For the past month, my classes have doing history simulations. The 6th graders have become hunter-gatherers, early farmers and are now creating early civilizations. The 5th graders are learning what it felt like to be explorers in the time of Columbus and Vasco de Gama. I’ve always known that hands-on, real life experiences make the learning more relevant and interesting. What I forgot, though, is how much more fun they can be for everyone.
This week the 6th graders had a competition to start off their new early civilization unit. Each group was given the same directions, but different materials. The goal was to get the students to figure out how to trade for the correct materials, while creating laws, architecture, and a written language. Once a group had all of their materials, they were allowed to get the “secret plans” that would allow them to create their “weapon”, a catapult. Adults in each group stepped out of the action and just observed. The “winning” group made their catapult first. The other groups had to stop what they were doing as soon as any group had it made.
As adults it was very difficult to NOT get involved. We wanted to re-direct, remind them to read the directions more carefully or work better as a team. The reward of us staying out of it was seen in the class discussion afterwards. Teams figured out that the group that read ALL directions and split up into even smaller groups to accomplish their tasks was the only group to even come close to finishing. Many of the students were frustrated by the activity, not because they lost, but because they realized what they had done not so well as a team.
The 5th grade simulation was very exciting! Students were broken up into crewmates and were sailing to the New World from Spain or Portugal. They took their chances with supplies and navigation skills. Some of the ships even encountered diseases. Sadly one ship has already “lost” 4 out of 5 of it’s crew members due to disease. (Those who have lost their lives are now part of the Royal family and help the teacher!) Cheers and groans went around the room regularly as ships discovered their fates. I kind of felt sorry for the teacher next door who was testing her students, but not enough to stop the fun we were having. Students also got bored as they were waiting for others to determine what was happening next. While this is not a good goal normally, it helped to demonstrate what life on a ship would have been back before we had modern technology!
As we continued I noticed that some of the groups were starting to strategize more in deciding which child did what part of the action. This helped since each crewmember had different strengths and weaknesses. I look forward to see how they do with day 3 of our travels west.
Those of you who have read my previous posts know I am a big proponent of staying away from worksheets and textbooks. Using the simulations to learn history made it much more relevant to the class than if they had read a book about the topic or if the teacher did all the work. They are strengthening their communication, collaboration, and critical thinking skills while having a LOT of fun. Isn’t this what school should be about? I can’t wait to see where our simulations are going to take them for the rest of the year. I’m also betting the students are going to be just as curious.
The beginning of the school year signals many different events. One I have always loved and hated is Back to School Night. I always want to meet the parents of my current students and get excited to share all of the great things I have planned for the year. However, the thought of standing in front of these adults always causes my stomach to do A LOT of flips and turns (even though I’ve done it more than 20 years!). It doesn’t seem to matter that I have started speaking in front of others as part of my professional development. It’s always that worry that I won’t have enough time to get through everything AND that these are the people that are going to be judging me all year. Whether teachers like it or not, parents judge you on how well their child likes you and what is learned. It’s a fact I have gotten accustomed to, but still not something I am comfortable with. This year, though I decided to try something new with the parents, just like I do with their kids. I flipped my Back to School Night!
For those of you not sure what the “flipped” concept is, it’s where (typically) students watch a video or learn something online.The teacher is then free to answer questions and work with the students on the concept 1-on-1 or in small groups instead of lecturing to the whole class. (Check out the Flipped Learning Network for more information.) I have tried this model a few times in my classroom with the students. Now was my chance to try it with the parents.
A week before the actual event, I sent out a QR code (made through the URL shortener Goo.gl) for parents to watch a video I had recorded about my classroom. Because I know 10 year olds pretty well, I also did an email blast about the video a few days later and included it on my website. These last two seemed to reach more of the parents.
The video was nothing fancy. I used Screencastify to walk parents through the basic presentation I would have shown them when they came to school. I loved that I could use the same presentation and include myself in the bottom of the screen so that parents could get a personalized feel. I had to record it more than once to get over a few nerves and technical difficulties. However, I didn’t spend as much time doing it as I thought I would. (Need to get over that I don’t like watching myself or hearing my voice online issue that is common with a lot of people!) I also created a Google Form for parents to fill out after they watched so they could tell me a little about their child and ask me any questions in advance. By using Goo.gl and the form, I was able to track how many views my video had and I had a chance to think about the parent questions. (More people have viewed the video than have regularly showed up for the night presentation every year.)
