Friday, January 9, 2015

Yes, I Still Teach Like This in College (Part 1 & 2)


One of the more frequent questions I have been asked since transitioning from the K-12 world to the college world is "How have you changed my teaching?"  The answer is simple: I haven't.  I still pride myself on engagement, passion, and fun.  People want to be engaged at all levels of life, so the tactics I used with 3rd graders have proven equally as effective with 7th graders as they have with 10th graders as they have with college Seniors.

I am currently reading a wonderful book called Made to Stick by brothers Chip Heath & Dan Heath (suggested by my colleague Dr. Pat Cunningham).  As the name suggests, it explains the six basic ways that helps ideas stick in people's minds.  One of those methods is to provide the "unexpected."  The authors offer the anecdotal example of the flight attendant who made her "flight safety speech" into a comedy, which caught people by surprise and had them listening to her.  To boil it down, the authors state that the "most basic way to get someone's attention is this: Break a pattern."

In my experience, many of my most successful and memorable teaching ideas include the "unexpected" factor (dressing up as Elvis, standing on the roof of RCA to teach Pythagorean Theorem, turning the classroom into a battleground to name a few).  When my Wake Forest students enter my classroom for the first class of the semester next week, they are expecting what they have been exposed to in most other classes on the first day: introduce yourselves and why you are taking the course, hand out the syllabus, assign the first homework, and likely leave early.  While accepted by most, this in my eyes opens up a great opportunity to "break the pattern."    

Next week, the pattern will be broken, and I am excited to see the results.  I will have five different classes to meet next week, with different introduction activities for each prepared.  By the end of next week, I will write Part 2 of this entry, filled with pictures and stories.


First week of the spring 2015 semester is under my belt, and here are some results from each of my first classes:

EDU 201L Class: "Building Blocks of Education"  Each student took a few of Ryder's plastic "Mega Bloks" and wrote what or who were the building blocks of their education on them with a dry erase marker.  We went around the room after they finished to explain their blocks.  They then worked as a team to construct their "wall".  The activity was a lot of fun, and it provided a nice way for them to break the ice.  It allowed me to learn more about the students without asking them to share answers to a canned set of questions.

This section's wall had a bit of a structural issue.  It fell.
Students working on their building blocks.

This wall stayed strong.


EDU 203 Class: "Piped Out Introduction" Each student created a symbol out of pipe cleaners and beads (purchased at Target for $6).  They then went around the room to explain their symbols.  Since this group already got to know each other in previous methods courses, I did not need to have this be a "introduce yourself" type of activity.  Rather, I presented it as more of a "symbol" that represents you.  The students had a blast creating designs and creatures, but some struggled a bit figuring out what to make.  Next time I may have them brainstorm for a minute about what represents them before giving out the materials. 

EDU 300 Class: "Photo Booth" These are my seniors, who just finished their student teaching and are in their final semester together.  They are great friends, so this "first class" activity worked perfectly for them.  I bought all of the dress up items at Party City and made the signs myself.  They were excited to see each other after not seeing each other for a month and this was a great way to celebrate for them.  I would like to make the signs a bit bigger next time because they enjoyed using those, but could stand out more if they were bigger. 

EDU 311 Class: "Play-Doh Introduction" The goal for this class was to take play-doh and create a symbol that represents themselves.  This is an idea adopted from Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess.  Unfortunately, I had three students come down with the flu in that class, and it was already a small class, so I will be doing the activity next week instead.  But here's the play-doh ready to roll!


Saturday, January 3, 2015

15 for '15

Here are 15 things you can try out in your classroom in 2015:

1) Start a classroom Twitter or Instagram feed: Many of your students (especially in the older grades) and/or students' parents have their own accounts, so why not keep them updated with fun and interesting things you're doing in class?  Parents love to see what their child is doing, and this is a great way to keep them informed and connected.

*Note: check with your district about regulations, some school districts have specific rules about what can and cannot be posted.

