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Professional Development for Innovative Schools

Posts tagged teaching

In Search of the Perfect Problem

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At IDE Corp., our “why” for the professional development services and consulting we provide is to assist schools in positioning students to change the world. To build student efficacy and leadership, schools must move beyond a compliance model to an engagement → empowerment → efficacy model of instruction. The Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom model drives learning through student engagement in solving authentic, open-ended problems. Let me give you an example from 8th grade science teacher, Jennifer Kaylor of Centennial Middle School, one of our STEM LATIC schools in Pasco County Florida:

 

When a rocket launches into outer space, it consumes significant quantities of fuel to get outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. Once up in space, it uses little fuel, except that it’s already expended so much! Watch this video to see! Rocket fuel is made from hydrogen and oxygen; it turns out we can mine that from asteroids. The company Planetary Resources is working to do just that. Imagine if you could launch from Earth and then land on the moon to refuel with hydrogen and oxygen mined from asteroids. The possibilities for space travel and living are limitless! The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is interested in this topic as well.

 

Jen has rocks from asteroids that students will test to identify chemical elements. They will explore this topic of space travel from a chemistry perspective and write proposals regarding which asteroids might be worthy of a visit from Planetary Resources. They can then send their proposals to the company.

 

I don’t know about you but if I were in that class, I’d be very motivated to use my growing knowledge of chemistry to contribute to the solution to providing rocket fuel in outer space, especially if I could send my proposal to a real company!

 

What makes a perfect problem, from kindergarten through college?

 

Open-Ended: When students are given a problem to solve, they are motivated to tackle the challenge. They get to develop and promote their own unique ideas, grappling with content. While closed-ended projects (such as making a dinosaur museum exhibition) can be fun, open-ended problems, such as designing a habitat to house a cloned dinosaur, have that additional “drive” factor by creating a “felt need” to learn.

 

Audience: Once students develop their solution, who are they going to tell? If the audience extends beyond the teacher or classmates, students will be more motivated to focus on the quality of their solution and presentation of that solution. It becomes a matter of personal pride.

 

Real-World: The extent to which the problem solution can change the world is also a motivating factor. Problems can be focused on the student, school, community, state, nation, world, and universe. All are important and should be addressed across the year. You’ll find that when students find they are making a difference, they rise to the occasion. Real-world problems lend themselves to using a design process for solution finding, building critical academic and executive function skills.

 

Standards-Focused: Given that schools operate within a system that expects mastery of certain content by certain grade levels, and sometimes even times of the school year, it is important to ensure that the problem is well-focused on that content. While other content will be reinforced and foreshadowed, key curricular content must be at the core of the problem.

 

In my second book, It’s Not What You Teach But How, I propose that we need students to become problem-finders, innovators, and entrepreneurs. As teachers grow more comfortable with their Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classrooms, they can move toward having students identify the problems they want to solve, rather than constraining them with teacher-created problems.

To get started on your own problem-finding, look in your own classroom or school, consider issues of your community, look at the world around you. Read the news! Check out great organization’s websites, like the United Nations, NASA, World Water Organization, World Health Organization, the World Economic Forum, CARE, and more.

Create great problems to build efficacious leaders and change the world!

 

A Classroom is Like a Swimming Pool

How do you create a culture of creativity and problem-solving while addressing all of the curriculum standards? As you may know about IDE Corp., we love using metaphors and similes to rethink “school” (e.g., “teacher as ferry; teacher as bridge”). So let’s consider the infinity pool: a swimming pool that gives the impression of endlessness and offers exploration while providing supportive boundaries.

The Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom is all about Students Taking Charge, that is, having choice and voice within safe boundaries. Let’s break down some of the structures and strategies:

 

  • Teachers consider the curricular standards and design a problem-based task students could accomplish if they mastered those standards. They design a rubric to provide students with clearly articulated expectations. Teachers present the task and rubric to students at the start of the unit, driving the learning! The task and rubric provide a certain set of boundaries, like a pool, to keep students safe within the realm of the curriculum (because, that is what’s expected in schools these days, unless you’re going rogue!).

 

  • An activity list offers a variety of differentiated learning and practice activities to support students in mastering the curricular goals; however, students decide which to use, when to work on them, and with whom they will work. Students have a lot of choice and voice as they “swim” around the learning environment.

 

  • Teachers facilitate learning, helping students make decisions about their learning paths, providing direct instruction, and probing thinking to move students to higher levels of understanding.

