I love you. I know some of you don't hear it enough in your lives, if at all. I know it's not something that we often think of a teacher saying, but I do, I worry about you, I care about you, and I think about your futures. I love you, and I think more people need to start telling you. Obviously we are talking agape here, but I wanted to take a few minutes and tell you just why I love you:
1. You show up. In spite of what is going on in your lives. You fight battles each day both seen and unseen. Whether it is pressure in school, struggles at home, faltering friendships, or the sting of unrequited love. You carry a lot more than books and pens, and yet you sit in front of me. It not only shows how much courage you have, but how much hope you have for your future. It speaks volumes of the faith you have in yourself, and in me. I know there are days you don't want to be here. I know there are days when your world is crumbling and the last thing you care about is the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. You walk through the door anyway, and I love you for that.
2. You care about each other. I feel lucky to spend my days working with the future. I think teenagers get an unfair rep for being self absorbed and indifferent. I am constantly surprised by your random acts of kindness towards one another. You volunteer your time, you share your resources, and you love your neighbor. Does that mean that bullying doesn't exist? Of course not, but I have seen examples time and again of you accepting instead of dejecting, loving instead of hating, and giving instead of taking. You celebrate your differences and you fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. If this is what the future looks like, I know we're going to be okay, and I love you for that.
3. You make me laugh. I mean that in the best possible way. I chose to make a career change to education because it was the first time that I was excited to go to work in the morning. I still feel that way (most days, I'm human ya know)! You enrich my life in ways you couldn't possibly see. I learn so much from you, and I look forward to seeing you each day. In a world that can seem too serious at times, that is full of "doom and gloom" you give me a moment to pause and simply laugh and enjoy just being, and I love you for that.
4. You're game for anything. No matter what crazy technology, game, lesson plan, or idea I throw at you, you try it! I love that you are open to trying different methods of learning, that you accept my quirky teaching style, and never (okay rarely) complain! I know that if I learn about something in a workshop or conference, I can implement it the next day, I don't have to wait until next year, and I love you for that.
5. You're you. You as an individual bring something to our class, to our school, to our community that nobody else can. You have your own insights, thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and ideas. You see the world in a unique way. You have your own ideas about what the world should look like and what the future holds. It is because of unique individuals like you that the human race continues to strive and make amazing changes. It is because of unique individuals like you that in a future history class, students will be learning about all that your generation contributed to the world. You are unapologetic in your "you"ness, and I love you for that.
So dear students, if no one else says it to you today, I love you. For the above reasons and many more. You need to hear it. No matter what you have done, no matter what you feel about your self-worth, you deserve love and appreciation. You are making your mark on the world in the best way that you know how, with what life has handed to you. You make me a "teacher" but even more important, you make me strive to be a better person, and I love you for that.
Happy Valentine's Day,
We finally had our first snow day of the year here in New England. Sometimes it's nice to work from home and change up the routine a bit. I was thinking about a post I wrote a few years ago on my old blog about snow days. I had to dig back a little ways (to February of 2013 to be exact), but I found it!
I'm re-sharing here as I think it still holds true four years later:
What if School Days Were Like Snow Days?
The smell of cinnamon rolls wafting up the stairs. Even as an adult, I still expect snow days to begin like this. As a kid, there is nothing more exciting and magical than waking up to find out that school has been canceled. I'll admit, as a teacher, I often experience the same excitement. I recently read an article that discussed snow days. The article itself provided no new information; how superintendents make their decisions, how it impacts parents, teachers, and of course students. What did surprise me were many of the comments that were made in response to the article. Some I expected to see- working parents noting how difficult snow days are for them, which is very understandable. Surprisingly though there were quite a few comments citing how a snow days took away from education and what a shame it was. Those comments made me reflect back to my own years in school. I will admit, as I went through my memories there weren't too many that I had where I was sitting in a desk absorbing facts being thrown at me. There were however a lot of memories of working with neighborhood kids to build snow forts. This required not just team work, but some engineering to ensure that the ice tunnels could with stand the weight of a snowball attack. I remembered watching Gone With the Wind with my mom and first understanding that the Civil War had more than one perspective to it. I also remember curling up with a good book, the American Girl series when I was little, and as time went on everything from Johnny Tremain to Les Miserables was enjoyed with a cup of hot cocoa by the fire on a snowy gray New England Day. To say that snow days are a wasted opportunity for learning is to assume that learning takes place solely in the classroom.
