Woo Hoo! We are out of the Box!

Sunday night's chat brought together some great ideas from across the state.  When I was asked to do this blog post, I had no idea what I was going to talk about. Suggestions were that I could discuss my views on CCSS or just talk about some resources.  Man, someone giving me an open call to discuss what I think about CCSS?!  That could take a while!  I won't do that to you though.

I love that our most recent #OklaEd chat (Common Core Crowd Source) focused on the benefits of the new standards.  We all know that there are issues, but since a) nothing is perfect and b) we have to teach regardless of any imperfections, conversations like this are necessary.  If you want to see some of the benefits, check out the archive linked above for tweets marked A2.  

Personally, I don't mind the CCSS.  They just tell me what to teach.  We'll work out the bugs in the long run.  The thing that I am really excited about is that (if done properly), it opens up our classrooms to creativity, innovation, excitement and inquiry in a way that has in recent years been pushed aside in favor of multiple choice questions dictated by textbooks.  That change has nothing to do with the standards themselves, but with the way we are being instructed to teach them and (hopefully) the way they will be assessed.  There you go - my views on CCSS in a nutshell.

Louisiana Believes Educator Toolbox
One of the things this chat topic brought out is that not everyone feels prepared for CC and the new teaching methods.  Another is that Project/Problem Based Learning is gaining steam as the go-to method of teaching cross-curricular lessons with multiple standards integrated across disciplines.  Uh oh...that sounds complicated!  Not so much if we work together like we are.  One of the things we are going to need is a resource base.  So, now I can get to the fun part!  Resources!  Another topic that could go on forever, but at least it is interesting.  :D 

Here is a collection from @MrsBeck25, with articles on CC for Social Studies teachers.  Many historical sites have education activities that fit with what we are trying to do.  This is one from Mt. Vernon, and they have tons more.  Sign up for their e-mails, and you don't even have to go looking for them!  Colonial Williamsburg also has some tremendous resources and they have just started a new teacher community.  I haven't even started looking at this one, but it has a ton of CC resources - implementation, curriculum, alignment, professional development, supplemental materials.  You name it, it has it.

Primary sources are going to be a big part of CC teaching in any subject, and there are all kinds of places to find those.  Library of Congress, the Oklahoma History Center Research Room, and the Daily Oklahoman Archives (free to teachers) are some I use.  @SaintsWife0 shared this one with links to resources for all subjects, which lead me to this (which I really want to look at more!).  @MrsBeck25 sent us the link to Smithsonian Quests, which looks fun.  But, I've saved my favorite for last.  I love, love, love the National Archives Digital Vault!

You can start by shuffling images until you find one that you like, or you can search for a specific topic.
Once you choose an artifact, it brings up tons of connected items.

If you hover over the tags on the left, it will highlight items connected by that link.
Once you click on a link, it will enlarge to show you things like this homestead filing by Almanzo Wilder.

Or this image of a family claiming land through The Homestead Act of 1862....
Or this page from the Final Rolls of Citizens and Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory...
Or even these notes from the eulogy delivered by President Clinton after the Murrah Building bombing.

If just looking at and/or printing resources isn't enough, you can do Pathways Challenges and link primary sources.  Use theirs or create your own!
Finally, if even that isn't enough, your students can create posters and now even videos using these primary sources!

 Do you see why I love the Digital Vaults?!  Who knew primary sources could be so fun?!  There is so much more to talk about when thinking about PBL and inquiry based lessons, but I'm pretty sure I've used up my space/time.  A good resource base is a place to start.  Now, who is going to take on the challenge of talking about PBL?


A (Mostly) True Tale of Homework and Rigor

Peeking into my senior daughter's bedroom, "Minden, what are you up to?"

"Working on homework, as usual," she replied with resignation. She didn't even look up from the 28 pound American Government textbook. "I have at least two hours of work to do tonight."

"What the heck?" I exploded. "This is the third night this week you have been camped out in your room with homework. What exactly do you do in class? There is no way you can be working on your work if you have this much left!"

Minden looked up at me with a flash of anger in her eyes. "Seriously? In our block we spend all 100 minutes taking notes and listening to lecture. Then just before it is time to leave we get hammered with this work."

"Does he not get that he isn't the only teacher at school?" I groan. "Does he think you are only taking one class this year?"

"Because this is an advanced placement class, he says that he has to teach it like a college class. He said it has to be more rigorous because it is an upper level class." She explains. "He also says that if he doesn't cram all of this in, we won't be able to pass the advanced placement test."

"That guy has a real problem, doesn't he realize that in that same college class you would only be in his room for three hours a week tops, not four to six like you have at the high school?" I responded. "Of course you need to spend more time working outside of the classroom. When I was taking classes I was only in class fifteen to twenty hours a week. That left plenty of time for the homework. Does he think 'rigor' means hours of homework after an long lecture with PowerPoints?"

Minden grimaced, "Actually I think that is exactly what he thinks the word means."

"This is ridiculous, why don't you get out of this class and take the regular government class? Trust me, you will find the college class will be much easier to pass." I continued. "You are having to spend way too much time on this stuff. You're a senior, you should be enjoying the year and not be a slave to all of this crappy homework."

