Thursday, January 3, 2019

Culture & Coaching Part 1: Team Conflicts

"Mrs. Norfar! Mrs. Norfar!", yells Melissa as she waves her hand in the air to get my attention. I am across the room working with a group of students. I look up to see what she needs. Before I can say anything. Melissa says, "I can't work with him. I don't like him." As soon as she finishes, Mark says, "Yes, she doesn't like me."

Have you ever had this situation occur or something similar? This is a real situation that occurred in my class years ago. It is the kind of situation that makes teachers reluctant to have students work in teams. Teachers ask me all the time can they do PBL but have the students work by themselves. Dealing with team conflicts are challenging so why not avoid them. However, you won't enable students to develop collaboration and communication skills if they don't work together. The answer is not avoidance but a plan for dealing with conflicts. 


There are three structures that are used to reduce and mediate conflicts: Contracts, Management Log and Collaboration Process or Protocol. Let's go through each structure.


Contracts (also called team agreements or team norms) is a written document that details how teams will work together. It is created before they work on a product. See the example of a contract below. It is common in elementary to have a class contract especially at the PreK to 2nd grade level. This video explains how to create and use them.

Management Tool

This is a written document that states the work to be done, who is doing the work and when it is complete. BIE has an elementary and secondary version. At the Pre-K to 2nd grade level or when students are new to working in teams, you can use this tool for a portion of the project. Below is an image from a video of Jenna Gampel's class at the Conservatory Lab Charter School. She is a 2nd grade teacher who used a project management board to manage the critique process.  


A protocol is a process or a structure used by a group of people to accomplish a goal. People use roles as a way to help accomplish a goal.  Dr. Spencer Kagan is popular for his collaborative structures. I recommend starting with Kagan or the book Productive Group Work by Frey, Fisher and Everlove. Another example of a structure is Scrum. You can check out how AP Physics teacher Johnny Devine video on how he uses it with his students during project work time.  

Mediating Conflicts 

These structures help reduce the chance of conflict greatly. However, even with the greatest structures, conflicts still arise between students. You need to use the structures to resolve conflicts. Remember my opening story. Let's look a process for resolving conflicts through the lens of the opening story. 

1. If tensions are high, defuse the situation using location and/or redirection.

Sometimes you find out the conflict is happening when emotions are high. Try to stay calm and move students physically away from each other or redirect. Redirection is most common for high school students. Elementary and middle students often need a location change rather than redirection. Redirection can be as simple as saying "Let's take a few deep breaths for a moment." Although I never do it intentionally, students have shared I can often diffuse a situation with humor. If students have said this about you, then it is a great way to redirect. Do not try to use humor intentionally. It typically does not work out.

Melissa and Mark did not have tension that was high therefore I went immediately to step 2.

2. If applicable, offer a quick resolution to try for a few minutes.

There are times you are tied up with a group and can't quickly go over to start the mediation process. However, the group needs some type of temporary resolution. It is in these times, you may offer a resolution to try for just a few minutes until you can get to the group. Some quick resolutions include:
  • Take three or four deep breaths.
  • Work on a separate task individually.
  • Write or draw your side of the story.
  • For elementary students, change a person to a different station.
  • Send one of the students to the water fountain.
Melissa and Mark needed a quick resolution. In front of the entire class, I said to Melissa and Mark, "Thank you for telling me. Liking someone is not a requirement for the task. Do me a favor? Grab a color pencil from the bin. Melissa you do the first problem and slide the paper to Mark. Mark you put your initials if she did it correctly or circle where she made a mistake. Mark, you will then do the next problem. Don't talk to each other. I am going to wrap up with this group and then be right over." They did the resolution I gave and I quickly wrapped up with the group. 

3. Check to see how they want to do the mediation.

It is important before you start the mediation process that you give students the opportunity to choose the environment/time. There are times when students don't want the discussion to be heard by other classmates so they would like to talk in a hallway. They may want to discuss it at a later time. It is common in PK-2 for you to choose the environment and the time. Many choose to mediate as an entire class and immediately with students. When you sit with the group, it is important to start with these questions:
  • Do you want to resolve this in class or in the hallway/another classroom? (Note if they choose another classroom make sure the door remains open or another teacher is in the room).
  • Do you want to resolve this now or at a later time? 
Melissa and Mark were almost done with the problems when I got to their desks. I thanked them for letting me know their challenge and for being able to work together for the last few minutes. They chose to talk in the hallway with me right then.

