Fooling around with block schedule

For most of the ones reading this, the term block schedule is relatively old. Although, as long as I can remember the school I teach at has been on a six or seven period day with classes roughly around fifty minutes a piece.

We have toyed around with the idea of block schedule for years, especially should we or should we not do it. This year we have finally made the decision to go for it. Starting at the beginning of next school year we will be running on an alternating A/B block schedule. Which will look similar to something like this. With the exception being 85-minute classes and lunch would be during 3rd and 7th block. 80-min-block

This decision did not come lightly, and many discussions and personal opinions went into this important plan. Some of the biggest challenges to the block schedule have been we have always done scheduling this way, and we should just continue to stick with what we know. Here lies the problem with the majority of educators. We are so afraid to get out and try something new. Why? Is it fear we are not going to be good at it?

This past week we tested out a modified block schedule, and I am proud to say I was scared of the unknown, but you know what I loved it. I never felt rushed when I was in my lesson. My students and I could get into actual activities and FINISH them without fear of the bell ringing. I could evaluate my students as they were in their groups and check for understanding. I would chalk this up to success.  Below is the schedule we tried this week.

block-scheduleAs I spoke with the students and other teachers, of course, I had mixed reviews. Mainly the ones who were not sold were ones who did not prepare for what was coming. Others just thought lecturing for 90 minutes would suffice.(News flash! Kids don’t like that these days if ever!) It could be that I want to be the best I can and to improve my craft every day, but the time for “winging” it is not in this day and time.

If you are a teacher and are on a block schedule and you need help looking for activities or ways to teach I would suggest what one of my colleagues Brandon Eldridge (who is a contributor on this site.) recommended chunk your lessons into three or four parts. Brandon has taught under block in a previous school district and enjoyed doing so. He shared a lesson plan that could be used within our classes during our PLC time. It helped me with an understanding of the concepts.

Also, I have found an excellent PDF that Russell County Schools in Jamestown Kentucky has put together about teaching on the block schedule. You can find it here.

If you are new to teaching on a block schedule, please do not be worried about if you mess up. The best teachers are the ones who have a growth mindset, and if you keep this in mind, you will do great.

We will be returning to the block schedule a few more times this semester for us to become more familiar with this schedule. I will keep you updated on the goings on.

Thank you for taking the time to read this.

JD

Leave the Ego Behind

Most of the ones who will read this are Educators and will understand the struggle of which the following post may reveal. For the past couple of years I have looked at my test scores and have been proud of them and what my students had accomplished. How was I to know the wake-up call I was about to endure.

I am an educator in the state of Tennessee and most Tennesseans have heard of the new testing process that has replaced the TCAP EOC to now TCAP TNReady. If you are not familiar with the whole TNReady debacle then you may want to look it up here. But that is a whole other story. What I am here to talk about is me and my performance on the TNReady test.

As mentioned earlier I have had decent test scores over the years. To say I was an outstanding or all-star teacher may be a stretch for me but I would like to think of myself as middle of the road according to the Value Added measures our State uses. So naturally, I went into the 2015-2016 school year very confident in my ability to prepare my students for the test that year. I had a few new tricks up my sleeve, I read a couple of books to get me pumped up for that year. All in hopes of having another good year. Then the tests came, and the scores were delayed and delayed again. I was not fretting over this because the State of Tennessee said our scores would not count although, I was really excited to see how I would stack up.

Finally, the end of November came around and the test scores from May had been released, I jokingly said I can not wait to see the one( Tennessee scores teachers on a 1-5 scale.)  Until I actually looked at my score, and I was an ONE? This can not be I told myself and I thought well I was a one so all of my other colleagues must be as well. I went down the list of my fellow U.S. History teachers asking them how they did I received the responses of; Five, Five, and Four. Now I was thinking this must be wrong there is no way I am the lowest effective teacher in our department it just cannot be. I kept thinking long and hard about what type of excuse I would have to give to all of my fellow teachers such as, the kids knew it was not going to count so they did not try. Then I had a meeting with myself to reevaluate what I had done over the last year.

