Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Making the World More Awesome

This last week was our school's International Week (with a bit of Kuwait National and Liberation Day celebrations).  For the secondary group, our students spent one day presenting information about countries they had studied and the next few days rotating classrooms.  Each teacher was asked to prepare a lesson that tied to International Week, and that would be suitable for students from 7-10.  Instead of focusing on a specific country I decided to do a lesson that promoted the idea of a global community, and our students' roles in said community.

I began the lesson with some trivia, to get the students thinking globally.  After that, we moved onto a reading and analysis of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken".  It is a pretty powerful and simple poem, so my students loved it.  We tied the poem directly into a video featuring the Kid President by Soul Pancake.  You can see the video for yourself here.  The purpose of the video is to promote self-study in teens and to get them thinking about the good they can do in the world.  It is a great video to show to any age group.

Their final task was to write a paragraph or draw a picture showing how they can make the world more awesome.  I took their work and decorated my classroom door with it, and I think it turned out great.  There was some pretty insightful and meaningful contributions from my students.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Travel Tuesday

My wife, Amanda, puts up a photo every Friday, and I think it is a great idea.  So, I'm going to steal it.  We are able to travel a lot, because of our profession and our desire to do so.  To that effect, we have a lot of pictures of some pretty neat places.   I hope ya'll enjoy.
Arequipa - Peru
We took this on our honeymoon last summer.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Differentiation and The Split Classroom

I have the unfortunate task of teaching two classes two completely separate subjects at the same time.  The size of our school and the ESL population we serve means that my Grade 9 and 10 English courses are each split into an Academic (higher understanding) stream and an Applied (lower understanding) stream.  In an elementary classroom, split classes are difficult (I can imagine anyway).  In high school class it can be very challenging.

Marina Mall - Kuwait
The only sane way that I can cope with this situation is to construct units that contain very similar core components.  For instance, we are studying non-fiction in Grade 9 right now and much of the day-to-day lessons are very similar.  I focus on a question of inquiry during my units, and everything we do relates back to that question.  The daily lessons are built around getting the students to work for their understanding, but the activities (and the other ways they get to this understanding) are separated for stream.

Managing two classes in one room can be a bit of a nightmare, but I often try and stagger their activities or assignments so that I can introduce a concept or activity to one stream while the other is finishing something else up.  This doesn't always work the way I want it to, and occasionally I have some students staring wide-eyed at me waiting for instructions.  This is where Crafting comes into play.  Students that finish their stream's activity quickly can independently work on their own learning through my Crafting program.
Marina Mall - Kuwait

The staggering works reasonably well, and I always try to start my lessons (unless there is carry-over from the previous day) with whole class instruction and inquiry.  This lets kids in either stream work at answering questions or giving opinions on the topics being covered, and the whole class can work with and learn from each other.  The differentiation comes when they start on stream appropriate activities or tasks.  Due to a huge difference in abilities, I try to differentiate the task within a stream as well.

In practice, it has worked well with a few bumps along the way.  One of the biggest challenges is simply keeping all of the tasks straight in my head.  It is very easy to get some of the jumbled!  My marking sheets are a bit of a mess, but it is a mess that makes sense to me...so I guess that's what counts.

And...finally...the pictures above were taken at Marina Mall, here in Kuwait.  It is one of the few nice outdoor areas here.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

It`s All About Choice

I have read a fair bit into project based learning and other sorts of assessment alternatives in the last year or so, and I decided to implement my own program last semester. We had a PD session today about some of the ways that we can motivate some of our students to complete major assessments with more regularity. They are usually pretty good about completing tests, because all that is required of them is that they sit and write when the teacher tells them too. The trouble comes in when they are asked to complete a project of some kind. Often I never get the project in at all from these sorts of students. It can be maddening.

This year I decided to give them more control over the method in which they demonstrated their understanding of the content. We have a significant EAL population at our school, which translates into a host of issues one wouldn't necessarily have to deal with in a non-EAL school. I'm not keen to get into the issues, since I think the approach I've taken for projects will work in any classroom.

