Chief Instagram Officers

InstagramLast year I wanted to involve my students in sharing the learning taking place in my classroom. I decided to try this by creating a rotating “executive office” I dubbed the Chief Tweeting Officer (CTO) for each class. After recognizing (and giving in to) the growing popularity of Instagram, I decided to add another executive office this year, our Chief Instagram Officer (CIO). (So you know, I also have a Chief Operating Officer (COO), a Chief Distributions Officer (CDO), and a Chief Sustainability Officer (CSO) on my rotating executive staff. I serve as the CEO.)

Our class Surface tablet is still designated for use by our CTO. Instead of having both social media executives share the tablet, the Chief Instagram Officer uses my iPad 2. I wasn’t completely comfortable with this idea at first. I use my iPad quite a bit, and it syncs with all my email accounts, my Evernote, my Google Drive, and all my personal social media accounts. I love and trust my students, but I’m not sure I want them to have that much access to my information.

My solution to this problem is to lock the iPad to just the Instagram app using Guided Access. I love the way the Guided Access works because I can “gray out” any area on the app that I don’t want students to use. So far it is working pretty well. I introduced the role by talking about the need to share our story of learning over the course of the year. We discussed how pictures help tell stories and what types of things we could capture and share about our learning. We also discussed the things we shouldn’t share and talked about the need to represent ourselves, our class, and our school honestly and respectfully. I’m sure we’ll continue those discussions all year. You can check out the stream here.

I’m not sure if there are other middle-level classes using Instagram, but I’m hoping we’ll find a few to connect with and follow. I’m interested to see how the role will develop as the year goes and see what my students decide to share. I’m already finding it interesting and informative to see the pictures the boys capture and to read the captions they write. I’m learning much about their perspectives.

Here are a few of my favorite images so far:


 
 

One logistical thing I changed from last year is that my officers serve for a full week at a time this year instead of changing daily. This gives the students more time to grow comfortable in the role and to become more adept at using the tool to share our learning.

So what do you think? What questions or feedback do you have about the idea? I’d love to read your thoughts. If you are an educator, we’d love to connect with you or your class. You can find us sharing online here or here.

Prioritizing Thinking

See/Think/WonderPerhaps the most important thing my students need to know about me and our class as we begin the school year is the value we will place on thinking. Our class content focuses on reading, but the primary learning goal is to become more thoughtful–to be better thinkers. So on the first day, we start by prioritizing thinking. I don’t want our focus to be on procedures, rules, or even our classroom community. Those things are important, but the main core of everything we do is with the goal of becoming better, more thoughtful thinkers.

With that in mind one of the first activities we did is a See-Think-Wonder about 6th grade reading and our classroom. I gave my students a few Post-It notes and asked them to spend a few minutes exploring the classroom and writing down the things they saw. We talked about the need to gather evidence and pay attention to details. (These are skills we will use to help us become better readers, too.) The whole room was open to the students. I encouraged to explore every facet of the classroom including the closets, bookshelves, filing cabinets, and drawers. I challenged them “to research” the room thoroughly. After a few minutes, I called them back to their seats to complete their lists and share what they found.

Once we talked  about their “I See” lists, I asked them to begin interpreting, drawing conclusions, and making inferences about the things they noticed (Again, these are skills we will use to grow as readers, too.) They developed a set of “I think” statements. I gave them a few minutes to come up with as fluent of a list as they could; then, I dared them to come up with a few more. Their conclusions fascinated me. As they shared their thinking, I reinforced how important it is to base our conclusions and inferences on evidence by asking, “What makes you say that?” so that had to support their reasoning.

Finally, I challenged the students to take their thinking to a deeper level. We discussed that best way to push our thinking is to ask good questions. We talked about the value of questioning and concluded that “good questions” inspire us to think deeper–to explore our ideas further. (Yep, a skill we will use to further develop as readers.) “Good answers” can be helpful sometimes, but they tend to curb thinking more than deepen it. I asked the students to consider their “I think” statements and take them to a deeper level by developing “I wonder” statements about their original conclusions.  Again, we shared our thinking with our partners and with the class. Then, we prominently posted our thinking where it can be seen by everyone in class and any visitors we may have.

Again, the goal was to help the students understand (from the very first activity) their thinking is highly valued. Here are a few random pictures I captured of different students’ thinking about the class, our space, or me:

I see. . .

See 1 See 2 See 3

I think. . .

