Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Student-Directed Learning:Giving Students the Rein!

The other day I taught  a lesson on volume. Actually, it was a lesson on knowing the formula V= L X W X H or V=B X H. Teaching back in the 80's, I  would have written the formula on the board, and had my students copy it.  Then I would give them  a worksheet with enough Volume
problems to fill a water tank. I would expect them to learn how to multiply the factors, and that would be enough. Whether or not they actually understood what volume was not an issue. All they needed to know was the formula.

Fast forward to the year 2013, where I don't use that method to teach anymore. My learning is student-directed, they are required to problem-solve. Using cubes and containers, the day before, I got my students to understand what volume actually is. So, now how to get them to figure out the formula without the cubes. What to do? What to do?

I gave them a box. A box lid and cubes. My directions?  Find the volume of the lid without putting the cubes inside the container. I told them that I would love to hear the vocabulary we had learned in their discussions and then I let them loose!

The results were amazing! I got out of the way and let them go. It was a joy to walk around the room, and immerse myself in the discussions they were having. The vocabulary we learned rolled off their tongues, and ideas of how to accomplish this task were shared, revised, and tried.  They were engaged from the beginning to the end. In the end, every group was able to come up with the formula for volume! I was very proud of the work they had done.

More and more, I have embraced this as my method of teaching. I have become a facilitator of learning, rather than the leader, the head honcho in charge. I am putting more control of the classroom in student hands, and I am enjoying the results!

"Music to My Ears!" AND a FREE GIVEAWAY!

I always begin our classroom day with music. This school year, I took advantage of Pandora, and have classical music playing as my kids came in the door. I believe it helps start their day in a calm, soothing, manner.

Music has always been a huge part of my classroom. Whether it's entering the room, ending the day, or singing out loud with educational music videos. I believe music should not be relegated to the Music room. Here's the thing though, I have always had a difficult time finding music that was not only appropriate for my 5th graders, but also something they would like.

So, I was happy when I was asked by  Zeamu Music to try out their CD with my students.

"ZEAMU MUSIC is a new record label that’s been launched specifically for children aged 4 to 11 by a collective made up of some of the music industry’s hottest producers, musicians and composers. As parents themselves, the founders of Zeamu Music couldn't find any music specifically made for kids and concerned about providing music that allows parents to engage with their children without the worry of exposing them to music with adult themes." 

The songs are sung by kids and they are about topics that children can relate to. "Alone in the Dark", "Beat the Bullies", and "School" are just a few of the titles.

It also arrived just in time for me to "steal" the new teacher's idea of transitioning with music. I love the "It's the Weekend" song! It's upbeat and gives my kids a chance to dance off some of that energy before we move onto the next activity. (See Youtube video below) They even have a site with free stuff which includes the lyrics to each song. 

Are you interested in bringing this music to your classroom? Three lucky winners will receive a FREE copy of Zeamu's Music CD! Just leave a comment below.(YOU MIGHT HAVE TO CLICK THE WORD "COMMENT"IN ORDER TO LEAVE A COMMENT)I will choose a winner using on November 9,2013! (Please make sure you leave your name)

Monday, October 21, 2013

A Common Core Fairy Tale: In a Land Far, Far, Away!

I have never seen a profession where the last person's opinion that is valued are the actual people doing all the work. Everyone, and their mother, has an opinion on how to educate our children.  The sad part is that these people are taken seriously, whereas the "lowly" teacher's opinion is scoffed at.

In a land faraway, Common Core came to town. Teachers were asked their opinions, and many felt it was too much too soon. They did not have a problem with Common Core per say, but they thought it should be tested, researched. They wanted to see how it worked with our students before we rushed into anything.

But what did those silly teachers know? So Common Core was implemented with great fanfare! Dum,dum, dum, dum! People in every kingdom rushed to use it. "We must have these for our students!", they said, everyone else is using it!" The king has promised us untold wealth if we use it."

But the teachers said, "Are you sure we should do this?" The testing alone will cost millions. Buying entire resources to support this program, we really know nothing about, could bankrupt us."

"Pshaw", said those who always know better. "It will work. We have come up with a way to make it work. The students' scores will be tied to your evaluations!"

"Ha Ha Ha Ha!"

The teachers went to their administrators and asked for the resources they needed to implement this new thing. Administration said,  "We don't really have any money in the budget for new resources,just find a way to teach it. You are very good at that."

