20 September 2016

How To Make A Great Lesson in 2 Hours After Midnight - My First #BreakoutEdu Game

I've known about BreakoutEdu for almost a year and a half. I've facilitated the "Decoding the War" game a couple different times at events with Connected Learning, and I've had a few different conversations about the game with other educators, but I would not have called myself really enthusiastic about the experience. Truthfully, the thought of playing the game myself made me a little nervous - having the answer key always makes the game seem easier. :)

Fast forward to last night - a combination of feeling a little under-inspired for the week on Sunday afternoon, randomly jumping into the #tlap chat on Twitter (Teach Like a Pirate) where one of the questions challenged us to "wow" one of our lessons this week, and a cup of coffee I drank to late led me down a rabbit hole.

Before I get into the nitty gritty, let me give you dessert - photos of kids in action, having a GREAT time at school!

Having a student take charge as the "write everything we know on the board" kid is important to a team's success

Step One: The Lock
I've had a rifle lock from my summer at Marine Corps Officer Candidate School hanging on the pegboard in my basement for 10 years with nothing to do with it. I'd forgotten the combination. Somewhere along the way of going to bed, that lock caught my eye last night and beckoned me to crack it. After spending 10-15 minutes trying to crack the combination the "right" way, I found the tutorial for drilling into the back. Bingo. I had a combo lock for a BreakoutEdu game.

The one lock in the center is my model. It ended up being great for wrapping around a duffel bag!

Step Two: Setting Up the Game
The first decision was on content for the game. I'm in a linear equations unit, so I knew that I wanted to throw some equation writing and solving at the kids. Next I planned out the puzzles/activities of the game.

Step Three: Generating QR Codes (Beware, they all look the same!)
To get a QR code, I did a Google search for "qr code generator" and found several options. All of your choices basically all do the same thing - they give a text box for inserting text or a link, you click on "generate code," and then you download your image file. Here's where you need to be careful - notate somewhere on paper or in another file what each QR code file name points to aid in sorting them out when it comes time to print or embed them somewhere. The quickest way to ruin your game could be a QR code that points to the wrong source. I made a separate code for my X and Y values (but didn't say what the numbers were for), and one that pointed to a file with equations to solve that would reveal the combination to the lock.

Step Four: Learning More Stuff (How Can I Password Protect a File?)
One of the things I like best about the Decoding the War game on the BreakoutEdu website is when you have to enter a password to open a spreadsheet for the next puzzle. I imagine this was done with some CSS or Javascript, but as the title suggests, I didn't have time to figure all of that out. I found this Google Apps script and tutorial and ran my information on an encrypted spreadsheet. In looking for the link to the script I used today, I found DocSend, which seems like a better solution, actually.
I also found this tutorial, that utilizes Google Forms and data validation!

Step Five: Gather All Your Materials
Given that it was now after 1 in the morning, I didn't want to leave any of my memory to chance, so I made a Google Slides deck of things I needed to do to set up the game in the morning, a few notes for myself, and a backup copy of the QR codes so I could print them quickly if they weren't scanning from my SMARTboard. In between my sections of this class, I also added a slide for explaining the game. 

Step Six: Advertise!
The best way for others to "get" what a BreakoutEdu game is all about is to see one in action, so I sent an email to all my colleagues this morning letting them know that my 2nd and 5th hour classes were going to breakout of the room. That's really all I said, because I wanted them to come with their curiousity. As an added bonus, my principal came and threw in an informal observation. :) (Kudos to my student who perfectly articulated what was going on).

What Will YOU Learn?
One of my classes worked really well together on attempting to breakout, the other did not, and it was completely emblematic of the dynamics of each group during "regular" class days. My morning class trusts me and each other, takes risks, they help each other, they challenge each other... it was fun to watch. My afternoon class is cooperates/collaborates much less, they barely know each others names, and they didn't really listen to each other OR me (when I gave hints). It was disappointing, but I hope to make a teachable moment tomorrow!

