Active learning

the-only-source-of-knowledge-is-experience

The HSE21 Best Practice Model is such a great tool because it reminds us of the fundamental classroom conditions that will help our students be ready for their future.  I was recently reading the book Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz and he spent a lot of time talking about active learning.  In active learning, we see differentiation, authenticity, relevancy, choice, and collaboration – all important pieces of the best practice model.  Think back to your favorite moments when you were in school.  What stands out?  It’s probably an example of active learning.

When I was in elementary school, both of the 6th grade classes in our building collaborated to write, produce, and perform a musical.  I vividly remember working with classmates to write the script, to advertise the show, and to plan the costumes and props for the show.  The skills and strategies that I developed in activities like this were ones that I believe helped set me up for success in middle school, high school, and beyond.  While I remember moments of passive learning when I was in sixth grade (one of my teachers was the queen of having us copy notes from her beloved transparencies), I can’t recall any details that I may have learned in that format of lesson.

So, how can we integrate more active learning into our classrooms?  Here are just a few ideas based on Learn Like a Pirate book:

  • Simulations – What’s a better way to learn about the Boston Tea Party?  Read about it, or take your classroom back to 1773 and have your students simulate the circumstances that led the Sons of Liberty to throw cases of tea into the Boston Harbor?  Or you could integrate some science into your social studies by having your students set up a colony in outer space.  They can experience creating a government for their colony while also learning about the needs for their planet.
  • Debates – The collaboration that goes with a debate can be amazing. If you pick a topic that would have more than 2 sides, you can break your class up into several different groups with different topics, keeping the groups small enough that all play a role, while also large enough that you can put mixed ability students together.  Solarz does alternative energy debates with his students.  He plays the role of President, while his students are the advisors trying to convince him that their energy plan is the best.  While this topic may not resonate with you or your curriculum, there are many other debatable topics that could tie to your standards.
  • Science Fair – This is something that has gone out of style, but why? In a time where we are shifting to STEM classes, and at a period in time when so many of our kids don’t do hands on science projects like previous generations, this seems like a no brainer.  The issue I had with the science fair’s old style was that it was typically done as homework.  The last time I had my students do a science fair, we did everything at school.  Students were asked to bring in poster boards, but I tried to provide most of the other resources they needed (sometimes we had to get creative).  Kids assisted one another on their projects, and were truly excited to share their findings at the end.  I was able to provide feedback, help with data collection, and teach mini-lessons as necessary.  The best part – I knew it was all done by the student on a relevant topic of their own choosing.  A variation on this could be an invention fair, or a coding fair, or anything else you might imagine that lets students be actively involved in inquiry.
  • Project-Based Learning – A trend in education, and one that I was guilty of when I was still in my classroom, is that we teach a unit, and then at the end of the unit students complete a project to show their learning. What PBL asks is that we teach through the project.  Once you have your basic idea planned, students choose their more specific project and dig in.  Throughout the unit, mini-lessons can be taught on content, procedures, or skills that students need to go further in the process.  As a teacher, you are continuously checking in with students, seeing where they are and where they are going next, providing feedback, and deciding if there are topics that you need to build a mini-lesson around.  While we’re giving students choice and freedom, you are allowed to set some parameters up front.  PBL doesn’t mean setting the students free to do whatever they want, there have to be some class norms and expectations in place first.  Think of these expectations as the guardrails to keep your students in the right lane, and heading in the correct direction!  If you’re looking for good PBL resources, the Buck Institute for Education (bie.org) is a great resource!
  • Technology – Sometimes integrating some tech into a passive lesson is just what it takes to up the level into an active learning opportunity. Don’t just use technology for the sake of saying that you’re using technology.  Use technology when it is the best tool for the job.  Remember, HSE21 is not, and has never been, about technology, the iPad, OneDrive, or any of the many apps that are used around school.  However, when we find technology that truly improves or transforms what we’ve been doing, don’t hesitate to add it to your lessons.
  • Reader’s Theater – This is such a great way to work on oral reading fluency.  Students get to practice their part several times with their group.  During that time they can practice pronouncing difficult words, learn to project their voice, add inflection, and enunciate.  Depending on your goals, it could be a single day activity, although students don’t have as many opportunities to practice and they may not be able to create props to go with their performance.  On the other hand, you could do a multi-day activity where students are put into groups and roles one day, have time for rehearsals and planning for the performance (props, costumes, etc.) on a second day, dress rehearsals where you can give feedback on props and costumes that aren’t appropriate or necessary on a third day, and then performance day on the last day.  If you’re really brave, you could record the performances to put on a YouTube page so that parents can see what their kids are up to at school.

