The Teachers' Room Blog

Part of the North Carolina Teacher Project from WUNC

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#ferguson

As a white man working in Southern schools, I’ve been called a racist more than once by fired up kids who thought that I’d given them unfair grades or unwarranted consequences for misbehavior in the classroom.  Early in my career, those moments left me angry and confused.

"How could they call me that?" I’d think.  "I would have given a white student the same consequence for the same action."  Oftentimes, I’d even let those moments turn me against the student.  "See if I’ll help them the next time they need me," I’d mutter indignantly.

But a boy named Derek* tempered me. »Read more.

- Bill Ferriter is a national board-certified teacher based in North Carolina.  He is the author of the blog, The Tempered Radical.

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2 Plays

Last year, Keilia Scott’s life path turned in a different direction as the result of conversation she overhead on a bus. A fellow student who had also been in foster care told Scott about a special program at Wake Tech Community College designed specifically to help foster kids succeed in higher learning.

Keilia told her story as part of a segment on WUNC’s The State of Things.

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"If We Were Going to Have a Safe, Happy and Fun Classroom…"

As I mentioned over the weekend, I’ve been working with my students to craft a set of classroom promises designed to make sure that our classroom is a safe, happy and fun place this year.  

The experience was inspired by a process described in Pernille Ripp’s newest book, Passionate Learners. Pernille’s argument is that a healthy classroom depends on giving students genuine input in developing the expectations that govern a classroom.  Students will only invest in their learning spaces, she believes, once they realize that they truly have ownership over what happens once they walk through the classroom door.

While I spent WAY more time on this process than I expected to, I think the experience was super productive.  At the least, we had a fantastic conversation about the commitments we need to make in order to ensure that our year is something special.  At the best, we have a set of promises that will guide our work and that will allow my students to thrive without “supervision.”

Here’s what my students decided was important to them:

If we were going to have a safe, happy and fun classroom, Mr. Ferriter would:

Be fair and firm with all students.  This means that Mr. Ferriter will recognize and reward good behavior.  This also means that Mr. Ferriter should recognize and help when a student is struggling.

Be fun, active and creative while working.  This means that Mr. Ferriter will do his best to plan fun lessons and to be humorous.

Recognize that there are activities besides school in our lives.  This means we need Mr. Ferriter to give an appropriate amount of time for assignments and an appropriate amount of homework.

If we were going to have a safe, happy and fun classroom, students would:

Work hard and give our best effort all the time — whether we are working alone or in groups.  This means no matter how hard or easy our task is, we will try our best.

Participate, cooperate and be positive during class.  This means we will include other students in group efforts and we will participate by raising our hands, working well in a group, and recognizing the right time to lead and to follow.

Listen to the teacher and respect other students.  This means we will treat others the way we want to be treated and we will stay quiet when it isn’t our turn to speak.

Not bad, huh?  If you’re interested in learning more about the process that we used to develop these statements — or in the handouts that structured the work — keep reading.

____________________________

We started by silently brainstorming around four key questions:

  1. What kinds of behaviors are important for making classrooms safe, happy and fun?
  2. What kind of behaviors make classrooms unhappy/unhealthy places to be?
  3. What kind of behaviors drive you completely crazy in a classroom?
  4. What promises would we have to make to one another in order to make this the best year ever?

Students recorded their initial reactions to those questions on butcher paper.

Then, I asked them to craft a written reaction to a comment added by another student.  I explained that a reaction could include agreeing with the original comment, disagreeing with the original comment, adding an example to the original comment, or asking a clarifying question about the original comment.

We were left with papers FULL of thoughts about the kind of teacher and student behaviors that make classrooms safe, happy and fun (see here and here for samples).

The next day, students worked in groups of three to look for trends in the kinds of behaviors that both teachers and students would have to demonstrate in order to make our year the best ever.  They used this handout to structure their observations, to record any trends that they could spot, and to write promise statements detailing the kind of behaviors that we wanted to see in our classroom this year.

While writing promise statements, I explained that it was important to express our expectations in positive language.  We practiced by converting statements like, “If our classroom is going to be safe, happy and fun, students shouldn’t blurt out” into statements like “If our classroom is going to be safe, happy and fun, students should be good listeners when others are speaking.”

