In education, words matter.

Many teachers use word clouds or wordles in classroom activities to have students highlighting important words or to show students which words they’ve overused in their texts. One thing I’ve never done before is apply a wordcloud to my own practice, which is exactly what I recently did for the educationrickshaw.com blogroll. Once I made it by uploading our url into wordclouds.com, it was time to start digging into what exactly was going on. Afterall, it’s important to see where our emphasis has been, and how we need to refocus our language in the teaching profession.

Below is the word cloud for our site, educationrickshaw.com, and some of my conclusions.

 

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Students First

Before I made the word cloud, I was sure that “teaching” was going to be the most frequent word. That would make sense, since educationrickshaw.com is meant to be a blog to be enjoyed by international teachers, not students or parents. I was pleasantly surprised to see that “students” is by far the largest word in the word cloud.

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I hope that this is because our articles focus on what students are doing in the classroom, with a decreased emphasis on what teachers are doing. I find that when I think about what I want students to be able to do, I facilitate lessons that more often than not achieve that outcome. When I focus on what I am doing, which I think is a common newbie teacher mistake, the learning suffers as a consequence.

I know teachers and administrators say that they put the students first, and I imagine that most believe that they do. It is a different thing altogether to actually put it into practice. Relying on tradition aka “the ways things have always been done”, ego, and acting in fear over the fallout that can come from putting students first is too often the status quo in education today.

Learning is the goal

Also up there in size is “learning”, which should always be the goal for teachers. If students are the noun, then “to learn” is the verb.

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Now, there are many ways that students learn, and our conversations need to be centered around how students best learn – Not what is easiest for teachers, parents, and administrators. The minute that we go down such a road, we begin to deprofessionalize the teaching profession, and we cheapen the quality of a student’s education. Similar to this is what I talked about in the article “The What vs. The How”, where I argued that we should give less attention to what we are teaching and what we are using for teaching, and focus more on how we are teaching. I suppose another addition should be the “why”, which I’d argue is for learning.

Yes we CAN!

The final big word I want to point out is the word “can”, which is floating somewhere over west-central Africa in the wordcloud.

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Even though I can sometimes lose my optimism, especially when I don’t have enough caffeine in my system, I believe that if we keep our focus on students and learning, we can reach our goal of making a lasting difference in the lives of our kids.

 


 

What do you think? Would you consider putting your comments for your report cards into a wordcloud? Stephanie, who’s name is currently reigning over Madagascar, and Zach (nowhere to be found 😂) would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

Ways to Enhance Reading and Writing Workshop with Technology

Our school recently made the switch to Columbia University’s Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. Although Stephanie and I received some surface level training on the project in our previous school, this has been the first time that we have been asked to follow the program with a high level of fidelity.

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Like with any program, there are ways to improve outcomes by looking at how best to use technology to maximize learning. We’re all about looking at traditional teaching practices and seeing how they can be improved. The following are some of the things that we have tried in our classrooms to facilitate 21st century learning experiences within the Reading and Writing Workshop model.

Use online forums and chat rooms for class discussions, teacher and peer feedback, and ratings

Class discussions can happen in many ways. When the program asks for reading and writing partners to turn and talk about their thoughts, students can also do so in an online forum. The tool that you use doesn’t matter: This could be on Seesaw, Flipgrid, EasyBlog, Edmodo. . . whatever! I use Moodle for forums, because I find it to be very customizable, but you can have kids discussing on almost any platform. Again, it’s not about the tool, it’s about the learning.

There are inherent benefits to having discussions online. Instead of always communicating in informal language, as is the case with “turn and talk” in class, students are forced to use formalized language. There is a record of what they have said, and teachers can see it, give feedback on which terms they are using correctly, and can have students go back and edit their ideas for clarity. Students can continue the conversation at home, alone or with their parents, and you can always go back to the conversations during your conferencing, which is much harder to do with traditional “turn and talk”.

Use online multimedia journals with links, videos, photos, audio, drawings, table of contents, dictionary and thesaurus

I am a fan of both paper/pencil journals as well as multimedia online journals. While the benefits of the paper/pencil journal are well known, it is sometimes effective to give students the chance to write or write about their reading in an online journal.

