Teaching

What I learned this Summer

As an educator and now administrator I have constantly worked to learn new things about education. Today’s access to technology has given educators access to so many great minds that learning new things seems to be getting easier every year. I spent a good portion of my “time off” trying to find new and better ways to incorporate technology into classrooms. I stumbled across so many great things I don’t know if I have the energy to write about all of them. Here is a short list of new things I will be working on incorporating into our school over the next school year:

Khan Academy

While I am not new to KA, I have used their videos for years, I am more convinced of the power this resource has. The data collected from just a few students over the summer has given me an incredible understanding of what information these students know and don’t know. Students come into classrooms today with a wide range of math skills. It’s hard to find a better, free, resource to help track that information to help guide your teaching. Parents can also log on and see their child’s progress, or lack thereof. This creates great information for future discussions about how students are performing in class.

http://www.khanacademy.org

Educreations

Where was this resource throughout my teaching career? This is one tool I really could have used to reach students, especially those students with attendance issues. The ability to make short videos with engaging visuals that you can store for years to come makes this resource something very valuable to schools, and it’s free as well!

http://www.educreations.com

Class Dojo

This classroom management tool gives teachers the ability to track behavior, both positive and negative, from their IPads or computers. This free tool is easy to use and now gives teachers the ability to share classes so you don’t have to take the time to put in every student for every class you teach. You can share each student’s information with their parents through email or parents can log in and see their students’ progress. We always talk about how much we would like parents to see what goes on with their students in the class and this is probably the next best thing to them sitting with their students. Another great way to keep parents involved and informed!

http://www.classdojo.com

Vocabulary.com

Ugh, another vocab list of words to remember? If I only had a dollar for every time I said this throughout middle school! Students often see vocab as another thing they have to cram for, regurgitate and forget. Vocabulary.com gives teachers and students the opportunity to make vocab an online activity, which generally sparks more interest in students. Teachers can share vocab lists with students or pick from the thousands of already public lists other teachers have created. These lists go with historical documents, books, and chapters and book units across all subject areas. As students correctly answer questions they make progress on word mastery as well as allocate points for their school. This could be a motivational tool trying to beat previous personal and school scores. Any way we can make vocab more like a game is probably going to get more students participating and lead to more student learning. There is also an app that can be purchased for students to work on the bus, in the car, or anywhere they can connect.

http://www.vocabulary.com

Blogs

Looking for a way to get students more interested about writing, have them blog. I was skeptical at first but found more information than I could digest about the success teachers have had with classroom blogs. The research shows that students write more and with better quality if they know more people are going to read their writing, especially if those people are their peers. My Big Campus gives students the opportunity to create those blogs so you don’t have to find any new resources to make this happen, but if you want to there are more websites than you can imagine available for you to use.

Hemingway app

Students regularly need feedback prior to handing in their writings and teachers are usually the only ones they go to for this feedback. Hemingwayapp.com gives students the opportunity to copy and paste their writings onto the website and get immediate feedback. Feedback is provided in the areas of readability, adverb use, use of passive voice are just a few of the areas they get instant feedback on. This can also be used as a tool for teachers to show students specific parts of their papers that are difficult to read or show examples of how their writings could be more polished.

http://www.hemingwayapp.com

Get Kahoot

Ever wish you could make review games that didn’t require you to spend hours making something that is never as engaging as you wanted it to be? GetKahoot.com helps you create those review games much quicker, saves them online, and keeps score for you. Along with other features GetKahoot.com gives you the opportunity to make more engaging classroom review games, discussions, and surveys. Now you don’t have to create teams where half the students aren’t playing, or only paying attention during their turn, because everyone in logged in and you can track everyone’s progress. Definitely a fun way to get students involved in the classroom.

Probably the best part about all these websites is that they are free. We all know there are lot of great things out there for educators but cost often prevents us from utilizing many of these resources. Access to free resources allows us to create a more engaging classroom, without straining already tight budgets.

