So what did I do this year that I liked? Here are few of the ideas that we will keep.

PLC- I have loved the power we have working together. Our lessons have been better and more refined. The opportunity to hear other ideas helped me. I have become a better teacher because of it. I used to keep some of my ideas to myself so my class had a few extras, but that is not what teaching is about. I want others to see what I am doing and to use it if they want to. I also want everyone's ideas so I can get the best for my students. In a PLC team the students are not mine anymore but all the team students. We take credit and criticism for all that the students do or don't do. The year ending scores are a reflection of what the whole grade level does, not an individual teacher. We share students successes and failures. We share planning and lessons. We share activities and ideas. We share.

Computers- at the beginning of the tear we had a 2:1 ratio with our mini laptops. It was great to have the students working together to get work done. We have gone to 1:1 ratio and that has brought some great opportunities with testing, research, and writing. One thing I want to do more of next year is dropping assignment onto our Utips website. Utips is a state-run testing practice site that gives teachers a drop-box for students to drop assignments in instead of printing everything. This will help with our morning work.

Morning Work- We have used the 4 question bell work for years and it helps give us time to teach a language mini-lesson for grammar. We have used a single paper for each week and I would like to change that so we are checking the work over a period of time and not each week. We review all the questions each day and students are called "by the sticks" and they explain their answers. Turning them in is more of a formality rather than an assignment. I wonder if we could Morning Work into the breakfast club activity with the planner? Hmmm. We will talk about it.

Math- We will still use the math books for the work and practice. The Topic tests will be put on Utips to use less paper and for a better view of how the students do overall. When the students get a problem wrong on the test they will write the problem down in their math books and take them home to correct their work. Parents must sign the corrections and they come back to school. The math book will have notes about the topics we are working on and they can use that information to help correct their homework. One math book for notes and practice. They can use the book for the check-up to help prepare for the topic test.  The Periodic Test will always be on paper and students will have to show their work on a separate paper (Folded into the amount of boxes needed so each question has a box).

These are a few of the changes we incorporated this year. There are so many more to add for next year. There are so many good ideas out there.


That's Entertainment!

My team finished our last major project in our classes. What a project. I have made movies with my class before. I love teaching the movie making process to students. All the ideas, writing, storyboarding, planning, preparing, performing, and best of all, viewing the final product. This is a new way of doing our films. We have done individual films in our rooms and have put together some pretty big productions. With us doing PLC's and seeing how powerful it is we decided to incorporate the while fifth grade into one big film. This gave each student an opportunity to have as big a part as they wanted and to be able to do more with the filming.

We started out picking the subject of our movies. Our Social Studies Curriculum is about the United States and so we went with U.S. History. We had decided weeks ago that we would each do six movies in our rooms. that would give us 18 short films to put together into one big film and we would have a Journey Through History. And so we did. We split the topics into different perspectives of the different groups involved in the topic. When we picked the Revolution, we split it into three topics; British, Hessians, and Americans. All three groups we set during the night before the crossing of the Delaware by George Washington.

We picked the topics and assigned them to our four-person groups in our classes. We wanted to keep the movies down to about 2 minutes and everyone in the group needed to be in the movie. The could use others from the class, but the main characters needed to be from the group. Each group researched about their topic and wrote a short script of the major points to help the audience know what was happening and what people felt a that time. Once they had a story and dialogue, they tackled the storyboard. they were allowed 6-12 boards to tell their story. The hardest part of storyboarding is fitting what needs to happen in the story into something that looks similar to what they want and still being able to film it on the elementary school grounds. It is kinda hard to film a ship scene in a big storm.

After the students filmed their shorts we had them edit their own films. They used their scripts and storyboards to keep themselves on track. We gave them a short overview on how to use iMovie 08 and turned them loose. They worked pretty well with their group and put together a basic edited version of the shorts. The teachers came in next and did a final edit of each film. Thus is where we get to refine the cuts, make sure the sound is loud enough, and they followed the script. Anything that should not be in the film is cut and a final product is produced. When each of the films have been finished, they are exported and combined into one bug film in Final Cut. This is we add in sound effects and colorized the film so it has a consistent look. It was then burned and shown at our Film Festival Night. Parents are invited and popcorn is popped.

