Steaming for a Cause!

S.T.E.A.M is an educational term that refers to a means of teaching students how all things relate to one another, in school and in the real world.  The acronym S.T.E.A.M stands for:  Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math. STEAM becomes a more engaging approach to learning for students because the learning is based on exploring and investigating. “S.T.E.A.M for a Cause” has proven to be a worthwhile challenge for our students.

“Steam for a Cause” offers students a chance to engage in lessons that not only incorporate science, technology, art, and math, but also seek ways to help make the world a better place. Learning to help others is a valuable skill for building strong friendships.  When children begin to see how everyone’s actions connect and effect the world, change is possible.  Books are always a good starting point and a few of my favorites are Stand in My Shoes, Kids Learning About Empathy by Bob Sornson , Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney. and Dolphin Tale the Jr. Novel by Gabrielle Reyes.

                 

Students’ learning can be pushed to a new level of complexity without the same level of stress that would be associated with a traditional classroom environment. Students begin to ask the natural questions of who, what, where and why without prompting.  With the correct activities, students will begin to volunteer their free time to work on projects that connect to the real world.  With careful consideration these same activities can open their eyes to how they can positively impact the world.

My first encounter with this type of teaching was brought to my attention while on a family vacation in Marco Island, Florida on the Dolphin Explorer Boat in 2011.  As my family and I were enjoying the scenic ride aboard the Explorer, the naturalist shared valuable information about the dolphins, manatees, birds of prey and mangrove forests.  It came to my attention the team of experts would be using Skype to connect with students around the nation.  An experience that  has changed my perspective of what teaching should truly embrace.  To gain a complete understanding of the program and how it turned out to be an experience of a lifetime,  visit the following links:

A Walk on the Beach

Saving Seymour the Dolphin

Seymour the TV Star

It’s Elementary My Dear Seymour- Sea Rescue

What I learned very quickly was that when learning connects to the real-world students will become active participants in their learning.  A goal I strive to achieve on a regular basis since my students showed me the way to “help to save a dolphin” all the way from Pittsburgh, PA.

A few of my students’ favorite S.T.E.A.M  activities include:

  1.  City of Bridges– Students read books such as Seymour Simon’s, Bridges.  Simon’s book incorporates interesting facts about the more than half-million bridges in North America and how they impact our travel. After learning about how bridges connect us to the world students then have a chance to build a bridge made from toothpicks, gumdrops or K’Nex.  (There are many more options but these are some of the materials my students worked with and found successful).  The topic of bridges lends itself to bodies of water and how the environment is effected by litter and pollution.
  2. Impact of Oil Spills– Students take part in a mock oil spill experiment and the challenges in saving the environment and wildlife.  A meaningful conversation about how  pollution can effect our health and safety concludes the experiment. A great link that offers free lessons to carry out this experiment can be found at Alaska Oil Spill Curriculum.  Prince William Sound by Gloria Rand and Oil Spill by Melvin Berger perfectly and would act as a wonderful introduction.Prince William
  3. Pillowcase Dresses– Students can learn about measurement and sewing and contribute to a worthy cause.  Visit the following link to learn more: Little Dresses for Africalogo
  4. Shoebox Recycling- Students initiate a shoe recycling project and learn about the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling in the process.  Also, all money earned can be donated to a favorite charity.  Visit Shoe Box recycling to learn more. Favorite books that connect with this lesson:  A Bag in the Wind by Ted Kooser and George Saves the Day by Lunchtime by Jo Readman.

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These are just a few of our favorites.  The art portion of the projects usually lend themselves to the creation of environmental posters to hang throughout the school or using recycled materials to create artwork.

There are so many valuable lessons to investigate that will help to foster a love of learning, much more than any worksheet or website can offer.  I am certain there will not be another opportunity to share with the nation what my students and  I are doing in class, but I will definitely continue searching  for lessons that will prompt students to look more closely at the world.  By presenting opportunities for students to take a closer look at real-world problems we are preparing our students for their future.

 

Back to School Basics: Don’t Recreate the Wheel

I can’t tell you how many times I recreated the wheel as a teacher. I’d spend hours developing a worksheet, or labor over making sure I had all of the information for a form and then a colleague would say, “Oh I could have sent you one that I use!” or I see a teacher-friend on social media post a link to an online resource that was exactly what I needed. It’s frustrating to be sure. So, before you take your precious time to create a resource that already exists… check with the teacher next door, ask your friends, or look online. Make a pledge to yourself that this is the year you become more efficient and make use of your amazing colleagues who have blazed the trails before you.

