Sunday, April 28, 2013

Edcamps Are a Must

If you're reading this and either went to Edcamp Waller or another edcamp recently then I want you to send this to some friends who didn't go so they can read what I have to say.

Edcamps are the greatest thing since, well, just about any professional development (PD) you or I have ever been to in the last 20 years.

Yes that is an incredible statement. But anyone who has attended an edcamp knows that what I just wrote is true. The obvious reasons - it's free, there are great door prizes, and it's fun. The one simple reason that is important to your school and your students is that you will learn something you can use in your classroom.

How does an ecamp work? I'll leave that to the information at the Edcamp Wiki page and to this blog post from Simple -12. But the bottom line is that you sign up and then give up (usually) a Saturday. And then you have fun learning something.

While I have you (if you're from Texas), think about attending an edcamp in your near future. There's Edcamp San Antonio on July 15th (2013) and Edcamp Fort Worth on July 27th (2013).  If you have to wait until the Fall there's Edcamp Dallas on October 12th (2013). (If you're from somewhere else just look at the link, above, for the Edcamp Wiki Page and you'll see a listing of edcamps and their dates.)

Still looking for reasons to attend? Here's a look at the line up of sessions held at Edcamp Waller:

     There were 4 session times; two in the morning and two in the afternoon.

     During the 1st session there were  discussions about (1) Open Sources in Education (such as Ubuntu and Joomla), (2) Ways to use Google Apps, (3) A student presentation on a flipped classroom, (4) Standards Based Grading, (5) Twitter basics, (6) App sharing for the elementary level, and (7) Using SMART Notebook.

     During the 2nd session there were conversations about (1) Increasing student engagement based on the Teach Like A Pirate book (TLAP), (2) Using Google Chrome, (3) Using Wiki's for authentic writing, (4) Getting Google Certified Teacher Training, (5) School Pad and Class Dojo, and (6) Tech in the multi-ability classroom.

     During the 3rd session teachers talked about (1) Student discussion groups, (2) An intro to PBL, (3) iPad projects, (4) Basic Twitter, (5) Global/Connected classrooms, and (6) How to get free stuff for your classroom.

    During the final session there were discussions about (1) What you need to know about going to Google Chromebooks, (2) Google Stuff, (3) Ways to implement iPads and BYOD, (4) Techie tips and tricks for the K-2 classroom, (5) QR codes, (6) Flipped classrooms, (7) Genius Hour - unleashing student passion, and (8) Unconference 101

That's 27 conversations with around 150 educators over four 1-hour periods.  And in the middle, everyone went to lunch and continued conversations from the morning.  In all there were 7 hours of incredible learning and sharing and everyone - and I mean EVERYONE - enjoyed themselves.

When was the last time you spent a full day at a PD in your district where everyone was happy at the end of the day?  Heck when did you ever have a non-bitch session lunch during the middle of a PD day?  Go out and support these people putting on edcamps in your area.  You won't be disappointed. Then, when you get back, work with your district and host your own edcamp.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

What Should a PBL Classroom Look Like?


I had some fun this morning with this google doc asking for thoughts on "must haves" for the PBL classroom.  Here's what I wrote:

Tables that seat 4 to 6 and chairs that are easy to move around the room and into the hallways are a must. If it's appropriate, have areas around the school or in the hallways where groups can earn the right to go and work. Use "chalkboard" paint or other easily cleaned coating for at least one wall to brainstorm or create - or- use an easily cleaned metal so you can use magnets on the wall.  Have an area of the room specifically set up for working creatively ( paints, scissors, paper, glue etc available and stocked ).  Move the "teacher area " away from the door and somewhere central. Finally set up walls so that students can face any direction and still be facing the front of the room. 

What experiences drove me to this list?  First, collaboration is the key to PBL.  And it works best, in my opinion, when all participants are able to see each other.  With the need for a horizontal surface it makes sense to use tables. If the tables are too big or too heavy then the room can't be easily adjusted to meet the needs of the activity that is to be conducted. 