4. Hear all voices involved.

This is the official beginning of the mediation process. It is important to lay ground rules before each student shares. The ground rules are:
  1. Each student gets to share without interruption.
  2. No name calling.
  3. Try to be clear and concise. 
After each student shares, summarize their sharing. This is a great way to check if you heard them correctly and gives the other student(s) ability to hear it one more time. Once all stories are shared, remind students of the task/goal before moving to step 5.

Melissa and Mark shared why they did not like each other. They used to be a couple. Mark didn't have a problem with her but Melissa was hurt by things that occurred in their relationship. I thanked them for sharing and shared how they will be primarily helping each other learn like the activity today. However, soon they will have a project where their group who will have to create a brochure. They get to decide who will be responsible for different parts of the brochure. With these things in mind, we moved right into how we can achieve the goal while also dealing with their concerns/challenges.

5. Use the contract, management log and/or protocol to find a resolution.

The concerns/challenges are now turned into a guide to help find a resolution. Start with one concern/challenge and discuss use the contract, log or protocol to find a resolution. Write the resolution down and get a verbal agreement from all parties before moving to the next concern/challenge. 

Melissa and Mark's team had not created a contract yet so we leaned on Kagan's Rally Coach protocol to work on resolutions. I started the resolution process with ideas that may work for Melissa's main concern of hurt feelings resurfacing. I asked Melissa if working with another person in the team for Rally Coach would be better for her. She said it would work. I asked her if she could think of anything else that would help her. She said him sitting in a seat across instead of next to her would help. I offered one more idea of temporarily seating in the back table area with another group member when her feelings are really high. She and Mark agreed to all of the resolutions and I wrote them down. They would be placed in the team binder for future reference.

6. Exchange apologies and if necessary, create a path of restoration. 

The process always ends with apologies need to be exchanged. Sometimes an apology is all a person needs. Other times the offense is big and people need the party to restore the working relationship. After apologies have been exchanged, check to see if certain actions need to occur. For example, the original offense may be a team member didn't hardly help with different aspects of a project as agreed upon. Team members may want the person to take on more parts going forward.

Mark and Melissa exchanged apologies. Since Melissa still had emotional challenges at times just by seeing Mark, she asked him to not talk to her if she asked him. They agreed she could just shake her head if she needed to not talk.

Culture & Coaching Part 2: Consensus Making

Thanks for joining me on this series about culture and coaching in a PBL classroom. Next I will talk about how to teach students come to a consensus on issues roles, direction of a product or tasks to be complete.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Culture & Coaching Series

When I do PBL trainings, I work to develop a relationship with the participants where they feel comfortable opening up to me about their needs. One recent training has stuck with me. As I was coaching various teachers, a few of them shared how they didn't feel the video fit their situation. This perplexed me. I was careful about showing videos that matched what I knew about their situation including my own video. To help me understand, I asked them what would they have liked to have seen. In different ways, all of them shared they weren't seeing when kids behaved poorly. They were not referring to out of control situations but just typical behavior challenges.

The desire to know how to handle these situations is common. Teachers want to know how to get students to work together who have behavioral challenges. They want to know how to help students to work together. They wonder how do you get students to resolve their own conflict. These are all things associated with the culture of your class and how you engage and coach students (Check out BIE's PBL Teaching Practices Rubric for details on Building the Culture and Engage and Coach).

I struggle to give people the answer they want. I struggle because most people want to see it in action not read about it. I haven't found a video that meets the participants needs. Now that I have been professionally filmed, I wonder if it is possible to film these interactions in an authentic way since kids naturally act better for the camera. Although I don't know if filming would be possible, I am going to try and meet the challenge in the spring. In the interim, I decided a blog series is a great start. Here are the details of the culture and coaching blog series:

