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Can I PLEASE do my homework?

Recently, Ms. Proch and I took two huge steps: we flipped our Pre-AP ELA 9 classes and we also implemented Outcomes-Based Grading (Standards-Based Grading for my American readers). Needless to say, we’re really excited, but I’m also a little bit hesitant/nervous/anxious/terrified. I’ve done both before, but not in an English class. Math made some much more sense to me when it came to exactly what my class time versus homework was going to look like, but English is a whole new kettle of fish.

Today is the first day where I noticed a huge difference in what my class is like. I assigned some prep-work (the work my class will do the night before a class) last night for my students to do. (You can check out my class website for the resources mentioned.) Their job was to watch a short video on Shakespearean Insults and to do a little reading about how to paraphrase when reading Shakespeare. Today in class, we took our knowledge about how to read Shakespeare and applied it to how to write like Shakespeare. They were tasked to act as a “secret admirer” to another student in my class and write them a kind letter. In theme with Valentine’s Day this week, this letter could be romantic (not required) or platonic, whichever the students were comfortable writing, so that I can pass them out anonymously on Friday for a little Valentine’s pick-me-up (some of them were super sweet–I almost cried reading how kind-hearted my students are).

Here’s where my students were struggling with the flipped concept: they were working, but not very hard. I reminded them that the assignment was to be completed by the end of class. They had more than sufficient time to complete this work if they were working diligently, but many of them were not. As the deadline drew nearer–fifteen minutes left, ten minutes left, five minutes left–the students began to panic more. Several students put up their hand at the five minute marker, and asked if they could take this home for homework.

Normally, I would be OVER THE MOON if a student willingly volunteered to take work home so they could complete it and “do a better job,” but I’m in the process of retraining their thinking on how class works. I said no, and they were dismayed. I took time to have a “teachable moment” and explain that they need to be maximizing their class time or we aren’t going to accomplish anything all semester. I’m lucky to have a spectacularly motivated crew, so they were on board with actually being productive. I am also fortunate that I get to keep my class all afternoon, so we dipped into some of fifth period to get the letters done to their satisfaction.

All in all, this was a great learning experience for me: I need to be grateful for my very eager students, I need to be more diligent with managing class time, and I need to reinforce the difference between prep work and class work (and the absence of homework).

My question to you, as readers, is what strategies do you use to help your students to transition their learning habits from a traditional classroom to a flipped classroom? 

Raising the Bar

My Christian Ethics 10 class started a project last Monday exploring the Church’s opinion on a variety of moral issues, ranging from gun control to abortion to gay marriage to cannibalism. The students chose their own topics and their partners. For the most part, I simply explained the project to them, gave them a week to work in a computer lab and hoped for the best. Really and truly, I pretty much let them have free reign so long as they (1) defined their topic, (2) gave relevant information, and (3) explained the Church’s opinion by making direct references to specific teachings (ex. Ten Commandments, Consistent Ethic of Life, etc.).

They worked pretty diligently, asking a few questions here and there, for the whole week. Most students spent a little bit of time over the weekend putting on the finishing touches, but for the most part, they had plenty of class time to complete their work. They were tasked with creating a presentation in some form–a slide show, a video, whatever they thought would get the message across–and a handout for their classmates. Many chose a PowerPoint presentation, since they are comfortable working in that medium. Many chose other mediums, such as videos, simulations, prezis, and the like. It was really remarkable to see their projects coming together so well.

We started our presentations on Monday. The first few groups were very strong, and I was blown away. Tuesday rolled around and they were again very strong. Today, we had a substitute IA (instructional assistant) in our classroom, and the presentations went swimmingly again. She came up to me after and asked what grade level these students were. I said they were in grade ten and she was floored. We talked a bit about how well they were doing and perhaps why.

One of the key points we stumbled upon in this impromptu reflection session was the media. I know that the media, as of late, has a pretty bad rap with educators for disintegrating the next generation with profanity, highly sexualized content, and the like, but I am taking a different stance. The quality of television, websites, posters, social networking and so on is much higher than it was, and continues to improve at an astronomical rate. With this, media has also stepped up students’ expectations for student-generated content. Because technology is emerging so quickly that makes generating valuable and professional-looking work at home easy, students have set high expectations for themselves in terms of what is reasonable for them and what “good” truly looks like. Unknowingly, my students significantly exceeded my expectation for the quality of their work.

Furthermore, they knew that they weren’t getting marked on how they presented the material–they were getting marked on what they were presenting. They managed to step up their game on both. Perhaps this is because they think that having low quality information on a high quality presentation is funny looking, perhaps because having high quality information on a low quality presentation devalues the effort, or perhaps they are just awesome. I can’t decide, but I do know that I’m highly impressed.

