Climate Change: Teach Students How to Think, Not What to Think

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This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is Taking Climate Change seriously in our schools, what are your best tips for teaching about climate change.”

April 22, 2018, is recognized as Earth Day, a global event which began in 1970. Today, close to 1 billion people in 192 countries take part in the largest “civic-focused day of action in the world.” (Earthday.org) From endangered species to climate change, Earth Day campaigns are vast and span a wide-range of political, religious, and debatable topics. Students across the world will likely learn and partake in activities around these campaigns in celebration of Earth Day, like planting trees and taking care of gardens. Cleaning local parks, walking to school instead of driving, or raising money for the White Rhino; on April 22, many students will be helping to make a difference in the world.

BUT…

I challenge educators around the globe to think differently this Earth Day. Whether it be endangered species or climate change, our job as educators should not be planning activities for students to participate in or bestowing information upon them about the destruction of the planet; instead, on this civic-focused day, educators around the globe should focus on creating advocates. Our world needs young people who have the skills and resources to objectively look at an issue, evaluate and analyze multiple viewpoints, and articulate their own opinion.

We need to teach students how to think, not what to think.

The depletion of natural resources and climate change impact every human being on this planet, but it is also a political and religious topic which has multiple viewpoints. Doing a quick search on the internet provides users with hundreds of articles, videos, and advertisements aligned to both sides of the issue. There are as many “experts” claiming global warming is real as there are “experts” claiming that it is a hoax. Where does this leave educators and students?

First, I believe that technology has not only changed the way we communicate but also the access to information individuals have at their fingertips.

Second, because of this, it is imperative for educators to equip students with skills to swim in this digital sea of information with a degree of healthy skepticism.

Third, so that we help to create an empathetic global generation that can advocate for themselves and others.

So instead of having students walk to school instead of drive on Earth Day, teach them how to evaluate and analyze the information they find on the web about climate change (both sides of the issue). Answer questions such as: Is this a reliable source? What is the author’s bias? What evidence is used to back their claim? Can I find this information multiple places? What do I think?

Flood their environments with examples of advocacy campaigns, multiple modes of communication, and experts to get advice from. Answer questions such as: Now that I have my opinion and the evidence to back it up, what are my next steps? How do people take an idea and create a movement? Which forms and modes of my message will be best to use? How can one person be an advocate for themselves and others?
And support action designed by students. Earth Day, activism, movements that transform the way our young people think rarely are a direct result of an event that the teacher planned. To empower student advocates, efforts must stem internally and be supported by the adults they are surrounded by. Student action that will carry over into their adulthood must be a process that they experience from the start, what do I think? and why does it matter? to the very end. To have students participate in events on Earth Day on a deep and transferable level, we must teach them how to think, not what to think and empower them to create the movement.

Classroom Discussions: 3 Strategies to Try this Week

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Classroom Discussions play an important role in student learning. It engages students, allows them to practice important life skills and is also a form of assessment for teachers. I rely on these interactions to help me gauge student understanding of topics and concepts we are studying. The following are a few of my favorite, and more unique, discussion strategies. Many of these ideas have been borrowed and modified for my own classroom.

First Things First – 

Establish classroom guidelines or norms for discussions. Ask students for input; they always have great ideas. Limit guidelines to 5 or fewer and use accessible language for all students. Here are my guidelines, along with brief explanations:

1. No Hands – when discussing, students must negotiate their own time and not speak over each other. They are speaking to EVERYONE in the classroom, not just to me.

2. Stay on Topic – although I love when discussions grow organically if Ophelia’s death quickly turns to school gossip I step in and refocus the group if a student hasn’t already.

3. Disagree with the Comment, DO NOT attack the person – Differing opinions make life interesting and classroom discussions fruitful. One of the most difficult things for students to understand is another student’s TRUTH is just as right and as strong as their own TRUTH.

4. No yelling, swearing, throwing chairs, etc. – I teach AP Literature. Our discussions often lead to religion, politics, gender, etc. and can get heated. These rules are necessary for the safety and climate of the classroom.