  • Classroom Connections: The overall environment of the classroom is the essential ingredient to productive student behavior.  It is common in a class to have various relationships occurring without any action by a teacher. Students may only hang out with certain groups or avoid people. In this post, I share strategies of how to build the relationships among all the students in the class and handle individual students damage the environment.
  • Team Conflicts: Even with a healthy classroom dynamic, teams can operate in ways that are unhealthy or even destructive. One student's personality can dominate the team. Individuals within a team can have a disagreement. In this post, I share a process I use to mediate when issues arise in a team.
  • Lack of Consensus: Teams can work well together but have trouble with making decisions. Making decisions as a team creates challenges different than most team conflicts. Given this unique type of team conflict, I am dedicating an entire post on how to teach strategies for reaching consensus.
  • Outside Influence: The most common causes for conflicts in the classroom is situations that occur outside of the classroom. They can range from bullying to family challenges. Although it doesn't occur in your classroom, students bring it with them to the classroom. In this post, I share strategies for helping students deal with the situation.
After I write each post, I will update this series title with a link. Stay tuned for postings for the next few weeks!!! 

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Keeping A PBL On Track

It is normal to have things go wrong in a class. I think as teachers we are used to having curve balls occur and adjusting. I find it interesting how the curve balls seem to magnify when I am doing a PBL. It is the realness that PBL brings that magnifies the situation. The most frustrating curve ball is absent students. I have developed a lot of strategies for how to keep a PBL on track even when students are absent. All of the strategies I use are altered based upon the knowledge I have about my students. I think it is helpful to look at basic strategies and then strategies that align with the path of a project as defined by BIE.

Basic Strategies

There are a lot of ways teachers catch up a student. Remember PBL is about developing students independence. You can use your current methods just check to see if it is more of an ownership by the student than you. Here are some simple strategies that support independence:
  • "Catch up" Space: This is a place in the room that contains all materials previously covered. At the elementary level, this is a bulletin board, the class library area or a place in a center. For upper grades, this can be folders by the turn in tray. Typically, you will keep up to a week of material in this space. This strategy works for most absent situations. I have found for students who miss more than a few days and don't have access to technology, this space can be overwhelming. I combine this strategy with office hours to accommodate these students.
  • Digital Resource: This is a common strategy for teachers. I have a student assigned in each class who posts what occurred in the class every day. I give them access to the handouts through Google docs and they post it on the site. If you teach, PK-2, you can have groups of students do an audio recording to post on the website. Some digital tools you can use are Google Classroom, Remind or Edmodo.
  • Office Hours: Sometimes we only think of office hours at the collegiate level but you can hold office hours. You can designate a time within class or outside of class where students can come to catch up on what they missed. This can be run by you or students. At the elementary level, assistants can run the office hours. I have a lot of students who speak English as a second language. I make sure I use bilingual students for office hours to help support students who are learning English.

Project Launch

I always say an entry event is capturing the students' heart so that their head will follow. This may occur within one day or over multiple days. When students miss this event, they can miss their connection. To help build this connection, have students watch a recording of the entry event. Give time for students to share their thoughts daily so it can resonate with students who were not present.

Build Knowledge and Skills to Answer Driving Question

This is when a lot of the learning of the content occurs. Many of the basic strategies mentioned above helps students catch up. Here are a few other strategies:
  • Weekly Deadlines: Set deadlines each week so students know before they are absent what will be occurring. These deadlines can be set by you or you can create them with students. Many PBL teachers create a large calendar on a wall in the room to show the deadlines. You can use tools like Remind to let parents know what needs to be completed. 
  • SMEs (Subject Matter Expert): This is a term used in the business world for people who are knowledgeable about a particular subject. Students always have different skills in a project that can be utilized. They can teach any student who needs help. You or they can create tutorials for students to access. In my class, these students where a special badge. At the elementary level, you can call them buddies rather than SMEs. 
  • Team: It is a misunderstanding that students are in teams the entire time for a project. However, if your students are in a set team at the beginning of a project, the members of the team can be used as a way to inform students.

Develop and Critique Products and Answers to the Driving Question

Students work on the product for a project starting the first or second day. However, there is time when the work on the product includes critiquing and revising. It is the critique days that can be challenging to make up. Some of the most common protocols for critiquing work are charrette, gallery walk or praise-question-suggestion. Each of these protocols have a particular way to give feedback. Sometimes it is on paper and other times it is audio. You can have students work always remain in the class so someone can give feedback even if the student is absent. You can have team mates inform students of what feedback was received especially if the feedback was given audibly. 

