After reading Bill Ferriter’s post NEW SLIDE: SKILLS MATTER MORE THAN TOOLS I began to reflect on the skills my students are gaining as they work and learn in my Science classes. Students have access to technology in my classroom just as they have access to pencil, paper and textbooks in other classes. The tech is just a tool we use. Sometimes I get questions about why I integrate so much tech. I usually answer with reasons why the tech makes our work and learning better such as it’s convenient, it’s effective, it allows for differentiation and individualization, and the tech allows us to go paperless as much as possible. But now I see that the tech also makes it possible for kids to practice using The C’s of the 21st Century as well as gaining other important skills they will need in life.
As I wrote on The C’s of the 21st Century, if we consider Connecting, Communicating, and Collaborating as being in the same vein, or as really just one C, then I have come to conclude that these are the four C’s of the 21st Century (as opposed to the 3 R’s of the previous centuries):
After putting together the two images above I remembered a twitter conversation I had back in April where Dico Krommenhoek reminded us of a very important C that I keep forgetting.
— Dico Krommenhoek (@Dico_Kr) April 27, 2014
I put together this Powtoon slideshow to share these ideas with my students when we get back together in 2015.
As if in response to my Relationships or Taskmaster post, the Smart Classroom Management blog published the following post called Are You Afraid to Hold Students Accountable? It’s definitely worth a read as they make a valid point. According to Smart Classroom Management following your classroom management plan is the best way to hold students accountable and that by following your plan can you effectively build rapport with your students.
My thoughts on this are rambled so I don’t know if any of this will make sense but here it goes. Personally, I don’t make a big deal about my classroom management plan so at first glance it looks as if I don’t even have one. That is a clear no, no according to Smart Classroom Management. Our school has systems in place to give kids options when they are making it difficult for the other students in class to learn. We have what we call a solutions room where kids can reflect on their behavior or even work where there are fewer distractions. I try to use that room sparingly and only send kids there when they ask or when they do not stop bothering others. Sometimes I send kids there to work when they aren’t working in class. It can be difficult to work in class when there are so many people around to socialize with or goof around with. Kids who end up needing to use the solutions room for behaviors that impact other students then get assigned lunch detention. We communicate with parents when that happens so they can help their children make better choices in school. I also use Classdojo to communicate student behavior with parents weekly. That’s the closest thing I have to a classroom management plan.
So the way I see it is that there are two different ways of dealing with student behavior in a classroom (well, at least two that deal with the topic of this post, my earlier post, and the Smart Classroom Management post). Either you follow a management plan regardless of the circumstances or you deal with student behaviors as they come up. After reading Lost at School by Dr. Ross Greene I see the value of having conversations with students and trying to deal with the issue that has led to the behavior. (Read more by Joe Bower about using Dr. Greene’s method of Collaborative Problem Solving). It should matter whether a student is misbehaving because they struggle with school work, they are having problems at home, they got into a fight with a friend, they are really excited about something, they ate too much sugar or drank coffee, or they are bored with the work they have to do. I think each situation can warrant a different response from me.
I am not the type of teacher who will follow a management plan to the letter. Never have been. My first few years of teaching I was shown Lee Canter’s Assertive Discipline and used that method to craft my management plan. What I found is that I didn’t always stick to the plan because some situations warranted different responses. I think I’ve done a pretty decent job of building rapport with my students over the past 23 years even though I don’t follow a clearly set classroom management plan. Times when my system has failed can be attributed to students who probably would’ve responded better had I stuck to clearly defined management plan, but I can’t be sure.
So even though I got an answer to my original question I’m still not satisfied. I’m not satisfied because it wasn’t the answer I wanted. Clearly I wanted to hear that building relationships is more important than holding students accountable and that dealing with behavior problems on an individual basis will work just fine. I wanted to hear that I shouldn’t sweat whether or not kids are on task or working all the time but whether they are enjoying their time in school, enjoying their peers, and enjoying their teachers. The answer I got was that by having fixed, clear boundaries, which I can have by having and faithfully following a classroom management plan, I can hold students accountable all the time and therefore be able to build relationships even better. I still say that my way will work. And, for better or for worse, it’s the way that I naturally flow. In order for me to change and become a classroom-management-plan-following-teacher I would need to work at it and consciously change my habits over and over again until it stuck. It can be done but I don’t really want to do that.
So even though I will hold kids accountable. Even though I will try different methods to help them work and learn. Even though I will send them to the solutions room or give some feedback home via Classdojo. Even though I do talk and try to make a case for getting work done class or for not goofing around to get students to reconsider their actions. Even though I stress safety as the reason for our classroom routines and procedures, especially during labs. There’s a part of me that values relationships over sticking to a plan because when I think back to the teachers I had in school the ones I remember aren’t the ones who stuck to a classroom management plan and held me accountable, they are the ones who took the time to get to me know me in some way.