Should I Play a BreakoutEdu Game with MY class? 
Yes! Creating the game myself, while more "work," (it was a labor of love, really) had me more invested in committing the class time to it. The clearest testimonial for the power of the game, however, is all of the passes I had to write to class when kids couldn't bear to leave because they wanted to crack the lock!

20 May 2016

To My Student (Re)considering Teaching

Part of my final today was a student reflection on the project we were completing and on math class as a whole. My most conscientious student spent a long time writing today, and was intentional about making sure I was going to be reading her reflection. This was her response to the question, "What non-math skills have you learned this semester?"
"Out of everything I’ve learned from this class non-math wise, I've learned to change my backup plan to be a teacher. I don’t understand how you can deal with disrespect like this without snapping! How, did you do it? I would honestly love to know."
I was honestly conflicted with how to take this question. Should I be flattered that she acknowledged I might have "deserved" to go off on a kid but she noticed I had not? Disappointed that I was unable to show her the parts of my job that I love in that 6th hour math class? A little insulted that teaching is her backup plan to begin with? :)

Image via Justin Mazza, Flicker

This was my response.

I don’t think that my experience with your classmates should change your plan to teach - I love my job, and the days I go home questioning my life choices are very few and far between. :)

Frequently when I talk about work and purpose with my friends, it seems that I tend to get more satisfaction and fulfillment out of my work than people that work in other industries. I believe that God cares about the work we do and has a specific purpose for us in that work, and that my job right now is to be a white guy in a predominately black school and to care for kids. I don’t like some of my students on some days, but I always love you all, and I want you all to be kind people and be teenagers and adults that contribute to their community to create beautiful things, solve problems, and care for their neighbors.
It completely matters to me who all of my students are as people, which is why I have such a hard time ignoring annoying behavioral things some days. I would never want a teacher to let one my own kids make poor decisions because “that’s on them,” so I commit to the same for all of you.

As far as solving problems - real problems in our world, whether in government, engineering, writing, etc., are not confined to questions on a test, so my professional goal for my classes right now is to better reflect that in the tasks I have you perform. I have in no way attained that yet, but I believe it’s a matter of civil rights that I do what I can to make sure I give you more than a grade on a test that ultimately turns into a piece of paper that says you’ve graduated. I believe a high school (or even college) graduate that does not feel empowered to think about and create solutions to challenges in their lives or communities had been cheated by their school experience.  

To circle back to your question - how do I deal with the disrespect with snapping? Ultimately it comes down to the truth I get from the Bible in the creation account that humans are made in “the image of God,” which means to me that no matter how a kid is treating me, I have a responsibility myself to see them with that value. Everyone is worth a loving/caring action (as much as I can muster LOL). So I have people pray for me a lot about my relationships with my students, and I pray for you all and your relationships with each other, and God grants me the grace daily to start over. On a parent level, I have never seen my kids change their behavior and mature as a result of screaming and nagging, so I know that anytime I do that as a teacher it's really just to make myself feel better (and that’s an unhealthy path to emotional well-being). 

I make positive choices, such as intentionally looking out for students doing cool stuff, and do my best to avoid negative conversations about students.  

I hope you’ll reconsider your conclusion about the horrors of teaching, and whatever you do, I trust that you’ll continue showing care and thoughtfulness for others. I’ve found that you’ll feel much better about your life when you look back if you can measure how soft your heart is toward your relationships, rather than the things you’ve accomplished or the stuff you’ve accumulated.  

Have a great summer!

I know that you know that what we do as teachers matter - I was thankful today to get to communicate that to one my students.  

29 April 2016

Is "Makerspace" Another Learning Silo?

The principles of design, engineering and iteration that students get to practice in maker environments is invaluable - I get it.

What worries me some is I sense in the rush to get grant money for the next big thing, schools are rushing to put in makerspaces like they're just another elective that the creative students can go to, but might not be for everyone.

