Friday, August 23, 2013

Marshmallow Challenge!!!

   I felt I was getting long winded on the previous post and needed to split up my reflections on the first two days.  At the end of Day 1 we closed with students participating in the Marshmallow Challenge.  We put students in groups of 3-4 students with 20 pieces of fettuccine, 1 yard of string, 1 yard of tape, and 1 marshmallow.  We allowed students to choose their groups.  As you can imagine, led to a mixed bag of output.  Some groups got right to work and had a plan while others thought about ways to look like they were building but really were wanting to chomp on the marshmallow.
   Once all groups got on task, I loved hearing the buzz of students talking and trying to figure out how to build the tallest tower.  Some groups showed an understanding of geometry and formed triangles to build stability.  Others found ways to modify the string and tape to hold up the fettuccine as you would nail 2x4s into a new Palmetto tree to hold it in place.  Watching their interactions helped me see how they think and which students were natural leaders, active listeners willing to work, and those who needed more guidance on how to effectively communicate with group members.  Not everyone built a tower that could stand but I that was not the point of the activity.   I plan to allow students to retry this challenge later in they year.  I  hope to see growth in their ability to work with classmates and evidence that they know concepts and strategies that will help them work better in the process of constructing a tower.
      When we debriefed, I wanted students to see that learning is not only achieved at the end but can occur during the "process."  This is a shift in thinking for students and for teachers.  Getting students to shift to this mindset will help them in our classes as they take on future problem based activities.  I hope they will have lower anxiety on assignments too.  Students are pressured to perform and when so much pressure is put on what is produced they tend to revert to a "getting it done" or a "I give up" mentality and not has well as their ability level.  We have to show students we want them to learn.   I am not saying that the end product has no value but if we do not show students by how we set up assignments that we value the process as much if not more than the end product we will not get their buy in.  I have found ways to apply this idea but am still learning and tinkering with how I can make the process of learning more enjoyable and less stressful.  I want my students' brains to hurt with my work but I want it to be because they have to think about solutions.  I do not want their head to hurt due to stress over what their parents are going to say if they make a low grade. Enjoy the pictures of the "process" and some of the finished towers.  Please share your opening day experiences and what you have found helps get your students excited about the new school year.  As always, do your best!

Day 1 (pre-Marshmallow Challenge reflection)

     Day 1 of the school year finally arrived and with it comes a variety of feelings for students and teachers.  Teachers are excited to get going with new ideas thought about and discussed over the summer and the joy of new start.  For students, especially 6th graders, the year marks a new school, friends, and most importantly a new start.  I find that my students come to school with a mixed bag of experiences.  Many loved elementary school and are nervous of being returning to low rung of the ladder.  Others did not enjoy elementary school and can't wait to be more independent and finally have a locker of their own.  No matter which part of the spectrum students fall, as a teacher I thoroughly enjoy getting to welcome them into our school and help them feel comfortable to their new surroundings.
     My colleagues and I pride ourselves on the sense of community we build in our school.  Everyone that works in our school, from custodial staff to principal, work hard to provide an environment that is welcoming and accepting of students.  The unsung hero of our school is a man named Darryl who leads our custodial staff and tirelessly makes sure our school meets the needs of teachers and students.  He always is positive and shows great leadership of his unfortunately constantly shifting staff.  Despite this difficulty, he has his staff trained on operating at the high expectations he holds himself to.  As he proved once again, he had BMS ready for this year's students.
    As I met my new set of students I sought to learn every name as soon as possible.  By day 2 I knew all 96 students I teach.  I painstakingly work to know their names because I feel that for 6th graders it is important they feel like an adult knows who they are.
    This year's opening was a first for my 6 years of teaching.  Instead of meeting by class period, my team members (CE, AR, DC) brought all of Team Charger (96 students) together to get to know each other through team activities and go over procedures as one group.  We felt taking this approach would limit redundancy, get students comfortable meeting in a large group in our project room, and allow students to see all of their teachers on the same page when it comes to school procedures.  How many first day of schools have you experienced?  Think about it for a moment and see if you can remember the common thread of every one of them.  I know what you're thinking.  B-O-R-I-N-G.  Why not have fun on the first day?  We sought to go against boring and use a more interactive approach.  We played these games: 3 truths and 1 lie, Group Juggling, Non-musical chairs, and the Marshmallow Challenge.  Teachers also participated in the fun.  Here were my 3 truths and 1 lie, in no particular order.  I spent the night with homeless people in Lyon, France.  I'm married to petite ballerina who was able to meet the challenge of  eating a 1 pound cheese burger.  In college I was the University of South Carolina mascot "Cocky."  Lastly, I have played golf in three different countries. Which one do you think is the lie?  Teachers revealed their truths and lie during their presentation on who they were, family info, hobbies, and what they do at BMS.  I learned information about my colleagues that never knew even though we have worked together for 6 years.  Doing our work together allowed for this learning and I am grateful to now know them better.  Enjoy these pics and check out my next post that will reflect on the Marshmallow Challenge.  Always do your best!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

