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?

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Need Your Input

I can't believe it has been 12 years since I started teaching and working to implement PBL in my classroom. Time really does pass by fast when you are having fun. I am excited to finally take enough things off my plate where I can share my classroom on a regular basis.

It seems like yesterday when Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss convinced me to blog about my experience. I shared how I wish I could be a bird on the outside of a window looking in on a PBL classroom. A few moments later I agreed to blog about my first collaborative PBL. I really enjoyed sharing how I worked with my 9th grade academy team to implement the food project.

I want to share again but include items that people really need. I am thinking of sharing videos of my classroom as well as materials. Please write in the comments below what you would like to see from my classroom. I am going to also use this to help edit a book I am writing with Chris Fancher this fall.

Thanks so much. I can't wait to post more details based upon your feedback this week.