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!