2) Push urgency: It's always a little rough coming back from a two week break, so don't let the students set the pace when they come back to school.  As the teacher, you have complete control over the pacing of the class, so encourage a sense of urgency during transitions, entering and exiting the room, and tasks that need to be completed.  Using time limits and timers is a great way to encourage this.  One of my favorites for appropriate tasks is the Minute to Win It timer.  Start this from the second they walk in Monday morning!

3) Collaborate with someone: Find a colleague, a community member, or a business to collaborate with on a project, unit, or lesson to enrich the content and excite the students.  For example, if you have a science unit on rocks and minerals, find a local scientist (colleges are a good place to start) who could come in to talk about something cool that they study with rocks. 

4) Dress up: Find an opportunity to dress up as a character from a book or unit of study.  It engages the students and will help them make the connection between what you're teaching and what you're wearing.  Not to mention, it's a lot of fun! 

5) Be a teacher leader: When your administration needs something completed or is looking for volunteers to step up, be that person!  Don't look around until someone else raises their hand.  It shows leadership and initiative on your part.

6) Get a classroom pet: My whole teaching world changed around when I got Deacon (ball python snake) many years ago, and it caused great excitement and talking points in each classroom I had.  Fish, hermit crabs, gerbils, and rabbits are all fairly simple classroom pets that the kids will enjoy and can learn responsibility with.  You will also get major bonus points from the kids if they can name it!

7) Have perfect attendance: We often celebrate students who achieve perfect attendance throughout a quarter or a school year, but what if you aimed for the same goal.  You may not get a certificate with the principal's signature, but it's something to be proud of nonetheless!  Plus, you won't have to make any sub plans, which are sometimes more work than being there!

8) Do a home visit: If you ever want to understand why a student acts the way they do in class, visiting their home can be quite telling.  Aim to visit at least one home a month.  Be sure to make the visit a positive experience; don't bring up the problems (if any) you're having with the child.  The point should be to build relationships and trust with the family.

9) Celebrate along the way: It's not uncommon to have an end-of-quarter celebration for those students with good grades or perfect attendance, but what if you had opportunities along the way to celebrate achievements?  Consider ways to celebrate students throughout the quarter, and in ways beyond just academics and attendance.  Citizenship, athletics, community service, and extracurricular can all be ways for students to be recognized in front of their peers for things they excel in.

10) Have a secret handshake: It's fun to be a part of something, whether a club or a team, and even more fun when you have traditions or secrets that no one else knows.  Come up with a secret handshake or hand symbol that you can share with the students, so if you see them outside of class you can recognize each other in a fun way.

11) Teach manners and respect: Not all of our students are taught or required to use manners at home, so find opportunities to integrate these essential skills into your everyday routines.  Some ways to do this are to have them shake your hand before they enter the classroom, require "yes sir/ma'am" when responding, holding doors for people when they see them coming, and clapping for classmates after a presentation or great answer.

12) Have a class outing: Enjoy the company of the students outside of the classroom.  Inform the parents of a time and place that they are welcome to come join for family time with you and your family.  The movies, a local park, or a restaurant can all be good places to meet up to enjoy an opportunity to bond with your students' families.

13) Document everything: With such easy access to picture taking on our phones, snap photos of projects, fun activities, field trips, day to day fun, and the kids with their friends.  This will serve as a nice slideshow to share at the end of the year, but will also make for a great reminiscing opportunity in a decade when you look back at your previous classes.

14) Do something that scares you: Make it a goal in 2015 to conquer a fear, whether it's public speaking, heights, or touching a spider.  Do something bold!  It will make you stronger and can become a great story for your students.

15) Promote college and careers: Without sounding too "common core-ish," it is important to promote positive vibes on college and careers, and you can do this by exposing your students to college options and career paths.  Schedule a college tour, have a career day at school, or incorporate various careers into your teaching.

For more things you can do in the classroom, take a look at Inside the Trenches, available on Amazon and Kindle.  I also have some of my favorite lessons on my Inside the Trenches website.

Have a great 2015!