I was beyond hurt, I just did not know how to handle myself. My ego was truly demolished at this point. So what did I do? First I realized I was the one to blame for my student’s struggles,  no one else. I then went to each of my fellow teachers and apologized for my scores and I told them I felt I was doing the right thing, and what they were doing was wrong.I did not change my approach with the new standardized test and they did. I went with a more overarching theme. I felt so foolish. The next step I did was have a sit down with my seniors(I teach 12th-grade History of Modern Music) many of them I had last year, and I told them to “grill” me and tell me what I did wrong. And guess what? they did, and it hurt, it hurt bad. I did not realize they hated the method I used with them, they were being nice all last year. One student told me she could not wrap her brain around the process I was trying to use, one in which I thought was easier.

That weekend I went home and I racked my brain, I went over and over what my students had told me and I put together a plan of old and new, creating more of a story with my students. So far my results on tests have been improved, but we shall see how the results will be at the end of the year.

My hope in writing this piece is not to let you know how I am changing the way I am teaching, this is more on how we as educators let our egos get in the way and only see our way of teaching. There are so many ways we can teach our children, but we are the ones who have to step aside and see what is best for them. I have taken the approach with my students this year as I would my six-year-old daughter and my 10-month-old son. We as educators should treat every child we have in our class like they are your own. Better yet ask yourself if my child were sitting in my class how would I want them to be taught. Thank you for your time in reading this I hope it will become and inspiration to you.

 

Busy! Remember this.

Busy, a word that many teachers know and know well. I haven’t blogged in some three months due to this same word. Something we have all come to grasp with when we take on this profession. I know other jobs are equally as busy as teachers, but it just seems as if there is never enough time in the day to get all the things done you want to get done.

I just like many of you are bogged down with many committee meetings and lesson planning and grading etc. Just this year alone I am teaching a new class(History of Modern Music).I have been selected to be on the School Leadership team, District Leadership team, chosen by a range finding committee with our state TN Ready test, strategic planning committee, etc. On top of that, I am Married with two children! There are many days when I just feel I am drowning in paperwork, but the reward is so much worth it.

The reward is the relationships you build with students and former students. Just the other night I was reminded of this. At my daughter’s school, they were celebrating their Fall Festival; I was approached by a former student whom I had my very first year teaching. He came up to me shook my hand, and we shared some stories from that year. I apologized to the young man for not being the best that year. He responded we knew you were new and we tested you every moment we could get. He went on to tell me how much he respected me and how he enjoyed my class. This student is one who didn’t go to college, he has a good job with our local road department and will continue to serve and live a productive life in our community. In my book, this conversation will be greater than any test score I may ever get!

So as we are entering the Thanksgiving holiday keep this in mind no matter how busy our jobs get. You are shaping a relationship with a student that will be priceless.

 

Personalizing PD Part III: Voxer

Continuing on our summertime series on personalizing your PD, I have been very fortunate on learning along the way. I have covered Twitter, and how becoming a “connected educator” will open the doors to so many amazing teachers, and Podcasts allowing you to learn on the fly where ever you may be. Having the opportunity to interview some awesome educational podcasters from the Education Podcast Network (edupodcastnetwork.com) is one of my proudest moments of curating content on this blog. Thanks once again to Chris Nesi (chrisnesi.com) host of House of #Edtech, and Mari Venturino, and Justin Birckbichler hosts of EduRoadtrip (eduroadtrip.com) for taking the time to answer some questions I had for them.

The next topic we are going to venture into will be the world of Voxer. Voxer is a messaging service. You can download it as an app for your phone, or you may use it in your web browser. The great thing about Voxer is not only can you share pictures and text messages to each other, but you can also use your voice as a way of communication. I started to use Voxer after seeing it in a Twitter Chat. I enjoy the way you can communicate with other people from around the world and hear their voice and their passion for a certain topic.

There are many groups on Voxer. I will attach a link to Voxer groups you can join. I have been able to communicate with so many wonderful educators. It is surely an amazing way to learn more from each other.  Voxer is an application for you to put in your PD tool bag.

Personalizing your PD part II; Podcasts

Personalizing professional development has become something I have become passionate about; I hear the stories of my colleagues who are sent to “sit and get” PD which has no merit to their particular grade level or subject. I am constantly trying to get better, so I can better serve my students. My late grandfather, a former General Manager of a local telephone cooperative, would always remind me: “Complacency is the silent killer.” Complacent is not where we want to be in education; we constantly need to evaluate our ways to keep up with the every changing world. Which leads me to our next stop in our series over professional development, podcasts.

