Moving Students To Deeper Understanding – 21st Century Learning – Let’s turn up the H.E.A.T!

 As you’ve learned previously, students in my classroom are connected and utilizing netbooks in a 1 to 1 environment as a learning tool. My concept map is posted and reads like a learning road map (What students will know and be able to do) and regularly referenced during learning. The middle school model allows for collegial groups of teachers to meet regularly. My TEAM is made up of teachers that see a group of students for core subjects: SS, Math, Communication Arts and Science. My TEAM is The Hurricanes! The team supports the whole child and their needs. My PLC, or Professional Learning Community, is made up of my grade level (science) subject colleagues. My PLC group has worked very hard to design curriculum that engages students with content and involves students in real world inquiry processes by which students construct understanding. We’ve collaboratively generated common assessments that require students to use critical thinking as they apply their new learning in new situations. At times each teacher comes from a different way of thinking, which leads to some intense professional dialogue but we always keep in mind, ‘what’s best for kids.’ We collect and analyze student test answers and look at the data. We have honest and at times difficult conversations about the results. When there are discrepancies in scores, we talk about what we as different teachers are teaching. Since we are teaching the same curriculum, what might we be doing differently and why. We have worked hard to build a professional caring rapport with each other so that when we are examining our teaching methods we are working together trying to help one another be the best we can be because it’s what’s best for kids. We are passionate teachers and even hearing constructive feedback can be hard to hear. We help each other to stay open by talking about how we feel and support each other. We have become a very strong and model PLC in our school building due to the transparency with each other and our school community.

     Consistently students in our 6th grade science program are exposed to the same inquiry lesson content. The curriculum includes the following concepts: Models, Variables, Energy, Levers & Pulleys, and Ecosystem. Systems is an over arching theme. Each lesson drives critical thinking and teamwork. Students construct their understanding during work with partners and collaboration in small groups many times using equipment or materials. Students go through a learning process. With each new experience students assimilate how the parts relate, connect, and ultimately how the system works. Each lesson begins with a key lesson question that focuses learning. At the end of each class student go back to the question and add or modify new information gleaned as well as any insight. Students are formatively assessed with an application question that requires critical thinking and a connection using some of their constructed understanding of the system. Students rate their written response with a PSU system. P-powerful; solid understanding with real world connections and meaningful vocabulary use. S-satisfactory; accurate information but lacks real world connection and meaningful vocabulary. U-unsatisfactory; misconceptions present and need for additional learning opportunities. Students receive feedback and are encouraged to seek extra help to turn an unsatisfactory rating into a satisfactory rating by participating in one on one or small group reteaching opportunities. I constantly remind students that learning is a process and some of us need additional practice for some topics to grasp understanding. I tell them that they need to put the work in, to own the learning. When students participate in the extra opportunities and then experience success, they feel empowered and motivated. In class students begin to raise their hand more often and share ideas.  Students are more willing to take risks and a learning culture forms. Students become more open to other opportunities too, like lunch study groups, that they form on their own and I just provide the space and support if sought. The students are learning resiliency. When it comes time for the summative assessment it too is high level and follow a written response format. Students apply their learning to this new scenario which can be very challenging. I use a two day testing model. On test day one, students complete their assessment online in Moodle and upload any conceptual models or graphs required. I read all of the tests and provide feedback telling students which test question response is missing answer parts and is not yet at a powerful response level. Students will be able to take a second critical look at their work the next day. Day 2, I begin class with a whole group reteaching of any concepts where a majority of students struggled. Then students look at the personal feedback I provided. They analyze and make critical decisions as whether to add, delete or change their response. That evening I grade the tests and students earn their grade reflecting understanding of the key learning concepts. Students are actively involved in the learning process, strive for deeper understanding, and an ability to apply learning to their lives.
     Recently my PLC has taken on a new challenge, videotaping. This creates a higher level of transparency. The video lessons allow an open window into the room to see a colleague’s personal teaching style. No more excuses that we cannot visit classrooms because we are teaching. The videotape allows our PLC to have rich discussions. Following viewing of the video together we analyze what we saw, ask clarifying questions and provide feedback. We are careful to ask questions from observations and not to emotionally charge our words. For example, you might consider saying, “Can you tell me a little more about…” If we have constructive feedback, we pose our statements in a, “Have you considered trying this technique and then share. Again, the communication process may need to be revisited from time to time so members feel safe and remember that we are in it together to be better teachers collectively.
     Our middle school has been using the HEAT framework (Look Fors; which include higher order thinking, engagement, authentic connections and technology use. My PLC has done a nice job incorporating the HEA but T needs to be focused on more purposely. Yes, my students are 1 to 1 using netbooks but much of the netbook usage is organizational tasks and management skills with some Google Doc peer collaboration.  Two things occurred that began to impact my classroom technology environment. First, my netbooks started to break down and need repaired. Second, the economy slowed and money for technology started to tighten. These two factors drove me to seek a solution to my problem. As a member of our district 21st century technology committee, I was involved with numerous discussions about implementing a BYOD program, which would initially start in the high school. Spring forward 6 months, the high school started the BYOD implementation and the middle school was given the go ahead for teachers to implement usage of student personal devices for learning. Since my largest class now was not 1 to 1 due to nonworking netbooks, I encouraged any students who wanted to bring in a device with Internet access to do so. Students brought in their iphones, droids, ipads, and tablets. I too brought my ipad to class. Different platform issues would arise and as a class we would actively problem solve to find a solution to the problem at hand. We collectively grew so much and were able to then help others when a similar issue came up in other classes. More and more students brought their device to class which opened up new learning opportunities. Calendars, notetaking, cameras, and of course THE APPS—became a treasure trove that all pirate teachers out their forging ahead with innovation can consider! Spring forward another 6 months and now our district has become an apple school and ipads are the device being used by all 8th grade 1 to 1 classrooms. Back to my classroom, BYOD made me aware that as an educator I need to immerse myself further to learn which apps to use and how to use them meaningfully with students to turn up the heat in lessons. More to come on my summer professional learning evolution…

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