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Dennis Dill  @DennisDill

Dennis Dill @DennisDill

Dennis Dill is a Social Studies and Instructional Television teacher at Jewett School of the Arts, a STEAM PreK - 8th grade school, in Winter Haven, Florida. Dennis earned a BA in Interdisciplinary Social Sciences from the University of South Florida and an MS in Education Media Design and Technology from FullSail University. Dennis has been teaching for 14 years.

Posted by on in General

The other night I participated in the weekly evening #edchat about new teachers and how they should be supported and whether or not they should be giving special consideration. I was not able to stay for the entire chat, but the conversations really got me thinking about new teachers and what they face when they enter the classroom. 

There are really three categories of new teachers who will joining our profession. (I am sure we can come up with more, but these are generalized categories.)

New Teachers fresh out of college with a degree in Education

New Teachers fresh out of college without an Education degree

New Teachers who are older and coming from other careers

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Posted by on in What If?

green dragon

Over the years I have read and discussed learning environments with a wide variety of educators. Teachers bringing in flexible seating, balls, couches, and standing tables all to create an atmosphere in which kids can be comfortable and enjoy the learning process. Then something happened ... my Principal, Mr Sears (@JSAPrincipal), went to see Ron Clark and came back talking about his school and how the classrooms are themed ... different ... take on a life of their own.

This got me thinking.

At the time I was teaching 6th grade Ancient World History so I decided to create something to do with world history. I was chatting with some students and the idea arose ... a high top table with some Roman arches. Not only will it create a new place to sit, but it will also be a teaching prop.

Here the students are sitting at the Ancient Roman inspired high-top seating area. The stools the kids are sitting on are converted desks. A local upholstery shop made some nice padded covers for the desks and the kids LOVE them.

The level of excitement the kids had was contagious. This high-top seating area changed the vibe of the class. I already had a nice sectional that was donated, but this piece I built was transforming my room. No longer was it just a classroom ... the classroom was becoming a part of history. As the end of the year was coming I began planning my Summer building activities to further transform my room. Then teaching assignments for the upcoming school year came out and I found out I was no longer teaching 6th grade Ancient World History, I was being moved to 8th grade US History from 1st Contact to the Civil War. It was all good, but I knew my plans had to be changed and more than likely my Roman arches would have to go.

The change in content was not going to deter me from my goal of transforming my learning environment. I just had to change direction. As Summer began I started doing some research. The initial plan was to create and Italian coffee shop, but so I was looking for something that would have the same type of feel. A place where people would meet and converse. My research led me to Colonial Taverns as they served as a place where people of all social classes could go to find out the news of the day and discuss events happening around them. One place in particular was the Green Dragon Tavern in Boston A place where revolutionaries met ... now this was my type of attitude I wanted to have in my class. I adopted the name Green Dragon Classroom and even came up with a logo.

Yes, I am patterning my classroom after a Revolutionary War meeting place. The Roman columns have been dismantled, recut and made into the Green Dragon Sound cart, which will hide my 21st century technology ... and my 15 inch subwoofers.

The top part will serve as a place to set the laptop, printer, and other tech supplies. Material will also be placed over the speakers to further hide them from view. The whole point of this is change the ambiance of the classroom from the mundane to something historical where the room becomes part of the teaching. In the works are two tables, one high top with built-in book shelf, and a broad display case. I am building all of these items using scrap plywood from a local business so the only real cost is my time and eventually the stain needed to give this furniture some color.

Will my room be as spectacular as the Ron Clark Academy? Probably not because they have a bit more money and donations than I do. I am just one teacher working on a budget of ZERO dollars, but you will be amazed what can happen when you set your mind to doing something.

Stay tuned for more posts on my Green Dragon Classroom adventure.

