Thursday, December 17, 2015

Teacher Spotlight: Students Learn by Teaching Others in Ms. Erica Heide's Classroom

In my December 4 blog, I mentioned my plan to spotlight teachers who are using the four C's with their students:  collaboration, communication, creativity and critical thinking.  

Last week I visited Ms. Erica Heide's Government class at Smithfield High School.  The students were learning about Supreme Court cases--not necessarily a topic that lends itself to exciting or engaging lessons.  Typically the approach is to have students copy notes and verify that they know the facts about each case through a multiple choice test.  Yawn...

In Ms. Heide's class, students were taking a different approach to learning about the cases.  Working in groups, students were writing a story about their specific court case. But this was not just any story.  Their story had to be appropriate for a 5 year old.  My first thought was "How do you take cases involving freedom of speech and search and seizure and turn them into a children's story?"

While I was in the room, I saw the four C's in action.  Students were collaborating and communicating with each other to develop an age appropriate story.  They were thinking critically to determine the best way to convert a complicated topic to language that a child would understand.  They unleashed their creativity in their presentations.  Some groups opted to create their story on paper while others developed theirs electronically.  One group wrote their story with a nod to Dr. Seuss complete with rhyming sentences.  I was impressed with how they rhymed "desk" with "grotesque"!  Other stories referenced Mickey Mouse, Little Red Riding Hood and juice boxes. Their imaginations were definitely in high gear.  I thought it would helpful for you to see how this project allowed the seniors to take learning to another level.  If you click on the link below, you can watch a video to find out more about the project and to hear from some of the students themselves.

In Ms. Heide’s design she has asked students to either publish their stories or read them to some of our elementary classes. Having students create work for a larger audience is an important design principle of performance based learning.  When students understand the purpose of their work and their work is to be displayed or presented to a wider audience they typically put more effort into their work.  
Stay tuned for more exceptional examples of classroom instruction that focus on what’s best for every child, every day.

Friday, December 11, 2015

What Does Change Look Like?

I have been blogging a lot about change and the need to teach our children differently in order to prepare them for the global economy.  I thought I would share some examples from Tony Wagner’s book, Most Likely to Succeed, to assist you with understanding the changes necessary. Some of you who had outstanding teachers prior to the days of a test-driven curriculum will actually remember similar examples from your school days.
Here are a couple of history experiences to contrast and illustrate the differences between ineffective and inspiring history classes.

“Case Study #1.
In one middle-school class, students spend a week memorizing the capitals of the fifty U.S. states. Students cram for the test questions like “What is the capital of North Dakota?” Some get it right, others get it wrong, few remember it, and those that do derive no benefit as an adult from this retained trivia.
A second class goes back in time and reads newspapers, journals, and diaries from the year 1850, when the seat for the first Legislature of California was, believe it or not, Monterey. Students—at first alone, then in groups – are asked to take a position on where they would locate the capital of California, explain why, present their conclusions to classmates, and debate with peers. Then they analyze whether the choice California made I 1854 was a good one.
Case Study #2.
In this conventional high school class, the teacher lectures for two class periods on the history of the Vietnam War. Students take notes, cram on material (e.g., the year the first U.S. troops went to Vietnam), and are tested on factual (or near factual) recall.  Kids develop some familiarity with the historical timeline around the Vietnam War, its outcome, and its consequences. 
In a second high school class, students read a manageable number of primary documents (newspaper articles, essays, op-eds, excerpts from history texts) from 1964.  They are presented with the fact that when the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution came to a vote in the U. S. Senate, only two senators opposed it. They work in teams on the following question: “Why do you think the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution gained overwhelming support?” Each team presents its views to classmates and responds to questions.  Students can use any available resource to support their work (we observe kids doing these types of challenges who resourcefully find people or classes all over the world and interview subjects via Skype as part of their research).  They then explore whether the Gulf of Tonkin vote should have imparted lessons to our legislators in 2002 when the overwhelming majority of U.S. senators voted to authorize the invasion of Iraq.
In these case studies, the first class spends a week largely memorizing facts – any of which can be readily looked up.  The second class spends a comparable amount of time on engaging issues that help them develop critical skills.  The first class is characterized by boredom, irrelevance, and a lack of retention.  With the second model (and Stanford’s Reading Like a Historian program has challenges like these), classrooms are bursting with energy, and the student learning is consequential.  Teachers and peers give excellent feedback.  Students assess their own work in a way that’s reflective.  Achievements can be captured on digital portfolios. 
But you can’t assign a student a precise score, or rank students on a national basis, on a nuanced argument about support for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.  And that’s why our history classes are, in Joe Friday’s words, “Just the facts, ma’am.”
I hope these examples help explain the direction of education that we should be moving toward.  My next blog, Teacher Spotlight, will give you another example of one of our own teacher’s creative lesson.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Teacher Spotlight: Mr. Johnson’s High Energy Classroom

As I visit classrooms throughout the year, I want to share some of the outstanding teaching I have observed and use my blog as a platform to highlight those teachers.  I have expressed the importance of focusing on engaging students, integrating technology into instruction, and creating relevant learning experiences.  As a division, we are also stressing the importance of collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking.   Recently I witnessed an excellent example of the four C’s when I stopped by Mr. Matt Johnson’s classroom at Westside Elementary School.

As I entered his room, students were standing in their seats and cheering loudly for each other-- definitely not something you see every day. I discovered that they were celebrating the success of the entire class on a recent assessment.  In addition, I had the opportunity to watch the attached video clip as he and his students participated in a “unique” review of the rivers of the United States.  Please watch the video clip of Mr. Johnson’s active classroom so you can experience the high-energy level he brings to his teaching.  It was obvious that the students were having fun while they were learning the material in this very active and positive environment.

I have been discussing the fact that we must change the way we teach students who are heavily involved with technology and have the world at their fingertips.  Mr. Johnson effectively uses collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking in his daily classroom activities and his students are thriving from the experience.

There are other teachers throughout the division who are routinely using the four C’s with their students as well.  I look forward to sharing these exceptional examples of classroom instruction with you that focus on what’s best for every child, every day.