Monday, February 23, 2015

Ideas for Using Google Hangouts in the Classroom

On twitter, I ran across a post by Jay Eitner called "Virtual Debates - a new staple for ELA classes." What I found there was a video of a debate between two schools, with outside judges, all conducted online under the guidance and leadership of Melissa Butler (@AngelinaShy). 

This is EXACTLY what we need to be doing with our students through the use of technology! Melissa has taken down the walls of the classroom and connected her students to an authentic audience. Last January I wrote about connecting students to the world, and this is an incredible example of putting ideas into action. 

Here are three more ideas for using Google Hangouts to connect your students to others across the globe:

1. Research & Mentoring. Have students identify a real-life problem, research, and propose a solution via a presentation. Connect students with experts in the field, such as engineers, attorneys, surgeons, architects, etc. for mentoring. Create a panel of professionals to evaluate presentations. 

2. Find the Opposite.  Intentionally provide your students with opportunities to see and hear opposing viewpoints from theirs. For example, two classrooms, one in the North and one in the South, study a unit of history together and relate experiences, viewpoints, and perceptions.

3. When will I ever use this? Let the experts answer this question for your students! From designers to actors to entrepreneurs to business owners to athletes... find someone with whom your students can relate and respect. 

*Check out this idea for a classroom where students are invited to "hangout" if they are physically absent: Dr. Graff's Math Classes

*And with all of the snow that's been falling across the country, here's an idea for using Google Hangouts on snow days! Google Takes Snow Days Away from Students? 

What are other ways to use Google Hangouts with students?

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Paying it Forward by Giving Back

I’ve been blessed as a student and as an educator. There have been so many who have crossed my path that have influenced me due to their love and compassion that they’ve shown to me. I hope to pay it forward each day in my personal and professional life.

I love learning, and I honestly can’t remember a time when I didn’t like school. Long ago, our family lived in Memphis, Tennessee where I went to Kindergarten, first grade, and part of second grade. In the middle of second grade my dad’s job transferred him across the state, and we moved to Chattanooga, TN. When we moved to Chattanooga, entering the classroom was scary since most students had been in that class all year and friendships and classroom community had been established. One girl in the class, Shelaine, befriended me on the first day. We remained close friends for many years after that, and to this day I still remember her for the love and kindness she showed to a shy, young girl who was new to the classroom.

During January of my sophomore year of high school, we learned that my dad would be transferred again - this time to Birmingham, AL. I was devastated that I would be moving at the end of the school year to a new state and so far away from my friends and school. I was a VERY shy teenager, and the thought of moving to a new place where I didn't know anyone was terrifying for me.

My dad moved within the next few weeks, and my mom and sister and I stayed so that we could finish the school year. During spring break, we made a trip to Birmingham to visit schools and look for homes. Our real estate agent recommended a school for us to visit, so we went to the school hoping to take a tour and meet the coaches (my sister and I were three-sport athletes). When we arrived, the school said that no adult would be available to give us a tour (the school used student office aides to give the tours), but we were able to meet the basketball and volleyball coaches. The visit was not a welcoming one, and we ended up visiting another school, called W. A. Berry High School.

When we arrived, we met one of the counselors, Francis Moon. She was extremely friendly and helpful, she gave us a tour, and we were able to meet the girls’ basketball coach. She then took us back to her office and told us all the reasons why we would love attending Berry High School. It felt like Mrs. Moon went above and beyond what was “required” by a counselor for welcoming a prospective family. What we felt from Mrs. Moon that day caused us to choose Berry High School, and her love and care didn't end that day. Mrs. Moon checked on my sister and me while were in school there, always with a smile and showing love. Mrs. Moon and my mom remained friends even after my sister and I graduated, and to this day I think of her as a guardian angel sent to us because of the wonderful experiences we had as students and athletes at Berry High School.

Now, as an educator, I try to pay it forward by meeting as many new students to Hoover High School that I can, especially freshmen since I’m the freshmen administrator.  I remember what it was like to be the “new kid,” and I want all new students to feel welcome and loved because they are now a part of our Hoover family.

**In 1994, W.A. Berry High School closed as a high school and moved into the current Hoover High School. My sister and I both work at the school, and the basketball coach that we met that day that we visited Berry High turned out to be a father-figure to the both of us. He passed away in 1994, but his legacy lives on through the Robert O. Finley III Character Education Program and Awards.  My sister and I both feel blessed to give back to the school where we were given so much.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

What if You Don't Know How to Solve Equations?

