Monday, March 14, 2016

Paying It Forward via OER Sharing

My guess is that the best resources, ideas, and strategies you've acquired as a teacher have been shared with you by another educator.  You trust these ideas because you know they've been tested in the classroom and improved upon by teachers like yourself.

Recently sites like Twitter, Pinterest, and even Teachers Pay Teachers have exploded the sharing possibilities.  We can connect with others to find tried-and-true ideas from educators we would never have the opportunity to meet in person.

The Open Education Resource (OER) movement harnesses this power, unleashing the possibilities for teachers to connect with one another, but also creating an opportunity to provide free and relevant educational resources to every student, regardless of zip code.  The idea that the zip code in which a child lives might determine their educational opportunity is something we can work toward eradicating, but only if we, the educators in the field, step up to the plate!

Recently, Liberty Public Schools, was accepted as a #GoOpen district, and we've partnered with Amazon Inspire during their beta phase to share education resources.  To read more about the Liberty OER story, check out the district blog.  I don't know anyone that doesn't love shopping on Amazon, so the idea that educators could use the Amazon platform to share FREE education resources is pretty exciting.

This past weekend at EdCampLiberty, I uploaded some resources to share for the first time via Amazon Inspire.  I questioned whether the resources were good enough or if anyone would really want them, but I took the plunge.  Here are examples of a couple things I uploaded.  One is applicable across subjects and grade levels; another is content-specific.  I tried to put a collection of resources together, rather than uploading them each as separate documents.
Socratic Seminar All-in-One Doc
Macbeth Literary Analysis 

My challenge to you is to pay it forward and share something that works well in your classroom with the OER community.  Don't worry if the resources aren't perfect.  Don't we always find ourselves adapting resources to meet the needs of our students?  So let's get on out there and share. Perfect isn't the point!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

If Only My Students Were Better Presenters: Tips to Make It Happen

Stock Photo by Tara Hunt via Flickr
Do you find yourself saying, "If only...?"
If only I could get my students to stop reading from their slides...
If only I could get my students to get the interest of the audience right from the beginning...
If only I could get my students to design slides that are more visually appealing...

The ability to present ideas and information in a compelling way is a valuable skill set that can be used in so many different settings.  It is a skill set that must be modeled and explicitly taught, however. Too often we keep the secrets of solid presentations a mystery.  Helping students to see exactly what to do and what not to do can help bring life and ownership to presentations.  These are tips I've gleaned from both teachers and national presenters that I think can make a BIG difference.  

Feel free to copy and share these google slides with your students as a basic list of how to create more effective presentations.  Also, let's grow this list!  Leave me a comment with your ideas or let me know if this makes an impact on your own presentations or the presentations of your students.  I would love to hear from you!

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Power of Experts and Audience

This school year our staff at Liberty High School is exploring different ways to create deeper learning experiences for students. We've been using the work of Dr. Jal Mehta at Harvard University to frame our thinking:
This exploration has inspired several of our teachers to create more lessons for students that create engagement with industry experts and authentic audiences. Here's a taste of what's been tried:
  • AP World History students conduct an independent research investigation including an interview of a Subject Matter Expert (e.g. professor or author)
  • Creative Writing students interview senior citizens at the Liberty Community Center as inspiration for a character sketch
  • Art students engage in a Kansas City competition and winning original artwork is published in banners on the Boulevard
  • Business students create a marketing plan for KCP&L to pitch to the company
  • American Literature students connect with a Kansas City Highway Patrol Officer to learn about modern slavery in conjunction with a study of Civil War literature
  • American History students publish writing and engage in discussion on the New York Times Room for Debate website
There are many more examples and I'm energized by the creativity and resourcefulness of our teachers to think about how to create meaningful learning opportunities for our students. Working alongside some of these teachers to launch these projects has been eye-opening. Opening your classroom can be vulnerable and pressure-packed, so is it worth it? I have to say ABSOLUTELY, but here are a few pieces of wisdom I would offer.