Think 3 Think 2 Think 1

I wonder. . .

Wonder 3 Wonder 2 Wonder 1

I’ve written previous posts about this first-day activity in past years. You can read those posts here and here.



This is a pomodori post. My pomodori posts stem from my use of the Pomodoro Technique. I spend the first 25-minute interval writing a post and a second interval polishing, editing, formatting, tagging, and scheduling it. At the end of the second interval, the post is done.

4 Tips for Getting Started with Social Media in Class

social media in classOver this past week I’ve been asked a couple of times about my experiences using social media in class. The fact is social media is already part of our students’ daily lives. The are active in various digital spaces. While the media focuses mainly on the potential negatives of kids sharing online, there are many positive aspects to social media. It’s a fun way to find and stay connected with friends, but it’s also a way for us to learn new things, show our creativity, voice our opinions, and collaborate with others.

Many of my sixth graders already have Twitter and Instagram accounts. I know that some are on Tumblr, Facebook, and Google+, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn some are using Vine, Snapchat, Kik Messenger, WhatsApp, or Whisper. There are so many social apps and websites it’s impossible to keep up, and new ones are developing all the time. It’s not important that you or your students master a particular tool because the apps will come and go. What matters is the deeper thinking, learning, and connecting that social media affords and the dispositions it helps us develop.

Here are four suggestions to help you get started using social media in the classroom:

  1. Teach and model good citizenship. Don’t differentiate between how one acts in person and how he acts online. The same guidance should apply. Teach students how to use social media in all the positive ways. Model these things through your own use of social media and talk about it with your students. Show them how you learn through Twitter, how you express your creativity on Instagram or YouTube, how you express your opinions through blogging, and how you collaborate with others through Voxer. Most importantly, help them see how you show thoughtfulness and kindness in what you post. Set up guidelines, practice sharing, and offer grace as they make mistakes along the way. A great resource that might help as get started is Common Sense Media’s Social Media Topic Center.
  2. Connect with other teachers and classrooms. There are many ways you can do this effectively. In the past few years, we’ve connected with other classes on Edmodo during the Global Read Aloud. We’ve also Skyped with other classes to help with research projects and to learn about schools in other countries. This year, I’m considering Quadblogging to help my students develop an audience for their blogs and better connect with other students around the world.
  3. Share what’s happening in your classroom. Create a Chief Tweeting Officer role in your classroom so different students tweet the learning that happens each day. Your CTO could tweet several times throughout the class period, share a creative headline to summarize important learning, or pose questions to followers to draw in outside opinions. One idea I may try this year is adding a Chief Instagram Officer role to my class. Maybe we’ll share a photo-of-the-day complete with a caption to express our thinking and learning.
  4. Consider and talk about safety and privacy concerns. Obviously, not everything needs to be shared online. Students need to know the dangers in location-sharing apps. Talk about privacy concerns with your students. One reason I like using class accounts is that my students aren’t sharing their personal information. We identify ourselves in our posts using only initials or first names, and we always get permission before posting a photo of someone else. People have the right to not use social media if they choose and that’s okay. When I a student doesn’t want to use social media, I engage them in a conversation to learn their thoughts on the matter. Why do they want to opt out? Then, we decide together how to move on from there.

Using social media can be a positive addition to our classrooms, but it can also become a distraction if we aren’t careful. Remind students the primary goal is to deepen and share our learning. The tools shouldn’t get in the way of that. If they do, it’s time to reconsider what we’re doing or how we’re doing it.

What tips do you have for using social media in class? What resources have you found useful? What new mediums are you planning to try this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Yep, About Five Seconds

The Twitter BirdI like Twitter. It’s an interesting medium for connecting with people, particularly other teachers. Through my interactions on Twitter, I’ve developed some great professional connections. I’ve made important friendships there, too. In fact, some of my closest friendships started on Twitter. My current job teaching at PDS, which I love, came primarily through the connections and relationships that started on Twitter so obviously, I think it’s an important place to be, and I urge every teacher I know to start using twitter and making connections there. It’s been one of the most important tools for my professional growth and development.

But. . . Twitter is a weird medium. By limiting posts to 140 characters, Twitter makes having deep conversations difficult. So while I find Twitter chats interesting and sometimes insightful, I don’t find them deeply challenging. Of course, I’d rather sit down with a great cup of coffee and talk, anyway.

