Activate Prior Knowledge

The step in teaching where you should talk about what students already know to make a connection.

IAB_CL1_PX01572I tell my kids they should love this part of the lesson because ?prior knowledge? means basically: ?Stuff they already know.? All I am doing here is getting them to fix on something they understand. I will use this quickly to bridge to what they have yet to learn. For example, if I am doing a lesson to 8th graders on consumer documents I can explain to them how skateboards come with a warranty.

I can get them very involved in sharing stories of ?prior knowledge? about pasts that have broken and got replaced within the terms of the warranty. Then I can bridge from that to the lesson objective which might be analyzing the various terms of a consumer document. The learning objective can be restated throughout the lesson reminding the students that each thing we are doing has a place in getting towards that learning objective. I thoroughly enjoy the elaboration from kids during ?APK? or activate prior knowledge. They have a lot of enthusiasm in telling me what they know. I think the ?dynamite? advice for this step would be to pick an APK subject that they know and enjoy. Getting kids comfortable at the beginning of the lesson through prior knowledge is a dynamite tool. Here are some sample lessons.

Suggested 3 I’s of Education Reform

My article below was first published as Three “I”s Suggested for Education Reform on Blogcritics.

Public education in America is in a state of flux. In 26 states, including California, legislators are adopting the “Common Core” standards and curriculum to teach our nation’s kids. As a teacher for the past 14 years, I have taught mostly from the multiple choice assessment standpoint. It has its pros but there are certainly many aspects where it just doesn’t work. What I would like to see is a more “real world” curriculum where kids are nurtured in their individual ideas and inventions. Currently I see this in education reform California. We don’t just want kids that can pass tests, we want kids who can invent the next iPad and help save hour healthcare system. Inspiration, innovation, and invention

Most agree with the thought above. Unfortunately however, the path is not as clear. I don’t have many ideas on how to make every school successful. I do, however, think there are some universals that should be taught in the public school classroom. The first one is inspiration. The simple question teachers should ask themselves here is: “What things inspire ME to be productive.” I don’t know how everyone would answer that question but I can tell you my answer: music, movies, restaurants, travel, the beach, just to name a few. Listening to great music empowers me and makes me want to do amazing things. All the other things do as well. We need to help kids identify passions and then make the connection to inspiration so they can lead productive lives. Students that have been shown the inspiration connection will make a larger contribution in their early adulthood.

The second classroom “must” is innovation. We need to put kids in situations where they can make solutions in adversity. A great way to do this is to show them how we do it as adults. This can include bringing in successful grown-ups as guest teachers to share how they get through their day to day, not just paying the bills, though that is important, but creating inspiration for themselves and others through solving problems. Kids who learn how to innovate and solve problems in school will be more productive members of society. In the advanced cases, these are the types that will cure cancer or create pathways to peace.

The final part of classroom curriculum we should focus on in education reform is invention. Bill Nye the Science Guy has an amazing episode on this topic. He shows how important it is to every day life. When I put a piece of tape on my alarm clock button, it makes hitting snooze easier. That is a simple example of human invention. Students who have coaching and practice inventing will invent better things in their homes, communities, and worlds. If a teacher can inspire invention in her/his students, they can truly change the world.

Once again, there is much disagreement on what education reform should look like. At the same time, I think all Americans want to see higher productivity in our land. I really feel that as well look to alternative frameworks, we should consider these “three I’s” as equivalent in value to the “3 R’s:” Inspiration, Invention, and Invention. Our kids, the future citizens of America will thank us if we make urban education reform a reality.

The W.I.N. Philosophy

A memorable post written Aug 17, 2008. I bring it back once in a while because the W.I.N. philosophy is so valuable to me. I like to share it.

Well, I start back teaching tomorrow. It’s been an incredible summer with a trip to Vegas, to Magic Mountain, and several other small awesome places that my wife and I adore. My kids were out by the pool all summer which was really gratifying to watch. It makes all the hard work really worth it when you see your kids lost in the fun of it.

I’m going back to work (well, I did teach summer school for 6 weeks so it’s not like I was 100% off) tomorrow with a mantra and the W.I.N. philosophy. It stands for “What’s Important Now.” In teaching one is constantly bombarded with new demands and deadlines and sometimes it gets downright overwhelming. By focusing on the “WIN,” you are more effective over the course of a year. This could apply to anyone anywhere but it really helps me as a teacher. I use it in my blogging work as well.

