Thursday, December 28, 2017

Be a Thermostat!

When we came home this evening, our house was freezing!  My husband had turned the heater way down and it's actually cold here in Texas right now.  When I went to turn the heat up so that I could enjoy a warm and restful evening, I was reminded of a metaphor I once heard and couldn't help but think about how it relates to the classroom, campus, and district culture.  The metaphor actually comes from a sermon that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave in 1954.  His message was this...

"Be a thermostat, not a thermometer."

When I first heard those words, it took some explanation before I really understood what it meant.  You see, a thermostat sets the temperature in the room and makes it a comfortable space for those that are within its influence.   This doesn't mean that some people aren't a little too hot or a little too cold, but it means that the temperature is adjusted to what is most appropriate at the time.   It is constantly checking the temperature of the room and making adjustments to maintain a temperature that is just right.  A thermometer, on the other hand, reacts to what is going on around it.  If it's hot, it reacts by displaying a high temperature...if it's cold, it reacts by displaying a low temperature. 

Unfortunately, it's easy to be a thermometer in education.  It's easy to react to a situation and display a hot or cold demeanor.  In the classroom, it's easy to yell or be sarcastic when students are not being respectful or doing things that they know they shouldn't.  It's also easy to react this way when we are around other teachers that have a way of making our temperature rise.  When we get hot, we say and do things that we don't mean.  When we get cold, we often react by pulling away and trying to do things on our own.  Both of these reactions are detrimental to the culture of a classroom and a school.

Instead of reacting to the temperature, set it.  Find your temperature and allow others to feel your influence.  Do what you know to be right for today's learners and set a temperature that makes others want to do the same.  In the classroom, this may mean taking a minute to think before reacting to a situation.  It might mean that you share ideas with a colleague that has a completely different view about what today's classroom should look like.  It may be something as small as smiling at an administrator that you know is having a difficult day.  Whatever it might be, make adjustments to maintain a temperature that is consistent and influential.

So as we start the new a thermostat.  Be proactive instead of reactive and encourage others to do the same.  Let's make 2018 an amazing year in our classrooms, campuses, and districts!

Current Events in the Classroom

When I was in school, I remember having to find and summarize current events every week.  Things have changed a bit since then and our students have instant access to news at any given moment on social media.  The problem is that they believe almost everything that they read and don't always get all of the facts when it's just a post on social media.

Current events are important and still have a place in the classroom.  Reading and sharing current events help students stay globally connected,  builds vocabulary,  and encourages critical thinking and problem-solving.

If you are like me, I certainly don't feel comfortable asking students or even my own children to visit MSNBC, CNN, or FoxNews.  There are just too many inappropriate articles, bias, and specific details that are not okay for young readers.  That being said, there are several places that your students can find current event articles that are engaging and appropriate for them at any age.  Below are a few of my favorites and the reasons that I love them.

DogoNews  -

❤️️  Articles are relevant and include lots of images/videos
❤️️  Vocabulary - Students can click on unknown words to receive a definition
❤️️  Automatic Citation - Cite using MLA, APA, or Chicago with the click of a button
❤️️  Assignment Options - Comprehension and Critical Thinking questions for $2/students
❤️️  Post articles/assignments to Google Classroom with one-click
❤️️  Article can be read aloud by choosing the audio version
❤️️  Students can also post and share book reviews with an authentic audience on DogoNews

Newsela -

❤️️  Lexile level of article can be changed instantly with the click of a button
❤️️  Article can be translated into Spanish with one-click
❤️️  Activities include writing prompt and quiz with each article
❤️️  Teacher can assign articles to students
❤️️  Pro-version allows customization of writing prompts and access to individual progress
(prices not published on website but I believe it's about $18 per student)
❤️️  Power words give students an ability to explore new vocabulary

Time For Kids -

❤️️  Articles include lots of images and videos
❤️️  Lexile level of article can be changed instantly with the click of a button
❤️️  Article can be translated into Spanish with one-click
❤️️  Printable quiz available for each article
❤️️  Full access available for $3.20-$3.60 per student
❤️️  Vocabulary embedded throughout the articles as power words

Tween Tribune -

❤️️  Totally FREE!
❤️️  Lexile level of article can be changed instantly with the click of a button
❤️️  Easy-to-access lesson plan ideas
❤️️  Short quiz available with each article
❤️️  Assign to students with one-click
❤️️  Teacher dashboard for easy navigation and accessibility

What are some things that students can do other than simply taking the quiz after reading a current event article?