First Student blog topic and the start of school

    The school kicks off for Richland 2 on Wednesday.  We have two more work/meetings as we get ready for the new crop of students.  This past Saturday we had Charger Kick-off for students to pick up their schedules, lockers, and pay fees.  I really enjoy this initial meeting with the parents.  I also enjoy getting to surprise students by how I remember them from our Jumpstart camp that was in July.  Rising 6th graders come for three days to get comfortable with the school, faculty, and expectations of middle school.  We had 150 of our new 230 students.  I value this time with students because I can build a rapport with them, understand their personalities, and help subside their fears of coming to middle school.  This camp is one of the single best events we do to advertise Blythewood Middle and show the family atmosphere our school is.  I love working there.
   Now that school is finally arriving I have most of the start planned.  Some of my work is still big ideas but I have a framework of what I want to do.  Besides the required paperwork and information I have to go over and distribute I plan to do the following activities:
      1.) Team building - We are true teamed this year and my colleagues and I plan to have community activities and PBL lessons throughout the year.  In the beginning we want to get to know how our students think.  To do that we are either doing the "marshmallow" or "egg drop" challenge.  Marshmallow These activities will cause our students to collaborate and show us how they think.  We want them from the start to see our content is not isolated from one another but can be integrated.  We also will use this time together to discuss procedures so we're on the same page.  Lastly, we will have a time where each teacher will talk about themselves and let the students share a "G.L.U.R.P" on who they are.  We want the students on the Charger Team to feel safe, respected, and cared for.
       2.)  Contact Home:  Each year I make a arduous effort to contact every child's parent in the first 2-3 weeks.  I send home a Parent Survey that asks for general information so I can send them my weekly e-mail.  I tell my students their parents have homework before they do.  What I value most on the sheet is the last question that asks, "Tell me anything that I should about your child from your perspective because you know them better than anyone and I want them to have a great year."   I am appreciative of what the parents write because I can know so much more about the child and ensure I implement the best strategies to engage them.  After getting the sheets back I'm able to make the phone blitz and scare parents because sadly most parents have never gotten a positive call from a teacher.  How sad it that?  I can't remember how many I've called and they are terrified that a teacher is already calling.  I'm so glad I can calm their anxiety and tell them my excitement for being their teacher.  Taking this effort is greater than gold in building a strong bond with parents and students.  As a teacher we have to show our parents we want the best for their child because parents are sending their best every day.
       3.)  The last item I wanted to share is my plan for blogging in my class.  As I add this to my teaching I hope that students enjoy the opportunity to write and have others give feedback on what they're thinking.  I'm also pumped that a teacher in my school and outside of D.C. want to join in.  I think this will take it to the next level.  My first topic is going to be on the Ashton Kutcher speech  at the Teen Choice Awards.  Thanks to my awesome wife for telling me about this speech.  He shared some interesting insights that is relevant to today's students.  I love his statement about a lot of times "opportunities" look like hard work.   What a great line for today's children to hear.  I am amazed how surprised students can be that success isn't handed to people but takes hard work.  We don't walk into riches and jobs without ability and effort and I want the students to talk about this speech.  Due to him saying "crap" and "sexy" I may have to create a modified transcript for students to read with key points.  He uses them in a good context but I don't want to cause any riffs with parents at the beginning.  He talks about being sexy as being "generous" and "trustworthy".  Great attributes.  He also said that he never thought he was too good for any job.  I believe this will get lively responses from students and hopefully change some of their thinking since they are listening to a person who has modern day relevance.  Any thought from you as to how I should organize my blogging?
      4.)  The last thing I share as tribute to my late Uncle Mike.  His saying may coming in useful as you hope to do great things this school year.  Remember the 7 Ps and you'll hopefully have nothing but success.  
 Prior Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.