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Posted by on in Teaching Strategies

computer learning centers

I have finished year one of a Learning Center style environment in my 6th grade Ancient World History class at a magnet school of the arts. There were 85 students assigned to 5 classes with class size ranging from 11 to 21. My students have access to a class set of 11" MacBook Airs every class period and have the option to use their personal devices during class. Once the kinks were ironed out at the beginning of the year my students enjoyed internet access more than 95% of the time; even during periods of state mandated computer-based testing.

My initial ideas for my Learning Environment was written in a blog post in August 2015 and can be found here ---> A Centers Approach to Learning .

Using learning centers enabled me to have flexibility in the manner in which I deliver content and it removes me from the center of the learning process and places the student in control of their learning. I would give them an activity or guiding questions and it was up to them to decide how they were going to find the information or complete the activity.

Content Delivery

Having a Learning Management System (LMS) is an important part of the process. Yes, you could have instructions written out for each station, but having an LMS enables you to be able to supply links to content available on the internet. I like to provide the links to basic information, like the kind that is available on Wikipedia and then encourage students to find other information that takes their learning deeper. It also gives me the chance to link to applications our interactive maps that makes learning engaging. I use Schoology, but systems like Edmodo or Google Classroom will complete the same tasks. You should talk to other teachers at your school to see what they are using as uniformity is important for the kids. You do not want your kids having to log into numerous systems to complete the same basic tasks.

Class Size Matters

I have a five center rotation, which means I have five groups of kids that rotate through the centers and when the kids complete all five then they complete the cycle. Initially, i was going to have the kids rotate every 20 minutes, but once the centers started happening I noticed that each center usually lasted for one class period so I fell into a center cycle lasting for one five day week ... sometimes longer. With having five groups working it is important that each group has enough people to work as a group. The classes with around 20 kids had higher quality group activities. The small class struggled during centers that required collaboration or group discussions. When I planned to have group type activities I altered the grouping of the student so there would be more students per group rather than having five groups and this helped. This year I am hoping to work with administration so I can have four balanced classes and maybe pick up an extra elective.

Creation Station

The Creation Station was a really cool station as it was a spot in which students created something that went along with the learning. I could say this station replaced the "project board/diorama" assignment, but with a little kick. Students were given the opportunity to create videos, music, or art to represent their learning. This was also the station in which we used Minecraft to re-create ancient civilizations. Many of the kids enjoyed the opportunity to learn as they played. Building pyramids, temples, homes, and farms as they built their civilization made specific memories tied to their learning. Something that I would like to add to this station is an enhanced reflective piece where think about how it ties into history and what they liked about their creation and how they could make it better.

Something is Missing

I like how all the activities stem from the standards being covered and that is the common link, but I think I want to add some sort of capstone project to the learning center cycle. Each center making a contribution to the final "project". I am thinking this because as I watched the students complete the center activities there were some who finished quick, some who waited to work because they knew how long it would take the to complete, and some who just took a little longer to complete the assignment. If I had the capstone project than students would have something to move onto while waiting for other students to complete other tasks. It also add another dimension to the learning. Maybe it could be a long term project that students could be working on through out the school year. This is still a work in progress, but it something I hope to add the learning process.

These are some of my initial reflection thought on using Learning Centers this year and I reserve the right to write another post with more thoughts.

Please let me know what you think.

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Posted by on in Maker Movement / Makerspaces


During the last month of the school year we had the opportunity to collaborate on a STEAM project that integrated Scott Westerfeld's (@ScottWesterfeld) YA book Leviathan and it opened my eyes to a new genre of literature and art called Steampunk. This genre embodies much of what educators consider "making." It is the integration of technology, but not a current technology, rather an older steam-powered technology. What really increased my excitement was the level in which the student bought into the project. There were many facets to this project, but I am going to focus on the Art portion as this project created many opportunities for the kids to unlock their inner creativity.

I do not claim to be a STEAM or Maker expert, but I do believe that we need to give the kids an opportunity to create as part of their learning process which is why when I plan a project I want to leave the outcome open for the kids' interpretation.  The outcome for this project was to create something inspired by the book Leviathan using the steampunk genre.

