2008-2009: A School Year in Review

Today marks the final day in my classroom for the 2008-2009 school year. Still being a relative newbie to the profession, I’m finishing my 5th year. I thought I would take a little time to reflect on some of the things I did in my classroom this year and use this as a launching point for ideas for next year. Feel free to make suggestions, critiques, etc as I’m always looking to improve my teaching.

  • This was my 5th year working in 7th grade science. My team was the same this year as last and the continuity makes life much easier. We will be working with a new language arts teacher next year, though I think the move will be a good fit.
  • Notebooks – I spent much less time with my notebooks this year than the previous years. I still like the idea of an interactive notebook but I think I need to make a few tweaks to the way I use it in my actual classroom. With my notebook, students have about 20 activities they can choose from to process the things we do in class. I think next year, I want to make my list a bit more focused. One thing I’ve intended all along is to have examples of each of the activities to show my students. I may use that as a launching point next year, designing an activity that would require a class of students to use each of the 20 activities to process the same information as examples. These examples could then be posted to my class blog for future reference.
  • Service Project – this was my 3rd year with the service project, and my first year not to eclipse the 1,000 hour mark. My students completed about 950 hours of service, and I’m certain that a few completed the service but not the reflection. If those additional students had finished the reflection, we probably would have had 1,000 hours. This year I opened up the service project reflection to more interpretation, allowing students to complete the 11 reflection questions in multiple ways. I had presentation boards, notebooks, PowerPoint presentations, and 2 wiki entries. I’m hoping to encourage more variety in reflections next year.
  • Projects – During the final 9 weeks of the school year, I took a more project-based outlook on my classroom. We studied genetics through building Reebops, which we then went out and did a quick population genetics study while finding them in their “natural habitat” using the school’s GPS units. I had my students build paper roller coasters during our Physics unit and participated in the Pringles Challenge. The excitement generated by these projects helped propel my students forward in their studies. I have always included projects in my class, but never in such a “back to back” manner. Though many days were exhausting, there were also days where I enjoyed some freedom to float from group to group as students had the basics under their belts and were able to work independently. I’m hoping to incorporate more projects next year, but also to make sure I wrap back around to the basic skills and understandings students should gain from the experience. While many students enjoyed the projects, I feel I had some that enjoyed them simply because they were different and did not develop a deep understanding of the content upon which the projects were based.
  • Technology – This is a constant battle for me. I am a tech aficionado and want to instill that love in my students as well. I’m constantly trying out new pieces of tech, websites, etc with my students and this year was no different. The biggest difference this year was the use of my classroom wiki. Students had accounts and were able to post class notes, article summaries, etc. We discussed hyperlinking, something new to a majority of our students. Students also learned the Ctrl+V, Ctrl+C shortcuts for pasting and copying, a simple thing but something of which they were unaware. My goal is always to integrate tech as seamlessly as possible, and the wiki definitely helped with that task. Additionally, this year we received an Acer Aspire One for our classroom through the Acer Seed Program. The daily availability of a computer increased my student’s exposure to online programs. Next year I intend to use the Aspire One to have a student take class notes on the wiki each day. Each subsequent class will have a student adding images, videos, etc to the previous class’ notes.
  • Twitter – In November, I began developing my Personal Learning Network through Twitter after attending a day-long training with Will Richardson. Doubtless, a number of you are here because you are part of my PLN. I cannot think of a single activity that has had more impact on my learning than daily interactions with my PLN. The power of Twitter as a learning tool is impossible to overstate. The issue comes with taking time to grow and develop a network. @kellyhines has a ridiculous ability to follow over 1,000 people, and I’m struggling at just under 100. I think I’m going to attempt to keep my Twitter stream fairly focused over the course of the summer, adding those that directly improve my science and tech focus, but not going overboard. Many, many thanks to all of you who have shared your thoughts and learning with me over Twitter this year.
  • Professional Blog – After my Twitter conversion, I decided I had thoughts longer than 140 characters that I wanted to share as well. This blog was born during a discussion about what Technology Literacy really meant that brought together many educators across the globe to attempt to hash out whether or not there was a separate literacy being discussed in regards to technology or if it was merely a separate “container” for the same literacy skills. In a half-joking Tweet to Ben Grey, I mentioned perhaps we should call it “technoracy” similar to the way number sense is known as numeracy. And thus The Technorate Teacher was born. Over the past several months, I’ve ruminated on technology, educational games, blogged a Middle Grades education conference (a wonderful experience to say the least) and discussed the merits of netbooks. I look forward to the future of this blog and how I can learn from others through it’s use.
  • SmartBoard/Senteos – This year was my second year with a SmartBoard in my classroom full time. It was also a year in which I became far more comfortable letting the students guide the use of the SmartBoard. Next year I hope to develop this further by having the students generate more of the content in Smart Notebook. We also received a team set of Senteo Response Clickers this year which stayed in my room most of the time. These worked well for getting some quick feedback from students as well as the occasional quiz. I’m looking to use these more on an informal assessment level next year as well as for pre-assessments.
  • Fair Isn’t Always Equal – Rick Wormel’s work on fair grading practices was a focus for our entire school this year and continues to stretch my thinking on grading and assessment. This year, I was more cognizant of my percentages for each type of assignment in my classroom.  Homework and classwork were reduced to 10% of the grade in my class. Projects and tests were given greater weight, and my notebook was decreased in weight somewhat.  Next year I hope to further increase the focus on final indicators of mastery rather than grading those formative learning experiences.  This will require me to shift my focus to one that includes more focused assessment.  See Standards Based Grading below under Moving Forward.
  • National Board Certification – In November, I found out that I passed my National Board Certification process.  This was a wonderful culmination to the hours I put in for the process last school year.  I can indeed say that National Board’s are everything people say! It was one of the most intense experiences of my academic career.  The process of reflecting on my teaching was an informative one and the amount of time that went into that reflection was well worth the effort.  Many thanks to all those who supported me in this effort.
  • Staff development – This year I had two opportunities to work with our entire staff on technology professional development.  During those experiences, we discussed using blogs for teacher/classroom webpages and how to verify information in a digital world.  The staff was very receptive to both experiences and I look forward to doing more work with them in the future, starting with our Tech in 20 program next year.

