Schoology with possible answers to the question. They had to figure out which one was the right answer and write the answer down. Was this successful? The students also liked this strategy because it provided them with multiple choice answers (SHOCKING!). I liked this method for the document that they were analyzing because it was number heavy/math heavy. There were trick answers built in so it required them to do their math right to get the right answer. I had only one student put the answers into the quiz (the other students had a different task). This strategy led to many discussions with some groups, but in other groups, the quiz taker ended up just taking the quiz on his/her own. The quiz taker was chosen by random, so that was a little frustrating. We just need to keep doing these procedures, and I need to make sure my directions are clear.

Quiz-Quiz-Trade: I created cards with questions and answers from the DBQ materials. Students found a partner, they quizzed each other, traded cards, then found a new partner. I had them repeat five times. Was this successful? I wish all of my classes weren't over thirty! I have two classes over 35, and this strategy was not very successful. They clustered in one spot, and most of the groups did not follow the task at hand (they talked about whatever they wanted). I almost feel like I needed to have dots on the floor where they had to stand (or needed a larger area to work). In my classes of 21-22, the strategy worked fine. The students were spread out and were on task. I did like the strategy as it was a valuable review of the information. The students were outlining their essay, so I was hoping a reminder of the information would be helpful as they worked, plus they got up and out of their seats after working for thirty minutes.

I think the Kagan strategies were a good start, but I still saw some aggravating student behavior that I hadn't seen before. I saw some students completely check out. They were excellent at pretending to work but then waited until we went over the answers as a class and wrote their answers down. It was evident to me that the students have to be held accountable for every question. While talking with a colleague she mentioned uploading the DBQ materials to Actively Learn. This is an intriguing idea that I will pursue on the next DBQ. Now, let's just see how the final essays turn out!

Thanks for reading! I'll be out of town next weekend, so I'll see you two weeks :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website
Donate a Google Cardboard to my classroom!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Reflections on Unit 1

Greetings colleagues!

I am starting off this morning a little rough as I received bad news last night. A few years ago, I joined a class called Teaching American History (sponsored by a federal grant for history teachers). It met once a month on Tuesday nights. The classes were long and sometimes stressful as I always had school work to do. But, in the end, I met some amazing teachers from throughout the city who have become lifelong colleagues and friends. TAH classes were led by Bill Virden, a former history professor from up north. Bill believed in me as a teacher, which very few people had prior. Bill saw my potential and helped nurture that potential through his classes. The best professional development that I have ever received was through TAH sessions. We have not had class in three (!) years now, and I miss these people all of the time. I last saw Bill this summer, and we had a fantastic chat. But last night, I got a text message telling me he passed away. I am forever grateful, and I will miss Bill.

But on to the rest of my blog post, reflections about my first unit: pre-colonization. I just finished unit 1 on Thursday and felt like I needed to reflect on how the unit worked. To start, I look at what my original plan was. Over the summer, I went to ISTE and GAFE (here in the Springs). I was inspired to give students a choice, use flexible seating in my classroom, and utilize the QFT Process. My first unit was pre-colonization, so I picked two QFocuses: 1) American Indians changed the history of the United States and 2) The Age of Exploration changed the history of the United States. Students would follow the QFT Process and create questions about those two QFocuses. The students would then find their investigation engaging and interesting, and would be inspired to research (though during separate weeks of each other). By examining their questions, they would find interest in the topic and would be engrossed in my classroom. That would lead them to create a "demonstration of learning" using an application on their iPad. 

What went wrong? Because I tried something new, I failed to see how horribly this would all go wrong. My usual teacher foresight was missing :( I have different students than last year, and I knew my students would be unlike last year's students, but I did not realize what a difference that would be. My students did not engage with the content, and I think it was due to non-interesting QFocuses and my flexible seating. My students also lack strong work ethic which we were told, now, by many former teachers, counselors, and administrators. My teaching style is also different than most previous classes which led to confusion and frustration. 

Even though I feel like that unit went horribly, horribly wrong, there was a silver lining. I got to my students at their almost worst. I saw what happened when they got frustrated, and I got to see, though it wasn't fun at all, how terribly they could treat me when they felt discouraged and defeated. It was pretty dreadful for all of us. 

What changes did I make? As the unit went on, I realized I needed more support for my students. I needed clearer transparency in my directions. I also needed to simplify my procedures and structures. I had the students answer two QFocuses separately, so I was able to make some changes from first to second QFocus. I made more handouts with clearer direction. I also forced them to use the same application on the second demonstration of learning instead of letting them pick their iPad app. After going to Day 1 Kagan training, I also realized that I could let my students pick their type of seat, but they did not yet have the maturity to choose the location. I put them into Kagan learning groups which separated many a friend. Grouping helped with my classroom management issue. 