In my students’ wiki journals, they are able to create new pages whenever, wherever they feel like. This creates great situations where they can [[link]] to a new page (for example, a character page), and then fill in their ideas there. If they need inspiration for character development, setting, or anything visual, they can pull up images from online and stick them in their journal. If they need to create a quick sketch, they just insert a drawing into their journal, and can move it around as they wish without feeling that they are getting in the way of their writing. When I provide them with materials from the program, they can link to these materials, refer to them, and annotate the parts that they feel they need to work on. By just clicking on a word, they can look up new words in online dictionaries and thesauruses and build their vocabulary . . the multimedia journal creates learning experiences that wouldn’t otherwise be possible with a 100% paper/pencil workshop.

Give assessments with feedback, rubrics, checklists, infographics, memes, pictures, video, inline editing

I find the assessments in the Reading and Writing Project to be easily convertible into online resources. For the beginning of the year reading assessment, I put all of the questions into an online assignment, and had kids take the test.

After the kids took the assessment, the data came back to me organized by student and question type. I was then able to give students feedback to enhance their learning. I did this in the form of inline editing, inserting the rubrics right into their answers, and providing checklists, infographics, memes, and links to previous discussions and journal entries that they had made. After I helped one student with a certain problem – using pictures, videos, or whatever – I was able to use that same teacher-created resource to help the next student that had the very same problems.

The point is, with technology you can link up all of the resources that you and your students have created – assessments, discussions, journals, rubrics, glossaries, etc –  at any time, so that students are not only making digital connections, but connections in their craniums as well.

Make the Heinemann resources accessible to students online

Instead of printing everything that I’m provided in the Reading and Writing Project from the Heinemann online resources – the sticky notes, the reading logs, the anchor charts, the exemplars, etc – I put them on my class website and into student hands. It saves a tree, and it helps students engage with the materials by actually using them in various ways.

Why not just project the resources? I find that projecting these resources without putting them up on my online courseroom makes it so that I become the “keeper of all resources”. I believe in a student-driven classroom, where information is accessible to all, parents included. By putting the resources up onto our Moodle page, students can not only access them anytime they want, but they can manipulate the content, insert it where they want, and ask questions and post comments about it.

Go nuts combining apps, web tools, social media and productivity tools!

There is so much out there that can help kids think and remove potential barriers for learning the content required in the Reading and Writing Project. I’ve written before about some of my favorite tech tools for getting kids writing, but I really recommend that you go sit on your couch with your device in hand, and explore the unlimited possibilities that exist out there.

Even if the Reading and Writing Project doesn’t explicitly say that you should or could use technology, that doesn’t make it wrong to take advantage of the best tools at your disposal. For me, technology is ubiquitous in the learning process, and learning is non-linear.

So, have kids record podcasts and watch their speaking and listening skills grow as they engage with the Reading and Writing workshop. Put up a green screen in your classroom, and explore the possibilities this has for student learning and engagement. I also believe that learning should be shared and public, and with technology this is possible. Have kids share out their reading and writing on blogs, social media, and e-mail. Get parents engaging with the Reading and Writing Project from their phone.

There are so many ways to make this program more dynamic and better for the learner. So if you’re like me and new to the Columbia University’s Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, keep at it. I know I will!


Thanks for coming back again and again to educationrickshaw.com, a website by Stephanie and Zach Groshell. Feel free to comment below!

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Guest Article on TeachersMatterMagazine

Last year around this time, I was invited to the AEC conference in Johannesburg, South Africa, where I took two institutes that really blew my mind. One of those was led by the fantastic Karen Boyes, and it focused on getting students to do the thinking and take control of their learning. I’m happy to announce that one of our articles was selected for her mag, TeachersMatterMagazine!

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Many thanks to Karen Boyes and all of those that have supported us in our never ending pursuit of excellence in education. Check out the original article here and if you’d like to join my PLN, follow me on Twitter @MrZachG, check out our facebook group, Over Posting Educators, and keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com!

Homework not effective? What about distance learning?

Homework is one of those contentious things that divides teachers as well as parents. John Hattie’s research leads to the conclusion that homework in primary school has an effect of nearly zero.  But the reality is that many schools have policies that require homework to be assigned to students on a daily or weekly basis.

This year, I am experimenting with a theory that primary student achievement can be improved with homework if there is a distance learning tutor available for coaching for every assignment.

What I’m trialing this year:

This year I’ve told all of my students that whenever they need help with their homework, they should shoot me an email. I know, it sounds like a crazy responsibility for me to take on, and I’ll see if I have the stamina to keep up with it throughout the year, but so far it has gone really well!