Overall the students get real writing and organizing experience as well as getting a final product that they can keep forever. Making movies is a great experience for the students. As a teacher, it makes for a great final test in writing, organization, research, and presentation.


Your Homework For Tonight Is...

I have always had mixed feeling about homework. I never liked it as a child because I felt it was always busy work and I wanted to play and do other things. I didn't do much homework when I was in high school because I was too busy. I had friends to be with, fun to have, and high school was a place I went everyday to be with friends. The education was more of a by product of my social life. As a teacher I can see the benefits of having homework but we need to rethink how it should be done and why we need it. If it is not needed then it should not be handed out just to have it done. Busy work was never something I wanted to do... Unless I had to get something done during class then I gave the students something to enjoy. Killing them with work just makes them hate to work.

When students get home from school they need to have time to do other things if they want. They need to spend time with their family and friends. They need to participate in extra-curricular activities if they so choose. They need to have time to relax and do kids work(play). They need to explore, run, build their interests, research, build their talents, or do what they need to do for their family.

Homework can take away from these activities and make it harder at home for the student and the parent. Then there is the issue of the parents not understanding what needs to be done. When the student does not know how to do the homework the parents might have the same problem. There needs to be a safety net for the parents to either be able to do the math we teaching or we need to make sure the child knows how to do it.

So what do we do? We need to do a few things.
- There has to be a reason for the homework. We can't just send home a page because it is the next one to do. If the child needs to practice then send home a couple practice problems. There is no need for a big page of drill and kill. A few problems will help the student and the parent know the work and the. Have time to do other things.
- The safety net for my team is the parent signature. If the student cannot do the work and they give it an honest try, they are supposed to ask a parent to help them. If the parent does not understand what is too be done they sign he homework and write a small note saying that they tried. The teachers will see that and know that they tried. Safety in not understanding and yet they tried to get it done he best that they could.
- Homework should not take very long to complete. There should not be a hundred problems to do each night. 6-10 problems a night for math, 30 minutes of reading is more than enough for each child. If there is language or writing. The problem and time limit should be the same. Writing for 30 minutes and no more than 6-10 problems.
- 5 minutes of work for each grade level. (2nd grade=10 minutes of homework) I have not considered reading homework. We should be reading everyday and so that does not count for me unless I have a specific book a student needs to read for a specific reason. Take home library books are homework. They are sent home for the student to read and the student has no say in which book they get. That is not fun, that is homework.

Homework should have a meaning and an understanding to the student that they need it to be successful. We all need to see a need to do something. They might never see the need but it should be explained to them and they should know that it is important even if they do not like it.

    Homework is not a bad thing, it just needs to be managed wisely so we help students and parents learn what we want them to know and not learn to hate education.


    What's your Motivation?

    A parent came to the last Student Education Planning meeting of the year with me years ago. He asked me what I have been teaching his child for the year. I started to talk to him about the curriculum we had gone over and he smiled and stopped me. He said, "My child comes home everyday and I ask what was learned at school today and everyday the reply is, nothing." He went on to tell me that he knows that I taught him something because his child loved going to school and he appreciated what I had done for his child. He joked with me about how children are and that he felt his child had learned more than he was letting on.

    I was reminded of this story as I read David Warlick's blog about the responsibility of learners. He talks about how we need to have a purpose to want to learn and there are three components to education we need to look at. 

    My team was talking about the levels of students during our first year flexible grouping the students for Math and Language. Mark had noted that the middle group of students have the ability to be in the upper group except they are not motivated to do so. They understand the work, they get it done when we ask, they do the bare minimum and no more, and are the first to get out of the class when it is time. The lower and upper group does all their work, they stay in a little longer to get more help, they try to do more than is expected and they show improvement. So the difference between the top and the middle is how motivated the student is. 

    As I look at these experiences, they are telling me that we need to motivate the middle group. How? I am working on that, but they need to have ownership and a need to do the work. They need to see that it is a benefit to them and will be in their life. Part of the motivation should come from the use of technology in the classroom. This has brought motivation to a few students and brought them to life in our classrooms.