If you school doesn’t already provide you with tracking forms, lessson plan templates, or conference planners, I’m sharing with you here some amazing, FREE options that are available online. The best part – these are forms that you can type directly into.

  • Student Tracking Forms: With daily, weekly, or class period options in addition to a completely blank form for you to customize, you can easily track everything from attendance to homework to lunch orders.
  • Lesson Plan Templates: Includes 6 format options: Snapshot Lesson Plan, Weekly Lesson Plan, Traditional Lesson Plan, Self-Contained Classroom Daily Plan, Thematic Planner, Unit Planner
  • Parent Conference Planners: Six different planning templates to help prepare for parent-teacher conferences: Traditional Parent Teacher Conference,  Referral for Student Services Conference, Portfolio Review Conference, Student-led Conference (teacher planner), Student-led Conference (student planner), and Parent Planner

Looking for something more specific? There are thousands of amazing teacher-created materials out there online – and many of them are free! Here are some excellent sources that I check when looking for resources:

P.S. While you’re browsing those resources, you may start thinking to yourself, “Hey, I have great lessons of my own!” Why not take some time to format the lessons and create your own shop on one or more of these sites. Don’t be intimidated – you don’t need hundreds of lessons (although you certainly go that route if you’re inclined).  Personally, with 21 products in shops on Syllabuy and Teachers Pay Teachers, I earned about $500 last year. That was enough to take the family on a weekend getaway – just by sharing things I had already created for my own use! So, while you’re looking to avoid recreating the wheel in your classroom and saving yourself some time – why not get your ideas out there and do the same for someone else… and make a little cash too.

Back to School Basics: Proceed to Create Procedures

Over the next week or so, I’ll be posting some basic tips for getting your new school year off to a great start. We’ll get this party started with talking about procedures.

A colleague of mine once told me the first two weeks of school in my classroom was like attending bootcamp. I drilled my class on the proper procedures on everything from entering the classroom to throwing away garbage. There was a procedure for clean-up and a very specific procedure for morning meeting. However, after these first few intense weeks of learning routine, my classroom was a well-oiled machine. My substitute teacher plans did not have to be so detailed because even my 4 year old students could run the day on their own. It was only content and thematic elements that the sub needed to plug in. The First Days of School by Harry Wong, a text revered by many teachers, extols the glories of well-thought out procedures as does many other great texts on classroom management.

For those of you who aren’t a drill sergeant or a severe type-A control freak naturally graced by the ability to carefully plan every anticipated outcome and construct a seamless flow of behaviors, here’s a quick series of questions you can ask yourself to establish effective procedures in your classroom.

  1. What day-to-do routine behaviors are carried out in my classroom?
  2. What is the ideal outcome of each behavior?
  3. What are the particular steps to achieve this outcome?
  4. What do I need to do to prepare or have available?
  5. What are the specific expectations of the students?

Once you have determined what procedures you want to put in place, take the time to thoroughly explain the expectations to your students. Model the proper procedure, and don’t forget to give the students a practice run! Repeat the expectations aloud as they are practicing. The more they hear, see, and do, the sooner it will become second nature. In time, your classroom will be more efficient and your students will be more responsible as they master procedures and meet expectations.

Recommended books which address setting up procedures:

  • The First Days of School by: Harry Wong
  • Tools for Teaching by: Fred Jones
  • Skills Streaming Series by: Ellen McGinnis and Arnold P. Goldstein
  • What Great Teachers Do Differently: 14 Things That Matter Most by: Todd Whitaker

What are You Doing with the Last 5?

What are you doing with the last five? What I mean is – what are you doing with the last five minutes of class? Have you ever thought about the consequences of wasting five minutes a day? You lose 25 minutes of instruction per week, two class periods a month, and eighteen class periods a year.

This is the perfect time to utilize formative assessment tools to gauge student understanding and help make decisions about tomorrow’s instruction. Here are three ways you can better utilize the last five minutes of class:

#1: Correcting: Where am I?