I'll give an example. We studied a graphic novel version of Macbeth (again, EAL) last semester, and at the end of the story I presented my Grade 10s with their final assessment. Using the projector I walked them through the rationale behind the entire program, gave them the rubric I would use to assess their learning, and presented the with the different methods they could demonstrate their knowledge and understanding. They could write a persuasive essay, write an alternative ending, write a short sequel, create a visual essay (presentation with a thesis), or they could film and edit a short movie with one or more essential scenes from the play.

Initially, many of the students gravitated toward the movie assessment (which could be done with a group of up to 5 students). However, many of the quickly realized the need to depend significantly on each other in order to achieve the success they wanted and that tended to deter them. I thought most students would choose the presentation, but only a few did (they could do it alone or in pairs). I received a final submission from each type of assessment in the end.

This sort of demonstration of learning was incredibly impactful for my students, because it was the first time for many of them where they could show me their understanding in their own way. Obviously, some leeway had to be given in terms of some of the technical issues that can crop up in each of the assessments, but, for the most part, they did a great job. Two of the standout projects were completely different in type and scope (one was a short film of 3 scenes and the other was an excellently written alternative ending) but they were both very good demonstrations of understanding.

Another great effect of this process was the enthusiasm I saw in many of my students. They were EXCITED to show me what they new about Macbeth. The process of showing me what they knew was as much a learning experience for them as was actually reading the play/graphic novel. It was great to see, and I know that I am going to try and implement this assessment model as often as I feasibly can.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Class awards

I've decided to start the second semester with a change-up in class rewards. I decided to create two separate awards for my 3 English classes (8, 9, and 10). I have incorporated Class Dojo into a few of my classroom items (mainly washroom passes), so I decided to use the funny little Class Dojo characters for my awards too. I made an academic award (Task Master) and a good behaviour award (Dojo Champ).

I like the idea of having two separate awards, because I have some students that are great students but they struggle to always achieve success. The Dojo Champ award gives them another opportunity to get recognition. The Task Master award isn't necessarily for the highest mark, though. I want to award it to students that can demonstrate their understanding of a particular activity/task/topic. For instance, for the first Task Master award in Grade 10, I gave it to a student who has consistently demonstrated his understanding of critical media literacy this past week. He demonstrated his understanding through the activities we did in class and not through a summative assessment. Having said that, I am confident he would do well there too.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Edtech and iPads

I had a pretty long blog post about using iPads in my day to day teaching life. This isn't that post. The Blogger app has problems, and it decided not to save my post. Hence the angry rewrite. I'll try and recreate the magic I had earlier.

I am well on my way to converting fully to the iPad for my daily classroom tasks. I still use a pen and paper for marking, because that is how I started this year and I don't feel the urge to digitize everything. Occasionally, a pen and paper is more convenient for other things too (quick notes), but I have largely switched over to Apple's little device. I figured I would list a few of the ways that I use it n the classroom.

Notes/reminders/calendar - I'll get the vanilla apps out of the way first. I have tried other versions of all of these apps (some paid), but for my average day as a teacher I only need the functionality that these three provide. I use the Notes app for writing up long form reminders and for some anecdotal notes. I use Reminders to lay out my ever-changing to-do lists. And I use the Calendar app to schedule meetings and important dates.

Class Dojo - this app is a functional representation of the website. It doesn't have any bells or whistles, but it is solid. I love having the website open on my pc and the volume turned up while I walk around the room with my iPad in hand. I will often give points for students working on task, helping others, taking initiative, etc. Students hear the bell that alerts them to a new point, and they immediately (most of them) start to correct any problematic behaviour. It isn't foolproof, but what is.

Edmodo - I don't use this often IN my class, but rather I love the ease of use and fingertip access when I am not in the classroom. I post all of my homework on Edmodo, and I always check my account at night in case any students have pertinent questions.

Teacherkit - I use this free app to take attendance and make on-the-fly behaviour notes. It offers more functionality than that, though. There are a wide variety of these sorts of apps, but I like the intuitive and quick nature of the program.

Anyway, that's about it for tonight. I had a wonderful post written up (walla, I swear) but it is lost to the ether now.