The Challenge of Making Your Not-so-Favorites Your Favorites

20130401-170518.jpgThere are 30 some odd kids in your class as a teacher. It is so easy to gravitate and focus on the needs of your favorites. They are as such because they fit in to your paradigm. Disclaimer: No teacher should have “favorites” but I am using the term to simply make a point we always need to keep an open mind to all our students. For the purposes of this article, by “favorite” I simply mean ones that are easier to understand and reach. That is m goal with every student. Thank you for understanding my disclaimer. Favorites are natural to your style of teaching and personality. You “get” them and so they often are easier to reach and teach. These are not the students that challenge you to be great. I challenge you to pay more attention to the difficult ones, those who are more difficult to understand. When you reach them, it’s a huge win for you and they.

We shun things we aren’t familiar with. A kid may seem annoying on purpose when her/him is only operating under their home paradigm. Not only can you offer them academic help but they can teach you more about how students perceive and survive in the world. Ring any bells? Please comment.

It is one of my top values for my blog here to host comments. I promise to give you my posts until my dying day but I covet YOUR comments more. Teachers, parents, administrators, edubloggers, and anyone interested. PLEASE leave me a comment. I promise to reply.

Importance

Kids remember things when they have relevance to their lives. Using creativity to come up with what multiplication facts are important will raise test scores.

IAT_CL1_PX00770The next step of EDI is importance. Before I learned EDI I always tried to infuse this into my lessons. Unfortunately, I didn’t always get to it. EDI makes it mandatory and I know why: it is very effective.

Kids remember things when they have relevance to their lives. Using creativity to come up with what multiplication facts are important will raise test scores. It should be part of every dynamite lesson you do. Think about your own motivation to do work: if it wasn’t relevant to money, sense of happiness, etc. would you still do it? I wouldn’t. Give your kids the reason(s) your learning objective is important. You will be astounded at the results. Here are some sample lessons using the step of importance.

Monetary vs. Non Monetary Rewards in the Classroom

Here’s another topic for my teacher journal and I hope to get some external input in the comments on it. In every class there should be some sort of rewards system. Kids are small adults and adults work for rewards, why shouldn’t they? In teaching, I have found the PC and mainstream way most teachers take is the way of monetary rewards. Kids follow the rules and get junk the teacher buys with her/his own money or other sources. There is a problem I see with this monetized rewards system. If kids do right to get a tangible physical reward, they will only do right when they can get a reward. This is a poor way to prepare kids for life because many times in life we are not rewarded monetarily for doing the right thing.

I prefer non monetary rewards. When I was a Pizza Hut manager, the trainers told us that people will do more for a compliment than they will for a slight raise. People want to be seen. Again, students are small people so why wouldn’t they behave the same way grownups do? Throughout the day, I make sure I am giving high fives and compliments when they are warranted. I don’t go out and buy a bunch of monetary “prizes” for my students. Once in a while I will buy my kids stuff but I keep this few and far between because I know training them to crave non-monetary rewards is a more suitable training for the world we all live and work in.

It’s possible I’m a little bitter because in 1997 something happened in my classroom that really changed me. I bought a small mechanized Harley Davidson motorcycle toy to give away at the end of the month. (I also regularly bought monetary rewards for my class at that time). The $40 toy was stolen off my desk and I never retrieved it. The kids never revealed who and how it was taken. I decided pretty soon after that event that it was not the best idea to have monetary rewards in the classroom. That’s my view, what do you think?

Backwards Mapping for Planning Instruction

In planning instruction toward a dynamite lesson plan, one extremely effective form of CFU is called curriculum mapping. It is referred to by many teachers as: “backwards mapping.” This can be used to strategically work toward test goals.

Backwards Mapping Requires Reflection

A Dynamite lesson plan is great, but we musn’t forget that assessment is a key part. In a given lesson plan format, such as EDI, it is often called CFU (Check for Understanding). As teachers, we need to know what stuents know when they know it.. EDI is a form of instruction. Today I am writing to you about planning instruction which is a “whole different animal,” as they say. Before the lesson plan, there must be backwards mapping.

Curriculum Mapping Requires Testing

Backward mapping requires a test. The test becomes the “data” for use in making a “backward map.” The test ideally is calibrated with the same standards as you plan to master with the students. Once you’ve given the test you can analyze the data by noting the percentage of accuracy on each standards. Depending on the teaching situation, you might decide standards that 70% of the class got correctly are no longer needed in your instruction. Whatever your lesson plan format, since we know the brain needs review you can always review that throughout the year.