As I went through my own snow day today, I realized not only was today not a wasted opportunity, but a great opportunity for learning. Though I'm a teacher and do my best to make my classroom a hands on experience, I'll be the first to admit that a lot of real and true learning takes place outside the classroom all the time, and it should! I'm going to throw out a crazy suggestion, not only do I think snow days are a great opportunity for learning, but I wish school could be more like snow days...let me explain.
On a snow day most students will sleep in, contrary to waking up in the dark and rushing off to school, snow days allow for waking with the natural rhythm of the body. This morning I awakened refreshed, a whole hour after my usual rising time, and that glorious glorious hour gave me such energy that I've forgotten how over worked and under-slept we as a human race really are. As I woke up and eased into my day I had time to create a "To Do" list for the day, things I had to accomplish. Wouldn't it be nice if our students could get that little bit of extra sleep they need and create their own "agenda' for the day? If they could really contemplate what they need to get done, rather than it being dictated to them?
After waking up I made myself a hardy breakfast, the kind that I would never have time for on a regular school day. I remember this being one of my favorite things about snow days when I was little- sitting at the table eating breakfast- instead of grabbing a piece of toast as I ran out the door. The majority of my students do not eat breakfast before school, I can't blame them, I too don't like to eat that early in the morning. I usually have something during my prep period while I correct. My students don't have that luxury, as a result by the time mid-morning rolls around they are so hungry that any attempt to disseminate information prior to the feeding frenzy that is seventh grade lunch is lost. Wouldn't it be nice if students could actually sit down and enjoy their breakfast, thus coming to school with energy to face whatever tasks lay ahead?
As I ate breakfast I turned on the news and caught up on the world around me. For twenty minutes as I ate I became engrossed in all the information that I had missed out on over the weekend. While I make sure we watch the news in my classroom, many of my students have little knowledge of the world around them. I used to think it was apathy on their part, or their parents lack of willingness to discuss current events. I've come to realize its about timing and priority. My students are so over scheduled. They barely have time to sleep, so expecting them to sit down and catch up on world events seems unfair given their demanding schedules. Wouldn't it be nice for them to have time to become lost in world affairs, if only for 20 minutes?
After breakfast I set out on my to do list. For me it was mundane household tasks that I had been putting off for quite some time. The snow day gave me the found time to get all of them done. As I checked each task off of my list I felt accomplished. While I gave myself a set time that I wanted to have everything done by, I did not dictate how much time I could allot to each task, therefor I just worked at each thing until it was done, giving myself time to make sure that I did a good job, and did not stress about the workload. Each day my students rush from class to class, attempting to finish all of their tasks for each one in the allotted forty minutes. Its no wonder they are so stressed, there's no regard to the fact that some tasks, and subject areas are going to be more challenging for some students, and therefore require more time. Yet we expect everyone to work at the same pace and comprehend subjects in the same amount of time. Wouldn't it be nice if students could be focused on getting tasks done in a way that provides them with understanding and a sense of accomplishment, instead of always rushing to beat the clock and keep up with their peers in meeting deadlines?
Finally once all my "to do" list tasks were done for the day I was free to take advantage of the off time to pursue a few items of pure interest for me. I caught up on some blog reading that I had been putting off, watched an episode of History Detectives that has been sitting in my DVR for a while, started "The President's Club" a book that I have been carrying around for weeks with no chance to jump into, and finally looked up a new recipe and spent some time working at it and perfecting it. I googled several conversions, researched the best wine to use and even looked up a new way to mince garlic, all because it was something I was invested in. Wouldn't it be nice if once their "necessary" tasks were out of the way, students had the chance to explore what they were interested in, reading about what their passions are, teaching themselves something new?