 

  • Every Authentic Learning Unit (ALU) that begins with a task and rubric results in students’ demonstration of knowledge through the creation of some sort of product or performance. If the product or performance itself is not a part of the curricular goals, teachers should allow students to present in a variety of ways. For example, if you’re teaching poetry writing, students may be limited to writing a poem; but if you’re asking students to present a solution to designing a zoo habitat for an animal, you can allow them to present that through a written proposal, video, multimedia presentation, scale model, or any other means, because your curriculum is about habitats, not presentations.

 

The structures of the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom are what enable the freedom. Within those structures, students are empowered to explore, make decisions, be creative, and invent. Make your classroom a swimming pool, metaphorically speaking, that is. Change the world!

#LATICinsights: Using Data As Your Driver

What drives a classroom in which students take responsibility for their own learning, are engaged in grappling with content, and are pursuing high academic standards towards higher achievement? Data!

The Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom is a data-driven learning environment. It’s a highly structured learning environment that allows students significant voice and choice in their learning. While students have the freedom to set their schedules, work on what, with whom, and when they want, the success comes from the fact that most decisions are data driven. Here are some of the data structures that should be in place:

  • Teachers review state and district standardized test data to determine individual student weaknesses. Given the student-driven nature of classroom activities, teachers can more easily guide individual students toward appropriate activities, offering the maximum level of differentiation.
  • Students use rubrics to continually self assess where they are and set goals. The teacher meets with individual students to confirm progress and goals.
  • Students use their rubrics, assessment data, and activity lists to select the activities they need to accomplish. Even kindergarten students can manage their day!
  • Teachers carry facilitation grids to capture formative assessment data; they also use the grids to capture data from quizzes and tests. They then use this progress-monitoring data to plan scaffolded learning activities and teacher-directed, small-group lessons.
  • Based on a topical assessment, students can opt into an advanced small-group, mini-lesson to push themselves beyond the expected.
  • Students use Learning Dashboards of standards and curricular objectives to track their progress across the year, using the data to select learning activities.

When students are in charge of their own learning, it’s easier for the teacher to differentiate instruction. With data as the driver, teachers can plan benchmark lessons; small-group, mini-lessons; and activity lists to ensure that all students’ needs are being met.

Put students in charge of their own learning; have teachers act as powerful facilitators; and let data drive the action!

IDE Corp. offers differentiated, online courses facilitated by our consultants for maximum success of all our our participants, including one on formative assessment.

Standardized Testing Super Bowl Style

Yesterday’s historic Super Bowl win by the Patriots was an amazing example of grit and the can-do attitude that students need to take the state standardized tests. The Falcons were poised to win: with 17 minutes to go, they were leading 28 to 3; no team had ever come back from that far down to win; they had the game in the bag. What happened?

The Patriots had grit; the Falcons’ confidence shook. The Falcons were highly capable, with great players who know how to play the game well; but they lacked the can-do, fail-forward, grit that the Patriots had. It’s a good time of year to reflect on this and make sure your students walk into standardized testing with great grit!

About that test! Please answer the following question:

Ciò che è due più tre?

The answer to “what is two plus three” is five. Chances are, you know that content, but you might have been thrown by the question being written in another language. If you know the romance languages, you might have worked somewhat to figure it out and arrived at the answer of five, but it took you more time than if it were written in your native language, assuming you don’t speak Italian.

I believe many students know far more than their standardized test scores indicate, but the act of test-taking is not natural for most students. It is, therefore, important to spend some time before standardized testing helping students build familiarity and grit, so that what they know in their heads actually translates to the paper or computerized test situation. Here are some ideas:

1- Build test-taking familiarity. Throughout the year, provide students with tests similar to the format and test-taking conditions they will encounter on the state tests. I was once struggling with an earth science course (I admit I didn’t pay attention in class). I bought the state’s practice book, took the first test and scored a 20%. Without looking up the incorrect answers, I took all of the tests in the practice book. I then went on to take the actual test and scored in the high 80s. Familiarity with the test helped me greatly. In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, students are used to working collaboratively, talking, moving around, putting their names on a help board. None of this resembles the test-taking formality of standardized tests. Teachers must simulate test-taking conditions prior to state tests to ensure students are not overwhelmed by the situation so much that they can’t put what’s in their brains on the answer sheet.