This is not intended to be an all-inclusive list of active learning activities, but is meant to give you some ideas of how to create more active learning opportunities for your students.  What am I missing?  Are there active learning examples that you use that I didn’t mention?  Have you tried (or are you thinking about trying) any of the ideas above?  Tell us about your experiences, your thoughts, or your plans in the comments below!

5 Paragraph Essays & Newspaper Articles vs. Blog Posts & Copywriting

If I were to ask you to write a mission statement as a teacher, what would you write?  If it could only be one sentence, what are the things that would be most important for you to share in your beliefs about our students?  For most of us, I think somewhere in there we’d say something about preparing our students for the future.  That means we have to think about what the future may hold.  I know I’ve shared the quote below, but remember what Thomas Friedman says about today’s workers:

Daily Quotes (2)

While we may not know exactly what the future may hold, we know that there are some things that our students probably will not be doing much of in the future.  Stop and think for a minute – when was the last time you wrote a five paragraph essay?  ELA teacher please don’t hate me for saying this, but really, when was the last time you needed that skill?  I say all of this knowing that when I last taught ELA, we always had at least one research paper that was submitted in the five paragraph format.  Now, I agree that there are aspects of a five paragraph essay that are essential – being concise in our argument, having a clear structure for our writing, etc., but are there other formats of writing that could allow us to teach these same skills and at the same time be innovative?

What about another one of those writing activities that appears in many classrooms (including mine in the past) – the newspaper article.  Now, I will say that I have a subscription to the Indy Star, and while I can’t say that I ever read it cover to cover, and that there are some days that I don’t get to it at all, I do love having the option to sit down and read the paper.  However, the statistics on print media are noticeable.  I did a quick google search and found the charts below.  There’s less money coming into print media in the form of ad revenue, and the number of workers employed in newspaper publishing has been in pretty steady decline.

Now, I may be ruffling a few feathers here – and by no means am I saying that I think our students should never write a five paragraph essay or a newspaper article, but given the probable lack of a need for those skills in their future, what might be more valuable ways for our students to spend their time?  Two things that come to mind – blog posts and copy writing.

More and more, newspapers are trying to reach readers in formats other than print media.  I see IndyStar writers pop up in my Twitter feed sharing copy trying to get people to click the links and go the their site.  I see news articles online that are formatted more like a blog than a newspaper.  Two ways to help our students be able to reach the greater world would involve writing blog posts (like what you’re looking at right now), and learning a little about copywriting (the art and science of writing words used on web pages, ads, promotional materials, etc., that sells your product of service and convinces prospective customers to take action).  Now, I know that our students aren’t trying to sell things, but the skills of writing good copy will help our students be better overall writers.

HSE21 Best Practice Model
HSE21 Best Practice Model

Throughout the year you have heard us talk about the HSE21 best practice model.  You’ve also seen examples of the “Less of this, more of this” charts.  Again, I’m not saying we should throw out the five-paragraph essay or the newspaper article.  But we also need to think with an eye towards the future.  What types of writing will be the most valuable for our students when they leave school and move on to a career?

Think about it, a student in your class could write a blog post on something they have been learning about.  Other students (or teachers, parents, family members, or maybe even experts in a given field of study) would be able to read and respond in the comments to their thinking.  Students would be able to share their blog site with their friends and family members.  Parents wouldn’t have to ask the dreaded “What did you do at school today?” because they could have looked at the most recent blog post and say “I saw in the most recent post to the blog that you are learning about …, tell me more about that.”

