Just Say NO to Public Behavior Management Systems!

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I love this blog post from Pernille Ripp called “I’ve Had Enough– No More Public Behavior Management Systems.”

She says in reference to kids who have a difficult time with behavior, “When we use public behavior management systems, we tell those children that school will never be a place where they will succeed. We put them under an unattainable microscope and then wonder why they rebel.”

Just Let it Go!

I used to use a clip chart and I’m sorry for it.

Sometimes I think back and wonder why, as a teacher, do we do certain things? Like public behavior systems, homework, spelling tests, etc. These are not things that are learned in our credential programs. There isn’t any research that supports the use. So where did we learn it then? We learned it from each other. Because someone, however long ago, decided this worked. Public behavior systems kept a class in line. It kept a class quiet. It kept kids in their “place.” And long ago that was how school was. A quiet, teacher centered place. But this isn’t what school is today.

However we are human, and yes, we make mistakes. Mistakes can bring about good if we can learn from them. I wish I could go back and change my practices of the past and apologize to kids who may have been adversely affected. But since I haven’t been able to get our Tardis to work just yet, what I can do is move forward. Make changes and move forward.

tardis

 

Image Credit: LINK

We all can. We all want our classrooms to be safe places for children. All of the teachers who I have worked with love children. So let’s truly build a place that is safe, respectful, and helps our most needy kids. Make the behavior systems private and personalized. Because let’s face it, 95% of the class does not need a system. Plan for the small percent. It may be a lot more work, but it is work that is well worth it. Because our most needy students, our students who need the most love, ask for help in the most difficult ways.

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Flipping Back to School Night

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Flipping BTSN

 

No, I’m not trying swear about Back to School Night… we actually “flipped” it! Thanks to the idea from the famous Scott Bedley who has been flipping back to school night for several years now.

WHY did we flipped BTSN at Quantum Academy?

We are all crunched for time. Parents are. Teachers are. And there just isn’t enough time to really get to know each other. So one of the first times parents are invited into our classrooms, traditionally we inundate them with information “sit and get” style. In the past, I have looked out at my parents during BTSN events and have seen their tired faces, after having worked all day long, trying to focus, write notes, and learn about what their child will be doing all year. And yes, we all know parents use this time to gauge their child’s teacher. To see if their child’s teacher has passion, commitment, and knows their stuff. But is this traditional method of BTSN the best way to do this?

I say no. Parents can learn all the nitty gritty stuff like behavior expectations, curriculum guidelines, and contact information in a better way. This is when flipping comes in. Why not create videos parents can watch BEFORE BTSN so they can watch and learn about your classroom in the comfort of their own home and maybe even while wearing their pajamas? Why not give them an opportunity to gather their questions BEFORE they come to BTSN so they can ask you in a more personal manner? Why not open the doors of your classroom on BTSN for both parents and students and let the students do the talking about their classroom? All of these questions led us to decide that at our school we are Flipping Back to School Night.

HOW did we flipped BTSN?

We took advice from Scott Bedley and created about 15 1-2 minute videos by screencasting on our computers. We simply used Quicktime on our laptops. We co-created slides using Google Slides. We divided up the number of videos between our principal, Ted Kirkbride, and I. We created almost all of the videos that covered all the “school-wide” details. The teachers then created an introduction video where they introduce themselves and describe what makes them passionate about teaching. They were also welcome to add any other videos as well. What is great about making many short videos rather than one long video, is that it allows parents to watch in small chunks, rewatch parts they need refreshing about, and next year they can skip the videos they already have watched to save some of their valuable time. Also, from the perspective of making the videos, by creating smaller videos we could easily share the responsibility of creating them.

Once we had all of our videos created we posted them online in two ways. First, we posted them on our school website. Then we also created a Youtube playlist so all the videos could be watched easily at once. About a week before BTSN night we sent a link out to all parents and explained how BTSN will work at Quantum Academy.

