Nadine Keyworth, Teacher, Willoughby Elementary
Inquiry and Motivation
The first and biggest of these is the need to motivate students. One of the biggest take aways for me was need to start by creating essential questions to guide learning and motivate students. The key is to reframe learning outcomes into interesting powerful questions that encourage students to want to learn and explore the topic. Reframe story or piece of text so that it matters to them. For example, instead of just studying Romeo and Juliet, place it into their world. Your unit is not Romeo and Juliet, instead it is guided by essential questions that matter to them: “What makes and breaks a relationship?” He stressed the fact that these questions need to be “edgy, debatable and ‘sexy’!” That means the need to make kids want to learn more, we need to entice them in. Teachers control the conditions of motivation in their classroom; therefore, they need to purposefully plan to ensure that they maximize motivation. Students will then match your enthusiasm and level of engagement when they create thoughtful, edgy essential questions! After moving through the M’s you then need to provide them with multiple ways for you to measure their ability to answer the questions. The final assignments need to be varied and relevant to allow students to connect to their learning and their background knowledge!
Dameon Lorenson, Teacher, Willoughby Elementary
Helping Kids Who Fail
Tamara Pudlas, Teacher, HD Stafford Middle School
The Ramsey “Rhino’s” are currently in year 2 of a “1:1 ipad initiative project” pilot. Students receive training in “Digital Citizenship” and are then able to use ipads for most of their classes. The inquiry & project-based nature of the programming at Ramsey as well as the integration of technology and arts with core curriculum was inspiring to see. Students in the discussion panel during our visit were confident and clearly demonstrating skills with the ipads and enthusiasm with their learning! I asked if they were “bummed” when teachers weren’t incorporating ipads in lessons and as I suspected, they were unanimous with their response. “Yes!”
In light of the Digital Learning shift in our district, this visit was especially informative and timely. Another simple but important reminder I received was in hearing about Ramsey’s Teacher Leadership Team. Essentially it’s just a small group of passionate and skilled teachers who are offering leadership benefiting the school. I believe this is an integral element of any thriving middle school. I would feel confident imitating some of the excellent practices in place at Ramsey Middle School and altering a few to best fit us here at HDSM!
Mundeep Bhamra, Teacher, HD Stafford Middle School
Because most students were bringing their devices to school, teachers were able to “hand out” worksheets, and assignments using Google Drive, and students could hand in their work electronically as well. Teachers said, universally, that there was almost no incidence of homework being lost anymore. Students reported back that it was easier to be organized because all of their notes were in one place.
Students were also encouraged to use an agenda app, which I have started to encourage my students to do after I got back, and they love it. So far, they are saying it is easier to remember to bring it to class because their device is always with them anyway, and they are not going to forget it at school either.
Another technology strategy that teachers were using, especially math teachers, was something called the flipped classroom. This basically means that teachers video record themselves giving a math lesson and they assign a couple of practice problems. Students are to watch the video and do the practice problems for homework, then in class the next day they are given time to do questions that would traditionally have been homework. The advantage, of course, is that the teacher is there to answer questions and give extra support if needed instead of kids struggling with the questions at home where they may not have anyone to ask for help.
These were some strategies and programs that I would love to be able to incorporate into our middle school… maybe I need to place a call to Best Buy and see what they can do for us ;)
Scott Johnson, Vice Principal, HD Stafford Middle School
Next Game: Give and Take. To give, only one person is walking, when they stop in front of another person, this gives this person the chance to walk. Take is one person is walking and when someone else starts , then you must stop.
Complex Take: Select a topic and have someone start to walk and talk about that topic, some can jump in and continue talking about the topic. Great review game to recap a lesson.
Vern Mainman, Teacher, Lynn Fripps Elementary
Melissa Lee, Teacher, Langley Fine Arts Middle School
She also suggested using a ‘thinking theme’ to refer back to while reading text. She used the example of ‘obstacles’. She would ask students to give her examples of obstacles faced by people as she recorded their answers for the students to see. She would then ask them to read a short story entitled: Woman Warrior: Wangari Maathai by Ben Hewitt and refer back to what obstacles they saw happening in the story.
