June 23, 2017

Student-Led Learning: Just the Place to Start

Welcome to The Best Days Blog! If it is your first time visiting, I'm glad you're here!  If you read my blog regularly, I love that you have come back to read it again!  I am SUPER excited to share with you my continual search for the Student-Led Classroom in the form of best practices and ideas that work for me and everyone!  I'm calling this Just the Place to Start because it is going to be a place where you can read and discover from past, present, and future blog posts based on my experiences in the Student-Led Classroom!  It will be, literally, a list that grows and changes so that you will have most of my posts in one place on this subject.  I'm just going to claim right now that "most" will be right.  You know how busy we get, so, be sure to follow me here on my blog so you get all the latest posts!  So, here we go! 

Fearless Learners Book Study!  Grab a copy and join in the fun!  
Fearless Learners: Student-Led Learning with a Little Fear Added In!    
Student-Led Learning:  It's All Gonna' be Just Fine (Publishing on June 27th)
Student-Led Learning:  Go For It! (Publishing on June 30th)
Student-Led Learning:  Connect with EVERYONE!  (Publishing on July 3rd)
Student-Led Learning:  Failure IS an Option!  (Publishing on July 6th)

Other Student-Led Musings:
Chew on This:  Student Inquiry with Dr. Larry Chew
Project Based Learning:  Shedding a Light on Area and Perimeter
Change Your Homework Collection Forever
Author's Point of View:  A Video Presentation 
Author's Point of View:  How we REALLY Learned the Style of Multiple Choice Questions
Author's Point of View:  Independently!  

That's a lot!  And there will be plenty more as I move into this model in my classrooms more and more!  I can't wait to share even more with you, so check back often!  Also, feel free to comment and let me know your thoughts, ideas, and experiences!  Let's learn together, so comment below! 

June 19, 2017

Chew on This: Student Inquiry with Dr. Larry Chew

Bonus round has begun!!  As I have shared, I'm on a quest to discover more and more about student-led Learning!  Today was an excellent discovery and it was FREE!  Awhile back my district had sign-ups for a free summer institute in science!  I jumped right in and I was accepted for the class!  Little did I know it would align perfectly with my goals for the year and that I would get to hear a great speaker too-Dr. Larry Chew!  

Dr. Chew's background was an aerospace professor who now presents nation wide!  How does an aerospace professor go from teaching college students complex engineering principles to reaching the hearts of teachers-it started with fear!  Fear that he was unable to prepare his own children for real life.  He was a great professor who's tests scores just didn't line up to prove that.  Instead of staying at "Oh well!" he went on the path to discover why!  Through this, he discovered that background knowledge and exploration were missing in his classroom!  So, he worked to develop an answer, and discovered inquiry based discussions that put the student in the role of discussion guider and questioner!  

This method is brilliant!  Purely brilliant!  It builds both background knowledge through exploration and student based discussions, allowing students to figure it out!  Let's face it, he's right when he shares that 2/3 of the student in our classrooms can't tell us the why.  But the reality is, no one is out there teaching us how to get them to be able to do it!  Chew points to the fact that it is up to us, the teachers, to get out of the way and allow the kids to do it, with a carefully planned classroom environment and the training needed to ask the questions themselves.  And, it's super easy!

I say "super easy" right now.  He explains that it will take lots of time and practice, and MANIPULATION!  That's right, he says that we must become master manipulators-to teach students how to go in the right direction with questioning and how to get them to "discover" the answer for themselves.  So, let's dive in!

First, it starts with the benchmarks.  If you don't know the benchmarks, you are dead in the water!  Plus, you do have to know the science or concept you are going to present.  He can, literally, in minutes provide a basic lesson idea.  He did it, multiple times, with multiple subjects!  From the benchmark, you develop a content statement-the thing kids are to take away, to remember, to LEARN from the whole lesson!  Next, find a quick activity that will take all of 5-7 minutes of time!  And, you are ready!  

Next, you present your students with the benchmark or whatever else you are required to do in less than 5 minutes.  DO NOT share the content statement!  Complete the activity and, then, have them write on a whiteboard (one per table in teams of 3) whatever your learning goal might bring.  The experiment we did is we wrote words to describe what we saw in the experiment.  Then he asked us to divide them into two columns.  Easy right.  What we DIDN'T see is Dr. Chew checking white boards for a key word-physical!  This is where the manipulation on the teacher's part is taking place. He is targeting 2 or 3 table groups (never students-tables!) to call on who have the right words and ideas as the start of the conversation!  And, what a conversation!  