It’s also been proven through study after study that ELA scores are impacted most by reading and writing across the curriculum (teaching reading and writing skills should not only be the job of the ELA teacher).  What a valuable expression of learning it would be for our students to write a blog post about their experiences in math, art, science, or gym (or any other subject!!!).  And another great thing about blog posts – they don’t have to be just words.  WordPress (and most other blog sites out there) will allow pictures, video, and audio, and if I really wanted to, I could create an entire post from my WordPress app on my cell phone or my iPad.

What are your thoughts on student created blogs?  Can you see a way that you could enrich the learning of the students in your class through writing about it?  What about copywriting?  Curious how it could fit into the writing activities you are already doing?  Wanna talk more about this?  Share your thought below.  We can find a structure to make it work in your classroom!

PLNs – Professional Learning Networks or Personal Learning Networks – you choose!

Many of you may know that one of my personal passions is cooking.  I learned to cook basic things when I was in elementary school.  When I was in 4-H I had multiple county fair champions, and sent a few things to the State Fair.  In our house now I do most of the cooking because it’s something I enjoy doing.  Over the years I have developed my “favorite” meals that I have found out there and adjusted to suit my tastes, or the tastes of my family.  Last fall however, I noticed that I had a series of 10-12 things that we were just cycling through.  It was hard to choose anything to cook because I was getting bored with the options I had.  I needed something new.  Then, I happened to be listening to an interview of J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, the author of The Food Lab, and I knew I had to get his cookbook.  The guy was a self-described science nerd who became a chef and uses the scientific method to perfect his recipes – sign me up!

The book is almost 1000 pages, includes awesome step by step pictures and instructions for hundreds of recipes, along with scientific descriptions of what happens during the cooking process, explanations of experiments to find the best option in preparing certain dishes, and suggestions for home cooks to be able to carry out techniques that normally are reserved for professional kitchens.  In the several months that I have had the book, we have upgraded our meals in the Behrman household.  The only complaint?  I think I need to run a few extra miles every week with the food we’ve been eating (it’s been hard not to have a second serving with most of these meals!).

Now, some of you may be wondering what this has with a PLN, but I promise, I’m going to try to make it connect.  When you think about what you need to grow as an educator, what comes to mind?  Jot down the top 3 things that you think of.  Really… Take a moment to jot down those top 3.  This post will still be here when you get it done.

Now, if I were to poll you, there would be a massive variety of choices that would make it impossible for any administrator to come up with a school PD plan that would meet the needs of all of you.  Instead, here’s what I suggest– think about your passions, your areas of continued growth, and get learning!  You could talk to your colleagues about things you’re interested in.  There are tons of experts within your building and throughout your district.  If you’re looking for someone to help you in a specific area, ask around.  Maybe your administrator can point you in the right direction.  By sharing our knowledge and sharing our curiosities, we can become an environment that encourages lifelong learning.

You know when you find something exciting!  You know when you have an idea that you just have to try out!  Just like I became excited about new cooking with The Food Lab cookbook, you can find your own ways to grow as an educator, and hopefully the rest of this post will help with that!

Our connections on social media allow us to connect with educators like never before! Matt Miller - https://www.flickr.com/photos/126588706@N08/14562418440/in/album-72157645530010989/
Our connections on social media allow us to connect with educators like never before!
Matt Miller – https://www.flickr.com/photos/126588706@N08/14562418440/in/album-72157645530010989/

A couple weeks ago I shared links to some education hashtags for Twitter (click here to go back to that post).  See if there are any that tie to your 3 things you jotted down earlier – want to learn more about standards based learning? #SblChat might be perfect for you!  Interested in educational technology? Check out #edtech!  For things specific to your grade level, you might want to check out #5thchat (5th grade chat) or #6thchat (6th grade chat).  If Twitter isn’t your thing, you might try a search on Pinterest (yes, even I have an account!).  You can also search Facebook, and often you can find great videos on YouTube that may help you learn.

If you aren’t quite sure what you want to learn about, then you might have to take some other steps to find a path – you could ask your students what you should learn next.  Find out what interests them, what learning methods work for them, or what they’d be excited to do.  You could also check the blogosphere.  You’ve heard me reference blogs in the past – blogs like Edutopia, A.J. Juliani, Cult of Pedagogy, and The Cornerstone for Teachers are a few that I like.  Most of the blogs I have found have been through links from blogs I already followed.  If you find a blog you like, subscribe, or use Feedly as a single place to keep track of them all!