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“I don’t get this”

Much like my in-class helpdesk, I want my 9-10 year olds to get professional help in a timely and effective manner. I don’t want some parents to help their kids while other kids are left alone to stress about math during their valuable home time. This year, my students were instructed that if they have a problem they should screenshot their math or take a video of the strategies they’ve tried and to send it to me by e-mail. I then respond by either giving them some written or video hints, or by directing them to an available resource such as a Youtube or Khan Academy video.

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“Is this correct?”

 

How’s it going so far?

It has been a very positive experience to start the year off with this model for homework. One thing I have noticed, though, is that the students tend to ask very simple questions without really showing their work or the strategies they tried. I am going to work with students on how to ask for help, and how to get the students helping each other much more often. I am also learning how to give just enough help so as to get the students to figure out the rest of the problems on their own.

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Student created instructional YouTube video on our class channel

I am also incorporating a YouTube channel with student-created instructional videos so that students can refer to a growing library of flipped lessons from their peers. This is in the process of getting put together (so far, we only have three videos) but the students seem very excited about the prospect of sharing their knowledge with each other and the world.

It’s not that much extra work… so far

I am a fan of living a balanced life as a teacher, so taking on a “distance tutoring model” by having kids e-mail me all night long (their limit is 8:00 PM) might sound like a recipe for disaster. But the truth is that I only get a couple of emails per night, and it usually only takes me a few seconds to send back a response with Mark-Up or my laptop’s webcam. Usually just copying and pasting the link to a YouTube video can help them solve their problems. As students become more familiar with this system, and increasingly independent, I hope to teach them to search for their own answers online and to take it upon themselves to offer peer tutoring during the homework hours.


What do you think? Will this strategy help improve achievement, or is it simply homework in sheep’s clothing? Is this plan sustainable, or do you bet I’ll let some student requests fall through the cracks? Comment below! We at educationrickshaw.com would love to hear your thoughts.

 

 

Some Kids Pet Baby Birds, Some Kids Squash Them.

My first week of teaching this year is officially done. And, like every year, I am overwhelmed by the potential that this year has in store. What’s always amazing is that each class that comes into my care has such a different character profile than the year before. My new students bring with them a certain set of strengths and, of course, areas to grow.

It can be hard to determine what these areas are. Like all teachers, I will sift through the data of the standardized tests, but these will only inform me of their literacy and math achievement, and only indicate a moment in time. What interests me just as much, and maybe more, is the complexity and the nuance of the character of these students. How well do they demonstrate the IB Learner Profile and the PYP Attitudes? Are they able to stick to the Essential Agreements that they came up with with me on Day 1?

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As we’re working on implementing a workshop model for reading and writing primary-wide this year, my class created essential agreements based around the three main parts of a workshop: Mini-Lesson, Independent Work, and Sharing. “I will pay attention” was what the students came up with for Mini-Lesson. 

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The essential agreement students came up with for “Independent Work” time during workshop. We’re currently building up to 30 minutes of straight reading and 30 minutes of straight writing. 

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The essential agreement students came up with for “Sharing” time during workshop, as many of my students confessed that they were afraid to share in front of others. 

During a particularly recurrent moment on campus this week (our school has so many birds. . ), a baby bird became the source of excitement for the students at the playground while I was on duty. I snapped the photo above of a few of them trying to “pet without touching”.

If you look at these students only through the lens of math and literacy, you might see a number or a letter floating over each of their heads. I, however, am more intrigued by the instinct of some students to mother a baby bird, while others want to hurt it. Others still want everyone to stand back and leave it alone. Rather than accepting that “kids will be kids”, I am duty-bound to collect data on these children, and to provide the correct interventions to meet their needs. The IB Learner Profile includes Caring for a reason.

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This year, let’s try to see our kids as more than a score for literacy or math. 

I hope that over the next few weeks, I am disciplined enough to collect a ton of meaningful data on all of these students for all areas of development – bird-rearing included! Their social, mental, and physical development is vital to me, and I value the concept of pastoral care. If all teachers, parents, and childcare providers team together to provide the necessary support for our young ones, we might succeed at raising a generation of kids whose first instinct is to protect living things.


Feel free to comment below about how your first weeks have been going, and be sure to keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com. Thanks for visiting!