SUMMER WORK
Just as we know that students will lose knowledge over the summer we should expect that we as educators will lose some of our classroom knowledge during that time as well. Every year many of us come back to the classroom and it takes a few weeks to get back into the routine and during that time we struggle to keep students engaged and set a poor tone for the classroom that we will spend weeks working to correct. We tell students and parents that success lies in continuing to work over the summer to stay fresh on skills and prevent summer learning loss. As educators we should at the very minimum hold ourselves to the same standard and spend time over the summer searching for new ideas and classroom techniques, both teaching and management, to keep our teaching from suffering this same summer loss. Here are a few classroom management tools I have come across in the past few months that I believe would help any teacher, especially younger ones who struggle with classroom management.

http://www.classdojo.com

http://www.sharpclass.com

Both are free resources that give teachers the ability to track behavior, both positive and negative, contact parents, and provide other various classroom management tools to help teachers, students, and parents keep up with what is going on in the classroom.

 

Why I am teaching summer school with no grades, student work requirements, or pay and you should too!

Learning is primarily a function of motivation and opportunity; the more you want something the harder you will work to get it and opportunity is something we rarely have a choice in. When you offer students a free opportunity to engage in summer learning with few requirements and tell them they can do as much or as little work as they want you cater to both motivation and opportunity.

Why no grades or work requirements?

Summer learning should be about learning. There should be no stress involved and no fear of not achieving a desired result, if you learned something it was a success. One goal I have with this summer learning program is to teach students it’s okay to take a risk in your learning; getting something wrong helps you gain a better understanding. Grades often prevent students from taking these risks, because failure has consequences students often play it safe and give an answer they think the teacher wants instead of what the student really thinks or believes. By removing the grades from summer learning you give those motivated students the tools to gain deeper understanding and hopefully motivation to continue down this path.

Of course no grades will prevent many students from fully participating in this program; there are no consequences for not doing any work. Why does learning, or lack of, have to be punished? Our goal with our summer learning program is to let knowledge be the reward, if you want to gain some understanding and that makes you feel good about yourself then sign up and sign in. If you don’t want to “waste” your free time on school stuff then don’t, everything is purely up to the student and for the student’s benefit.

Why put in all this work for free

We all know teachers are not as compensated for their work as other professionals, the average teacher salary doesn’t match up with the average salary for people with equivalent levels of education but we knew that going into the profession. Technology has made programs like this easier, you can post a task for students online and you don’t have to worry about going to the copier or coming to school. Because there are no grades or deadlines you don’t have to input grades or many of the other non-teaching tasks that consume a large amount of our time outside of the classroom. As an administrator I don’t get the opportunity to teach students as often as I would like, which is a big factor in me deciding to do this, and I will always be a classroom teacher at heart. But the biggest reason for this is that anything our students learn over the summer will come back with them in the next school year and keep their brains in the learning mode. In a time where test scores determine whether or not administrators and teachers keep their jobs we may not be able to afford to not offer a program like this.

Potential problems

Many people will say that this is a program with will only cater to the motivated student who is already at the top of their class and that will be the case for most of the students. For that my argument would be; should we stop catering to the students who still want to learn in the summer? Do we tell students they are too smart and we don’t have time for them because we have to focus on students who don’t perform as well academically? We should continue to offer education to anyone who wants it regardless of their academic levels. We spend a large amount of time on remediation, and we should. Students who are struggling need opportunities to succeed. But if we make the content interesting and relatable to students we may also pull in some of those students who struggle simply because “school is boring.” Many students fall behind not because of ability level but because they don’t see the merit in learning the material at the time and don’t realize the impacts it has on future academic success. This is why we have learning modules set up with experiments, movies, youtube, and a variety of things students rarely get to do in class because of the pressures of state mandated testing. If students can make a connection to learning in the summer that may bring them in with a more positive outlook in the fall and that brings us back to, can we afford to not be doing this?

What does your school offer in the summer in terms of learning programs? Please leave your ideas, thoughts, and (constructive!!) comments below.

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