I know that some of you may be thinking that it’s the end of the year and you don’t want to mix anything up.  Think about it though – wouldn’t it be better to try something totally new with a group of students you already know, as opposed to trying it with a new group of students you don’t know yet?  Isn’t it easier to make adjustments to your teaching when one of the variables – students – is a known quantity?  Don’t put the pressure of learning something new on your future self!  There is no better time to try something new than right now!

Finally, one suggestion that might make some of us a little uncomfortable – seek out people with beliefs that might be different than you.  Being brave enough to learn from those who challenge you can be one key to your continued growth.  Find someone who challenges you and talk with them with the purpose of understanding their thinking, not getting it to line up with yours – you might learn from them, and they might learn from you.

What things have you learned through your professional learning network?  Share with us in the comments below!  We’d love to hear about it!

Be a Connected Educator (Part 2)

https://plus.google.com/+SylviaDuckworth/posts/61rTzdcJ1yG?pid=6097161572876797314&oid=114228444007154433856
https://plus.google.com/+SylviaDuckworth/posts/61rTzdcJ1yG?pid=6097161572876797314&oid=114228444007154433856

In last week’s post I shared a little about the value that connectedness can provide to educators.  This week I want to share some of the ways that you can use social media for personalized PD.  As I shared last week, online educator communities provide you with 24/7 access to people, ideas, resources, philosophies, and opportunities that can expand your world (and the world of our students).  So here are some of the reasons I get excited to connect online:


  • Inspiration: Many of the new things that I try here at school are because of something I have learned through a tweet, blog post, or somewhere online.
  • Motivation: Several of the twitter accounts I follow are educators who love to tweet out pictures and quotes that motivate me to try to be better. That little bit of motivation can be such an awesome help!
  • Challenge: I intentionally follow some people because they have different opinions than me. I do this because I want to have a full background.  Every once in a while something that someone shares truly challenges my thinking in a way that makes me reflect on my beliefs.
  • Camaraderie: I have been able to find connections with many other teachers and administrators all over the country/world!
  • Apps: You can use your digital connections to learn about new apps for a specific purpose, or ideas for better ways to use the apps you already have.
  • Humor: Just like our Friday funnies, there are funny things that happen in schools every day. Some of those things show up in my timeline and give me the opportunity to laugh.
  • Collaboration: Through online connections you can work with almost anyone in the world. You can find teachers all over the world teaching the same material, and create connections that allow you to learn from them, and they can learn from you.

So how do we connect?  And how do we find the time?  That’s total up to you, but there are a couple of options that you could try, and the amount of effort you put into them is totally up to you!

Our connections on social media allow us to connect with educators like never before!  Matt Miller - https://www.flickr.com/photos/126588706@N08/14562418440/in/album-72157645530010989/
Our connections on social media allow us to connect with educators like never before!
Matt Miller – https://www.flickr.com/photos/126588706@N08/14562418440/in/album-72157645530010989/

Social Media: For me, this is the best way to connect.  Twitter is my favorite choice, but Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest are good ones as well.  My favorite thing about Twitter is that every post is 140 characters or less.  It’s amazing how much info can be packed into such a short amount of space.  The biggest thing to know on Twitter is how to use a hashtag.  A couple of my favorites are #edchat and #edtech.  Tons of great ideas get shared, and if you post something with one of those hashtags, you will get a ton of people to see your post.  (For more education hashtags, take a look at the links in last week’s post)

Blogs: There are thousands of blogs about education out there!  Most of my favorite blogs that I follow are because of connections I have made on Twitter.  I use Feedly.com as an RSS aggregator that keeps all my blogs in one place.  Each time a new blog that I follow posts, it shows up in my feed.  When I have time, I’ll peek at it.  If my day is too busy, I’ll skip it.  Feedly can also help you find other blogs based on topics you are interested in.  In addition to reading blogs, you can also start writing a blog.  Share the things you know – creation is one of the highest levels of thinking.  It can also be a huge time commitment – these posts don’t write themselves!  Some post daily, some are a few days a week, some are less regular than that.

