Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Revamping the End of the School Year to Maximize Your Instruction

Students are not robots. We can’t press a button to program their learning and expect it to be consistent day in, day out. Things happen that are beyond our control. Take the end of the school year for example. Think for two seconds about your students and how the climate of the room changes when they realize there are only two, five or even ten days of school left. Pretty chaotic, right? Thought so. Read on if you’d like to learn how to make this time more productive. 

The last weeks of school have always been a point of concern to me. I look around and realize the majority of our time is spent either finishing last minute assessments or cleaning up the classroom and preparing materials for summer storage. Every time I get into this habit I always think about how there has to be a better use of my time. There has to be something I can do that is far more academically productive, yet at the same time engages these children who are three seconds away from going into full blown summer mode. 

This past school year, I had an idea to change all of the mismanaged time. I thought long and hard then decided to turn the month of June into something new and exciting for the kids. I realized that not only was it important to keep their attention, but it was also important to provide them with quality instruction that would help them with their transition into 5th grade. I decided to take a risk and try three brand new programs that I have never done before. I wanted to select things that were not only new to me, but new to my students as well. After a lot of thinking and researching I decided to facilitate a BreakoutEDU lesson, a Mystery Skype session and also try my hand at using periscope to connect student families to our classroom. At the time, each of these programs were completely new to me. I had read about them, but had never used them first hand. 

So why on earth would I take these rambunctious kids and do something that was 100% out of our daily routine? I did this because not only was I providing my students with additional skills they will need in their future, but this was also a perfect time for me as the teacher to try out new programs for the following school year. Now let me tell you, they learned a lot… But I learned a TON! It was a perfect opportunity to get the kids focused again yet at the same time it provided me with an outlet to reflect on my practice and figure out how to make my instruction better for future classes.

Responses from parents were through the roof. They were raving about how excited their kids were for all of our new projects. A few parents even admitted that their kids were quoted saying they did not want to leave school for summer. Now I don’t know about you, but when a kid says they don’t want to leave you know you’re doing something right. 

My challenge to you is to make the end of the school year a priority for stretching your instruction. Although it may be so far away that it’s completely out of your frame of mind, make a note, set a reminder, or write on your calendar to use the last few weeks of school as an experimental month for you and your students. Start by researching tool and programs that are completely out of your comfort zone, study up on them throughout the school year and then implement them in June (or whenever your district wraps up) and see how things go. I encourage you to make time to push yourself beyond your comfortable place and become a better educator for our students. Push yourself for you, but even more than that, push yourself for them. 

Friday, June 10, 2016

A Student's Take on Mystery Skype

  Just so you know, this is not Joe Dombrowski writing. This is 4th grader Connor Pullen. Today, our class played a game called Mystery Skype. In Mystery Skype, we skype a class without knowing where they’re from. We ask them yes or no questions while they ask us questions to find out where each other are. The first one to find out where the other class is wins. We live in Royal Oak, Michigan, but the other class does not know that! After reading this, make sure to check out twitter and instagram for more Mystery Skype action! We also recorded the entire thing on Periscope which you can watch by following @mrdtimes3!

    First off, and we skyped 3rd grade teacher Mrs. Bowers. Griffin, our welcome committee leader, played Rock Paper Scissors with Mrs. Bowers’  welcome committee student to find out who would do their presentation first. They played it again to see who would ask their question first. Mrs. Bowers’ student won. The first question asked was “Are you east of the Mississippi river.” As the game went on, we found out that the other class lived in the Southeast region of the U.S. Our wall mapper, Matt, crossed off everywhere but the Southeast region. At this moment, we were doing well, but then they asked if we bordered the great lakes, so they were getting very close.

We took a short break. Unfortunately, the other class guessed that we border Indiana, so they were getting even closer to guessing where we are. Luckily, the wall mapper had crossed off many states. The questioners took a short time to figure out what question to ask. But after a question that we had to contemplate in order to come up with, they were still on a roll. They guessed that we touch Ohio, so they were still very close. Luckily, our next guess was “Do you live in Virginia”, which was correct. But they also guessed we live in Michigan’s lower peninsula, so it was going to be a close game.

