The best part of teaching is the ability to start and finish every year. Summer provides the perfect time to reflect on your past your and make corrections. More importantly, it allows us to grow as educators and improve student experience the following year. Kids always come into my room after moving up and ask “Why didn’t we do this last year?” I like to reply that we are always making thing better. If you haven’t started this process, here’s some areas for reflection to help improve next year teaching.
These are just a few questions I look at in the summer, this could go on and on. Currently I am working through student notebooks to look at what exactly my kids did over the course of the year. These provide valuable clues for my pacing. Additionally, I am looking to better organize my physical space to include more supplies for make space type activities.
Looking to liven up your middle school classroom? Battle bell ringer are the best solution. The basic idea is over the course of a week, change one bell ringer day to require students to compete against each other. Either through an academic challenge, physically building something from cheap materials or an electronic game format. As soon as your students see the words “Battle Bell Ringer” they get curious and excited. Here’s an example.
Students learning about the solar system have been investigating various planets. For the start of class, I have students do a “Science Stacker” bell ringer. The group that comes in first gets a fabulous prize. Prizes can range from a free pass to the water fountain, a “gold card” redeemable for a prize or some other small treat (that meets school guidelines). This creates a win-win for you as a teacher, kids are excited to come to your class and students have fun while reviewing an academic concept.
After our first full year of Chromebook implementation in our classrooms, we have had sometime to reflect on its impact on our students and how we respond as educators to ensure they get a quality education. Additionally, our school is fed by an elementary school that is 1 to 1, so our incoming 6th graders provide some insights into the impact of this technology on our students. We have identified some winners and losers in this process and some suggestions to improve learning outcomes.
Ability to navigate multiple learning tools. Using Google Classroom, Canvas, Get More Math, Google Slides, Sheets, you name it, we use a wide variety of learning applications across our schools. Kids have a better understanding that computer apps are tools. Each tool has an optimal application and kids are starting to learn how to apply this. No different than physical tools, iPad, Chromebook and smart phones all have their niche.
Digital communication: Its easier than ever to contact a student, teacher or parent. Kids will ask me for missing work via digital communication. I can quickly get back to them, so in a sense, there are no excuses. Students are more than willing to check grades and, in many cases, will message me as soon as they see something they need to improve.
This is my biggest concern: The ability to write by hand. I still do it as an adult, but most of my writing is digital. I believe there is value in being able to write by hand. Brainstorming, drawing and creating sketch ups require fine motor skills. There is a debate going on whether this is a problem. This is a topic I would like to study in more detail as the research comes out. Some of the initial thoughts indicate that learning the fine motor skills of handwriting activate different area of the brain than typing does. The ultimate question, how important is this skill? Here’s an article to look at, I am sure there will be more research in the future to examine this issue http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20171108-the-uncertain-future-of-handwriting
Classroom management. On one hand, kids on computers get engrossed in their work. Classrooms are quieter than ever. On the other hand, there is a whole new world of pop up games, sites and workaround kids can use to avoid work. Our hardware deployment to our students moves much faster than our ability to manage their online behaviors. This requires the teacher to be vigilant and observe more closely during class. In tradition non one to one classrooms, it was obvious who was avoiding work, being off task or distracting others. In the digital era, these same behaviors are much more subdued. In most cases all students look like they are working, but the reality is that not all students are focused on the tasks at hand.
An interesting observation
In all my years teaching, kids always want to show me their test scores when they finish an online test. I never ask them too and this is never been part of the classroom expectation. I believe this is part of student’s basic human desire to connect with the adult in the room (good or bad). They want to show me how they did, even though the computer instantly tells them their score. This make me wonder what the limits to the one to one classroom will be. Is there a point that too much online interaction takes away from physical face to face connections we all seek out?
I am looking for balance. That means using a variety of teaching strategies, both high tech and low tech. Students will hear me lecture and discuss. Students will create unique products in our maker space and interact in social media spaces. They will write, they will read a book. I hope to challenge them in a changing classroom that helps them all learn in their own unique way. I believe this is the new challenge to teachers, we have every tool in the world, we just need to use them in the right way.
In our previous post we talked about general tips for Working with Middle School Classes. In this post we are going to dig deeper into the concept of Bell Ringers.
Anticipatory Set, Bell Ringer, Warm up, there’s many different names but the concept is the same. Get the kids working as soon as they walk into class. The sooner you classes are engaged, they less behavioral problems you’ll face. In addition you communicate to kids that you have work for them to do. Establishing this routine early in the year or at the beginning of a new class paves the way to an effective learning environment.
