My First Try iMovie/Youtube (Stations of the Cross)

As I mentioned yesterday, today our school had our annual Holy Thursday retreat. As part of that retreat, I had my students create models of the Stations of the Cross. They did a great job and I am very proud of their efforts. When the students had finished, I took photos of the models and used iMovie to create a video out of them. This is my first try at creating an iMovie video and I really liked how easy it was to use. It was a lot of drag and drop and it did a lot of the work of making the video look good on its own. I then uploaded the video to Youtube. This was my first try at that as well.

Below is the link to the movie. I would love any feedback in how I could make it better. Keep in mind that I am looking for feedback for the video producer, not the artists. Thanks.

Click here for the video.

Get Out Of Their Way And Let Them Learn

I never cease to be amazed at kids’ capacity to learn when they are motivated. In particular, I amazed with how much kids can learn on their own. I think that sometimes that us adults get in their way far more than we think we are or we should. I think, if given the chance, kids will learn far more than we give them credit for. 

This past therm in Science I did something that I had never done before. Our unit of study was human body systems, so I spent a day talking about the things that the kids already knew and laid out the things that the kids were supposed to know at the end. The students then needed to come up with a plan that laid out how they could learn what they were supposed to learn and how they would present their learning at the end. From that point forward I let them go. My role was more one of a facilitator than a dispenser of knowledge. I gave them some structure for their data collection and laid out deadlines for pieces of the project, but other than that I moved around the classroom giving advice to some, checking the work of others, and fixing technical issues of others. At the end the students presented their learning to the group. I also did a short interview with each kid to see how much they had retained. It was awesome. I was amazed with the depth of understanding of the material that most kids had. 

Why don’t teachers (myself included) not do more of this? There are two reasons that I can think of. First, this kind of learning is chaotic and messy. I think that most of us have a difficult time giving in to and embracing a less than structured learning environment. The second is control. I think that most teachers are control freaks one way or another. It is difficult for us to hand over that control to anyone else. 

So, what can we do? I think we need to give up that sense of control that we cling so dearly to. We need to better embrace a little bit of chaos. First and foremost we need to get out of kids’ ways and let them learn. 

Change For The Sake Of Change

i think that often in schools we deliberately make a decision not to just make chang s just for the sake of change. We don’t want to rock the boat and we know that the process of change can can be difficult, both for ourselves and the people around us. I do feel, however, there is something to be said for change for the sake of change. 

This school year I switched to fifth grade after years in grade seven. There was no reason for it other than the fact I felt like I needed a change. It turns out that the move has been a great thing for me. It shook me up a little bit and forced me to do things differently. It allowed me to challenge myself. 

We do this regularly in small ways in our classrooms. Today my students moved their desks around in the classroom. Was there any reason for this other than to give the students a change of scenery? Nope. Change for the sake of change. 

A teacher that I greatly admire had been teaching fifth grade for a long time. One thing I admired about her was that every year she chose one area of her program to look at and change. She had a good program that she was  happy with but she was constantly changing and trying to grow. I know that this is not exactly change for the sake of change but it was constant change and growth. 

In the immortal words of Chuck Salina (or whoever he borrowed the phrase from), “Better green and growing than ripe and rotten”. 

Discipline vs Motivation

Perhaps I am not the only one, but my first year of teaching was very challenging for a number of reasons. Primary among those was  my complete lack of understanding of how to create a classroom environment that was conducive to learning. All that I learned in my teacher training was that “You don’t need discipline. You need to create an environment where students want to learn.” Sounds great right? Easy peasy. What it has taken me years to get a handle on, and I still am not sure I have it, is the fine balance in a classroom that needs to exist between structure and creativity.

I think all teachers want what they teach to be motivating to their students. I don’t think that any of us begin our day thinking of ways to make our students’ lives difficult. I think that what I find difficult is how to find activities that are motivating and engaging to all of the kids in my class when they are all so different and have such a broad range of gifts and interests. This is where structure comes in. I need to structure my space and my interactions in such a way that students know what is expected of them, and that they know what happens when what they do does not meet those expectations.

Here’s the rub though. This structure can or come at the expense of student engagement. Research has clearly shown that students learn more when they are engaged in their learning. Kids learn more when they have some element of choice to how or what they learn and learn more when they can reflect on  and share their learning with others.

So, teachers walk a fine line between structure and creativity. Between discipline and motivation. Usually it is a fun journey. Occasionally it is draining. It is never boring.