Until next time.  Always do your best!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Planning and Getting Ready

   Three days of in-service behind us and the anticipation of a new school year is only building.  Since the end of last school year I have been excited for this year.  I completed my final attempt for initial National Board certification and fingers crossed, I'll get the needed 6 points.  I also was a part of our district's Leadership Academy that was composed of district staff from the central office, support staff, administrators, and teachers.  I really enjoyed the experience and grew as a teacher-leader on my campus.  Having these experiences behind me, I felt I could use the summer to grow my capacity as an educator even further.  

    I had two opportunities to grow and had time to reflect how to implement these ideas this school year.  It started back two days after school ended when I joined my school's implementation team for Common Core.  Moving to these doesn't scare me as I am pleasantly surprised to see that I am using several strategies already.  These include: text complexity, various sources, higher-order thinking question, argument with evidence over persuasion.  Where I see I need to grow is having students have some kind of writing after reading texts.  Any kind of writing from an exit slip to a paper.  I'm glad students can do short and long writing.  I want to make sure my children can read a text, take notes, in order to create an argumentative response.  I do some work with this but not very well with specific texts.  I want them to say "This event's effect on the people came from [specific text sections]" rather than "I think the event was caused by."  The emphasis on this type of writing occurs for me in my class before this year happened when students did their Key Question homework.  Each week students had 4 questions (1 each day from that lesson's focus). They chose which question they wanted to answer and needed to write a minimum paragraph response and support their answer with evidence from our class work or from their own outside research and knowledge.  I want students to take a stance and know with evidence rather than saying "because I think so."  Preparing to use Common Core has helped my planning and I look forward to the new challenge.  
  The other major learning I gained came from my trip to ISTE 2013 San Antonio, TX.  This trip provided new energy for me as I heard about technology and teaching practices I had heard of but didn't have a context.  This conference blew all that away.  I was inspired and stoked for when August would arrive so my students could benefit from these practices.  My media specialist Lorena Swetnam, fellow SS teacher, ITS, and principal learned about strategies that would benefit our school faculty.  The conference is almost overwhelming but by only going to talks and stations my school could use helped me not get lost or overloaded.  It was here that I saw how I could use Twitter to improve my classroom and blogging.  Since then I now have my personal/prof. Twitter: @TylerAbernathy1 and a class Twitter @BMSsocstudies.  I plan to use the class handle to tweet out what we're doing with hashtag #comments4kids and hopefully connect with other classes and experts.  
   The other major learning came in blogging.  Blogging didn't seem like anything I wanted to do but reading others edublogs I realized I could share my experiences and build a larger PLN.  I plan to take blogging into my classroom by having my students blog.  I shared in an earlier post about my presentation to my faculty and I thankfully got positive reviews on the information.  I even got many of them to sign up for Twitter or to be a lurker and use to read edu "#s".  I also have a teacher interested in having her classes and mine blog together so we can enhance engagement and learning.  Perhaps this will then lead to my hope of having classes around the US or world join the conversation with us.  Day 1 is getting closer.  We're going to have a great year.  I hope other educators around the nation are having a terrific start to the new school year.  Always do your best.    

