Today my class had a great time. We do have a lot of fun days. However, today they learned quite a bit and I didn't "teach" a thing. In fact, I did hardly anything all day. However, what they learned from today will be an experience I think they will take with them for a long time.
For the last several years, my fourth students have participated in the GeoCities PBL (project based learning) activity. Through it they experience the geometry and measurement standards in a hands-on, real life activity. They build their own cities from scratch. They are given a set of parameters that have to be met (the standards), but have a lot of freedom in how they create their city. Groups must be creative, collaborate effectively with team members (business partners), and be able to communicate their thoughts not just with the team, but through their advertisement to the governor and planning committee (their classmates). It has always been a terrific project that kids enjoy.
Because I loop many students due to my combos, I created a Dream House aspect last year that covers the fifth grade standards and doesn't require us to do something totally different during the math time period of our class. (Part of the reason I teach combos is my ability to teach two separate concepts with projects and not feel like I have to be two different teachers!) This project was also a major hit with the fifth graders, whether they looped with me or not.
This year, the project was taken to an even higher level (buzzword: rigor!). I am a big proponent of students collaborating and encourage teachers to do it as much as possible as well. For this project I was able to collaborate with Margaret, a teacher who I work with regularly, but not in this capacity. A few months ago she came to me with a project that others had done at her previous school and she wanted to try. She is wanting to change up her classroom (and doing a great job, I might add!) and wanted to work together on it. It sounded like an interesting project to begin with. However, once I shared with her my GeoCities/Dream Houses project, I knew we had the makings of a memorable experience!
The new element of our project would involve the students creating products to sell based on the theme of their city/house. For example, the Football House created field goals out of pipe cleaners and paper triangles for the buyers to flick into the goal. Another group, the Imagination House, made tiny cloud pillows. (They did all the sewing themselves!) Yet another group, Athlete City, made sports encyclopedias for their buyers. Students took their exploration time in Makerspace over three weeks to make their products to sell.
Today was when the rest of the school got involved. Each city/house was put on display with the products ready for buyers. The groups needed to figure out the price of their item, make change for the buyers and be able to problem solve what to do when their product ran out. (Several did early on, including the cloud pillows.) We were able to get the whole school through the activity and all seemed to have a great time buying from our classes. (I do feel a little sorry for the last two classes as there was very little product left to buy). I heard from Margaret at the end of the day that one of the groups who still had products at the end raised their prices. What a great lesson in supply and demand that neither teacher "taught" them. Students knew we were having a contest to see who had the biggest profit. There was also a contest to see which group was voted the best design. (Buyers gave a raffle ticket to their favorite city and house.)
The activity lasted for over two hours. (We did have a break in the middle of it.) Not one of the kids complained about having to stand for that long, or that they were tired. No one complained when their product ran out or when they saw other teams getting more tickets. Today was cold and very rainy. Yet not one child was out of control or wired from having to stay indoors.
While it is fun to share what the classes did today, the real point of this blog was that the activity was better with collaboration. Students could not have done as well if they had worked alone, and I would never have thought of adding the extra activity had it not been for Margaret. All of us were better together.
What I learned:
- Students are more engaged with real world learning (ok, so I knew this, but never hurts to be reminded).
-Teaching is so much more interesting with others. It should not be an island.
-Two heads really are better than one. Collaborate as much as possible!
A few months ago, my Principal Jenny Goldman, won a subscription to Chrome Warrior, a personalized professional development gamified program. While I don't know all the details about how it was put together (only that it took a few months to get it all sorted out), I do know the effect it has had on our staff.
The idea of the game was shared with the teachers at a staff meeting in Dec. It was not met with any enthusiasm. There were even a few groans and UGH stares. This could be partly because it was explained briefly at the meeting right before winter break in the midst of grading, holiday programs, and all the trappings of the holiday season that go on in a classroom. Those of us who had known what this truly was were very excited, however.
I have shared about how close my staff is and many of our wonderful qualities. What I have not talked about was how competitive we are! There are constant classroom competitions for minor things, like whose class had the most students participate in the fundraiser or if all of my students finished the morning PE laps before other classes finished. It is all in good fun and seems to help classes form a bond. The thought of having a game to promote PD, with a few minor prizes thrown in, was really all many of us needed to indulge in our competitive natures.
