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Posted by on in Blended Learning

Twilight Zone 2002 logo

You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension - a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You've just crossed over into the Twilight Zone. 

 

I feel that opening part of the show The Twilight Zone directly relates to my school year this year. This is my second full year of running a blended learning classroom, and I feel as if in some way my sixth-grade students and I have crossed over into the Twilight Zone. Strange but wonderful things are happening in and out of my classroom, that I have not, unfortunately, witnessed before in my 15 years of teaching. Students are embracing the idea that learning can take place anywhere, anytime and that their voice matters to others, as they enter a whole other dimension in Google Classroom. They are seeing learning opportunities on their own outside of the school day and wanting to share their experiences with their classmates, because they know that not only am I listening but more importantly, so are their classmates.  

Enter The Twilight Zone

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Posted by on in Blended Learning

b2ap3_thumbnail_Snow-Day-Information.jpg

It is 5:30 AM on a weekday during the winter and the phone rings. That can only mean one thing, SNOW DAY! I have to admit, at that moment, I do not feel like the 15 year veteran, sixth grade teacher I am, but rather, I feel like one of my sixth grade students. I roll back over in bed and fall back asleep, only to get woken up by my wife as she gets up to get ready for work (seems like she is extra loud getting ready on snow days...nah, she wouldn't do that, would she?). I tell her to, "Keep it down. I'm trying to sleep. I've got a snow day." That goes over about as well as getting a snowball in the face.

Living in Pennsylvania, snow days are part of the school year and one of the great perks about being a teacher, unless you end up having too many of them. Then you have to make them up in the summer. Then they quickly become an inconvenience. They can also become an inconvenience with what you had planned for class those days. Inspired by Matt Miller's Ditch Summit session with Alice Keeler, I thought about what they shared and how I could use that to connect with my sixth grade students on snow days.

Now one thing I wanted to ensure, was that a snow day was still something to look forward to for my students. I knew whatever I created for them on a snow day, needed to be creative, collaborative, and fun. I wanted my students to be comfortable. I wanted them to be able to stay in their PJ's, drinking hot chocolate, sitting in their favorite chair, listening to their favorite music, all while in the comforts of their own home doing some math and finding relevance in it.

So I decided to use the power of Google Docs and create a Google Slides for a snow day. Below is simple breakdown of it, followed by a link to my Snow Day Class document. 

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Posted by on in Blended Learning

mouse

What would you do if you found six mice in your home? How would you react? How many do you think would be in your home if you found six? Just six? More than six? How about 72. That's right, 72.

The other week I was at Home Depot waiting in the holiday lines to check out, when I overheard (okay, I was eavesdropping) an interesting but disturbing, yet mathematical conversation. It just so happened that the clerk behind the counter had a pest problem, and the man who was in front of me checking out was the owner of a local pest removal company (I knew this from his sweatshirt and hat that advertised his business). The clerk said he found six mice in his home. Unfortunately, the clerk was in for some additional bad news, besides the six mice he recently found at his home, as the local pest removal owner told him that for every one mouse you see there are 12, and for every rat you see there are nine. 

As soon as I heard this, I couldn't wait to get back to school the next day and tell my 6th grade math class the great news. Yes, this was great news, because we were just talking about rates and unit rates in math class, so it fit perfectly. Then I realized, that instead of waiting until the next day, I could bring this lesson to life that night. I quickly got out my smartphone and posted the discussion I overheard and the following question into Google Classroom using the Google Classroom app. "How many mice did the clerk have at his house? Tell me your thinking, along with your answer."

Some students actually answered a non-homework, non-assigned question that night on their own without any prompting by me or their parents. Some students actually answered a non-homework, non-assigned question that night on their own without any prompting by me or their parents (thought I needed to add that sentence twice in case you thought there was a typo). The students were simply online somewhere and checked out our Google Classroom on their own and chose to respond. Think those or any other students would do the same for a worksheet question? Highly doubtful. For the rest of the class, I told them my story the next day in school, and then posed the mice question to them. They couldn't wait to get on Google Classroom and post their answer. The responses I that I got after school that day were so enjoyable to read. Many of my students' responses started or ended with, "Eww," or "Ewwwww," or "Oh my gosh. That guy has a whole colony in his house." But they all found the relevance in their learning and it meant enough to them to find the answer out to the scenario without me telling them to do so. 

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Posted by on in Student Engagement

elf on the shelf

There I was at 7:00 AM, bleeding, blood all over my hands, kneeling over our family's beloved Elf on the Shelf, Oliver, in the dining room, and my six-year-old daughter waking up and coming down the steps. It was my worst case scenario. My little girl was going to come downstairs and see me covered in blood with our Elf on the Shelf laying on the floor and think that I did something terrible to Oliver. 

Why was I covered in blood and bleeding at 7:00 AM in the dining room with Oliver laying on the floor next me? Because I was trying to make the Elf on the Shelf experience better for my daughters. The night before, I moved Oliver to a spot in our house that was just okay. I knew it was just okay at the time, but I thought it would do. The next morning I woke up, and decided I could do a better job with my placement of our elf. As I was moving him around in the dining room, so he would be hanging upside down like Batman, (much cooler than my first placement), I bumped a glass that fell to floor. I knelt down trying to catch the glass, but since I am well out of my 20's, my quickness just wasn't there, and I ended up kneeling onto a shard of glass and getting a 3 cm gash right by my knee. Four stitches later, and a bunch of Elf on the Shelf pictures put up all around my classroom by my colleagues, I was as good as new. 

As word at school spread about my near holiday massacre, a few people asked me why did I move the elf a second time. Good question, but if you have young children, you know why. Every morning, since the arrival of our elf, that is the first thing my six-year-old and three-year-old look for. Then when they find him, they have to show everyone in the house. They talk about Oliver all day, and I find them quietly talking to Oliver when they think no one is watching. They draw him pictures, and write him little notes. To see that every day from my daughters is worth more effort from me in my placement of him. And as I thought about the answer to the question, "Why did I move the elf a second time?" I couldn't help but relate that to my classroom. 

So here are my Elf on the Shelf Lessons:

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Posted by on in Teaching Strategies

Homework clipart

Throughout all of my 15 years of teaching, there has been one word that has caused me, my students, and my students' families to shudder. If you are in education, and even if you are not, I am guessing you can figure out the word. The word is homework. Didn't take you long to shudder, did it?

The word homework causes many to shudder much like the word shot does for my six-year-old daughter when she has to go to the doctor. Not even the promise of the lollipop at the doctor's office can get her to stop her fussing over going. She dreads going days before and, of course, tries to talk her way out of it all the way up until we get called back from the waiting room. She clams up immediately when the doctor comes in, and then the tears, crying, and wailing comes as soon as she sees the shot. What should take only seconds, ends up taking emotionally draining (for everyone) minutes and minutes to complete.

Obviously shots are different than homework, but some of the emotions our children (and we) go through dealing with homework are the same. Shots have a different purpose than homework. Shots are to prevent or treat illness, where as homework is to assess student learning. Or at least it should be.

Homework should not cause students, parents, and teachers to shudder. It should be relevant, meaningful, and meet students where they are. It should be quick and manageable. It should be reflective for the student and teacher. It should be a formative assessment that helps the teacher guide instruction. It should be more for the teacher, than the students. And it should not be used against students, be it grades, placement, or punishments. 

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