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Showing posts from March, 2015

Get Up, Stand up

This week my students are doing marble roller coasters to study the law of conservation of energy. It is one of my favorite activities I do all year because student engagement reaches an all time high.  It makes me think of this iconic clip from Dead Poets Society.

A small change in environment can lead to a large increase in engagement. For a couple of days, the classroom looks so different as tubes hang from walls, tables, and the ceiling.  Students themselves are if different locations than usual.  The are on tables, under tables, standing on chairs, lying on the floor.  This is not a project which requires lots of technology. It really demonstrates the simplicity of a physics investigation.  

When getting students out of their seats or into unique environments, the challenge is trying to focus the energy into a learning opportunity.  Six Flags Great America allows for an authentic application of many physics topics studied in class with a marble roller coaster. When we've taken…

Let It Go Part 2

Don't get me wrong, Yoda is my favorite character in the Star Wars universe.  But I think he's got it wrong on one account when it comes to personalized instruction.

I think as teachers we need to understand that there is a lot to be learned from having our students try something.  By trying, we learn if we need to do it or not.  For instance, I currently assign mandatory practice problems for my students.  I would like to get to a comfort level where I can let the mandatory part go.  By that I mean, I would love to build a routine in which students see the inherent value of practice problems and will choose to try them on their own.  This may sound like a pie in the sky idea, but I don't think it is unreasonable for the majority of students who want to succeed. In an anonymous survey, my 70% of my students said they would complete the practice problems even if they were not assigned.

So, the real question I have for any practice work is "Due or due not?"

If I m…

Let It Go Part 1

In an attempt to get my thoughts out there on some things I have had to let go in reforming my instructional design, I wanted to put together a series of short  posts about what I had to let go of.
This is where I would put in a clip from Frozen. But, I think we all know that song by now.

Due dates are a very important guide for making sure that students complete work in a timely fashion.  At the end of most units of instruction, there is a summative assessment. That assessment is either held on a specific date if it is a test or has a due date if it is some other form of assessment like a project or student generated document.
Most teachers  have class planers with dates for tests and due dates for homework and other assignments.  The problem comes when students don't meet a due date or don't perform their best on a test.  The date for the end of the unit was a date chooses by the teacher based upon the pacing of a unit.  There are a lot of teachers who use formative instruction…

I Want To Go To There

Today, I was lucky enough to take a day of leave time to visit a classroom I've been wanting to visit for the last two years. Kate Sommerville and Angela Patterson are 5th grade teachers at Swanson Elementary School in the Elmbrook School District who have destroyed the traditional model of instruction and have garnered praises and followers from around the region. I finally had the opportunity to see what they are doing first hand for an entire day, and well I think these clips best express what I am thinking.

What follows is a brief photo summary of my day.  You can find more about their game changing classroom at their blog.

What they have done with their classroom began a revolution in their school in the best possible way.  They blew out the wall separating two classrooms and combined the space.  Within the larger space they have created many unique learning environments.

They have 2 separate libraries for fiction and nonfiction.

They have a lecture area which is not design…

You Got Your Personalization in my PBL!

When I first began my my journey towards redesigning my classroom model, I choose  project/problem based learning as a guiding light.  I would say that I still have lots to learn and look forward to attending PBL World this summer to dig deep into PBL 101.
As a district, we are moving towards a model which incorporates the opportunity for personalized learning opportunities.  I fully embrace the idea of choice and voice in one's own learning.  I have been struggling with wrapping my head around how I can offer both to my students. This is the first image that came to mind.

Can I design problem/projects which also allow for student voice and choice at a deep level?  Are they two great tastes that go great together or two distinct instructional models that can't coexist.

Let me talk about this in the framework of the project I just completed with my physics students. Groups were given a toy known as a Kick Dis which is a small disc that hovers on a cushion of air.  The students…