Since the first family computer my parents bought in the 1990s I have been a huge proponent of technology. I would watch Leo Laporte and the screen savers when I would get home from school. TechTV was bought and changed its name to G4 and Leo left my television screen. I was upset.  For the next few years, I have used the internet for my questions about technology. In 2007 I discovered the world of podcasts and my dear old friend Leo Laporte was leading the way. He had created an online podcasting network.(now IP-based television network) Here I could geek out to my hearts content with the excellent programming created. Since then I have branched out to other shows such as: This American Life, Serial, Stuff You Should Know, Things you missed in History Class, Freakonomics, and Planet Money. All of whom have enriched my knowledge.

Podcasting can trace its roots back to the 1980s and was more commonly known as audio blogging. Radio shows would record episodes of their program and would send it to stations for replay. With internet popularity rising in the late 1990s information could be moved at a faster rate and a little company called Napster took the world by storm. People from all over the world could now share audio files with anyone. (The legal system eventually gets involved with Napster, but that is a different story.)  With the surge in digital audio, hardware companies begin to create devices to make the files more portable. Some companies entered the game of Mp3 players but when Apple debuted the iPod the company has not looked back since. The term podcast and the downloading of shows become more widely used with the introduction of Apple’s iPod in 2001.

In part I of the series I wrote on Twitter and all the excellent educators sharing content on that platform. Around the middle of my summer break 2015 while on Twitter one of the teachers I follow Greg Bagby @Gregbagby tweeted he Mari Venturino @MsVenturino and Justin Birckbichler @Mr_B_teacher were releasing a new podcast called Edu Roadtrip. I listened to the first episode and loved it. I witnessed the power of Twitter when I tweeted to them about how great their show was, and on episode two I was referenced as a listener on @Eduroadtrip. Receiving the shout out made my day, I then contacted Justin to see what recommendations he would have for other educational podcasts. He recommended Cult of Pedagogy by  Jenifer Gonzales, and House of #Edtech by Chris Nesi. I downloaded both podcasts and a few others. I was amazed by the content available by these educators who just wanted to share what they have to offer.

So, you now have a brief history of my discovery of podcasts a short history of the origins of podcasts, and my discovery of educational podcasts. Now you want to know how can I use podcasts for my professional development?

If you are an iPhone user, the native podcasting app works well, but I prefer the Overcast app. Overcast lets you sync your podcasts over the internet, if you want to listen on your desktop at school it will pick up right where you left off. If you are on Android, I have read good reviews about the podkicker app which is free. Just search for any of the shows I have listened or you can check out the Education Podcasting Network to see some of their shows. (www.edupodcastnetwork.com) The Education Podcasting Network is my favorite place for educational content. The majority of the hosts are in still in the classroom, or they have extensive classroom experience.

I had the privilege to interview some of the stars of the Educational Podcasting Network. Chris Nesi, Host of House of #Edtech, Justin Brickbichler and Mari Venturino of Eduroadtrip, have also taken time from their busy schedules to answer a few questions.  We will begin with the Host of the House of #Edtech podcast Chris Nesi.

Chris Nesi has been in education since the fall of 2007, before becoming an educator he was involved with children for years as a volunteer. Chris was first inspired to become a teacher by his father, and many of the teachers he had in throughout his life.  “One particular teacher, my high school English teacher and Drama advisor, Mrs. MaryAnn Cochran. She was a teacher, mentor, and friend and still fills these roles even today.”

Chris became a “connected educator” and mentioned; “I love interacting with people and having conversations about the things I am interested in. Fostering relationships with people who have similar professional interests outside my place of employment has been very powerful and has given me what I need for learning and to gain an outside perspective on the good and bad of my work.”

Discussing podcasting I questioned Chris about his interest in podcasting his response was; “I started the House of #EdTech Podcast because I became tired of being merely a retweeter of other people’s voices and content. I knew I had a unique perspective on technology integration and education technology tools that I wanted to share with the world. A little nudge from my wife, who suggested podcasting, was all I needed to go all in on creating something I am very proud of. Prior to getting into this artform I was aware of podcasts but was not a consumer and I am now addicted to creating my show and consuming a wide variety of podcasts for my own growth personally and professionally.”