Here's how it works! The process is called Add, Ask, and Challenge/Comment!  Dr. Chew modeled this over and over.  He asks the first question and chooses one of those 2-3 students who had the right concept, your concept statement goal, on their white board!  Simple right.  Here's where it gets good!  Dr. Chew then only calls on student names.  The student called on MUST ask a question of the TABLE (once someone talks, it goes to the next table member).  Once that is answered, the next student called on MUST CHALLENGE or  COMMENT  on what was said.  And it keeps going like this.  If a table doesn't know, it is up to the tables around them to help out and keep the conversation going.  You do this for about 10 minutes, without teacher input.  You can plant questions and you can thank someone who is misdirecting a comment, but you don't fix anything, even misconceptions.  But you listen carefully and take note of what you do need to fix when time is up!  Yep, and it is all kid based. Sounds too easy right!  Even Dr. Chew says we are working to hard at that perfect classroom.  If it messes up, refocus and try again.  If a table isn't involved, maybe tomorrow they will be!  It just takes time and practice!  

So, what happens when it is over?  Then it is teaching time. You present what you need to present, fix misconceptions, and focus them completely on the content statement!  You have manipulated them into believing they figured it out on their own!  BRILLIANT!  

There is also the closing activities-practice the content statement 3 times silently and then tell your team member-each taking a turn!  And that's IT!  Simple, easy, and BRILLIANT!  Check out more over at TommyC.org, Dr. Chew's homepage!  Be sure to check out the handouts and more!  

Personally, I can't wait to try out this method in my classroom.  It allows students more control, it allows me to teach with the students in mind, it provides more hands on in Science (but it can be used in any subject), and fit perfectly with my philosophy and where I'm headed!  

Let me know what you think in the comments section!  Can't wait to hear what you have to say!  

June 7, 2017

Project Based Learning: Shedding the Light on Area and Perimeter

This year's testing anxiety, both in students and teachers, is OVER!  Thankfully!!  However, so is my math book!  Yes, I know! Years ago, a math book was viewed as a holy grail in teaching.  It was, literally believed, that if you finished your math book there was something wrong with you!  You went too fast or taught too little!  Your students didn't master the  material!  Because, honestly, that's what math was all about-mastery!  In our high stakes testing systems, it is now about production line work!  Get it done-faster, incomplete, and without mastery-or your test scores will suffer!  Many times, we do our quick little "project" based questions at the end of the chapter and call it a day!   They "really" shed a light on what kids know, right!  (I can hear you laughing now!)

So, with the dilemma of no more 3rd grade math to teach and a number of weeks still at hand, I set forth on a quest to really "see" what my kids really knew about area and perimeter with this gem-Build a Park Project!

Let's start with what I really thought shall we!

Misconception #1:  
This will only take a week!

I figured the kids would whip out the required elements and the poster, and poof-done!  Now, the reality is, I was a little bit crazy when I thought this!  I've done tons of project based learning.  I know better!  But for some reason I was totally wrong about this one.  I had safely given them 5 days to plan and 5 days to "build".  I quickly realized that the planning was the deeper problem in this activity.  This leads to misconception #2.

Misconception #2:  
My students know how to use the formulas for area and perimeter!

HA!! Now I can laugh at that!  From my brightest to my struggler, they were just counting.  Over and over again, just counting!  We had completed lessons, we had used the formula.  It didn't matter-JUST COUNTING!!  This was quickly evident when none of them KNEW the formulas, even though we had just finished the chapter about a week before!  JUST COUNTING!  This was eye opening!  When we assume from a chapter that they get it, we are doing just that, assuming!  Our biggest struggle came with perimeter.  They could quickly adapt to the area formula-length x width- but the perimeter was a whole different thing!  They relied so much on counting that they didn't even know what numbers to add!  Yep, major misconception on both of our parts!

You can see the planning stage here.  This is where counting took place, from their rough ideas. This led to many problems in calculating using the formulas.  

Misconception #3:  
Required elements are required, right!

I have completed projects with my students that had required elements.  They were successful at that!  In math-it was like a whole new idea!  I had kids creating things with ZERO required elements.  Once I started checking here and there, it was like a lightbulb went off!  I had one student who had to scrap her whole project because they didn't understand that the list I went over and specifically said they needed was, well, required! So, this was another eye opening thing for me!
I worked with this student to adjust some "required" elements because they clearly knew the math on paper but just "missed" the idea of what "required" meant. 

Misconception #4:  
"Doing" the math will be easy.

When you are looking at basic adding and multiplying, you would assume that these are easier skills that students can complete.  However, this is a crossing over of skills, making it more complex.  This means that divergent thinking had to mix with convergent thinking (a concept I am currently reading about in a book called Make Just One Change.)  This cross over meant many easy mistakes being made.  Could they pull the numbers they need and then make them equal to what they "THINK" the area or perimeter was.  They wanted to draw squares instead of use lengths and widths in their drawing.  That meant skipped squares or unequal rows and columns.  That equaled FRUSTRATION!  Nothing that couldn't be solved, but they just couldn't "see" how the error in their drawing made the error on the math page.  Very enlightening I must say!
This shows that this student did not connect the area formula of 6 x 5 = 30 to how it should be correctly modeled.  