What will I do differently with this unit next year? I will not let students sit where they want, and will put the students into groups. I liked how I did the second QFocus better than the first so that I would use the same structure and procedures with both QFocuses. I will find research online for my students to start, to give them an idea of what type of research they would be doing. I will create guided notes for my SPED students, as they struggled with open-ended research. I would also find activities to add into my daily lessons instead of giving them so much free research time. My issue was that my last year's students could handle open-ended research whereas this group of students cannot.

What will I do differently on this next unit? Again, I will not utilize as much flexible research and will try to provide more research links ahead of time. I will add controlled daily activities to break up free research time. In this unit, students are going to create group projects, so that may help some of my lower students as well. I am happy with my Kagan groupings, so I will keep them for this unit also.

What I am struggling with is that how I am transitioning into teaching my students this year is against everything that I learned this summer and wanted to incorporate into my classroom. There is no easy answer, and I have to do what is best for my students. But I know how they need to learn, and they are currently rebelling against it. I just have to scaffold in these "new" ideas slowly instead of creating such a different and rapid transition from their prior learning.  Here's hoping that it works.

Thanks for reading! I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website
Donate a Google Cardboard to my classroom!

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Changing your Mindset

Last weekend I was scrolling Twitter when I came across a post from Alice Keeler.
One thing that Alice mentions is not jumping into the deep end (which I am known to do with disastrous results). Within that post, she also talks about changing mindset, which reminded me of a question I get often at Skyview:
How do you know all of this?
The teachers that ask me this question do not realize how much I love and am invested in tech. This started at an early age. Like many people my age, Apple IIe computers were installed in schools. My small, tiny elementary school had a full lab of computers, and we all LOVED computer time. I still have fond memories of The Oregon Trail, but even more love for the Munchers series. I also enjoyed Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego (although I was terrible at it). As I got older, and the computers changed, I still enjoyed using them, and to be honest, in weird ways. At home, we didn't have the Internet, but I would practice typing on computers and designing banners using old software. Eventually, in high school, we got a new computer and installed AOL. I think computers became an addiction at an early age! I've just always loved being on computers and always wanted to know more about them and work with them. At Luther, which had quite a progressive educational department, I learned how to use computers in my curriculum. It instilled in me to take risks, try new things, and to stay current with my students and the world.

So this brings me back to the original question, "How do you know all of this?" It's just that I'm always on or around a computer, and if I don't know something, I look it up and figure it out. Tech is just my thing. I never had to change my technology mindset. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by technology from an early age, I like technology, and I was taught to be a risk-taker teacher in college. But I have had to overcome some roadblocks along the way, and realized while justifying to others about why I wouldn't change that these roadblocks were ridiculous and I just needed to change my mind.

So how do we get other teachers to change their mindset? What advice do I have? There are a lot of websites, blogs, and posts about changing one's mindset, but I thought these six steps (from Myrkothum) provided the best advice. So here is what I have to say about these six steps:

Where do I get information for best practices and 21st century skills? Twitter and blogs. I have been on my professional Twitter for two years now, and it has been the best place to get best information. I only follow people that are like-minded and are using Twitter professionally. This keeps my Twitter feed clear and ensures that I am seeing the information that I want to see. Once I started blogging, I use Twitter to find blogs of like-minded people. Just recently, Mari, a teacher in California (@MsVenturino) started a #sunchatblogger Twitter group, so I am even more focused on getting the best information!
Once I followed people on Twitter and blogs to get the best information, I have started "copying" (really role modeling) them. I am taking what they say to heart because I know that they believe that they are using best practices for children. Are they getting results? Yes. So that means I should be using their methods in my classroom.
I had to do that this summer. I kept hearing over and over, "Why aren't you giving students choice?" I had to look at what was stopping me, and when I was able to get over that hurdle, I stopped questioning it. As someone who has always been a bit different in the classroom, it made no sense for me to be hitting these hurdles. I had to examine my current beliefs! (And had to change my mindset!)
We have to do this yearly with our evaluation. This year I really took my evaluation to heart as I wanted to focus more on reflection with my students (and myself). That's when I finally decided to write a blog to be more reflective, and to really think about education and my classroom. That then ties into the next piece... 
I have felt stifled at Skyview for awhile, which I have not kept a secret. That is why I created a professional Twitter, and realized that there are like-minded people around the world! I could say how I felt about education and what I was thinking about a classroom topic... and people agreed with me! Now I am blogging which is still scary to me. But people are reading my blog each week (I see an uptick every Saturday - people are waiting for my next blog post!!!) and they are either interested in what I am thinking or like what I have to say. That is scary and new for someone whose voice was never cared for in the place that she worked. 
Haters gonna hate. That's just how it is. Do what you think is best for your students. If it works, others will follow. That's when your mindset becomes the culture.
Thanks for reading! I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website
Donate a Google Cardboard to my classroom!