I asked Chris, How can an educator benefit from podcasts? His answer; “A podcast should cause the listener to laugh, think, cry, or do in addition to educating and/or entertaining you. Everyone, not just educators, should consumer podcasts. They are more enriching than radio and they can be consumed anytime and anywhere. You don’t need to focus solely on what you’re listening to in order to enjoy it. You can do laundry, mow the grass, run, etc.”

Becoming a well rounded person via this platform can only enhance your teaching. If you consume podcasts related to your content that’s growth. If you consume content related to education in general that’s growth. If you consume content related to your passion — you guessed it, that’s growth!

So grow!”

 

Getting to interview Chris Nesi was great, and I have more from him later in the article. I will now turn my focus to two of the three hosts of the Edu Roadtrip Podcast Mari Venturino and Justin Birckbichler. Starting with Mari; Mari just finished her fourth year teaching 7th grade Science and is a Blended Learning Specialist in San Diego, CA. She is a Google For Education Certified Trainer, a Google Certified Educator Levels 1 & 2, and is Leading Edge Certified in Online and Blended Instruction. She is the co-founder of #FlyHighFri, a movement to share positivity in person and on social media, and the co-founder of Breakout EDU Digital with Justin Birckbichler.

Mari’s inspiration for teaching comes from; “Teaching has always been a passion, and I have had many incredible teachers along the way. However, I didn’t seriously start to see it as a career until college. I was at Camp Winters Music Camp as a counselor, leading a sectional rehearsal, when it hit me that teaching is something I’m good at and I enjoy, and therefore I should pursue it seriously.

How Mari became a “connected educator”:  It was a slow process. I signed up for a “professional” Twitter account in February 2014 (I created a personal one back in summer 2008), but it took me almost a year to actually dive in headfirst. Once I realized that there were many other teachers looking to connect and share, I was hooked. I’m thankful for #caedchat (California’s ed chat, 8pm PST Sunday nights) for pushing me to reach out, connect, and grow.

Mari, you are the host of Edu Roadtrip. What interested you in podcasts? “A lot of our podcast started as a series of inside jokes. We realized there are far too many twitter chats, so we branched out and decided to start podcasting. It took a few months to research and solidify our content, and it has been a wonderful growing experience for us all!”

 When asking Mari how a teacher could benefit from podcasts her answer was: “Podcasts are easy to access for anyone with an internet connection. I download them and listen on my commute to and from work (about 25 minutes), at the gym, or while cleaning the house. It’s easy to multitask and listen–usually. When I’m in the car, I often have idea sparks that I’d love to remember; I have tons of voice memos and reminders in my phone with new ideas and ways to approach teaching and learning.

One of Mari’s partners in crime Justin Birckbichler just finished his third year of teaching fourth grade in Virginia. Justin became inspired to become an educator from his 2nd-grade teacher Mrs. Ghessi. Justin said; “she made learning fun and was a pivotal person in his life.”

Justin stated he became a “connected educator” from a close friend named Jenn Guido.  Justin, you are the co-host of Edu Roadtrip with Mari, and Greg Bagby. How did you become interested in podcasting? “Mari, Greg, and I connected on twitter, and said let’s try podcasting.”

Justin says the biggest benefit of an educator listening to podcasts is; “You have a choice, and availability of podcasts is a help. Plus, it is on the go. Podcasts can be consumed anywhere, and with the ability to speed up podcasts help to finish an episode in half the time.”

It was truly an honor to speak with these amazing educators and picking their brain. I asked all my interviewees more questions about Podcasting. I asked all of them What is different about podcasting that makes it a great form for personalizing your PD? Justin informed me; “Choice, thousands of podcast are out there. You can also hear the passion in the voice of the person hosting the show.” Chris stated; “As a podcaster, I get to talk with people who I might not normally have access to and that’s my dirty secret. I’m the first person in line for learning from my podcast. The conversations are ones that I am having and then sharing. Guests are teaching me first and I let the listener in. The other personal aspect is that I get to choose what I listen to, when I listen to it, and if I will continue listening at any point in time. Nobody mandates anything about it to me.” Mari also said; “I love the opportunity to ask incredible teachers, administrators, and educators about their passions, their successes, and learning opportunities. It’s all recorded, so I can go back and listen at any time, and share what I learn with others. Twitter chats are great, however it’s hard to convey emotion and dive deep in only 140 characters. With podcasts we can hear the person’s voice and passion in their words.”

