Unexpected Observations from Data
In the survey I have given my students at the end of each problem-based activity, I ask the students what I could change or improve to make the lesson more engaging? The response from my students was surprising. The students wanted to know what the definition of the word engagement. So, I turned this moment into a learning activity. The students were grouped by four and asked to come up with a list of words they thought represent engagement (Erwin, 2004, p. 87). I asked each group to write a definition of engagement. Finally, I had the group leader google the word engagement and share findings. As a result, the students had more questions about the definition of engagement than answers. I gave the groups another clue, look at engagement from an educational or classroom point of view. The students went back to work, and as a result, we came up with a class definition of engagement. Each period had a slightly different version, but the overall themes were the same. Engagement is paying attention in class when someone is talking, being curious and asking questions of each other, being excited about learning and trying. This technique of the teachable moment and grouping is used regularly in our learning community. It is this time of sharing and constructing our own understand with colleagues that help build individual relationships within our community. Sharing and developing ideas cultivates a strong sense of community. This activity, according to Smith (1998), supports the idea that “we learn from the company we keep (p. 30).”
7th-grade learners are brutally honest and forthcoming with advice when given a voice to do so. Giving my students a view on how a lesson I presented went or what I, as a teacher, could improve upon empowers them and allows them to practice using their voice effectively (Couros, 2015, p. 111). Just because I think I hit it out of the park and covered every possible angle on the lesson doesn’t mean I did. I have had to model how to give feedback, for example, I tell them they need to say more than “I like the lesson.” Tell me what you liked about the lesson, be specific. On the other side, I asked them to tell me what they didn’t like, why? How can I improve it? Was anything good? These types of questions also require the students to think at a higher level and go more in-depth with their feedback.
You are a student?
One of my favorite parts about the journey is telling my students that I am a student! I share with them the exciting things I have learned from my classes. I share with them times when I struggle, especially in writing. Their reactions to these stories are almost always the same, Mr. Flynn you are a teacher… I respond to them always the same way, but I want to be a better teacher, and you are helping me. This connection with the students has been advantageous and powerful. Now students ask me how the class is going? What am I working on? Or if something new is occurring they ask is this part of your master’s degree? The discussion with the students has produced an active community of sharing and a better understanding of what each of us needs to be successful in our own learning.
Public Service Announcements – (PSA)
We started a unit on invasive and endangered species of Nebraska. During this unit, the students had a choice of reading one of three articles on invasive species. As they read the students were encouraged to take notes, highlight and underline essential facts they believe would support their answer for the text-dependent questions. I gave them examples on how to start their sentence. Here is what I had on the board: According to…, Joe Smith states…, In the article on…it says…. This helped the student focus on supporting their answer. I explained to the class I had to do the same type of citing for my paper and use a very similar wording style. Once again, they looked surprised by all of this.
Following the completion of the assignment Mrs. Back, my fellow 7th-grade science teacher stated she wishes she would have given the students some examples on how to cite evidence for her class. As I read some of the response to the text dependent question, I started to wonder if there another way that students can demonstrate an understanding of what an invasive species is? Why it is crucial for each us to understand how they impact our ecology? Then it hit me, Smokey the Bear. Yes, Smokey the Bear and his famous hook. You thought about it already, didn’t you? That’s right, only you can prevent forest fires. Every kid after second grade knows that line.
So how can we create something to share with the public about invasive species? Simple, we will make a short PSA. So I did some research and found a lesson on PSA. I had each group divide up into groups for four, I posted several jobs on the board which each group had to assign to each member. They had to select a team leader, who was responsible for reporting back to me the progress of each PSA. I showed them several examples of PSA and each group had to write down characteristic of the public service announcements. I only gave them a few requirements: 1. They had to make their own music, 2. They had to have a script and use a teleprompter, 3. They had to have an image. The rest was up to them, and they could have more than I required. So, as they were creating, I decided I would set this project up. I purchased, with my own money, a green screen stand and lights. The project is still underway, but the level of engagement by students is impressive. I have students reading, writing, creating music and drawing storyboards, practicing memorization of scripts. They are excited about the process and well as the product. I challenge them to make an impact outside of the four walls of the classroom. Look for our PSA for invasive species on Twitter and YouTube soon!
Progress on Professional Goals
Changes in professional goals: I had to update my professional goals this year because we are focusing on different domains in the Marzano framework. My first Goal is from Domain 1 designing question 1, element 1 through 3, which is a successful continuation of professional learning communities. I choose to celebrate success by posting images of student engagement and work using social media, in particular, Instagram and Twitter. This is growing, and students are now tagging #7BScience events they find out in the community.
My second Goal is from Domain 1 designing question 2, element 6 through 13 which is Marzano instructional framework. I choose to reflect on learning. I am using Google Forms to develop a way for students to reflect on the week of learning. I am also developing topic reflections using FlipGrid. I want the student to reflect on what they have learned and how it can be applied in daily lives.
My Third Goal is from Domain 1 designing question 3, elements 14 through 20 which is improving student learning. I choose to review content. I am using review sheets for critical material and having students develop their own review games using Quizlet.
Organization of Thoughts
I really would like to go back to this summer and start over for the Literature review and paper. I know, really? Yes, I finally figured out a way to organize my thoughts, quotes and ideas. Why is it this happens in the middle of most projects? I have built several things around our place and after I have completed it, said I wish I would have done this. Or why didn’t I think of this back then. This is why reflection is important. I am better for it. By the way, if you want an amazing app for the iPad to use for research, keep track of notes, quotes and websites, check out LiquidText.
West Point Community Growth in Community
As I stated last month, I look forward to meeting up with my advisory group and learning community members. I see it as an essential time for sharing ideas we have tried in our classroom. Our advisory group uses Google communities more and more for asking each other questions and getting support from topics covered in class. We have a member who posts an outline of the topics covered in the course, and this helps all of us when it comes time for reflection.
At times we still struggle to share outside of the class, and I even am thinking of ways to improve this. Maybe we could use Twitter account and share? The Facebook page is set up, and several have liked it. I am working on setting it up so everyone can submit to the page. Education is a busy profession, and it is easy to have things get pushed to the bottom of the pile.
Couros, G. (2015). The Innovator’s Mindset: Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.
Erwin, J. C. (2004). The Classroom of Choice: Giving Students What They Need and Getting What You Want. (J. Houtz, Ed.) Alexandria, VA, USA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Smith, F. (1998). The Book of Learning and Forgetting. New York, NE: Teachers College Press.