This week I had all my 6th grade classes try their hand at coding and programming using the great Hour of Code resources. I could have just pointed kids to the part of the Hour Code website with all the tutorials but I decided to make myself an account and add all my 80 students from my three classes.
Had I just let students loose on the tutorials they could have taken it from there. A computer lab or even using our old 1st Gen iPads, iPad 2s, netbooks, laptops and old iMacs would have worked fine. It took a little more preparation on my part to manage all my students’ accounts but I think it was worth it. Here’s their educator resources.
Since I already have all their names on a CSV file, I just copied and pasted whole class lists to my Code.Org teacher account. Then I printed and cut out card sized account links and passwords for each student. They went to the link for their class, clicked on their name from a list with everyone’s name and put in their secret words to log in (I did that because I didn’t want to have to use student emails, which would have made accounts for students where they got to choose their own passwords).
[Added this after the first draft of this post.] With regards to the teacher dashboard and the student accounts I’m not sure if I’m doing something wrong but lately students have been complaining that they do the puzzles and their account does not show them as being done. I check on my dashboard and there also it doesn’t show as done. I have a test student account that I’m using, I always create myself a test student account so I can use it as a student will, and I’m having the same issue of completed puzzles not showing as completed. That has been a disappointment because that’s why I setup the accounts in the first place! My backup plan has been to see the students certificates of completion. They get that after completing a set of puzzles for the different tutorials. There are tutorials for all age levels it seems. I tried one that was too easy and the kids pointed out that it was an 8 year old plus tutorial.
All in all, Hour of Code week this year, my first, was a great experience and fun for us.
I struggle with this every, single year. The balance between being a taskmaster and building relationships with students. One way to think of classroom management, according to Lee Canter (Assertive Discipline) is that dealing with kids is like working with your bank account. Building relationships with kids can be seen as depositing money into your bank account. When you need to redirect a kid, or ask a kid to do something he or she doesn’t want to do, or if you need to have a negative interaction, you are making a withdrawal from your bank account. With most kids we can redirect and still have a positive balance, especially if the relationships are positive to begin with you will always have plenty in the bank to draw from if you ever need it. As long as there is a balance in your back account, the interaction with the student will work and remain a positive relationship. Funny thing (funny, no, that doesn’t really fit but I can’t think of a better way of starting this sentence) is that the ones that have the most money to draw from are the ones that you rarely need to make a withdrawal!
But what about those kids who need more redirection? You have to be careful because making a withdrawal when you have no money in your bank account leads to trouble. For these kids you need to make withdrawals more often and they have the least money in their accounts. The idea here is to build relationships with these kids too so that you have enough money to draw from when you need to redirect or ask them to do things they’d rather not do. The trick is knowing how much to deposit and whether or not it’s there when you need to withdraw it. Once you’re in a negative balance either the student will not comply with your requests or your relationship will be damaged. Making more deposits may become more difficult if you let your balance go into the negative too often.
I find my interactions with students to be positive for the most part. Sure there are times when I redirect if I feel kids are socializing too much or doing things that are not appropriate for a Science classroom full of young people. For the most part, those redirections work just fine. I have money in the accounts to draw from. With some students the redirection becomes a balancing act. How do I know when I’ve tried to withdraw too much? In other words, how much can I ask of a student, how much can I prod and ask for work or different, more appropriate behavior for our space and time before he or she has had enough? That is the balancing act that happens for teachers all the time. We ask a student to get back on task, to stop throwing the ball in class, to stop annoying her teammates, to clean up her mess, etc and if she doesn’t we might ask what’s wrong or why not or we might just ask her to change her behavior again. Sometimes that’s okay. I’ve withdrawn just enough and the student changes her behavior and may even get back to work and learn something. Sometimes I will withdraw too much and the student shuts down or gets angry.
Right on the spot we try to deposit some funds into that bank account! How can I help? What can I do? What’s wrong? I try to see how I can help the student. Always the balancing act of how much can I ask of my students before I reach the limit and have withdrawn just enough. It’s much easier to build relationships, or make deposits. I listen as my students tell me about their day. I tell them about my day. We just chat sometimes and laugh together and genuinely enjoy each other. At that point I walk away and check in with other students. But eventually I have to come back and notice that no work is getting done or that some behavior really isn’t appropriate for our time and space. Then what? Do I withdraw what I just deposited?
So I wonder everyday, during every class, how much do I build relationships and how much do I keep my students on task? It’s a balancing act and sometimes I withdraw just the right amount, and some days I try to withdraw too much. Then I have to make sure to deposit some money before I make my next withdrawal.
How much do you build relationships versus keep kids on task? And do the new standards and high stakes tests make you feel guilty when you do spend time building relationships?
