Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Blogging Teacher

It has been said that the next generation of children coming through the school systems, age 14 years and under, have never known life without technology. The push in the technology field is through a teacher program called STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. But there are more reasons for any teacher to blog besides the fact that it is part of the program and it does not have to be centered around STEM, just centered around your area of expertise and interest.
  Here are some guidelines to getting your own successful teaching blog going.
§  Stay on topic. Make sure that your blog is dedicated to what the students are learning in the moment. Use the blog to enhance the topics being discussed in class.
§  Get link-y with it. The key to any successful blog is to imbed links into your blog. They can be educational links to fun games or links to papers and research. In a round about way, you are not only teaching your students more about the topic, but how to do research and find information. In the job market, that is more important at times than the topics we are teaching.
§  Pics or it didn’t happen. Pictures can be used to enhance the topic or just simply snag your readers attention. Everyone loves pictures.
§  Let’s go to the video. Most blogging sites allow you to attach YouTube or personal videos to your blog. Maybe you want to make sure the students review a certain concept and it may be a lot easier to explain on a video than in “written” format. Or there could be someone who explains it a lot better or differently. These are your resources.
§  Be passionate about your subject. The Ben Steins of education are not welcome here. Sorry Ben, you’re a smart man but very monotone. The blog that you create is about your voice in the subject. Some will be more appealing than others. Many teachers are in education not just because of what they teach but simply because they love the art of teaching and learning.
§  Encourage interaction. If your students are not using your blog as a tool for enhancement, use bribery. This could be in the form of an extra credit question on a test. You want to think of ways that your students will not only read the blog but use it as a learning tool. You may want to start off the class with a 5 minute conversation about what was posted.
§  You don’t have to post everyday. Only as needed to enhance the topic. If you happen to run across a fun website or link, do a 5 minute review of the site. Writing a blog is not like writing a college essay. It can be short and sweet when necessary.
§  Don’t publish personal opinions about school policies, education policies, or personal information. This is a professional blog. Save the information about who drank how many magaritas at the last teacher gathering for your personal blog. Ask yourself, am I going to be embarrassed down the road if someone reads this? If it is “yes” or even an “I’m not sure”, don’t do it.
§  Research successful teacher blogs. These are the blogs that make an education center’s list of being most helpful and interesting. Read their blog to see why.

Monday, March 25, 2013

What are Interdisciplinary Units and Studies?

From naturebridge.org

Let’s begin with the word “interdisciplinary” since we have an idea of what a unit and a study are. Well, inter- is a Latin root generally meaning between and discipline is an area of study. Therefore, we can safely say that interdisciplinary is the study between several subject areas. Easy enough. But how do you implement it? That’s a little tricky because no one way is right or wrong. Here are some tips on making it easier to implement.
§  Consult the experts. Usually a subject area department head can assist with resources and materials to help you get going as far as creativity or ideas for lesson plans. And if you are on any of the Social Media sites, access to more know-it-alls!
§  Don’t go it alone. Interdisciplinary Units work better is the teachers work as a team and coordinate lesson plans to reflect the teachings in other classes. It makes for a much more cohesive unit.
§  Have your administrator review the Unit for input. Your administrators work for you too! Why consult a teacher coach or principal? Maybe to save yourself from the recent embarrassment that a school in Georgia experienced.
§  Be flexible. Not everything can be fit into one class. Make sure your lessons have the capacity to be flexible. The classroom is not the same from one minute to the next. And give yourself a break if you don’t get to it all!
§  Allow the students to make their own connections between the subjects. Teachers are no longer lecturers, they are learning facilitators! You are the head coach of your own indoor sports team! Just guide them in the right direction!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Are there too many teaching styles?

  You have to love college education classes. They throw as many types of learning styles and ways to make lesson plans at you as they can. From Bloom's taxonomy to Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, I have probably learned about a half dozen of them on my own. They are systems that attempt to reach every style of learning in every way possible.
  How do you, as an educator, wade through all these forms? Teachers have a tendency to make the mistake of trying too many styles or just using the same one systematically. I have a revolutionary thought for you, pull out the best elements of each style that you are comfortable with and create your own learning system. That's right! You don't have to jump around and you don't have to be "stuck" in any one style.
  Many times, when we are given the latest craze, handed down by well-meaning administrators who have not taught a class in over five years, we try it to death. It interrupts the learning style that you have created and are comfortable with. Why not just pull away from it, one or two things that seem really cool to you, and take them for a test drive?

