After a two-week holiday I, and many of you, go back into the classroom on Monday. During this time I find myself getting up early (like right now) nervous and reflecting on how to, once again, reinvent myself in the classroom. The beauty and the torcher of teaching. #cognitivedissonance.
Below are 5 videos I find myself watching when I need reminders about the teacher I want to be. Some are about research, others remind me to delay direct lecture until students crave more information to fill a gap, while other remind me that simple activities can spark powerful realizations about how the world works.
This video reminds me that cheap tools can have a big impact.
This video reminds me to delay direct instruction until and I spark student curiosity first.
This video reminds me of the action research I hope to conduct in my classroom.
This video reminds me to encourage myself and my students to find new perspectives.
This video reminds me of the type of innovation I want from myself and my students.
I was honored to participate in a Public Radio podcast sponsored by the Mill Valley Public Library called "Eight Books that Made Me". Literature has always been a very important part of my life and having the opportunity to reflect on my favorite books, and their impact on my life and career was a blessing. A link to the episode is below:
Students came back this Monday! Although this year marks 17 years in the classroom, one my favorite aspects of the teaching vocation is the feeling of renewal. Invention. Reinvention. Doing this over. Trying knew things. Failing. Succeeding. Sorta succeeding. All the goodness in between. I love it!
Below are 5, simple, nerdy pedagogical shifts I'm making this school year just because I feel like it. Nothing groundbreaking here. Just the joy of teaching. I hope your hear is off to a fabulous start, and you are finding simple, little ways, to see your job as more of an art, than a science.
#1. Plan in the 80's, and revise in 2017.
This year I am going to write every lesson plan as if the only technology I have is a whiteboard. Analyze areas where my instruction could be more robust, amplified, personalized, etc. Then integrate technology to hep fill those gaps and reach my "21st Century" students. I'm hopeful this will keep pedagogy as the primary focus.
#2. Wait 5 seconds.
This year, every time I am trying to gather my students attention, I'm going to wait five seconds, before trying to gather their attention again. I am HORRIBLE at classroom management, and find myself always depending on my loud "teacher voice" to gather them. No more. Wait for them to naturally calm. 5 seconds. Then request attention. Thank you to so much to Jennifer Gonzales over at Cult of Pedagogy for this ProTip.
#3. Three questions.
This year I'm going to put 3 question marks (? ? ?) at the top of every quiz, test, etc. Im such a pushover, and find myself answering questions such as the dreaded "Am I doing this right?". I'm going to give them three opportunities to ask questions, and each time they do, cross off one "?". I'm hopeful this will force critical thinking and metacognition about what they need help on, and what they can negotiate on their own.
#4. Share my writing with my students.
I love sharing ideas with other teachers, writing blogs, etc. This desire was the catalyst for writing Spark Learning. By asking my students to keep Website Portfolios of their work, and engage in lessons, on a website that lives on my personal blog, I am hopeful that we will grow more connected and mutual reflective practitioners as they naturally engage in new work, while simultaneously being in close proximity to mine.
#5. Mobile prep desk (humanities).
The last chapter in Spark Learning is full of various, random "bonus strategies" for teachers that are not necessarily grounded in the book's thesis. One strategy is called the "Mobile Prep Desk" where I discuss using my prep period to plan in the back of a random colleagues classroom. Getting my prep done. Learning from a colleague. Two birds. One stone. This year, I'm going to make a point of doing this only in classrooms of humanities teachers. I see too much Science and Math! It's taken 17 years for me to branch out and actually observe my History and English colleagues. I am embarrassed its taken this long. Just think what I have could have been learning all this time!
When I reflect back on the last 16 year of teaching, I see three distinct phases:
Phase 1 was crucial. I fell in love with the profession during this phase. My gut told me I was doing the right thing. Students loved my class. I loved being with them. All was good. But were they really learning? I didn’t care. It just felt good. Teaching felt the right choice, and the positive relationships I was forming with students and colleagues felt good. The difference between job and vocation became clear.
Phase 2 was ugly. An overconfident 4 year “veteran”, my popularity as a teacher transformed my initial love for teaching, into a fear of being a “boring” teacher. Although my colleagues perhaps did not notice this side, I saw it. I could hear it. This attitude led to a form disconnect between myself and my students. A blind adoption of the latest trends in educational technology under the guise of “innovation”.
