Create a Buzz in Your Classroom {inspirational teaching, project-based learning, fun in the classroom}

Look, I know we many of us want that perfect room where anyone could walk in at any time and see peace, hard work and learning evident on the focused faces of our diligent students.  When I started teaching that’s what I thought I wanted, but the reality is so much more than orderly information dissemination.  In my classroom these days, the only time my students are quiet is when they are reading, and only because they can’t do that any other way.

Learning is messy stuff, and the best kind of learning requires some noise and movement to occur.  Think about the times when you really felt involved; either in learning, planning or at a meeting.  Were you sitting passively learning, or were you passionately debating, yearning for your ideas to be incorporated, arguing fiercely for your perspective? I am inclined to think the latter is where most of us fall.  So how can we argue that students will learn better with a litany of rules and a passive learning structure? I would argue that the best learning is done on one’s own terms, and with as little direct guidance as is required.  Enough background to understand, or know where to look, read, watch or develop the ideas, but also enough freedom that a student can go ask another student for support, can change the assignment to fit their interest, and a path to learning that can light a fire, not cause narcolepsy.

Take the time to ask what you can do with the curriculum, not how to cover it.  I would rather have my students take a step back from 200 lines of ‘must do’ items and tackle one ‘could we’ item that keeps them up at night thinking of the possibilities.

Like lighting a fire though, you must have suitable materials for learning, including a solid relationship with and knowledge of each student, otherwise you will have no idea what will strike a cord with them.  Also, you must know your curriculum, the expectations on you and your students, so you know how big the ‘dream project’ must be to encompass it.  Finally, you must let go of your fear; you won’t do it all right every time, but I can guarantee that quiet kid at the back who never gets in trouble because he is too busy with something creative in his desk didn’t get everything his teachers put out there either!

Thanks for reading!

Derek

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The Spontaneous Premiere of #edchat8CST on Twitter

I had just finished a very brief chat on #cdnedchat tonight and, as I had joined late, found myself in the mood for more educational conversation. What happened next was one of those moments on Twitter where you realize the power of social media. Darin Johnson (@AnIowaTeacher) was lamenting the lack of a chat at that moment, and so I dropped the suggestion that we start one. At that moment #edchat8CST was born and both myself and Darin sent out the call for educators to join. Within moments we had a topic: Using Social Media to Start Something New in the Classroom and I moderated the conversation with four questions. We had teachers join through the whole hour, and I was astonished that there were people creeping the chat (reading and watching without participating), new connections to both Darin and myself, and the conversation was electric. One of the greatest outcomes was the side-chats and spontaneity of the group, willing to put more ‘out there’ because it was not a ‘regular’ chat. Our four questions over the hour were as follows:

Q1: What social media do you think would be most conducive to classroom use?
Q2: What innovative uses have you found for Social Media as you teach?
Q3: Brainstorming time; If you had unlimited technology available, what WOULD you try using social media in education?
Q4: How can we spontaneously make better use of SM in our classrooms? Like this chat?

I was so impressed that a tenuously connected group of educators (I had never had a conversation of any great length with Darin prior to our staring the chat) could create such a great collection of ideas and resources, experiences and positive conversation. It was the highlight of my week on Twitter, and it’s only Monday! At any rate. Thanks to all who joined in, and we will use the hashtag again for impromptu chats, keep watching! Please read the storify below for the full conversation!

Lev Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development: A Lesson

During my Masters program, I had the fortune of doing some in-depth study of the work of Lev Vygotsky, particularly in the area of the Zone of Proximal Development. What I wanted to share today was a lesson that myself and my peers developed for teaching the concept to other Master of Education students in our class. It was well received, and I thought others might benefit from it as well.
We started the lesson with an overview of Lev Vygotsky and his life, including the development of his theory. We had the voice of Lev narrated by another student who is a professional voice actor, and animated Lev’s face to narrate his own life using the app Photospeak, which is a blast to work with. What we really liked about this part of the presentation, is that there really was a sense of the ‘history’ of Lev’s work in the presentation with his photo ‘talking’ to the audience.

Once the group had an overview of Lev and his history, We wanted to create some activities to highlight the idea of ZPD. My portion was a hands-on activity in whichI discussed with my students the familiar game ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors.’ We discussed that this was a common game that most people in our culture understand. I added that we were going to expand on their understanding by adding new options to the game. I showed the group this ‘instructional video’ with the basic rules.


One of the groups asked to see the video several times, and with each group I rehearsed the new learning by showing each of the options and asking the group which other option ‘beats’ it. After this rehearsal, I had each member of the group practice the new moves to ensure they were clearly shown, and then played a tournament to see who our ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock’ champion was. It took only a couple of rounds of hesitation before the new moves became fairly well incorporated in the game and the new learning was comfortable for the students.

Zone of Proximal Development Graphic

This image show the teacher’s role in the zone of proximal development for students.

Once we moved back to the classroom and we were able to debrief, I showed this image to the class and described that the linking to a common understanding (the initial game) was key to Vygotsky’s concept, and that the initial discomfort the groups felt as they watched the video and started to practice the new game was the zone of proximal development. I knew learning was successful for the group once they lost that initial hesitation and were able to complete the tournament.

We have to remember that learning is generally not a comfortable process, and is often downright frightening for students. If we are not linking and rehearsing new concepts, students may not even be willing to attempt the new learning. It is our approach as teachers, and our ability to scaffold students to the zone of proximal development that makes all the difference to learning.

If you wish to use any of these materials with a link back to this site as attribution, please feel free to do so.

Twitter in the Classroom – A Presentation

As my blog was lost to the great interweb in the sky after the shutdown of my previous site, I am going to spend a little time posting some of the resources I had listed on my previous site.  Today, the start of some presentations I gave last year at this time.  This one is about Using Twitter in the Classroom.

Please note that these are simply PDFs of the presentations with some basic notes. I am available to give this talk (updated of course) either in person or recorded asynchronously for those who would find it helpful.  Also, I would not advocate the use of Twitter below the age of 13, when students can legally have an account, and even then, only with close involvement from parents for educational use.

Click to access twitter-in-the-classroom-getca.pdf

Some of the keys in this presentation include links to Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy, a coupling of the ISTE general standards to teaching students how to use Twitter effectively, and a basic overview (from Common Craft) of what Twitter is.  Hope you enjoy!