2 – Build a “can do” attitude about strategic test-taking: looking for clues and insights to reading the questions and answering them; knowing where to place an emphasis. Use a superhero approach that fits for the age level, like _____ School’s Mutant Ninja TestTakers. Imagine if students considered the characters and their strengths, and related that level of grit to test-taking success! Imagine if they went into the test with superhero powers on their mind.

3 – Inspire your students with positivity! The worst thing you can do to a losing team is tell them they’re losers; that just demoralizes them. Coach Belichick didn’t go into the locker room at half time and tear down his team; he told them to “keep doing what we’re doing; play like we know how to play and not to think about what happened.” He inspired them to achieve the greatness he knew was inside them. Pump up your students to let the world know how much they know. You may have heard of the teacher who wrote inspirational #growthmindsetmessages on students’ desks. On test day some schools are known to have their teachers line up at the entrance and high-five students as they’re walking in.

4 – Get students learning from students! Students in Jessica Lutzke Heck’s class at Chester W. Taylor Elementary School take their roles as peer experts very seriously. They must first be vetted by Jessica to ensure that they know the content well enough to teach it. (Create a vetting quiz of questions like those on standardized tests.) Then they must submit a lesson plan consisting of four items:

  • The example they will use to instruct the group in the skill and the points they will make
  • The example they will use for guided practice
  • The example they will use for independent practice
  • How they will assess their group’s mastery of the skill

Identify key content and set up your students to teach one another through a week or two of small-group, mini-lessons using a student sign-up process. Imagine just lots of small group sessions run by students. Students learn well from one another; and they learn by teaching others. Ensure all students have the opportunity to conduct a small-group, mini-lesson.

5 – Prepare for greatness! Share with your students how great athletes prepare for competition: get a good night’s sleep; eat a good (non sugary) breakfast; and drink water (all good for the brain.) Inspire them to be as great as they are. In preparation for the test, try this activity. First, cover your desks/tables with butcher paper on which to write. Then put students into groups of 3-4 and ask them to recall everything they’ve learned this year about the subject, discuss it as a group, and write it on the paper. Challenge them to see how much they can fill in within 15 minutes. Then ask one student at each table to stay while everyone else moves to new tables. Let the remaining student answer any questions about what is on the paper for the others, then have them all continue to add content. After three rounds, bring the group together and comment on your observations: how much they remembered, key insights they may have had, and talk about any content that was glaringly missing. Let students know that they know what’s on the test: they just have to let it out!

Sometimes it’s not a matter of students not knowing content; it’s a matter of familiarity with the situation, and grit! OK, as the state tests approach, go change the world!

Meditation is to Teaching . . .

Happy New Year! The January return to school is always accompanied by resolutions and energized educators looking to continue to make that difference in the lives of their students. It’s also a time when people are determined to take time to take care of themselves: going to the gym, daily meditation, reading more novels, etc.

My last blog post of 2016 focused on the quest for innovation. For my first of 2017, I thought I’d use meditation as a metaphor for teaching. The purpose of meditation is to achieve deeper levels of consciousness, positioning one for greater success and happiness. The purpose of teaching is to achieve deeper levels of learning and understanding, positioning one’s students for greater success and happiness.

When meditating, you sit up very straight, elongating your spine, which takes deliberate effort. However, you then begin to relax most of your muscles, from your head down to your toes. The infrastructure of your spine supports you; the part of your body that expends energy to work and move relaxes into a calm state. I like to think this describes a well-run Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom.

The “spine” of the classroom is the infrastructure you put in place: the problem-based tasks, rubrics to guide students, activity lists, how-to sheets and videos, resource area, help board, peer expert board, and more. Setting up your infrastructure takes deliberate effort. However, the “muscles” that you have used to ensure everyone is working, gather students, give directives, handle behavioral issues, hand out papers, etc. can now relax, knowing that the students’ actions are supported by the infrastructure. That leaves you to now relax into the classroom environment and use your mind to help move students to deeper levels of understanding through your facilitation.

You can observe students in action; ask clarifying questions to assess their level of understanding; ask higher-order, probing questions to push their thinking; offer suggestions for their work plans; offer instruction when they’re stuck; and more. If the spine is strong, the muscles can relax. So to enjoy the mental stimulation and conversations between teacher and student in the classroom, take steps to strengthen your infrastructure.


Wishing you all the best for 2017!

