Immersive HyperDocs in Minecraft Education Edition

Guest Post by Matthew Nickerson, Instructional Technology Specialist, AACPS

Professional Learning Specialist, i2e, @dadxeight

Author: All the Microsoft Tools You Need To Transform Your Classroom

 

 

Are you familiar with HyperDocs?  You can learn more about them on their website, but essentially it is using one document (They specifically say a Google Doc, but it works the same with a document in Word Online.) that contains all the elements of your highly engaging lesson.   Although the “hyper” refers to hyperlinks, it is not just a bunch of urls pasted on a page. HyperDocs should have a blend of multiple ways to access content as well as a variety of activities for students to engage with the content in addition to alternatives for assessment os learning.  In short, a good HyperDoc addresses all of UDL– multiple means of engagement, multiple means of representation and multiple means of action and expression.

If a HyperDocs are supposed to be “visually engaging and packaged learning experiences as it says on their site, how much more visually engaging can you get than being fully immersed into a Minecraft world?

 

Let’s take a look at applying the principles of a HyperDoc within Minecraft Education Edition.  First, there is an immersive world to build a story in.  Any way we can build a story is a great way to get students engaged.  This has been widely known in business, particularly marketing, but as usual, education is a little bit behind.  (You’d think this is one trend education wouldn’t  be behind on!  The Minecraft platform has multiple ways to distribute content, but it can also be a portal to other content platforms.  Likewise, there are several ways of encouraging students to create or engage with lesson content, as well as ways to assess student learning.  Once again, it can also be the doorway to other tools that accomplish these tasks.

 

First, let’s build a story.  You can start from scratch with an infinite world in Minecraft and build what you need.  Well, maybe you don’t even need to actually build it. I recently had a request for a specific lesson topic, and I found a lesson plan on Education.Microsoft.com that addressed that topic, as a murder mystery.  It used some Word documents to deliver the lesson material.  I adopted the murder mystery idea, but used the /locate command in Minecraft to find an existing mansion, teleported my character there and turned the mansion into a hotel.  I then filled the hotel with NPC characters, and took each of the puzzles from the Word document, each of which was a clue, and “distributed” those to students through the NPCs.

 

Because there are multiple biomes to choose from in the Minecraft:EE library, it’s easy to select a custom setting for your story.  Another way I like to start is by taking an existing lesson from the Minecraft Lesson library and just replace the academic content.  Some of the lessons have great bones- the world’s have already been created for you, and you can swap out the questions and prompts with your own topics. 

 

Now let’s consider ways to distribute content to students.  The most time intensive way might be to build structures. For example, you can create the setting for a novel or short story.  If I need to do that, I pay my 9-year-old. He works for cheap, since, well, I’m paying him to play Minecraft. In the absence of a 9-year-old coworker, don’t fear.  Within Minecraft there are signs, slates, posters and boards 

that you can write on if you want to deliver instructions, guidance or questions via written text.  You can also grab a book and quill and write things there, and leave them for students to pick up.  Each of those items (except the “sign”) can also be edited so students can write their responses in or on those tools. 

All of them also have Microsoft’s Immersive Reader, an entire suite of reading accessibility tools, built in.  All text inside of Minecraft Education Edition has these accessibility features.

 

However, what makes Minecraft amenable to the HyperDocs model, is that NPC’s (non-player characters) can be easily programmed to send students to websites.  

You can essentially insert a Quizlet set of vocabulary in your world, or even an entire self-paced Nearpod lesson.  Looking for more collaboration? Remember that every Word document, Google Doc, PowerPoint or Google Slides slideshow have a unique URL.  You can give that url to an NPC so when a student clicks on that button, that document opens online. When multiple players, each playing in their own copy of the Minecraft world (or in the same copy if the teacher is hosting it), they can all collaborate in that same document or slideshow.

 

The same holds true for student work and assessment.  Within Minecraft students can build, then take a picture with the camera.  Pictures are saved in a portfolio, where students can type in a caption.  Or, they can choose pictures to insert into a book and quill, where they have far more space to write, or simply write without pictures.  They can also take pictures of any signs, slates, posters or boards they write on. Both portfolios and books can be exported as a PDF and shared with the teacher through Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom, OneDrive or Google Drive.  However, you can also use an NPC to send students to FlipGrid to record a video response, Padlet to brainstorm together, link to a quiz in Microsoft Forms or Google Forms, or an assignment in Teams, OneNote Class Notebook or Google Classroom, among many other options.

 

The idea of a HyperDoc is solid pedagogy in an engaging format that provides variety and student choice.  They can include a story component or not. They are usually visually compelling. By taking these same principles into Minecraft, it’s like a far more immersive HyperDoc, a Hyper-HyperDoc!

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

Providing Different Learning Tools

As educators, it is important that we find ways to provide more personalized learning experiences to meet the individual needs of our students. What this means is that beyond simply offering more choices in the types of assessments we offer students, we must do more by learning to understand the specific learning styles and interests of each of our students. We must differentiate our instruction and to do so requires that we develop a clear picture and gain a deeper understanding of the various learning styles of the students in our classrooms. When we do this, we can then design lessons that are focused on the specific student learning styles and offer more individualized choices for students. Whether that offers more options to work independently or in groups based on a specific topic, an area of interest or even based on the level of understanding of the content, we serve them best by having the right resources available for them.

Each of our students have specific needs and preferences for how they learn and we do the best for them when we help them to identify these preferences and then offer a variety of materials and resources for them to explore. It is not about always using a digital tool or shifting away from traditional methods, but rather being able to determine which of these options will work best for each of our students. It also means helping students to become more self-aware of their own interests. One change that has helped me to better identify these styles and guide students in my classroom is by using the station rotation model.

Through the use of stations, I am able to provide multiple activities that enable students to interact with the content in a variety of ways. There are tech and no-tech options, student and teacher-created materials, hands-on activities to choose from, and times where students decide on a focus for their group. By providing a variety of learning options for each student, giving them all the opportunity to explore, we empower students with more meaningful and personalized learning that will lead to more student engagement and content retention.

Learning Styles: The VARK Model

In 1987, Neil Fleming designed what has become known as the VARK model. Fleming developed this model as a way to help students learn more about their individual learning preferences. The VARK learning styles include: visual, auditory, read/write, and kinesthetic.