Being a connected educator will make it easier to transform education in your classroom.  You will find new ideas, you will be able to ask questions, and you will be able to share your own thinking and give back to the community!  Invest the time that makes sense to you.  There are days I don’t get on Twitter at all, and there are days where I have extra time and might spend an hour or two reading, adding, and building connections.

What tools have allowed you to connect and change the way you teach?  Share with the rest of us below!

Be a connected educator (Part 1)

How often have you felt that you were “alone” in your classroom?  You plan for your students – nobody else’s class is quite like yours.  You plan for your content – nobody else is at quite the same place as you.  It’s easy to build up walls and confine yourself to them.  But think for a second…  Is that what’s best for you?  Is that what’s best for the kids in your class?

When we provide more students the opportunities to share in the classroom, we are building bridges to the world instead of placing them in a silo. https://www.flickr.com/photos/126588706@N08/14749002232/in/album-72157645530010989/
When we provide more students the opportunities to share in the classroom, we are building bridges to the world instead of placing them in a silo.
https://www.flickr.com/photos/126588706@N08/14749002232/in/album-72157645530010989/

If the answer you find yourself coming to is no, then it’s time to think about how to connect beyond the walls of you classroom.  I think we all know that there is a wealth of information out there on the internet.  Can you imagine what teaching was like before Google? (I’m sure some of you are saying “Yes!  I lived it!”).  I think we all know that we can find great resources with a simple web search, but sometimes we find a lot of junk too!  Taking the time to sift through it all can be time consuming!  What if there was a way to connect with others who did have students similar to ours, or who were sharing something that was just right for your class to do as well.

14746748124_db83c93b04_b
One of the best ways to connect with other educators is through Twitter! Matt Miller: https://www.flickr.com/photos/126588706@N08/14746748124/in/album-72157645530010989/

In addition to websites, there are also other educators out there waiting and eager to help you!  Or they might be looking for the help that you can provide them.  The community of educators on Twitter grows every week.  According to one report from Twitter, about 1 in every 100 tweets are related to education, and there are about a half-billion tweets a day!  You can tweet at someone, or just to a hashtag, and get a response in moments.  For an overwhelmingly long list of education hashtags, check out this link: http://cybraryman.com/edhashtags.html.  Some of those hashtags are related to education twitter chats – you can see a calendar of what’s out there here: Education Chat Calendar.

You can also connect with other schools and teachers for your students benefit.  Earlier this year, my daughter’s first grade class did a Skype session with a class in New Hampshire to learn about geography and discuss a book from the Global Read Aloud.  This was the third Skype session (that I’m aware of).  Their online connections included chatting with the author of a book they read, and talking with another class in Colorado.

Last week Barbara tried out a Mystery Skype with her class (she can tell you more about how it went), and once the technology was working correctly, it was a cool experience for the kids in her class.  All over HSE, there are elementary classrooms participating in mystery Skype’s to learn about new places and things.  Want to know more about the idea behind a Mystery Skype, click here!

It’s also important to point out that here at RSI, we have several staff members who already use Twitter from their classroom.  If you want to know more about it, just ask Jenna, Mary Lynn, Barbara, Christian, Samantha, Mary, or Krista and Jennifer (you can also click on their name to go to their Twitter page) about how they use Twitter to connect with the world beyond our walls.  As a parent I also feel that Twitter enriches my understanding of what is happening in my daughter’s class.  I have followed and subscribed to Lainey’s teacher, Courtney Gibson, and I get alerts whenever she posts a tweet (typically just once or twice a week).  Sometimes she shares what they are doing, sometimes there is a picture, but always it tells me something about what the class has been doing which in turn allows me to have a conversation with Lainey about her learning.  If you want to see how it’s used by her teacher, click here.

Online educator communities provide you with 24/7 access to people, ideas, resources, philosophies, and opportunities that can expand your world (and the world of our students).  In next week’s post, I’ll talk a little more about some of the benefits of an online presence.

How have you used digital connections to improve learning opportunities for your students?  What new things have you learned or tried?  Share with us below!

