Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Plant a Seed

Sunday Seed-scoveryWhat have I done today? It’s 3:00. It’s dismissal time, and what have I done today? I have read, wrote, and answered countless emails. I have taught students how to multiply rational expressions. I have helped put out a few small “fires” with teachers and their computers. The question, still comes up, what have I done today? I wished that second grader a happy birthday. I met with a parent in my office. I stopped into the preschool room just to say hello. I still wonder if I have done anything today?

This spring I will attempt to create another garden. I will plant a tomato seed, among others. That day will come and pass without much fanfare. I may even wonder what I have done today? I planted a seed! I accomplished a small task where the results of my efforts are not seen for months. Sometimes we will plant a seed and not see the results for years. Sometimes we will plant seeds and never see the results. We may never know the impact that seed has made.

What will I do today? I will plant a seed. So will you. Someday, maybe even today, it will make an impact.

Friday, November 19, 2010

My Reign is Over, Part 2

CANADIAN 1976 OLYMPICS 100 DOLLAR GOLD PIECE aAlmost one year ago, I wrote a blog post called “My Reign Is Over” in response to one of Shelly Terrell’s 30 Days, 30 Goals Challenge. That lesson in January was a spontaneous attempt at giving students control and ownership over an entire lesson. Last week, I tried again at giving students control. In recognition of metric day (yes, I know, we were four weeks late) we held the Metric Olympics for one class period. The students were in charge of planning and implementing the entire project. I did my best to stay in the background in order to give the students complete control and responsibility.

We started the project by allowing the class to be their own planning committee. The planning committee met for an entire class period and used Type With Me to communicate and plan. The Type With Me document was a great place to record the discussion and allow everyone to participate through the chat box. I had planned for that to be the only time of preparation, but we ended up needing about one more class period to have more discussion as a class. Although the Type With Me document is a good collaboration tool, the face-to-face conversations that we had in class were also very important.

Throughout the entire planning process, it was very difficult for me to take a step back and not control certain aspects of the project. I wanted to jump in to give help with the schedule, organizing supplies, and setting up the score board on excel. I had to intentionally tell myself to stay quiet and let the students figure out what to do. It was worth it. The students came through with detailed and effective plans. They organized themselves into groups. They set the schedule. They brought in all the materials. There was even one point where I was very close to caving in and asking the group a question about one of the supplies. I am glad I hesitated because the next question from a student was the exact same question I wanted to ask. The students were in control.

Although the Metric Olympics are designed to teach the students about estimating and measuring using the metric system, they learned so much more. Here are some of the comments students made in a post-project survey.

What did you like about today’s activity?

It allowed us to have independance and come up with our own ideas.

The students were the teachers and it felt like we were planning something big and we had the responsibility.

What did you learn today?

I learned that planning something might be hard so you have to plan ahead and prepare.

When you come together to form a decision, which is going to happen for the rest of anyone's life, be well-prepared and have a plan.

I learned that our class has many opinions, we all have different ideas. I think this showed a good look into the real world. I think ultimately it was good we had little problems along the way becuase it taught us to improvise, and to think ahead in the planning. I learned when you want/need to plan something, plan in time to plan it!!

I learned a lot that day. I was reminded that my job as a teacher is not just teaching. It is also my job to facilitate, collaborate, and to learn with the students.

How have you been able to "let go" in the classroom?
What activities have you done to give your students a sense of ownership?
How do you make your lessons authentic learning experiences for your students?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Thank You George

Lawn Mower MotionHere is a simple story, about a simple problem, with a simple solution.

This summer I was mowing my lawn, and the mower stopped working correctly. The engine was still running, but it was just puttering along. Fortunately, there is a man at my church who is retired from a job at a small engine shop. George has fixed my lawn mower before, so I gave him a call and set up a time to bring the lawn mower to him. I put the lawn mower in my car that afternoon and drove over to his house. First, he inspected the air filter. Nothing was wrong there. However, as he had the air filter out, he noticed a small spring that was no longer connected to a metal bracket. He reconnected the spring, started the engine, and that lawn mower purred like it did the day I bought it. He had literally diagnosed the problem and fixed the issue in less than one minute. I could have spent two hours trying to fix the lawn mower with hundreds of parts spread out over my garage, and I would have never been able to fix the problem.

I only had one problem. That problem was that my lawn mower was not running correctly. If I had tried to fix the problem by myself, I would have created a second problem. That second problem would have been lost time and energy due to not seeking help when I needed it. And in the end, I would have been left with two unsolved problems.

By seeking help, I limited myself to just one story, with one problem, that needed only one solution. Problems are going to arise in our classrooms and our schools. Sometimes these issues require immediate action and a quick decision on our own. When that urgency is not needed though, one of the first questions we should ask when attacking the issue is “Who can help me with this problem?” Do not create more problems for yourself by not seeking help when you need it.