Moving Forward

  • Edmodo – Moving into next year, one of the things I want to attempt is the use of Edmodo for classroom communication.  For those who are not familiar with the service Edmodo is a closed Twitter-like service that allows teachers and students to communicate.  Users can share links, information, videos, etc and receive notifications via SMS Text message.  I think a controlled effort to develop a network similar to a PLN will go a long way toward showing my students how to find people who can help them learn what they need to know in the future.
  • Student Blogs – Also next year, I’m looking into using student blogs for the purpose of digital portfolios, keeping up with current events, and seeking out connections with other students in similar classes.  After talking with our new language arts teacher for next year, I feel like the support is there to use the blogs across multiple classes, so this will be an important step going forward.  I’m still looking for suggestions on which service people prefer: EduBlogs or 21 Classes? Any thoughts or reflections are greatly welcomed!
  • Tech Activities list like activities for my notebook – Along with the blogs, I want to create a list of possible technology activities that students can use to process the work we are doing in class.  These would be activities that can be embedded in their blogs to show their understanding. For example, I know there are a number of comic strip generators out there that students could use to create comics for topics discussed in class. Additionally, students could create podcasts or short screencasts to explain information. These are ideas I want to introduce early in the year, and allow students to pull from throughout the school year rather than focusing a specific project on each one.
  • More Projects/PBL/Labs – I have often felt that I needed to incorporate more projects and labs into my classroom as there are frequently times when I’m in a section where these don’t come up as often.  Next year, I hope to find a number of labs/projects that will fit into some of these “low points” and create a sense of frequent use of labs and projects.  I also want to come up with more activities that allow my students to explore the world outside of the classroom.  The GPS project with our Reebops earlier this year allowed the students the freedom to roam a contained area of our campus and one student remarked at the end of the experience he had just had the best week ever: “I got to make stuff, eat stuff, and go outside…it was awesome!”  Remembering back to my own 7th grade experience, I have to think I would have agreed with him.
  • Standards Based Grading – As part of my focus on grading and assessment, I want to continue to move toward a Standards-Based grading practice.  For me, I think this will entail coming up with one or two specific indicators of master for each standard in a unit I teach.  Students would have the opportunity to complete either of those indicators (whether they be a test, project, presentation, video, etc) and would get credit for mastering that objective.  I’m not sure how this fits into the overall view of a grade in my class, as the goal is for all students to show understanding of all standards.  How does one break down the meaning of an A, B, C, D or F in that situation?  This is still an issue I have to tackle and come up with an answer for before I can fully dive into this practice.