Present Products and Answers to the Driving Question

There are a lot of products in PBL that answer the driving question. It is often a combination of a physical document with some type of explanation. If students are absent on the deadline, you can still require it when they return. Inform students the entire project that the product must be done. Sometimes when one of the products is a presentation, students will intentionally miss so they do not have to present. It is important to make sure students practice multiple times before the formal day so students are comfortable. Don't excuse them from presenting if they miss the day. Require the student to present even if they do it by themselves in the hallway with just you.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

More than Academics

I love the holiday season. Although it can be really hectic due to holiday parties and searching for the perfect gift, I try to focus on the reason for the season. It is a time for me to remember to appreciate everyone and everything around me. Today, I was really reminded of how much I appreciate my life and one of the fundamental purposes of school.

A few weeks ago, one of the special education English classes read the book, The Boy Who Carried Bricks. The students were so moved by the author's story they wrote letters to the author. The author was so moved by one of the student's letter he came and spoke to them personally. He told the student he will put his letter in the next printing of his book!

His story was so powerful that admin asked if he could come speak to our entire school. As Alton Carter spoke to an auditorium full of teenagers, I was reminded of why our students need more experiences like this one.
Today, our students were reminded that they are not defined by their current circumstances. Our students saw someone who was just like them share how he is always working to improve. Our students realized sometimes people are going through tremendous pain and may cause others pain to cope. Our students were reminded of how powerful our words can be so choose them wisely. They learned that forgiveness is more for them then the person who hurt them. Finally, our students were reminded to be thankful as they enter the holiday season.

Unfortunately, in school we can focus so much on the standards and the test that we forget that learning is more than facts and figures. We are molding people which means we need to help them connect with something greater than themselves. Today, I am so thankful we had Alton Carter speak to our students. Tomorrow, I am going to work to have more Carter moments for my students.

How do you or will you create Carter moments?

Friday, November 16, 2018

A Journey in Reflection

I love the 8 essential project design elements established by BIE. I love them because they are all familiar teaching practices that can stand alone in a classroom. However, when they come together, they become a powerful model for enduring learning.

There is one element that has always plagued me---Reflection. According to BIE's Gold Standard rubric, effective implementation of reflection is when "students and teachers engage in thoughtful, comprehensive reflection both during the project and after its culmination, about what and how students learn and the project's design and management." I am deeply reflective practitioner analyzing students learning and adjusting my practice throughout a class period.  Yet, I didn't know how to help my students internalize this valuable practice.

Enter my 1st level of implementing reflection as a main practice in my classroom. As I was reading Leaders of their own Learning a few years ago, I saw a great tool in this book that has students analyze their errors. I used it as it was stated in the book and then changed it as my understanding of what I wanted students to do changed. Here is the latest version of the form:
Although I loved the printed form, I wanted something electronic that could allow me and students to see their reflection over time. As I was searching, I stumbled onto a company called Sown to Grow. I am in my second year of using this tool. I absolutely love it! It allows me to see how students feel about their learning at a given time, see their scores and plan of improvement in one location. As a result, I am working to have students start the reflection process with paper form. My students are now in the process of putting the process in digital form. Some of the success I am seeing are promising. 

One success is the honesty students are stating about how they feel about the score they received on an assessment. or how they are feeling in general. Below is an example of how students stated they feel in general about their learning:
Right now I am able to see the results and talk with students the next day. My goal is to get the task completed early in the class period so that I can get to students before the class ends. 

Another success is each time we use the tool, more students are reflecting in the tool. At first, students just typed their score or they do not provide enough reflection. My next goal is to get all students to provide reflection so that I can give them feedback on a regular basis. 

As I work to increase the practice of reflection, my next steps is how to incorporate the tool into my projects. I need to see how I can incorporate it daily in my classroom in a way that is seamless. Finally, I need to find more strategies for reflecting so that I can expand my toolbox.

Stay tuned for my progress.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Communicating Mathematically

One of my favorite activities I do in PBL 101 trainings for BIE is the ideal graduate.  The activity involves participants writing the knowledge, skills and dispositions students would have when they graduate. I add a twist to the activity by having people to think about one student that they love and one student they wish were absent. They must think of traits that both students would possess at graduation.