"I can't Dad, it is too late to switch and if I pass the test I won't have to take it in college," Minden sighed.

"I hate homework," I mutter as I push close her door.

While this is not a verbatim conversation I had with my daughter Minden last year, it is an honest amalgam of conversations that I had over her last two years of high school. 


Thinking It Through...

"The principal goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done; men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify, and not accept, everything they are offered."
Education for Democracy, Proceedings from the Cambridge School Conference on Progressive Education (1988)

 The most valuable purpose of education is teaching our students to think. Sometimes as educators we view our job as dishing out a ton of information in the hopes that the majority of it will be retained by our students long enough to get through state testing. But as an educator and a mother, I believe our job goes beyond memorization and regurgitation. I believe my classroom should foster thinkers, questioners, inventors, revolutionists, and future citizens who will be informed and will hold their leaders accountable. These expectations are unachievable if my students aren't taught how to critically analyze the information I give them and then apply that knowledge to further their capacity of learning.

Sunday's #OklaEd chat produced many great definitions of what it means to critically think. Although there weren't any two identical definitions, they were similar in expectation and result. We all want our students to take what they learn and apply it. We want our math students to take dimensions and create an area. We want to watch them use the information and determine the amount of building materials, flooring, and paint needed to build it. As a history teacher I want my students to create their own ancient civilization using the information we learned about Sumer, Egypt, and Kush. I want them to visualize the land and recreate ancient inventions. I want my students to recall what we discussed about ancient leader's mistakes, and then explore alternate paths that could have been taken and relate the cause and effect method for later generations.

With adequate critical thinking skills, students have a greater chance at success, but with all great successes comes a long list of previous failures.  The most important tool critical thinking can provide in our classrooms is the ability to allow our students fail. I want my students to learn how to fail so they learn and strive to be better.  I want to push them to give me their best, and not what they thought would give them a passing grade.   I call it the "If it isn't good, it isn't done" approach. I want my students to use their knowledge and critical thinking skills to go back and correct their mistakes. Our students have to see and understand why it wasn't correct the first time. Even more impressive would be our students developing an argument that supports their position and flip the role of student and teacher.  Learning happens in my classroom daily, but my students aren't the only ones being schooled. I learn from my students daily, and it makes me better at my profession.

Critical thinking is vital to our students' education and their future. Many educators blame the current system of standardized tests and mandated objectives for the decreasing ability of our students to think. Many of you who are reading this might agree. As teachers, we sometimes feel like our creativity is limited inside our classrooms.  The stress of student performance on standardized tests is driving many good teachers to other professions outside of education. Regardless of what we believe standardized tests have done to our students and our classroom, we still have a moral obligation to provide the best education we can to the students we teach. Requiring our students to take control of their education, setting our expectations high and teaching them higher order thinking skills, and allowing them to fail until they get it right will in the end yield favorable results. And if not, they can't fire us all, can they?


Creating Conditions For Future Success

Creating Conditions For Future Success

How do we create conditions within the classroom so that students are prepared, not just for today’s world, but equipped to successfully tackle whatever the future holds?  What will learning look like, sound like, and feel like in such a classroom?  How and when will we develop these conditions so that our current students have an opportunity to own the learning?  These were a few of the questions that arose during our latest #Oklaed chat and three tweets grabbed my attention.

The vision that immediately pops into my mind is a student (of any age) curious, excited, and engaged in an authentic lesson in which the student was included in the planning process.  Students are sitting on the floor or at tables; it really doesn’t matter because students are self-initiating rich discussions while smiling and laughing.  Anytime a student or group of students become unsure of the answer to a problem, he or she has access to go beyond the classroom walls to invite an expert into the conversation as if they were a lifeline.  No longer does the kindergarten teacher or the college professor have to be the smartest person in the room, nor are students limited to what one teacher knows and is able to do.  In this classroom, students own the learning and are working much harder than the teacher.  Architects, doctors, engineers, computer programmers, and entrepreneurs are the weekly visitors as they provide feedback to problems and projects students have successfully failed or achieved.  Could this be the type of conditions we should strive to create?  Thanks Dr. Fryer for such a thought-provoking tweet.   

To create such conditions, it is imperative the teacher relinquish some control to the students.

“We’ve got to find a way to make this... fit into the hole for this... using nothing but that.”  What a great scene from the movie Apollo 13.  Should we introduce problems to students that can be solved in many different ways and have more than one solution? 

To create such conditions, the teacher must create conditions in which failure is viewed as a success in learning.

What an extremely high expectation to set for oneself?  A lesson that results in excitement, engagement, and enthusiasm for future learning is what it is all about.  Tom Whitby once said, “The least educators can do for kids is to stimulate a curiosity for learning.  The best would be to impart a passion for learning.”

To create such conditions requires much planning and preparation before the students ever enter the classroom.

John Dewey once stated, "If we teach today's students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow." As connected educators, let's work together to create conditions within our districts, schools, and classrooms so that every student is prepared for their future.  The future is now!

Stay Connected,

Shawn Blankenship