The Improv of teaching

improv

“Mr Bloch, we didn’t do that activity second hour, why did sixth hour do it?” Well to be quite honest no two hours in my classroom are the same! My teaching doesn’t stick to a script. Sure we cover the same topics, but depending on the audience and how they react to the topic the class stirs where the learning will go. I see teaching as working as an improv actor. I know the topic, know many ways to convey the needed knowledge about the topic but wait till the audience in the seats reacts to see which path I travel down.

When I started teaching I felt my classes deserved the same lessons. I felt if I short changed a class if I did not cover all the material the class before. The classes had to start and end at the same spot even if it meant one class had to rush to get there and another had to slow down or stop learning just to keep to the script. Does the lesson drive learning or is it how students interact with the knowledge?

When students participate and engage in their learning, their interests and questions drive what is done in the classroom. If teachers stick to a defined script students will feel disconnected with the learning process and shut down. Similar to the way a comic on the stage has to read the audience, see where jokes bomb or succeed and move towards the success.  A teacher can’t push through a lesson if it is failing, they have to shift to find success. Teachers have to constantly gage the students level of interest, listen to the questions their students are asking and shift lessons towards their needs.

Lesson plans serve as a map that show where the class needs to arrive, eventually! The teacher needs to make sure to keep all roads clear so students can find the one that fits them best. My worst days in the classroom came from forcing my class down a road they didn’t want to travel down. As the learning guide teachers have to remember the destination is important and the path there doesn’t matter. Some classes want the direct route using memorization and worksheets (yes some students like this approach) while others want to climb mountains and enjoy the view during their journey.  Teachers just need to make sure students keep moving forward and arrive unharmed with knowledge.

Educational reformers seem to think that teachers just have a script to read from for the 180 days of the school year. If this was the case TVs and VCRs would have replaced teachers long ago. Students need the constant interaction with a knowledgable sherpa to learn.

To be a great teacher, sharpen your improv skills, gage the interests of your students to guide them on the many paths of learn!

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#AMLE2017 Pre-Conference thoughts

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I leave tomorrow for Philadelphia. I am excited to be presenting at the AMLE annual conference in front of incredible educators from all over the world. I wonder if there will be enough time in the two days that I am at the conference to do everything I desire. I want to attend ALL the sessions, connect with everyone and learn new things. I have to contain myself and remember a few guiding principals.

  1. Slow down– Don’t rush from moment to moment but just live in the moment. It will be over way to fast if you rush. Make all connections meaningful. Learn in the moment and don’t worry about the getting to the next moment.
  2. Talk to teachers– The conference will be full of incredible experts, authors and leaders. I enjoy connecting with all of them, but to hear about practical classroom practice, I need to connect with classroom educators. I need to make time in my busy schedule to make sure I sit in a few session with current classroom teachers. They know what works and the ins and outs of practice best, especially if they are presenting at a national conference.
  3. Say Hi– As I go through the conference I need to look for the attendees who seem to be by themselves. (Like me) I need to slow down say high and spark a conversation. During past conferences this is how I have meet some incredible people. Nobody wants to be alone, so I need to find my tribe. I also can’t assume people will recognize me from twitter. I am not a handle but a person.
  4. Follow twitter– This will allow me to not miss incredible stuff going on. I can see the retweets and interactions. If it was worth hearing, it will show up on the #AMLE2017 twitter feed. After I return home Tuesday night I will search the feed to continue learning.
  5. Use the APP– AMLE has invested money in creating a handy app. In the all presenters can upload all their resources. So even if you can’t make a session you can still find resources to use and help you grow. The APP has all the contact information you need to follow up with presenters and gives you a space to take notes.
  6. Have FUN– If learning isn’t fun it won’t be meaningful. I need to not stress about my sessions or who I connect with (I hope all of you!!) but enjoy the moment and the opportunity the conference provides.

See you all in Philly! Please stop me and Say HI if I don’t first!

 

Anchor: Endless possibilities

anchor

Recently I noticed a member of my Twitter community using Anchor FM. At first I was a skeptic, do we really need another tool to reflect or blog with? I already write this blog, I keep a blog for my classroom, I connect on many social media platforms. Would this be worth my time? Knowing my writing limitations and feeling more confidant as a public speaker, there was no harm in checking it out.

Once downloaded I gave the app a try. I found the tool easy to use and straight forward. Just speak in the phone to record you voice, add music to the background, preview and publish. The app connects to other social media accounts to allow for audience. Anchor was what I had been dreaming about. I can blog while driving just by talking into my bluetooth! I can quickly record my thoughts to save for later. I can choose to share or just keep them private. Anchor even allows you to create your own podcasts! The coolest part is listeners can call in to comment on your Anchor posts, giving instant feedback! Could I use this tool in the classroom?