Phase 3 is transformative. I’m in the middle of phase 3.. No longer can I hide under the blanket of being a “rookie teacher”, or an “early adopter”. Deep gaps in student conceptual knowledge, painful anonymous student feedback, personal health crisis, and a myriad of other catalysts are forcing me to face a question I should have faced along time ago: What does authentic, good, REAL teaching look like?
A few years ago I was lucky enough to give a TED Talk about this journey. Anyone of us could have given that talk. I was just in the right place at the right time. As teachers we are all on a journey. A “Hero’s Journey” if you will, full of temptation, mentors, transformation and realizations that change our outlook on the career. Our outlook on ourselves. Our students. Our colleagues. We are always changing.
Spark Learning dives into this journey. My hope is that this book can provide insight into both the emotions, and the instructional mechanics of the process. A process that I find successful. For me. I have faith that in sharing this with others, it might spark a few simple insights for you. Catalyze insight into your authentic teaching self. Spark new realizations
As Parker Palmer says, “We teach from who we are.”. My greatest fear in writing a book about teaching is that I would revert to Phase 2. Appear to be a narcissistic “I gave a TED Talk listen to me…” know it all. A “look at me I wrote a TED Talk book…” snake oil salesman. Lessons I’m learning in Phase 3 remind me to have faith in the teaching community. That the Imposter Complex can be ignored. And that's OK. That I love this vocation and work REALLY HARD AT IT. That 9pm-1am for the last 7 months was on purpose and for a good reason. I have an obligation to share. To share. To share. And so do you. Tag.
Shortly after he left The Daily Show Jon Stewart told Fresh Air's Terry Gross that, "It is through intense structure that I find the safety to be creative." As a teacher, this statement resonated with me. I love the lesson planning process and Stewart's quote really encapsulated why I do. Through a structured, directional process, even the most "control freakish" teachers (I fall in this category) can carve out space that allows for intense student creativity, showcase, mess, disaster, invention, tears, high fives, and the myriad of other emotions that come along with LEARNING, when the lesson plan process is given the respect that it deserves.
On to a more tangible example of what I am referring to. This year is my first teaching a Robotics class in the curriculum, rather than as a team, club or after school workshop. My fear in teaching the class was that it would turn into a "club" like environment full of "BattleBot Obsession" and void of meaningful discussion around programming, mechanical engineering, and the ethical implications associated with deciding which tasks we keep for ourselves, and this we offload to our "machines.". However, you can't deny that placing technology such as littleBits, Lego NXT, MakeyMakey, VEX, TETRIX, SAM Labs, Arduino, and the many other tools we have and will explore in the hands of high school students isn't also a recipe for fun, and at times, fun just for fun's sake!
Click here for an example of a similar invention cycle template. As you can see, this template positions the learning of basic NXT programming, rather than as an individual project, in the context of the larger, more meaningful task to "smash" together the littleBits and NXT systems to do something that is currently difficulty and/or expensive to do: build a functional remote control for an NXT robot. See a picture of a final product below.
Upon conclusion of the RC project, students then blogged about their process, and reflected on ways other tools could be combined to create, new, unusual and useful outcomes. Click here to read student blogs. This project was then followed up with another project where students leveraged a more "Human-Centered" design process to build an NXT powered device that would improve the quality of life for another faculty member on campus.
Like the project described above, the initial part of this invention cycle involved learning basic skills in the context of the overall plan. This time, students needed to framliarize themselves with a more complex programming language (RobotC) and in doing so, built "BattleBots". Per my fear described in the second paragraph, the structure of the invention cycle lesson plan kept me centered and focused on the overall, more meaningful goal rather than distract from learning tasks that require more rigor and depth of focus. This structure carved out a space where the pure fun of constructing a BattleBot existed in the context of an overall, more meaningful process. One student even built an NXT Robot Flamethrower as her BattleBot! Love it! See video below.
Teaching Robotics is teaching me that structure and student creativity can exist together and can, if positioned correctly, be symbiotic.
Are you a teacher interested in learning more about integrating technology into inquiry-based learning cycles? Click here to learn more about our online classes (Note: more classes are being added weekly).
Are you a parent in the San Francisco Bay Area and looking to introduce the sciences to your child? Click here to learn about our summer camp offerings for students grades 2nd-8th.