  • Find the problem in the article and design an innovative solution.
  • Locate where the event occurred on a map and learn more about that continent/country/area.
  • Make a prediction of what will happen as a result of this story being shared.
  • Find the math, ELAR, science, social studies in the story and explain the role that they each play.
  • Find a story with which you feel a personal connection and share why.
And if you need more ideas, check out 50 ways to Teach with Current Events.

All of these options have features that may or may not work in your classroom.  Check them out and find the one that is right for you and your students.  Exploring current events is a great option for students that have finished work early or have already mastered what is being taught.  It's also a great filler activity that is both meaningful and relevant.  Reading nonfiction articles, learning new vocabulary, and using critical thinking to solve real problems is never a waste of time.

What are some of your favorite current event resources?
Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Creating Empowered Learners in 2018

It's hard to believe that another year has come and gone.  So many things are happening in education and it's an amazing time to be a part of it all.  Even though there are great things happening, there is still work to be done to continue moving forward.

As educators, it's so easy to become focused on test prep and data when we return from Christmas.  For many, it's a time of trying to get through the curriculum and grading worksheet after worksheet to determine who needs intervention and who is lucky enough to get enrichment time while those students receive that intervention.

What if there was another way?  What if we focused on real learning in 2018 and made the standards something that students were empowered to apply instead of just expected to regurgitate on a worksheet?  Here are five ways that I think we can empower students as we start the new year...

Student-Driven Conferences - Take time to talk with the learners in your classroom.  Ask them about their strengths and weaknesses.  Thrively is a great tool that was created to help students learn about their own passions and strengths.  Allowing your students to take the Thrively assessment when you return from the holidays will give you a fresh perspective and an opportunity to see them as individuals with unique strengths.  Let them share what works for them and what doesn't.  Ask questions that will lead them to think about their own thinking and encourage them to know themselves well as a learner.  In doing so, you will create a culture of learning that isn't one size fits all but values every individual.

Focus on Feedback - Grades don't help students understand why.  It's just a number that many students could absolutely care less about.  And can we blame them?  They complete an assignment on Monday, we grade the assignment and give it back a few days later.  The reality is that most students have seen a ton of media between completing the assignment and having it returned.  They don't even remember what it was about or what they were supposed to learn from it.

Feedback is different.  Gen Z values feedback and almost expects it in order to reflect or become better at something.  Focus on giving your learners more feedback in 2018 and less grades.  Flipgrid is a wonderful tool that allows students to share their learning through video and receive feedback from others after posting...definitely a gamechanger in the classroom! Allow conversations to be the priority and find ways to give them feedback as quickly and often as possible.

Let Them Struggle - As teachers, we help our students all year long.  We answer questions, guide them toward the correct answers or solutions...and then test day comes.  When they ask a question on test day, we respond with "I'm sorry, I can't answer that for you, just do the best you can" or a similar statement depending on the script.  All of a sudden they are being left to struggle on their own with no help.  If that hasn't happened all year long, it can be super scary and almost paralyzing.

So, let's allow them to struggle all year long in our classrooms.  Give them opportunities to problem solve and figure things out without any guidance or help.  Design experiences that can be solved many different ways but make it a point not to figure it out yourself before doing it in class so that when they ask, you can genuinely say, "I have no guys are going to have to figure it out."

Connect Your Classroom - Connected classrooms give students an opportunity to learn from others and help them make connections to what is being learned.  Ask an outside expert to Skype into your classroom to share how they use the standard that is being learned in the real world.  Allow your students to ask questions and collaborate with the expert to make those connections so that they see the value of why they are learning that particular concept.  Use tools like Nepris or a Help Wanted Wall to make connecting with outside experts a reality in your classroom.

Mystery Skype connects classrooms from all over the world and encourages them to use critical thinking, collaboration, and communication to learn about new places and each other.  To learn more, check out #mysteryskype on Twitter and jump right in!

Passion-Based Learning - Last, but certainly not least, Genius Hour is a great way for students to learn by doing.  Unfortunately, Genius Hour is often used as enrichment or an activity for gifted students that already know what was being taught in the general education classroom.  I believe that every single student deserves an opportunity to pursue their passion during the school day.  In doing so, they begin to see how the learning can be applied and not just regurgitated on a worksheet.  Genius Hour is meaningful learning through application and has the potential to change the way this generation learns and prepares for their future.

To learn more about Genius Hour, please visit my website.

So, 2018 is here and it's up to us as educators to make it all that it can be for our students.  Let's work together to make sure that it's a great year that brings the changes in education that our students deserve.  It's an exciting time to be an's just a matter of being brave, doing what we know is right, and believing enough in today's learners to get out of their way and let them learn by doing.