What Does a 21st Century Classroom Look, Sound, and Feel Like?

Part of a technology coach’s role these days is to convince teachers that their job description has changed. The industrial model of education is well past its expiration date, and the generation of students born today are going to graduate into a world that will look completely different than our own. In order to train 20th century teachers to reach the conceptual understandings required for 21st century education, school leaders and tech coaches need to focus on describing what this could be.

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This article tries to describe how I imagine the 21C classroom and I will try to integrate theory on 21C pedagogy throughout. Edutopia’s 10 signs of a 21st century classroom is a good read, as well this tech4learning’s article. To describe the 21st century here, I’ll divide it up into three categories: What can it potentially look like, sound like, and feel like?

What does the 21st Century-Ready Classroom Look Like?

Imagine what the workplace looks like at one of the more hip startups near you. Is it rows of desks and dividing walls? Is everyone sitting in silence? I was surprised to not see Seattle – the city of my university – in the top five on this Fortune list for startup activity in 2016:

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What I picture is couches, colors, and bright lighting that facilitate the collaboration between professionals. I see devices, headsets, and outlets. Take a look at some of the Google campuses that I googled below:

Clearly these two photos have a very contemporary look, but what’s more important is that the space signals to the professionals at work that their knowledge and skills are better harnessed when shared spontaneously and collaboratively. Every part of the space is purpose-built, and there are fewer barriers between inside spaces and outside spaces than what you’d find in a traditional workspace.

In my classroom (above), the setup has changed many times to fit the purpose of the unit, the activity, or the dynamic of the students in my class. We’ve had weeks of free inquiry where students worked without walls, and once we just needed to read and learn in a fort:

What does the 21st Century-Ready Classroom Sound Like?

I’ve talked before about how noisy classrooms are overrated in my article on growing up the child of a Deaf mom and teacher.  My Twitter Feed is always full of teachers and administrators professing a “new” messy and noisy style of learning. Now, while my classroom will become extremely loud when they put on a cardboard arcade with coded games, or a in the heat of a good debate, you can also find my entire class sitting around with headphones while diligently completing a project.

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From CBC slideshow on 21st Century Jobs

Take a look at the photo above. These “custom implant organ designers”, one of the newest jobs popping up in the world our children are graduating into, are all working mostly in silence. However, there are multiple points of contact for face-to-face interaction; They are not limited in their ability to turn and interact with one another. The point is that sometimes students need quiet time to think, and other times, they just need to dump ice on each other and figure out how things freeze (see below). There are many ways to learn, and it is a teacher’s job to figure out the pedagogy that best matches the circumstance.

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My students making a mess at our class Science Fair

Is my class loud? Sometimes. When they are quiet, is it because I have demanded compliance and they are passively listening to me? Not usually. Perhaps they are fully concentrating as they practice something, or are preparing in silence to teach others. It might be because they are writing, or communicating with others on social media or in our online courseroom, and the language-use is intense, but not loud.

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In general, I try to use what we know about retention, such as the pyramid above, to plan and evaluate how my classroom looks and sounds. Now, onto the touchy-feely stuff.

What does the 21st Century-Ready Classroom Feel Like?

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Via http://www.hrreview.co.uk/

It’s time to face the facts that many of the jobs of today will be gone tomorrow (See: 15 jobs that will be gone in 10 years) – this is just the way of the world. According to some, 47 percent of jobs will disappear over the next 25 years. Computers will simply be able to do things more cheaply and effectively than humans.

The students of today will be designing those computers. This is why, in the classroom of the 21st century, technology should feel ubiquitous; It is just as much a part of learning as pencil and paper and it is omnipresent. I constantly work to hone my technology skills (on my couch while watching T.V.), and I fully embrace the technology that I have available at my school.

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One setup I’ve had in my class – students partnered elbow-to-elbow, teacher is “guide on the side”, students can connect to Apple TV for sharing what’s on their screens

The 21st century-ready classroom feels democratic, and behaves much like a democracy. 21st century skills (see below) cannot be developed in an entirely top-down, authoritarian environment. I don’t imagine that the workplace of the future will behave that way either – remember which jobs are disappearing, and which are being created.