Personally, I have always been more of a visual and somewhat kinesthetic or “hands-on” learner. At varying points throughout my life, I can recall taking a test and being able to see specific notes that I had written in my notebook, but still being unable to respond to questions. I tended to create graphic organizers and had my system for making more visual connections with the content. Many of my students are visual learners and over the past two years, have often noticed that they have specific ways of processing the information in class as well as how they prepare and respond during assessments. We must be able to provide different options for our students where they can choose a format that will best suit their interests and needs in more authentic and personalized ways.

Visual Learners

Visual learners are more likely to use charts, icons, images and are able to more easily visualize information and as a result, can retain it longer. An estimate is that visual learners make up approximately 65% of the population, and remember 75% of what they read or see. Visuals learners prefer to do projects and presentations that involve creating visualizations of their learning. For visual learners, some good options include creating infographics, using Augmented and Virtual reality for creating immersive experiences, designing 3D objects, sketchnoting, or using digital tools such as Padlet or Wakelet to curate content in ways that promote better visualization of content. Visual learners would also benefit by creating a mindmap or making flashcards, which can also be done using a digital tool like Quizlet.

Auditory Learners

Auditory learners listen carefully and often focus on the tone or the rate of speech, and may also benefit more by having supplemental resources made available to them such as videos or audio recordings. Learners of this type can recall information such as song lyrics and conversations, and can often recreate a story more easily because of that auditory connection they have. There are many options to engage auditory learners more by selecting options that promote listening and speaking skills. Some ideas include using video response or podcasting tools to have students explain concepts or brainstorm ideas. Another option is by creating a more interactive presentation using a tool such as Voice Thread, students will connect with the sounds, dialogue, and tone used in a presentation such as this, where they can listen and respond.  Another idea is to use Flipgrid to post a question and have students also respond to classmates to further the discussion and promote higher-order thinking. Try using Synth to create a podcast for students to have the active listening component addressed, and invite students to listen and respond to the prompts by adding a thread to the podcast.

Read/Write Learners

Read/write learners prefer to have the text available to them in some written/tangible format. Whether students first take notes and then decide to rewrite their notes for additional practice, or read over their notes each day for review and class preparation, these learners benefit from sustained interactions with the text. The more they interact with written formats, the better equipped they are to understand the content. Beyond writing in pen or pencil, or creating a document, using some tools such as Kidblog, for writing a story and getting started with blogging is a good way to promote reading and writing opportunities. Another idea is to have students create a multimedia presentation with a tool like Buncee to tell a story, adding text and icons to make the content more meaningful. These options make the activities more authentic and aligned with the needs of learners of this type.

Kinesthetic Learners

Kinesthetic learners learn best through hands-on learning opportunities. Students spend a lot of time sitting in classrooms and perhaps more passively learning. We need to design ways for students to be more active in the classroom. Some choices would be through a STEAM curriculum, the use of makerspaces, place-based learning, game-based learning and creation, designing projects and having students engage in project-based learning (PBL).

Multimodal Learners

For some students, providing options that foster a multimodal learning style is most beneficial. A multi-modal learning style means that you benefit through multiple ways of processing the information which can be through images, sounds, movement, speech, audio, visuals and more.  When I have used stations in my classroom, providing the different options at each station was helpful for students who are multimodal learners, to be able to interact with the content in different ways. Some of the tools that I have used include NearpodKahootQuizlet, in addition to giving students options to create something based on their own choice, which lends itself to more hands-on learning. The use of infographics, hyperdocs, choice boards, and even digital breakouts can give students a variety of ways to engage with the content and provide activities that will meet each learning style.

All students benefit from multimodal learning options that support a Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Providing something for each student and offering a mix of learning tools will help students to master the content in more authentic and personalized ways.

Interested in learning more about your own learning style preferences? You can take the VARK questionnaire and find out what type of learner you are.

Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

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Buncee: Learning Anywhere

Providing Ways to Keep the Learning Going

Over the past week, there has been a lot of conversation about what educators can do if schools need to close for a period of time, especially due to recent events related to the Coronavirus. Finding ways to extend the “space” of learning for our students has been a topic of discussion for many years, so it is not entirely something new. However, with the current situation, educators and schools are seeking to find the right resources that can be put into action right away.

Over the past few years, many schools have started to offer flexible learning days to deal with school closures due to weather conditions, environmental issues or something else entirely. Being able to keep learning going and have ways to collaborate without being in the same physical space is important. Having a specific platform or digital tool in place that all educators can use and making sure that all students will have access is very important. With so many choices out there, it can be tough to figure out exactly where to begin, especially when time is a factor.

As I’ve been talking with some friends this week, a large part of our conversation has focused on what to do if our schools were to close and even in the general sense, how can we also provide more for our students for times when we need to be out of the classroom? For times when I have not been able to be in class, whether due to illness or a pre-planned conference, I rely heavily on technology to be able to connect with my students so that they can ask questions and have the support they need. However, I also rely on it to provide them with rich learning experiences through versatile tools that they can work on independently wherever they are. With Buncee, we can work remotely and provide meaningful learning experiences that engage students in the digital space.

Buncee = Learning Anywhere

As I have been thinking about some of our recent Buncee projects, my 8th grade STEAM course has been working on a few activities. They have created an About Me Buncee, a few for gratitude and most recently, “Tech Over Time.” In the Tech Over Time project, students have been exploring the transformation of some digital tools or electronic devices over the past 10, 20, 30+ years and also making predictions for the future.

As students create, they can work from school, at home, or anywhere, and be able to share their work with me wherever I am. Teachers can assign fun projects for students or choose from the many ideas in the Buncee Ideas Lab.

We have used Buncee for years in all of my classes and through it I have been able to provide opportunities for my students to engage in more authentic and meaningful learning, to be creative and to drive their learning experience. Whether students use it to design a Buncee to share their experiences, engage in project-based learning, summarize a book they have read, explain a concept in math or science, for a few examples, the possibilities are endless for what students can create.

As teachers, we have so many choices for how we can use Buncee in our classrooms. It can be used to have students work through a Hyperdoc, or used as a model template for students to then create their own Buncee, make a timeline, solve word problems, and more. The idea is that we can leverage the tool to provide something that will connect with each student and it can be done from anywhere.

Ideas for your Classroom

1.Make an interactive book

2. Create a timeline

3. Design a digital business card

4. Explain steps in a process

5. Teach a lesson, add audio and video

6. Book summary

7. Design classroom signs

8. Create study aids

9. Create an ebook

10. Recreate a moment from history, personal experience, or make a future prediction

Math Mentoring: The Struggle is Real AND it’s an Asset!