I know some of you are thinking… what about equal access? What about parents who do not have access to technology to watch the videos? Here is how we solved that problem. We opened up our computer lab on the evening of BTSN and allowed those parents to come early to see the videos.

HOW was time spent during BTSN?

This is the best part… we had great one on one conversations with parents and students allowing us to make better connections with them. Students had tour guide sheets to help show their parents around. Students got to pitch their first Genius Hour project to their parents and parents had an opportunity to give feedback by using a rubric to help their child with their idea. I believe everyone had a great time during the event. There were far more smiles and stronger family connections were made. Perhaps this is something you may want to consider trying at next year’s Back to School Night Event.

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Introducing SPRK Lightning Lab for Sphero and Ollie

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SPRK Lightning Lab

 

Those spherical little robots have found a special place in my heart and in the heart of the students at my school. Seeing how much students love to interact with Sphero, I am in constant search to find more ways to make learning meaningful through the use of Spheros and programming.

So you can imagine how excited I was when Sphero contacted me back in November about writing lessons for their new (then unreleased) SPRK Sphero Lightning Lab. The SPRK Lightning Lab is a place where teachers, students, parents, and makers can gather and share ideas about how to interact and learn with Sphero and Ollie. With the new SPRK Lightning Lab you are able to create a class to push out peer-created lessons to students and track student progress. Being able to create this virtual classroom is perhaps one of the most unique features of classroom use of Sphero. In addition, the Lightning Lab app utilizes blockly programming where you can design programs and share them with the community. You can read more about this here.

As a Sphero Innovator, I was able to publish a few of my lessons that I have already vetted with students. They are:

  • Collaborative Art with Sphero. You can read more about this lesson here.
  • Sphero Knock Down
  • Geometry Maze

Here is how to get started:

Sign up for a SPRK Lightning Lab Account and login.

Your Dashboard– Where you can see your classes you have created and assign activities.

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Go to My Classes to create a class and add students.

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Visit the Activities page to see what lessons are already out there, add your own activities, or meet some of the Sphero Innovators. There are tons of great ideas to incorporate Sphero into all different types of content areas. Go to My Activities to add your own ideas and activities for students. Also, click on Innovators to see the teachers who are publishing lesson ideas and activities. Check out this great list of educators from around the world.

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Explore- See and try other’s programs. You can copy or download others’ programs as well so you can make your own iteration.

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Hopefully you will find the new SPRK Lightning Lab a great way to solve the workflow problems of using Spheros in your classrooms. Hopefully I will one day see your amazing lessons posted here as well!

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How to Be a Coach to an Already Awesome Staff

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IMG_7243This is my new job title. Coach. Yet my new staff, who I am privileged to work with, is already absolutely amazing!  As a new school we had the opportunity to build a solid creative, innovative, and inspiring teaching staff. I mean really… they are going to be teaching me so much!

So here is my dilemma… how do I coach an already awesome staff?

First of all, in a perfect world I’d change my job title to “Collaborator.” Because that feels right. Rather than “coaching” my colleagues, I’d rather sit alongside and plan, collaborate, create, and innovate with them. I think we would both benefit from this type of scenario. I believe we are better when we work together.

So here is how I plan on approaching my new position:

  1. I’ll be a listener.
  2. I’ll work alongside and inside the classroom.
  3. I’ll work directly with students.
  4. I’ll collaborate.
  5. I’ll do research.
  6. I’ll document and share my learning.

Anything else I should add?

How do you I suggest I “coach” an already amazing staff?

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Let’s Stop Pretending and Let’s Start to #MakeSchoolDifferent

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Untitled drawing

 

I have been challenged by Jen Roberts and Alice Chen to write a blog post about 5 things that we need to “stop pretending” when it comes to education. But I’m not a complaining type of person, so while I will not only share with you what we need to “stop pretending,” I will also share ways we can start to #makeschooldifferent.

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 Here it goes:

1. Let’s stop pretending that standardization works. Let’s start personalizing learning and begin collaborating with students to design lessons and PBL experiences that connect to the real world.