When I first did this activity for myself, it wasn't hard to come up with a list of items. What was difficult was narrowing my list down to something I could realistically work on students achieving in one school year. My list is 10 traits that have changed slightly over the years.

Although the list hasn't changed much, my strategies and classroom protocols change frequently. I think about what I do that prevents and support my ideal graduate. This is a very humbling experience because I have to admit what is not supporting my goal. For example, I have long wanted students to be a self-manager. A long classroom practice was keeping students materials in a bin in the room. I did it because they often would not keep up with items. However, this past summer I realized I was not giving them even an opportunity to self-manage. This year I have a bin but is only for students who feel they can't keep up with the notebook. I encourage students to keep the items and I periodically check to make sure they have them. So far, I have about 30 students out of about a 130 who use the bins.

Another trait I have made some major changes to this year is communication. I am modeling proper mathematical communication more and using a basic rubric more consistently to support my expectations. The rubric follows the same format at the concept rubric to help students understand. The rubric includes students written and oral communication of mathematical concepts. You can get a copy of one of my rubrics for a concept and communication by clicking here.
My changes are a great compliment to some of my past practices that support the building of students communication. One of my practices is a common one to classes--Ask 3 before me. I have a huge poster on my door that I reference a lot during the beginning of the school year and after winter break. I have discovered it is really important to call students on if they asked people before asking me. I often will go to the people they ask and see what they said. Rather than just letting the students say they didn't know. I challenge them to say what they do know and work with the students to improve their collaboration. 

Another strategy I use is one day dedicated to students only working with each other to solve a problem or a set of problems. This day is embedded in my 2-1 cycle. Students get at least 2 days to understand a concept before an assessment will be taken. Sometimes these assessments are placed in the gradebook. Every time the assessments are used for students to reflect on their learning progress. Typically, students are allowed to work together on the first assessment. I spend this time observing or reviewing other classes work. Below is a video I captured during one of the days students could work with each other. Notice the discussion occuring between the students.

How do you help students communicate mathematically? What is your ideal graduate?

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Whirlwind of Strategies to Build the Culture

The last three weeks were crazy. In addition to so many things occurring in the school, there was a slight hiccup with me being out to complete trainings in Boston and Tulsa. My goal of posting once a week had to be put on hold. I am going to try to summarize some of the greatest aspects of the last three weeks that involve building a culture that is ripe for PBL. Build the Culture is an essential element for teachers to implement PBL. BIE defines it as teachers explicitly and implicitly promote student independence and growth, open-ended inquiry, team spirit and attention to quality. In this post, I talk about strategies I used to promote independence and growth and team spirit.

Promoting Student Independence and Growth

Setting and Monitoring Expectations 
In order for students to be independent, they must be a part of setting the classroom routines and rituals. One way of doing this is having them set how we work together. As a part of the syllabus project, students created norms for me and for each other. They were able to submit their own suggestions for norms. I compiled the list and students voted for five. The top five voted norms were placed on a poster (see the list of norms below).

Although I haven't done a great job of it for the last few weeks, I try to recognize students who are following the norms and update the norms periodically. Before I was out of the classroom for a few days, I talked to students about the norms, specifically number 1 and 4. I explained how this is an expectation that is even higher when I am out of the building. It is important that they respect the substitute and our room. They need to speak politely and clean up their space. I had a student from each class period text me a picture of the classroom at the end of the class period. If the classroom was clean and there was no bad report from the substitute, they would receive candy. A small reward for following the norms. When I returned from my second time of being out of the classroom, I was happy to see these post it notes from the substitute. We had a lot of substitutes at the beginning of the month, it is easy for students to not follow the norms when a few of their classes were substitutes.

Ask 3 Before Me & Help Desk
Students are not used to leaning on themselves and each other to understand concepts. Ask 3 before me is a great strategy to help students to start to lean on each other rather than the teacher. For almost 7 weeks, I worked on students asking each other and modeling proper ways to help. Students also had the benefit of identified SMEs to get help. Some students had a hard time with this rule. One mentioned openly that he doesn't like getting help from students. While rubbing his back, I told him how I understand how he feels but the rule still applies. He needs to see the greatness in his fellow classmates.