Struggling in math has been my greatest asset as a math teacher.  Remembering the pain of negative self-talk while feeling like giving up was my only option…well, math trauma is not easily forgotten. It’s why so many adults, decades after high school graduation, will still tell you they are bad at math. For me, the silver lining to that trauma has always been the ability to relate to my students, and even my own children, when they have math struggles.  One of the greatest compliments students and former students have shared with me is that math finally made sense to them when they were in my class.

One thing I’ve never said, and will never say, to my children is that I was bad at math.  Even as a new teacher, I asked parents not to say that to their children. Telling your children or students you are bad at math is like encouraging them to quit before they even begin.

Now, I have always told my students and children that I struggled in math.  We all understand what struggle means, and the good news is that there is always the possibility of winning in a struggle!  Every year, I tell them how I had to stay in at recess in first grade because I could not understand the concept of subtraction.  Crazily enough, my teacher had no idea how to teach it in a new way that made sense to me. She tried to explain it repeatedly in the same way…and it didn’t make sense to me for the longest time.  I also tell them about how in first grade I received a C in math and it made me feel terrible. I never wanted another C on my report card and made sure I never did again. That desire to make the Honor Roll (I was a middle child and wanted to stand out in some way, and academically was my route) kept me from quitting.  Math was a struggle, but I found a way to understand. As early as seven years old, I realized that quitting was not an option. Finding math success was never easy for me, but through my school years, I found what worked for me. This is what I share with my students hoping it will help them, too.

Addressing the Struggle at the Beginning of the Year

First week of school when I say the word “math”I look around to see who dreads the very word itself. It’s not just about reading expressions, but I look for patterns of misbehavior and any kind of drama that might commence when that dreaded word is spoken.  I always begin the year assuring my students that if they stick with me and trust me, as their math teacher, I will not leave them behind. I have promised that to my students for years, and I mean it with every fiber of my being. I explain that when they don’t quit, math can be fun like a puzzle.

What does it take to help children dig into math when they want to check out? It takes patience and time to do it to do it to do it to do it right, child, I got my mind set on math, I got my mind, set on math…

All singing aside (remember He gave me a melody *wink wink*), in a whole group lesson, the ones who get the concept easily, I normally allow them to begin the assignment and do it at their pace.  The students who have questions stick with me and the ones who are lost become a small group.

Helping my own child, a fifth grader review geometry!

What does helping kids through math struggle look like?

Sitting next to a child who struggles is important.  That nearness factor makes a difference. They know I won’t ignore them or allow them to pretend to work when really they are just doodling or trying to look busy.  See, by the time they reach fifth grade, they’ve pretty much given up. They don’t want the attention! One of my students, who was desperately struggling, knew how to look busy, so sitting next to me kept him from trying to con me that he was actually trying to solve problems.  He definitely tried to trick me, but I called him out. A few more times like this, and he knew I meant business. He stopped trying to look busy and started attempting the problems before him. Just attempting…finding a starting place to solve is huge when you struggle in math.  I remember this from my own childhood.

When students have progressed to where they begin solving problems more easily, I still encourage them to ask for help, but I do not let them come to me unless they have attempted the problem.  I can ask them, “What do you think you are going to do here?” or “Where do you think you should start?” They are so used to struggling and the teacher just giving them an answer that they often ask before even thinking about how/where they should begin.  Getting them to dig in and try to understand the problem is foundational in developing grit and sticking with the problem. When solving math equations or word problems, it’s truly important to have a place to stick information to, so beginning the problem and attempting to solve it gives them something to add or learn from. If they don’t think through this first part, a teacher’s lesson is like throwing darts into the dark without any specific target that will reach their students.

I also coach my students while giving notes. At some point, they may stop understanding. I coach them to keep taking the notes I give them, but make a note to themselves that this is where they have stopped understanding.  Again, I learned this from my own struggles. In fact, in my Algebra one course when the teacher was finished with the lesson and asked for questions, I was able to ask my questions clearly. To do this well, I had to turn off my negative self-talk.  If I allowed my negative self-talk to take over, the only thing I heard from that point on was me telling me how stupid I was and how I was the only person not understanding. In place of negative self-talk, I encouraged myself to take a deep breath and remind myself that even though I didn’t understand the concept just then, I knew I would eventually if I didn’t shut down.  That allowed me to keep paying attention and sometimes even cleared my confusion. When I shut down, this wasn’t possible.

Something else that helps students is allowing them to talk about patterns they notice.  Whether they struggle or not, when they notice a math pattern, letting them talk it out with the rest of the class will help everyone!! Worst case, it’s also a way a  teacher can help clear up misconceptions early on. The best math teachers for me were my peers. Sometimes students identify specific items that make a world of difference for their peers. My son is in third grade and has a more natural way of understanding math than his older sister.  Whenever he notices a pattern, he stops and we have an entire conversation about it. He truly amazes me. We can, and should, help our students learn the patterns because often times when they figure it out for themselves, they feel more confident and the knowledge isn’t dumped after an assessment. My son talking about the patterns he sees also helps his older sister and younger sister think through that math pattern, too.  That’s a win!!

It’s a Journey

For students who struggle in math, it is an emotional journey.  When teachers stop and say, “I know you are struggling, and I’m here to help, and I won’t go on until you understand,” it’s a balm for our students’ insecure nerves. When they are fifth graders coming to me, they usually have three to four years of feeling left behind.  Hoping to help my struggling students, my mindset is firm that their struggles stop with me and I do all in my power to get them to grow and decrease any learning gaps.

Over time, I have developed the wisdom necessary to see when students quit before even trying or when they are totally overwhelmed.  It’s important to know the difference because both situations require different responses. The quit-before-trying-learner needs a firm reminder of not giving up and figuring out a place to start, while the overwhelmed learner needs to know they can take a break or use another method to help them.

Helping students dig into math struggles is such a beautiful way to help them learn perseverance and purpose.  When they decide to lean into the struggle, they form a mental confidence that can’t be stolen from them. Can you see how facing their insecurity in math can help them in other areas of life, too? Having a teacher who will go the whole distance means everything for these students, and many times, changes a negative academic course into a new path of learning and goal setting!  I have seen the glory! I have seen the joy of confidence from the same student who broke down and cried with me at one point. So yeah…when my students have told me that my fifth grade class was the first time math made sense to them, I feel like I’ve earned an Oscar!