When we install the MAKERSPACE room or turn our libraries into them (which I'm more okay with, because it blends information space with design space with collaborative space), don't we run the risk of just building another silo in which kids compartmentalize their experiences? On the flip-side, if teachers know that kids will be able to do _____ in "makerspace," doesn't that give an escape clause to anyone who wants to maintain a more traditional lecture-practice-test-repeat classroom?

I love the way my friend +Manuel Herrera is developing his space at Affton High School, "Room 15" because while it has maker elements included, it's still a learning space first. Making is something that happens alongside other work, and students and staff and come in and try on the room for activities unrelated to "making" at all.

Because I love to see interdisciplinary approaches WHENEVER and WHEREVER possible, I would much sooner advocate a school invest in a few pimped out maker-carts if they're looking to buy and put together a bunch of maker-stuff. It loses the design-collaborative space aspect that makes Room 15 so special, but gives many more opportunities for teachers to practice making and engaging in design challenges.

What do you think - if you have to choose how to start, is it better to focus on carts and spread the opportunity in your school, or have a dedicated "makerspace" that serves as a model space for students AND teachers to learn about design?

10 April 2016

The System is BREAKING, for Many it is ALREADY Broken: A #MLTSfilm Review

My district is hosting a screening of the education documentary Most Likely to Succeed on Thursday, April 14 - its something I've been anticipating since I first saw this film last December at Mehlville HS (Get your FREE tickets here!)

The basic premise of the film is that US industrial education model that was developed at the end of the 19th century to develop a moderately literate, instruction-following, factory-ready workforce is obsolete and killing us. The filmmakers then show us a way out, specifically highlighting the work done by teacher-innovators and their students at High Tech High in San Diego, CA.

One of the most poignant moments of the film for me is when we see one of the school's parents admit that although she's nervous about what exactly her daughter is learning at the project-based learning school, she acknowledges that her friends' kids are often coming back from prestigious universities with prestigious degrees and having a hard time finding work. 

It's a growing cultural theme - the promise of college = great job is waning, if it's not already dead.

But is this really new, or is it new for the more privileged in our society, making it finally apparent to many more in power? 

The filmmakers give a lot of stats midway through the film about how much knowledge is lost in only a few months from taking a random test, that its nearly impossible to learn US history meaningfully in an AP US History course, and that good grades and good test scores don't exactly correlate into creative, independent, resourceful workers for firms looking for innovation.

Now to my point - urban and rural communities that are ALREADY struggling to keep up with affluent suburbs already know these things. They already know that the test system is rigged and meaningless for them. They already see their best leaving. 

Poor urban and rural communities that MOST need the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurism that this film advocates for our students need most to run with this revolution of what "school" looks like, but face more challenges in grabbing the ring. We see many of the parents point out in the film: "We don't know that this will really work! I'm nervous!" but they take the risk anyway, because their communities and families can risk the failures required of innovation. 

If you have any commitment to a community with a failing or struggling school, I implore you to support leaders who will take risks of innovation, rather than promising that we can do more of the same and eventually catch up. 

Thursday night is the 3rd time I will have seen Most Likely to Succeed, and I am more convinced with each viewing that we owe these experiences to all children. We need teachers who refuse to teach toward any test (AP exams included). We need administrators who will value We need parents who demand their children do more at school than study for tests of knowledge acquisition. We need university partnerships willing to train our current and future teachers in the messy process of nurturing creative processes and innovative, iterative learning environments. We need politicians who will make room for this innovation. We need cooperation between all of these.

One of my favorite things about this movie is that rather than only reminding us again that education is broken it shows us a way out and gives us a call to action we can use to galvanize communities around the change.

I'll leave your with a sit-down interview from Sundance Film Festival with the filmmakers, director Greg Whiteley and executive producer Ted Dintersmith, and a TED Talk from Ted Dintersmith about preparing kids for life over standardized tests.

08 April 2016

Should We Have Math 7th Hour?

I have 3 Algebra Strategies classes this semester - 2 in the morning and 1 in our last class of the school day.