The text read, “Any chance you’re still in your office??”

My answer, “No – at home.”

Her response, “Ok. I have to come show you some papers tomorrow.”

More from her, “Here’s a preview. This is a quiz…after two weeks of instruction.”

The teacher did come by the next day, and she brought the quiz papers. She was frustrated that her 11th grade students couldn't solve equations. She was looking for ideas on how to help her students.

She’s a great teacher. She develops good relationships with her students, she's not afraid to take risks, and she's always seeking ways to help her students. So when her students struggled on this quiz, she didn't say, “I can’t teach them,” or blame the teachers before her on their lack of preparedness. 

All she focused on was how to help them.

I suggested that she take some of the common errors, copy them exactly as they had done them (she had already made annotations and corrections on the quiz papers), and ask the students to figure out what was wrong. She would have the students to work in small groups to help each other figure out where the error had been made. They weren't to solve the problems, but they were supposed to write and describe what the mistakes were.

She also wanted to allow the students to retake the quiz. I suggested that she create a “study contract” that they complete in order to retake the quiz. The students would have to attend a certain number of our “Math ER” help sessions we offer during students' lunch/advisory period and complete a study guide containing extra problems just like the ones on the quiz but with different numbers and variables.

When I saw the teacher the next day, she shared with me how it went with the activity I had suggested. She said that it was interesting that some students who could do the problems correctly had a hard time figuring out where the mistakes were. Some students who had done poorly on the quiz were able to find the mistakes, and finding the mistakes helped to change false ideas about how to solve the problems.

The activity required students to think critically and to evaluate. It helped to separate the ones who acted only on memorization (the steps to solving the problem), while some who didn't memorize the steps could problem-solve when they had to figure out the mistake she showed them. It also exposed the ones who couldn't do either. By doing the activity, the teacher will be able to target the support she gives, and they will be better prepared for what comes next in the course.
I can’t wait to see how the students do on the re-take. Hopefully she won’t get any more answers like this…

Monday, February 16, 2015

Silos in Education vs Collaboration

Alabama Education Chat Community 
Twitter Chat 
Topic: Silos vs Collaboration 
When: Monday, February 16, 9-10pmCST 

Use this time converter to convert 9pmCST to your local time.

What are organizational silos? From the Compact Oxford English Dictionary Online, “A system, process, department, etc. that operates in isolation from others.” 

Here are some questions to get you thinking. Actual questions will be posted during the live chat.

  • Would you describe your school or school system as one full of silos or one that is collaborative?
  • Is it important to break down the silos in an organization? Why or why not?
  • What keeps us from breaking down silos?
  • Instead of teachers "going to their classrooms and shutting their doors," how do we deprivatize practices in order to encourage growth?
  • What's your role in reducing or enforcing a silo mentality in your organization?

Also, I would like to express my gratitude to the other co-moderators, Michael McLendon and Holly Sutherland and everyone who is a part of #ALedchat on Twitter and the Facebook page.

Everyone is welcome to join us Monday nights 9-10pmCST for #ALedchat. We value the insights, perspectives, and experiences of those in our PLN.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Four Ways to Conquer Fear

Fear is something that we all deal with. Even people who appear confident deal with it, but they have learned strategies to cope with it. Some have learned to minimize it, and some have learned to use it as a catapult for action.

In the video clip above, you see Jen battle with her own thoughts and fears as she tries to do a box jump. She is in physical condition to make the jump onto the box, but her mind prevents her from trying. What is it about fears that can have a such a stronghold on us that it prevents us from trying or doing something that we actually can do or accomplish? And how can we fight off the fears that paralyze us?

Here are four ways to conquer fears.

Take a No-Excuses Approach. This requires a high level of self-awareness and honesty with self. It takes being able to recognize excuses and disregard them. Excuses can disguise themselves as reasons, like “I don’t have time,” or “That’s how we’ve always done it,” or “I’m too busy.”

Sometimes it’s helpful to have someone call you out on your excuses. Find someone who can do this for you, and say “Thank You” when they point out your excuses. Then throw the excuses out the window and get on with whatever it is you are afraid to try or do.

Acknowledge the Fear and Do It Anyway. Don’t think that the fear will go away. It’s important to recognize it for what it is and do/try anyway. In the video, Jen is not void of fear. She is still afraid she may not make it. But she does it anyway.

