Up next in our series of #D100bloggerPD posts is Hacks 36-50 from the book Hacking Engagement: 50 Tips & Tools to Engage Teachers and Learners Daily. Although the title may be a mouth-full, this book is easily digestible, with short hacks that cover everything from assessments to yoga pants. To see previous posts, start from the beginning with our fearless leader Colleen Noffsinger's first post on the book or check out the Hacks 31-35 on Jordan Garrett's blog! Also, be sure to check out the #D100chat with the author happening TONIGHT at 8PM.
Hack 36: Obsess Over Group Dynamics
I've had several conservations with various members of groups that went something like this:
Student: I'm doing all the work.
Me: Okay, well what have you done to try to engage your group members?
Student: I asked them once and they stopped working, so I just took it over.
Me: **suggests various ideas to help motivate group members to join in on the work**
Student: I've done those all. I just want to do the project myself. Why can't we just work alone?
To be honest, I've struggled to find ways to foster productive group work in my classroom. I strongly believe that learning to work in a group is a life skill that needs to be practiced, both by students who do work and students who tend to sit back and let others work. As a teacher of science, group work is also an essential component of how science is done in the real world, and thus it's important for me to practice good group work in the classroom. However, it is difficult to have conversations with students who are doing most of the work and feel like they're being assessed unfairly. James Sturtevant offers several solutions to help us facilitate productive group work in our classrooms while including ideas for individual accountability.
One of my favorite ideas is about assigning roles within a group and requiring students to each keep track of their own work. Roles reinforce the idea that group work is a team activity, and that every person has something to bring to the table (see awesome quote below). Last year I started placing students into random groups every 2 weeks. The idea is to promote working with a variety of people in the classroom and to learn how to get along with others who are different than you. The groups last 2 weeks (roughly 5 blocks) because I believe that you can get along with anyone for two weeks. Along with roles, I also require that group members ask each other before leaving the class in order to reinforce the idea that when they leave, their collective brain power is lessened for those few minutes. James also recommends a group mission statement, which fosters a sense of unity and shared purpose in the group.
Hack 37: Let Your Freak Flag Fly
Our students have use down cold. They can imitate us at lunch, they notice when we experiment with a new hair style, they immediately recognize our new eyeglass frames, they evaluate our fashion choices, they sense our moods, they know if we're been working out, and they can tell when we're in need of a good night's sleep. We're under their microscope.
- Hacking Engagement, pg. 151
Our students spend all day staring at us, which can be intimidating. I've gone home many times and realized that I had a mark on my face or something on my pants and thought, "Why in the world didn't they tell me?!". While at first this knowledge of "being under the microscope" was scary to me, it now empowers me to realize that I have about 150 students who I can influence to "let their freak flag fly" on a daily or weekly basis. This is the basis for James's next hack.
James tells the story of a student teacher he had who immediately got along with most of the class, but seemed to lack a connection with a few students in class. He goes on to explain that once the student teacher and these students developed an inside joke over a word that the teacher overused, it immediately broke the barrier and a connection was made. As teachers, we all say certain things over and over again, and the more we embrace our quirks, the more students we are likely to empower to embrace their own, too.
Being a science teacher, I always feel like I have free range to be a little out of the box - a bad hair day simply means I'm Ms. Frizzle today! However, I've lately become more and more open with sharing some of the more unique parts of my personality with my students. For example, I love watching animal documentaries and have jokingly shared that that's what I love to do on Friday nights (it's not actually a joke - I really do spend my Fridays watching cameras shaped like poop spy on elephants), only to find out that many of my students do the same thing! Now, instead of being embarrassed, I've made a connection with a student and empowered them to embrace their awesome quirks.
Hack 38: Assess Your Assessments
It is no secret that I hate grading, and teaching 150 students for the past two years has done nothing to improve my love of correcting answers. However, I know that I need to find ways for students to show their thinking and receive feedback to make adjustments to their learning (#EngineeringCycle). In this Hack, James recommends looking at our assessments and analyzing them for their real-world connectivity. He asks teachers to think about the relevance of a timed multiple choice assessment to real-world careers. Finally, he suggests having students decide how they'd like to share their knowledge with him, rather than completing an assigned project or video.
In the past, I used to give multiple choice tests with one correct answer. I have come a long from that sort of thinking, and now prefer performance assessments to traditional tests. Luckily, NGSS also encourages teachers to use performance tasks as a way to assess learning. I have also gone away from a traditional grade book, and have created my own version of a single point rubric that is more like a portfolio than a list of grades (see below). All of these hacks are great ways for moving away from the thinking that life is about getting the answer correct, and towards the idea that there are multiple solutions to problems, and that everyone can learn from looking at a problem multiple ways (#GrowthMindset).
Hack 39: Trade Blah, Blah, Blah for Zen
In this hack James talks about the importance of not overusing direct instruction and PowerPoint slides. He alludes to the famous teacher on the Charlie Brown series who drones on, whether or not her students are listening. While we've all had those moments, James gives us a great tool to help spice up our presentations.
James explains how he uses the tips from the book Presentation Zen to help him add intrigue to his PowerPoint. His list of Dos and Don't are a bit surprising, including such tidbits as no longer including bullet points. Instead, he recommends adding an intriguing picture to anchor the discussion, and with all of the evidence supporting the idea that people in general are awful multitaskers, I'm inclined to believe that in this case a picture would speak a thousand words. With this method, students no longer have to keep track of notes or filling in the blanks, and can instead focus on thinking about and adding to the classroom discussion.
Hack 40: Being More Like Hocking College
In this hack, James explains how his son David experienced school. Although David was bright, he ended up being a college dropout because he was so disengaged in the classroom, especially during direct instruction. After bouncing around at odd jobs for a few years, David re-enrolled in Hocking College - a school that promotes hands on learning and vocational experience. David went from a college drop out to finding his niche in forestry at the school.
The biggest take away I got from this chapter is the importance of hands on learning. As I'm getting better at using NGSS in my classroom, I suspect that the amount of hands on learning my students experience will increase every year. James suggests a ratio of three-to-one for hands on learning to direct instruction. Although it seems daunting, being engaged in learning means that students need to be DOING what they're learning.