Another thing that makes Twitter weird is the follower/following mechanism. For some reason, those numbers matter to some people. If I’m honest, there are times when they matter to me, too. Then, when I really think about it, I realize that’s kind of silly. I’m there to make connections and to learn. I’m not building a brand, and I’m not interested in making a name of becoming famous. I want to be the best teacher possible for my students, and yet I still have to decide who I will and will not follow.

Recently, Doug Peterson wrote an interesting post about the process he uses in determining whether he follows someone on Twitter. Doug’s is an interesting checklist as he  mentions that one only has about five seconds to make a good impression online. I’d say five seconds is just about right. My process isn’t as well thought out as Doug’s, but I have done some thinking about what goes through my mind when it comes to following folks on Twitter:

  1. I don’t follow every person, or even every educator, that follows me. There are people who do and I think that’s great, but that doesn’t work for me. I like using my “home” stream, and I prefer that it be filled with tweets from people I somewhat know and recognize. I do follow people back, but usually it’s because they’ve engaged in dialogue with me over some idea a few times. If you want to connect with me, I’m open to the idea, but don’t expect me to follow you just because you chose to follow me.
  2. If we meet in person, I’ll usually follow you. Of course, if you don’t share periodically or what you share is of little interest to me, I’ll probably unfollow you at some point. It is what it is.
  3. If you are following me only because you want to sell me something, we might as well end this now. I’m not interested.
  4. If you act like a jerk, I’m not going to keep following you. Life is just too short.

I’m sure I have a few other guidelines, but my Pomodoro timer just sounded so I’m going to stop now. What about you? How do you decide whom you will follow online?


This is a pomodori post. My pomodori posts stem from my use of the Pomodoro Technique. I spend the first 25-minute interval writing a post and a second interval polishing, editing, formatting, tagging, and scheduling it. At the end of the second interval, the post is done.

Book Review: Circa Now

Book Review“What if you could photoshop the fantastical into existence?”

Every now and then I read a book that resonates deep inside me and I cannot stop thinking about the characters and the story long after I’ve put the book back on the shelf. I’ve read a lot of books, but there have only been a handful of novels that I cannot truly put away–books that I must revisit time and again. J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher and the Rye and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird are two books that through the years have beckoned me to read them over and over. They are powerful stories, and I have made deep connections to them. Amber Turner’s Circa Now is another one.

The book is beautifully written. Turner has an amazing way with words. Her well-crafted prose pulled me into the story quickly, but the main character, twelve-year-old Circa Monroe, held me there. Two chapters into the story Circa’s world falls apart when her father dies unexpectedly, and as a reader I was transported back to when I, too, was twelve and my mother died. Circa’s story isn’t all sad, though (and neither was mine). As Circa and her mother try to put their lives back together, a mysterious boy arrives at their door who seems to be magically connected to the Monroe family.

I won’t spoil the story because you need to read this book. If you are a middle school teacher, you should add it to your must-read list. The book gives insight into students who’ve suffered the loss of a parent, but it is also just a great story with a touch of magic and filled with hope. I’m planning to use it as a read aloud this year with my sixth graders, and I’m planning to host an author visit with Mrs. Turner, too.

Teachers, one cool resource Turner created to go along with the book is a collection of “Shopt” Story Starters. These photoshopped pictures are wonderful creative writing prompts and tie in perfectly with the book. My own children had a big time writing their own “shopt stories” at the book launch last month.

I’m out of writing time, but do yourself a favor and grab a copy of Circa Now. You’ll be glad you did. I rated Circa Now a 5 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.

Full Disclosure: Amber McRee Turner is a dear friend. Our friendship dates back 30-plus years to junior high school, and I’m proud to call her my pal. Nevertheless, her work stands on its own. She’s a true talent and you ought to check out her work regardless of her connection to me. However, I did receive an ARC of Circa Now from Amber to read and share with my 6th grade students. (I also bought a copy when the book released because I’m going to need extra copies.)


This is a pomodori post. My pomodori posts stem from my use of the Pomodoro Technique. I spend the first 25-minute interval writing a post and a second interval polishing, editing, formatting, tagging, and scheduling it. At the end of the second interval, the post is done.

My Homework

homeworkSo… This morning, my friend Bill tagged me in a “Homework” blog meme. I have no idea how this whole thing started, but according to Bill, “this meme has an important purpose: To give readers a look behind the digital masks that writers show outwardly to the world.” So what masks am I wearing as I share in this space? Hmm. I guess I need to spend some time reflecting on that. After all, the goal for this blog is to have an open, honest space where I share about my life and professional practice. I’m going to need to come back to this idea in a future post. For now, I have a homework assignment to complete (and papers to assess, too), and I’ve needed to update this blog anyway. (Okay, task number one is complete.)

