Hacking School #mschat

This week’s topic for #mschat is “hacking school!” Thursday May 9 at 8 pm ET.

From John T Spencer from here
The idea is not mine. Nicholas Provenzano, exposed me to the idea when he shared his visual writing prompts for blogging during the MACUL conference in March. Nick shared how he used this prompt with his high school English students. I felt it was a great way to hear the students voice.
Recently, I used the prompt with one of my classes. My middle school students loved the idea of “hacking” school. I shared my ideas about having flexible classrooms, 1:1 technology for students and more individualized instruction. My students took to blogging. I was anxious for the results.
Few of my middle school students took my lead for finding better ways to learn. Most students focused on different kinds of changes. Many wanted different food in the cafeteria. I totally agree here, but the food they desired to replace “school food” contained less nutritional content. Many wanted Taco Bell or McDonald’s to come in an cater. Some students desired vending machines with “pop and candy”. Change is needed for sure, more instruction in nutrition will be coming shortly.
As I moved past the “food changes”. Many post desired a change in the dress code, to no code at all. I asked, “What you want people showing up in underwear?” “NO!!” was the quick reply but students felt that nobody should control what they wear. Our school has a pretty lax dress code. I guess teachers need to share dress standards for different work environments.
Other students voiced their desire for a shorter school year, stating that more learning would occur. How this would be accomplished was not share. As I keep searching for hacks that would improve learning, I started to feel despair. Did my student feel their learning environments were satisfactory in our school? I feel changes could be made to improve learning, shouldn’t they?
As I dug deeper, I found specks of brilliance . One student wrote, “Schedules need to be flexible so student can choose the class order and lunch time based on desire and need.” Now that makes sense, why can’t it occur? Attendance and class size might be limiting factors but with work it can occur. Another talked about allowing students to use their technology for learning with a WiFi network. A student was clearly articulating a BYOD policy.
My students seemed focused on simple rule changes that might not make our school a better learning environment. Student voice is important to listen to when making changes. I feel that listening to it can also show educators knowledge deficits that need to be addressed in our students.
Teachers have seen education from many angles.I hope that by chatting with middle school educators about how to change schools. I can present a complete list of ideas before conquering this assignment with my students again.
If you have ideas about how to change schools to create better learning environments, please join #mschat on Thursday.
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Layers of Atmosphere R.A.F.T. Writing

As we continue the study of weather in my classroom, Last week my students tackled the following assignment:

Learning Target: Understand layers of the atmosphere by writing a first person narrative.

R.A.F.T. Writing Atmosphere

R: Role– An experienced Space Shuttle Astronaut

A: Audience– The newbie on the flight

F: Format– Narrative

T: Topic – Describing what the newbie is seeing out the window as the space shuttle flies up through the layers of our atmosphere.

Assignment: You are to use the RAFT writing strategy to describe layers of the atmosphere. Give a vivid account of what of the layers of the atmosphere look like as you pass through them. Below is a checklist of what must be included in your descriptive  narrative.

  1. 4 –layers of the atmosphere
  2. At least 3– details about each layer
    1. Density
    2. Temperature
    3. Air pressure
    4. Composition
    5. Interaction with solar radiation
    6. Weather

3. 1 item you might see out the window in each layer

4.  At least 10 Content area words

5.Paragraph structure

6. Good transitions.

I felt this was a good way to have the students show their understanding in a creative way. I did not want the student just to recite the information found on websites or the textbook. We spend 3 class periods going over the layers of the atmosphere and planned on using this writing assignment as an assessment to check for understanding. I knew this image was stuck in many of my students heads:

layers-of-atmosphere-2-1cbdrpg.jpg (249×202)

After giving the assignment, I imagined reading some creative stories, lacking scientific details. (Know that is what typically happens on creative assignments.) Instead, I read dry regurgitation after regurgitation of atmospheric facts. I was surprised at the lack of creativity from my class as a whole. A few shining examples showed up here and there. Many skipped over the Role and Audience aspects of the assignment altogether. After spending two evenings frustrated with the results, I asked myself what went wrong? I returned to my classroom and represented the assignment. Asking why many had difficulty?

The response was obvious when given. “No mentor text” or ” I didn’t know what to do without an example”. Opps! It was on me. The teacher changed how the writing lessons works and students fell flat on their faces. All of the writing assignments for the weather unit, I had utilized a “mentor” text  to assist the students in creating high quality work. Up until this R.A.F.T. assignment, the majority of my students were writing with success. Now, in the absence the majority of students were having difficulty. After this lesson, I ask myself a few questions:

DO middle school students need mentor texts?

If mentor texts lead to success, should they always be used?

Are mentor texts a tool for success or give too much assistance with developing high quality writing?

I don’t have the answers, but it was very eye opening when looking at this lesson.