Resources 

Have you heard of the book written by Alice Aspinall called Everyone Can Learn Math? Recently, I read it with my five children and it sparked great discussion.  My oldest, who is currently in fifth grade, found the main character, Amy, very “relatable.” Amy feels the math struggle deeply and so does her mom! I would recommend this book for every parent and educator to keep in their home or classroom library.  I know we will be pulling it out to reread a lot. It’s also a good way to combine your academics. Author, Alice Aspinall also recommends Adding Parents to the Equation by Hilary Kreisburg and Matthew Bayranevand.

Also, have you heard of Nearpod and Flocabulary? When I went back into teaching public school a few years ago, they were the first technologies that I implemented in my lessons.  My students and children love it. They can be personalized or differentiated for the different level of learning going on in your classroom. These resources are engaging and will definitely make a difference in small group learning.  The coolest part is now they are together!!!

Before Christmas, I went to the Anchorage Barnes & Noble and bought some new books by Jo Boaler in hopes of helping me grow in teaching and understanding the math struggle: What’s Math Got To Do With ItMathematical Mindsets, and Limitless Mind.  There is another book calledMath Recess: Playful Learning in an Age of Disruptionby Sunil Singh that I hope to purchase and read. All of these books, and both of these authors, are mentioned frequently when the topic of math struggles come up–and they do frequently! We can also Google their videos!

What are resources that have helped you? Let’s work together to help our students learn through the math struggle!

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

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Game-ify Social Studies Learning & Current Event Learning with FANSchool.org

Opinions Expressed are those of the Author

Guest Post By: Gerald G. Huesken Jr, Social Studies Teacher – Elizabethtown Area High School, Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania

@MrHuesken

As someone who has been teaching high school social studies, particularly government and economics, for the better part of the last decade, a study from the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania was quick to catch my eye. In this study, researchers found that American’s basic civic knowledge, as well as their basic understanding of current events around the world was startlingly lacking – only 26% of respondents could name all three branches of government compared to 37% of respondents naming a freedom protected by the First Amendment. Furthermore, researchers found that with this lacking basis of knowledge, respondents were even less likely to look at, consume, or engage in discussions about national or world events or understand their key significance. Quite shocking, to say the least.

While some of my colleagues would be quick to point out fundamental flaws in how we as teachers engage our students in basic civic education, we as educators do an equally flawed job of encouraging our students to read about and discuss current events and relate it to the broader issues of the day. Long seen as a “filler” in social studies classes, current events, in my opinion, serve a valuable purpose in relating course content to the real world for our students. Finding engaging and unique ways to get students making such connections and engaging with news media of all kinds is the real challenge. That is why I have become a believer in FANSchool.org.

Popularly referred to as “fantasy football for social studies and literacy standards,” FANSchool.org is an easy-to-use new learning site that attempts to “game-ify” current events consumption for students. Developed by Minnesota-based social studies teacher and FANSchool.org co-founder Eric Nelson, who was looking for a new way to engage his students in current events and the study of cultures around the globe.FANSchool.org (and its flagship games of Fantasy Politics & Fantasy Geopolitics) engages students in the study of current events in a new and different way, by turning it into a fantasy football-style experience. Students draft teams of countries or US states, follow those countries or states in the news, and get points for every time their countries or states are mentioned in assigned media outlines like The New York Times. The points are then tableted and posted on the FANSchool.org site. Using this game friendly system, teachers then have the flexibility (along with the network support of other educators using the FANSchool.org platform) to develop engaging activities, challenges, awards, and programs to engage their students more fully in the current events experience. The site also runs “March Madness-style” competitions for Presidential elections and the Olympic Games, pitting students from across the nation and the world in a knock-down current affairs slugfest for bragging rights and prizes.

In my classroom, I have used the Fantasy Geopolitics game as a way to further engage my Honors and on-level students in engaging with world events and international media, while promoting friendly academic competition. This November, FANSchool.org will roll out a new feature of their Fantasy Geopolitics game that includes the “drafting” of members of Congress along with US states, providing a new dimension of engagement for my Honors and on-level Government and Economics classes. Their Election Challenge game (provided every four years with the coming of a new Presidential election) also creates discussions of how the Electoral College will unfold and how Americans will vote for their next President, stimulating questions, discussion, and discovery of America’s political system. FANSchool.org’s devoted network of “Teacher-Commissioners” also provides a great opportunity for networking as well as a shared repository of activities, classroom ideas, and engaging projects. Have students write “Presidential briefs” of hot-current event topics to engage in civic or international action, or have them develop a podcast that discusses how the events of their game relates to the real world (like my students did with the Fantasy Geopolitics Podcast…)

With competition comes the quest for knowledge, and with knowledge comes true competency. That is the goal of FANSchool.org and this is why I would highly recommend fellow social studies educators check out this engaging and fun-filled current events tool for their social studies classroom.

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

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Its 2019, and now I actually have a calculator (app) everywhere I go. Why do I need to learn math again?

Guest Post by Dan Haiem, @danclasscalcco1 

“But teacher, why do I need to learn this math stuff if I can just use my calculator app?”

Every teacher has heard this at some point. Most students have asked this at some point. Up until around 2007, teachers had a great answer that kinda-sorta worked, which went something like “You’re not going to always have a calculator everywhere you go, are you?”

The opposite of that, of course, became a reality when the iPhone became the most common tool found in any student’s pocket, and gave them access to powerful calculators like Desmos, Geogebra and our very own ClassCalc.

Here’s my opinion though – the old answer was never a good answer, and the ubiquity of iPhones has given us a golden opportunity to re-evaluate a very valid question. What’s the point of learning math if we have calculators that do math for us?

In the words of NYC’s (possibly) most high-energy math teacher, José Vilson, “Math shouldn’t be limited to a disconnected set of rules and jargon that doesn’t seem to mean much of anything.” If math really was about the rules and jargon, then a calculator could truly replace the need for learning it. Fortunately (for humans), it’s not.

For the sake of simplicity, and because this is my first blog post ever, here’s a short roadmap of this post’s approach to this topic:

  1. First, we’ll discuss how math helps students build tools and skills, and define the difference between the two:
    1. Tools: Spreadsheets, running an analysis, doing taxes.
    2. Skills: Good communication, emotional intelligence, problem-solving.
  2. Next, we’ll discuss how math has shifted from serving us as a tool, to helping us sharpen our skills – most important of which is problem-solving.
  3. Finally, we’ll take a look at an example of how a specific math problem helps us build a specific problem-solving skill called mental-triage, and how we might help students make that connection as well.

