Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Establishing An Online Classroom

In order to establish an online classroom you need rules (or at least one rule). "No hats." and "No gum."  do not seem to fit online, so let's go for "Respect." The rule: Students and teachers will show respect to all past, current, and future class members. Yes, there are elements of being reactive as well as proactive with our respect. Think before you post, please.

Next, how will you build relationships within the classroom? How will students and teachers introduce themselves and get to know each other? We teach children, "Stranger danger." How do we undo this in an online classroom? Note: Danger in an online classroom refers more to "cognitive risks" than to "personal safety risks." The relationship builder: Introduce yourself, tell us where you are from, what you do, and what flavor of Kool Aid you are most like?

Finally, yes finally, create interesting and relevant learning activities which lead to the students creating positive learning memories. Offer students the opportunity to work alone and to work together. Expect and accept their best work and provide quality, timely feedback. And, as a teacher, enjoy the journey!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Just Google It!

In my life time, Google has transformed from an online search engine to a homework "bot". Students are able to enter homework questions and Google finds the answer. Very little authentic cognition occurs during this process. "Just Goggle it!" has replaced deep thought and articulation. We are losing a significant part of ourselves as a society. More importantly, though, education has to wake up. We have to change the manner in which we ask our questions. If the question can be answered by a simple Google search, then the question is no longer valid for authentic education.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Industrial Strength Sponge Activities

Sponge activities are those activities which soak up time (like the last two minutes of class when students are getting ready to move). Industrial strength sponge activities are those sponge activities which encourage critical thinking and have a connection to the course content. I have used several different sponge activities over the years, from a simple writing prompt to summarize the work done in class to playing an interactive game. I am always on the lookout for new ones.

Currently, in my Geometry classes I use SET Game to promote inductive reasoning and Guess the Colors to promote deductive reasoning. I classify both of these games as industrial strength sponge activities because they support the work done in our Reasoning and Proofs module. My students are usually interested enough to stop and play.

What sponge activities do you use in your classroom? Can they be transferred to other subjects? Are they industrial strength?

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Dear Mr. Campbell Letter

I have been fortunate to work with some amazing teachers during my career. While doing so, I have developed into a very good thief. No, I do not claim the work of others as my own. I simply use what is working for my colleagues in my classroom. 

The best example of this is the Dear Mr. Campbell Letter. Back in the late 1990's, I worked with a middle school Language Arts teacher who would have each student write a letter to their parents once a week. In the letter they would describe what they had learned, what had been fun, and any problems that had developed. After writing the letter, the student gave it their parents to write a response and sign. The student then submitted the letter as one of their weekly writing assignments.

Here are the reasons I "stole" the Parent Letter:
1) Students produced authentic writing samples on a regular basis.
2) Most parents received more information from their middle school child on one page than they had ever received via a conversation.
3) A natural reflection process developed.
4) Students developed a voice related to their learning.
5) As a teacher, I learned more about my students than ever before. Opportunities to adjust the course to accommodate individual differences became readily available.

Here are the modifications I made to the Parent Letter:
1) In mathematics, I ask my students to write a letter at the end of each quarter.
2) I use the letter as a summative assessment. For me, the letter has become as valuable as any project, quiz, test, or exam.
3) I ask the students to make suggestions for improving the class instead of identifying any problem they may have.

The most satisfying result of using the Dear Mr. Campbell Letter is the increase in student ownership of the class as I implement their suggestions. The students see I value their opinions and respond accordingly.

Reflection: How might the use of such a letter impact your class? Can writing the letter be linked to any course objective or critical thinking standard? What modifications might you make if you decided to use the letter as part of your course?