Image from edpsycinteractive.org
  Teaching is an art form and these art forms are ever-shifting as we mold our craft to better suit the needs of our classrooms. I prefer using Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligences (MI) and applying it to a lesson plan system called 4MAT. Many teachers find 4MAT takes a long time to put together but it makes your total Unit cohesive and allows the capability of all learning styles the chance to perform in their best category while working on skills that they struggle with in the other intelligences. I have used it before and once you are used to setting it up, you can make a template in Word and it would take far less time to create the lesson plans.
  4MAT is the only lesson planning system that I have seen that incorporates MI, Myers-Brigg Personality, and the four big questions in the learning process. The questions are as simple as Why, What, How, and If. What 4MAT also takes into account are some of the most important parts of Bloom's taxonomy and which parts fit into the questions.
  My recommendation would be to learn and research the system, see if you like the idea of being able to reach all the learning styles at some point in the teaching process, and begin setting up over the summer. With any time you learn a new teaching style, there are going to be ideas that work and ones that don't but the journey is more fun than the results!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Schools Will Not Evolve Without Creativity

  If you are interested in public education in America and our new “Common Core” of Standards, I urge you to read this article from the Washington Post. I love having new technology in the classroom. I love how innovative teachers can make their classroom based on the amount of information exchanges from teacher to teacher and from class to class. However, creative teaching should always be the focus.
  Some of the materials that are being produced by the companies claiming to support Common Core Standards are very scripted and leave little room for growth for the students. Wow. The true form of “dumbing down” America. Do politicians and administrators have so little faith in the people who spend years in school to train minds how to grow and learn that they feel it necessary to dictate exactly how the material is taught? Do they think monkeys can do this? Isn’t anyone on the teacher’s side anymore? There used to be a day and age when teachers were highly respected and some of the most intelligent people in the world occupying the field.
  Come one folks! Let’s get a conversation going about these issues!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Quiet Classroom is not Always a Creative Classroom

from NBC News
  Being inundated by testing, testing, testing, and more testing is becoming the norm in most school systems. Some administrators are going as far as thinking that if the classrooms are quiet, then they are learning. No, if the classrooms are quiet, they are not processing the learning in the way that the student learns! The only time a classroom should be quiet is when they are taking tests.
I have always encouraged using a variety of resources, teaching styles, and management skills to promote teaching to the way students learn. I also promote creative programs and ideas that encourage progressive classrooms. I am not saying a creative and learning classroom is more chaotic than Grand Central Station in New York. What I am saying is that classroom management is even more important in a creative classroom. Here are some common misconceptions about “noisy” classrooms:
§  Talking means that students are not learning. On the contrary! These students are using their verbal and interpersonal intelligences to communicate. Students who learn creative communication skills are more apt to be business leaders and problem solvers!

§  Students are not learning if they are out of their seats. Depends on what they are out of their seat for! Most of the time, especially in a science classroom, students are getting materials to work on their experiment for that day. Movement in a classroom does not indicate lack of control.

§  If students are laughing, they are causing trouble or disrupting the classroom. Really? When has a child or student’s laughter made you feel bad? Having positive feelings around a subject is bad? Laughing, the last time I checked, reduces stress and anxiety levels.

§  The teacher should be the focus of the classroom. This one gets to me more than the statement above. Teachers are not poorly paid actors. They are not paid to stand in front of a classroom to entertain you. They are paid to be your learning coach and your education guide. Classrooms should always focus on the student and their engagement of the material. If they are not engaged, they are not learning.

§  Good, dynamic teachers reach 100% of the students all the time. Once again, too much focus on the teacher, not the students. No one teacher can reach every single student. There will always be students in the classroom who refuse to be engaged. This is where the Special Needs teacher is supposed to step in and work with the student. Why? They might have a learning disability, problems at home, or any other variety of things that are keeping them from being engaged.

From Active Classroom UK: Do you have a Smartboard yet?
    The point is that if we hold on to these misconceptions, we will continually hold our classrooms back from being progressive and student-oriented.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Researching Finland’s Education System

From Finland National Board of Education

Finland has been receiving high marks around the world for the past few years on the quality of education. The society is very homogeneous and receives very few immigrants, which makes it easier to get every child on the same page. There are several things that Finland has been doing that we can learn from:
1.      Children do not enter school until the age of 7. Finland’s economy allows a parent, usually the mother, to stay home and teach and raise the child before entering school. Based on neurological research, the US may be pushing it’s youngsters into the system too soon. Our economy does not support a single wage earning family to be successful. It is something to think about.
2.      Teacher’s are required to have a Master’s Degree. Unlike America, Finland is highly selective in who enters the teacher training program. If you do get in, it is paid for by the government. I encourage you to read this article from Education Week for further details.
3.      Political parties agreed to be bipartisan when it comes to education. Finland placed education and a culture of education based on feedback from corporations, such as Nokia, as to what kind of employee they would be looking for to fulfill the high tech and industry roles of today and the future.
4.      The school environment is safe, relaxed, and informal. Teachers are called by their first name! Comfort is a priority in the school systems for students and teachers. It reminds me of a private school in Massachusetts that was relaxed. Students would not wear pajamas or call their teacher by their first name but it was not unusual to see the kids in the classroom without shoes on or laying on the carpet reading a book. It was structured without being constrictive.

Visit this six minute BBC video about Finland’s education system and let’s start thinking out of the box!