Onwards.

Math serves two primary purposes in education: it gives students the tools to play with numbers, and it serves as practice to sharpen certain mental skills that are important in life. To define the two:

  • Tools: Concrete things a person “knows.” Examples include: spreadsheets, coding, writing blog posts (a tool I clearly lack), social media advertisements, taxes, etc.

  • Skills: More abstract, broad abilities that are not particularly associated with executing a specific task – the kinds you always see in leadership charts. Examples include: Hard working, communicative, optimistic, honesty with self, problem-solving, etc.

*Credits to Business Simulations

In this sense, math falls into an interesting crossroads as both 1) part of the abstract skillset a person has, (ie: “problem-solving”) and 2) a tool that can be put to work (ie: part of your “toolkit” – like running a statistical analysis on two data sets).

It’s important to keep in mind though that:

Math will play a fundamentally different role for different students, and we need to bring that understanding into the classroom.

An engineer will likely benefit from math as both 1) an exercise in problem-solving (skill) and 2) a tool to accomplish certain tasks.

An artist might use the abstract side of problem-solving (skill) but – and this is especially applicable today, with all the calculators in our pockets – they probably will not have much use for math as a tool

Here’s a screenshot I grabbed off the might internet that summarizes the point (albeit, aggressively):

*drops mic*

I believe it’s important and ok to tell our students that not all of them will be using math as a tool. At this point, most people don’t need math to do taxes (here’s a calculator for that), split a tab (here’s a calculator for that) or accomplish any of the other tasks that might have required math as a “tool” before calculators were built.

To recap:

  • Math confers two types of skills: Abstract problem solving (skill) and an actual tool in your toolkit (tool)
  • Everyone can (probably) benefit from the problem-solving (skill) aspect. While some people (engineers, some scientists) benefit from having math in their toolkit (tool), most can get by with their super powerful pocket calculator.
  • So, for students not interested in pursuing a career that would require a math toolkit, we must focus on the abstract problem-solving (skill) aspect of math.

As brilliantly stated by Baltimore Ravens lineman and MIT mathematician John Urschel, we need “students to see that math extends far past the confines of the classroom and into everyday life.” What’s more “everyday life” in the 21st century than problem-solving?

Now the questions shifts to: How do we show students the relationship between learning math and developing this abstract ability to “problem-solve”?

I have two thoughts on this:

  1. One thing to consider is that skills and tools are actually mutually conducive. Google is a tool you learn to use. Being able to learn stuff on your own is a very important skill in today’s workforce. Knowing how to use the Google tool will help you build the learn-stuff-on-you-own skill. I think the same applies to math.

Although students may never use calculus directly, the mental exercises they go through in solving calculus problems might help improve the mental muscles required for peripherally related skills.

  1. We need to find good examples to demonstrate the above. I mean good examples. Not the “Well, don’t you want to know how to do this without your calculator?” type of answer and not the “Being able to do your taxes is very important” type of answer and not the “here’s an example of Timmy calculating the volume of the Earth by standing on a ladder and looking at the horizon (although that’s super cool)” type of example. These examples all focus on the tool aspect of math, which we know won’t be as relevant to all students. We need to focus on the skill aspect of mathematics.

So now the challenge becomes being able to demonstrate to students a link between learning math and learning how to problem-solve. A good approach might be to 1) Have your students break down what sub-skills are required to succeed in math 2) Have your students break down what sub-skills are required to problem-solve 3) Discuss the cross-overs.

One of my favorite examples is mental triage: the abstract skill of quickly finding the most efficient path through a challenge given a limited toolkit.

Here’s an example of a math problem that helps sharpen the sub-skill of mental triage:

  1. Math itself is a limited toolkit. You learn how to move numbers around. How to draw graphs etc. Each time you learn one of these new tools, you’re essentially learning a new way to play with numbers. When we approach a math problem, we subconsciously run an analysis that goes something like this: What do I want to make these numbers do? What tools do I have to move these numbers around? What tools am I not allowed to use? What is the most efficient tool path to an answer?
  2. As an example, let’s take the following problem, a favorite of the SAT:

  1. Here’s how my brain runs through my math toolkit.
    1. I gotta solve for x.
    2. Problem: x is in the exponent.
    3. Do I have any tools to get rid of an exponent?
    4. I can raise both sides to ^(1/4x) which would lead to:
      1. No good. Back to step c.
    5. How else can I get rid of the exponent? Logarithms, let’s try that:
      1. which simplifies to:
    6. Great, we got rid of x in the exponent. Onwards! Divide both sides by 4log(2):
    7. Plug into by handy dandy ClassCalc Calculator to get:
      1. x=1

There we have it: mental triage in math.

Finally, we’ll bring it full circle with a real-world example of mental-triage as a sub-skill of problem solving.

Teaching my high school students how to pick a college

It was the last day of my physics class last year, and my students were just about done with school. They had already taken the AP test and were ready for summer. Instead of squeezing in another physics lesson, I decided to tackle a more pressing concern of theirs – choosing a university.

In retrospect, my method for picking a university was suboptimal – I just asked my good friends where they were going and what they thought a good college was, and ended up at UCLA. Lucky for me, I met good people there and had an awesome experience, but many others who take the same approach are not. I wanted to teach my students how to be proactive and problem-solving-oriented in making life choices.

Rather than start with “I want to go to college” I wanted to help each one of them hear their inner voice, and begin a dialogue with it. Start for the bottom. Here was my approach:

Student: *Says something*

Me:

And this is what the conversation ended up sounding like:

  • Student: What college should I go to?
  • Me: Why do you want to go to college?
  • Student: I need to get an edu-
  • Me: Yes, but why do you need an education? What’s your goal?
  • Student: I want to make money. Goal number 1: Make money!
  • Me: Honest, but fair. What else? A lot of jobs will make you money.
  • Student: I want to become a doctor.
  • Me: Do you for sure 100% want to become a doctor? Have you had real exposure to medicine? Or is it alluring to you for other reasons?
  • Student: I’m not sure. I want to figure out what I want to become. Goal number 2: Explore career options!
  • Me: Ok, what else?
  • Student: I want to make good friends and party. Goal number 3: Have fun
  • And so on..

By the end, we put together a list of priorities for each student. I could see their perspective change drastically. Rather than listen to a parent’s friend’s suggestion, they were determined to go online and research.