There you have it…my year in review for 2008-2009. It has been a whirlwind of a year, but I am excited about next year and the possibilities a new teammate and new students bring!

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7 Responses

  1. I enjoyed reading your reflection. I’m curious as to what type activities you were using for your notebooks that you mentioned in that section. Also, I’m getting lots of great ideas from this.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Janelle, somewhere I have a copy of my activities list, but the basic idea is to present them with a number of the activities they could complete throughout the course of the year. A few examples: current event reflections related to class discussion, haiku, mnemonic devices, illustrations, acrostic poems, song lyrics, letter to an absent student, book notes for a section we don’t specifically cover in class, graphs of lab data, etc. They get to choose which methods they use to process our classroom activities. This appeals to different intelligences and allows us to discuss multiple ways to interpret the same information. I’ll be glad to share more if there is interest!

  2. Great reflection Todd,

    As always I enjoy your blog posts and am happy to have you in my PLN.
    Love your idea of having a technology “notebook” (I use something like your notebook in math but call it anchor activities) might I suggest getting the students Animoto and Glogster.edu accounts (assuming your school doesn’t block them) and having some activity choices that use them?
    Also, some sort of photography and photo editing thing might good in this place too

    Eric

    • Eric,
      Animoto and Glogster are definitely on my list for next year already. The Notebook activities are actually Hooks (class openers), Lines (class activities) and Sinkers (post-class processing/reflection). I’m thinking a near future blog post on the way I use my notebook is in order. By no means am I where I want to be with it, but I’m getting there. I’ll have to look into what we can do as far as photo editing as well. Might have to beg to have something installed for that 🙂

  3. Hi Todd! I enjoyed reading your post and again have this amazement about how uncanny it is that we often are thinking about THE EXACT SAME things…it is weird. I have started a list of online applications that I think could be used with the notebooks next year (I just might share my document with you if you’d be willing to contribute) and I’m thinking of using my wiki as an online notebook space for the kids. I’m also thinking of having a student do class notes on the wiki for absent students – do you think you’ll assign one student per class for the whole year, or a week, or a month, or what? I’ve tried assigning students the responsibility to do something like this and in the past it hasn’t worked (due as much to my lack of teaching and oversight as the student’s forgetfulness). I’m also interested in your thoughts on Fair is not Equal – I read that book as well and have been very intrigued ever since. Perhaps we could work together on developing some standards based grading practices. I will be teaching 6th grade next year (I am pumped!), so we won’t be identical, but it would still be good to counce ideas off each other….

  4. Glad I found your blog. Nice reflection. I too started using twitter after seeing Will Richardson. I also bought a Flip video camera because he had one and took a video of our group and it was on YouTube within a half hour. It was a amazing. I now have students make book talk videos in my elementary library. Love what you are doing with the GPSs. I am going to a geocaching class on Friday. Your students are so far ahead with all the technology you are using with them. You should be proud. I am now following you on twitter and it looks like you follow a lot of the same people I do. A great PLN.

  5. I really enjoyed reading your reflection. My school has been looking at grading practices as well, and your mention of Fair Isn’t Always Equal reminds me I need to put it on my summer reading list.

    Your thoughts on standards-based grading really spoke to me. I went from a school that exclusively used standards-based grading to a school that uses percentages, and I have been working to combine the two. I have found that using rubrics has helped me bridge the gap. I have developed 4-point rubrics for major projects and defined what Exceeding, Meeting, Partly Meeting, and Not Meeting expectations looks like. Then, I took the span of 50%-100% (trying not to inflate the range of an “F”) and assigned each rubric score a percentage that is roughly the same distance apart (16-17%). So a Does Not Meet is a 50%, a Partly is 67%, a Meets is 84%, and an Exceeds is 100%.

    Although I am sure there are better ways to do this, I can look at a students percentage and get an idea if they are consistently meeting standards (84%), or exceeding them, etc. Different types of rubrics could also be used (3- or 5-point) that map to different percentages. I am curious to hear how others have tackled this.

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