Class transition time:
Be sure to greet students as they come into class by name. Especially those students who you know could be a problem. It’s important to establish positive communication. I generally will greet them and let them know what they will need (notebook, computer, book etc.). Additionally, this is a good time to ask about last nights band concert or todays Volleyball match. These few minutes are vitally important to establishing a positive climate. During this time, your bell ringer activity should be posted, either on the board, on paper or projector. A portion of the class will begin to read and think about the question or activity right away. This is an important point, if half the class is reading your bell ringer, that means there are less kids to redirect at the start of class time.
Bell Ringer Types
Content Review Questions: These are simply lesson objective questions from the previous day. Generally low order questions (we want a quick start with lots of success). The goal here is to engage lots of kids in yesterday’s work. For example, reviewing parts of Photosynthesis in a science lesson. I created an Ecology Bell Ringer Pack for this purpose.
Content Preview Questions: Sometimes we’re looking to see where a class is at. For example, does a class understand absolute value, providing a few sample problems.
News Events: I like these because they instantly engage student. For example, The Chinese Space Station Crash. Kids hear about these items and want to share and talk. I like to tie these into content areas to make class more meaningful.
Physical Challenge: Sometimes its fun to have kids just build something simple. I have some classes with very active students, so I use physical challenges that get them thinking hands on. Draw a box, build a cube, make a quick tower. I created a Science Stacker Series for this purpose.
Grading: I like to have students keep a section of notes dedicated to bell ringers that I can check at the end of a section or quarter. Additionally, if they are doing something that you want to engage them a little more, use a stamp to grade their work. This allows you to circulate the room, spot checking work with a stamp letting everyone know they completed the work.
The key to bell ringers is using them. Be sure to have something up everyday. The more teachers in your school that follow this procedure, the more productive your classes can become and the less behavioral headaches you’ll have to deal with.
Bell ringers have long been a core instruction and classroom management strategy. The goal is to get students into the class and get them on task quickly and effectively. Teaching this from day one creates and organized classroom that allows all students to learn. The question is, how do I use bell ringers with a 1 to 1 classroom?
Option 1: Computerized Bell Ringers. The advantage here is students come in, log on and go to a LMS (learning management system) like Google Classroom. The teacher posts an image or question for reflection and students begin to write immediately. This is great because each kid has a rich, engaging bell ringer that they can compose and turn in online. For the teacher there is no wasted paper laying around. The management problem that can be an issue is students can waste time getting computers out and once they are online, its more of a challenge to get them to pay attention.
Option 2: Traditional Bell Ringer: In this case, students walk in, pull out a bell ringer journal (notebook) and begin writing immediately. This is effective because there is no transition time pulling out computers (if you use a cart). It gives the instructor some time to discuss without students being distracted by a computer screen. If you don’t know what I mean, ask 24 middle school kids to log on and listen to you at the same time. Once the bell ringer is complete, I’ll provide students with an agenda of activities and send them off to get their computers.
Reflection: Bell ringers still play a vital role in classroom management and instruction. New technology supports effective teaching. As an instructor we need to remember that proven instruction strategies are still good, we just need to adjust them to support our broadening technology base for instruction.
If you are looking for 1 to 1 instructional resources for your science classroom, check out my Cells for Middle School Bundle. It contains 3 self paced lesson, with videos and interactive notebook pages.
At the heart of Mass Customized Learning (MCL) is the learning path. This is a set of learning experiences that students work through to develop learning about a concept or skill. Regardless of your classroom set up, learning paths are an important instructional tool that can help differentiate any classroom. This post will detail some important points to consider when building your first learning path.
Each activity should be built to a specific learning outcome or standards. Activities need to be varied in that some should be hands on, media and discussion based. This gives the end user are balanced exposure to the lesson materials. In the end of the design process, we want students to have multiple paths to choose from. However, its important to construct a good first learning path before digging into to multiple paths. For example, when teaching about cells, I created Cells for Middle School. This lesson series has recorded lessons and student activities that can be used 1 to 1. These can be used alone as or coupled with non fiction readings from textbooks to create multiple paths.
