Saturday, October 29, 2016

1:1 iPad Classroom Observations

Good morning colleagues!

This past week I was fortunate to visit three middle schools in the St. Vrain Valley School District. Almost the entire district has 1:1 devices (except for class sets in the elementary), encompassing 55 schools with about 32,000 students. All secondary students use iPad minis. I am lucky regardless as I have been a 1:1 iPad teacher for the last five years. The reason why I visited these schools is to see how the devices are utilized in an entire 1:1 school.

What I saw was eye-opening.

1. The district has their act together.  Because they are such a large community, they had to plan for the implementation well before they purchased or even decided what devices to use. The teachers had time to use the devices before they used them in the classroom. The teachers get training from instructional technology coordinators and learning technology coaches. There is a common language among the district, so while visiting three different schools, the teachers and students said very similar things. Posters across the schools were also similar. Most importantly, they have a shared vision. As we visited classrooms, it seemed like every teacher was on board with the vision. It made me realize that District 49 needs to find a cohesive vision that does not change every year. And as we continue to use 1:1 devices, we need to be transparent and get the community on board. I do not feel like there is enough communication about why there are iPad teams at Skyview and how learning with the iPads is supposed to be purposeful and meaningful for the students' current and future education and future occupations. 

2. The three schools were not any more advanced than my classroom. Most of the classrooms that we visited were simple substitution (on the SAMR model). I was disappointed that I did not see "more" - more student choice, more collaboration, more critical thinking. To be fair, we all have days where we have those typical, boring traditional lessons. But it was hard to see so many students listening to a teacher talk when they all have an iPad Mini in front of them. To be fair, I saw limited student disengagement which was exciting. And I think every student that we talked to was excited to have that device in front of them at all times.

3. There is inconsistency in every school. Some classrooms were better than others. At Trail Ridge Middle School, we saw two math classes that collaborate every day during Science class. It was fascinating as the two classes worked together to use both Math and Science concepts to create space shuttles for their space unit. Those students were so engaged that they did not even notice when we walked into the classroom. Then there were classes where the teacher lectured in the front of the room with the lesson on the front screen. The students were "grouped," but there was no discussion between them. There were some lost opportunities in a few rooms.

4. It's important for a student to explain what they know, but... there still has to be a point to what they are learning. I watched some students sit through classes that were not engaging, and when I asked them a question, they would dive into a spiel about their objective and what they were studying (but totally not answering my question). It felt like they had been coached and were not demonstrating learned knowledge and skills.

In the end, I was grateful to visit these classrooms and would love to do more observations in the future. I may also need to be a slight stalker and contact some of these teachers to potentially collaborate. There are exciting prospects on the horizon!

Some other things I pulled from observations:
 I loved this poster from a teacher's classroom. It's letting Ss and Ts know that phones are a part of students' world, and as a teacher, you respect that.

 I thought this was a great checklist handout. I know it's traditional and simple, but I think this would be beneficial for goal setting for the class AND staying on task throughout an extended project. I use checkpoints to keep Ss focused, but this would take it to another level.

 I loved at this 1:1 school that ALL posters in the hallway used QR codes. It's not anything groundbreaking, but it makes it clear to the Ss that the devices will be used. All QR codes let to Google Forms for the students to fill out. Many teachers also had #observeme posters, but they also included a QR code that let to a Google Form for an observer to lead feedback. Brilliant!

 In another classroom, the teacher had the students use post-it notes to put down goals for the day. It was simple but effective. The teacher kept asking the students about their goal and what they still had to do. The Ss had to reflect throughout class which was impressive.

 I loved that a teacher used risers to make one table a standing table. I've been reading about teachers getting rid of their teacher desk, and after seeing this, I think I am going to get rid of mine. My desk is literally full of crap that I rarely use, so why do I have it?! I have been looking at a table from Ikea that I could raise with bed risers. My plan is to use the table as both my teacher desk AND as a great place to converse with Ss. 

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

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Historical Wanderings

Hello, colleagues! I have returned from my East Coast trip and am still processing my vacation! I was lucky enough to have one of my sisters move to Eastern Pennsylvania. She is close to Philadelphia and Washington DC, two cities I have never visited. It is rather embarrassing to admit this as I am an American history teacher! Our district has a modified year-round schedule (nine weeks on, two weeks off), so we get a two-week break in the middle of October. It is the most fantastic break in the schedule! Flights tend to be relatively cheap, so my husband and I were able to fly directly to Philadelphia round trip for less than $300. Trust me; this is a steal.

We spent a day in Philadelphia, two days in Washington DC, and a day at Gettysburg. It was an amazing experience! I appreciated these places more as an adult because I could provide context for myself - I knew the magnitude of these places and felt honored to be there.

As I walked around, I asked myself (and talked about it out loud to my husband and family) if I could imagine bringing my students to PA and DC. One of my colleagues takes students to different locations around the world - taking them to the East Coast would be easier, right? It can't be that hard, right?!