One other plausible bar-raiser might be the change in what teaching and classrooms look like at our school. Each teacher has an iPad, as well as a computer. The quality of lesson presentation is vastly different than what was available when I was in high school less than a decade ago. I hardly use my whiteboard as a whiteboard, while I fondly remember writing notes for half the class copying from the chalkboard. Doing something remarkable for a presentation was a really awesome slide show or perhaps a video (which took hours to create and required a video camera with film in it), whereas all this technology is available to students on something that fits into their pocket. The “really-awesome-presentation bar” is now way higher because of the availability of this technology. Searching for something new and innovative is both challenging and easy–there are so many options, but you also have to find something and use it in a unique way.

For instance, a group of students used and XBox and Mine Craft to simulate drunk driving. I going to be honest–the execution was not quite right; however, the concept could have been developed into something remarkable. Perhaps Mine Craft was not the right medium, but a similar, more versatile second-life type program may have served the students better. 

The other key point that our discussion stumbled upon was the amazing confidence the students showed while they presented. We theorized that this is likely to do with the awesome work they poured into their projects. The students were each genuinely proud of the work they did. I was proud of the work they did. Their classmates were intently interested because of the great work they were doing. All this built into awesome confidence, even from a few of the shyer students. 

To be completely honest, when I envisioned this week a few weeks ago, I saw myself sitting through and marking slide show after slide show. I was planning on the students doing a good job, but I had no idea what a treat I was in for.

Smell The Roses

I really enjoy long-range planning. One of my favourite parts planning is calculating the number of hours each unit should have, then deciding on major assessment types, and finding really awesome projects. Long-range planning is so mystical and so hopeful. I’m not one to say that I stray from my long-range plans, per se, but some of the most wonderful ideas I have tend to slowly disappear when I discover just how much I need to accomplish in the allotted 13 hours for a specific unit. It sure doesn’t leave too much time for an in-depth inquiry project, complete with student-experts, student-generated media, and learning centres. While I’m certain it could be done (and I’m more than certain it has been done), it seems almost too daunting to take such a time risk at this point in my career. For example, investing two weeks into an inquiry project that should cover the majority of a unit would be FANTASTIC. However, if it flops I’m going to be two whole weeks behind, which stresses me out!

I’m slowly working myself up to more involved, student-centred lessons that stretch on for more than an hour or two in order for students to really dig into the curriculum with their own shovels. Currently, I’m about four hours into some inquiry for Ancient Rome in Social Studies 9, and it’s going well, but only time will tell. My assessments at this point are looking awfully hopeful though.

I am also teaching Modified Science 9. This class has taught me a lot (with more enlightened blog posts to follow, but I’ll stay on topic here), but in particular, I’ve learned to “smell the roses.” I feel significantly less time pressure with this class because we don’t have to explore the topics as deeply as regular programming. This lets me figure out what truly interests the students and use that topic as a launch pad for many lessons to come. This serves many purposes, including helping the students find a point of reference for the majority of each unit. They are significantly more interested because they are learning about things that interest them (while secretly covering the same curriculum from a different view).

A few days ago, I was stopped in my tracks with astonishment about quickly we were whipping through the current unit. I took the unit I taught last year in the regular programming and altered it to be at the appropriate level, which meant removing a few topics and supplementing them with similar topics that would be lower level and easier to work through. I started adding in the course work from my regular course in the last few days, and to my surprise they are absolutely crushing it. While my assessments and assignments differ a bit, the concepts are the same and I’m instructing with the same level of difficulty that I did last year.

This shocked me for two reasons: firstly, I was amazed at how well they are connecting their learning (something that I hadn’t seen earlier in the semester), and secondly, I was impressed with the fact that I stopped to smell the roses AND covered all the course work with no problems.

This is making me revisit my other courses to see what roses we’ve ran past in a race against the clock. It continues to affirm that student-ownership is hugely important in their retention and their willingness to learn. These “roses” are invaluable and could even potentially save time for more wonderful roses, even though it seems like they are only taking more precious time.

Common Courtesies Aren’t So Common Anymore

Our school has an awesome new initiative. It started as a twitter feed (@MilerKindness) and has taken on some momentum. We are launching a kindness scavenger hunt, which I’m proud to say I helped out with. It was pretty tricky thinking of fifty ways to be kind to someone (friend, family, staff member, stranger), which I found a touch concerning for my own sake. Because of this, I’ve really tried to be extra nice and form even more kind habits in my day.

I was at the grocery store last night picking up an appetizer to take to a Grey Cup party (thank heavens the Riders won! Go green!). I was arguably in a big hurry, since I lost track of time prepping at school. However, I took time to make small talk with the cashier. I asked if she was a big football fan, and she said that she really didn’t like watching football. I responded with that a friend of mine feels the same, which is why my friend loves working Grey Cup Sunday, since it gets pretty quiet. She was down-right grumpy about it. She complained about how horrible it was to be working. Needless to say, I was pretty sorry that I’d tried to be nice.

