Drones in the classroom?

Today I was lucky enough to attend a training at Macomb Intermediate School District sponsored by REMC, called “Coding and Drones”. I had no idea what I was getting into but I had always been interested in drones and have taught coding in one of my classes. When the flyer hit my in box back in June I remembered about meeting up with a twitter friend, Brian Cook, at AMLE conference in Philadelphia where he shared how he had a drone club at his school. Why not give up one day in summer to check it out? Today was worth it! I am just imagining the possibilities of using drones for learning.

First off WHY!

At the start of the presentation the why was answered quickly. Drones are used in so many industries for so many tasks. From the Military (the obvious news making use) to Television to airlines to energy industry to agriculture drones are used regularly. Drones go where humans struggle to go. Usually inspecting with video relays and often performing repair tasks. First thought in my head is that Spiderman Far from home drone use aren’t fiction for much longer. Our students will most likely encounter drones in their careers. Of course we can’t really know because most of our students will embark in careers that aren’t around yet. Drones were fiction when I was in middle school.  Using drones will engage our students in applied technology. Students will see the value of accurate measurements, coding with a purpose and understanding of the thinking by design process.

Now the How…

It will take some time to figure out just exactly how to incorporate drones into the classroom but today opened the door to many ideas. As we worked to learn how the drone worked each table group talked about how to use them in their classrooms. I was lucky to be working with two other middle school teachers. We quickly focused on the tasks that students could complete; flying an obstacle course or completing tasks. We were introduced to a program called DroneBlocks a quick block based coding program. DroneBlocks has tutorials and has some tasks for students to complete with the Tello Drones. I feel that the coding with drones will fit in with as an extension station to my current teaching. I can’t wait to watch what the students learning with drones.

My only concern is that I have only one drone. I will have to seek grants and share my successes in hopes of getting more. Maybe Amazon would want to sponsor school drone programs in the future due to their ambitious plans to deliver packages via drones!

Follow my twitter and Instagram feeds to see what we are doing with drones in the classroom this year.

All I can say is if you get the opportunity to learn about using drones in the classroom don’t pass it up!

Find Your Educational Niche

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Education is not a competitive sport! Educators should not look at others for comparison’s sake. 

 

Education is a collaborative practice. Educators look to others for ideas and inspiration.   

 

A Cautionary Tale: 

 

My first year of teaching felt like a competition. My principal’s observations noted comparisons to other teachers. I was asked to observe others and “be more like” a few veteran teachers. Pressures forced my teaching style not to be genuine, I was attempting to mimic teachers who were viewed as highly effective. Every lesson attempted to use a best practice listed in the school improvement plan. I desired to be the best, thinking it meant being better than others. I was competing with my colleagues as if I was attempting to make a sports team. 

 

My mindset was a product of my education and the leadership in the school. In school, I always competed with my peers academically. I rushed to be the first done, have the best grade and get into the best college. In college this remained, competing to achieve. I compared teaching to sports; there is a best way to run a play. There must be a best way to teach. My first principal made me feel inferior to others. Constantly pushing me away from my natural teaching instincts towards being the same as the more seasoned teachers in the building. Test scores and a variety of teaching methods consumed my quest to be the teacher others followed. 

 

The harder I tried, the more I struggled. Trying to be just like other teachers, focusing on outcomes was not making my classroom better. Each day was more frustrating than the last. Why didn’t my students behave the way the other classes did when I observed? Best practices filled my day but learning was still a struggle. I had fallen victim to the super-teacher myth. Best practices and copying successful teachers had ruined my first year teaching. I tried too much. I lost focus. 

 

Fresh Start: 

 

Lucky for me the summer gave a break, switch to a new building, a fresh start. Walking in for the first teacher day, I received the best advice: “Don’t copy the other science teacher, do it your way!” I slowly changed my focus to my students. Finding practices that fit their needs, not just deemed best by school improvement specialists. My principal encouraged purposeful teaching methods. Teaming was a focus in this new position. We discussed our lessons and helped each other hone our craft. I stopped comparing myself to the teachers around me and focused on making myself better each day.

 

As the years have passed, I observe other teachers to find practices that might blend well with my style of teaching. No longer looking to copy, but seeing if I can add to my tool box as a teacher. As a science teacher, I focus on creating students that question WHY things happen in the world around them. Engaging them in the process of understanding processes that cause changes in their lives. I use formative assessment practices to monitor my students learning. No longer looking at summative assessment results for validation of my teaching. My students let me know daily how successful I have been. 