Take Small Steps and Chip Away the Fear. Every action that we take reinforces what we believe about ourselves. For example, if you believe that you are a person who likes to speak in front of groups, then when you are asked you are not afraid of creating and delivering a presentation or keynote. But if you are a person who is afraid of giving presentations to large groups, you will avoid the opportunities to do it. Find ways to change your behavior. Ask to make short presentations to small groups. Continue to take these small steps, building your audience size, and soon your fear will be conquered.

Value Courage over Security. Security keeps us playing safe. Being comfortable means sometimes putting up with situations that we don’t like only because we know what to expect (security), even if it’s something negative. Conquering fear takes courage. It’s risky business. It’s uncomfortable. It’s rewarding. Can you think of times when security trumped courage and you let fear take over?

How do you conquer fear?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Future of School? Virtual Classes at Hoover High School

At our school, we have been experimenting with online classes this year. We currently offer the following classes virtually:
  • English 12
  • Spanish III
  • US History 10
  • US History 11
  • Government
  • Economics
  • Health

Our master schedule is student-driven, meaning that the students select their desired courses and we build our schedule on their choices. Based on the number of students who chose virtual classes, we are able to offer one section (one class period) of the subjects.

Students can take their virtual classes in addition to a full schedule, or they can substitute the class for a traditional “period” during the day. Most classes are offered at the beginning or end of the day, allowing students to arrive later or leave school earlier. Most teachers require students to come to school for tests, but otherwise they do not have to report to class. If a student gets behind in their work, the teachers can “assign” mandatory days that the student has to report to class (usually 3-5 consecutive days) in order to get back on track.

I recently collected feedback from our students and teachers, and I want to share some of the specific feedback from our students. All of the teachers said that they wanted to teach virtual classes again next year. Most of the feedback was positive and the students said that they would take another virtual class and they would recommend it to other students.

What was successful about your virtual class during the first semester?

“Because of my busy schedule, I was able to have flexibility and independence.”

“Being about to use notes at our convenience and not having to be at school for 7 or 8 classes a day. It makes my schedule and stress level decrease.”

“I could work on the assignments whenever I wanted during a time that would fit in my schedule.”

“I enjoyed the fact that I had more time to complete assignments. I like doing things independently, so I liked doing the work at home. Also, I liked being able to divide my time throughout the week and plan out when I was going to do the work for the class.”

“Working around my schedule and allowing my to leave early for my sport but also getting the extra hour of sleep in the morning on days we did not meet.”

What were challenges about your class first semester?

“No one is there to remind you to do the work.”

“Hardly any, my teacher was awesome with responding fast and holding study sessions at the school.”

“Keeping up with the work was definitely a challenge. It was extremely easy to just let the work go and forget about it until the last minute.”

“The challenge is trying to do the work each day instead of waiting until the last minute.”

“Being committed to actually doing the work like reading our books.”

What needs to be changed about your virtual class for next year?

**Most students answered “nothing”

“I think the class should maybe meet one day or two days in order to answer questions, check homework, and make sure people understand it. The day the class meets should be a few days after we start the new lesson, but also a few days before the tests.”

“Having more worksheets or practice with the grammar and vocabulary.”

“There needs to be some kind of system of check-ins to keep us up to date each week.”

“Maybe meeting once every two weeks or so would be good, or even just having an optional day to make sure everyone is on the same page. We always have the option to come in and ask questions, but it might be beneficial to have an organized day for people who want to get together and do the activity together.”

“I think some of the work on the site doesn’t help us as much as some of the other work so I think some of the work could be changed or deleted.”

“Layout the entire schedule for the semester so I can work at my own pace instead of having to work week to week.”

When asked, “Will you take another virtual class at HHS in the future?”, the responses were mixed between Probably, Doubtful, Definitely Yes. There were a few students who responded with “Definitely No.” But when asked, “Would you recommend the virtual class you are taking to other students, and why or why not?”, most of the responses were yes. Here are some of the reasons why or why not:

“Yes, it really prepares you for individual learning.”

“I would recommend this class for students who are strong in the subject of the class and who can push themselves to do the work.”

“Yes. You have a lot of flexibility and independence while still learning.”

“Unless they never procrastinate and can handle the week to week work, I would not.”

“I would recommend the virtual class to other students if they like to independently learn.”

“Yes, I think it’s a great way to prepare for college or the workforce. You have to motivate yourself to do it and you don’t have someone telling you to all the time.”

“No, its hard to stay ahead and the lessons are not extremely exciting; there’s nothing that makes me want to do the lesson each day.”

“Yes, it’s very helpful if you are in an after-school activity.”

What do you think of virtual classes? Should all schools offer a virtual option?