After that, the pace turned up a notch. It was only a matter of time before they guessed Royal Oak, Michigan. We knew they lived in, or near, their capital. We took a guess. Richmond, Virginia. We got it right! It took ten questions, twenty one minutes, and thirty nine seconds to guess Richmond.

We had a great time with Mystery Skype. The questioners were working very hard to get the best questions they could. The photographer was taking lots of pictures. Everyone was working very hard. If you’re a teacher, I recommend this game! Can’t find a teacher to pair up with? No problem! We need more people for Mystery Skype also, so if you’re a teacher, please respond! #MysterySkype  

-Connor Pullen 4th Grade Student Blogger

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The Dream Team and How it Happened

Each year, around June, every teacher stops to reflect on their most recent group of students. We find ourselves thinking "Man, these kids were really something." The definition of what that "something" is can have a vast array of explanations. Some years positive, other years not so much. This year, for me, that something meant nothing short of incredible. Simply incredible.

As an educator, and in my day to day life, I like to take time to reflect on my practice and highlight aspects that have been going well. This year, the list never ends. My kids this year were everything a teacher could ever ask for. Sure I helped guide them by building a strong classroom structure, but honestly most of it was just who they are as people.

I can picture some teachers reading this and saying "must come easy when you are in an area of privilege with unlimited resources." So before I begin, let me give you a bit of background about where I teach. Although I happen to be an area that is usually given an affluent label, that label is the exact opposite from what my school actually is. Our building is a title 1 school with extremes in cultural and socioeconomic diversity. I like to tell people that my building represents a healthy slice of America, where students enter from all walks of life. Be it wealthy or poor, no mom or two, black, white and literally everything in between. That's where I teach.

Now, with what said, regardless of the challenges that they face, my. kids. were. AMAZING! They just worked so well together! I sit and watch them as they work in groups and use kind words with each other each and everyday. I watched an older brother pull his little brother out of class to give him a pep talk about how kindergarten isn't the end of the world and he would succeed one day. I watched two girls, end of the year 4th grade girls mind you, talk out their feelings and use detail to explain how they feel when they are left out of recess activities. I even watched the entire group give unprompted applause to a struggling EI student when he was able to meet his goal of turning in every homework assignment for a week straight.

Today we welcomed in June, so today I welcomed in another hour or so of classroom reflection. I started asking myself what made this year so different from the rest? I went back and fourth between was it me or was it them, was it me or was it them. And to be completely honest with you... I think it was all of us.

A few weeks ago I was sitting down with a rather silly student of mine working on his handwriting skills. I can't remember what he said, but he made a pretty funny joke that made me laugh out loud. (Side note: when I laugh REALLY hard I smack my knee like an old man. I remember that this moment was pretty funny because I was for sure taking part in some serious knee smackage.) After he was finished I asked him where he learned timing like that. His answer thew me back for a minute. "From you" he replied with a wide toothless smile. He learned this from me? I asked him to clarify. "You're always making jokes, of course I learned from you!" Now this made me stop and think for a second. He learned this from me. He learned this from me and I've had an amazing year with these kids from day one. What am I doing that is different from the teachers in my building who are not having the same experience? You know that old teacher saying "don't crack a smile until after Christmas?" I've never done that. I think that might be my answer. I think that saying is one for the birds.

One thing that I've always practiced in the classroom is simply being myself. I pride myself on being outgoing, carefree and energetic. When I bring those elements of myself into my classroom the kids start to view me as a person who truly accepts who I am. Isn't that what we want for all of our students? To accept themselves for who they are? I noticed this happen with my group this past year more than any other.

With the hustle and bustle of data, deadlines and dibbles we need to also make sure that we are giving kids the opportunity to just be kids. Let them explore, let them enjoy each other, but even more than that let them enjoy you. Let the kids see who you are, not who you're not.