#LATICinsights – Avoiding the No-Man’s Land of Innovation

Innovation requires a shift in mindset and action, sometimes taking you outside of your comfort zone. As you design a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, you will no doubt find times that you are outside of your comfort zone. Your tendency might be to drop a structure that doesn’t seem to work for you or your students. Don’t do it!

In the game of tennis, players first played at the baseline. The ball would cross over the net, bounce in the court, and as it approached the back line, the player would hit it back. Over time, the game, and tennis racquet fotolia_tenniscourt_xstechnology, evolved, and the net game was born. The player would run up to the net and hit the ball as it crossed, not waiting for it to bounce first. For some players, this was natural and comfortable. For others, being at the net was stressful, and they would begin to back up, fearing they would miss the ball. The problem is that if they backed up to just the middle of the court, they would find themselves in what tennis folks call “No-Man’s Land” (the center of the court between the net and the baseline.) The balls would bounce at their feet and they could not hit them.

In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, if teachers back up and drop a structure here and there, they end up in #LATIC No-Man’s Land. The classroom will not run as smoothly and the students may not achieve to the desired levels. The key is, you can’t drop a structure because each one has an important reason for being there, and the structures support one another. Take a look at the list below. This represents just some of the many structures that make the classroom work.

latic-structures

As you innovate, be sure to lean in, embrace the change, reflect and adjust, but keep moving forward. When something appears to not work, it’s usually because a structure or strategy is missing. Rather than reverting to former methods, find out what’s missing that needs to be added. Avoid No-Man’s Land! Innovate and change the world!

#LATICinsights: Inspire Big; Teach Small

Teaching should not be transactional; it should be transformational. The goal of teaching is to ensure that students gain a level of understanding of content that enables them to apply it to new situations, thus transforming them.

Learning comes from making sense and meaning of content (Sousa, 2011) and is enhanced when students have:

  • a felt-need for the content
  • time to explore and grapple with the content
  • direct instruction in skills at the appropriate time in the appropriate modality
  • time to practice skills and content application

The first bullet speaks to a teacher’s ability to inspire students. In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, that comes from the teacher providing students with an authentic, open-ended, real-world problem to solve, and from whole-group lessons that present concepts that leave students on the edges of their seats. Teachers can inspire through whole-class lessons: inspire big!

The remaining bullets are not accomplished through whole-group instruction, but through small venues: a small-group, mini-lesson offered by the teacher; one-on-one or small-group facilitation by the teacher; independent learning activities; and peer assistance. screen-shot-2016-11-28-at-12-07-33-amThese are critical structures in a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom as they provide the most meaningful instruction and learning opportunities for students.

When you stand before the entire class, inspire! Trigger students’ awareness of new content they can use.

quotePlan your lesson well; present for no more than 15 minutes; use a combination of voice and visuals. Do not teach skills! Skill development is a verycomplex process, taking place mostly through internal cognitive processing. Can some people listen to a teacher, cognitively process the information, and learn without missing the next sentence? Maybe. Can an entire class? Absolutely not; not even if they are all homogeneously grouped. Inspiration grabs students’ attention, focuses them, and causes them to generate questions they want answered. So you can inspire big! But . . .

Teach small! Provide ample opportunities for students to engage in a variety of learning activities. Offer small-group, mini-lessons on targeted content aimed at varying levels of ability. Rather than a lesson on “perimeter,” offer lessons, such as:

  • What Is Perimeter? (for beginners at the concept)
  • Calculating Perimeter of a Square or Rectangle
  • Calculating Perimeter of Various Polygons
  • Understanding Circumference: The Perimeter of a Circle (advanced mini-lesson that requires passing an entrance quiz to receive a ticket)

Also consider what videos are available or can be recorded to present lessons. Students who need more time to think than the pace of the lesson can stop and rewind.

Following are some classroom snapshots where you can see the “teach small” concept in action:

Inspire big! Teach small! Change the world!

 

#LATICinsights True North

Illustration of old fashioned nautical compass, isolated on brown background.

In navigation, “true north” is the direction to the Earth’s axis. It differs slightly from a compass’ magnetic north, and from a map’s grid north. So it takes some reflection, calculation, and adjustment to find. In life, the metaphor plays out to mean finding one’s authentic life and living it to one’s fullest potential. So I thought I’d relate it to the plight of a teacher running a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, in relentless pursuit of the greater purpose of ensuring learning for all students.