In other words, this is the perfect time to gather feedback, correct mistakes and address misconceptions. Knowing what students understand and do not understand is extremely important in preparing the next day’s lesson. Here are some ideas on how you can use assessment tools to see where students are in their understanding:

Socrative is an excellent formative assessment tool to gather student feedback to correct mistakes and address misconceptions. Students can participate on any device, which makes it extremely flexible for 1:1 environments. Not only are you able to create pre-made quizzes, but Socrative has an Exit Ticket feature that requires very little effort on your part. The best part is that all data from Socrative is saved and accessible in web, Excel, or PDF formats.

What if students do not have access to devices? If you are like many teachers, you probably have access to a Smartphone. Why not use Plickers? Plickers stands for “paper clickers.” Teachers simply download the App to their Smart device and print out QR code cards for students to use to answer multiple choice questions. Students position their cards according to their answer, while the teacher scans the room with their mobile device.

#2: Summarizing: Where Have I Been?

Students need to be able to share the main ideas and key points of what they learned; however, we often forget to have our students take a few moments to summarize what they have learned. According to Reif (1993), students remember 70% of what they say and 90% of what they do. The last five minutes of class is a perfect time to get students saying and talking about what they learned.

Think about the power of technology and how it allows students to demonstrate their understanding in various ways. Several months ago, I was inspired by Fox’s new television station called Fox Sports 1, which is very similar to ESPN. At the bottom of the station’s screen are your typical news briefs in the sports world; however, I was drawn to one of the briefs titled “3 Things You Should Know.” I thought this was the perfect idea to use in class.

I had my students use Movenote to create presentations on “3 Things You Should Know From Class Today.” If you are not familiar with this tool, it is an interactive presentation tool. You can upload pictures as visuals, while you explain it through video from your webcam. It can be easily shared and provides students with a way to share what they understand. Students can create and share their Movenotes, which could be posted and shared with other classmates via a class website, blog, or LMS.

#3: Reflecting: Where am I Going?

Reflection is an essential element of learning; however, we often forget about having our students reflect on their learning because there is never enough time. Investing just five minutes at the end of class is an important chance for students to connect the dots and see where their learning is headed.

We must keep in mind that the way students learn and reflect is as different as their fingerprint; therefore, providing students with options to reflect is important. Here are some of my favorite reflection tools:

  • Penzu is a web-based journal, where students can write their reflections and thoughts. It can be password protected and easily shared.
  • AudioBoom is a free podcasting platform, where users can create free mini-podcasts called “boo’s.” This is perfect for the student who may struggle with getting their thoughts to paper.
  • See Saw is an excellent digital portfolio tool for students to share their thoughts through writing, recording, and images. This tool provides students with the flexibility to be creative, while still reflecting on their learning.

Conclusion:

In order to better utilize the last five minutes of class, it is essential that we connect today’s learning with tomorrow’s lesson through formative assessments. We can help students understand where they are at, where they have been, and where they are going. Formative assessments provide students with the roadmap to successful learning. Not only are students better prepared for learning, but teachers gain more class time and cover more content. The best part is that it takes only five minutes a day.

About Matt:

Matt Bergman is a former classroom teacher with over twelve years of experience working in public and private schools. He is currently a technology integration coach at the Milton Hershey School in Hershey, PA. Matt shares his ideas on technology integration and Universal Design for Learning (UDL) through his blog called Learn-Lead-Grow.

Homework, With a Purpose

In recent years there is an ever growing debate on Homework vs. No Homework. Many argue for the No Homework side with various reasons associated with their point of view. The primary issue with homework is it’s purpose. If you are assigning homework without a defined purpose you are not doing your students any help.

When planning your schedule for the week in your classroom be sure to have a defined purpose for the assigned homework. Is there a test tomorrow? Assign homework that will help your students study. Is it an Advanced Placement course? Assign homework that will help prepare students for questions they will see on the exam. Is the course real world oriented like personal finance? Assign homework that students will be interested in like a stock simulation.

There are a few questions you should be asking yourself to best determine the purpose of a homework assignment that will help you explain the purpose to an administrator, students and parents.

The first and foremost question you should be asking is does this assignment tie into the content being covered? A homework assignment on a topic covered three days prior may not be appropriate if you’ve moved on to a new topic.

