Wednesday, August 27, 2014

2:25 Always Comes (End of the Year Thoughts From a First Year Teacher)

"Relationships are your sword in the good days and your shield against the bad days."

You have a story to tell. Lots of people told me not to smile until Christmas. I'd imagine if you've done any teaching yourself (or told anybody you want to teach), that you've been told that too. Smile and nod and say "absolutely, that's what I've been told" and then throw it out the window. What they mean isn't false, kids need boundaries, they need rules and they need to know that you mean it. Set high expectations and keep them. But please, smile on the first day, and smile often. You are far and away the thing that can make or break your classroom. If you're happy to be there, sooner or later, your kids will be too. The more they get to know you, the more questions they ask, the better questions they ask, the more you get to know your students and the more fun had for all. Don't be afraid to be/tell your story, especially if that story smiles, a lot.

Kids have stories too and they will tell you. They will tell you that they had corn dogs for breakfast. They will tell you that they stayed up until 3am texting their latest-in-a-long-line-of-girls/boys-who-they-will-love-forever. They will tell you about their parents who are there for the long haul and their parents who left them here in hopes that they'd find a better life. They will tell you stories that might make you doubt the validity of their sentences and stories that you wish were untrue but know aren't. Learn them and don't forget them, relationships are your sword in the good days and your shield against the bad days.
(by the way, word to the wise: refuse to let them drink Gatorade or those slushie-things at lunch, 45 grams of sugar is enough to keep stories coming for a solid 35 minutes of class time.)

Love is the end-all. When people ask me why I teach, I often have a hard time articulating the exact emotions I feel, but what is comes down to is this: I love my kids. From 7:45 until 2:25 every day, 74 beautiful, intelligent, dumb, crazy high school students (and their myriad of ridiculous friends) come through my door and interact in my classroom. And they are insane. completely and totally bonkers. but for 90 minutes a day, I get to love on as many of them as humanly possible. and that's all I've ever asked for really. 

There became a saying in my first week of teaching, that 2:25 always comes. No matter how awful you blunder your first class period, that all-important first meeting with the impressionable youth that you'll have to corral into your classroom every day, no matter how awful you blunder the next one or the third one or the 80th (trust me you'll still blunder at 80), your 2:25, the end of your day, will come. I promise. When you are a hot second from a break down, when kids won't sit down or shut up, let alone both at the same time, when administration just does not understand, when they just "aren't learning", trust me on this: 2:25 will always come. 
Soon, you'll forget that 2:25 is the moment you've been waiting for, when suddenly it's no longer the moment you've been waiting for. When sometimes first period walking through your door is the best part of your day or when catching a colleague for that 27 minute lunch is priceless, 2:25 will disappear. and teaching might even become just a little 

good luck, friends.

Guestblogger Katie MacMillan entered the teaching world through Teach For America after graduating from Harvard. She is currently in her second year teaching, and she is an awesome human being (my words, not hers). 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Entrance is a Privilege!

The exit ticket is a tool I use on occasion in order to get a quick assessment at the end of the class period.  Each student is challenged to perform under the condition that he or she is not finished with class until having answered correctly.  Every time I use this tool I am surprised at the intensity with which students attempt to complete the given task.  The incentive to be finished is apparently a strong one.

Several weeks ago I observed a math teacher who put a brilliant twist on the exit ticket by turning it into an entrance ticket.  Before the start of every class he stood outside the door to his room armed with a stack of flash cards.  His students were not allowed to physically enter the room until they had individually answered a question correctly.  As I watched his students eagerly answer in order to be allowed into his room, several things became clear about the nature of his class.  Here are just a few of them:

1. The students wanted to be there.  The incentive that had them working so hard was not to be finished, but to get started!

2. Students were reviewing and giving feedback to their teacher well before the bell for class rang.  Talk about setting the tone for a hard-working class!

3. This exercise demanded 100% participation from the get-go.  Entrance to class was a privilege that a passive non-participant could not earn.