Example 1: Art is clothing design.

Ali G. models her top and third arm which is holding her phone.

After while reading Leviathan and researching steampunk Ali discovered the fashion side of this genre. Using scrap vinyl we received as a donation from a local upholstery shop she sketched out her design. Whereas, she is only 12, she did seek out the assistance of an adult who helped her with the sewing. She added the large metal buttons to give it more of a steampunk feel. The awesome part of this project is her excitement for it. This was a project where she was given creative license and she ran with it.

Example 2: Art is crafting.

This is the original sketch Jadarius drew.
Here Jadarius models the final set of wings. This version of wings were movable ... yes ... they would flap as he pulled on the strings. The best part, he was able to wear them all day and the kids were all telling him how awesome they were.

Even better when this happened...

Jadarius embraced the Darwinist side of the book and tried to recreate  himself as a Beastie. He worked on this over the course of several weeks and as you can see from the original sketch on the whiteboard to the final product it went through a series of changes. He was crafting his vision and was not afraid to fail. When he initially built his first set of wings and put them on there was an excitement ... then he tried to walk outside and the wings caught on the door. They looked nice, but they were not functional in the sense he couldn't wear them all the time so he went to the drawing board and spent the weekend rebuilding these winds.

Example 3: Art is music.

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Posted by on in Education Leadership

During the latest Twitter #edchat the topic was about the role of the Principal in education. It was an interesting chat because it brought up some interesting questions and issues.

What is the role of the Principal at the school?

Do they have the time to be the best Principal they can be?

As teachers, do we make their job easier or more difficult?

I have been involved in numerous chats over the years and it seems many educators like to label the Principal as the Lead Learner of the school house, but do they have time to be the Lead Learner and complete all of their administrative duties? As teachers we often complain about not having enough time to complete our tasks, but how often do we think about our Principals and how much time it takes to complete their tasks. As I left school on Friday, the parking lot was almost empty as it was 4:45 PM, and there sat a black truck; our Principal was still at school ... on a Friday night ... working. How do I know he was working? I know because I received an email later reminding me to update my grades. Our Lead Learner, working on a Friday evening, fulfilling his role as Administrator.

We can talk all we want about the role of the Principal as the Lead Learner, but how can we truly expect them to be that learner when they are bogged down with administrative duties? Our Administration consists of one Principal and two Assistant Principals who tend to the needs of about 60 staff members, 800+ students, and thousands of stakeholders many of whom do not really care that the Principal is sitting at school on a Friday night working when they call looking to discuss their important issues during normal school hours.

I wonder if we are expecting more than what a human can deliver? When can we expect the Principal, AKA "Lead Learner", to actually be able to lead the learning? In an optimal world I think of the Principal as a Head Coach ... someone who helps me be a better teacher. Either shows me a better way or brings in someone who can help me be a better teacher, which is something that often happens at my school, but this #edchat has me wondering if we are expecting more than what is possible to deliver.

As a teacher, what am I doing to help or hinder the Principal in his role as Lead Learner? I like to think that I help, but reflecting back on the email I received I would say in some cases I am a hinderance. If I did every aspect of my job perfectly than how much more time would my Principal have to be Lead Learner? Now what if every teacher did that? Now what if politicians demanding more teacher observations would actually trust the Principal and Teachers to do their job? This reminds me of Bill Belichick's mantra of "Do Your Job!".

If every person in the school did their job and was trusted to do their job than more professional learning could happen. Imagine what could happen if all of a sudden administrators could stop administrating and become more actively involved in the learning. No more required observations, but rather time spent being involved in classroom activities. Not asking what the kids are learning, but being a part of their learning. As teacher, this is what many would like to see. Principal's involved in making learning better for the kids ... better for the teachers. Hard to do that when they are bogged down checking up on us and completing state mandated paperwork.

What am I going to do about it? Start making sure my lesson plans are done on time and my grades are kept up to date so I am no longer responsible for my Principal staying late on a Friday night.

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