The second task of my assignment is to share eleven random facts that readers of my blog probably don’t know about me:

1. When I was 13, my dad took our family to Los Angeles for the 1984 Summer Olympics. We were in the stadium for the women’s 3000 meter final, and I was less than 50 feet away from the spot where Zola Budd and Mary Decker had their collision.  

2. I am a total chicken when it comes to horror movies. I absolutely refuse to watch them. In fact, I’m still traumatized by the original movie versions of Carrie and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

3. I have a crush on Dame Judi and have for a long time.

4. I love teaching 6th grade, which is funny because I always wanted to teach high school seniors and then become a principal. I struggle with a tension between wanting to teach students and wanting to lead a school.

5. I start reading lots of books that I never finish. I feel a sense of shame about it. What is that all about?

6. My wife is a better reader than I am. I love to read, but she’s a voracious reader. In fact, I dream of being able to read like she does. Seriously, she’s amazing. She’s also a better teacher than I am. It’s not a competition; if it were, it wouldn’t even be close.

7. I could easily eat a box of frozen fruit popsicles every day. Every. Single. Day.

8. I prefer books, movies, or music to sports. I don’t really follow sports. I do have season tickets for University of Memphis football, but they don’t really inspire fanaticism. I occasionally enjoy watching professional tennis, and I like GolTV on nights when I cannot sleep, but I’m not “with it” when it comes to sports. Having said that, I should tell you two things. First, I read Geoff Calkins almost every day. Second, my team is in the finals of my school’s fantasy football league championship. Go team!

9. I’m getting ready to train for another marathon even though I haven’t run my first one yet. How’s that for complexity?

10. There’s a fine line between faith and doubt. I always seem to walk that line teetering from one side to the other. I wish I didn’t, but I do.

11. In another life I’m a performer.

My third task is to respond to eleven questions from Bill:

1. Grande Soy Green Tea Frappuccino with Extra Whip or House Blend Black? I’ll have the black coffee, but I’m hoping you have enough sense to serve this.

2. If you were going to write a book, what would its title be? Shut Up And Keep Spinning the Plates (Honestly, I have no idea.)

3. Rate graphic novels on a scale of 1-10, with 1 representing “useless” and 10 representing “simply amazing.” 5. I’m kind of indifferent in this debate. I’ve never seen a graphic novel turn a reluctant reader into a passionate reader, but some people may find them useful so I don’t have a problem with them.

4. What member of your digital network has had the greatest impact on your professional growth?  I cannot differentiate between my digital and non-digital network any more. I just have a network and those relationships develop in many places. I cannot name just one person either. After all, one cannot quantify learning no matter how hard he might try. Having said that, I admit the folks that immediately came my mind are Michael & Melanie Semore, John Spencer, Bill FerriterHadley Ferguson, Alice Parker, and Jill Gough.

5. How do you feel about the holidays? Stressed.

6. Rate the following movies in order from best to worst:  Christmas Vacation, Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story, How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated version). Christmas Vacation, A Christmas Story, Miracle on 34th Street (the original), How the Grinch Stole Christmas (animated version)

7. What is the best gift that you’ve ever gotten? Romans 6:23

8. If you had an extra $100 to give away to charity, who would you give it to? HopeWorks would get the first $100. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital would get the next $100.

9. What are you the proudest of? Debbie and I have been together for 9 years. We will celebrate our 9th wedding anniversary next June. I’m crazy about her and our family.

10. What was the worst trouble that you ever got into as a child? As a teenager, I told a whopper of a lie to my parents. It was a big deal and it was awful. I won’t share the details. I just won’t. It was a day I’ll never forget, but I wish I could. I did other things that were stupid and/or mischievous, but this one haunts me. Now let’s move on.

11. What was the last blog entry that you left a comment on?  What motivated you to leave a comment on that entry? I left a comment on Bill’s blog primarily because he called me out in it. Sometimes Justin Stortz’s posts resonate so deeply in me that I feel compelled to comment.