My brain is swirling with ideas of how to have my middle school students use Anchor! We have 4 Ipads and 10 Ipods at school. With Anchor I can have students record their thoughts on learning activities, call-in to reflect on others recordings and have students create podcasts about their learning. Anchor can be used in many ways in the classroom. It can help student articulate their thinking, practice public speaking and ultimately become better writers when listening to their work.

Recently I discovered that Anchor has the ability to take spoken word and turn it into a video. Here is one created from my post today:

I did need to edit some of the transcription. My students will love this feature and it will help them work on proof reading skills. (Which I need too!) This video is such an improvement over my talking head Video Logs (Vlogs).

Check out Anchor, this tool has endless possibilities in classroom Anchoring our students learning!

Anchor can be used to:

  • Reflect
  • Retell/Restate
  • Summarize
  • Expand on ideas
  • Debate
  • Hypothesize
  • Predict
  •  Practice speaking
  • Give students an authentic audience

Please share your ideas of how you might use Anchor.

Finished with School?

finished with school

As I was listening to the radio the other day, I heard a call exclaim how glad they were to be entering their final year of school. Excited to be done, the DJ’s response caught my attention: “Then what? Your excited to be finished with the best years of your life and to go to a job everyday!” As a teacher I feel the excitement of school being out for summer and hear about student’s desires to be “done” with school. We have all heard the Alice Cooper’s anthem School’s Out for Summer.

Is school being out forever something to celebrate? Sure it is great to celebrate the accomplishment of graduation and moving on to new challenges but the end of learning? Most people want school over to get “into the real world”. Isn’t school part of the real world? Now that I am in my mid-forties reflections of school bring back the fondest memories. When will you only work 40 weeks out of the year again? Heck I wish I could JUST be a students again.

Students fail to see how school connects to life. They see it as a right of passage that they all have to get through. School has many similarities to jobs. Show up on time, complete task by deadlines and be respectful to your co-workers and boss. Luckily for students school is different than most jobs in that it is ever changing. Each year different boss and co-workers. During the day different subjects are tackled. Only professional careers look similar, most jobs are more mundane. The school year looks very different than most job years. Schools have more breaks and planned time off. Most jobs only have 2 weeks of vacation the first year and make new comers work holidays and weekends. So why are students in such a hurry to get done?

Society has created schools to be a task that has to be completed. Forgetting that being educated is a life long task. Grade levels have been arbitrarily created to match up with ages not knowledge level. Students see school completion as being an adult not being educated with core knowledge. When a person starts any job they start with a training program and mentors that mimic school. Our society needs to shift how we look at school, we need to focus on life long knowledge growth rather than school being out forever! Are we ever finished with learning? When my students ask this question my answer is “You are finished learning when you are finished living!”   

Now it is time for a school is in session anthem!

Give a hoot don’t pollute! #Trash Challenge

give a hoot
From: llerrah.com

As I took a walk this afternoon with my kids, I couldn’t help but notice how much garbage could be found along the roadside. As I stopped to pick up the first item, my wife who walks daily said “I usually pick up stuff on the way home.” By the time we reached our school a quarter mile up the road I had a handful of trash and had left plenty of pieces behind. Do we give a hoot anymore?

Being a child of the late 1970’s I remember Woodsy being on every Saturday during cartoons. It seems people today spend more time driving around looking for a good parking space than picking up trash. Over my 17 years as a classroom teacher it has astonished me how much trash can end up on the hallway floor by the end of the day. I ask students to pick it up frequently. The most common retort is “I didn’t drop it!” Well no but somebody did and it needs to be picked up! Our world is covered in trash, If you take a moment you can find it everywhere. Cigarette butts by doorways, plastic bags stuck in trees, bits of paper stuck in the grass.

trash

A friend of mine recently posted this during his recent trip to Bolsa Chica State Beach in California. This is a challenge everyone in the world should take! We should take 10 minutes and pick up trash once a week/month. Think of what a difference this could make on our world! Just think about walking into your school or place of business, what if we stopped staring at cell phones and pick up trash on our way? Eventually we wouldn’t find trash on our short walks. Our youth haven’t heard Woodsy’s message from the 1970’s but they can see it modeled from us everyday!