Once groups had written three statements describing the trends in both teacher and student behavior that they spotted on our initial brainstorming documents, we came together to generate a master list of every expectation that we had for one another.  Our final list of teacher expectations included 15 different promise statements and our final list of student expectations included 9 different promise statements.

Together, we worked to combine statements that shared the same core ideas.  We also polished language a bit — making sure that we had turned every negative into a positive.  Finally, students voted for the statements that mattered the most to them.  Each student could vote for both three teacher behaviors and three student behaviors.

While voting, I asked students to see if they could spot the will of the class.  ”Sometimes when we are voting,” I explained, “I don’t want you to be influenced by your peers.  In this case, though, I DO want you to be influenced by your peers.  If you see that one of our promises is SUPER important to everyone else in our class and you think you can live with it, vote for it.  We are trying to find the ideas that we can ALL get behind.”

When voting was over, I asked four students to stay at lunch time and pull our promises together into one neat list that was wordsmithed, polished and ready for review.  I took their final language and turned it into a handout that students now have in the front of their notebooks.

Here’s that handout:

Handout_PromisesFinal

My plans are to review our classroom promises each day while we are filling out our agendas.  The way I see it, classroom culture — like the culture in any human organization — needs constant nurturing and reinforcement.  I will also reward and recognize students publicly for honoring our classroom promises.  Students need to hear and see examples of our promises in action if those promises are going to become valued expectations for everyone.

I’m also going to ask students to reflect regularly on their own ability to honor our classroom promises.  The second page of the Promises handout linked above is designed to give kids chances to think about how their actions are moving our class forward and/or holding our class back.

I also have plans to develop a handout that allows students to give ME feedback on how MY behaviors are either moving our class forward or holding our class back. I figure that I can be a model for my students, showing how to receive and react to feedback — both positive and negative — publicly.

Finally, I’m going to develop mini-lessons designed to give students the kinds of skills necessary to confront peers who are breaking our classroom promises.  I want my students to recognize that if we are serious about making our classroom safe, happy and fun, we have to be comfortable correcting one another when our behaviors are getting in the way.  I’m not sure what those lessons will look like yet, but my guess is that they will involve a bit of role playing and a set of suggested phrases that are polite but direct.

- Bill Ferriter is a national board-certified teacher based in North Carolina.  He is the author of the blog, The Tempered Radical.

Reprinted with permission from the Center for Teaching Quality, home to the Collaboratory, a virtual community for all who value teacher leadership.

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Clearly aimed at generating a headline and talking point during re-election this November, the NC GOP has pulled a “please just re-elect us” rabbit out of their hat. They’ve done some “smoke and mirrors” math, such as removing our earned longevity pay (which the other state employees get to keep by the way) and not including that subtraction in the figures as a loss when declaring they gave teachers a 7% raise. In fact, some teachers will make the same or less.
Erica Speaks has been a middle school educator since 2000. She currently teaches language arts at a multi-track year-round public middle school in North Carolina. Read her full blog post about teacher pay, Hocus Pocus Headline

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My Beef with the Gamification of Education.

As most of you know, I’ve been arguing that technology DOESN’T motivate kids and that our goal SHOULDN’T be to engage learners for a long time (see here and here and here and here and here).

Those strands started rolling through my mind again this morning when iMagine Machine dropped me a Tweet asking me to check out their new geometry themed game, The Land of Venn because they thought it aligned nicely with my quest to find learning opportunities — not technology — that motivates kids.

So I spent a few minutes poking around the Land of Venn’s website — and walked away more convinced than ever that #edtech conversations and companies are headed in the wrong direction.

Now don’t get me wrong:  There’s nothing inherently evil about The Land of Venn.  From the description on the site, elementary kids in grades one through four are exposed to geometric terms and shapes while trying to save an imaginary land from an evil wizard who has set out to destroy a rock guitar playing Elegast. “Mesmerizing gameplay and an original plot,” the site explains, “captivates the child in a unique and exciting world of monsters and magic juice.”

Sounds better than a worksheet, right?

What bugs me is that like most educational games, The Land of Venn seems to place a heavy emphasis on traditional instructional strategies like memorization and repetition.

Marketing statements like “Sneakily teaches geometry step by step without the child even realizing it" and "The Child will draw over 5000 geometrical shapes while being continually exposed to a variety of geometric terms and principles over 5000 times" hint that The Land of Venn isn’t all that revolutionary.  Sure, drill and practice plays a role in learning.  And yes, mastering basic skills and concepts is a first step towards doing more meaningful work.  But shouldn’t reimagining the classroom be about something more than find exciting substitutions for memorization and repetition?