I realize that not all of this is possible, and furthermore I realize that more of this has been possible within my classroom because of my flipped class set up, but I can't help but think as a whole there's more to be done. Snow days just have a different pace to them, they're relaxed, lazy in a way that doesn't make you feel guilty, they are honestly totally self absorbing. I think some times we need to tell our students to chill out, to be a little lazy, to jump of the point grubbing, overscheduled conveyer-belt and enjoy the beauty of an unstructured day.
While snow days may not have their "magical" feeling that they did when I was younger, they certainly still have a sense of wonder to them- an entire day, a blank slate ahead, to be filled with whatever I choose, whatever I need to get done, and whatever I want to learn. Snow days allow us to peacefully explore, quietly learn, and calmly accomplish. Wouldn't it be nice, if in school, students felt the same?
This post first appeared on Flipping History, on February 11, 2013.
If a throng of students wearing sweat pants and wielding number two pencils can only mean one thing- standardized tests! When I think back on any "high stakes" test that I have taken (SAT, ACT, MTEL, Comp Exams) I really can't remember the actual test. If we're being honest, I can't even remember what my scores were. I can remember however fishing my way through a sea of people, feeling over tired and trying to find out what test room I was in. I can remember hoping that my growling stomach was only audible to me. I can remember rubbing my hands together because the test room was too cold, and having my knuckles white from the pressure of two hours of bubbling answers. In short, I really remember the physical discomforts. Yet, this is how we ask students to demonstrate their knowledge.
A few years back...okay many years back...I took the GRE in a computer based testing center. This was when they were first experimenting with computer based tests so I wasn't sure how taking it at a computer based testing center would impact my performance on the test, but I figured at least the chairs would be more comfortable.
The experience was a positive one, while there was a learning curve to testing on the computer, the actual set up was great. I had my own little "cubby" and headphones, it was peaceful just before the test (no throngs of test takers clambering to find their room) and yes the chair was comfortable.
Why am I even bringing all of this up? Well, as many of you know, some standardized tests are going to computer based delivery models. While I'm sure they will not have the resources to provide comfortable chairs and cubbies, it is certainly a change from how our students have been used to filling in the dreaded bubbles. My principal sent out an email just prior to our midyear exams (the equivalent of a semester final) asking if anyone was interested in experimenting with giving their midyear exam on the computer. This was just the push I needed to experiment with this delivery model. I decided if I was going to have students use computers, I was going to take advantage of the situation and really try to give them the best experience possible. So, if you are considering giving any large scale test to your kiddos via computer, here is what I used, what I learned, what worked and what didn't!
First of all I knew I wanted students to be able to take the test in my room where they would know what to expect in terms of the environment. I'm lucky in that my school has a cart of 26 Chromebooks to check out, so that solved the problem of student devices.
I set the test up on Google Forms. I did this for a few reasons that I'll get into detail on later. The actual typing in of questions was tedious, but now I have a copy saved for next year that I can easily tweak, add to, and delete from. Additionally Forms predicts the type of question you're inputting (i.e.: multiple choice or short answer) making it a relatively smooth process. I was concerned about being able to set up a "matching" section but I was easily able to do that with the "graph" option.
The real reason I wanted to use Forms though was the ability to add colorful pictures, videos, and maps to the exam. I thought this was a benefit to computer based testing that could really help my students. For example, they had a question analyzing the Gettysburg Address. Rather than simply put the text of the speech on the test, I was able to embed a video of the speech being performed. Students brought their headphones and were able to listen as many times as they liked. When a question about a specific general came up, I was able to put a picture of him, thereby helping out my students who our more visual. I was also able to use colorful charts, graphs, and maps, that would previously have been black and white. I just think overall this was a really great benefit and I took advantage of it throughout the test.
I was also able to set it up so that each page only had one or two questions, which allowed students to focus and not be overwhelmed by the whole page.