These classes' assignments are all differentiated according to students' skill levels and all the exercises are individually generated using Renaissance Learning's Accelerated Math. I love doing these classes because I get a ton of time to work individually with students and its a fantastic opportunity for students to catch or get ahead in their math skills if they take advantage of it.

Because everything is differentiated and individualized, I've seen students' growth have a correlation to their capacity to monitor their own on-task behavior and persevere through assignments.

I'm sure I don't have to tell any educator this, but the last hour of the day is difficult for students' attention in any course. That physical need to blow off steam and relax after a long day of sitting in chairs is not a recipe for success in a program that requires that self-monitored attention.

Take a look at these box plots from my 3 classes measuring the spread of the students' "student growth percentile," a metric Renaissance Learning includes in their reports of student performance on their benchmark "STAR" tests that measures a student's age AND prior performance against a peer group.

According to training material from Renaissance Learning, "ideal, typical growth" for a student will be anywhere between 35 and 75 percentile SGP. My first two classes' median SGP are at the top of that range! Then inexplicably, a similar student population using the exact same program in my 7th hour has a median SGP of 38.

Could there be anything else at play here besides the 7th hour effect?

31 March 2016

This Hotel Lobby Wants Something From You

I love the idea of this table.

This is the table right next to the breakfast area at the suites my family stayed at over spring break. What does this table tell you?

With the choice of this long, narrow table, someone wanted to say, "You should sit here with people and TALK to them." This is out of the ordinary for most hotel lobbies, right? Tables are normal, yes, but typically they are square and fit 2-4 people. You go down to partake of the continental breakfast and guests sit spread out, usually keeping to themselves. I'll be honest - I didn't observe any difference in breakfast behavior patterns during my stay at the Home2 Suites, but I still had a different expectation when I walked into the lobby. If nothing else, it was an invitation or permission to interact in ways I would not normally feel a freedom to.

Like the buddy bench at some playgrounds, someone sitting at this table signals to others that they are open to "playing together."

What does this have to do with classrooms and learning??

Most teachers are more than comfortable with being mindful of ISOLATING students when it's assessment time, and any disciple of Wong's The First Days of School will ensure that students are able to move around the room without bottlenecking in spots, but we must also be mindful of how we will use seating to bring students together.

Not everyone is going to choose to work in a group (and that choice is SUPER important for introverts), but for those that do, is there a space on your room to make this not suck? I have many memories of smushing the slant-topped L-shaped desks together in high school, and it's a reality of room sharing and available space in a couple of my own classrooms right now, but NOTHING about that scenario screams "facilitating collaboration," right?

Whenever administrators or colleagues make note of the kids talking to each other at tables instead of silently staring at me during a lecture, I have to always push back and remind myself even that those tables are a choice I made to allow students to interact. In a perfect world, we would have flexible seating that easily combines, recombines, and separates to whatever setup I want, but if I must choose, I'll choose to connect, rather than isolate.

This Convinced Me Students Should Be Playing Chess

via Instagram http://ift.tt/1q4kKse

I didn't truly buy-in to "chess builds problem solvers" until my 6 year old started drawing out chess boards in her free time to prepare for victory in our matches before bedtime. It's great practice sharing our thinking together. 😂😍

I quite randomly began teaching her chess several weeks ago after telling me about a playdate with some friends. She said they played "chess," and asked if we could play, too. I was pretty sure she meant checkers, but I offered to try and show her "real" chess anyway, and she's taken a lot of interest in learning. She's even taken to trying to teach her 4 year old brother the game so she can have playmates while I'm at work.

We've been able to talk about patterns, cause and effect, and practiced sportsmanship and endurance in just the small number of games we've already played.

I'm really not very good myself, but its been a great experience learning together, and I hope that my own experience (and lack thereof) is encouraging to you that we don't need to be grandmasters in order to introduce the game to our kids. 