While an entrance ticket may not be logistically practical or even possible for every teacher, I invite you to join me as I take a hard look at how my classes begin.  What can you do to up your game at the start of class?  What simple steps can you take to communicate to students that their time spent in class will be worthwhile and that hard work and high expectations are for everyone?   Try to find something concrete and simple that you can work into your routine and eventually turn into habit.  Give it a try and see what you can learn!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

What Does Your Classroom Say About You?

This week's guest post is by Jessica Raba, the executive director of the Lutheran Schools Association in New York.

When I started teaching a little over a decade ago, I had visions of a functioning classroom that were akin to my own experience. Colorful walls displaying student work, lots of books, nooks and corners in which my students could get lost in said books, small desks with name tags on them facing the front of the room, impeccable teacher-made posters dotting the room, neat writing on the board, beckoning students to come in and learn. Blissful.

Fast forward a few years and my desks were much bigger (I was teaching middle school rather than elementary, as I'd originally intended), the room was colorful, there were books around, I'd created the corners and libraries to the best of my ability, but it wasn't as neat and impeccable as I'd prepared for in my first days of teaching. Fast forward to empty walls at the start of the year, beckoning for student work, desks without nametags, allowing for movement and less about ownership than a tool to help facilitate learning. Not perfect. Not necessarily blissful. But, more in line with a view toward real, messy learning.

Simply put, my vision of education and all the learning and teaching that go with it, had changed. Some years after that second scene, I imagine I'd do things much differently, but one key element would remain the same.

You see, in the years between my first year of teaching and the visions of perfect classrooms, I realized that I needed to shift my thinking, my starting point. I realized that I was beginning with the outward expression of school, rather than with the why of education and learning. I don't choose those words lightly, either. In college, I spent time working at a teacher store a few summers...I would stock shelves and run my fingers over cute bulletin board borders, nametags, posters, everything that I envisioned coming together to make the perfect classroom. I'd be the perfect teacher. Sure, maybe if I were to have my room featured in one of the teacher store catalogs.

But, not if I were to consider the students that would inhabit the desks over the year, and to deeply consider my goals for them.

In talking with a colleague the other day, the subject of classroom environment came up. He had the chance recently to visit a school that he'd never visited before. One of his key observations was the set-up of the classrooms he visited. Rather than rows, he saw desks grouped in clusters, and in place of the neat rooms we see in Hollywood's depictions of HS classrooms, he saw horseshoes that helped ensure that class participation in discussions was front and center. Those teachers' goals for students were pretty clear.

Each year, we have a blank slate in our classrooms, and I wonder if starting with the why of learning might help us to create classroom environments conducive to learning. The difference in the first two anecdotes of this post were that in the first, I set up my classroom and then began planning for learning. In the second, I planned for learning, and my classroom set up came next.

Where do you begin? What does your classroom say about you?

Consider these questions (certainly not an exhaustive list!) as you prepare for future learning, be it this year or in the years to come:

  • What do I hope for my students, this year, and in life?
  • What types of experiences will they need in preparation?
  • How might I set up the learning space such that these experiences are more likely to occur?
I'd love to hear from you -- how do you set up your learning space? Please feel free to share photos and ideas with me on Twitter (@jessicaraba), to get the conversation going!

Monday, April 21, 2014

When You Think You Can't...You Can

Make a list of all of the hurdles you encounter on a daily basis.  List out all of the reasons that you can't do what you were hoping to do.  Read through your list and then watch this.

Hurdles do not have to be hurdles if you really believe in what you're doing.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Seat Signals

Seat Signals - In the Classroom

Once again, a simple piece of practical classroom advice taken from the essential Teach Like Champion, this strategy is called "seat signals".

The rationale is this: a student asking to go to the bathroom, or to get out of their seat for any reason can be very disruptive. A student arguing with a teacher who answers "no" to their request to leave can also be highly disruptive. Thus, the solution is fairly simple: a set of hand signals that signify common requests. 