The walls in the PBL classroom should be the canvas where students brainstorm or post ideas.  These should be the places that they display their mid-planning sketches or passages. This allows for other students, the teacher, or another outside observer to post critical comments for consideration. When students enter the room they should see that they are entering a room where thinking and creating occurs. Engineering classrooms and art rooms shouldn't be the only rooms with this motif. 

If you are going to foster creativity, then have the tools of creativity available to the students and have a set routine for when and how to get materials. Whether it is the arrangement of the furniture or some other distinct method, have this area of the classroom be, obviously, separate from the rest of the learning area.  Many (most?) science classrooms are set up this way.  The lab areas are separate from the instructional area.

Finally, avoid putting the teacher at the "front" of the classroom. This is a collaborative environment and everyone should have the opportunity to be the center of attention. If students know that at any time their area of the classroom could be the focal point then they have to be prepared to lead discussions or, in some other way, be a critical part of the learning that is going on in that classroom.  

Designing a PBL classroom is an awesome responsibility. Take time to do your homework. Look at what others might be doing in their classroom. But most importantly do what you and your students need for successful learning.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Problem Based Math For Intervention Groups

Fancher Photo
This week I've been working with 7th grade students who have been identified as having the potential to fail the state standardized math test if they don't receive some extra practice.

I have been a proponent of using Problem Based Learning (PrBL) in math classes since I saw an overview of it at a New Tech Network Annual Conference by Geoff Krall (@emergentmath ).

I am also a firm believer that PBL (and PrBL) is great for ALL students. Well it was time to put up or shut up this week.  As they came in on Wednesday morning I presented them with this problem: "Your company wants to sell individual koozies for soda cans and wants to determine the smallest size box they would need to fit a koozie that is 1/4 inch larger than a standard soda can."  I also had a can of Diet Dr. Pepper on the table.

Our next steps were to do our Knows and Need to Knows.  Some of their knows included the obvious but there was also the fact that we needed to use the volume formula for a cylinder. Rather than telling them that this wouldn't be needed I had them wait and actually calculate it and solve the final answer and then go back and see if we really needed it. If one of the students had questioned it right away I would have led them to the fact that it wasn't needed at that point.

This went well and the students were incredibly engaged so I attempted another problem the next day.  In this problem there was a man with a patio that was in the shape of a semi-circle and he wanted to put planters along the edge (see the first photo above).  The planters were 1 foot square and he wanted them to be 6 inches apart. I gave them a drawing of the situation and they came up with the word "semi-circle" in their "knows" section.

This went even better and I allowed them 5 minutes to attempt to answer the problem. I stopped them right at 5 minutes and we explored their different approaches.  Most had created tables of lengths and number of pots. So, I took the opportunity (after we had solved the original problem) to show them how they could create an equation from the table of data (looking at the deltas between each X and each Y). And I showed them how you could solve that equation to get the same number of planters that we had gotten with the table of data.

These were two simple problems at the basic level. By presenting the information in this manner, I forced them to think more deeply about the situation. In the first problem, for example, I could have asked for the size of a box that would be needed for a can with a 2.5 inch diameter and 5.5 inches in height. But why would they even want to answer that?

In the first problem they had to use a ruler (from the test formula chart) to measure the can and then they had to figure out what the new sizes would be with an additional 1/4 inch (for the  koozie). Then they had to make the connection between the height of the can, the height of the koozie, and the height of the box. Finally, they had to make the connections between the diameter of the can, the diameter of the koozie, and the width of the box.

Giving students a chance to solve problems like this and using the knows/need-to-knows process really gets students thinking rather than manipulating numbers. Give it a try.  Take a problem that is on a homework or is one you want to use as an example in class and remove some of the information so that it becomes a "real" problem. Then watch your students learn.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Change Can be Scary

Our teachers are pretty darn good at what they do. Oh, we have a few who are struggling with classroom management and a few others who aren't the best team players, but overall they really come together for our students and that's what it's all about - the students.