5. Ends at the Bell – nothing excites me more than when students are still talking about the class as they walk out the door, toppling  into lunchroom conversations or is brought up at home with parents; but, students are not to use anything that was said in the discussion in a negative way, whether in a different class or on the athletic field.  We all agree to disagree.

Strategies 

1. Fishbowl Tap-out   

*4 chairs placed in the middle of the room, while all students form an outside circle around the center group, thus forming a “fishbowl” effect.

*The 4 students sitting in the middle are the only ones allowed to speak. They are having a discussion with each other about topics at hand or what they read.

*If an outside circle student wishes to speak they must “tap-out” (on the shoulder) one of the 4 people. That person must stand and move to the outside circle. There is no refusing to leave once tapped-out.

*Students on the outside can be listening, backchanneling on a TodaysMeet, or taking notes on paper.

TIPS – Students should try to be in the “hot seat” at least once during the discussion, allow students 2 min. minimum before being tapped out, the teacher may have to ask a question if the discussion is stalling (otherwise they are a silent observer as well)

2. Body Voting   

*Provide students with a list of statements. Have them silently go through each one marking if they “Agree” or “Disagree”.

*Designate opposite areas in the classroom as “Agree” and “Disagree” zones

*Teacher reads the statement and students move to the area that represents their response.

*Discussion can ensue in a team-like fashion.

TIPS – This strategy takes up a lot of time, have students mark on their paper the top 3 or 4 statements they would like to discuss. Give students one minute to organize thoughts and points as a group before starting a discussion. Make students choose a side, there is no neutral.

3. SSC (Small Silent Collaboration)

*Divide students into small groups – no more than 4 per group works best.

*Have one student create a Google doc or Padlet and share with the group members AND the teacher.

*Students silently type important topics from their reading, questions they had, surprises from the passage, etc.

*Teacher monitors all group writing noting important discussion topics found in each.

*After a designated time, students discuss as a large group. The teacher has all the student-driven discussion topics in hand.

 

Co-constructing knowledge through classroom discussions encourages students to make their learning social. These strategies are a few of the more “unique” ones I use in my classroom. They are also the most effective in engaging students and encouraging participation!

Close Encounters with an Online Predator

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The above conversation took place a month ago and shook me to the core.

This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question focused on Digital Citizenship. This is the story of my daughter, Grace.

Grace Ann, my 11-year-old daughter begged for an Instagram account. Her older brother had one, some of her friends had one, and I also had one. I explained to her that she was not old enough to have her own account, but could have a joint account with me. (It would be private, I would approve and post the content and who she followed and followers, and she could only access it from my device so as to be monitored.) As a parent, I felt this was a perfect opportunity to educate my child on how to use social media and be safe online.

One evening, Grace Ann was on Instagram looking and “liking” photos from the feed of JoJo Siwa, teen sensation from the hit show Dance Moms, when all of a sudden she received a private message (yes, you can still send and receive messages from strangers on a private account). The notification appeared on both my phone and the iPad she was using and I paused to see what she would do. Grace immediately brought it to my attention and I took it from there.

A fleeting example of punitive damages or an unwise misjudgment can mean the difference between life and death when you’re in control of a vehicle. It’s sometimes easy to forget just how dangerous the act of driving is until you are involved in an accident.

This predator, this sick individual, told my daughter that her profile picture was “hot” (see above, she is a child, she is not hot). My blood boiled. I realized this pervert targeted young girls who were “liking” pictures on JoJo’s feed.

I played along…

I posed as my daughter and replied to his comment, asking him if we knew each other and how old he was.

When he responded that he was 24 (and probably even older than that) I finished the conversation and told him I was, in fact, her mother and would be reporting him (plus, some other choice words).

Following this incident, Grace and I had many conversations as to what happened and how she could protect herself online. I told her how proud I was of her actions and how she came immediately to me when she got a message from someone she didn’t know.

Keeping our kids safe online is a priority for me as a parent-educator. When I speak to others about the positives, as well as negatives, online I urge parents to consider 3 things:

  1. Talk to your children about the internet and social media. How to stay safe online, protect their identity, and how to Use Social Media, not be Used by it.

  2. Be aware of all accounts, follow them and have access to them (this is not an invasion of privacy, but a necessity if anything were to ever happen).