The criteria for said signals must be

  • done from their seats
  • nonverbal
  • do not require verbal answers
  • posted on the wall
Some common ones include: 
  • hand up, two fingers crossed (Can I use the bathroom?)
  • hold pencil up (I need a new pencil)
  • left hand pinching nose (I need a tissue)
  • One finger held up in circular motion (I need to get out of my seat for whatever)
  • frisbee/fishing motions (Would you like to play frisbee and/or go fishing with me?)
Remember that when these things are not done out loud, you not only avoid derailing the momentum of your lesson, but you can also use every minute of your teaching time. Try it out and see what you can learn. 

Monday, March 31, 2014

A Radical Endeavor For the Common Idealist - Overworking and Oversizing..

It was my hope that time travel would be been invented before writing this post so we could have accurately complete the survey that I will not approximate through pure speculation. However, it is my belief that if you were to go back in time and ask high school students the question: "How to you feel about AP tests?", it would look like this:
15 years ago: What is an AP test?
10 years ago: They are a great opportunity for myself and a select few other super-intellectuals to get college credit. 
10 weeks ago: All my friends are doing them so I am too. It's so hard.
10 years from now: I think I heard my mom talking about those once. 

Just as 50 years ago, getting a "C" on your report card was supposed to mean "average", the status quo and meaning of symbols and standings in education change and inflate just like currency, language, and pretty much everything else. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it definitely can be a bad thing for those students who are born the wrong year and through complete stochasticity end up being the martyrs during the grand finale of an educational fad on its deathbed. This may be radical (5th Monday, deal with it) to say, but many believe (self included) that student workload right now for high-achieving schools/students is at its zenith and is not sustainable. Thus, I encourage you, faithful pedagogue, to investigate the matter briefly by doing the following:

1. Re-read and re-watch an old post from this blog, as well as the videos that accompany. The one called "Race to Nowhere", . Watch the trailer if not the entire movie. And, if you have the time, check out this more recent article featured in ,  The Atlantic, titled,

2. "My Daughter's Homework is Killing Me" . It's the journalistic findings of a dad who is curious about his daughter's homework and sleep schedule so he does all of his daughter's homework for a week and says what he learns. It's definitely worth the read.

Thus, give these a shot, and see what you can learn.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Good teachers--from the students' perspective

This time of year it might be necessary to rejuvenate ourselves and our classrooms in order to help the students (and ourselves) finish strong. There are many blogs, tweets, articles, posts, etc. on what makes a good teacher that at times it might seem overwhelming… “I need to use technology effectively for 67% of the class period, engage students with different learning styles, return homework the next day so they have feedback, monitor their behavior, join #edchat, and return parent e-mails…” While all of these are great suggestions and the experts do know what they’re talking about- I decided to get some different input so I asked current and former students (aren’t they the ones we need to connect with anyway), “what makes a good teacher?” 

Here are the results (in their words):

  • Passion and love for what they’re doing
  • Dedication
  • Changing up methods of teaching—keeping us interested
  • Encouraging and genuinely cares about students’ well-being
  • Fun, keeps the class awake, fun activities, encouraging
  • Engaging and sets the students up for success, truly wants them to do well
  •  Loving the subject and finding new ways to get students interested 
  •  Music, a lack of monotony
  • Fun and interesting lecture, fair with no bias
  • Focuses on taking what we learn in the classroom and applying it to real life. It’s more fun learning about things when I understand what I am learning
  •  A God-loving person whom takes pride in their work and is just
  • Spends time explaining topics and makes sure class knows subject well
  • Knowing how to handle a classroom
  • Leadership. Fairness. Organization. Personality. Creativity. Effective communication. Compassion.
  •  A good teacher is a leader but also a friend when needed
  •  Definitely taking the time to know each student individually and showing concern for each student’s success in a class
  • A "good" teacher is one who makes themselves available not only in class but outside of class. Someone who switches things up for every class period and one who gets to know their students on a more personal level.
  •  A good teacher is someone who makes learning fun and does something new each class period. Also not just necessarily in the classroom but being a good example to the students. High school is a time of mixed emotions (puberty) and discovering oneself and having a professional friend/teacher as an example is extremely helpful.
  •  Earning respect from day one and allowing some goofing off when appropriate!