Next school year our teachers will be facing a LOT of change and not all of our current teachers will be along for the journey. There are many reasons for that last sentence and I won't get into why I feel that way, but suffice it to say the changes we are about to encounter are scary.

If you've followed this blog you know that the current school year saw 1:1 iPads for our sixth grade teachers along with the requirement for them to use project based learning as their primary form of content delivery in their classrooms.

There were major technological hurdles to cross along the way and we are still having log-in issues for some of our students. In spite of these distractions, some of our teachers have been real troopers and have exceeded our expectations. And because of their tenacity we've even had students present their PBL/Tech skills to our school board. In turn the board has given us the green light to make some key changes.

For the 2013/2014 school year we will have 1:1 iPads for all 850 students and we will expect project based learning to be the primary mode of instruction in all of our content-area classrooms. This information was presented to the teachers this week at our faculty meeting. Most teachers had expected us to be adding the pbl requirement to the 7th grade (with or without iPads) next year and our 8th grade the following year. Now? Boom - they're all getting it.

The other change they are about to face is the addition of a curriculum management system called C-SCOPE which they will be getting more information on during the month of May. The teachers will be using the Year At a Glance (YAG) and the Instructional Focus Document (IFD) from C-SCOPE. For some of the veteran teachers this might require the loss of some of their favorite topics. And it might force a sequencing change to their "normal" flow.

These losses can be troubling. And whenever there is change we, as leaders, must recognize these losses. Over the course of the next 4 months I need to help our teachers deal with the changes and their perceived (and actual) losses. It will be a challenging time for all of us but because these are great teachers we will survive all things scary.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Edcamps Don't Have to be Techy

This weekend there was Edcamp Houston but I had to miss it even though it was right down the road (about a 4 hour drive but in Texas that's almost neighbors!).

As I was looking through the Twitter stream coming out of there I was envious of those in attendance but I was also hit by the fact that nearly every tweet coming out was about some app that was being shared or some software or hardware that teachers were using in their classrooms.

Now I've been to a few edcamps, I've presented at edcamps, and I've hosted an edcamp. I'm also going to be attending Edcamp Waller at the end of this month. So I feel like I know what I'm talking about when it comes to having an opinion on these things. And what I see is that there are too many presentations at edcamps based upon the use of technology.

Many of you reading this might disagree. And many of you who have hosted or are about to host an edcamp might feel that the only way to ensure large numbers of participants is to guarantee that there will be some fun tech experiences to be had by attending. But I'm not saying that there can't be a large number of presentations based upon technology. What I am saying is that hosts need to encourage more people to present on meaningful topics in education.

We need to have discussions and conversations about all things education. We need to have people with opinions and points of view about interesting topics that spur others, in attendance, to agree or argue or just think. Edcamps need to be more like Educon Philly or the upcoming NOVANOW in Michigan.  Those conferences are all about conversations. Presenters are not standing in front of their audience delivering a message for an hour. They are presenting ideas or concepts where the audience takes ownership of where the conversation heads from there.

It's time for educators to think outside of their classrooms. As I tweeted this weekend we need to have meat and not just dessert at these edcamps. Finding a cool new app to use in your classroom is fun. Sharing apps or links in a smackdown is fun. Discussing how to keep students engaged in the classroom is a bit more dry but, I would say, incredibly more important. Maybe using that new app will help with the engagement. But are there low-tech alternatives to bells and whistles?

Encourage your fellow teachers to attend edcamps.  Encourage your curriculum leaders in your district to provide professional development in an edcamp-style setting.  But also encourage teachers who are really good at what they do to present their secrets. Encourage teachers to discuss issues your school or district is facing. And encourage discussions on topics that are in the news about the education profession. Edcamps can, and should, be education camps first and barcamps second.