By sharing the many interpretations of obstacles as they appear in the text, she helps students find more layers in the story.
She shared a clever lesson for helping students generate questions from the text and to turn them into inquiry questions. For example, one person noted that there was gender discrimination in the short story. She helped the student to turn this observation into the question: Does gender affect a person’s future?
She applied the same theme ‘obstacles’ to a poem entitled I, Too by Langston Hughes. She was then able to help students to compare and contrast the two passages based on their understanding of the ‘obstacles’ connection.
She suggested taking this ‘obstacles’ theme further by looking at a variety of biographies.
Crystal Davids, Teacher, WA Fraser Middle School
Dawn Driver, Vice Principal, Langley Meadows Elementary
Assessment: I was also very inspired by both Rick Stiggins and Rick Wormeli’s sessions about assessment. It really drove home how if we do not do assessment correctly, it can be harmful to students and their learning. Proper feedback can improving learning more than any other thing we do in the classroom. Improper assessing can stop learning.
Shawn Davids, Principal, West Langley Elementary
I could really go on and on about very similar situations. Kara Cisco, a 1:1 IPad tech integration specialist from Ramsey Middle School, whom I talked with about the importance of putting learning first. People like Steve Kwikkel, Dave Mulder and Brent Jorth from Iowa, Todd Bloch from Michigan, Caleb Lee from Minnesota, all of whom shared their own learning from sessions I couldn't attend ... making it like I had been able to go to way more sessions than I possible could. I even had the opportunity to talk to amazing educational experts like Rick Wormeli, who took a few moments with me after an inspirational session on school culture. I could go on and on, but the point is clear. The connections I made at AMLE will allow my learning from this conference to carry on for a very long time.
To check out my longer reflection on the AMLE 2013 conference, please click here.
Sean Oliver, Vice Principal, Langley Fine Arts School
The following are my thoughts on Middle School Culture & Climate based on several sessions, and my visit to Valley view Middle School
· Middle years are the time to start discussing cultural messages that surround kids (power, gender roles, etc.), but not in terms of the ‘obvious’ messages like Robin Thicke or Miley Cyrus (though we want those to be assessed critically also). Rather, what are the unwritten (and arguably) hegemonic messages in that motivational poster on the wall? This workshop drew on the work of Henry Giroux – my bugbear during my own graduate work – and I don’t fully buy it, as I think there has to be room for a sincere and honest narrative sometimes. That said, some of the power-messaging in things like Disney Princess movies is a bit disturbing when analyzed in the way Giroux believes teachers & kids should be assessing everything they see.
· Middle school kids are more ready for high-level thinking than many secondary people would give them credit for.
· One presenter asked an intriguing and challenging question:
o “Who is the most influential person or group of people in the school?”
§ Teachers union?
§ School Board?
o And how do you know?
o And is it the right group?
o And how are the others then included? Or how do they feel ownership of the learning in the school?
· Do lessons, resources, and the culture & climate of the school provide students with the opportunity, vocabulary, and safety to challenge or question what they believe to be true about the world and their place in it?
· Is your school or classroom a safe place to try, and to fail?
o How do you know?
o Do you demonstrate public failure yourself?
Knowledge is integrated
· Common prep time, or out-of-clock coordination time by teachers makes an enormous difference
· Is the literature teacher using books that connect thematically, historically, geographically with what the social studies teacher is doing? DO they have time to engineer tasks or experiences that leverage any overlap?
· How about math/science?
· Are educational experiences and student tasks linked?
· Do your specialist teachers demonstrate any amount of Renaissance themselves?
· Do the kids know what else their teachers can do? How about the teachers, do they know what else their kids can do?
· Using skills from one content area in another is more than OK; it’s mandatory.