These answers are from high school students but I think they can apply to all levels. If we just focus on one of these a day we will be busy for 21 days becoming a better teacher in the eyes of those who need us. Try some of them and see what you can learn…

Monday, March 10, 2014

Build a Google Site

Today I would like to challenge you to explore Google Sites, a tool that saves me time and energy in the following ways:

- organizes my courses
- makes notes and other materials immediately accessible to any absent students
- provides a framework for employing the “flip” through videos and other media
- easily integrates my Google Calendar to display lesson plans
- gives me a way to add a creative personal touch to my courses

While many options exist for maintaining a class website, I enjoy the individuality and flexibility of Google sites.  I have great control over the look of each site (color scheme, layout, etc) and I can be creative while keeping things simple.  It is extremely easy to post videos and links for my students to watch, as well as the notes and assignments for each unit.  Last year I uploaded a pdf file of each day’s notes, and now I can easily direct absent students to find their missing work on the website.  Google is known for products that are user-friendly, and there isn’t another online company out there that I feel will be sticking around longer.  Though I have my digital notes backed up, it’s nice to know my sites will be there next year.  Making changes, adding lessons, linking videos, and finding ways to inspire students are all made easy by this great app. 

This is not something you can necessarily sit down and commit to in a day, but my challenge to you is to spend 20 minutes this week building a simple website.  Your practice site does not have to be a class website.  Have fun with it, but in the back of your mind be thinking about how it could serve you and your students.  Here are a few links to help you get started: (to dive right in)

Beginner’s Guide to Creating a Site (to read about it first)

Google Sites Classroom Template (to check out Google’s template – way more complex than mine)

Link to my Precalculus site (very simple, still in its early stages, but is constantly adapting to the changes I make in the course)

Getting my sites started took some work, but the time was worth the investment.  Now I have sites that grow and adapt as I improve my course, keeping a digital record of all my work.  If you love creating and could use an online filing cabinet for your course, or if you have been looking for a good platform for employing the “flip,” Google Sites could be just the right thing.  Give it a try and see what you can learn.     

Monday, March 3, 2014

Teaching with the Golden Ratio

The information contained in this post is a compilation of research and lectures delivered over the past year.  Special thanks to Karen Kennedy for delivering the bulk of the information.

I am a choir director and I am a choir director that teaches high school students.  If you teach high school students, you know how much those students love getting their teacher off track.  Unfortunately, this is how choir frequently starts: “Good afternoon class, before we get started, a quick reminder that we sing this Sunday.  Now take out your folders, oh wait, student A? You have a question?”  “Yes, do we need to wear our dresses?”  “Yes, now let’s get started, oh student B? you have a question?”  “Yes, do we need to wear our black shoes?”  “Yes”...and it continues...and goes on...and on...and now I’ve wasted a quarter of my rehearsal time answering questions instead of rehearsing.  Chances are this can be avoided not just in music classrooms but in most classrooms.  Want to know more?  Please take this simple quiz first.

What do pinecones, spiral galaxies, Claude Debussy, and the Parthenon have in common?
A.  Nothing
B.  A lot

If you guessed B, you are correct.  

Let’s try another one: what do these things have to do with classroom management?
A.  Nothing
B.  A lot

If you guessed B, you are once again correct.

Whether we know it or not, our brains are programmed in a way to pace learning and attention, easing into one thing and out of another.  Think about the last time you saw a T.V. show or a movie where the climax came ten minutes after it started.  It does not happen because that’s not how our brains are programmed.  The creators want us to be engaged for the most important part of the plot so they save it for later.  It’s also not at the very end.  It comes approximately two thirds to three quarters of the way through.  More on that in a moment.

There is a phenomenon in math, science, art, music, nature, and many other areas called the golden ratio.  The golden ratio essentially states that a + b is to a as a is to b

Here is a visual representation:

Notice that as you keep using the same proportion, the lengths get smaller in a spiral pattern.  This spiral pattern is used throughout nature.  Clearly, God likes math!  Here are some examples in nature and architecture:

At this point, you are probably right where I was when I first heard about this.  What does this have to do with me?  Stay with me.  I promise you, it will pay off.

