Archive for August, 2014

        So there’s this other crazy teacher (MA) at my school and together we took a leap into the unknown this week.  With little planning time, uncertain supplies, and a crazy schedule we did something unthinkable.  We offered 25 students the chance to free up their Fall second period by taking a week long, intensive version of the class.  We were surprised by the overwhelming response: 18 students showed up Monday morning, two weeks before regular school starts.  I’ll say it again: 18 students were willing to give up a week of the last part of their summer. Whew! We were amazed.

       What is this class they were so willing to jump into? We called it Summer Pathways 101 to distinguish it from regular school year Pathways 101.  The content of the course is all about process. We have two standards: Students will be collaborative and quality workers and Students will be self-directed and life-long learners.  How hard could that be to teach, right?  No math standards, no writing standards; seems like that should be a breeze! 

     Um, no.  

     Think about a conference you may have attended that lasted three or four days all day long. Think about how intense that was and how you were both wiped out and energized at the end (if it was a good conference).  Now multiply that by 17 students who are also both energized and wiped out.  By the third day of five. 

     We started the first day by jumping right into a group challenge.  We split them into four groups, gave them each 2 sheets of 4×8 cardboard, 50 yards of colored duct tape, a utility knife, a meter stick, and markers.  With these materials they had to build an object that would float long enough for one team member to navigate a straight course.  We loaded kids and materials into a bus and traveled to a local beach where they designed and built cardboard boats.

     Did I mention that about half of the kids were interested in the Arts Pathway and about half of them were interested in the Marine Studies Pathway?  And that these two groups were pretty distinct within our school?  And that about half were freshman?  The real challenge for them was how to work with people they would not normally be grouped with.  It was great fun to see them get frustrated and then work through it.

masked pic 0270    masked 0283 copy



     We only had three goals and it was so hard to achieve them.  We wanted students to complete a group project, an individual project, and a draft personalized learning plan.  We were asking them to learn how to work in groups to solve problems, to work individually to plan and execute a project with limited resources and time constraints, and to understand this new-fangled personalized learning plan.


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I confess.  I am addicted to twitter.  And a few blogs.

This morning I was reading Dan Meyer’s blog about developing questions that will engage students with problems.  I would like to be able to ask better questions; as a new teacher I am only beginning to develop that skill.  Although it isn’t a skill that was addressed in any of my methodology classes, I have come to believe it is a critical skill to have.  

Dan’s post doesn’t provide any context for posing questions.  He doesn’t say whether the questions are asked in a ‘traditional’ class or an inquiry based class.  Certainly students must solve problems in both types of classes and teachers must ask questions about those problems in both types of classes.  What he focuses on is how question are developedThis is an important consideration for someone who wants to get better at asking questions and I appreciate the way Dan is focusing our attention on this matter.

But then I got sidetracked in the comments.  One of the commenters wrote, “I have taught in an environment of “The (standardized test) is our business, and our students’ scores are our product”and it was horrid. When I went off-script to do real-life math labs, like measuring, sectioning, and spec-ing out a new playground, the class was engaged and happy. When I was forced to go back on script by administration, they became restless and disruptive.”

At first I was, like, yeah, that is a horrible way to focus teaching, it’s good you went off script.  But then the comment started to settle.  Wait.  You were essentially forced to teach in a way that was abhorrent to you.  And your students responded with restlessness and disruption.  

Somehow that resonated with an experience I had last year where I was not happy in a classroom.  My students felt that and fed it back to me and soon we were in a feedback loop that created a downward spiral.  It was not a great semester.  So now I wonder if the commenter on Dan’s blog had spectacularly different results in student engagement because of his level of engagement.  

I have often heard how the passion of a teacher for their subject can infect students in a positive way; but the flip side is also important to remember.  

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Our school has a modified block schedule, with four 70 minutes classes per day. Most classes meet every day, although there are a few that meet every other day. We run for two quarters (about 18 weeks), then all classes change and we go another two quarters. This means that summer planning tends to focus on first semester classes and second semester classes get short shrift (is that really a word?).

This coming week, I will be joining a bunch of people to plan our Pathways classes.  What’s that?  Well, we are starting these focused course options in the hopes that we will better engage our students and our community.  The classes are project based, bring in community partners, are standards based and proficiency graded.  Classes are cross curricular, so that students can get two credits in core academic areas.  And students are not locked in; they will have the flexibility to move into or out of a pathway.  We started last year with Marine Studies Pathway to meet the needs of a community that is surrounded by ocean (yes, I live on island, but there is a bridge).  Kids in Marine Studies can elect to take the Skipper’s Program and earn industry certifications.  To introduce kids to the idea of a pathway, we also offered an Intro to Pathways.  Now we are adding an Arts Pathway, and we hope to offer a Healthcare Pathway in 2015-16.

Last year’s pilot was a little rough around the edges, since neither students nor teachers really knew how to do education this way.  So this year, we are requiring all students to take Pathways 101 before they can enroll in a pathways class.  Pathways 101 doesn’t have any required academic content, but it is designed to teach students how to learn in a project based class, how to collaborate, set goals, work with community members, and generally take responsibility for their own learning.  This will be a fall semester course.  We are also offering Marine Studies in the fall that offers language arts and biology credit and in the spring that offers physical science and math credit.  The Arts Pathway will be offering History through the Arts in the Spring.

Tomorrow, we start planning all the classes, including those that don’t start until the end of January.  It should be an interesting week.

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changing it up

In Fall 2014, I will have a new class, Geometry 1A.  I’m a excited to have the chance to teach something besides basic math and pre-algebra.  It’s a small group, only 6 kids.  They’re in the 1A version because it lets them take things at a slower pace.  Which means I have lots of time to do task instead of chapters.  I do still have the constraint of following the text content, since they will take the second half of Geometry in a text based class.  But I will have the freedom to change it up a little.

I laid out a scope and sequence and then started working on the content.  To help keep it straight, I have made a spreadsheet that’s color coded to my scope & sequence.  Geometry 1A Content and Geometry 1A Scope & Sequence.  Screen Shot 2014-08-07 at 10.27.51 PM

I was just on twitter looking for a task that I heard of or read about somewhere.  It has students in pairs with some type of screen between them.  One student has an image they have to describe.  The other student has to reproduce the image based on the description of the first student.  Hedge (@approx_normal) sent me this (see 3rd page), but it isn’t quite what I wanted.  However, I do like the idea of having students build 3 dimensional objects and then describing them to their partner for replication. Hmmm.  I think I may have to build this task myself, but I will search a little longer, first.

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