Now, I am not necessarily saying that a better mathematician is going to be better at selecting a college, but certainly, the tools we learn in math can inform our decision-making process for the important choices we must all make in life, especially if we are aware that there is a problem-solving oriented approach to making these decisions. Our jobs, as teachers, is to help students form that awareness.

A good method for cultivating that awareness is with Miyagi Moment every so often. What’s a Miyagi Moment moment, you ask?

It’s a metaphor for when a teacher (or sensei) helps a student develop a crucial skill by practicing adjacently related skills that at first do not seem connected.

In the first gif below, we see the legendary Mr. Miyagi teaching Daniel San how to…wax a car. Not really relevant to fighting karate.

In a later scene, Daniel san gets angry, accusing Mr. Miyagi of wasting his time with chores, when he should be learning super cool action moves to take down the big bully Johnny. Right then and there, Mr. Miyagi throws a couple of HYAH punches and BAM. Daniel san blocks them – all the while shocked in disbelief that he had developed the skills to do so. That moment of disbelief in the newly developed skill is the Miyagi Moment!

In math, students will often be practicing skills that seem almost irrelevant to them in life. It is up to us teachers to remind our students every so often that that is not the case. The best way to show them that is with a Miyagi Moment. It is time away from teaching the next chapter or lesson, but it is time well-spent.

I think blogger and math teacher John Trout McCrann put it beautifully in writing “Deep understanding about the process of solving an equation helps everyone understand how to create systems to solve problems at work, in their families, in our world. The kinds of problem-solving strategies you might use to tackle a big project, develop a more efficient engine, or address an issue that’s arisen between you and your partner. Deep understandings about shapes help everyone understand how to reason spatially, a skill that you may one day apply as a designer or as you lay out the furniture in your first house or apartment.”

About Me (Daniel Haiem):

  • I love math and education.
  • I’m an ex-physics teacher
  • I founded and lead a company called ClassCalc – the lockdown calculator app that lets teachers lock students out of all outside distractions such as instagram, calls and texts, keeping students focused in class, and preventing cheating on tests. Our goal is 100% access to calculators for students across the planet by 2025.

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

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Core Solutions Provided through the Abre Platform

This post is sponsored by Abre, all opinions are my own.

Abre provides a set of solutions for schools looking to manage and consolidate the different software apps and websites used for student attendance, assessments, communication, student data and much more. Abre offers a robust platform that enables you to choose specific solution areas to get started and then add to it over time, continuing to build additional features of Abre into your school.

Communication

With Abre, you can facilitate faster and better communication within the district, schools, and between home and school. Abre offers a consistent and reliable way to streamline the numerous communications happening within the school and school district. Having a consolidated and reliable platform helps to foster and build home-to-school relationships, promote better communication, and student success.

Learning Management Solution

Abre provides one space where teachers can access the resources necessary for classroom instruction and teaching responsibilities. Included within the Learning Management solution are a group of web apps such as Class. A teacher uses Class to communicate and manage all classroom activity, do grading, post homework and generally manage instruction. The Assessment App allows for easy creation, delivery, and analysis of formative and summative assessments. Schools can organize the curriculum, including pacing guides, for all their classes with the Curriculum App. For tracking progress through a lesson, the Learn App delivers on that. To make sure students are staying on task with their devices, the Focus App ensures that the browser is only being used for teacher-defined websites and documents.

Data Management & Integrations

Abre is all about consolidating data to help administrators, teachers, and students improve. Abre integrates with a large and growing number of other software providers. They even integrate with products that provide competitive solutions to theirs. The Students App is the centerpiece of this solution and provides a clear view of student progress and makes it easy to find all relevant student data in one place. It also saves paper! Rather than students and parents having to fill out and exchange multiple papers, they access forms right from Abre. Some options such as an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), medical forms, and athletic forms, which are easily accessible within the Abre platform. Individual student plans are also accessible in the Student app. Again, this provides a single place for staff and parents to easily find all their student’s information.

Administrators can access all student data and track growth over time, look at state and local assessments to analyze trends in academic performance. Parents can access student data which includes academic performance, behavior, forms completed, attendance, and state assessments. Access to this vital data is made simple with one platform!

Teacher Professional Learning Solution

For districts looking for better professional development options for teachers, through Abre, teachers can create their own staff and individualized professional development plan for use over an extended time. Abre offers a more flexible solution making it easier for administrators and teachers to create, deliver, and track professional development activities. Abre can integrate schools’ digital courseware and customized courses for delivering staff development.

For completing courses online or in face-to-face environments, districts can offer teachers opportunities to earn badges, micro-credentials, and engage in gamified professional development. This is great for building professional portfolios, as teachers can use these activities to receive CEU credits or hours awarded based on state requirements for continued professional development.

School Management Solution

Similar to Learning Management, Abre provides great functionality for staff to manage day-to-day school requirements. The Behavior App helps with the workflow, easy documentation and tracking student data when either positive or negative behavior needs to be documented. The workflow features are especially helpful for office referrals where other administrators are needing to get involved and having transparency for parents is important. Abre Behavior takes on a significant portion of this manual work.

  • Easy to understand graphs and plots for tracking student progress.
  • Teachers can see details in terms of specific consequences as a result of any behaviors and referrals. The bar graph represents conferences, detentions, in-school and out-of-school suspensions.
  • The behavior app links directly to the student information so everything is readily accessible which leads to a better understanding of each student and their needs.

Beyond behavior, the School Management Solution allows admins and teachers to easily create and manage individual student and teacher plans. Rather than students and parents having to fill out and exchange multiple papers with the school, they access forms right from Abre. Some options such as an Acceptable Use Policy (AUP), medical forms, and athletic forms, are easily accessible within the platform. Whether teachers need to create an IEP, a gifted education plan, behavior or Response to Intervention (RTI) plan, teachers can build exactly what they need and have it live in Abre. And Abre provides a clear view of student progress and makes it easy to find all relevant student data in one place.

Likewise, administrators can work with teachers to create professional development plans using the same solution. It makes sense to have one platform that provides all of these options. For teachers, students, parents and administrators, having access to student data and other information is vital for promoting and tracking student growth. This solution really saves a lot of paper.

Connected Community Solution

Abre sees connecting schools with the communities they serve as critical to student growth. The Connected Community solution facilitates the exchange of important information, data and communications between students and administrators and members of their community. Abre allows a school’s learning partners to register in the Abre platform, roster the students in their programs back to the school, and enable the safe exchange of student attendance and other data. This is critical for schools to evaluate all of the influences that are growing their students. And for learning partners, it is how they can better understand whether their programs are meeting the needs of the students.