Suddenly, all around them, Common Core rained down from the heavens. Everywhere they turned, they were met with Common Core! Common Core ELA, Math, Writing, scripted material that promised to turn them into a...

"Please", teachers begged. Can we please get something to help get across what you want?"

"I have just the thing", said the administrator, "Dry erase paddles for every child!"

"But, we need books, novel sets would be a great start..."

"SILENCE!", thundered the great and mighty King of Education. We know what's best for your students. Who are you to question me, I mean us?"

The teachers bowed down before the King of Education, "Your highness, we are sorry, your wish is our command." They walked away, heads bowed, silenced. And thus, Common Core now rules over all lands far,far,away.

EXCEPT for the few who were not afraid to speak out. Remember, we matter and our voices count!

Saturday, October 12, 2013

I Suffer from FOEA- Fear of Education Acronyms!

I didn't always fear acronyms. Acronyms like PEMDAS, RARE, SWAP, are good acronyms. Their sole job? To help my students remember, like all good acronyms do.

But alas, acronyms have become something for teachers to fear. Whenever, there is a new acronym introduced into education, it strikes fear in our hearts. You know what I'm talking about. It seems that about every 6 months, a new one is introduced. One that I'm really afraid of in DE is,  DCAS (Delaware ...) Ok, I can't lie, I don't even know what it stands for! I just know it means test the hell out of our kids.

Within the past year, we have been introduced to the Common Core Standards(CCSS). Supposedly, it will help prepare our children to be College and Career Ready(CCR), using terms like RI(Reading Informational),  RL(Reading Literacy), NBT(Numbers and Operations in Base Ten, etc... My head is about to burst!

We have to create lesson plans using the LFS(Learning Focused Schools) templates to prepare our students for SBA (Smarter Balanced Assessment ), which will be completed using CBT(Computer Based Testing). Of course my evaluation, DPAS (Delaware Performance Appraisal System), will be tied to these scores.We are fully aware that all the testing nonsense started with NCLB (No Child Left Behind), another wonderful education acronym.

And the one I fear most of late? ANT (Another New Thing). Every time this acronym rears it's ugly head, I find myself buried beneath it.

You know what acronym I would like to introduce to the powers that be? It's a long one. PLMAALMT(Please Leave Me Alone and Let Me Teach). Now, that's an acronym I could love!:)

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Teach Them Like They're Future Presidents!

A conversation in a workshop, in a classroom, in a school, in a district, in a city, in a state, in our country. An unfortunate conversation that has probably been repeated many times across the U.S.

Discussing a real world problem while teaching volume:
Presenter/Teacher:  We need to give the kids a real world application. I think this problem would be great for that.
Teacher 1:  Yes, that's an excellent way to teach that concept.
Presenter/Teacher: After all, let's face it. These kids will probably be filling boxes for a living anyway.
Teacher 2(indignantly) :  I don't know what kids you're talking about! The kids in my class are going to be future presidents, or CEO's!
Presenter/Teacher:     (crickets)

And that's who we should be teaching, future presidents. Future CEO's, astronauts, computer geniuses, authors, and inventors. That's how we should be teaching, as if the future is theirs for the taking. As if this is what we are preparing them for. Is there only one type of kid who gets to be taught this way?

Because you know what? If it has already been decided that they are going to be nothing but "box fillers", then that's the way they will be taught. If it has already been decided that they are going to be pregnant in middle school, then that's the way they will be taught.

If it has already been decided that there is not much that will come of their lives because mom is a single parent, they are African-American, Mexican, poor "white trash" , living below the poverty line, dad is in jail, grandma is raising them, or any of the other reasons teachers have used to crown themselves foreseers of the future of their students' lives, then that is how they will be taught!

 They will not be challenged. The expectations for them will be little or none. When they ask for challenges, they will be dismissed. They will become a "population" of students of which nothing is ever expected.

And unless, they get a teacher or a mentor who will treat them as if they can be somebody, their life is destined to be where that  teacher said it would lead. Then in a few years, that teacher can pat them-self on the back and say, "I told you so!" smiling smugly, satisfied.

Will some of them end up working in McDonald's? pregnant? Of course, life happens. But while they are in our care, while they still have a chance, let's teach them as if they a future president!