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Companies today want our kids to graduate having mastered the 4Cs of critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity. A child should feel like their ideas matter in their classroom, much like a professional should feel valued for their ideas in the workplace of the future. It is important to give your class back to your students so that they gain the necessary confidence and perseverance to pursue and communicate their ideas when they enter their future careers. If it were up to me, I’d make it a school-wide rule that every child should have access to snacks, drinks, and bathrooms and should be able to choose their clothes. But alas, that sounds like a whole ‘nother article.


 

I hope you enjoyed my thoughts and links that try to describe the 21st century classroom. Be sure to follow me on Twitter, check out more about us, and keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com for more teaching ideas in motion.

Podcasts are Great Way to Develop Speaking and Listening

If you’ve ever checked out our Friends of Educationrickshaw.com page, you may have seen mention of my best friend Jim Stewart Allen’s ongoing podcast project, Historiography!. While the content is geared towards adults, we were able to collaborate on an episode that made it into my classroom:

 

 

In the episode, Jim makes a call out to all of my kids in Sudan, which immediately blew their minds when I showed it to them in class. He then goes into his typical dissection of a media piece, this time being the Phases of Matter episode of Bill Nye the Science Guy, which my students had just watched in preparation for this surprise event. The listen not only led to a lot of laughs and conversation about the science, but it intrigued my Year 5’s  to the point that they wanted to record their own podcasts!

Recording the Podcasts

Like a piece of writing, there are both linear and non-linear ways of arriving at a published podcast. For brainstorming, the kids and I love Inspiration, and I made sure to have students practice with partners or small audiences before they launched into the publishing stage. For the actual recording, I had students create a cover photo and then record their voice over it using Seesaw.

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Thanks @MrsGadtke for the poster!

See Also: 5 Ways to Get the Most Out of Seesaw, which has been retweeted a few times by Seesaw themselves

Learning Potential

Almost all of the students felt that they needed a few shots to actually get it right, and it was wonderful to watch students struggle to produce the exact words they needed to convey meaning. One of the biggest hurdles that some students had to jump was filling airtime with entertaining banter and commentary. Many at first experienced a sort of podcast stage fright that forced them to scrap their recording and start over again. In one outlying case, a student had to switch over to recording in iMovie so that they could edit out the long pauses that kept making it into his final recording.

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The more that I think about the potential learning that can occur from planning and recording podcasts, the more I want to get going on another unit that includes them as a learning engagement. As you can see from the below photo, most of my kids’ podcasts would be considered “segments”, but I am sure there is room for the other two methods  as well. Interviews especially sound cool.

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Photo: https://coschedule.com/blog/how-to-start-a-podcast/

As we connected our Seesaw blogs to a class outside of Sudan, the students also can learn how to promote their podcasts to reach a larger audience, how to provoke and stimulate thinking from others, and how to keep the conversation going in the comments. The parents in my classes have been very engaged with all of our online tools, so their podcasts could be the source of discussion at the dinner table, thereby extending the learning into the home. If you’re looking for ways to meet speaking and listening standards, podcasts might be the way to go.


What do you think? We at educationrickshaw.com appreciate the feedback that you leave in the comments area below, and we always respond.

Thanks for visiting!

 

A Plea for Education: A Response to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

Something that’s been getting some buzz on Twitter has been Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s request for ideas for where he should put his money. On behalf of educationrickshaw.com, I wrote him a letter that includes discussion about the teacher turnover crisis and the importance of the maintaining a strong teaching profession. Enjoy!


Dear Mr. Bezos,

I see that I am already late to the party that you’ve started on Twitter, the one where you ask for “philanthropic activity to be helping people in the here and now – short term – at the intersection of urgent need and lasting impact.” If you allow me to be so bold, I would like to use your money towards a kind of charitable work for which many of the solutions have already been identified. It also may be the most important issue of our time, as well as the most expensive. I’m talking of course about education.

Education is a complex beast, and one that I am relatively new to. I started teaching in a Bureau of Indian Affairs school in Washington State, before moving to teach in international schools in Vietnam and Sudan. Despite my enthusiasm for the work I’ve achieved in my classroom, I’ve begun to become disillusioned with certain aspects of this profession. You may very well have better data available to you than I have, but I feel that the teaching profession, specifically in the United States, is in a state of crisis. Sadly, due to a variety of reasons including the an American teacher’s inadequate pay, the steady loss of teacher autonomy, and a culture of teacher bashing, many of us American international educators – those talented teachers that could very well be teaching stateside – have chosen to move for greener pastures overseas.