While we toured, I saw many school groups out and about. The common thread through each set of students: they were loud and were running around like chickens with their heads cut off. The teacher in me (and my husband) wanted to yell at them for their disrespect. I also wanted to talk to their leader and ask what on earth they were doing. But as I thought about it, I wondered if I could do any better with my students. Could I get my students to care about these places? If so, how? What does it take to get students to connect to the past?

What stood out to me was:
1. The teacher had thirty or more students with them at any given time. Often, it was more than fifty.
2. The teacher had the students move at their individual pace
3. The teacher often stood to the side away from the students

I decided that if I took students out east, it would be a select group of students (preferably twenty or less). I would not attempt to take all kids because one person cannot adequately monitor nor connect with a large group of students. Secondly, I would not just watch my students; I would guide them through the exhibits and locations and would guide them with a purpose. I'm not sure I would give them a handout, but I would have tasks for them and activities that help them connect. Students relate to others through feelings and emotions, so they have to have some context to understand the magnitude of why they were there. Third, I would pick select locations based on what my students study in the classroom. For example, I would skip the Vietnam Memorial as we only study early American history. That is a memorial that the tour groups seemed to struggle with the most - they ran around, talked loudly, and Snapchatted while I watched a woman leave a gift for her deceased father while sobbing. There was no connection between those kids and what was happening around them.

In the end, I had a fantastic trip. I was able to see some incredible locations, learned some new things about history, and get some great photos. I am incredibly grateful for my journey out east. I am also thankful that I was able to see those tour groups so that I will think carefully about classroom field trips in the future.

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

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

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Saturday, October 8, 2016

Fall Foliage

Good morning colleagues! Fall break has just landed in my district and I have the next two weeks off of school. After ten weeks of school, my brain is pretty fried. With the week that I had, I am burned out of education right now. Instead, I am going to post some images of pretty fall foliage from here in Colorado. Enjoy :)

Thanks for viewing! Interested in purchasing my photography? Check out my store on Redbubble.

I'm out and about for the next two weeks, so my next blog will be in three weeks!

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The value of an A

Good morning colleagues! Yesterday was the end of first quarter, so as always, the students were scrambling to get their grades up by the end. "The scramble" is nothing new; I have seen it every year that I've taught. What WAS new this year was that 1) my overall grades were lower than previous years and 2) more students than before were asking in the last week how to get an A in my class.

"The scramble" led to a conversation with a colleague about grades. My colleague had most of these students last year, so I wondered how her grades were. Overall, her grades were similar. The difference was that she did not have our "honors" students last year. Currently, their first B is in my class, and now I'm feeling the pressure. Do I curve assignments to ensure that students have an A? Are my grading procedures too hard? Or are my students even working at an A-level? What IS the value of an A?

I am not entirely sure from where the pressure is coming. The administration team has not had a conversation with me about having too few As, but I am waiting for that conversation to happen. I have only had slight pressure from one parent, so we will see how that goes next week. Most of the pressure is coming from the students. In general, I do think that this pressure is unfair. My class is challenging because students have to think in a different way, the thinking is very gray instead of black and white (which is DOK level 1), and students do not get 100% for turning in an assignment. I am trying to off-set the "challenge" of my class by trying something different with grading. On large projects, I am not putting a final grade on the rubric. Instead, I am marking where they are on the proficiency scale. I then Screencastify myself giving them feedback. Once the students access my comments, they can redo the assignment. My goal is to get students to proficient (*hint* this is an A). I am also allowing students to revise, actually, any assignment except for flipped learning.

I noticed that this group of students has a "one and done" mentality. They do not want to redo an assignment because they think that they did it right the first time. Students are telling me that my rubrics are too open-ended; they want to know EXACTLY how to get an A. They want my rubrics to be entirely black and white because they have used these type of rubrics in the past. But when I watch my students redo an assignment, they will change one or two things, then expect that they will get an A. I am not sure if my students understand that they have to work for an A. An A means advanced; if a student is getting As (or 100%) on "gray" assignments, then that student should also be advanced on state and national assessments.

The student may not get an A right away, but that is why the revising process exists. It is not about needing extra credit. Instead, it is about finding where one went wrong, making a change, and improving their assignment AND their learning. There is a jump in learning from seventh to eighth grade as there SHOULD be. Every year should be more challenging than the previous. The student, will at first, struggle. If the student does not have to exert themselves, and already knows how to do everything, then I am doing the child a disservice. I am not doing my job. I am not getting them ready for the real world. The real world is not black and white. There are many shades of gray. I have to help them learn how to wade through the gray.

This whole grading dilemma might be my biggest call for standards-based grading in my district. Grades should have meaning. Students should be able to understand their education, and where they stand on the scale of objectives and standards. Students should not be playing the game of school points.

So how can I get my colleagues on board? Where do I go from here?

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

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website