In #LATIC, true north would be a set of beliefs to which you are striving, always pointing. They include:

  • All students can learn at high levels; it is a teacher’s job to help them figure out their personal path to success.
  • Engagement is key to learning: not compliant engagement merely through activity choice, but that which comes from grappling with real world problems that give purpose to instructional activities.
  • Students must be empowered through responsibility and choice in order to build executive function and be prepared for life beyond school.
  • Direct instruction in rigorous content is essential and is provided through carefully crafted learning activities; web-based activities; how-to sheets; and small-group, mini-lessons.
  • A teacher’s role during class is to facilitate: ask probing questions, challenge thinking at deeper levels, gather assessment data to drive further activities, and be a key part of a student’s learning process.

As you continue to design and perfect your classroom learning environment, keep your sights on true north. Check the daily decisions you make against the beliefs held by Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Teachers.

 

#LATICinsights: Cultivating Rigor

When you first learn to design a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom, you are faced with the paradigm shift of launching each unit of study with an authentic, open-ended, real-world problem to solve. You start by thinking through the problems students could solve at the end of a five-week unit if they learned everything. Designing the problem-based task statement is just the beginning.

Imagine the task as the gift box that excites students to delve into all of the rich and diverse opportunities to learn. Your next step, therefore, is to fill the unit by building a collection of learning opportunities. My latest video discusses this metaphor in more detail.

Learning opportunities include whole-class lessons, small-group lessons, teacher facilitation, and learning activities. Much of the learning in a Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom takes place through learning activities, rather than teacher dissemination of knowledge through lessons. Unlike activities to practice learning, learning activities should be narrowly focused on a skill or concept, include step-by-step direct instruction, and provide the student with some level of feedback. When designing learning activities, consider the following:

  • What is the grade level standard to be met?
    • All students must meet this standard.
  • What prerequisites would be needed?
    • Some students may need help in mastering prerequisites first, but they cannot stop there; they must achieve the grade level standard.
  • What learning activities can you find or design that provide concept exploration or direct instruction in skills, including a variety of learning modalities, related to the standard?
    • Differentiation should include not only cognitive differences, but learning style differences.
  • What supports/scaffolding could you put in place for students, such as partner work, how-to sheet or video, peer expert board, help board, and teacher facilitation?
    • Once involved in an activity, how can you ensure students will meet with success?

Rigor means ensuring that all students are learning at high levels of understanding and application of at least the grade-level standards. With LATIC students taking greater responsibility for their learning, teachers are freed up to engage more powerfully through facilitation toward greater rigor. Make your gift to your students complete with powerful opportunities to learn. Change the world!

#LATICinsights: The Sounds of Engagement

What does engagement sound like? Allowing students to have a say in their work is not enough to build engagement. Adam FleSVnotSEtcher writes a great blog on engagement, including this entry:  voice and engagement are not the same.

In the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom (#LATIC), engagement refers to the state in which students are thoroughly engrossed in their work, intrinsically motivated, with a purposeful destiny and path. Here’s one way to assess engagement.

What do you hear in the classroom? As students are working, walk around for about five minutes and jot down what you hear them saying to one another. Then categorize those as:

  • Clarification (asking for or giving)
  • Help (asking for or giving)
  • Organizing
  • Analyzing
  • Brainstorming
  • What-If?
  • Aha Moment
  • Grit
  • Facing Failure

You should hear them all! These are the sounds of engagement. While theScreen Shot 2016-10-11 at 1.23.40 PM first few might indicate mere compliance, as you move down the list and as you hear them all, you’ll know you’re observing higher levels of engagement. (Use this tool to make your assessment easier.) 

When students are asked to solve authentic, open-ended problems; self-assess; collaborate with others; manage their time; manage learning resources; and advocate for their own learning, these are the sounds of success: the sounds of engagement.

You can increase engagement by ensuring that:

  • Your problem-based task is driving instruction; that it hooks and motivates students to want to solve the problem
  • Students use the rubric first to determine their learning goals and then look to the activity list for opportunities to learn
  • Your activity list has learning activities that promote engagement over compliance; that is, that they connect closely with the task and rubric: no worksheets without a task-related purpose!
  • You’ve read Students Taking Charge: Inside the Learner-Active, Technology-Infused Classroom. 😉

Engaging students is an important step in positioning them for higher achievement and a rewarding life. Go change the world!