Since I left American education nearly 5 years ago, so has much of my cohort for my teaching certificate. The difference is, however, that many of them are not remaining in education related fields. They are bankers, businessmen and women, and stay at home moms and dads. As has been reported with increasing frequency, teacher turnover is costing us billions of dollars.

Unfortunately, the real cost of this crisis is more difficult to measure. According to years of John Hattie research, the ability of a teacher to teach with effective strategies is far and above the most important factor that we can control. Just look at this following chart of effect sizes (minus the 6 Super Factors) and you’ll see that teaching skills and strategies (i.e. teacher clarity, teacher credibility, etc) hold the top of the list in regards to effect size:

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Additionally, one of the identified “Super Factors” in Hattie’s research, and the factor with the highest effect size that can be manipulated is collective teacher efficacy:

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It is clear, Mr. Bezos, that it is the teacher that is at the center of what makes students achieve. A teacher’s skill, competence, and attitude towards the profession is what improves educational outcomes. A sound policy to improve education would be to keep those teachers that have the most talent, and attract a new generation of talented undergraduates into the field. However, recent reports of teacher shortages suggest that we are doing neither.

What can you do?  

Some, including myself would say that it is the low salary that dissuades young undergrads from choosing teaching as a career. I remember an important moment in one of my lecture hall classes of 500+ students (it was Sociology 101, I believe) where the professor asked students to raise their hands if they would consider entering teaching if money were not a factor. Nearly the entire hall was filled with raised hands. Then the professor asked who student to raise their hands if they were seriously considering becoming a teacher. Only a handful of students raised their hands with me. Smart people don’t enter into professions where they aren’t adequately rewarded for their services.

Other findings point to the lack of control and teacher autonomy that is experienced by most in the profession. Maybe your money is best served there, as raising all of the salaries in the teaching workforce is an expensive proposition. Either way, if your philanthropy could focus short-term on re-professionalizing the teaching profession so that teachers are rewarded both intrinsically and extrinsically for the wondrously challenging day-to-day task of educating our children, it will pay off in dividends in the future.

Thank you, Mr. Bezos, for your time and your interest in philanthropy. If you’re needing an education czar for your new philanthropic organization, you know where to contact me.

Sincerely,

Zach Groshell


What do you think? Did I focus on what matters most in education for you? Did I leave anything out? Please comment below and follow me on Twitter, @MrZachG. 

Photo credit of Jeff Bezos: CNBC.com

3 Fun Inquiry Math Activities for the Last Week of School

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Picture from Classroom 2.0.

One of the most endearing that my students are is when they are helping younger children. Preparing the classroom at the end of the year for the next group of students is considered a critical job for them, whether they are sharpening pencils or throwing out markers that no longer work. This year I decided to maximize this learning experience by having my students figure out how to prepare for the new class with some guided inquiry math.

1. Where will the new table groups go?

When I first posed this question, my students looked back at me with confusion before one of them replied, “wait, will you still have the same number of students?” The fun part of inquiry is that you don’t start out with all of the information that you need. Instead, you use your critical thinking skills to figure out what questions you have to ask to find that information before you can even begin to solve the problem.

The lesson went something like this:

  • There will be 20 students next year (I know, working at a school with a 20 student limit is awesome!), meaning we don’t have enough tables.
  • Where do we get tables? Exploration team to the school storage room
  • Division to make equal groups puts the new class into 4 groups of 5…. But when we moved the tables – which sit 2 students at each – we found we need two extra tables to accommodate odd numbered groups.
  • 5 groups of 4 means that students can’t push out their chairs without hitting each other
  • 2 groups of 4 and 2 groups of 6 works perfectly

 

2. How should we organize our supplies? 

We have tables, so students in my class store their books in these handy trays that pull all the way out. Most other supplies are also kept in the trays, including each table groups’ tray for colored pencils, crayons and markers that they can pull out and bring to their table to share.

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Trays to organize school supplies found at Consortium

My students were already warmed up to inquiry by the time I began this next challenge, so I was able to start it off with a simple question. Do we need to change the trays for next year?

  • Do we have 20 trays for them to keep their books in? They can just share! Placement of two students books into one tray shows that won’t work.
  • We don’t have enough colored pencil trays for four groups either! What can we get rid of?
  • Placement of 20 trays to one side to reserve for student book trays.
  • Prioritization of trays for colored pencils first, then markers.
  • Consolidation of math resources and extra paper/colored paper/graph paper into other storage areas.
  • New labels made.