The fourth task is to create a list 11  bloggers that now have to answer eleven questions from me. Here’s my list:

  1. Stephen Davis
  2. Bob Dillon
  3. Hadley Ferguson
  4. Jill Gough
  5. Yoon Soo Lim
  6. Jennifer Orr
  7. Alice M. Parker
  8. Edna Sackson
  9. Chad Segersten
  10. Justin Stortz
  11. Wanda Terral

The fifth task is to create a list of eleven questions for the above folks to answer:

  1. If you could take a “dream” vacation, what would it be?
  2. Hollywood is casting a biopic about you. Who should be cast in the lead role?
  3. The director changed her mind and has decided to create a reality show about you instead. What should the title be?
  4. What’s your favorite book?
  5. We take a trip to Yolo, one of those fill-your-own-cup frozen yogurt shops. What all do you put in your cup?
  6. It’s a busy night at the karaoke bar. You’ve got one chance to blow away the crowd and leave your mark. What will you sing?
  7. Who or what inspires you most?
  8. What was your favorite class in college or graduate school?
  9. If you could snap your fingers and magically change one thing (only 1) about your job, what would it be?
  10. Name one important thing on your “bucket list.”
  11. What’s your favorite holiday tradition?

So tag–you guys are it.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
  2. Share 11 random facts about yourself.
  3. Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
  4. List 11 bloggers.
  5. Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let all the bloggers know they have been nominated. Don’t nominate a blogger who has nominated you.

Post back here with a link after you write your response. Go ahead, you have homework.

Chief Tweeting Officers

twitter in classI’m trying something new this year using Twitter in class. I’ve designated a Chief Tweeting Officer (CTO) role in my 6th grade reading class. I created a class Twitter account, @MrCsClass, a couple of years ago, but I never really did much with it. Occasionally, I used it to share things my students were learning and doing in class, but it was always from my perspective and I used it very inconsistently. I want this year to be different. I want my students to have a greater voice and I want us to share regularly. I hope our rotating CTO job will help us down that road.

Our school has a dedicated hashtag #PDSmem, and in my room have a dedicated Twitter device, too. While at ISTE 2013 this summer I received a free Surface tablet that I wanted to integrate into our learning environment. Using the Surface allows me administrative control, but gives the students the easy access they need. So far, I’m liking the way that it’s working for us.

When introducing my classes to Twitter, I gave the students a handout at the beginning of class to use for Practice Tweets (PDF). (Let me know if you’d prefer a Word document.) We talked about what kinds of things people might want to know about our learning and how we might use Twitter to connect with learners around the world. We discussed including images, hashtags, and links and the importance of adding value to others with what we share. The students had to write two or three tweets during class time while we went about our other class activities.  The handout had to be submitted back at the end of class as a “ticket out the door.” Here’s the handout I created (each space represents a character):

twitter in class

(Next time, I might have students send their tweets through a Google form, but for this first exercise I wanted them to use the hashed lines to see the number of characters available.)

I took my class rosters and have assigned students different days where they will serve as our CTO (Chief Tweeting Officer). When the CTO enters the room, he picks up the Surface tablet so he can tweet a few times during the class period. We’ve only been at it a few days, but the boys have done a good job so far. Here is a sample of some of their tweets

As I said, it’s a good start. Hopefully, as the semester goes we’ll be able to connect with some other learners and other classes. We’d love to make some global connections and develop some friendships around the world as we go.

Do your students use Twitter in class? We’d love to hear how they use it. We’d also love to connect with other middle school classes. Consider following us at http://twitter.com/MrCsClass. We’d love to hear from you.

See, Think, Wonder, 6th Grade Reading (2012)

This is a collaborative post co-written by Alice Parker (Yoda) and me. We are cross-posting it to both of our blogs–Through the Looking Glass and A Retrospective Saunter.

The beginning days of school should be magical ones. While students meet their new teachers, view the classroom design, and try to sort out what it is they may learn during the year, it is imperative for teachers to create a culture of thinking and learning, as well as a climate of group collaboration on those first days.

This year we, Alice and Philip, combined our magical forces to teach as a team during the first week of school. We decided to improve upon last year’s See, Think, Wonder — from my (Philip’s) first days of school lesson and extend the students’ thinking further while creating new classroom dynamics. As we had made significant changes to the physical styles of our classrooms during the summer, we knew that the students had much to observe.  Additionally, we, along with Julia (our Martin Institute Resident), flavored each classroom with many hints about us as people and teachers of reading.