This past May and just recently in November I was fortunate to be able to present a session at two wonderful leadership conferences for newly certified National Board Certified Teachers or NBCTs. Washington state’s Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession or CSTP invited me to show some of the ways that I was sharing what was going on in my classroom to help those who make policy for education, but don’t work directly with kids, understand what goes on in a classroom. I also shared ways that I have been able to get funding for my students to do Science.
The title chosen for my presentation was Navigating the Systems of STEM. It took a while for that to grow on me and now I think it’s a pretty good title for what I shared. The only part that isn’t quite so accurate is the STEM part because the ideas I share can be used by anyone, in any subject area and/or grade level. So really the STEM should be SHTEAM (adding Humanities and the Arts).
Here’s the presentation I created with links and resources I shared:
Our class ship, the USS Equinox, was dispatched to investigate the mystery of the destruction of the Bombay when they discovered another destroyed ship, the Tholian Aen’q Tholis. Unlike the Bombay, the Aen’q Tholis was destroyed by what appears to be phaser fire from another starship. Whatever destroyed the Bombay was not responsible for destroying the Aen’q Tholis. The question the crew of the Equinox has is whether or not the destruction of the Aen’q Tholis and the destruction of the Bombay are related in any way?
The only starships near the Aen’q Tholis belonged to the Klingon Empire so Ambassador Jetanien, back at Starbase 47, is questioning the Klingon Ambassador to determine if the Klingons had anything to do with the Aen’q Tholis’s destruction.
I found this cool infographic on personalized learning:
Find more education infographics on e-Learning Infographics
I read this article in the Instructional Leader on Text-Dependent Questions. As part of the WA STEM PD grant that my school got we are working in our grade level PLC (Professional Learning Community) for one cycle followed by departmental PLC. There’s a different dynamic to PLC work when you meet with your grade level PLC than when you work with your Science PLC. In a grade level PLC we have the same kids but one of us teaches Humanities (Language Arts/English and Social Studies), one of us teaches Math, and I teach Science. I can share parts of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) that are cross cutting with the Common Core (CCSS). Text-Dependent Questions (TDQs) is one such concept that does not depend on subject matter. We can ask TDQ’s in any subject area since it’s all about asking good questions that come from a particular text.
I took the image from the article and embedded links to the explanations of the different types of TDQs for easy reference. I placed embedded links with ThingLink by making webpages of the written descriptions (copied, not my own or paraphrased in anyway). Just click on each TDQ type to get the explanation.
I wanted an easy way to remind myself when I forget. Maybe someone else will find this useful.
I had a most enlightening conversation with my advisory group about rewarding, I mean acknowledging, students. Our school is now a PBIS school and part of our efforts to reward positive behavior includes teachers giving slips of paper to students when we catch them engaging in positive behaviors. The slips of paper have the traits we are focusing on this year written on them. Traits such as cooperation, patience, and perseverance are what we as teachers are supposed to notice our students doing then hand a slip of paper to say thanks.
That is difficult for me. I struggle with rewarding students for what they naturally do or what they should be doing anyway. It’s like saying you should get rewarded for being a good person instead of just being a good person. There is another way to see it though. I’ve been trying to shift my thinking to seeing it as acknowledging instead of rewarding hoping there’s a difference (see this post).
I got my advisory group to film short skits demonstrating the behaviors that show the traits so that teachers and students could see examples of what to look for when deciding on whom to give the slips. A few students had mentioned that they often demonstrate the behaviors and have yet to get a slip. They really want to get a slip because if you sign it and turn it in to the office you get selected to win a pizza lunch for you and a friend, or to be principal for a day, or some other wonderful prize. If I was uncomfortable with giving away rewards, I mean acknowledgements, this makes me even more uneasy.
I had an idea and was sure that it was brilliant when I read about it in a couple of the blogs I regularly read. Since it’s so difficult for me to hand out those slips of paper acknowledging students for demonstrating the traits of the month why couldn’t my students hand them out? They see way more of what goes on in school than I do.
I shared my idea with my advisory group that meets on Thursday for half an hour. That group is made up of 6th, 7th and 8th graders and we discuss school climate, among other things, get to know each other, and prepare for student-led conferences in the spring. I was totally unprepared for their reaction. While a few of the 18 kids thought it was a good idea and were on board to choose a slip to hand out many of them thought it was a bad idea.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because we could cheat,” was a common concern.
Some thought that kids would just give the slips to their friends. They also thought the slips would be given to friends without the friends actually earning the slip. Then they thought, “what if someone just makes copies of them and either gives them away or sells them!” I have to admit, they made really good points. I tabled the idea until, or when, they bring it up again.
I totally did not expect any of that. I thought they would all love the chance at being able to acknowledge their peers and give slips to those who are missed by teachers yet doing the right thing. I’m still shocked that it turned out the way it did. Here I thought I was going to do something different and help more students get acknowledged and empowered and instead they thought it was a bad idea.