Monday, January 26, 2015

#FlipClassFlashBlog 3: Late Work Policies

I allow my students to turn in work late.  I don't take points off, but I do have a conversation with the student about why the assignment is late. Sometimes I get a litany of excuses, but other times I learn about my students as people rather than scores in a gradebook.

My students who choose to open up know that I care about their overall wellbeing. Talking with "Stella," I learned that she is working extra shifts after school to help out her family after the death of her aunt.  Stella turns her work in when she can, sometimes meeting my due dates, but most often not.  In the grand scheme of things, "Stella" helping her family is more important than completing my active reading assignment, but I also recognize that there is a fine line between legitimate prioritizing and procrastination-- I have to be very careful that I am not enabling my students' procrastination and reinforcing bad habits that will carry into adulthood.

Trying to strike a balance, I give my students choice: rather than a specific due date, students can choose within a window of dates for turning in specific assignments.  Will I take the late assignment even after the window closes? Probably, but not without a sit-down discussion with the student.  I really like Shai McGowan's policy of having students including a cover letter with the late assignment:

I may try implementing this next year. Here is the current policy as stated in my class expectations:

  • All Paper-Based assignments are due IN CLASS on the specified due date.
  • All online assignments are given a 2 day window for turning in the work that is to be submitted via Edmodo.  For online assignments ONLY, there is a 2-day window. All online assignments are due by 11:59 pm on the last day of the window period.  This two day window allows students to schedule their time accordingly and make adjustments in the event of issues.

Paper-based assignments are due on a specific date because we will be using the assignment as part of a class or group activity.  I'm more flexible with online due dates because I most likely will not have time to score it until a few days (or more) after the window closes.

The due date window attempts to encourage students to make choices within a reasonable boundary.  For the most, my students are able to complete assignments within the window.  When it all comes down to accepting late assignments, the question teachers must ask themselves is, "What is more important: the student be obedient or understanding why the work is late?"

Monday, January 19, 2015

#FlipclassFlashBlog 2: Classroom Hacks

The #flipclass chat on Monday nights is my favorite chat for a number of reasons.  One, this was the first chat I found when I enter the twittersphere and, two, #flipclass is always pushing my learning in new directions-- great people and great topics always keep me thinking.  Tonight, we are doing another flash blog post:  chat for 20 mins, compose blog post for 20 mins, and then share with the #flipclass folks for 20 mins. The topic for tonight is classroom hacks.

"Hacking" the multiple choice/true-false quiz, Edmodo's quiz feature is my go-to tool for replacing paper quizzes and scantron forms and providing instantaneous feedback on student performance.  Edmodo's quizzes have saved me so much time grading.  For tips and tricks, check out this post.  Edmodo's overall platform has done so much to move my classroom into the 21st Century and beyond.

Helping my students become better readers, Curriculet is my choice for a digital reading platform.  As with other digital tools, Curriculet provides instantaneous feedback on student performance and allows me to be there with my students as they are reading.  The annotations and questions embedded in the text are MY annotations and questions-- not some canned curriculum devised by a company that may or may not have seen the inside of a classroom. Curriculet is build by teachers for teachers-- they are an amazing company driving the digital reading evolution. Whether you use Curriculet to flip novel reading (I did it with Romeo & Juliet  and A Tale of Two Cities!!!) or for short reading assignments, you will love Curriculet as much as I do.

Aside from digital tools, one of my favorite lessons for the day before break or needing a filler between units is doing a card shower for alumni serving in the military.  A few years back, I asked the principal's professional assistant for a list of alumni serving in the military and any mailing addresses available.  I kept a master list and stock piled craft supplies (cardstock, construction paper, glue sticks, markers, glitter, etc).  On the day of the actual card shower, students were given the task to create a card for as many folks as possible on the list.  I then bundled each together in a large envelope (or more per alumni) and dropped them in the mail.  Usually we do this around holiday time so we can use a holiday theme.  My students learn informal letter writing and the alumni get a nice surprise in the mail.  Every now and then, I get to hear back from the alumni.