To begin the lesson, we asked students to develop their own driving questions about the design of the 6th grade reading classes, the 6th grade reading teachers (including Julia), and 6th grade reading. Before starting, I (Alice) took a few minutes to review with the boys what makes a good question, focusing on the idea of writing deep, open-ended questions rather than questions that could be answered with one or two words. Our sixth grade guys easily recalled their past lessons on “Fat Questions” vs. “Skinny Questions.” We asked the students, “What do you want to know?” and allowed them a few minutes of think time. Then we asked them to write their questions on sticky notes. Using the group discussion connection rules as a platform, the students shared and posted their questions that would help focus their inquiry and drive the See, Think, and Wonder activity that would soon follow. The following are a few samples of the students’ “driving questions:”

  • “Ms. Parker, why do you have brains in your closet?”
  • “Why does Mr. Cummings like Phineas and Ferb so much?”
  • “How does all this stuff connect to reading?”
  • “How will the books we read connect to our lives?”
  • “Why do you both teach reading?”
  • “What do you do to prepare for the school year during the summer?”

After deciding “What Inquiring Minds Want to Know About 6th Grade Reading,” the students began exploring the rooms looking for answers to their driving questions. The students moved from room to room investigating the closets, checking out the bookshelves, noting posters on the walls, examining pictures on the shelves, and analyzing the arrangement of the rooms.  The only areas “off limits” were the teachers’ wallet, purses, and backpacks.

The students returned to the desks and began making lists in response to the prompt: “What did you see?” They recorded their lists on a sticky note. After a few minutes, the students shared their best discoveries. Then, they came up to the board and posted their “Sees” for the class. The following are a few of the things they noticed:

  • strategies for reading
  • Phineas, Ferb, and Perry
  • Flying Pigs
  • various types of books to read
  • places to go read
  • many types of paper
  • school supplies

Once the students had returned to their seats, we discussed what it means to make inferences and draw conclusions. “How does one make an inference?” The guys then responded to the prompt “What do you think?” making another list on a sticky note. After a few minutes they started sharing their thinking aloud. As teachers, we neither confirmed nor denied whether their conclusions were true. We only responded with an additional question asking “What makes you say that?” requiring the student to support his inference with evidence based on what he had seen. Here are some examples of our students “Think” statements:

  • “I think the books will somehow connect to what we are learning in other classes.”
  • “I think collaboration is important.”
  • “I think Ms. Parker’s room is wacky and random, but Mr. Cummings’ room is cool and organized.”
  • “I think there will be some freedom and independence in Mr. Cummings’ and Ms. Parker’s class.”
  • “I think our teachers are optimistic.”
  • “Mr. C and Ms. P like their students to use knowledge to build projects.

Each student shared his “think” statements by posting them on the board for the class to see.

Next, we asked the students to consider what additional questions they have now that they have explored the room. We explained that we wanted them to go deeper with their questioning. They responded by creating another list to answer the prompt: “What do you wonder?” Again, the following are a few samples of the responses they shared with the class:

  • “I wonder how old Mr. Cummings is.”
  • “I wonder if we’ll ever go outside to read.”
  • “I wonder what the differences between the two classes will be.
  • “I wonder why they are both so relaxed.”
  • “I wonder how will the fun affect our performance of reading in school and out.”
  • “I wonder how sixth grade reading will be different from fifth grade reading.”

At this point we were almost out of class time. As the students posted their “Wonder” statements on the board, we told them that their “ticket out” for the day was to come up with a “Headline” for the day’s class. We reminded them that good headlines capture the main idea and inform or entertain the audience. We stood at the door and gave high fives as the boys informed and entertained us with creative headlines, a few of which follow:

  • Class Time Thoughts
  • Classical Creativity
  • Pigs and a Platypus: The Perfect Combination
  • Cloudy with a Chance of Creativity
  • The Odyssey of Reading
  • Getting to Know Cat Daddy, Cat Momma, and Their Cribs
  • See, Think, and Wonder So Much to Ponder

We have found See, Think, Wonder to be a great way to introduce ourselves, the subject of 6th grade reading, and our individual classroom design to our students on the first day while engaging them in inquiry and encouraging them to think. If you have never tried See, Think, Wonder with your students you can find an explanation of the thinking routine here.

What is your reaction to our first day lesson? How do you engage your students’ minds on the first day of school? We’d love to hear from you.

Today, We Played

We played together today.