2. Let’s stop pretending teacher centered classrooms works. Let’s start designing student centered classrooms where students’ interests are honored.

3. Let’s stop pretending worksheets are good pedagogy. Let’s start demonstrating how technology can be used to transform learning and promote creativity, collaboration, communication skills, and critical thinking.

4. Let’s stop pretending that memorizing is learning. Instead, let’s start to make learning meaningful through project based learning. And not the “let’s all make a cute project” kind of PBL, but the kind of PBL that makes a real impact on the community. Let’s start inspiring students to master life long skills like creative confidence, communication, collaboration, and critical thinking.

5. Let’s stop pretending that teachers can do the job alone. Instead, let’s embrace collaboration of all stakeholders to #makeschooldifferent→ parents, teachers, administrators, support staff, students, and the local community should work together, not against each other, to impact student learning. After all, we are not designing schools but rather learning environments and learning can happen anywhere!

As these types of challenges go, I must now pass the challenge on to 5 people. I challenge my Share #YourEdustory friends: Christy Fennewald ‏@christyfenne, Bjorn Paige ‏@BjornPaige, Jessica Vannasdall ‏@mrsvannasdall, Andrew Thomasson ‏@thomasson_engl, and Steve Brophy ‏@SteveBrophy3. I can’t wait to read what you all have to say about how you will #makeschooldifferent. Please tag me on your posts!

I’m adding Holly Clark @HollyClarkEdu to the challenge, too!

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Designing the Learning Space

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So much thought goes into what we teach and how we teach. But how often do we actually consider the importance of the learning space? As part of my research for designing a new school, my team and I have done a lot of research about the importance of purposefully designing the learning space.

Before you can actually design the learning space, you need to consider what you want to accomplish in your classroom. Here is what I want my students to be able to do inside the learning space:

  • Create freely
  • Collaborate often
  • Learn through projects
  • Develop a love of books and learning
  • Become a community

In order to accomplish all of the above, the learning space needs to be:

  • Student Centered
  • Flexible
  • Honor student choice
  • Honor collaboration
  • Clean
  • Full of great books!
  • A personal touch

Student Centered

When you walk into a typical classroom, you can quickly determine where the front of the room is. Usually there is a whiteboard, a pull down screen, a projector pointing to that screen, and a teaching station that stays put. All desks are usually arranged to face this spot in the classroom. When you really think about that type of a classroom, the layout says something. It says, the teacher is the most important part of the room.

What if, when you enter a classroom, you can’t tell where the front of the room is? The message is that the teacher is more of a facilitator of learning and the classroom is more student centered. I believe this is more welcoming to students.

Whiteboard spaces should be all over the classroom, not just in one part of the room. This allows for students to use the whiteboards for collaboration. The “teacher station” would be on wheels and can easily move out of the way.

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Link to this teaching station on wheels by Smith System.

After much research for Quantum Academy, we decided not to purchase projectors. Instead we are purchasing 70” flat screen TVs and Apple TVs. We plan on putting the flat screen TVs on TV mounts which have wheels and can easily be moved around the classroom. We have eliminated the need for a projector and speakers, which allows for more flexibility in the classroom. No longer does the front of the room need to stay in one place. It can move when needed.

Here is an example of what we are using:

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Link to this TV stand.

Moving toward a more student centered layout is more welcoming to students. It sends the message that they are the most important part of the room.

Flexible

The space needs to be able to change easily. For example, I may want all the tables to be pushed to the side so we can utilize a huge floor space. In addition, my students may want the table arrangements to be set up differently to better meet collaborative needs. By putting all furniture on wheels, the classroom space can quickly adapt to the ever changing learning needs.

Honoring Student Choice

Have you ever wondered why we (teachers) do the things we do? For example, why do we assign seats? What if we didn’t assign seats, but rather allow students to choose where they sit, how they sit, and who they sit near? Students should have a choice and I think if you give students this choice, they will make choices that are good for them.