Make the Map and Take the Road

The items where the students had less than a proficient percentage now become part of your instruction “map.” You then take those standards and create your instruction going forward. Let’s face it: no one wants their students to fail. This is an excellent way to focus on the toughest standards and guide your instruction to mastery of the concepts. This is a big job when you really get into it. That’s why I recommend doing it on a trimester or other periodical basis. Don’t do it nightly or even weekly. Wait for the data to be relevant, over time.

No Instant Gratification but …

Remember also that the brain likes small bites so resist the urge to re-teach it all at once. Teaching is a job of patience and tenacity not instant gratification. However, through setting goals and using strategies like backward mapping, we can experience the rush and satisfaction of seeing goals achieved.

If you use backward mapping or plan to implement it or something like it into your teaching, please let us know in the comments.

Special File for Student Notes and Creations

Explains a “sunshine folder.” In this, you put special “gifts” from the kids and then when you are feeling down or just want a reminder that you “don’t suck” as a teacher, you can just pull the folder out and browse through it.

Often teachers share with me that they get trinkets and drawings from their students. I know I get my fair share. All too often we sweep them aside to the edges of our teaching desks and end up throwing them away. A mentor of mine several years back told me about something I know have and call a “sunshine folder.” In this, you put special “gifts” from the kids and then when you are feeling down or just want a reminder that you “don’t suck” as a teacher, you can just pull the folder out and browse through it.

I am not sure exactly why, but it seems that all children love to draw. I have been given so many pictures through the years it could probably fill a landfill. Most of them are gone forever because I didn’t hang on to them. After my mentor’s suggestion, I started keeping all the photos and small stapled envelopes my kids give me and it is getting quite encouraging already. I never know what to do with these gifts and the students always give them to me at inopportune times. Having the sunshine folder helps me keep their sentiments until a time when I can properly enjoy them and it shows the students I care enough to file it and read it at a later time I’ve noticed in recent years the students have used more “realism” in portraying my bald head. The last on I got gave me wings like George Constanza on Seinfeld. I guess looking at the ongoing realism of these pictures from my students is a little bit like accepting that I am aging. All the more reason to keep these special items in a dedicated place.

In the recent past I had a not-so-great day of teaching. I was quite deflated. Everything seemed to have a “catch” attached to it and nothing was working, not even my printer. So, I sat down and pulled out my sunshine folder. As I read through so many messages of “You’re the best … You rock … You’re the best teacher ever …” I found myself feeling better and reminded once again of why I do this wonderful though often difficult job of teaching.

What Students Need from a Teacher

More Classroom and Walls (7)Education has been in a state of flux for about 20 years. The latest trend is online teaching but there have been a lot of changes already in the last 20 years. Some will say President Bush tried to develop it with “No Child Left Behind” and I think most educated and informed people knew that would have only mixed results. By “left behind” it simply meant no one would fall below the C or passing on a uniform assessment. Many now may wonder, “What do students really need in a teacher?” Below I offer some suggestions.

1. Students need a listener. In a room of 20-30 students, it is hard to know the individual idiosyncrasies of your students right away. I have half-jokingly and half-seriously said for years that teachers should spend the first three weeks reviewing the classroom rules. Of course, other things should go on like pair share and group share. Most of all, the teacher should try to elicit responses to questions in effort toward getting to know students and listening to their needs. Continue reading “What Students Need from a Teacher”

Music in the Classroom – In Some Strong Hearts

Now, with these blinding budget cuts in California and across the nation, we need to dig deep to unveil what our true values are.

musicThe title is true for my school anyway. Amid the rigorous academics demands on school children these days, it is refreshing to see teachers keeping music in the classroom. Most people from my generation got some music instruction, or at least music appreciation, in elementary school.  I will never forget Mr. Davis pulling us out of class once a week and teaching us to pluck the guitar saying “Santa Ana freeway” in time. I’ve been carrying that torch, in my small way, ever since I started teaching, keeping music in the schools.

With kids it’s best to start with the basics and work their way out: the parts, the strings, the chords, then teaching with songs, and later riffs and solos. It’s great to know that some administrators, teachers, and districts believe that music in the classroom should remain “still standing” even in these times of recession.