08 March 2016

A Math Limerick Led My Students to Learning History

I ran across this mathematical limerick somewhere on social media over the weekend, and threw it at my students purely as an equation to simplify for their Do Now this morning.
The best I can cite it is from here: https://www.math.hmc.edu/funfacts/ffiles/10001.8.shtml

After giving students time to evaluate the expression and verify its veracity, I showed the word form and had a student read it aloud.

Who hasn't heard "Four score and seven years ago..." and at least tripped a little on how much time a "score" is? That of course then med us to looking up WHO said it, and from which speech, exactly, it came from.

I found more on mathematical limericks on this post from another blog - http://poetrywithmathematics.blogspot.com/2010/03/mathematical-limericks.html?m=1

How could you have your own students write math limericks in the same way?

First you need to know some things about limericks (taken from the link above):
"A LIMERICK is a light humorous, nonsensical, or bawdy verse of five lines usually with the rhyme scheme aabba. Rhyming lines 1, 2, and 5 contain three anapests (that is, sequences of three syllables with an accent on the third syllable); lines three and four contain two such sequences. (Often the accent pattern varies a bit from the definition; for example, a line may being with only one non-accented syllable.)"
Next, I'd have students write out a list of numbers and operations to use in their rhyming.

The last bit is the hardest... actually writing the limerick. I'll be honest - I expected to be able to do this without much trouble.

I could not. :)

Someone train me in this wizardry - I want to be able to do it with my students!

03 March 2016

Real Math - My Son's Oat Milk

One of my boys has food allergies. A ton of them. So many that wife and I keep a list for OURSELVES posted in the kitchen. The latest and greatest food sensitivity seems to be to flax, which means my wife went looking for a replacement to his flax milk today. (Flax milk was already a replacement for coconut, which had replaced soy, which had replaced almond, which had replaced dairy. Tired yet?)

She tried using our Kitchen-Aid blender today, and got through the job, but it was quite under-powered for what she really needed, so we made the decision to buy one of those hardcore you-can-blend-an-iphone blenders.

When I got home from a meeting earlier, she asked me to do some math with her. Here was our conversation.

As we talked, I wrote down what she was saying, and put together 2 expressions to make a system.

Before I talk about Algebra, I just want to give her a shoutout for having AMAZING estimation skills, but really, check out those systems! I asked her if we could record before she asked me the real question, and I was HOPING, to get something worthwhile, but this is so cut and dry perfect it was like she set me up.
Next time your students ask about using systems in their lives, feel free to let them know about the little boy in Missouri and his mom making oat milk. :)

22 January 2016

Create Interactive Number Set Venn Diagrams with Google Slides

I'm in number sets and set theory land in our Applied Math curriculum, which means I'm in the midst of my yearly debate on what, exactly, matters about classifying numbers, and what doesn't.

That's manifesting itself this year in a desire to bring more interactivity to our investigations of these numbers. While searching for activities a few days ago, I came across this self-checking Venn Diagram activity that I really enjoyed. (Okay, its not the one I actually found the other day, but that seems to have vanished from my history. LOL)

Here's another self-check style page for sets - I particularly like that a few of these questions require description of sets that are already in groups.

What I liked about the practice I found in my initial investigation was that it had students thinking of the numbers not ONLY in terms of "integer" or "rational," but square or even, too, so I integrated rational/integer with square and even to increase rigor in this activity.

My diagrams look like this:

Creative Workflow:
1. Place your circles on the Slide, change color properties to differentiate regions
2. Define your sets
3. Use an equation editor (I used the Daum Equation Editor Chrome app) to get images of numbers to save to laptop or Google Drive.
4. Insert numbers into slide, adding numbers to fill out the sets.
5. Duplicate slides for new groups
6. Share link to students

Student Workflow:
Students will be separated into groups of 3(ish) and directed to the Google Slides document pictured above via Google Classroom. Students will drag the numbers from the grey box onto the Venn Diagram and then add their OWN number anywhere to the diagram using a text box.

I made a separate page for each group in this one Google Slides file to keep the open/close/grade/repeat to a minimum for my groups. It could end up just being a copying situation, too, but I like the layer of potential scaffolding in place of the other groups being able to see what each other is doing.