Preparing our Students for the Great Unknown

lennon-quote-with-photoWhen you were in 6th grade, what did you want to be?  When you talk to our students, what jobs do they want to have some day?  The amazing thing is that some of the jobs that my classmates are in did not exist when I was in 6th grade.  How many jobs that our students will end up doing don’t even exist yet?  In a previous post I shared the following quote from Thomas Friedman:

“Today’s workers need to approach the workplace much like athletes preparing for the Olympics, with one difference. They have to prepare like someone who is training for the Olympics but doesn’t know what sport they are going to enter.”

Matt Miller - http://ditchthattextbook.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/jobs-that-didnt-exist.jpg
Matt Miller – http://ditchthattextbook.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/jobs-that-didnt-exist.jpg

A quick search of the top jobs for 2015 lists things like computer systems analyst, software/app developer, information security analyst, and IT manager.  These are all relatively new jobs.  A couple weeks ago, I talked about the importance of being able to learn, unlearn, and relearn.  What does this look like when we don’t even know what jobs may exist when our students enter the job market?

To me, there are a few skills that will always be valuable.  These are the skills that are most important for our students to learn.  Here is a list that Matt Miller shared of a few skills that will help our students be better prepared for the real world when they get there:

  • Adding value
  • Creating content online
  • Continuously listening and watching for new ideas
  • Glamorizing hard work
  • Turning wasted time into productive time
  • Cultivating relationships
  • Being financially responsible
  • Staying on the cutting edge
  • Maintaining a balance between professionalism and being a real person
  • Becoming a twenty-four-hour worker

Some of these may be hard to visualize in practice in the school building.  If you’re looking for further description on any of these skills, let me know and I can share a more detailed explanation.Peanuts-happy

Are there any skills that you feel are left off of the list above?  What would you add?  Share in the comments below!

Making Connections

In last week’s post we were talking about the HSE Best Practice Model.  There are many ways we can help our students be successful in the 21st century.  Our digital world, while not the only solution, is one of the keys that can help unlock the door to that success.  As an example, I’d like to share something that happened to me last spring.  I was reading a book and the author made reference to a spreadsheet that she used to track data on students.  While in theory I could guess what it probably looked like, I was having a hard time visualizing it.  I flipped to the appendix hoping to find a version, but no luck.  After rereading the passage I still had questions.  I decided to look on Twitter to see if the author had an account.  Sure enough, she did.  I sent a tweet to her, and in a couple minutes she responded.  Through a direct message I sent her my email address, and 10 minutes later I had a screen shot of the exact spreadsheet.

Matt Miller - https://www.flickr.com/photos/126588706@N08/14746748124/in/photostream/
Matt Miller – https://www.flickr.com/photos/126588706@N08/14746748124/in/photostream/

Who are the people you’d like to ask questions?  In a less connected world, you might have been able to track down a mailing address, send a letter, and hope for a response in a couple of weeks.  Today through the use of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other digital services, we can connect immediately.  As teachers, we can leverage those connections into ways to help our students interact with the larger world.  Your class is learning about space science?  Have them compose a tweet to NASA or an astronaut (think about Scott Kelly on who is currently involved in the Year in Space Mission).  Did your students have a question about a book?  Try tweeting the author, or have your students share their reactions via your twitter account.

https://plus.google.com/+SylviaDuckworth/posts/61rTzdcJ1yG?pid=6097161572876797314&oid=114228444007154433856
Sylvia Duckworth: https://plus.google.com/+SylviaDuckworth/posts/61rTzdcJ1yG?pid=6097161572876797314&oid=114228444007154433856

Personally, I look at Twitter as less of a social media site, and more at a Personal Learning Network.  I have connections to resources who share their ideas, and I can communicate back and forth with them.  And the best part of all of it?  I can do this anytime that works for me!  I don’t have to rely on anyone else’s timeframe to guide my learning.

Sylvia Duckworth: https://www.flickr.com/photos/15664662@N02/20735433665/
Sylvia Duckworth: https://www.flickr.com/photos/15664662@N02/20735433665/

How many of you use social media for the purpose of learning?  What sites have you found successful?  If you’re on Twitter, share your username so that we can follow you.