My 6th graders and I are away on a two-day “Breakaway” trip to Victory Ranch about an hour and a half outside Memphis. It’s been a day full of character and team building activities. I’ve been able to spend some time getting to know the guys in my mentor group better, and we’ve had a great time facing some challenges and enjoying some friendly competition. We’ve also talked a lot about leadership and what it means to be a godly man, but perhaps my favorite part of the day Has been playing with my homeroom.

We spent a couple of hours this afternoon riding the zip line and playing on the water slide. I put on a harness and joined them. We ran. We swam. We ate sno cones. We wrestled in the pond as the boys tried, rather unsuccessfully, to dunk me. We received a reprimand from the lifeguard. We tried to catch a football while going down a four-story water slide. We did flips and barrel rolls. We took turns. We told stories. We laughed. We connected and bonded as a homeroom class.

Playing is learning. It’s important. We spend a significant amount of time thinking, learning, and problem-solving in school and it’s good, but so are the times when we play. Play allows for self-expression. It develops our creativity, imagination, and empathy. Play reduces anxiety and increases self-confidence. When we play, we learn to cooperate, share, and resolve conflict. We improve our concentration and learn to persist. We develop our ability to communicate. (Singer, Golinkoff, Hirsh-Pasek 2011)

We weren’t in class today. The desks sat empty. But don’t say we didn’t learn. Today, we played.

#MCHunter Day 2: First Day in Office

As regular readers of this blog know, I am taking a Master Class with John Hunter this week at The Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence. John is the creator of the World Peace Game and featured in the movie World Peace and Other Fourth Grade Achievements. One of the unique aspects about the Memphis class is that it there is a group of students who are playing the game each morning, and Master Class members have the opportunity to watch the game in action. Then we spend the afternoon debriefing and reflecting on our own practice with John and Jamie Baker.

Yesterday, the adult observers were encouraged to look for how to handle “unknowing,” team development, Mr. Hunter’s use of his strengths, and how learning happens. I attempted to keep these suggestions in mind as I watched the game unfold.

The game portion of today started with the students going over the day’s crisis report. The report identified the following 22 crises that Mr. Hunter has embedded into the game:

  • a border land dispute
  • an air defense scramble
  • a natural disaster
  • a rebel insurgency
  • religious tensions
  • endangered species
  • drone attacks
  • a territorial ownership dispute
  • an oil embargo
  • arms proliferation
  • a territorial waters dispute
  • a forced alliance
  • two separate global warming issues
  • ethnic cleansing
  • mercenary and rogue military actions
  • an oil spill
  • a toxic chemical spill
  • a Star Wars missile defense conflict
  • an undersea mining dispute
  • a sunken civilization artifact discovery
  • cyber-hacking
  • an ancestor burial dilemma
  • an oil well gusher blowout

How’s that for a to-do list on one’s first day in office? 🙂

I love the game’s complexity, and it was great to hear John’s philosophy on the need for complexity. Often, in teaching we divide the learning into smaller parts in order to make it simpler for the student to understand and master. As someone stated “we pre-chew their food.” The problem with this is that the world is incredibly complex and it’s rare that we are able to focus on just one individual task at a time. By designing the game with significant complexity, Hunter requires the kids to tackle multiple tasks at once and rely on their creativity as much as their analysis. He’s not teaching them to multi-task, but simulating the true complexity that already exists in the world.

As a group, we adults observed students responding in several different ways to this. Some seemed paralyzed by it all. Others were confused. Some slowed down and approached things carefully and methodically, and a few simply jumped in with their “to-do lists” and tried to accomplish something. It was an interesting dynamic. The room was full of activity and busyness, but I’m uncertain as to whether it was productive. I’m curious to see how the gameplay will develop.

Students approached their lack of knowing and understanding in different ways, and it wasn’t easy to know how they were doing without really knowing them personally. I think this really speaks to the need for strong relationships with students. I also noticed that John has a gift for one-on-one connections. He is very intentional about seeking out individuals to ask questions, offer encouragement, and make observations. He also has a way of expressing genuine interest in each individual. It’s quite remarkable.

During the afternoon our cohort debriefed with John and Jamie about what we saw in the game, and John shared with us some tools he uses with his students. (I’m working on a separate post about these.) then, we sat together and shared our responses to the “homework” questions. Teachers are extraordinary people. Listening to my peers share deeply about how they teach and why they do so was a beautiful experience, and I learned so much from them. And this morning, as I reflect on yesterday and this experience, I must confess I am extremely proud to be a teacher.