We all love the feeling of comfortable routine. Knowing what to expect and when to expect it gives a sense of safety. For students, though, always doing things the way you’ve always done them can be boring and leave learning feeling stale. I’m not talking about never having any type of routine; that is too chaotic and leaves some students so out of sorts that they break down. But there are ways that using new tools can bring a fresh breath to the same old thing.
I’ve been trying to change some of my stale routines this year, like always using the same routine for vocabulary acquisition or note taking. I’m thrilled to have each student have their own laptop for use at school and home. Even with all of the issues of students wanting to play games and watch YouTube, their laptops are a wonderful tool to have and I consider myself lucky to teach in a district that is able to pull this level of next level stuff off. It hasn’t always been comfortable for me or them, but this year I set out to try new things, live outside of our comfort zone a bit, and always, always learn together.
I have been trying to introduce a new tool or way of doing things each week this semester. I feel it is important to try some things more than once because there is a learning curve in doing old things in a new way. I’m very up front with my students that I am trying something new and if it doesn’t work well the first time, that’s ok because we are learning together. I tell them that we should keep trying, even though things may not go smoothly at first.
After a short conversation with a fellow science teacher, I decided to have my students try digitally submitting their notes for me to grade. And by grade I mean hold them accountable for taking said notes. So far this semester, we have taken our notes on paper (I’m not willing to go digital with notes because of all that the research has to say about handwriting and knowledge acquisition) and submitted through Canvas using our laptop cameras to record video or take pictures. I then asked my students to upload their video or pictures. Voila! I can now grade notebook entries from the comfort of my home without toting a huge cart home. I don’t have to try to plan a class period in which they can work without me so I can circulate and check notebooks. I had students ask if they could just take pictures or video with their phones which is of course, a fantastic use for those things. Great idea, right?
Well, it didn’t go so well. More than two weeks after asking students to do this, I am still waiting on a significant number of them to submit their notes. Here we are at grading period’s end, and I’m still chasing their notebook entries. After meeting with small groups I found that I had a few that had their notes complete and were confused about how to use their laptop camera to turn in their assignment. Good to know and I was able to clear up their confusion and help them submit. Then I had more than a handful that hadn’t even taken their notes. It’s hard to say right now if this was due to the calculable percentage that were out sick in January and February, or that they just didn’t take their notes. Either way, I am going to try this method again because learning a new way of doing things can sometimes take a few tries.
I tried a couple of rounds of station labs for science. Students rotated from station to station and complete a series of tasks that introduce them to science concepts. Some stations were technology based, such as a video introducing how to calculate average speed, or an interactive site that created a motion graph of a moving object. Some were based on reading a short passage and answering comprehension questions. Some were stations where students have to physically manipulate materials and record data. Some were card sorts in which students had to make connections between parts of a concept. Though this was great and got students out of their seats, I wouldn’t want to use this method all year because after two mini units this way my students were already showing signs of being bored.
Another way I have changed my old way of doing things is in how I am presenting information for students to take notes. I used to have PowerPoints that I presented to my classes so they could write their notes. Late last year and at the beginning of this year I embedded Power Points on Canvas and had my students take their notes. I’m still going to use that method, especially with my students at the beginning of the year who need to learn how to be high school students instead of middle school students, but I’m going to spice things up as the year goes on. I plan on using Nearpod to create interactive note-taking sessions. I did this last week and had lots of students give me positive feedback. I want to continue to tweak how I use Nearpod and give Nearpod Gold a try. I really like to have my students pace themselves and leave the presenting to technology so I can circulate among my students and answer questions or guide them as needed.
As the year continues I want to try some of the other apps out there such as PearDeck and EduPuzzle to see how I can fit those in as well. The more the merrier as long as we take some time to familiarize ourselves with each one, right?
I want to try some completely new ways of doing things, too. I want to make my upcoming energy unit lessons through mastery paths on Canvas so I can differentiate in a new way. Later in the year I want to try to use mastery paths to create a gamified choose-your-own-adventure style unit on waves. I also want to make my unit on electricity into a maker space.
All of these ideas push me and my students outside of those old comfort zones. I’m getting great feedback from students on how much they are enjoying my class and the way I am doing things. Most importantly, I feel like my students and I have bonded. I feel like I’ve had more time to build relationships with my students and that has been so much fun! I feel like I did in my first few years of teaching, but without all that stress over classroom management because, other than the occasional student with a bad day, I have few behavior issues right now. So, I figure I must be doing something right in pushing past the same old same old
Today's thoughts come to us from Ms. Sarah Hawley. Sarah is in her 17th year of teaching in Richmond Community Schools. This is her second year teaching 9th Grade Integrated Chemistry and Physics at Richmond High School. Prior to teaching high schools, Sarah taught 7th grade science for three years at Dennis Middle School, 5th and 6th grade at Elizabeth Starr, and 5-8th grade at Discovery School. She coaches the Science Academic team, is the HOSA co-chair, and is a cub-scout den leader. Sarah is an Army brat who moved around a lot as a child. She was born in Alaska and has lived in Kansas, Germany, Indiana, Texas, North Carolina, and Montana. She loves to travel, knit, sew, read, hike, and sample foods from different places. Sarah is married and has two sons, Desmond and Felix.