 

3. Do we have enough supplies?

One of the best teacher hacks for the last week of school is having your kids check the colored pencil/crayon/marker/highlighter conditions, sharpen what needs sharpening and throw away what needs throwing away. I started this off by asking the question: Do we have enough supplies for the kids next year? We had already set aside the correct number of trayss, so we were in good shape to begin the conversation.coloredpencil

  • How many colored pencils/markers does each group need? Consensus that each student needs one pencil/marker of each color plus two extras per group.
  • Well, how many good ones do we have now? Lots of pencil sharpening. Old markers/highlighters thrown out.
  • Colored pencils and markers divided out among the groups.
  • Shopping list made for me!

 

Have you used inquiry lessons to complete practical tasks? How have they worked?

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By @SGroshell

3 Old School Elementary Events That Still Have Value (but Need to Change)

In a never-ending quest to innovate in the classroom, it can be easy to shun the traditional elements of Western education in favor of those that feel more trendy. Try posting a photo of a Science Fair on Twitter and you’ll get far fewer likes than if you post about students coding video games for a cardboard arcade (👈🏻 as I did). While I totally agree that there are some practices that are as dusty as an old chalkboard, this article is about three old school elementary events that may not be fashionable, but should still be a part of the curriculum.

#1 Science Fair

One of the downsides to putting on a traditional science fair is that it largely can come down to a competition between parents, rather than a good learning experience for the kids. In order to avoid this common problem, I had students bring in materials from home, but complete the experiments and boards in class. It may have taken more class time, but it gave me plenty of information to use to develop lessons that catered to the unique needs of this particular group.

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Another common problem with traditional science fairs is that the whole shebang is kicked off with little to no instructions or parameters, i.e. Prepare a science experiment, make a board and show it. 

This type of setup inevitably leads to very little understanding of the scientific method, or of basic scientific skills and concepts. Typically students end up creating cool projects like a potato clock or a volcano, but understand nothing about the science behind it. In my class’s science fair, we focused entirely on our UOI’s central idea, which was on the three states of matter. This way, students shared and built knowledge on the same topics. Students were only allowed to choose experiments that contributed to their collective understanding of the central idea, and we spent a lot of time reading texts, watching videos, and compiling information into online resources (Check out how to use Moodle in an elementary classroom).

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Finally, this science fair was not a competition trying to pit parents and students against their community members. It was a Year 5-only event that brought parents and students together to talk about the understandings that we had gained over the course of a six week unit. Did some students succeed more than others? Yes. Did anyone lose? Of course not!

#2 Spelling Bee

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Now that I just knocked turning elementary science fairs into competitions, let’s talk about the most notorious of all of the elementary academic competitions: The Spelling Bee. Let me be clear: I don’t have a problem with competitions that promote learning. I have a problem with competitions that only exist for competition’s sake (aka for the benefit of parents and teachers). When teachers set up a spelling bee in a way that promotes the learning of year-level spelling patterns, commonly misspelled year-level words, and develops a love of language, I am all for it.

My class’s spelling bee was a culmination of all of the work that we had put into spelling that year, and only included words that students had been tested on in weeks prior. There was home study time built into their homework schedules, but I structured it so that students would not exceed the required 15 minutes that they’d had all year anyway. I made sure to communicate my concerns to parents about turning this friendly competition into something that stressed students out to the point of disliking spelling, and they seemed to be on board. In the end, we were all proud of what the students had achieved, and they consequently did very well on the spelling portion of our end-of-year standardized assessments.

#3 End of Year Awards

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Much debate has surrounded how awarding students for every little achievement is turning the next generation (my generation?) into one that is thanklessly entitled and overprivileged. And if we’re giving students awards for something that they don’t earn, I guess I have to agree. At my school, we reward students for achievement in a variety of ways, but only those that deserve an award get one at the end of the year Prize Giving ceremony. We show a particular emphasis on progress, growth and development so that those students that deserve recognition for effort are recognized alongside students that are academically inclined. It may be old school, but it it an indispensable part of setting goals and achieving them in an academic setting.


 

What do you think? Would you scrap all of these in favor for alternative events? Am I wrong, and all of these need to go the way of the dinosaur? Comment below and keep coming back to educationrickshaw.com and check out our Teachers Pay Teachers.