Back to School Night was finally here. The nerves were less than normal. I was still meeting with the parents, but they had already seen me talk about the classroom. The pressure had been taken off. Instead of standing in front of a bunch of parents this year, I got to talk to small groups of people about specific topics they wanted to know more about. I also got a chance to speak specifically about a few students with their parents one-on-one without waiting for our conferences in October. Usually none of this happens because I am so crunched for time that parents get less than 5 minutes to ask me questions and NEVER do you talk about the kids specifically! AND many of the parents told me how much they loved the video. I had set up computers around the room for those who hadn’t had a chance to watch the video. Once they were done, they found me to talk about their questions and comments. Parents who weren’t able to come for the event got a chance to watch it and still participate in their student’s education. A former student’s parent commented that she wished all teachers (including me back when I had each of her sons!) would do this. She has 4 kids and is never able to get to ALL of their Back to School Night presentations. Flipping it would have allowed her to be more involved in all of what they were doing.
Now that I have flipped my Back to School Night, I have no plans to go back to the way I have always done it. The ability to have conversations with the parents rather than me spewing information at them for 25 minutes made a huge difference for all of us. My biggest regret is that I didn’t figure all of this out sooner.
Please check out my video and let me know what you think!
Last spring I was introduced to Flipgrid. This wonderful tool allows students to share their thoughts on any subject created by the teacher, other students, or the global community. Students record short videos about the topic. Sounds pretty simple. It is so much more than just a simple video recording tool. Here are a few ways I use it in my class that have made my life easier while increasing student voice.
Welcome to our class - Most of my students know each other from the previous school year. However we have a few new students, and almost all are new to my classroom. Flipgrid gave us a great opportunity to not only introduce ourselves to each other, but a chance to share something new that others may not know about. This was the kids’ first experience with video program. They loved that not only could they talk about themselves (something most kids LOVE doing!), but they also had fun using the stickers to decorate their profile pics. As new students come in throughout the year, we can re-share our videos and make everyone feel welcome to our class.
Fluency checks - Being a teacher of 36 students, I don’t always have time to test each of my students 1 on 1 to see how they are doing in their reading fluency. The problem typically isn’t the actual assessment that’s the problem. It usually comes from what the other 35 students are doing when I’m with one child. Flipgrid solves that! Last week I had each of the students (all at the same time, thankfully we have a great campus that allows students to go outside) record themselves read a passage out loud. The kids were so excited to do this. Who would have thought reading would create excitement. I listened to each of the videos when I had some time, instead of taking class time to do it. The best benefit was being able to pause and rewind whenever I wasn’t sure what the student said. Talk about getting accurate data! No more trying to hear what the student is saying in the moment! AND I know have a way to download each video to create a digital portfolio of all of their readings throughout the year.
Check for understanding - This is one I did several times last year. Since the students loved creating their own videos, I used Flipgrid as a way to check if they understood the concepts. In math, they explained how to solve fraction problems. Many of the students used visuals in their diagrams as well. In science they recorded their plant growth, explaining each part of the plant as it grew. The students also created videos comparing/contrasting an article we read with a video they watched in class. Instead of having to read and grade multiple (sometimes illegible) papers, I could now watch videos that were usually less than 2 minutes. Finding out who really understood what they learned was easier for me, and more fun for them. With the new pause button, it is even easier for students to create their own videos demonstrating understanding.
Independent reading - I have been against reading logs for several years. But I agree that there needs to be a way to track if independent reading is being done. Thankfully videos are filling that need. Students are able to quickly share book recommendations, their favorite parts, and respond (with the paid version, something I definitely encourage. AND I NEVER pay for any program!) to each other’s comments. It’s like mini books clubs for the new generation.
Global connections - This is one I look forward to trying this year. There are so many experts and classrooms around the world that are posting topics for students to respond to. What a great way to add to discussions and learn about others outside your own classroom and community!
One of the many benefits I have noticed for the students is how the quietest voices in the classroom are now able to express themselves. The pressure to speak in front of their peers has been taken away. They are talking to a computer. No longer is there a shy student with so much to say and no one to hear it.
These are only a few of the ways I use Flipgrid. (Click on the buttons below to view student examples from last year's class.) There is so much more ready to explore and bring into the classroom. I encourage you to try flipgrid as soon as you can! For more ideas, check out #FlipgridFever and #TopicThursday
20+ year teacher, mother of 2 kids and 2 dogs, wife, lover of all things M&M, interested in tech in the classroom, and changing up my teaching