 

If anyone is interested in becoming a podcaster who would they go about doing so?

Chris: “Contact me. As someone who is 2+ years into creating podcasts I have experiences that I am willing to share along with recommendations I can make. I am also connected to people who are in the world of podcasting and aren’t necessarily teachers but they teach podcasting.”

Mari:The EduRoadTrip podcast is very low tech and is done almost entirely with free software. There are three of us on the team: Greg Bagby, Justin Birckbichler, and myself. We spent a long time together figuring out the format of our podcast and logistics. We had to ask ourselves: Will I have a theme? What segments will I have? If I have interviews, how will I set those up? How often will I release new episodes?

We keep track of everything using Google Forms (scheduling) and Docs (episode planning). Then, we record our episodes using Google Hangouts on Air, and Justin strips out the audio and edits it using a paid program. We publish our episodes through Blogger, which sends the episode to iTunes and Stitcher via Feedburner.

We released a Rest Stop episode last fall where we talk about our entire process: http://www.eduroadtrip.com/2015/10/rs002-method-to-our-madness-rest-stop.html

Justin:Just reach out to podcasters, Jeff Bradbury is who I contacted to help us with Edu Roadtrip. All of what we do is free, but pay options could be a better option. Just don’t hesitate to reach out.”

My last question I had for the three was. Is there any advice you would like to give our readers to help with their personal PD discovery?

Justin: “Pick something you are interested in, and pick something you might want to get better at.”

Mari: “We’re all growing and learning together. It can be scary to connect and reach out at first, but remember everyone else had their first tweet, first blog post, first podcast episode, etc. Ask for recommendations from people you trust and respect, and be prepared to share your favorites too. Remember “Sometimes teaching is smooth highway, and other times it’s a bumpy mountain road. As long as you’ve got your friends with you, it’s bound to be an adventure!”

Our lives have become busier every day, and podcasts have a great opportunity for educators to expand our knowledge, traveling to work, working out, or even gardening can create your own space for learning. Finding the right podcast for you may take some time and digging, but I hope I can steer you in the right direction.”

 Chris: ““Follow your passions and knowledge is truly power. There’s always a choice and whether it’s podcasts, Twitter or something else, you have the power to choose the what, where, when, and how you want to learn. Start with subscribing to House of #EdTech :-)”

Using podcasts are a great way to enrich your life. There are thousands upon thousands of podcasts at your fingertips. Discover your passion, find your favorite podcasting app, download and enjoy. Please make sure you visit and support the websites of the individuals I interviewed. 

http://www.chrisnesi.com

http://www.eduroadtrip.com

http://www.edupodcastnetwork.com

Next week Voxer! 

 

 

The Importance of Professional Development

Today, as I finished my first professional development for the upcoming school year, I realized the importance of professional development, more than ever, that makes me a more effective teacher. We’ve all been in a PD meeting that, is …. well, boring. At WCHS, we completed our very first EdCamp and it was eye-opening. To see educators engaged, and not getting the traditional “sit-and-get” and focused on student-centered learning, was refreshing.

Professional development should be thought-provoking. It should cause an educator to sit back and evaluate what they are doing in the classroom. Are they focused on the student learning what they need or is it the same thing continuous without any desired effect? Einstein famously said, “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” If, as an educator, you are having students complete similar tasks and its ineffective the, then why bother?! PD challenges you to become better. It should make you want to dig deeper. Strive for perfection in your classroom, not only for better test scores, but for increasing the whole student. 

Occasionally, I am asked by students, family members, etc. reasons why I started teaching, and the answer is simple. I enjoy helping people. My goal is to give every student every opportunity that I didn’t get as a child. I teach my students to strive for perfection. Why don’t we do the same for ourselves in our teaching? Professional development allows for that to happen. 

“It is only through labor and painful effort, by grim energy and resolute courage, that we move on to better things.” 

-Teddy Roosevelt