Sunday, June 17, 2018

Book #2 of Summer is in the books

Ha ha.  You see what I did there? In the books?  Get it?


This was a quick read.  I began it sitting in the couch in the waiting room at Skywalker Ranch while the choir recorded, and I finished it last night.

Now I'll have to find the first volume of Hacks.

James Alan Sturtevant is a high school history teacher.  Here is his website where he posts his work and thoughts on teaching.

Kelsey Johnson strongly recommended this when I stopped by the media center to grab some summer readings from our professional development library.

Hacking Engagement Again: 50 Teacher Tools That Will Make Students Love Your Class.

With a title like that, how couldn't I grab it?

Engagement is what I strive for most in my classes.  I'm not a huge standards guy.  I mean I'm not trying to dumb my students down by giving them study hall every damn day, but I'm not conscious of the standards I'm meeting every day with my kids.  Every day we try to read challenging material, apply it to our lives, derive meaning from it, explore interpretations, and then write as much as we can.  I'm pretty sure that hits the ELA standards.

What I fear gets lost if I were to walk into my room with my focus shifted from my kids and the material to the standards is that kids wouldn't be engaged and they would not love my class.

I'm not trying to be arrogant, but if it's one thing I've got going for my classes is that students really enjoy them.  Listening to past College Comp I students talk about the class to freshman and sophomores was proof enough of that for me.  One of my favorite lines came from Megan, who struggled a bit early but then poured it on with her final paper and pulled an excellent final grade.  She told some to-be-juniors, "When he tells you that your final paper will be a 12 page research paper on two novels, you'll be freaking out.  How can I ever write that much?  But the first paper we wrote was what, one paragraph?  And then we began writing more and more.  What was our "Young Goodman Brown" and Training Day paper?  Eight pages?  So it seems like it's a lot but it really isn't."

Another underclassman told me over dinner on the pier, "I heard your classes are fun. Kids really like them.   I hope I can get into them."

So kids enjoy my classes, but is that because I have a sense of humor and make them spicy pretzels and double layer Rice Krispy bars and we watch/read some really cool stuff?  I want it to be because they are constantly engaged.

One area that I really need to improve is my opening activities.  I have none right now. I just begin class, or I just visit with kids at the start of class.  While this is great in developing culture, it's not exactly helping me teach content and introduce skills.

Hence, that's why I devoured this book.  My plan is to use as many of these as I can for highly engaging ways to introduce content to open my classes.

What Sturtevant does with each hack is wonderful - First, he states the problem teachers face that his hack will (hopefully) address.  Second, he offers the hack (accompanied by several QR codes) and examples of how he has used it and how others have used it.  Finally, he has a highlighted sections that addresses what every reader wants to know: What YOU can do tomorrow.  This means how you can take this hack and implement it tomorrow in your class.

What else is great about each hack is that Surtevant states how he discovered the hack and from whom he learned it.

Here are some of the highlights (and, man, it was so hard not to highlight and mark this text up!).  Instead, I just dog eared the pages for reference.  Whoever reads it next year: you're welcome.

Hack 51 - Contextualize . . . Contextualize . . . Contextualize . . . use timelines to help contextualize information.  I'm going to have students do this with their individual novels in College Comp I as well as with The Ghost Map.

Here is a link to the website Sturtevant uses.

Hack 52 - Recruit Students to Embark on an Academic Hero's Journey -- this is a great idea that involves using another great website, hyperdocs.  Kelly Weets loaned me her book on hyperdocs last summer, and I read it cover to cover.  Sturtevant focuses here on how students rarely celebrate or chronicle their own academic achievement (or even their regular accomplishments).  So he offers this link, Hyperdocs.  Here is a link to the specific Hero's Journey template.

Sturtevant challenges his students to fill out the template with something they have accomplished in or out of school.  Then they take turns presenting it to the class.

This is pretty much what I have students do when we read So Good They Can't Ignore You when we focus on deliberate practice.  Now I have another way to frame the concept for students.

Hack 54 - Lay Down the 15-Word Gauntlet -- This one works for both teachers and students.

The problem is that most presentations are boring.  And that is one of the things the kids I surveyed on the choir trip mentioned again and again and again: NO boring slideshows.  Put in a video.  Don't just cram a ton of text on a slide, or worse, don't just use the pre-fabricated slideshows the curriculum gives you.  This totally disengages kids.


This is what they had to say - the know the teacher didn't do the work.  They can even tell how most of the time the teacher isn't all that familiar with the slides (because they didn't create them or even preview them much).  To the students' eyes, this is no different than when they copy and paste most of their research into a paper.

The objectives are the same - to really do as little work as possible.

So instead, limit yourself to just 15 words per slide.

This works great too for student presentations.