I Have a Dream....

While I am not nearly as gifted as an orator or leader on a national scale, in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I've listed some of my educational dreams...

I have a dream that one day America's students will free from the tyranny of high stakes testing, able to learn and showcase their prowess in any way they choose.

I have a dream that classrooms will be student-centered with all students engaged in learning activities that are relevant and promote higher-level thinking.

I have a dream of working with students in small groups and one-on-one without time or curricular constraints, that students will want to learn from their teachers in a collegial and collaborative manner without focusing on points or grades.

I have a dream that all classrooms will be provided with resources and tools regardless of budgets or demographics, that classrooms will be comfortable and engaging learning environments without desks situated in linear rows.

I have a dream that students will be knowledgable and appropriate digital citizens so that classrooms across the country and world will be connected, sharing their learning experiences.

I have so many dreams for myself, my students, classroom, colleagues, and beyond, but I feel that dreams of today's educators are being squashed by forces beyond our control.  How can we achieve our educational dreams when testing dictates schedules, access to resources, and curriculum?  How can my students achieve their dreams when they are pulled in so many directions?  I don't have the answers, but I can do anything and everything in my power to guide all towards a better education.

What are your dreams?

A big thank you to Sylvia Duckworth who made a #sketchnote out of this blog post. So cool! 

Class Dojo: All About Relationships with the New App

I am continually impressed with Class Dojo's ability to meet the needs of educators. Striving to keep all stakeholders informed on students' performance in the classroom, Class Dojo uses behaviorist techniques and positive reinforcement to track student behavior and provide real-time data for parents (and students).  Whether teachers use Class Dojo all the time or during specific class activities, Class Dojo is the only app for better classroom management.

In case you missed it, last week Class Dojo announced that they have redesigned the Class Dojo app.

From the horse's mouth, here is the update announcement:

Monday, January 12, 2015

Don't Let Your Birkenstocks Get Moldy

So I'm sure you've seen those cable versus satellite commercials-- yeah, those ones with the crazy trains of logic.  Here's one about lowland Gorillas...

Despite the crazy logic, there is sense in this, and I've had my own epiphany this school year.

If you haven't noticed (or maybe you have), there has been quite a lag in the number of blog posts I've written since this summer.  My teaching schedule is a tough one. I teach in 2 buildings, 3 different preps in 3 different classrooms.  Every time a bell rings, I must move to somewhere else because another teacher's class is coming in to the room. I embody my "Go! Go! Go!" mantra. I can barely keep things straight and I am only able to do 1/10th of what I normally do: Brody stays home, desks remain in 5 rows facing front, classrooms are not decorated with student work, blog posts are unwritten. But aside from what I'm not able to do, I've realized that I've forgotten tricks that I learned in my first few years of teaching when I last travelled. I became comfortable and complacent having my own classroom space for 10+ years of the 16 years of my career-- sure, I shared rooms with other teachers during that time, but it was still "my room" that the other teacher was entering. Now, I'm a stranger in a strangeland, and I'm having so much trouble teaching in spaces that are not "mine".   Despite the craziness of the schedule, it has forced me to me out & about more, connecting to colleagues I haven't seen often.

So, what does all of this have to do with moldy Birkenstocks?

Well, I digging in my closet the other day looking for shoes and I came across my much worn, beloved Birkenstocks that I haven't worn in far too long. The miles I've walked in those shoes... only to be buried in the closet, and, to my shock and horror, the cork footbed had a layer of dusty green-grey mold. How could I have neglected the Birkenstocks that walked me to where I am today?

My Birkenstocks are a symbol, reminding me to not forget to be ingenious, free spirited, and well-travelled.

So in the spirit of Direct TV's logical advertising campaign...

When you occupy a classroom too long you get comfortable.
When you get comfortable, you forget the things you learned.
When you forget the things you learned, you stop wearing traveling shoes.
When you stop wearing traveling shoes, they get moldy. 
Don't let your Birkenstocks get moldy.
Get out of your classrooms and keep learning.