In order to hit the golden ratio, you can do some simple math and make a sequence of numbers called the fibonacci sequence.  All you have to do is add the last two numbers of the sequence together to get your next number.  Here it is

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55

So 1 + 1 = 2;  1 + 2 = 3;  2 + 3 = 5;  3 + 5 = 8; and so on and so forth.

Wherever you start going back down is the point of the golden ratio of the total added together.

1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, (the golden ratio occurs here) 34, 21, 13, 8, 5, 3, 2, 1, 1

(first part of sequence total - 143) (second part of sequence total - 89)

143 divided by 89 gives us 1.6067 and the golden ratio is 1.618 so pretty close.  The farther you go in the sequence, the closer you get to the exact number.

So now it’s time for the application to the classroom.  Hopefully I am at the approximate golden ratio of this article because that will mean I have your peak attention!  Our brains are made to focus best at the golden proportion of a time period.  Think about it.  We do not do well when we dive right into a difficult concept without first “warming up” to it.  Our brains work best when we ease into with something that we are familiar with and build towards learning newer, more difficult concepts.  Our attention span also increases as we get deeper into learning and then we ease out of it as we near the end.

Let’s go back to our fibonacci sequence and apply it to the classroom.  Here is how I might use it to teach a choir class

1 minute activity - Warm up #1 - breathing
1 minute activity - Warm up #2 - bubbling
2 minute activity - Warm up #3 - range exercises
3 minute activity - 8 measures that we already know - work on memorizing
5 minute activity - review parts on another section we started yesterday (still familiar material)
8 minute activity - learn a small, new section of a different song
13 minute activity - work on the hardest part of the day (notice this is at the golden ratio)
8 minute activity - sight reading (didn’t do this at the beginning - too difficult)
5 minute activity - memorize a section of music
3 minute activity - announcements (did it at the end - they have no reason to get off track)
2 minute activity - put folders away
1 minute activity - socialize

That covers a 52 minute period.  Obviously you can adjust the times to fit whatever schedule you are on but the concept stays the same across all subjects and time frames.  Be sure to utilize the time when your students brains are most engaged.

I was a little skeptical of this at first but if you take the time to try it out, it really does work.  You also don’t have to deal with lagging attention spans.  It is a fast paced class and students perform well under those conditions.

I challenge you to look for this golden ratio around you.  After I heard about this, I started looking and found the ratio all over the place.  Did you know that 8:00 AM church is at the golden ratio of your weekend?  What are some others?  Leave some examples you’ve seen in the comments section.  I also want to hear if it worked in the classroom.  

Give it a try and see what you can learn!

Monday, February 24, 2014

Effective Living for Effective Teaching

Guest Post: Effective Living for Effective Teaching

Every professional adult these days seems to have a short supply of time. They tell me that the 24 hours per day ratio is still the accepted standard, but surely we have less time than we
did when we were 9 or 10. Between being a teacher, administrator, secretary, mom, dad, son, daughter, church member, coach, fan, hobbiest, etc.…there’s just not enough time – is there? A few weeks ago, my school attended an education conference and one of the sessions I attended discussed “Personal Management”. The material for the talk led by Esther Williams, M.Ed. was primarily from the book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. In this blog, I would like to share with you some of the things presented that made an impression on me as a professional educator. The talk structured all of the things we “do” in our lives into four categories:

1. Urgent and Important (critical activities)
2. Not Urgent, but Important (important goals, relationships)
3. Urgent, but Not Important (interruptions)
4. Not Urgent and Not Important (distractions)

This is called the Urgent/Important matrix. We all have moments in each category and that is perfectly normal, but the premise is to spend as much time as possible in the 2nd stage (not urgent/important). Category 2 includes health, professional, and family/relationship goals. Often as educators at any level, we find ourselves going through each day in “crisis management” mode – putting out fires and trying not to get burned. Sometimes, we live mon-fri consumed by category 1 and 3 so much that we find ourselves overdoing category 4 anytime we can. Ultimately, when we have to keep dealing with categories 1 and 3 we are not the best educators we can be for our students (or parents/children,
coach/players). We need to schedule time for careful long term and short term planning,
professional development, and creativity if we believe it has value. If we procrastinate on these
important, but often no urgent things, they will soon become urgent or never happen properly
from the start.