  • Reach out and try. We've found an incredible amount of people that have expertise to share and that want to be involved in our school.  Many feel honored that we contacted them and have connections that bring relevance to the skills and content we are infusing. Don't be afraid of 'no.'
  • Focus on pride, not perfection.  One of the biggest fears I've encountered is our teachers worry about what outsiders will think if students share work that isn't perfect.  Ultimately,we feel as though any mistake our students might make is a reflection on our teaching.  Don't let this be a barrier!  Of course, we want our students to produce quality work and we should do all we can to set the stage for success, but in the end, they are adolescents; they will make mistakes.  The mistakes sometimes produce the best opportunities for learning. Challenge your students to do work you can all be proud of in the end.
  • Have a plan B. Things inevitably don't always go as planned. A Skype we had arranged with a Senator was canceled 15 minutes prior to class because he was called into session.  We couldn't get the technology to work for a Google Hangout scheduled with a military pilot. Most teachers like to have a plan and know it's going to work, so this can add a layer of anxiety to working with outside experts and audiences.  Go in with a plan B and use it as an opportunity to model flexibility!
  • Involve your administrators.  Connecting learning beyond the school walls is engaging and exciting, but it's wise to inform your administrator of your ideas and get their input and support. They will appreciate it should any unexpected concerns arise. 
Audience is powerful, so reach out and try!  Here's an email excerpt we received from the Kansas City VA after a partnership with English teacher Kelsie Kleinmeyer.  Her students studied The Odyssey and explored challenges modern soldiers face with the Homecoming.  It's one of my favorite examples of what can happen for our students when engaging with experts and audience!

Hi Kelsie,
Wanted to follow up on last night's event. It was very well done and the Jackson County Executive, the Honorable Mike Sanders, put together a great task force. They listened to concerns and issues from Veterans, mediated, and brainstormed ideas, along with contributing factors that could detour any such idea, to present.  I did make mention of the project your students took part in and that some amazing ideas came from the project. Actually your entire project was nearly a mirror of what took place last night.

Each sub-group overwhelming agreed that a community based outreach/transition center would be the top priority of ideas to go back to Mike Sanders and the Jackson County Executives and those in office that can effect change. This would be evidence that "your students" came up with an idea that was "very" similar to an idea brainstormed by top level executives, city officials, service organization representatives, top level Veteran Administration staff and other influential professionals from across the area.  I think your students truly got the bigger picture with this project and I am so proud of them.

Might just end up being something we can look back on many years from now and have pride that the next Generation made a difference for this generation of Heroes.

Joseph L. Burks
Public Affairs Officer

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

3 Tips for Strong Class Discussions

If you've been teaching awhile, you've probably been the victim of a class discussion gone awry. You thought you had a great topic tied to your learning goals, but then students don't seem to want to talk or the conversation seems to dull after only a few comments that just barely scratched the depth you were hoping to explore.  I've been so fortunate to be in many classrooms and see lots of class discussions.  Here are 3 SIMPLE tips that I see teachers artfully master that foster incredible student discussions.

1. THINK TIME: This is the #1 factor that I see being the difference in classrooms where a discussion takes off and one that fizzles quickly.  When we carve out time for students to think about what they can contribute to the discussion before beginning the conversation, it makes a significant difference.  This can be done quickly by encouraging students to write some ideas on a sticky note or it can be more structured and lengthy done over several days in advance of a discussion. One of our Health teachers is trying a Socratic Seminar discussion next week and we collaborated to create these thinking notes that students will do in advance of the discussion.

2. OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS: It all begins with a rich question that will elicit multiple viewpoints.  Often when I reflect back on discussions that didn't quite go the distance, I realize my opening questions weren't strong enough. While the goal isn't to start an argument among students, a strong discussion opener will interest our students, be aligned with the goals of the lesson/unit, and have multiple answers that are not necessarily right or wrong.

3. SUPPORTING EVIDENCE: I love those magical moments in a class discussion when a student suddenly understands a new perspective or acknowledges a differing viewpoint. Challenging students to keep their thoughts grounded in evidence yields these moments and unlocks curricular understanding.  Preface discussions with study of text, images, video, audio, lab experiences, or any format that will scaffold student thinking.

While there are certainly other factors that lead to strong class discussions, these are an essential three.  Now go talk about it!