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Teachers report tomorrow and Twitter tips and tricks

  Tomorrow I report for teacher in-service and I can't wait.  I have really enjoyed my summer and feel that I not only had time to unwind and enjoy time with my bride and little girl but grow as a teacher.  I don't know if I've ever learned as much in previous summers.  Tomorrow I am sharing with my colleagues the practical ways to grow as a professional.  Here is my Google presentation:  I'm focusing on the uses of Twitter and blogging.  I am amazed by how many teachers, principals, and other ed. people are using theses means to share and discuss ideas.  I know for some using either of these seem daunting and time consuming.  As I have become a frequent user of Twitter I have found these helpful hints along with what is in my presentation keep me from getting overwhelmed.

1.) Don't follow everyone! (Following too many people overwhelms your Twitterfeed and you can't keep up with everyone's comments, ideas, or links.  I try to keep under 100.  Sorry to some who I may unfollow for lack of tweets or relevance to what I want to read about.)

2.)  Find key leaders in what you care about! (This can be sports, religion, business, education, or local news.  I'm a Gamecock fan so I follow a couple of local news guys who give specific info. on the teams.  For news I follow my local paper and then CNN for any nat'l, int'l stories.  Being a Christian, my pastor, @dicklincoln, @JohnPiper, and @AndyStanley are three men I respect a lot and value their insights. Lastly, on the education front I have a few local friends I follow @MrRichardsAP and then have several national folks that I enjoy learning from them.  To use Twitter effectively, be selective with what you want to follow.  I made the mistake of not doing that with Facebook and now know information about people I never needed to know.

3.)  Follow hashtags (#) discussion groups!  Following a hashtag allows you to filter out tweets that are not relevant to you at a specific time.  Joining #edchat, #sced, or #sschat will allow you to join other educators who are focused on that topic and want to share ideas and get feedback from others.  My teaching has improved because of being a part of these groups.

4.)  Don't sweat missing something!    You can easily lose your mind trying to read every tweet, especially in a #chat.  So many people share their ideas that you can have brain overload.  The best thing to do is don't sweat it if you missed someone's tweet about a certain teaching approach.  If it's a great idea I'm sure someone "retweeted" it and thankfully lots of people are doing innovative work in their classrooms so someone else will have a tweet that is relevant to what you're wanting to do.

  I'll share more reflections in the days to come on our initial work for this school year and how I plan to start the year getting to know my new students.  Always do your best!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Post #1

   The first blog post.  As I embark on this new digital activity I hope it serves several purposes.  I largely see this blog serving my interests in education with the occasional excursion out of that realm into my personal interests of my faith, family, and sports affiliations with the South Carolina Gamecocks and Boston Red Sox.    As I plan to focus mainly on teaching, I think I should give an overview of what I do.  I am honored to teach World History to 6th Graders at Blythewood Middle School in Blythewood, South Carolina.  I absolutely love teaching.  I enter my 7th year in the classroom and feel more excited about this year than any before.  Along with teaching, I also coach the boy's basketball team.  The community I work for is caring and supportive which is huge for student success.
   In my classroom, I am excited about the work we're going to do as we implement more Problem Based Learning.  Our school is set up in teams so the four main content teachers (Soc. St., Math, ELA, and Science) have the same group of kids.  Setting up our rosters this way will enable smoother scheduling PBL activities across content areas.  Each student in our school also has a Google Chromebook to use and take home.  I recognize how fortunate we are to have access to technology and want to be the best steward possible.  As we go through the school year, I plan to map our progress and share my reflections on lessons, activities, etc.   I hope I can provide insights from my teaching that can benefit your teaching experience and I certainly will appreciate any feedback you may have on how to enhance mine.  Let the adventure begin!