After students learned how to lean on each other, I started to create another form of support that involved me. This helps me fulfill one of the norms they created for me. It is called the help desk. After students have received their first round of feedback, I have one to two class period where they continue to practice but can come to the help desk to get one on one help from me. Thankfully the implementation of the other supports, I don't have hardly any students who need the help desk.
Help desk is a section of the room where students get help.

Team Spirit

It is so important for students to feel connected to each other so that they help each other learn. In addition to doing team builder activities several times for the first few weeks of school, I try to do a team builder a week. Two of the team builders students did in the last few weeks is to choose a team name and symbol. Various competitions and tasks will be supported by their team name and symbol. It is a small way to help connect them together.
Example of Team Names and Symbols

How do you build culture in your classroom?


I have always had a hard time accepting compliments. It is not that I don't appreciate it. Sometimes it makes me feel uncomfortable. I feel like everyone's eyes are on me and I fight to find words to say. Other times I can't identify with what they see. I see all my faults rather than my strengths.

However, I love giving people compliments and telling them how much I appreciate them. I try to give a compliment or say thank you to everyone I encounter. Last year, people shared how I have impacted their life as 40th birthday gift. It was very humbling and made me realize I need to take in the compliments as well as the criticism.  As a start, I would like to share two great compliments I received last month.

I almost fell out of my chair when I read through my emails on August 9th. The state director of elementary mathematics and coordinator of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching shared with me that I was one of 3 state finalist (see email below). Although I may not be chosen at the national level, I am honored to be recognized for my teaching at the state level.
Email confirming my selection for PAEMST

Teacher of the Month
Marquee displaying James Womack and I as teacher of the month
At the beginning of September, I was informed by my principal that I was selected by my peers to be the teacher of the month along with another co-worker. I thought it was going to be just a simple recognition in the school newsletter. I was blown away when I saw my name on the school marquee. Although we do not need to put everyone's names up in lights, it is important to appreciate people. I realized this month that I can't stop appreciating people and it does feel good to be appreciated.

How do you show colleagues and students you appreciate them?

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Roles that Reflect the World & Maintains the Classroom

When I first started teaching, I wanted to model the working world I had worked in for over 10 years. I was always told that school helps prepare you to be a productive citizen and have a career. I thought what better way to run my classroom similar to the career world. It was in the first two years of teaching that I created Logic Inc (Click here for how I did it). It is a fictional consulting company that helps their clients solve their most pressing problems using mathematical concepts. I explain on the first day of school that they are apart of this company which will build their resume and open up opportunities for employment. This is very enticing for my high school students who want to make money.
This is the company logo.

Consistent Classroom Roles

One of the components of the company is roles that will remain constant all school year. These are roles the students get to have input on the qualifications and are allowed to interview to be in the positions. My current constant roles are manager, SME and class reporter. A manager oversees 3 to 5 students for the duration of a unit or a project. They are responsible for helping students who were absent be caught up, facilitate activities, encourage collaboration among the team and reporting the health of the team to the CEO (the teacher). A SME is a subject matter expert who helps students to understand a concept during work time. As seen in the picture below, SMEs float around the room helping any student with problems. A class reporter is responsible for summarizing what occurred in the classroom that day.

Qualifications for the Roles

There are basic requirements I have for each role. A manager must have a desire or shown leadership abilities. A SME must have demonstrated understanding of the concept in which they are helping students. A class reporter must know how to type and be organized. 

However, students get to add at least two additional qualifications they want in a person for each role. This is completed during the syllabus project completed within the first 3 weeks of school. During the project, students are told about the roles. They ask questions about the details of each role. The answers and their past experience shapes their suggestion for what qualifications the person should have. They submit their personal thoughts individually and then work as a team to create a final proposal of qualifications. Below are three students suggestion for this school year's qualifications. 

Selecting & Supporting Students for the Roles

After the classes vote for the qualifications, students apply and interview for the positions. The application process is simply asking them during an opening activity all the positions they want to be considered. They have the option to not apply for a position at all. During an extended class work time day, I interview students for the various positions. Here are the interview questions I am using this year when interviewing the students. It is based upon my own requirements and the requested qualifications of the students. I plan on interviewing students every 9 weeks because sometimes a student doesn't want to apply at one point in time and changes their mind later. There are times that I appoint a student without them applying. 