Where this leads me back is that common courtesy and the art of small talk seems to be, well, a lost art, especially from my generation down. We are all destined for neck problems from staring at our phones, rather than taking a moment to brighten someone’s day.

I’m working at building these every-day existence skills into my classes. I took a few minutes in English to discuss email etiquette. We’ve talked about netiquette too, but I think real-life etiquette sometimes gets skipped over.

What successful ways or ideas do you have to build kindness and common courtesies in your classroom? Any suggestions? Aside from modelling positive behaviours, I’m kind of stuck! (PS. I teach mostly grade nine students)

It’s Time to Recognize

Well, I’m pleased to say I’m back to the blogging world after a somewhat long hiatus. It’s not that I intended to be gone for so long, but, as you probably know well, the life of a teacher is busy!

I have spent the better part of the last month really focusing on what I’m grateful for: good health, a wonderful family, supportive friends, and a welcoming school. I am happy to be back at the school where I completed my internship in Fall of 2011. My heart is so full of gratitude for the kindness the staff have extended to me so far this semester.

In particular, a number of staff members have volunteered to “take me under their wing” to informally and formally mentor me. To me, having a group of mentors is invaluable. Each person brings a different perspective, different advice, and a different skill set for me to draw on and hopefully emulate.

One person, in particular, has gone above and beyond the call of duty to make me feel welcome and loved. Jodi, an enthusiastic technology expert, has an unparalleled pedagogy. She strives daily to connect personally with her students, all the while using multiple forms of technology and media to deliver a sound education to everyone who sets foot in her classroom.

What strikes me most profoundly about Jodi is her kind nature. She never seems rattled, she always looks for positive solutions, and she always has time to lend a hand. I can honestly say that no one has had a more powerful impact on my pedagogy, desire to further my knowledge formally and informally, and plain old love of teaching than Jodi has in just a few short months. She is truly inspiring. I can attribute 90% of my sanity in the last few weeks solely to Jodi and her caring advice. 

Because of this, I am in the process of nominating her for a provincial teaching award to recognize her for being so gosh-darn wonderful. What I didn’t know before I started doing my research on this incredible role model is just how involved Jodi really is. Her resume is jaw-dropping, and her technical abilities astound. She is digitally connected through social media and blogging, and she makes such strong connections in the physical world too. I could probably write a fifteen-page essay on just how remarkable she is, but I have marking to get to eventually.

Why I write today is partially to recognize Jodi, but more importantly to highlight the importance of recognition in general. Teaching is such a politically sensitive job. We are continually scrutinized by the government and the public. Our careers can quickly become so negative. One of the complaints I’m hearing most often from the teaching community is that they feel undervalued. Perhaps this value doesn’t need to have a dollar sign (although, I won’t complain if it does), but rather it needs to come in the form of praise and recognition. This praise doesn’t need to come in the form of an award, but rather in small, personal moments. It can be as simple as saying “I walked by your classroom today, and I was so impressed with the mature discussion your students were engaged in.” It could be a note in a mailbox thanking someone for their help with a particular lesson. It can be anything, but I think it is all too often forgotten about. We have a busy job, and things like this can quickly be put on the back burner. Let’s support our fellow colleagues and take a moment every now and then to recognize each other for the tremendous work we all do.

If you’re reading this and you’re a teacher, I bet you are thinking about a remarkable teacher you know too. Let them know it! If you are a parent, a student, or anyone else, you probably know a teacher who could use a pat on the back. Take the next three minutes to do it. Send them an email, write them a quick note, text them, tweet them, phone them, or find a funny comic that reminds you of them. Whatever you want. Glue macaroni onto some construction paper, even. Whatever you do, remember to be grateful for the work everyone does. It takes a minute of your time, but it will make that teacher feel wonderful for a lifetime.

Jodi, if you’re reading this, THANK YOU. You are a miracle worker every single day. I have a high-five waiting for you tomorrow morning!

Goal Setting and Achieving

Yesterday, I received a draft of the year-end report on my teaching from my Vice Principal. Seeing the explicit and objective observations from someone who knows me, as a teacher, well was a good ego boost. More importantly, however, it was incredible to see how far I’ve come since August.

The “how far I’ve come” piece is two-fold. First, I think about how I nervously and meticulously planned every detail the first few days (and then had to completely scrap almost everything), compared to the attention to potential details I have now. I also see how my vision of who I am as a teacher has changed, and is still changing. I haven’t exactly found my perfect teacher persona yet, but I’m way closer than I was 9 months ago. My students must have thought I had some sort of personality disorder for the first few weeks.

