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Posted by on in Student Engagement

Today I was working in a busy kindergarten classroom.  I arrived to a room full of activity, bustling with energy, teaming with learning.  The students were engaged at play, active and joyful with the noise of conversation and materials interacting.   A group of boys had build and obstacle course/pathway and they were challenging themselves to jump between the blocks while staying balanced.  Another group was using a mirror to draw self-portraits.  Other children were playing with puppets, painting, and reading. 

After a period of observation, we asked them to leave their play and to join us at the carpet for some music and storytelling.  The teacher tapped the outside of a singing bowl to get their attention and the children slowly began to make their way towards the carpet.  I love singing bowls so I took the opportunity to use it as a way to draw all the students in, playing it by rubbing the outside edge and then slowly moving it across my body so that the sound moved through the room.  The students, familiar with this sound, were transfixed and watched me as I raised and lowered the bowl, moving it from right to left as it vibrated in my hand.

It was a bit of theatre, a gimmick perhaps.  I use all of my performance skills in these transitional moments; I draw myself up to full height, exaggerate my gestures, and use my voice to effect: when the sound of the singing bowl faded away, my voice was a whisper. Later in the lesson, the children went and gathered items that they could use to make soft and loud sounds in the room and I conducted their found-sound-orchestra with the nearest pencil, using flourishes and facial expressions to indicate when I wanted each group to play. 

So many times when I watch teachers who are struggling to maintain students’ interest and to manage a group, I notice that, while the may have a good grasp of the content they’re teaching, they’ve forgotten (or have never thought about) that teaching is a performing art.  While I am absolutely an advocate of teacher as guide on the side and meddler in the middle, I am noticing that many teachers don’t know how to grab onto those ‘on stage’ moments and make the most of them. 

So, in the spirit of building dramatic tension please imagine a drumroll as I give you my top five tips for creating student engagement through performance.

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Posted by on in Student Engagement

drunk driving

Today, I had the opportunity to sit in on a final meeting before the annual Project Graduation project that I have helped run for a number of years. If you aren’t familiar with the program, Project Gradutation is a program offered by many high schools in the United States, in which organized, adult-supervised and alcohol-free activities are offered as part of a post-graduation party, as an alternative to student-run events involving alcoholic beverages or other drugs. Most run the program the night of graduation; some choose that weekend. The theme for this year was a simple one: drunk drivers are stupid. 

The program is a great and often is a final way to celebrate the entire graduating class together. There are often lots of carnival-like games, tons of food (often ending with a breakfast buffet around 6 AM) and of course a DJ. The event is typically sponsored by the parent-teacher arm of the school and local businesses. 

I can imagine what you’re thinking at this point; many of the kids are just going to go and drink another night. That very well could be the case, and truthfully, we as a school are not going to stop students from experimenting with drugs, alcohol, or other dangerous decisions that they will come across. We can, however, offer all of the resources that we have as a community to deter students from making terrible decisions that can result in the destruction of life.

In the past, I have found visual deterrents to be very impactful. I previously blogged about what Hopewell Central High School did; a full blown mock fatal car accident, with the student council president dying in the wreck. Everything from the blood and crime scene markers to the funeral home showing up. It was full of lights, sirens, and sadness. It was painful to watch. That’s the point. 

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Posted by on in Student Engagement

“Authentic learning is not discovered in a textbook, but rather at the crossroads of contemporary societal issues and student passion.”- Aaron Duff

When I (Joshua) tell people that I am a middle school administrator, I usually get the same responses.

“God bless you!”

“I could never do that!”

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Posted by on in Student Engagement

Gamification1

Recently, I read a quote from Hyman Rickover.  Rickover was an admiral in the United States Navy.  A Russian immigrant, he is the father of nuclear propulsion.  Admiral Rickover was known as a workaholic.  He never considered himself smart, only those around him dumb.  Looking forward, the United States education system worried him a great deal as he thought about the country being left to our descendants.  He thought it in disrepair, failing our students. Admiral Rickover wrote extensively about the issues facing our students and the failing nature of our education system.  One such quote jumped from the page:

“The student must be made to work hard, and nothing can really make it fun.”  -Admiral Hyman Rickover

I wanted to give this quote plenty of space to let it sink in a bit.  He believed student and social issues were a waste of time. Curriculum should be taught to students until they reached capacity.  The age old lecture and learn scenario. Industrialized education at its finest.  Rows upon rows of desks, strictly arranged one after the other.  Students dutifully sitting behind their desk, writing careful notes from the content specialist, nay, content genius, wanting to emulate this individual with all of their knowledge-filled hearts.

This is the image I wrestled with as I transitioned my classroom to gamification.  How can this be beneficial to my students?  We are essentially playing.  Would some type of curriculum police show up at my door and demand to see proof of desks in rows and a lecture podium?  This dilemma caused a great deal of anxiety.  The idea, however, that my students were not getting what they needed from me and the fact that they were not engaged, in the least bit, was far more stressful than the changes happening in my room. I gathered the courage and decided it was better to ask for forgiveness than to ask for permission.

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Posted by on in Student Engagement

creativity

Check out Part 2 of my previous post, "Prompts to Pump Up Creativity and Imagination." The upcoming "sparks," all crucial areas in education, don't get enough time in our classrooms. They can be used in various ways: a "wake-up call" in the morning to get students thinking and feeling. The prompt can be written on the board or said orally to students. Give them a minute to understand what the statement, question, or "equation" means. Add another minute for reflection-and-thinking about their interpretation. Follow up with a class discussion about the prompt and all its associations, connections, meanings, and practical applications in everyday life.

You might want to add writing to this mini-lesson. Instead of just discussing the prompt with students orally, ask them to write a short paragraph response to it. Follow up with kids reading their responses to classmates and discussion. They would think about and reflect on the prompt's meanings, associations, connections, as well as their practical applications in everyday life, and write out their answers. It all culminates with students' oral readings and a class discussion.

Note: The mini-lesson should not exceed 30 minutes. Scan the different prompts and see which ones would be suitable for your students. This would work for upper elementary/middle school to high school students. 

CREATIVITY PROMPTS 

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