Supporting the students is something I am still working on and invite suggestions. For this year, I am going to meet with the managers on a weekly basis. They will fill out a quick form to update me on their team by Thursday and I will discuss with them changes we need to make on Friday. During my weekly discussions with them, I will share quick tips to develop them and troubleshoot any issues. The meeting will be from 5 to 10 minutes as a group. I will have a meeting with all SMEs right before they are required to help people on classwork days. I will share with them questioning techniques and coach them during the day they are helping. Class reporter will review my postings in Edmodo to guide them on how to summarize and report to the class. I will provide suggestions for the first few days of their work and then I will monitor on a weekly basis.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Getting To Know Each Other

I hate team builders, energizers, ice breakers or whatever you want to call games you play to get to know or connect with people. You wouldn't know I hate them if you ever play one with me. The competitive side of me takes over and I am immediately in it to win it. Sometimes it is not even a contest but I make it one.

Even though I hate it, I have not found a more powerful way for me to get to know my students and for them to get to know each other. I have found it to be an effective tool for building community even for those who would rather not "play". This year, I have made a commitment to do them more often than just the beginning of the year or when things seem off. My goal is to do one at least once a week after the syllabus project ends. I also complete other routines or tasks to get to know my students. In this post, I share how I use team builders to set the culture of the class, some of my favorite team builders, how I will use team builders to develop soft skills and ways I get to know my students.

Setting the Culture

To help set the culture of my class, I have students participate in what I call a lite version of PBL. I call it lite because it doesn't have all of the 8 essential elements of PBL. However, it has some of the key elements that can be easily done outside of a PBL and it helps to build the culture for when students complete a PBL. In the syllabus project, students are working to answer the driving question--"How can we create a fair and engaging learning environment?". While answering this question, we complete almost daily team builders.

Students are finding their seats through a class challenge

Starting with the first day of school, students get into their assigned seat by completing a challenge. The first student to class is the only person who can give the directions that are already written on the board. Everyone else has to be silent. This is usually a stretch for this student because the first student to class is typically a shy student. They have to sit in the correct order within a specified time frame. They do this challenge every day for 5 to 7 days depending on what day of the week school begins and how many schedule changes have to occur. Some examples of ways they have to sit include alphabetical order, height, number of pets or number of extracurricular activities. I take pictures the entire time so that I can see who are the leaders and followers and other personality traits.

Favorite Team Builders

My wonderful friend Myla Lee shared a great site of team builders with me a few years ago. It is I have been sharing this site with everyone I meet. One of the ones I have used on the site is Two Truths and a Lie.

I am in love with Kagan. In addition to having great collaboration structures for learning, they have great team builders. I have used a few activities out of their teambuilding book. I have used blind sequencing, match mine and team interview. I also love their team builder cube and silly sports and goofy games flip chart. The picture below is students playing "Magic 11" found on page 21 of the flip chart. Students move their fist in the air and a leader counts--one, two, three, eleven. On the count of eleven, students make a fist or show 1 to 5 fingers. They count and if they make 11 they win. If they don't, they try again but they can never tell people what number to use.

Developing Soft Skills 

We always say we want students to be better communicators or critical thinkers or creative. However, none of these things just happen. We have to intentionally teach and assess it for students to develop it. I use team builders to teach various skills that I have as a goal for students. To teach a soft skill, I have students complete a team builder that brings out one of the skills I want students to develop. While they complete the team builder, I walk around collecting evidence of the outcomes I want students to have in regards to the skill. During the debrief, I point out the observations as well as lead a discussion with the students. For assessment, I walk around with a clipboard that has the seating chart and mailing labels with the learning scale. I observe a group and write the assessment of each student on the seating chart. I then write it on a mailing label and gives it to each student.

Other Ways to Learn About Students

I have every student complete an index card sharing details about themselves. I place all of the cards on a ring so that I can refer to them throughout the year and update them as I find out new information. Below are the details of what students write on the card. The front is basically their contact information and any important information they want me to know. Sometimes students have shared that their parents are getting a divorce or they have lost a family member recently.

A colleague shared with me a great form for students to fill out at the beginning of school as well. In addition to filling in the information. You can allow students to be creative and color in parts of the intro about themselves.

What do you do to get to know your students?