The next thing I really noticed was that the goals I set, both on paper, and in my head are being realized. For instance, I set out to get better with using my SmartBoard. Aside from it dying the last few weeks (its fixed now), I’ve done a pretty good job of that. But more importantly, in my head I set out to “stop teaching” so my students could really learn. I’ve hit my stride with the Workplace and Apprenticeship 10 class I’ve got right now. I let them work at their own pace and they are, for the most part, ridiculously engaged.

I have to say, seeing that report and reflecting on the last few months kind of gave me goose bumps. I know I have a long way to go still on the never-ending journey of being a great teacher, but I think I’m at least on the right path.

I also noticed that there are some goals that I still need to step it up for, the main one being incorporating authentic First Nations/Metis content into math. I’ve got my sights set of the probability unit in Math 9, but that’s not enough. Any suggestions or help?

Liebster Award? Cool!

I was ever so kindly nominated for Liebster Award by endlessly creating. I am so grateful!

The Liebster Award is intended to recognize up-and-coming blogs with fewer than 200 followers.

There are some rules to follow when you get nominated:

– Post eleven facts about yourself Answer the questions posed by your nominator

– Pass the award on to eleven new recipients

– Post eleven new questions to your recipients

– Post a copy of the badge on your blog (Google image search “Liebster Award”)

– Notify your nominees and include links to the originating blog as well as the new recipients

Here Are My 11 Facts About Me

1. I was horrible at Mad Minutes when I was younger. I’m working on my Mad Minute scores along side my class.

2. I have been to the World Baton Twirling Championships 8 times.

3. I love celery.

4. I am terrified of spiders and bugs. I will avoid them at all costs.

5. I am trying to become an amateur herb gardener in my kitchen. So far, I am mildly unsuccessful.

6. I am officially a coffee addict.

7. I have finally kept a fish alive longer than 6 months..

8. Eight is my favourite number.

9. I really wish I was into reading. I want to be the person who curls up with good book every night, but I’m not.

10. I have stumbled upon ASMR videos on youtube — they induce that awesome tingling sensation and help me fall asleep. ASMRmassage is my favourite.

11. After I painted my entire townhouse interior, I ensured that all the switch plate cover screws were turned so that the lines on the screw heads were parallel to the floor.

Here Are My 11 Questions from Endlessly Creating

1. What inspires you?

I am inspired primarily by things I see and read about, especially on youtube and twitter. Amazing educators who share with the world are the most inspiring.

2. What’s your favorite book?

As I mentioned before, I’m not huge into reading a book. However, if I had to choose, my favourite book right now would be The Hip Girl’s Guide to Happy Homemaking. I’m still fumbling around being an adult, so I need all the awesome advice I can get.

3. Biggest pet peeve?

My biggest pet peeve is when someone does not put the “-ly” on an adverb. Example: drive safe should read drive safely. I don’t know why it bugs me, and I do it all the time.

4. Are you part of any fandoms, and to what extent do you participate?

I guess that I am a big fan of ASMR secretly (well, not anymore), and I’m also a huge fan of Steve Spangler!

5. Which fictional character would you most like to meet?

I would love to meet Mary Poppins and get some cleaning tips! Or Ms. Frizzle. She was the best.

6. When you get famous for whatever it is you’re doing, who would you most want to be interviewed by?

I would really really really want to be interviewed by Ellen. She is an amazing woman, advocate of good education, and just plain awesome.

7. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grow up?

I bounced around from teacher to other jobs then back to teacher. Some of the others included fire fighter, scientist, baton coach (which I’m currently doing as a hobby), environmental psychologist, lawyer, and engineer.

8. Favorite/least favorite subjects in school?

My least favourite subject in school was History. While interesting, I hated doing the assignments and tests.

9. Why did you start blogging?

I started blogging for my ECMP 355 class back in my first year of university. I am so glad I started. It has certainly shaped the teacher I am today.

10. Which is better, the book or the movie?

Movie. It is faster, more efficient use of time, and more stimulating. (Especially since I rarely read the book before the movie comes out.)

11. If you had a band, what would you name it?

Well, since I have a minor obsession with singing about math, it would probably be something math-related. Perhaps Function F(x) or something way cooler. I haven’t given it much thought, but guaranteed I’ll be pondering this one for weeks.

11 Questions for My Nominees

1. What one thing could you live without in your life that you use daily?

2. If you could get any pet in the world, what would you choose and why?

3. If you got to study in a great library for one day, what would you study?

4. What is the most important thing in your life?

5. If you met yourself ten years ago, what advice would you tell yourself?

6. What inspires your blog posts?

7. Chicken or egg?

8. If you could be the star of a movie, what would the title and genre be?

9. If your life was made into a movie, who would star?

10. What is your favourite number and why?

11. Why do you get out of bed in the morning (what makes you tick)?