 

Moving Forward: 

 

From Project Based Learning to Service Learning from Flipped Classroom to Gamification, there are too many practices and teaching styles in education for any teacher to keep up. Teachers need to find their niche, focus on students, and be genuine. Observing other teachers to gain ideas is very helpful. Just be careful to not compare your teaching to others. Many new teachers get caught up in comparing themselves to veterans. This practice can lead to devastating results. 

 

After over fifteen years of teaching and hundreds of classroom observations, I have learned, no two teachers are identical. Each develops their own style. What works for one, won’t for all. Education has many paths for success. Our students learn in many different ways. This diversity in the classroom is a necessity for ALL to succeed. Find your niche as a teacher, then get better every day!

Be the Advocate For Your Students

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I never took a class in college that told me a large part of teaching was advocacy. Most teachers spend their time focused on lesson planning and relationships with students, we feel politics should be left to others. I have found politics have impacted education and it is time to make sure our students’ voices are heard. Over the years I have witnessed the lost of elective classes, funding for supplies, class sizes increase and no longer having a media specialist to support my students reading need. All of this has been a result of policies enacted by state and federal legislators.

While education is a much talked about issue during campaigns very few politicians follow through on promises to educators. The tide seems to be turning slightly in Michigan where our new governor, has been steadfast in holding education as a high priority in the budget, while also creating a educational advisory panel of teachers from around the state. These big steps can only be maintained by persistent educational advocacy from teachers.

Teachers know what is going on in the classrooms. Teachers are trained in assessing and meeting our students’ needs. Teachers are busy with all that they do, but advocacy matters, when we show up our voices are heard. Today I wrote my senators and representative in support of Success in the Middle Act of 2019  to ensure that all students in the middle grades are taught an academically rigorous curriculum with effective supports. I urge other educators to do the same.

For the same reason many educators in Michigan have and will march in #RedForEd Rallies in Lansing. The next march is Tuesday June 25. Teachers have to keep the pressure on legislative bodies to fund their priorities in education.

Keep speaking out and sharing your voice on behalf of our students!

Lorax

My previous advocacy post: Be A Lorax for Education 

Summer Perception of Educators

Teachers be like

It is the first week of summer break for most Michigan teachers. While on twitter a well meaning teacher friend posted the message above, signaling to all teaching friends to enjoy the well deserved summer break. Teachers have to be careful of sharing this type of message on social media. It gives the misperception that teachers don’t work the same amount of time that “other” employed adults work.

Teachers need breaks to rejuvenate and grow professionally. The same educator who posted this message spent yesterday in Lansing lobbying for adequate funding for schools, which could not be done during normal school hours. (#RedforEd Rally) The really message educators need to share is that it is summer and NOW teachers can finally act like all other employed adults.  We can go to the doctor or dentists without taking the day off. We can get to the markets before all the fresh produce is picked over, during the day. We can go out to eat and do so taking our time, instead of normal rushed thirty minute lunch while multi-tasking.

The thing is teacher spend most of their day working. Not just the 8-3 time that students are in the classrooms. Teachers have to plan the lessons, grade papers, attend meeting and stay current.

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Constantly looking to improve teachers work hard like all other professionals. In fact best estimates are that teachers work 2,200 hours per year . So to put that in perspective if an employee works 40 hours a week for 50 weeks a year it comes to 2,000 hours per year. Nobody calls Doctors, Dentists or Lawyers part timers but most of them have office hours less than 40 hours per week. Actors and professional athletes spend far less time on their stage than educators again they aren’t part of the narrative of being part time or working less than a year. So why does society hang this narrative on educators?

It might be because we impact those around us. Parents are impacted when schools are out for breaks, now they have to figure out their children’s schedule and who will watch them during their working hours. This impact and teachers public “joy” of a break (which is valid and needed), gives rise to the “part-time” teacher position.

It is time for society to recognize that teachers put in MORE than enough time for their pay! As an educator I am going to share ALL the work I do during my summer “off” to give evidence that my district is getting every penny worth of my salary!

I previously wrote: 7 hour workday and summers off.. 4 years ago with similar sentiments.

A PSAT day!

Its Tuesday after spring break, My 7th grade students spent the day at home. I sat silently in a school hallway, PSAT tests were today. Our 8th grade students had to come to school to sit for this 3 hour exam. “At least I get paid for today” was mutter by a teacher as we passed in the hallway. Me, I was bored, staring down a hallway to help students or teachers during the exam. Counting the minutes till the testing was done.  I felt empathy towards the eight graders who were dragged to school out of compliance to the the “TEST”.

What good does the PSAT do for an eighth grader? A practice SAT test that they will endure the struggles for again before moving on to the “REAL” SAT. Their scores will be sent to them in late summer or early fall. Used to tell them where they might need improvement. Concerned parents, worried about college admission MIGHT use the scores to help their child improve. But really the scores are used for something else.

