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Friday, August 18, 2017

Total Eclipse...A Lasting Memory


For the past 2 weeks I have had Bonnie Tyler's song "Total Eclipse of the Heart" running through my head. If you are too young to know the song, that's a shame. But the reason is clear to me why it's become an ear worm...a total eclipse of the sun will happen Monday within 20 miles of my home. A total solar eclipse is a really big deal and every single day I get another email about it from fellow educators. It's exciting times for the area I live in.

Many schools are out that day and our school has an early dismissal. Thousands of people are suppose to come to the total eclipse path. News agencies have actually suggested that people gas up for that because of potential traffic. At our school, it will only be the third day of school for students but we have already started teaching about it. One of our amazing lower school science teachers created a wonderful display explaining it from a Christian worldview for our students to see and she also created a video to go along with it. Alice Sikkema's passion for science is evident and her desire for students to understand this phenomenon is contagious.

As I reflect and look forward to being able to experience this solar eclipse I am reminded of another time in my life. 1979. I was standing in the hallway by a window in Crestmont Elementary School in Northport, Alabama looking down at a piece of paper and watching the shadows of the eclipse through a pinhole on a piece of card stock. This was way before the days of Amazon Prime, NASA approved glasses, and the internet. I remember being told very strongly "DO NOT LOOK AT THE SUN, YOU CAN GO BLIND" but I looked. It was too mysterious not to try to catch a brief peek and honestly, the paper version of it was bizarre for my elementary mind to wrap around.

Just like now, I remember it being a really big deal to my teachers. I remember being told "this doesn't happen very often." Quite honestly I feel like I'm having a Mark Twain moment in my life, He had Halley's comet I've been around long enough and in the right place often enough to witness 2 total solar eclipses.

I'm writing this post to just affirm in you that I still have very vivid memories of this taking place in my life as an elementary student some 38 years ago. I remember discussions in the hallway with fellow students, I remember the disruption of the ordinary this moment brought to our school, I remember the intrigue of taking a risk and glancing up wondering if I truly was going to go blind from it. I remember not believing that was true. I remember wanting to know more about that and how long do you have to look before it does something to these cones and rods I supposedly had in my eyes that I have never heard of. It sparked wonder and a desire to learn more in me. I share this with you to say If you are an educator or parent, don't let this opportunity for learning slip away. If it sparks questions, let your students dig deeper. Sometimes the best teachable moments aren't in the lesson plan for your grade level. Sometimes the pacing guide needs to be put aside. This phenomenon is a great way to open conversations about being a global student as well. For many of us school is just getting started, we are setting expectations but it's ok to deviate. From one little girl from Northport, Alabama that decided a solar eclipse just made her want to learn more... I give you permission to teach the current moment. ;)

Friday, August 4, 2017

On Task Device Usage

A few years back I "did the edtech circuit" talking about best practice of classroom management of devices. Our school had chosen not to buy additional software options for monitoring, etc so we created a system of expectations for our students that was the same from class to class. At that point iPads were the only device being used in our elementary school. This blog post is a repeat for iPad users but I'm now adding ideas for chromebooks because we are doing a 1:1 chromebook rollout for them this year. There is much overlap in best practice to keep students on task, good classroom management is fairly device agnostic. What I will say is that if a teacher struggled with classroom management before devices were available then the appearance of devices can actually magnify this issue. If you are a teacher that feels classroom management is hard for you being diligent in consistent expectations regarding technology is imperative.

1. Seating arrangement. I blogged on the subject of seating arrangements with practical desk set up ideas in May of 2013. I still believe wholeheartedly in the importance of creating a culture where a teacher is not stuck at the front of a room when devices are being used. The best way to insure on task behavior is engagement of the lesson and movement of the instructor. I've seen teachers own this. Spending a little time explaining expectations of movement into different seating arrangements can allow you to transition between whole group, small group, and debate all in a 45 minute class seating with very little interruption. Creating settings where you can see the screens while students work is a very easy way to create accountability of on task behavior as well. For one teacher in my elementary school this is as easy as teaching one group of students at the front of the class while the second group works on their computers with their backs to her so she can see over their shoulders while she teachers. She simply asks them to sit on the opposite side of their desks.

Not all schools have flexible seating and I believe there is great value in it but remember that the comfiness and sometimes secludedness of flexible seating isn't always a good combination for a student that is tempted by off-task behavior. Remember to work the classroom often if your students are secluded while engaged with technology.

2. Key words.  In 2013 when my school became a more tech-rich school, I wanted to set expectations for student usage that didn't slow me down in the midst of a lesson. I also wanted to see these expectations used throughout our school for consistency in what our students could expect as well. I created the following graphics to hang in classrooms as a reminder to our teachers and students:
The Chromebook visual represents 3 ideas-

  • Traffic light. As students walk in or transition to a different part of the lesson, the teacher can say today red (no tech needed), yellow (we will use tech but wait on instructions), green (get going with your tech)
  • 45. This is asking students to close their device at a 45 degree angle to observe something else happening in the room. This prevents the need to sign on again but gives you their attention.
  • 1,2,3...all eyes on me. This is a great way to interrupt for more information/instruction but also insure students are listening. You might need to adjust the saying for older students. 

The iPad visual represents 3 ideas as well-
  • Flip. Devices are to be flipped over so the screen can't be seen. I start every class with a flipped expectation unless otherwise noted. This also is a great way to interrupt device usage for more information/instruction. 
  • Flat. This is an expectation that all devices are to remain flat on the desk until told otherwise. This is a great choice when you are in the front of the room for something because it allows you to continue to see the device screens to make sure students are on task when you don't have the ability to move around the room because of the lesson. 
  • Close. I like to start lessons asking students to close all open apps on their devices with a double click of the home button and swiping the apps closed. That way I know the only apps that should be open on their devices are the ones I've asked them to open as the lesson has progressed. If I sense off-task behavior I can easily walk by a student, double tap the home button and see if there is anything open that shouldn't be. I can also tell you that students are really good at opening and swiping apps to close them fast in order to check things. They learn this trick quickly. 
3. Accountability. Some districts have chosen ways to both monitor and control student access beyond filtering. For us, we have not done this for our iPads but we will be doing it for our Chromebook rollout with the addition of Go Guardian . I do believe there are other ways to help insure on task behavior as well. Using Nearpod to "create, engage, and assess" gives educators more control in the classroom and even the free version is of value. Recently I read of a school district that has their students create a PDF of their browsing history at the end of the day and email it to their teachers and/or guardians with a sentence or two about "what they learned today." While your email inbox might get full really fast, what a great way to create a quick formative assessment option and spot check for on task behavior! 

As I said before, the best way to insure on task behavior is to have an engaging lesson and to work the classroom as an educator. When I experience off task behavior during my lessons it causes me to take a hard look at the way I teach and what I am teaching. The days of 45 minutes of lecture from the front of the class are over if your students have devices (and really those days should be over regardless). If you are fortunate enough to have access to technology then use it to transform your classroom. Be firm with your expectations and your key word usage. Spend some time at the beginning of the year practicing desk movement, and key word responses. Creating a culture of expectation of change creates a culture of engagement. Put color coded washi tape on your floor and label it with a desk number to help students quickly adjust to your request to move to "debate, traditional, small group, etc" mode. Have contests between your classes by timing them to see how quickly period one transitions versus period 7. Don't get stuck in "devices are just a distraction" land. Create an environment that builds on their benefits! And lastly, don't be afraid to set a classroom acceptable use policy that clearly states the expectations and the consequences if things don't go as planned.