I am being evaluated by a new person this year as it is my time in the good old evaluation rotation. The principal (Jane G.) at one of the middle schools where I am a gifted and talented teacher is doing my evaluation, and my goal is to record some reflections upon what went well and what didn’t go so well during the school year . I thought that doing that here in my blog would be a perfect place. I am keeping a journal on a Google Doc as well, but I figure end of quarter reflections here in my blog might be a great place to not only reflect, but also to share some student work.
My first quarter was exciting, frustrating, fun, and not-so-fun, all at the same time. I was so use to the job I was doing as math lab teacher for the past 7 years that I believe I was becoming a little complacent in my willingness to try different methods of teaching and new things in my classroom. I mean, if what I was doing in math lab was working well, and it was, why should I change a bunch of things. I believe the attitude I just expressed in that last sentence was leading me to stagnation. I was ready for a change in my career and still grateful that I made the effort to make that change.
I took my first real crack at Project Based Learning this quarter and had some successes and also some failures. The best teachers and research both support that PBL is a great way to get kids motivated, engaged, and learning. I think at times I forgot the driving question that I crafted in Washington, DC with my friend Dean Groom last summer. I also wasn’t as sure as I could have been what the end product was going to be, which was a bit problematic considering that PBL principles state that you should begin with the end in mind. Anyhow, the end product that kids created ended up being a news story on the career they were hoping to have when they became adults. I wanted them to find someone to interview who held that career, and many of my students were really afraid to make that initial contact. Many kids interviewed teachers, partly because teachers were the easiest person to interview, and partly because some of them really had an interest in becoming a teacher. When I teach this unit again next quarter, I plan to give students more freedom with regards to how they decide to conduct their interview, possibly letting an actor or friend stand in for the interviewee. Also, I should have had students research their career before they conducted their interview. Part of the reason for this I feel was my lack of foresight into what exactly the end product was going to be. I still believe the project was a good idea, and I plan to do a similar one, with a few adjustments, next quarter at East Middle School. Many of the final projects were very well done, as you can see from the two news stories around this paragraph. The ones that were very well done were probably well done not so much because of how fine a job the teacher did, but as a result of innovation and creativity on the part of the students. Man, I have some creative and imaginative students!
You can find more of my students’ final projects by clicking here. Please, if you have time, give one or two of my students some feedback by commenting on their News Story by clicking on their episodes permalink.
Something that I also tried this quarter was an application called Shoutem.com. It is a microblogging application that I used as a way for students to communicate with each other about a variety of things. I believe it was very successful with several of my students as it gave them a way for anytime, anywhere, communication with both their peers and their teacher. Kids enjoyed creating their own web page and designing their profiles. They also enjoyed the social aspect of the application. I plan to use the same account with the students at East Middle School, so that the students I had at North Middle School can share and communicate with each other via this awesome learning network application. As more students see its usefulness in their own learning process, I believe more kids will begin utilizing it for that purpose. Hopefully, students who see no purpose behind our Shoutem account will learn from the kids who are gaining the most through the application.
Finally, I began utilizing Moodle with my students as well. It was a bit clunky and difficult to get use to, but I think the kids like it, and it is a great way for students to share ideas and work with both their peers and their teacher. I need to let go of my need to have a hard copy assignment if I am to truly utilize Moodle to its full potential. It would be nice if it were more like Shoutem. I believe that security/fear issues keep teachers from using the web to its full potential. The ability to have a larger audience to share ideas with is the purpose behind twenty-first century learning. I want my students to have feedback, not only from me, but from their peers from their own school, peers from other schools in other places, teachers, and teachers from other schools and other places. Twenty-first century applications via the WWW will allow students to gain that feed back if we get over that fear.
I told my first class of the day that they were like Guinea Pigs, an idea I was given by a retired gifted education teacher. I felt haphazard at times in my delivery, and I am sure it came across that way to many of my students. My hope is that my students learned one-tenth as much as I did during my first quarter as a gifted and talented teacher. If they did, I believe I can consider my first quarter a success! Last spring I wrote a grant proposal which included much of what I have tried to do during this first quarter. So someone at Qwest or ACTE must think that what I am trying to do in my classroom has value, because I was awarded the grant near the end of the first quarter. Without the ability to collaborate with some very fine teachers in my PLN on the other side of the globe, I would never have been able to win that grant. That collaboration is exactly the type of thing I hope to share and instill in my students.