As an example, looking toward the future of learning and work, it’s important that we provide options for our students to engage in real-world learning experiences. One outstanding feature coming from the Partners App is where districts can add local businesses into the platform and facilitate connections between students and members of the community. The goal is to manage, track and capture quality attendance data when students take advantage of opportunities for place-based learning, experiential learning, CTE, and service-based learning.

Abre also lets students and staff create digital portfolios based on the work they’ve done. These portfolios are a powerful way of demonstrating, beyond the test scores, what they have learned and the skills they have acquired. Schools can then choose to allow these portfolios to be shared with others such as businesses, other schools, or organizations.

Privacy

Abre is FERPA compliant. The student information is only released with parental permission.

Using Abre is quite simple and I find that it is easy to navigate, which makes it a great choice for all users, whether they are beginners or advanced when it comes to implementing technology. By using a robust tool like Abre, educators and parents have immediate access to a lot of data. Abre is a multi-purpose platform with capabilities to facilitate communication, collaboration, and much more. It provides benefits for teachers for tracking PD, administrators looking to provide a comprehensive and consolidated platform to meet the needs of their schools and students, parents looking to stay connected with student learning and be informed of important information regarding their child’s education.

What made me better

Guest post by Deidre Roemer,  Director of Leadership and Learning West Allis, WI, @deidre_roemer

 

When I reflect on my skills as a teacher throughout my career, I can think of examples of what I did well and a million things I would have done differently.  I am teaching a class at a local university this semester and know confidently that I am a better teacher now than I was when I was in the classroom. The opportunity to see other teachers in action in my leadership role for the last several years is what has made me better.  I get to speak to educators and learners all the time about what is working well in their classrooms and what they would like to see grow. It includes spending time in many classrooms where we and others are getting it right and learners can articulate the process of their learning in order to create great things.

Professional development that is connected to a vision of our work with meaningful processing time to reflect is how we push teachers to move from single projects to true learner driven practice.  We take a lot of teachers and teams on site visits to schools in our area and across our country who are already doing the kind of work we are trying to do to see it in action. It is hard to find a large comprehensive system that is there yet, so we are often at small charters of specialty programs that are offshoots of schools.  The visits are always amazing as we are able to interact with teachers and learners and see learner driven practice, but often the most important part of the time is the meal after the visit or the long trip home where we can talk about what we saw, process, and plan for what parts we can implement within our system. The goal is not to replicate but to figure out how to ask the right reflective questions of ourselves and one another to tie what we saw to our personal passions and interests and figure out how to bring all of that together to shift the learner experience.

We also spend a lot of our time talking about how this is the kind of learning experience ALL learners should have.  It should not be reserved for some kids in special programs or special schools. The visits with the deep discussions are often the leverage point that takes an educator from trying a few things to a true shift of practice that is more inclusive.  It helps them to be more collaborative as they are often on these visits with other staff from across our district that they might not already know having a shared experience . The power in seeing some things we are already doing well and celebrating those helps us to not be overwhelmed when looking for ways to grow.  The key is to make the time, take the staff who are ready to take some bold steps, and then follow up with them multiple times throughout the year so they have support to keep going with the work.

On a recent site visit, I took a chance and messaged some of the teachers to join us off-site after the formal conference to continue our learning.  Fortunately, they were willing to take the opportunity to discuss their work with us over dinner. It was an impactful experience to listen to teachers that have been doing this work for some time engage in professional discourse about grading, telling their story and standards.  The teachers were open about their own growth over time and how our staff could take pieces of what they saw back to our schools to create a more equitable opportunities for all learners through empowerment. We went back to the site the next day with a new lens on what to look for in learner and teacher observations that we could do instead of being lost in the surface things like the physical set-up.  Things that may have looked idealistic the day before now looked possible. The modeling of professional discourse created space for our team to do the same and ask some great questions about how we can do this work and how it does not have to look the same across all our schools.  Encouraging staff to push boundaries and challenge one another’s thinking is how we look at someone else’s professional practice and find a way to make it our own.

A few things we discover each time we do a site visit became apparent:

  • This work is messy.  It takes deep dialogue on what is right for learners and how to give up control in a way that is not always natural for teachers.
  • Change is uncomfortable and unpredictable, but easier with the proper support.  People tend to say, “Change is hard.” There was a great article from the Harvard Business Review in January of 2008 that explained why that phrase becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that permits us not to try.  We have to be able to think bigger than that.
  • We need to get more comfortable with professional discourse and open discussion about where we are now and where we can go that may push our thinking.
  • Teachers have to connect their own passion to their work in schools.  When it is authentic to the teachers, it becomes authentic with the learners.
  • Our teachers need to see the work in action often and learn how to get and give productive feedback.
  • The standards are always embedded in innovative, learner driven work.  They just aren’t always owned solely by the teacher.
  • Many times, the teacher in a learner driven classroom finds joy in their work.

We have evolved our district wide professional development to hopefully reflect all of these.  Our teachers will have time in small groups to learn their standards well enough to empower learners to take ownership of mastery of those standards within cross-curricular projects.  Staff will then have the opportunity to sign up to see another teacher modeling classroom practice that is learner driven. They will be our own internal site visits. We will use structured protocols to get and give feedback at each site to ensure we are using the time for genuine collaboration as we know that is what drives teacher practice.  We can’t make more time than we have, so we use the protocols from The School Reform Initiative as a way to restructure the time and make sure it is used for purposeful feedback and collaboration.

Our teachers hosting visits that day have been invited to participate for the first round as they are already trying new things, having success with learner empowerment and finding joy in their work.  It is not expected that anything that is “perfect” or a “show”.  It is meant for one teacher to share their experience and encourage others to try new things with an open dialogue about how and what supports they will need. Our goal is that our teachers engage with one another to see what’s possible, work together to get there for every learner and find joy in the work.

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? Would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

Buncee: Getting to know our students

One of the things that I love the most about Buncee is that it can be used in so many different ways, not only for instruction in our classrooms but also in life. I have used Buncee to create cards for family and friends, personal business cards, graphics for Twitter chats and webinars, quote graphics for my books, invitations, and more. When I decide to use digital tools in my classroom, I want students to practice the content in a more authentic and engaging way, while developing skills such as collaboration, critical thinking, problem-solving, and creativity that can be transferred to their future. In using digital tools like Buncee, my hope is that they will also use them in other classes, for personal use, and will share them with family too.