Critical activities and interruptions will always be a part of our lives; however, if we make a
conscious effort to plan and prioritize not urgent, but important things every day (that includes
Saturday and Sunday) we will be taking one more step toward reducing stress for the future and
reaching our private and professional goals. Today and this week, I challenge you to think about
what distractions you could limit or delete all together and schedule time to do not urgent, but
important things that move you toward your personal and professional goals.

Here are some not urgent but important ideas:

• Developing a personal purpose statement
• Setting personal and family goals
• Planning your time every week and making time in your schedule for other category 2
• Reading scripture, praying and meditating
• Personal exercise
• Nutrition planning
• Date nights with your spouse and with the kids
• Family nights
• Visualizing, reading and writing affirmations
• Career planning
• Journaling
• Wholesome recreation with the family
• Record your favorite television show and fast forward through the commercials.
• Read a book related to your educational field
• Enroll in an educational class

Give it a try and see what you can learn.

Tim is the Algebra 1 and 2, Trig, PreCalc, and PE teacher and Athletic
Director at Christ Our Rock LHS in Centralia IL.  He enjoys his job as a
teacher and coach, being with family, and all types of recreational activities.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Re-Up: Wright's Law: A Unique Teacher Imparts Real Life Lessons

Wright's Law: A Unique Teacher Imparts Real Life Lessons

"As soon as you get the kid asking 'how' or 'why', I can rope him in."

This is the inspirational video of a teacher who goes the extra mile and is loved by his students because of it. As it goes on, you also see that he has a notable situation in his home life. This is a probably a must-see for teachers, students, and people everywhere.
To quote the play-by-play from the website, Upworthy, looks like this:

At 0:10, you get a taste of this guy's awesome personality.
From 0:20-1:00, hear glowing reviews from his students.
At 1:20, I become convinced he's a WIZARD.
At 1:50, he puts a ton of trust in his students.
At 2:20, learn his teaching process and how he relates to his students.
At 3:00, he tells you the kind of issues he hears about.
At 3:45, this is where you learn about his remarkable son Adam.
At 5:20, he's going to earn your undivided attention here.
At 6:19, learn exactly what his son has to deal with.
At 7:18, I started to tear up.
At 8:40, his daughter finds a ray of hope.
At 9:10, he emphasizes that it's not important how things work, but why they do.
At 10:00, see how this amazing lesson touches all his students. 
At 10:20, there's a heartwarming moment between father and son.
And now, your video. 
Watch it, share it, love it, and see what you can learn. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Tech Tip: YouTube Tools

I was not impressed with YouTube as a tool for student learning when the site first emerged. It seemed more like a platform for self-publishing quirky personal videos than a service to use in education. However, creative educators and dedicated content providers have turned the site into a vast storehouse of educational content. Rarely a day goes by when I do not use a YouTube video as part of some lesson or activity.

A few frustrations remain with YouTube. One concern is the content that appears on a page along with the video. Comments, ads, or links to other videos may not be helpful or appropriate for the classroom. There are also times when one may want to show only a portion of a longer video, and then a teacher might have to fiddle with time duration bar at the bottom of the screen during class time.

Fortunately, tools have emerged that help educators deal with these issues. ViewPure is a service the shows YouTube videos without any of the "extra" comments. Simply copy and paste the video URL into the service and a new page with only the video emerges. ViewPure even cleanses videos of those pesky commercials that run before many videos.

TubeChop is a site which assists a teacher in showing only the targeted content of a video. Simply paste the URL into the home page of the service. A new webpage will emerge with the video and a bar at the bottom with controls that allow you to "chop" off a segment of the video. The service then "creates" a new video with only your chosen segment and even creates a unique URL for that page so the new video may be embedded into other content, such as web pages or wikis.

Give these tools a try as you identify YouTube content for your classroom.