The next question you should be asking if are my students capable of doing this assignment? By the same token as above, if you haven’t covered a topic yet how can your students successfully complete a homework assignment?

Another question you need to ask yourself is can all of my students complete this assignment? You may be in a situation where your class is mixed with a variety of students. Some might not be able to complete an assignment without a paraprofessional, parent, etc. helping them out.

The final question you need to ask yourself is can this assignment be done in class? Ultimately, parents view homework as work that wasn’t completed during the school day. While teachers are often blamed for this it is necessary to consider. Could you potentially fit an assignment into your schedule so that students do not have to take their work home?

If you are able to define the reasoning behind the homework assignment it is easier to defend giving it. If you can note how it is to serve a purpose: preparing students for an AP exam, preparing students for a test, helping students study for an upcoming test, etc. it will be perceived as more than just something you’re making them do.

Helping students succeed is our ultimate goal, so we need to have Homework, With a Purpose!

Lesson Planning: The differences between teacher prep and practicality

I saw a picture on Facebook one morning and had a good laugh about it. It was one of those “e-cards” with the text:

  1. Find your plan book
  2. Hear email… check it
  3. Each chocolate
  4. Chat with coworkers
  5. Surf teaching sites
  6. Try again tomorrow

Then I started to think about the process of writing lesson plans… and wondered why this is such a stressful part of our jobs as educators. (Cue the flashback sequence) When I was in college, the lesson plan template for pre-service teachers was a three page form that needed filled out. For each lesson. As a freshman, I learned the importance of activating prior knowledge, and always taking the time to provide closure. I started college the year NCLB was passed, so we also spent a good amount of time learning about standards. As a sophmore, in came the greuling process of learning to write clear, measurable objectives that did not include the words know and understand. (Wherever you are, Dr. Stephen Ransom, I thank you for drilling that into the heads of students at Mercyhurst University because in every position I’ve held since graduation, someone has complimented my awesome objective statements.) Junior year it was all about being super creative, using manipulatives, designing project oriented lessons, and integrating technology.

When you’re only submitting lesson plans for a professor to review, or popping into a local elementary school to complete one class period it all seems fine and dandy. Sure, I can fill out three pages to complete a 40 minute lesson. Let me consult my Bloom’s Taxonomy verb chart, flip through the standards binder, and come up with a cute little demonstration or activity. As my senior term in student teaching progressed, filling out that lesson plan form was EXHAUSTING. In a Kindergarten classroom, there were 14 different “lessons” that were going on each day. When it came time for me to plan and implement on my own for the last two weeks of the placement, that came out to 84 pages of lesson plans! I rememeber sitting in my car in the parking lot, head down on the steering wheel, silenty sobbing because I was so overwhelmed and drained by everything. How on earth do teachers do this?

Being the crazy-driven-overacheiver (you can read that as “obnxious”) person that I am, I graudated after the first term of my senior year and in less than a week of finishing up being a college student, I walked into a classroom as a subsitute teacher. In a 10 minute introduction to my new job, the principal showed me the essentials: bathroom, teacher’s lounge, the classroom I was in that day. She then said, “Oh here’s your lesosn plans.” It was a single sheet of paper. One sided. For the whole day. Where were the objectives, the procedures, the activating prior knowledge activities!?!? English class’s plan wasn’t even a full sentence: Personal narrative about walking outside. WHAT?!?

It took until my third year of teaching until I was able to master the art of the block lesson plan. I could print the entire week’s plans at a glance on a single sheet of paper that I taped to my podium. My standards were listed in a separate spreadsheet file where I had all of the designations listed and I filled in the date next to the standard when it was addressed. Any long-term projects, center activity plans, or asessements were in a separate binder.

Now here’s the moral of my lovely little story: While filling out a form to structure lesson plans taught me how to break down a lesson and plan the essential elements – it was HIGHLY IMPRACTICAL when it came actually teaching in a classroom. Most teachers have less than an hour of planning per week (during school time at least, we all know you’re working long hours at home too!). What my teacher education program, and many others, still miss the mark on is teaching you how to succinctly and effeciently write your plans so that (a) you know what on earth you’re going to teach (b) a sub could figure it out (c) it still meets any requirements set by your school/ district / state.

In the comments I want to hear from you: What’s the one piece of advice you have for teachers struggling with lesson planning?