Thursday, November 29, 2018

Self Directed Learning with Amy Jarvis

Recently, Amy Jarvis, 7th grade science teacher, had her students embark on a "self-directed learning" journey with Cell Theory.  As you read, you'll notice that this venture was certainly not in her comfort zone, but her supportive administration and colleagues helped her through the process. 


Teaching a course to 7th graders in the parameter of a semester can be a challenge. Seventh grade Life Science is the first time students encounter a specific branch of the science curriculum. This really hit home, literally, when I looked at my daughter’s end of the semester packet for 10th grade Biology. I saw everything I taught with some additions! It was then that I realized the importance of effective differentiation within my classroom. I have firmly believed an honors block should look much different than my standard block. My standard block should look much different than my collaborative block. Furthermore, all of these blocks should look much different than the same level blocks the semester, or even year, before for that matter. You see, I, like many of you, want learning to occur each second of each minute I spend with my students. I’m not talking about learning based on the lowest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy. I don’t want my students to just grasp at a concept. I want them to grab it, hold it, feel it, see it, examine it, analyze it, relate to it, describe it, connect to it, and never let it go! Don’t worry! I’m unrealistic. I am aware that not all students absorb the material as quickly as others. I realize some even drop the concept, step on it, kick it and even walk away from it. But those are the kids I hope to inspire enough to recover it, brush it off and try again to receive it in the only way his/her brain can.

This desire led me to a recent journey with my 4th Block Honors students. I have to say, the first few weeks with my students were brutal. I honestly did not know how I would relate to them. They are WAY beyond where my academic career was at their age. They were SERIOUS. Once girl even used the word, “prepubescent!” At this point, I knew differentiation was going to be an everyday standard to meet the needs of this group of students. Oh, and did I mention, this happens to be the largest block of my day.

Recently, I asked our gifted teachers, Mrs. Walger and Mr. Uyeda for resources on how to challenge gifted students. We spoke about learning contracts, educational menus, and other types of
Figure A
differentiation. I began doing online research and found some templates. One in particular, “The Self-Directed Learning Project,” seemed easy enough to introduce the following week. I had just started teaching The Cell Theory to my first and second blocks. I decided to teach them in the “same manner as always” approach. However, the fourth block was challenged to “The Self-Directed...” approach to The Cell Theory. In the first rectangle in Figure A, I let the students know the three objectives for the cell theory. In the rectangles that follow, the students had to reflect and respond to explain how they would teach the content to peers and help them reach the comprehension level of the Cell Theory. Once finished, the student signed the project as well as I. The project began that night for homework. For the next two class periods, the students worked individually or as a group researching the Cell Theory and creating a presentation. The presentations began that Friday.

Words cannot express the way I felt watching the first two presentations. The feeling grew with the third, and hasn’t stopped as of yet! The students use technology in a way I never expected from twelve- and thirteen-year-olds. Because of my astonishment, I knew I could not keep what I was seeing to myself. One beautiful part of this whole experience is that I have been afforded the opportunity to brag on my co-workers who played a part in this without knowing it. For example, Mrs. Fleming, the robotics and technology teacher at CHMS, Mrs. Walger who began teaching math to this same group of students last year, setting the bar high for teachers that followed with this particular group of students, and Mr. Uyeda who keeps the bar high with interactive lessons that allow for the technology skills these same students crave! The second, and most beautiful of all, is to watch the excitement with which my “techie babies” present. I watch the class reacting with eagerness, engagement, enjoyment and more as they have learned the Cell Theory through the instruction of their newest classmate instructor day after day. My task as an observer is simple, fill out the Instructor Observation Form I found online and tweaked for this project’s purpose. This form is pictured in Figure B. This is considered the rubric, an out of the box rubric, in a nontraditional sense. The students were shown the rubric ahead of time, as with any rubric, to be aware of the grading criteria. I attach the original Self-Directed Learning Project form filled out prior to the start of the project with the grade filled in at the bottom. 


Figure B 1

Figure B 2


In conclusion, I invited a few leaders of CHPS from the tech center, school board office and CHMS, including the 6th grade science teachers who poured into these same students last school year. I am relying on the leaders to find a different venue where this lesson can be an example of how the 1:1 initiative is being used within the classroom. Without 1:1, I do not believe the project would have been as successful with the steady pace a one semester curriculum demands. Finally, I want to encourage each of you to watch and listen to the students within your classroom walls. Without words, and through simple observation, it is evident how each student approaches learning the content within this school year. It took me eight weeks to build relationships, watch the behavior of each student, converse and ask questions, promote other technology uses, watch whether excitement ensued or boredom before finding the path these students wanted to journey. My challenge to each of you is to do the same. Where will this 1:1 initiative take you and your students? We might not take the same flight, boat, bus, or road, but I promise the view will be priceless!