Putting First Things First

One of the books that has changed the way I look at teaching in particular and life in general is Steven Covey’s Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People. I have written a little bit about it in the past when I talked about finding balance in life, but the one of the book’s lessons came back to me over the past couple of days.

One of Covey’s habits is titled Put First Things First. What he talks about in this section of the book is how effective people understand their life roles and are in tune with their values and manage their time according to these roles and values. The reason this habit came to mind is that I took a few days off of my blogging this week even though I had made it my goal to post once a day until Easter. One way to look at my days off is that I failed to meet my goal. The other way to look at it is that over my Spring Break I chose to prioritize my time with my family as more important than contributing to my blog.

One of the things I learned the hard way at the beginning of my career is that as teachers we could probably work every minute of our twenty-four hours and still be able to find things to do. It is a hard truth that if a teacher is not to burn out, they need to prioritize their time and will have to let go of some things. This can be a hard lesson for most of us as most teachers I know, and I count myself in this number, have a hard time letting go of the control we would like to have over what goes on in our classroom.

So why, you might ask, have I given priority to writing right now? Currently I am sitting here waiting for a prescription and am putting writing ahead of my time on Twitter or reading year old magazines.  Putting first things first.

6 Ways For Teachers To “Walk The Walk”

As a teacher, one of my main goals in my classroom and in my school is to foster a culture of learning. I hope that by the time that students leave my classroom at the end of the year, that beyond any of the “stuff” that they learn, that they leave with a sense of curiosity and have developed skills that will help them to use that sense of curiosity to learn new and wonderful things.

I have learned an amazing number of things in my years as a teacher, and one of them is that kids are smart. I am not talking about book smart. I am talking about smart in the sense that they can sense from a mile away when an adult is being phony. They can tell when we are not practicing what we preach. Below are a few ideas that will help us to ensure that we not only talk the talk but walk the walk when it comes to being a lifelong learner. Don’t think for an instant that these are not things that I have perfected. I still need to grow as much, if not more, than others that I know. I am merely writing on some of the things that I am focussing on in my quest to promote learning in my students and to promote lifelong learning.

1. Ensure That You are Diligent In Your Administrative Tasks

As teachers, we constantly get after kids to ensure that their homework is completed on time, that they put care into the presentation of their work, and to be organized in their physical space. If we, as teachers, do the same, we are sending the message to our students that we value in ourselves the same qualities that we expect from our students.

2. Learn Something New

It doesn’t matter what it is. Learn or try something new and share it with our students. It may be that, in our adult lives, that we want to learn how to play the piano or that we want to learn a new language. The message that it sends to students is that learning for it’s own sake is something to be valued, not just as something to be done in school, but in life. It shows them that curiosity is not merely the realm of children, but that even adults want to learn and grow,

3. Read Something That Helps You Grow In Your Practice

Again, it doesn’t really matter what it is. Right now I am reading Mindset by Carol Dweck. I am moving through it slowly as I take the bus to work in the mornings, but I share what I am reading about with my students. The kids in my class not only hear me tell them how important that I think reading is, but they see me read and they hear me talk about what I am reading. Not only does this model the behaviour I hope to see in my students, it helps me grow as a professional by learning from what I read.

4. Work Collaboratively With Your Colleagues

We hope that students will work effectively in partner and group situations in our classroom. We recognize collaboration as a life skill that is important for students to possess. We then spend our time before and after school alone in our classrooms, working in isolation from the people around us. Since I have become vice-principal I have had the opportunity to really see the diverse gifts and strengths of all of the people that I work with. If we found ways to work together more effectively, our school would be better able to serve the students that we work with.

5. Reflect On Your Learning

One of the things that we, as teachers, hope that our students will become is self-reflective learners. We hope, that their learning will not be accidental and that they will take the time to reflect on the things that they learn in order for it to better integrate itself with the rest of the things that they already know. We should apply the same standards to ourselves. As we learn and grow as professionals, we should find the time and the means to reflect and look back on what we are learning. To me, this has been the main benefit of blogging. It has helped me to solidify my own thoughts about school and about education.

6. Take Chances

We ask students to take chances and do things outside of their comfort zone all the time. For some, it is in doing oral presentations, for others it is putting their thinking in writing. For others still, it is in working on Math problems. Teachers should expect the same from ourselves. We should push ourselves to experience a little bit of stress in trying new things or trying things that make us sweat just a little bit.

I hope to not only encourage others, but to push myself to walk the walk in a more visible way to my students and to help them to grow as lifelong learners.