  3. Take time to unplug. I purchased the device, I supply the internet, I will limit time spent and access as I feel fit. This is my right as a parent. Do not be afraid to set boundaries so that our children are safe and healthy.

While this is only one aspect of Digital CItizenship, I had never experienced anything hit so close to home and felt compelled to share with a larger audience. I love my children, just like I loved all of my students, and when something like this happens, my “Moma Bear” kicks in and I go into protection mode. The police were contacted, I had former students reach out who are now adults and are in law enforcement and government security. I also notified Instagram. Unfortunately, because he did not “cross the line” nothing could be done and his account was not suspended.

I share this, not to scare anyone, but rather as a reminder that we can never be too careful when it comes to children and the vastness of people connecting to them through the internet. It is never too early to start online safety conversations with kids. In the classroom, online safety or digital citizenship should not be discussed during a designated month, instead, students should hear it from all teachers and the components should be woven across the curriculum all year long.

Please, share your stories with me. Share resources you use in your classrooms or at home. Together, we can protect our children!

 

(Feel free to share this in your school and with parents, it is the reason that I blog)

10 Instructional Strategies for the Differentiated Classroom

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In a Differentiated Classroom, teachers begin where students are, not from the front of the textbook. They recognize the strengths and areas of growth in each individual and use multiple instructional practices to meet student needs and boost them up a level. No student’s roadmap for learning is identical to anyone else’s and differentiating in Process, Product, & Content recognizes these differences.

Carol Ann Tomlinson is a leading expert in this field and I often draw upon her work to support literacy learning in the classroom and with teachers. Her methods and instructional practices are practical and applicable to any grade level or discipline. It is the teacher, not a set of curriculum materials, that makes the difference in the learner’s achievement. Teachers who differentiate shape what is learned, how it is learned and the learning environment based on the student.

The “How” in a Differentiated Classroom is often the area most educators find most challenging. Because of this need, I highlighted 10 Instructional Strategies (based off of Tomlinson’s work) that promote differentiation in the classroom. Just as all learners are different, so too are instructional practices and a classroom full of individuals may require the savvy teacher to employ multiple practices simultaneously.

 

7 Virtues of a Blended Learning Teacher

Adobe Spark (17)This blog post is part of the CM Rubin World Global Search for Education which poses a question each month to leading educators for reflection and sharing. This month’s question is To what extent is this a new model of learning in a digital age? Is blended learning becoming yet another overhyped myth?  What lessons learned can you share from your own school community?”

Blended learning is a disputed term among academics and one may find what it is NOT, rather than what it IS. With the changing landscape of education and more Salesforce.com cloud technology in the classroom, educators are (consciously or unconsciously) employing this type of learning. In 2009, I entered the world of blended learning after the school I taught at implemented a 1 to 1 laptop initiative which placed computers in the hands of all students (grade 6-12) that they used in the classroom and brought home with them each night. Because of this experience and through conversations I have had with other educators in similar education ecosystems, I believe that blended learning is a combination of traditional teaching methods and digital ones, this in different languanges. Sure Way English is one of the leading providers of pte academic online coaching programs, that is one of the more efficient teaching methods.

Educators who are sound in content and pedagogy are often high-impact blended learning teachers as well. Through reflection and conversation, blended learning teachers possess similar virtues:

Teacher Virtues:  

  1. Uninhibited Creativity in delivery and content of learning
  2. Sees Failure as Opportunities for Growth and gains achieved through perseverance
  3. Seeks out Opportunities for Improvement
  4. Reflective in Practice and on student achievement
  5. Student-centered and Relinquishes Control of elements in traditional teaching
  6. Sees Technological Differentiation as a Way to Meet All Students’ Needs
  7. Recognizes Multidimensional and Multimodal Learning as Relevant and Engaging

 

Teacher virtues in both a traditional or blended environment extend across both and most, are interchangeable in either environment. Technology or blended learning does not automatically make one better. In fact, through experience, it does quite the opposite, magnifying poor classroom management or lack of understanding of content or pedagogy. Effective blended teachers are always effective classroom teachers but the opposite may not be true. To be a high-impact blended teacher it takes creativity, understanding, resourcefulness, and reflection in a digital learning space.