Paper. Yeah, you could. There's less of a penalty if students need to revise their number placements this way, though. Instead of erase or start all over, its as simple as dragging.
Google Drawings. If you are working on a laptop of desktop and can edit Google Drawings (not possible on my class iPads), you could accomplish the same interactivity with a Drawings file. You would, however, lose the scaffolding I mentioned above.

Can I get the file??  Sure - make a copy. :)

05 January 2016

Roominate STEM toys and Other "Girly" Toys

The list of things my 6 year old daughter enjoys is pretty short:
Science experiments in a Minnie shirt - why not?
  • Art
  • Science and Math
  • Dolls
  • Legos
  • Putting on shows for anyone who will watch

Step into the big box toy aisle, and you'll see many kinds of "gendered" toys on the shelves (although Target recently took steps to dial that back), and that makes some feminists angry (take this blogger, for example). So what are we to think? Do we benefit culture by creating only "gender-neutral" toys, or is there a loss we suffer?

I'm in the camp of appreciating "girly" toys. My daughter likes Lego. My daughter likes Disney Princesses. Why can't she have both? She may play differently with her Lego sets than my 4 yo old son, who prefers to just build-teardown-build, but having "girly" STEM-oriented toys allows her to play longer at one activity and broadens her interests. Rather than putting her in a "these are girls toys" box, it actually expands her playset (and worldview).

So that's play in our house. We bought the Studio set from STEM toy brand Roominate for Christmas, knowing that she would enjoy putting something together, playing with the characters, and putting together the small, battery powered motor included in each kit.

We had a good time playing with the kit, and I stayed as hands off as possible. She was able to put together most things that she wanted to, and even learned how to put in batteries! (I'd never bothered with that before because nothing had been "hers" to do that with.) She learned a bit about electricity with the motor, battery, and switch, and practiced a lot of problem solving skills as she worked on getting her fan blades to spin freely with the motor.

 The helicopter/submarine/airplane kit was much more difficult, however. It had specific instructions, which was good practice for following directions, but required lots of wiring stuffing that was hard enough for me, let alone a kid. She got really frustrated, I tried to encourage her that the box said a 6 year old should be able to do it, and then she reminded me "just turned 6!" (which was true. LOL). So this was one less hands on, for sure. Here's a Periscope of me assembling the "airplane" so you can get an idea.

Beyond the specifics of these Roominate kits, what was interesting to me is that Roominate is quite clear about advertising their products as "for girls!" and I think that's cool.

04 January 2016

Try Out These Military Leadership Principles with Your Students

Cleaning out my workshop tonight, I laid hands on a 12 year old notebook from my summer in Marine Corps Officer Candidate School (OCS). I flipped to the back, found a itinerary for one of our days on training, and then found a list I remember from one of our leadership discussions.

I think I traced around my thumb...?
These 11 leadership principles are used to train commissioned and non-commissioned officers in all of the U.S. armed services, but there is a lot crossover and truth that resonates with me as I lead my students in learning. Anywhere I included "students" or "class", the military's text says "subordinates," or "unit" but it works because you're the sergeant/captain/admiral/general/etc of your classroom - you set the tone, good or bad.

11 Leadership Principles

  1. Know yourself and seek improvement.
  2. Be technically and tactically proficient.
  3. Know your [students] and look out for their welfare.
  4. Keep your [students] informed.
  5. Set the example.
  6. Ensure the task is understood, supervised, and accomplished.
  7. Train your [class] as a team.
  8. Make sound and timely decisions.
  9. Develop a sense of responsibility among your [students].
  10. Employ your [class] in accordance with its capabilities.
  11. Seek responsibility and take responsibility for your actions.

Notice, these have nothing to do with fighting war or handling weapons - they're principles to develop your own growth, to develop and enable discipline in your students, and to empower them to do the same by giving them responsibility and modeling (as the "leader") how that looks.