The day of the exam I had a Chromebook on each student's desk when they came in. To get the test on the computer for the students, I used Google's URL shortener to create a small link to the form and wrote it on the board. I had students put this into their browser and once everyone was pulled up, we were ready to start. If you use Google Classroom with your students you could easily just push the code out to them.
In addition to the pictures and videos, it was also helpful for me to be able to use some extensions to further help my ELL and SPED students. I had my SPED and ELL students using the Read&Write extention during the exam. This allowed them to translate words as needed. This saved them time as normally they would be using a dictionary. It also allowed them to have the test read to them if they chose. I have many students that benefit from having the test read to them. However, this requires them to go to a separate room with a different proctor to read. It also means that they have to move at a consistent pace with the other students being read to. By using this extension students simply highlighted the text they wanted read, put their headphones on, and had it read to them.
Overall I thought there were a lot of benefits to having the test this way and student feedback was positive.
I'm sure some of you may be concerned about cheating. In theory a savvy student could open a separate browser during the exam and look up the questions. I'l be honest that I wasn't that concerned. For one thing, I could see all the screens. Frankly though, I'm not obsessed with constantly catching my students in the act of cheating. I explained to them that they were selected to pilot computer based midyears and they were to follow the honor code. I'm not naive and I do know that for some students that means nothing. I also know that for many it means something. I believe if you set the bar high most rise above, and the few that don't have a way of revealing themselves. I digress, if cheating concerns you, there is software that your school can purchase that would only allow students to be in the exam window and not open any other browsers. I think if this was a school wide delivery model it may be worth looking into, but not for my individual class.
The thing that I was more concerned with was the fact that if a student accidentally closed out of the browser they would loose their entire exam. I made a BIG point to students about this and begged them to be VERY careful when clicking buttons. Thankfully we only had one problem, and the student was only six questions in. I did have a few students loose part of their open responses and I give them so much credit for retyping them. I have since learned of a solution to this. There is an extension called Lazarus that will "resurrect" form answers if you accidentally close out. Clever name, no? So problem solved for future tests! I had the great fortune to attend a workshop by Jenn Judkins of www.teachingforward.net and she introduced me to this game changer. If you don't already you should check her out on twitter @TeachingForward, she is Google Certified and has some great tips!
As far as grading was concerned I used an app called Flubaroo, which again I think a lot of you already know about. This app (almost) instantly corrects tests given in Google Forms. It does the "multiple choice" part atomically and I really liked that for hand corrected questions (i.e.: Essays, Open Response) it allows you to decide if you are going to correct each students answers all at once, or each question all at once. The only drawback is you have to wait for all the tests to be complete before you can correct, so this could be a problem for makeups. You could always make a copy of the test and grade their's separately.
Flubaroo also puts all the data into a nice spreadsheet for you, so there's that!
Okay, so how did the students do? Did they like it?
I will say I got really positive feedback in terms of the test. Most said they wrote more than they would have on the open responses since they were typing. Their only caveat was that they wished they had a mouse, so maybe in the future a computer lab would be the better testing option.
As far as performance, I gave two sections of my honors classes and one section of my CP classes the test on the computer. I gave one honors section and one CP section the test on paper. In terms of scores there was not really much difference between the paper and computer tests at the honors level, though I will say the written portion was much better from the computer testers. However for my college prep kids there was a notable difference. The mean score for my computer based class was an 84 and the mean score for my paper based class was a 70. Now this could not mean anything, we all know each class is different and that there are a myriad of factors that contribute to students' performance. I just thought it was worth noting.
I'd like to close by saying I'm not a fan of tests. I see the anxiety they put students through. I use lots of alternative assessments in my class. I dislike multiple choice tests, I think you learn more about students through writing. Sometimes however, you have to give a test, and sometimes it has multiple choice. If you do have to give a test, and especially for a large scale test like a final or midyear, I think using the computer added a lot of benefit for my kids. I will definitely continue to explore methods of delivery for them.
Although they didn't each have their own cubbies, I like to think I made an otherwise uncomfortable experience a little better for them. Now if only I could get them comfy chairs....