I’m also bugged by the fact that so many folks believe that we need digital games set in fictional spaces with recalcitrant zombies and talking unicorns and whizz-bang magic spells in order for kids to develop the skills celebrated by supporters of gamification.

People who promote the gamification of education celebrate the recursive, collaborative and reflective nature of the learning that happens in games.  As gamers work their way through new challenges and levels, they fail and plan and strategize and modify and share and collaborate with one another.

Those ARE skills that matter.

But to suggest that students will only willingly embrace those skills when they are working through “exciting worlds full of monsters and magic juice” is a cop out for teachers and an insult to kids.  Imagine how much more meaningful learning could be if kids were failing and planning and strategizing and sharing and collaborating with one another while trying to address a REAL problem facing REAL people in the REAL world?

Clean water is a problem in this world.  Heck, every 20 SECONDS, a child dies because they don’t have access to a fresh water source.  Global poverty is a problem.  So is pollution and violence and deforestation and the loss of pollinators and bias in news sources and unfair elections and immigration and fracking and powering the planet and access to safe community spaces like libraries and parks.

Couldn’t we build “gamified” learning experiences around those issues too?  

My personal goal over the past several years has been to encourage students to become active contributors to the communities around us.  Inspired by Marc Prensky’s argument that technology gives kids power and Will Richardson’s push for schools to give kids chances to do work that matters, I’m trying to deliver essential skills within the context of projects designed to make a difference.  Whether we are Kiva lending, creating anti-bullying PSAs, or raising awareness about the sugar in the foods we eat, the projects that leave my kids inspired are the projects that are connected to something beyond our classroom.

Don’t get me wrong:  I bet that some kids will LOVE having the chance to save the rock guitar playing Elegast from Apeirogon the dark wizard in The Land of Venn.  But I’d love to see those same kids saving their own communities from the metaphorical Apeirogon’s that we wrestle with on a daily basis.

Doing so would leave them more than engaged.  It would leave them empowered.

- Bill Ferriter is a national board-certified teacher based in North Carolina.  He is the author of the blog, The Tempered Radical.

Reprinted with permission from the Center for Teaching Quality, home to the Collaboratory, a virtual community for all who value teacher leadership.

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When 12-year-old Lauren Arrington heard about her sixth-grade science project, she knew she wanted to study lionfish. Growing up in Jupiter, Fla., she saw them in the ocean while snorkeling and fishing with her dad.
Her project showed that the lionfish can survive in nearly fresh water. The results blew away professional ecologists. The invasive species has no predators on the Florida coast, so if they were to migrate upstream in rivers, they could pose a threat to the ecosystem.
"Scientists were doing plenty of tests on them, but they just always assumed they were in the ocean," Lauren, now 13, tells NPR’s Kelly McEvers. "So I was like, ‘Well, hey guys, what about the river?’" » Read full story.
(Craig Layman, an ecology professor at North Carolina State University, confirmed Lauren’s results.)

When 12-year-old Lauren Arrington heard about her sixth-grade science project, she knew she wanted to study lionfish. Growing up in Jupiter, Fla., she saw them in the ocean while snorkeling and fishing with her dad.

Her project showed that the lionfish can survive in nearly fresh water. The results blew away professional ecologists. The invasive species has no predators on the Florida coast, so if they were to migrate upstream in rivers, they could pose a threat to the ecosystem.

"Scientists were doing plenty of tests on them, but they just always assumed they were in the ocean," Lauren, now 13, tells NPR’s Kelly McEvers. "So I was like, ‘Well, hey guys, what about the river?’" » Read full story.

(Craig Layman, an ecology professor at North Carolina State University, confirmed Lauren’s results.)

Filed under nc state fish stem science sciencefair children students

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One of Leonardo da Vinci’s seven essential elements of genius is known as Sfumato, Italian for “smoked,” or “going up in smoke.” This principle is the ability to embrace uncertainty, the unknown, and the unknowable. In my interpretation, it’s also an ability to “let go” of everything that’s left undone when you know you’ve done your best. Embrace Sfumato.

Wendi Pillars is an ESL teacher at Virginia Cross Elementary School in Siler City

This is from a longer article, Six Signs Of - And Solutions For - Teacher Burnout

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