· Rigor is not a punishment. It is not a ‘reward’ and it is not optional
· Do the adults in a building understand the lives of the kids?
o Pop culture?
o Family situations?
o Parents’ educational experiences?
· Don’t let parents abdicate their responsibility and role in education by telling the school that ‘you’re the expert.”
· Be subtle with parents who are ‘threatened’ by education – don’t jump on the intimidating (for them) educational topic too quickly
Put it together:
· As an administrator, what does your office say you value? What does it say about your philosophy of education? About kids’ role in the building?
· What about the front foyer? Look at your school with what I would call a ‘paranoid-critical’ eye; what is most important? Atheletics? Competition? Conformity? Inclusion? Ideas? Arts? Order & compliance? What is the ‘walk-up’ experience for an adult new to your school? Intimidating? Welcoming?
· What does kids’ behaviour in front of outside adults say the kids value? What about their behaviour in front of teachers? Each other?
· What does the physical appearance of a classroom say the teacher values? ‘My space, your space?’ How is that space allocated? Inclusive? Books? Order? Neatness? Collaboration or Competition?
· All of these judgements will impact what our kids and families will believe and feel about their school?
· What do your tasks for kids say about what you value:
o Coverage? (note that coverage, according to some, is the enemy of critical thinking, engagement and passion)
· How about your assessment and how you report it?
· What does your technology ‘policy’ say you value? Does it suggest that tech is a tool? A distraction? An obstacle?
Kevan Reeve, Principal, Betty Gilbert Middle School
Tim Everson, Principal, Yorkson Creek Middle School
- Schedule was basically a high school schedule right from gr. 6 on, although they had some double blocks, great after school program for writing using trained student leaders in the library, working with special needs students,
- A LOT of spirit and many ways for students to demonstrate leadership – school song that everyone knows
- Not enough room in cafeteria for whole grade
- Good tech – in places
- Terrific amount of choice for Fine Arts
- If you do advisory really well, kids will want to do very difficult things
- It ‘s about connections
- Relationships are the most important aspect in school – students scored higher in classes where they also reported they had a good relationship with the teacher
- Need a student to connect with as well as an adult
- 4 Houses for the new school – chose colours and names?
- Schools to Watch – a non profit in the many states
- Stated philosophy that matches in many ways the both AMLE (This I Believe) and 21st Century Learning
- ** As a school gets closer and closer to all of the descriptors of an ideal middle school, their Language Arts marks are significantly better, and their math marks are better, although the difference is not significant statistically
- Socio-Economics have the most significant impact
- Flexibility is the key, and we are WAY out in front.
- Our teachers can teach more than one subject area, and therefore have a better chance of forming good relationships with students
- Our scheduling is more flexible as we use larger blocks of time, or combine subjects such as science/math or socials/language arts
Carrie Fast, Teacher, DW Poppy Secondary School
Sean Oliver, Vice Principal, Langley Fine Arts School
Deah Paton, Vice Principal, Belmont Elementary School
We face many challenges in education today. Not only do we deal with the challenges of helping a diverse group of learners to achieve all they can, but we can only do this if their environment is one that is open and honest. The climate of a school is the foundation on which everything else is built on. Here are some areas that we need to consider when building the culture/climate/community in any school or classroom:
• Is your school/classroom a safe place to learn and to fail? Before we can educate our children they need to feel safe, accepted and valued.
• Who is the most influential group in your school/classroom (students, teachers, parents, government, community)? Is this a positive or negative influence?
• What does the learning look like in classes? Middle school children can think more critically than they are often given credit for. Is it innovative, creative and forward thinking. Does it take into account the struggling students as well as the advanced? How can school be a safe place where all students can succeed?
• How do the teachers collaborate? Is there common time built into the schedule? How are new teachers supported? What does professional development look like?
• Does the administration foster learning and a positive climate? How inviting is the office space?
….some issues and thoughts that were presented at the AMLE and are certainly areas to consider for any school community.
These also resonate with our newly crafted Vision and Mission Statement!