Each year, I continue to explore new ideas to have students create with the content, rather than doing the exact same project or using traditional worksheets or other assessment methods. For years, I assigned students to complete very rigid projects in the same format and left little up to student choice. Now, after seeing the benefits of being more flexible with my instructional methods, I’d rather open it up more to student choice and see what students come up with.

Finding time to explore new resources can be a challenge because our lives as educators becomes quite busy and we may find ourselves lacking in time to really explore a variety of options for use in our classroom. This is another one of the reasons that I choose Buncee and appreciate the team’s investment in offering more than just one way for students to create. It truly has become a go to multi-purpose platform that can do so much, that I feel pretty comfortable in saying that the possibilities really are endless when it comes to creation with Buncee.

Learning about students and pushing them to explore

At the start of each school year, I focus my efforts on student relationships, learning about my students and also providing opportunities for them to learn about one another. In the past I have done this by using activities in our classroom such as ice breakers or having students work together on different review games and other in class collaborations like that. But this year I decided to do something a little bit differently to not only engage students in learning about the Spanish language and culture but to engage more in learning about one another. I came up with a project focused on using the “About Me” template in Buncee. I wanted students to share who they were and create one slide to show this using words, animations, stickers, and other add-ins. My hope was that by looking at each student’s slide, we would understand one another better and relate to each other based on similarities and differences.

I also thought this would be a good opportunity for them to choose and learn a little about a place where Spanish is spoken and create an “About_(country)_____” to share that information with the rest of the class. But I also realize that there are many students who are visual learners like me and I wanted to encourage students to be able to quickly look at and process information and represent it in a different way. Rather than simply restating the same content, push them to apply it at a higher level or find a different way to demonstrate an understanding of a concept.

I also wanted students to choose a Spanish speaking country and I placed a limit on the number of actual words they could use because I wanted them to represent what they had learned about the place that had chosen using the Buncee features. The topics they had to include were: languages spoken, school subjects, foods, activities, and other information like that that they could display using Buncee.

How did it go?

It was a fun activity and I learned so much about them and they learned about each other and what life is like in countries where Spanish is spoken. We shared them on a Buncee board which made it easy to access and created a colorful display of students and their creativity. Students shared their slides and gave a brief description in Spanish about themselves and made connections with their classmates. We had good conversations exchanging our likes, dislikes, and learning about our backgrounds. For the second slide, students

were able to get a quick glimpse of different Spanish-speaking countries and begin to understand the culture of some of the places they would be studying. It was fun that they could only include 3D objects, animations, stickers or emojis, to represent the information for each country. So for visual learners, being able to choose the right object to use to share this information made the learning stick a little bit more. Students who enjoy creating but not drawing really enjoyed the activity.

One other feature that I thought was important to share with students was the new Immersive Reader and how it works. We enjoyed looking at all of the capabilities with it and using Buncee for learning!

 

 

 

**Interested in writing a guest blog for my site? I would love to share your ideas! Submit your post here.

 

Looking for a new book to read? Many stories from educators, two student chapters, and a student-designed cover for In Other Words.

Find these available at bit.ly/Pothbooks  

 

Books available

ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL

Guest Post by Kristen Koppers, @Mrs_Koppers

Educator and Author of Differentiated Instruction in the Teaching Profession 

The movie Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants was one movie that brought together friendship through hardships. But a single pair of pants (no matter the size of each of the girls) fit perfectly to where they would wear the pants, write on them, and send them to each other throughout the summer.

We all know that wearing a pair of pants in one size does not mean that another pair of pants will fit even with the same size. The fact that one pair of pants can fit four different girls ‘perfectly’ who all have different body types is not realistic. Although the movie focused on the jeans, it was more about the friendship of the four girls during their personal problems they went through without each other.

The same idea goes for teaching and learning. While we hope that one size pair of pants (learning styles) would fit more than one student, we know that is not the case. Students come from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, schools, and learning abilities so we cannot think that one curriculum or one “pair of pants” can fit all. This goes the same for purchasing a Halloween costume or outfit where the tag says “one size fits most.” Someone who weighs 120 pounds wearing the same costume that a person who weighs 30 pounds more won’t fit the same way. While the outfit will fit both sizes, the look will be quite different.

ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL – What many forget is that teachers come from all backgrounds, cultures, educational institutions, and ethics. We cannot expect one teacher to teach the same way as other teachers. This is the same for students. It would be a perfect world if one style of teaching will reach all students. However, this is not the case. Differentiating work can be difficult as well to meet the needs of all students. In order to have that perfect pair of pants to fit all students, teachers must be willing to put their ego and pride aside and stretch the pants just a little wider so that not one size person but multiple sizes can fit.

The struggle is real. We all know how it is to try and fit into a fresh pair of washed jeans. The jeans that fit you the day before now feels tighter 24 hours later. If we think about how that one pair of jeans fit the day earlier and then the next day they don’t, this is how many students feel. One day they feel like they understood the information and then the next day nothing makes sense.

Using Differentiated Instruction is not about separating all students or creating one lesson plan for many. It’s about assessing student needs throughout the year. While one lesson plan will help several students at one point, another lesson plan may not work for the rest. Assessing students needs does not need to be cumbersome. It can be as simple as noticing non-verbal clues in the classroom to written work.

Recently, we were reading a novel by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Students were intrigued by the reading and began to focus on the plot. It wasn’t until they were to share out what they learned to the class that everything unfolded. When I moved around the room, most groups were able to explain what they were thinking. However, between the individual group discussions and the informal presentation, something went wrong. This is where I used differentiated instruction. We discussed the lesson, the assignment, and guidelines. It was the connection from what they read to their knowledge that seemed ‘not to fit.’

As an educator of 16 years and instead of taking it as an insult to my teaching, I swallowed my pride of experience and began to learn how to fit into a pair of jeans that did not fit me. After a large group discussion, I was able to use differentiated instruction to meet the needs of all the abilities in my classroom. Students were given the choice to keep their grade or complete one of the two alternative assignments to replace the previous grade. Instead of making this decision, I let the students choose because, after all, they are the ones who truly know their own learning ability.

When one pair of pants does not fit, we shouldn’t just give them away and buy a larger or small pair, we need to stretch them a little to fit.

Follow Kristen on Twitter and Check out her book! Differentiated Instruction in the Teaching Profession

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