Misconception #5
 Presenting an idea will be easy with the R.A.F.T. method, after all, that's what it is for! 

If you have never heard of the R.A.F.T. method,  you are missing out.  This easy to use writing strategy is a fun way to motivate students to write.  The have a R. role, A. audience description, F. format  for a topic to be written as, and T. the topic to be written about.  I motivated them with this idea:

Yet, I got everything from a minute of sharing which sounded blah to a full fledge sales pitch.  The R.A.F.T. did motivate them, but I did not give enough information for all kids to really get it!  So, I got wise. While kids were sharing projects, I jotted a few great ideas I heard and, with that in mind, created a guiding document to help the students next time!  Here are some of the great ideas I heard from their presentations:
        *Share the name of your park (obvious, yet missed by many)
            *Include the theme of your park and why it is that theme
            *Share important locations and how they can be enjoyed by "guests"
            *Include a reason to invest in your park-what are the best qualities?
            *What is the price range to invest in your park?  (This is a great practice in place value and
              the value of land, etc.

This was one of the projects that had a full sales pitch as well!  

That about wraps these misconceptions up!  It was truly an enlightening thing to do.  The BEST moment of this entire experience was when my true math struggler made a HUGE connection between the formula and the shape, something this student had missed all along, even when counting. This student had that sudden light bulb moment where they literally went "OHHH!" when writing out the perimeter formula!  This child also scored the best they have ever scored on anything in math because other qualities emerged.  Their ability to give a good presentation, the detail they put into the project that others did not, the pure success this child felt all became a key component in the end result.  It truly reminded me of the reason why we must be do projects in math-and it will spur me on to find more!  

So, here it is!  

As you can see, this project is fun and informative for both the student and the teacher.  And, you get everything you need to complete this project and assess their work.  It really is an amazing project that I am so glad that I completed with my students and hope that you will complete with yours!  Let me know what you think by adding a comment too!  

June 6, 2017

Change Your Homework Collection FOREVER!

Yep, the more I look at this, the more that I know I have changed my collection of homework FOREVER!  Here's how!  

A few years ago, our district adopted Danielson as it's teacher observation tool.  We were NOT shown or inserviced on how dramatically different Danielson was from Marzano.  Marzano was very teacher friendly, a nice transition into a system that was designed to highlight teacher success in both traditional methods and more modern methods of learning.  Let's put it this way, this system was used for good, not evil!  Danielson on the other hand-pure EVIL!  Really, this system CAN and WILL be used to hurt teachers, depending on how your administration views the tool.  Well, needless to say, it was used as just that!  Instead of training and assisting teachers, this system was dropped into our laps and then administrators picked and chose who and how they would use this system of evil against-and I GOT IT!  Yep, I passed out post-its in the middle of a lesson-needs improvement!  That simple! The kids weren't doing the work, I was!  So, I set out to learn how to beat the system.  Not that I didn't want my students leading the classroom-I was known for how much differentiation I did with my students, the creativity I brought to lessons, project based learning, TECHNOLOGY! I mean, this was my thing-yet, BAM!  Needs improvement.  

So, I set out to change.

It started with being more organized in handling materials I use with the students and the creation of Table Leaders/Team Leaders in my classroom.  How this looked was simple.  On each desk I taped a pretty circle with a number in it-1 through 4.  The Team Leader was always person #1 at the table team.  They were "it" basically.  If there were any materials to gather and collect, it was their job to do so.  Everything I needed, they were my go-to students.  (I did still have a leader in class for leading the line, etc. I also still have classroom jobs!)  So, the next logical step was to use them to collect HOMEWORK-the job I literally hated the most in my classroom.  "Why not!" I thought!  This could be a totally great way for me to loose that job I hated!  I created a basic collection paper and it worked!  Then I started to think, "How can I get this to work on a long term paper to track it more easily for record keeping" and the Editable Student/Table Leader Checklist was born!  

This product is super easy to use.  You need to be sure you have the two fonts to view it in the best possible way-but, as you can see, my school computer doesn't have those fonts, so it can be used without them (just not as super cute!)  

Once the students bring me the clipboard, it just takes me moments to gather the work into the correct piles and check it in on the clipboard.  You can see my system has also developed some easy to use letters-M for missing and then smaller letters for the subject.  I also use AB for absent.  The greatest thing about this system is I keep these pages in my teacher binder  to go back to at report card time.  There are spaces for 4 students at each group and each day of the week.  The kids manage it all!  

One of the best things about this is that it also sets the students up for more responsibility and more ownership in the processes of the classroom.  The best thing for you is that it is FREE!  It is one of the easiest ways to set up Student Led Learning in your classroom! 

Over the next few months I will be talking more about how I am growing in the use of Student Led Learning and some of the Professional Development I am engaging myself in!  So, come back often and learn more about the Student Led Classroom!