Amy Jarvis
7th Grade Life Science Teacher, CHMS

Self Directed Learning Contract Template - Google Doc


Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Reflecting on 1:1 with Kate Ewalt

The following post was written by Kate Ewalt, 7th grade Life Science teacher and recent recipient of the Virginia Association of Science Teachers VAST Teacher-of-the-Year for Middle School. 



I've been meaning to take time to write about 1:1 in my classroom, but it has taken me entirely too long. Part of the reason is the time I’ve been spending on developing material to use with the Chromebooks. This is a down-side of the integration, the time needed to plan and develop new ways of teaching material. For me, though, the challenge of trying new things is one of the reasons I’m still an educator. I also know the time spent creating video lessons, preparing tech integrated lessons, etc, will be time saved for years down the road. I’ve seen lots of positive impact on students. My grading time has been cut, giving me more time to individually conference with students. And now, one nine-weeks in, I feel I’ve managed to establish a routine and structure that students feel comfortable taking educational risks.

I don’t want to talk about the impact on my students here though. So many beat me to that. Instead, I want to talk about the positive impact on myself as a teacher. Some are obviously positive, while others presented themselves as challenges at first. The latter is my first example. I’ve had various conversations with parents about technology in the classroom, but when a parent related that her child said the Chromebooks could be really confusing, it gave me a pause. We were doing some innovative and fun online activities, but sometimes I hadn’t figure out the best way to show students how to do things. This child is in the first block, and that often happens to be the first block to try new web activities. I could see how learning experiments could be confusing to students. I think I was able to explain to the parents a satisfactory reason for continuing to use Chromebooks for certain activities, and I also think we were able to identify the best way to help him overcome the issues, but it was the first accommodations for technology use I’ve had to develop. Usually, the accommodation is some technology!

I like data. I’ll admit it - I’m one of the people who get excited about SOL breakdowns by topic. I enjoy setting goals based on data, especially when the goals are reached, but even when they aren’t, I always feel I’ve learned something. I feel the speed at which I’m able to collect data is actually timely enough for me to act on it during my instructional design now, thanks to one-to-one computing. And it’s not just dry-technical data like reading levels and test scores. Through online blogging and vlogging (essentially journaling formats), debates on Schoology forums, and Google Forms surveys, I’ve gleaned bits of my students’ personalities far quicker than when I had to find time to go through all the hand-completed surveys. With more opportunities for my students to write, I see the quieter students blooming, which makes me a better teacher connecting with more children. Bonus - I look forward to grading some of the homework! I had students submit designs for the official online classroom banner - used on Google Classroom, Schoology, flipgrid, Voki, and several other sites - every kid submitted a creation and the class voted on their favorite. They had a day to submit votes and could see the results real time. Some were even doing the math to figure out if it was possible for a design to get beaten after a certain number of students had voted for it! My other favorite homework to grade this year were several Flipgrids -- in fact, I think I need to assign another Flipgrid before Thanksgiving so the kids can use the holiday-themed stickers. Flipgrids gave interesting insights into the students' homework environments -- sounds and all. That would never come through on a simple written paragraph.

So the one-to-one is going well overall. There are bumps in the road. Experiments abandoned. Activities deemed not worth completing. Some fizzle with the kids. But there are so many positives, I wasn’t worried when a kid commented the other day “They should call this computer class, not science class, we use the computers so much.” After all, they may never need to know the parts of a cell in their adult life, but they will certainly need to know how to communicate effectively in digital media.



As you continue your journey with Chromebooks and digital learning, please continue to reach out to colleagues and EdTech Coaches! We are all here to create engaging learning environments for our students.

Handy Password Trick

Piotr Kaminski taught me this little trick a few months ago, and I thought it was genius.  


If you have a password that you have a password that you have to change regularly, use a password that you are familiar with but add the month and year in which you will have to change it. That way you will remember your password AND when you will have to change it again!



Digital Learning Day 2019

Digital Learning Day 2019 will be on February 28th this year!  What is it, and how can you participate? Digital Learning Day was fo...