USED to judge our instruction, our teachers and our district. Might there be better ways to do both of these tasks?

As I perused social media over the past day, many teachers and administrators shared positive thoughts, eating and sleeping tips and best wishes to all the students partaking in the exams of this day. What makes this day special? Shouldn’t schools and communities promote good eating, sleeping and wish everyone well for every day? Why should these standardized tests, a snapshot summary of students be so special? Especially since we keep adding more tests each year. ALL of our students will have to endure NWEA and M-STEP assessments in the coming weeks, are we going to hype these up, give groups of students time off and test in small groups for each and every test?

It is time we allow students to build portfolios of work that show who they are so that a few hours on some random test doesn’t carry all this wait and stress.

Podcasting as an educator

anchor

I have been podcasting using the Anchor app. Why? Well using Anchor it is quick and easy. With just a tap of a button I can record. I am not doing anything fancy just recording my reflections, thoughts and observations about education. It can be done any where with just my phone. It is that easy. Open the app, press record and boom, a podcast is born. The app is free and distributes your message to all podcast networks from I-Tunes to Google to Spotify (who recent purchased Anchor). I find that podcasting is quicker and easier than blogging. I sure don’t have to worry about typos as much!

I used to think Podcasting required a capital investment in equipment, Microphones, digital recorders and editing software. Now it is all contained in one simple APP. I am sure there are others. I attended a PD where a teacher shared about Anchor and BOOM!! I was Podcasting the next day. I am listed using my blog title Sweat to inspire.

I might be using an untraditional format since I don’t like rules. Most of my episodes are short 3-5 minutes, with me talking about a subject and sharing reflections. Mainly it is me sharing what is keeping me up all night. It helps me revisit ideas while making my thinking visible for others to reflect upon. Unlike other podcasts, my casts are short, sweet and simple focused on one main idea. I hope the quick listens inspire others and help them reflect.

Eventually I hope to get my students using Anchor to podcast their learning. Hopefully it will be soon. Give me a listen and maybe you will be podcasting soon.

 

Homework: To give or not to give

homework

Right now this is debate in many schools, coming from educators, parents and students. Those that are on the side of homework talk feel there is a need for skills to be practiced independently before they can be mastered. On the other side many argue that practicing without a coach (teacher) can lead to errors in learning that takes more efforts to unlearn. Handing one assignment to a class of students as homework is troubling. In that class some students might have already mastered the skill while others are just beginning to tackle it. Why should they all do the same assignment? Matt Miller and Alice Keeler address these concerns and present solutions in their book “Ditch that Homework”.

I suggest that instead of ditching homework we might want to SHIFT IT! This idea comes from practice in my classroom. I don’t assign homework, haven’t for many years. I accept work when it is done and grade it based upon the learning standards. A few years back, after a student failed an assessment, he challenged me. “Mr Bloch, you failed to teach me what I needed to pass the assessment?” What, wait, did I? Others passed!! The students and I went over all the material presented in class, all the projects and tasks given. We agreed it was covered but he still challenged: “But I didn’t do any homework to help it stick, you should have given me homework!” I thought about it for awhile and asked these 3 questions of the student:

  1. Did you know what you needed to learn?
  2. Did you receive feedback as to where you were in this learning?
  3. Did you have access to resources to help you learn it?

“Well, yes but I needed more homework to learn it.” I asked him if it would be fair if I gave the entire class more homework, since as a class most students mastered the content. “Well no, they would hate me if I made us have more work!”

Teachers shouldn’t be the ones assigning homework in the classrooms, students should be assigning it to themselves! Teachers need to set the learning targets, give feedback and provide the resources students need to learn but the learning and homework belongs to the students. Each student has different needs because they are in different places in learning. Schools have to stop thinking one size fits all and model how learning happens in the workplace and in homes.

In the workplace new skills are presented all the time. If a worker wants to get ahead and master the skill they will work on it at home. Those that don’t add the extra efforts might now advance in their jobs as quickly as those that work. At home when we don’t understand why the lawn mower won’t start or how to landscape the yard we assign ourselves homework to figure it out. Schools need to start modeling the skills students need to succeed in life. One of these skills is for learners to know how to assign themselves extra work to reach mastery!

This image of my daughter show it:

Grace knew that she was struggling with fractions in math, so she accessed Kahn Academy to study on a snow day. She could have been sitting on the couch watching TV with her brother but assigned herself homework to fix a perceived weakness. This is a life skill.

Time to shift homework, from teachers to students!