Learning spaces should have a variety of furniture so students can learn how they learn best. I love these student tables for a number of reasons:

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Link to this table by Demco.

These tables are flexible, adjustable, and collaborative. You can quickly move them around since they are on wheels. In addition, they can easily fold up and nest, allowing you to move them all out of the way and stack them together along the wall. But the best part about these desks is they also adjust up and down; from sitting height to standing height. We all have students who prefer to stand while they learn. These desks will allow for different types of choices for students in the classroom.

What if students had different types of seats to choose from? With a combination of traditional seats and these Hokki Stools, students can find the seat that best meets their learning needs.

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Link to Hokki Stool from WittFit.

I ordered a Hokki Stool to test out and it just arrived in my office on Friday. I sat in the stool all day while I was at my desk. After the first hour or so I realized my back and abdomen were getting sore. I realized it was not because the seat was uncomfortable, but rather I was using those muscles while I was sitting. The Hokki Stool has a rounded foundation which allowed me to wiggle and adjust my posture regularly. I also found that I was sitting in more of an active manner, leaning forward just slightly. I also didn’t slouch at all today as this chair kept me in an upright posture.

By providing choice in tables and seating, you allow students to reflect about how they learn best.

Honoring Collaboration

To build collaboration into your classroom you have to consider how you design the arrangement of desks or tables in the classroom. For Quantum Academy, we are moving toward the use of tables rather than desks. However you can arrange desks in a way that promotes collaboration. If cost were not a factor, I would even consider moving to chairs with wheels that would allow you to quickly turn and talk with anyone around you for collaborative conversations. The Hokki Stools are very light and can easily be picked up and moved around to quickly gather a circle of students together.

Clean

I know I might be a tad “type A” when it comes to my classroom, but I truly believe a clean learning space is critical for students. Many of our students come from homes where there is a lot of clutter and chaos. They should not have to experience the same thing at school. I try to limit the amount of “stuff” around my classroom and on my classroom walls. I do hang student work and important anchor charts on the walls.

Storage is an important part of a classroom space to help keep it clean. A teacher needs plenty of storage to “hide” and organize all of the important stuff we need to do our jobs.


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Image and product found here.

Full of Great Books!

My absolute favorite part of my classroom is my classroom library. I am proud of it. In fact, when I went to box up my books this year for my year out of the classroom I just couldn’t do it. I asked if the incoming 4th grade teacher would like to borrow my classroom library for the year. I just couldn’t bear the idea that my books would be boxed up and away from children for a year.

I am rethinking how I organize my classroom library. After talking with a colleague and seeing how he organizes his over 2000 books, I want to put stickers on the binding of the books to label them with the last name of the author and move to organizing that way. I also will continue to organize some books by genre or theme.

Some books should also be displayed so students can see the cover. Usually I will display 4 or 5 books above the bookshelf. I will change them often as I do book talks about them throughout the year. This always creates a welcome buzz about certain titles in my library.

A Personal Touch

Don’t forget, students want to know who you are. Adding a personal touch to your classroom is important. It says you want your students to know you and that you care about them too. I always have photos of my family and our crazy adventures. I also display my graduation cap and diploma. I get a lot of “street cred” by showcasing one of my soccer team’s championship trophies.

Your classroom is a place where you and your students make memories together and build a community. I love to post pictures from throughout the school year. Having a wall dedicated to the memories the class is making together is important to building a classroom community. Students have even brought in photos of their lives outside of school to add to the memory wall.

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Classrooms haven’t changed a whole lot since the 1800s. Yes, we may have new technology, but classrooms have been typically designed to be teacher centered. It is time to move away from this design and to rethink the classroom space as collaborative and student centered.

Here is a link to my Pinterest Board called EduDesign with some of my research.

This post is inspired by the Share #YourEdustory bloggers movement. To learn more about Share #YourEdustory follow this link.

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