Getting Around

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Middle Schoolers Make Bad Choices

One of my lovable ruffians was caught showing his friends an illegal substance in the media center this week. He hasn't been to class since, though I'm told he's spent considerable time in the assistant principal's office with his guardian in attendance. I am so sad for him it hurts. He has a lot going for him as a person and I'd hate to think that this one mistake will define him for the adults in his life forever.

I realize that teenagers do stupid things. I did plenty of stupid things myself. Heck, I would not want my teen self in any of my classes because I would drive myself insane. I get it. But I can also see the train wreck coming. I got lucky. Some of my students won't be so lucky.

I do think I did everything I could to build a relationship with this student. He's not a mean kid and he responded to adults who showed an interest. His thoughts and attention are clearly on other parts of his life right now, rather than on school. Here's hoping he can find a new, more positive, focus.

Monday, January 21, 2013

My Big Campus

Is anyone else using My Big Campus? Our school system has adopted it as a means of, well, all sorts of things. It doesn't integrate with our grade book, so not grading (thank goodness). But our students are all loaded in now and my classes are set up.

Debates about whether there are better systems out there aside (I think there are), I'm finding it mostly useful as a place to dump all those great links to things I find. I've also put a couple of practice quizzes in there but have yet to use them. I'd love to do some assessments with it, particularly when I'm forced to use multiple choice questions for whatever reason. Actually, essay questions wouldn't be bad because then I wouldn't have to deal with tween handwriting.

On the negative side, I don't always have reliable technology on which to use My Big Campus with my students. While I usually have access to slow netbooks, in the last week they've been whisked out of my room by the 8th grade science teachers. This is fine, because they are science department netbooks and I tend to use them more for math, but it makes planning interesting.

Beginning this week I'll post homework for math on My Big Campus rather than on my website. I created a bundle of online resources for students who want more support with the topics we'll be covering in this unit. A third of my students don't have internet access at home, so I can't use it as a way to flip lessons.

Anyway, I'd love to hear how other people are using it or if anyone found it a complete waste of time.

Monday, January 14, 2013

TKD and Me

Last summer, my daughter began taking Taekwondo (TKD) lessons. For her, it was physical therapy. For me, it's been a real eye-opener as a teacher. Here's what I notice while watching TKD classes that relates to math and science teaching for me:

  • Most classes are highly mixed in terms of skill level.
  • Most classes are somewhat mixed in terms of age; adults go to separate classes from kids for safety reasons.
  • New students are shown what they need to know when they're ready to learn it, not before.
  • A new student can start at any time, not just at the beginning of a defined season.
  • New students learn by watching more experienced students and then immediately trying whatever's being demonstrated.
  • All students are expected to show respect to all other students, regardless of skill level.
  • Skill levels are denoted only by belt color, which serves to let a student know who they can ask for help.
  • Everyone progresses at his or her own pace rather than on an imposed schedule.
  • Classes are open; students come to any class that meets when they can come rather than signing up for a specific time slot, which can change weekly.
  • Students who aren't up for TKD opt out by not attending that day; students who are not ready to concentrate are asked to sit out or leave until they are.
  • Students can come up to 4 times a week and so work at the level of their interest and personal bandwidth.
  • Students test their skill level when they are ready; teachers do not send students to the assessment until they are confident the student is likely to achieve a new belt.
  • Teachers act as coaches who refine skills being learned, often having more advanced students doing the demonstrations and explanations for new skills rather than doing it all themselves.
  • Students who decide TKD isn't for them can simply stop coming.

I'm sure there's more, but these are the things that stick out in my mind. I haven't really refined this at all, but I've been thinking about how my classroom differs significantly from my daughter's TKD classes. I'm tempted to sign up for TKD just to see what it feels like to be a student in what is a purely mastery-based learning environment.

A challenge to myself is to see where I can implement some of these ideas. Some of them are not appropriate for public education. Others are not something I do right now, but that I might think about trying.

I realize I'm not saying anything new here, but TKD serves as a way to show that learning at a student's pace is possible in the right environment. Creating that environment inside traditional school is the challenging part.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Homework Makes Us Sad

I have to grade homework as a completion grade. That's the school policy. So, that's what I do. I assign homework, and I check it off when it's completed. I don't grade it. I don't even note that it was turned in after the date when I said it was due.

I watched a colleague today go through all his classes to track how many late assignments all his students had (our grade book doesn't do this for us). He was upset at all the work he had to do. I was sad for him. I don't do this work because I don't see how it benefits students except in an oblique way.

My colleague's comment was, "I sure wish we could go to standards-based grading so I don't have to grade homework anymore!" Um, sure, because SBG is all about making less work for the teacher.

I am still sad for him, because his eventual transition to SBG will probably be a tad difficult.