Plan for Advanced Content
Understand that your high achievers will work and accomplish at a high rate. After you set up your first learning path, decide what skills or content you would like to extend. This will provide for instruction while you work with students who need remediated or just work at a slower pace. This is the greatest benefit to MCL learning paths, we no longer bridle high achievers to keep them on “track” with everyone else. I like to use building/engineering challenges like Metric Race Car or the Film Canister Challenge. These require kids to apply what they have learned and move to a higher level of learning.
Size of the learning path
Start simple. 4 to 6 learning activities are perfect for your first learning path. Any larger and it gets difficult for both the teacher and the student to track. Print out learning path list for each student and have them track at their desk. In the beginning its important they have a visual reminder of what needs to be done.
Determine How You Will Grade
This is important and deserves the most thought. Will students be turning in paper and pencil assignments as normal? Will you use some sort of modified self-check system? Do you have the ability to go completely digital and track in an LMS like Canvas or Blackboard? Students will complete tasks at different rates. I prefer to post answer keys to activities near my desk and have students check their work. I still require them to show me first, so I can ensure they aren’t just rushing through their work.
Assessments and Prove it Quizzes
At the end its important that students assess their own understanding. At the end of any learning path I use a prove it quiz. If you have access to an online quiz tool or LMS (Blackboard, Canvas) this is very helpful. I assign quiz question pools and require an 80% or better to move on.
Helping our neediest students
I will often group students up by activity. After a day you will see who is falling behind, those students will come to a desk near mine and I will lead by direct instruction over that activity. This could be 3 students or up to 10. Because your learning path allows other students to move ahead, you can devote more time to remediation to this small group increasing learning.
Are you considering using Mass Customized Learning (MCL) in your classroom? To me, the idea sounds fantastic and I want to jump in feet first. I realize that in the spectrum of professional educators, this may sound crazy to some and wonderful to others. In this series of post, I would like to share some of the pitfalls and success I have had in the process in the hopes that I can save you some grief.
Before you begin, the learning facilitator (teacher) in the process must absolutely decide how you will assess the student. As soon as you build your first learning path (sequence of lessons), the learners (kids) will begin generating work. This can be a blessing or a curse if you are not ready for it.
In my first attempt, I had a series of five interactive PowerPoints covering the concepts of science process. The basic ideas was the students would read the article, complete 3 or 4 slides with student responses and then turn them into me in Google Classroom. I decided this would be completely paperless at the onset and presentation files are full color (more engaging than standard worksheets). Kids began working and it was wonderful. Each one was learning at their own pace, I was free to circulate the room and help those who needed it most. Victory!
After the euphoria of happily working students dissipated, my first problem arose. How I was going to grade and collect materials became by big issue. Each student submitted the aforementioned interactive presentation back into Google Classroom. Doing the math, in this section I had 80 students, 4 slides of interactive content per lesson, 5 lessons voila, 1600 pages to grade in the snap of a finger. Ouch. To compound issues, grading is Google Classroom is not smooth. You must load the files, comment, then click the tab to go back to the original grading page. I was sinking fast and looking for a way to fix it.
In this case as I realized there was no way out, I decided to create an assignment called “My Best Work.” For this series of presentations, I asked the students to review their work from the 5 lessons, then screenshot one slide from each that represented their “Best Work.” This allowed me to have an artifact to assess their learning and helped engage them in a process of self-reflection and differentiation.
In the future.
I will plan a module, mastery or “prove it” assessment at the end of the lesson series. Making sure I have these assessment in place before hand.
Consider using a checklist that the student track and shows me their work. Working more based on visual checks in the classroom. Kind of a “grade as you go” platform.
Look at using stamps. Yes, I stamp papers and assign those a point value. A learning passport would be an interesting idea. Once you fill your pass point, then you can complete a “mastery quiz.”
Another viable solution, if you have access, is a premium LMS system like Canvas or Blackboard. The process of grading in Canvas is much more streamlined than Google Classroom. The presentation files that student edited would be one scrollable page with a push button rubric.
None of these issues are new. Consider math teachers with nightly homework. I have listened to these folks for years attempting to navigate the mounds of paperwork generated in the classroom. If MCL is on the radar in your school, my best advice, decide how you will assess/grade and collect work at first. That will set you off on the right foot to a manageable, interactive classroom. In the next article I will be discussing how we build learning paths.
(Article Note: Many proponents of MCL suggest an ungraded standards based classroom. I have witnessed this idea in action and it works. However, if you are an individual teacher implementing MCL for the first time. I would suggest sticking to regular classroom grading till you get the learning paths figured out.)
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