Each level of the game allowed a teacher to show off what they were doing in the classroom or learn a new skill. Because this was personalized for our school culture and each teacher could choose which parts (other than a few required elements), teachers seemed to take to it immediately. On day one of the game, many teachers were "reprimanded" to quit playing so we could continue with the staff meeting. A leader board is posted, along with who completed which "sortie" so that teachers can encourage and praise each other (or step up their own game in order to "beat" their peers). It is fun to see who is doing what and how many points they are earning. I even overhead someone saying "I had no idea she does so much!"
Teachers are taking evenings and weekends to earn more points and their first badges. Some are even using their insomnia to their advantage to get more PD in. It is kind of fun to hear Jenny complain that she doesn't have enough time to approve everyone's points by looking at their evidence. Wanting teachers to slow down their PD is not something a principal usually has to say. Boy is this exciting to be a part of.
Some of us have started Level 2 while others are almost there after just a week. I am really hoping that the excitement teachers are feeling at the beginning of the game continues throughout. I think it will as a glance at what is coming looks like it will definitely step up everyone's teaching. The students are the ones who will really benefit. I even brought my class into the game. (See why in my blog post love-letter-to-my-class.html.) Since much of the "evidence" I submit for the points is student work, I showed them what I am doing. They were excited to see I was at the top of the leaderboard (for a little while anyway) and wanted to help me stay there. I asked for their opinion on what I should do next for one portion. They had many ideas. Some even wanted to help determine the prize for the special Level 4!
Another reason this "game" makes me happy is that we are being used as a pilot for the rest of the district. Whether or not this becomes a true game for everyone or just a more accessible way for teachers to get PD that means more to them and their students, it is sure making a positive mark on our school.
What I learned:
- Teachers love to play games too.
-Stickers and badges can be great incentives for adults!
- Students are always the ones who benefit from teachers learning.
-PD doesn't have to be boring and the same for everyone. Make it personalized and they are more likely to embrace what they are learning.
Over the last few years I have been teaching my students a little about computer science using Code.org. We participate in the Hour of Code and then have a little fun with the lessons provided by the website.
Two years ago, I began a Coding Club as part of the math enrichment program I run after school each year. I was pleased to see that it was about half girls and half boys. It was interesting to watch which students were the ones who excelled and became the leaders of the club. Last year I included coding as part of my classroom activities. Students worked on coding at specified times during the school day and when they had a little free time. They were enjoying it and learning some cool skills along the way. Why was this not happening in more classrooms?
This year, another teacher at our school, Shannon Reitz, and I wanted to start another after school club to get more of our students coding. We both were hoping for a small group of students to have some fun with. What happened was beyond what we thought possible. Our desired 25 student limit for the year-long club turned into 36 students in the fall semester and another 30 for the spring. (Boy were many of them disappointed to hear they had to wait.) Shannon had minimal experience in coding before we decided to take this on and I had little more. Yet, we managed to gather quite a group of K-5 students who were willing to work with us 30 minutes once a week after school ended. (Quite a long day for the little ones!)
Watching the joy of the students and the way Shannon was willing to try something she wasn't sure about herself led me to think other teachers might be willing to try it with a little help in getting their own clubs or classrooms coding. I had heard of Code.org’s professional development trainings. It was time to take it to our district.
Yesterday, (on a Saturday no less) we held our training. It was great to see not only many teachers from my school, but also from other schools within the district and several from outside our city. 36 teachers were walked through the program and got time to play as students. Many didn’t want to stop “playing” with the games to learn more about the process and how to teach coding to the students. Some of those who attended were teachers who were against adding one more thing to their already crowded school day. Being shown coding can be part of all subjects (sequencing in LA, map skills/compass directions for geography, functions and patterns for math just to start!) gave the teachers the ability to see where they could fit it in and have fun at the same time.
As the training finished, I was excited to hear many of the teachers talk about how they could implement their learning on Monday morning and how easy all of this was. My only wish was that we could have gotten more teachers to attend. Hopefully as each of these teachers head back to their classrooms, their enthusiasm will extend to others and coding will become a bigger part of today’s classrooms.
What I learned:
Thanks to Dominic, for sharing how easy coding in the classroom can be!
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