You could take this one step further and present (or have your students present) a Pecha Kucha presentation (where you use no words at all on your slides.  Moreover, you have a set number of slides and you are only allowed a certain amount of time per each slide).

Hack 56 - Explose Student Phone Obsession - use the app, Moment, to illustrate how much students use their cell phones.

One thing I'm going to change next year is my cell phone policy.  Students are not to be on it, unless they have permission (and the same goes for me too).  In fact, I'm taking this one step further and sending home a form to parents to remind them to not text or contact their students during class time. I honestly think that it's not all on the students.  I had one student last semester who was constantly on her phone.  I tried to make her aware of her cell phone (over) use.  She was usually on Snapchat, but this one time she was texting her mother, who was at work.  I guess employers have to develop their own cell phone policies too!

Hack 58 - Navigate the Rollins Seas of Controversial Topics.

This one fascinates me.  What I like about this is that instead of avoid controversial topics, we try to delve right into them.  And the point is NOT to persuade or convince.  It's simply to explore the topic.      The point is to explore the topic objectively (an adverb that is used far too little in our current world).

I think this is perfect for my exploratory essay in College Comp 2.  It might be even more interesting if we ALL choose one topic and explore it as a whole class.  I would first have us (using Padlet probably) get our own biases out of the way regarding the topic.

So if we were to pick a topic that is near and dear to my heart, gun control, we could anonymously put our own biases out of the way on Padlet.  Once we see where we all stand, then we can get to exploring the topic with that out in the open.

I would probably randomly pass out different aspects of the topic to explore: why does gun control work in other countries?  Is it logical to argue the comparison to drug use (drugs are illegal and criminals still get them.  Does this apply to weapons too?  I've even seen it argued that gun control is like prohibition.  People still made (and abused) alcohol on their own.  But could a person still make an automatic weapon on their own?)  What kinds of limits should be put on guns?  How many cases have guns saved lives?  How often do permit owners really save lives?  Why does the press seem to just note cases of gun violence and not instances where guns prevent crimes and save lives?

Another one, vaccines.  Do they really cause autism?  Who were the authors of the study?  What controversies surround them?  What happens if a child isn't vaccinated?  What about the rights of Native Americans when it comes to this?  Isn't it ironic for a nation of people who had thousands upon thousands die from the Small Pox disease that some would refuse to vaccinate their kids (I'm basing this off a Native American speaker at our school several years ago)? What are the dangers of vaccination?  What are the benefits?  What diseases have been conquered as a result of vaccines?  What does Jenny McCarthy have to do with this?  What evidence does exist about vaccines?

Again, the overall point is to explore a topic in as much of its entirety as we possibly can instead of condensing it down to three supporting details or aspects.

Remember, the goal is to prove to the students (and their teachers) that we live in shallow world where people can post anything on Facebook (regardless if it's true or not - no Einstein didn't convince his teacher of the existence of God and no the Seattle Seahawks didn't burn a flag in their locker room and no teachers in Finland don't make as much as lawyers and doctors) without even seeing if it's true or not.  I just saw a post that read "So and so smashes the concept of gun control in 60 seconds."  No.  That's impossible.  Very few topics are that thin that they could be denounced in just 60 seconds.

Hack 61 - Stage Student Presentations in Minutes

Here's a real problem - student presentations are often boring.  Sturtevant organizes a gallery walk to avoid just another powerpoint/prezi/Google Doc slideshow on a topic.  He gives students a variety of topics (He tries so that there are at least three students per topic).  He has them number 1-3 and then sends them off to their topics (for example, all students with the number 1 present on the history of trench warfare.  All students with the number 2 present on how technology changed during World War I.  All students with number 3 then discuss how World War I led into World War II).

Each group of students then has a table full of charts and posters explaining their topics.  Students have a set amount of time to present their info to the rest of the class.

I'm going to use this for book talks in College Comp II and for their independent reading novels in College Comp I.

The last hack I'll discuss today (but certainly not the last one I stole from this book - seriously, some grab a copy next year and just check out the pages I earmarked)

Hack 74 - Solve a puzzle with Edpuzzle.

If you have flipped your class, you might find kids halfheartedly going through the lessons at home.  Sturtevant uses Edpuzzle to make sure that students watch his videos and then complete a short assignment around his video.  I think this works much like one of my favorite sites, TED Ed.

But the real value of this hack is that Sturtevant introduced me to Jennifer Gonazel's downloadable book, The Teacher's Guide to Tech.  This might just be the best $25 I spend all summer.

This tool would also be great not just for ensuring students view your flipped videos, but I think it'd be an ideal tool for days when you're absent.  Just send the link and students can spend the block watching your video and answering questions on the material you cover.

This read was so worth it.

Up next, two very heavy reads - The Myths of Innovation by Scott Berkun and Good to Great by by Jim Collins.

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