Since seeing Anthony’s post, I have pick up trash everyday. Usually when walking through a parking lot. This is what I found yesterday in the Dollar General parking lot:

trash

Sure some people stare at me as I pick up trash or pull plastic bags from the trees. Hopefully it inspires others to do the same. Here is the challenge that I hope goes viral:

Pick up trash, Take a picture of what you pick up and post to social media with the hashtag #trash and your commentary about it. Include as many others as you can in this. It could become contagious! Schools could take one period a month to clean their campuses and post pictures to inspire others.

Then maybe every waterway will have a trash wheel like this:

Overcoming media stereotypes 

 

 

stereotypes
From NationalStereoType.com

This morning I was doing my daily Facebook feed scan, A friend of mine had posted a link to the calendar for the up coming school year. I clicked the link wanting to see how my children’s district matched up to the district where I teach. I figured the link would take to a calendar filled with dates of breaks. Instead I was greeted with the following paragraph:


I was shocked! “Feel free to mark your calendar as one of the most dreaded days of the year for teachers and students” Really!! Way to show the community how teachers are committed! and telling students they should dread the start of school? This is not the way a newspaper should report the school district’s calendar adding typical stereotypes to the simple reporting of a calendar! Patch you should know better! After quickly checking the site I noticed the same introductory paragraph was used to share all of the districts calendars for the Patch reading area. What does this say to the readership?

By proliferating the stereotypes of teachers and students it hurts education! Readers will assume that teachers dread day 1 because they are lazy. When in fact most teachers spend weeks if not their entire summer working to make the first day of school (and all 180 after)  special! Teachers are excited for the new beginning that the school year brings. Parents will pass the dread to their students after reading the Patch calendar. “Johnny I know you don’t want to hear it but school is coming!” Might be a common conversation at a dinner table. I challenge the Patch staff writer to attend a final day of school in Macomb county. At my middle school students were crying, not wanting to walk out of the building because they were sad the school year was over. Many not knowing what their summer will bring. First days of school are exciting, full of promise and energy not dread.

“And feel free not to feel guilty about marking it as one of your favorites.”  What? The start of the school year is a day full of guilt for parents. Whether they are dropping of a kindergartner for their first day of school or seeing a senior off for their last year. YES, Parents should feel guilt. They are handing off their precious child for their education. Many parents ask themselves; ‘Is my child ready? Did they slide during summer or did we do enough?” Should a newspaper be expressing this much opinion when reporting a school calendar?

NO! These types of stereotypes are expected in films and on TV. There is no place in journalism for using them. Schools need to be free of stereotypes, teaching the diverse population that attends them. A simple calendar report like this makes our job infinitely more difficult.  For parents it makes schools like a day care system. For students it makes school dreaded. For teachers it devalues our hard work and jobs.

Dear Media: Do your job, report the facts with out stereotypical commentary, it will help us all in the end!

 

If it can be Googled ….

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“But the teacher said most of the kids who fail the test don’t know the formulas!” Griffin exclaimed as he focused on writing a series of 4 geometry formulas down. I wanted to focus on how to solve the problems, but Griffin was concerned with memorizing the formulas. Is this where Griffin’s valuable learning time should be spent?  Do engineers have all their formulas memorized? or can they Google it?

When I first started teaching I though it was important for students to learn (memorize) everything. Now I think differently. As an adult I don’t always have formulas on recall mode in my mind. I like to look them up to refresh my memory. For my students I list all the formulas we have been working on at the top of tests, along with a word bank for reference. I feel if it can be Googled, I shouldn’t assess it. I want my students understanding how to apply their knowledge, not regurgitate facts. In today’s world everyone is walking around with Google in their pocket.

Schools need to rethink how we assess in the secondary level. Students can do so much more than just site facts. Asking what the chemical symbol for gold (AU) is not going to measure anyone’s intelligence or tell if they are meeting a science standard. A better question would be: What family of elements is gold (AU) most likely to bond with? With a periodic table a student could show their understanding of elements. Assessments must move away from recall level questions up bloom’s taxonomy towards creation.

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Sadly most standardized test are stuck in recall mode. Our society is stuck in a pre-google notion that recall equals intelligence. Recall is just a muscle that if given enough exercise it can be impressive. Many of our students can recite sports teams rosters, quote movies or sing the words to popular songs, does this make them intelligent? No it makes them have information they value. Our students need to learn how to apply ANY knowledge. If I were creating a standardized test, I would want everyone to start on a level playing field. Giving test takers all information needed to solve the problem. Then give space and time for a solution to be found. Instead most test measure recall skills from what might have already been taught.

If a assessment question can be Googled to find an answer, it is not a good question!