Thinking outside the Box (by having the student Break IN)

BreakoutBox

 

Sometimes it can be hard to change the game in math class. Grooves, patterns, predictability… they all have their place, but it can make math class seem stale.

This is where it can be nice to have a off-the-shelf product that completely changes the feel of class. Enter BreakoutEDU. To quote the interviewee from the video above (click the picture) “It bring the breakout room into the classroom.”

You know all of the wonderful patient problem-solving, reasoning, communication and teamwork it takes to bust out of a breakout room? Well, the same thing happens with BreakoutEDU. You hide clues, you lock the box (typically with 4 or 5 locks), you give the students some teammates and a timer and let them go.

I have seen this in classrooms a dozen times or so. Engagement is through the roof. Struggle is often productive and perseverance is challenged. Keep the hints handy. It can be tricky to get the difficulty level of the games right for the your students.

Let me know if you have questions! I’d love to help you get started!

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Facilitating the smart aleck

I5 Lite Bright

We talk about wanting classes full of critical thinkers. I think this is a great goal and I am generally very high on empowering students to authentically think through complex situation.

But it’s not all pros. Cons do exist. (Nothing… nothing… is all rainbows and unicorns.) Especially when you consider that critical thinking is a skill we are becoming more equipped to foster and practice, while discernment is a skill that is best taught by life experience and generally comes along much more slowly.

So, we need to make sure that we are embarking up the critical thinking mountain soberly. The fact is that “critical thinking” is an easily-transferable skill set — this is why it is so attractive to us. But what happens when the students decide that they want to turn that critical thinking on you as the teacher? When our undiscerning young learners want to practice critical thinking in an authentic setting?

Are you being fair? Are your instructional decisions reasonable? Did your grading of that test make sense? Your work becomes much more scrutinized when you have 25 sharp-minded critical thinkers on your journey with you. And with their lack of discernment that almost goes without saying (students don’t behave professionally), you are almost empowering smart alecks – on purpose.

Let me give you an example of what I mean. This came out of a third grade class.

The teacher is trying to talk about division. The book uses the example of someone who knits glove who makes the fingers of the gloves separately. The question was if the person created 25 fingers, how many gloves could they make. Seems like a pretty straight forward intro-to-division word problem. Except…

One of those kids was a critical thinker.

And she said, “Why would that person make 25 fingers? That’s five gloves. Wouldn’t she make 5 more fingers? Or quit at 20? Why would someone make 5 gloves?”

Interesting questions. Critical thinking questions. And for some teachers that would be a great question. For others, it would sound like the wonderings of an tangentially-on-task smart aleck.

In reality, it might be nothing more than the mental overflow of a student who is really exploring a context they way we taught her to. And the context didn’t immediately make sense, so she asked a clarifying question. That sounds like critical thinking. But, in the ears of some teachers, the word “critical” is in bold. And while, I suppose, it is possible that the student was intending to be disrespectful, I think it is exceedingly more likely that she wasn’t.

We wanted her to engage context. She did. We wanted her to think critically. She did. We wanted her to apply her answer to check for sense making. She did.

But it’s not going to stay in math or science or reading. This skill set transfers, remember. So, you may want to consider each of the following:

  • Making sure your grading policies are properly aligned to the messaging about teaching and learning in your classroom. (Critical thinkers can poke holes in inconsistencies.)
  • Making sure your student discipline policies are consistent with your messaging about teaching and learning and applied equitably. (Critical thinkers see patterns and draw conclusions from them.)
  • Making sure that each of your activities is meaningful and has value toward the learning goals you have for your students. (Critical thinkers tend to be more comfortable making their own decisions about what is and is not worth their time.)
  • Make sure you develop a habit of adjusting your planning based on their feedback (or at the very least, have a darn good reason why you won’t and be willing to be transparent. Critical thinkers ask questions and know the difference between useful information and useless information.)
  • Be prepared to sell your coursework and learning targets and spend some significant energy inspiring and compelling students to engage it. (“Because it’s going to be on the SAT” isn’t a natively meaningful sound byte for many of them. So, if this is the best you got, you are going to have to at least take this argument to the next level. They will if you don’t.)

In general, these are things you should be doing anyway. But, if you are properly fostering critical thinking in your students, you may find that some of the elements of you coursework that you felt were “good enough”, may not stand up to the scrutiny of 25 critical thinkers with still-under-development discernment and very little professionalism (as we understand it) looking to poke holes in it.

Embrace that. The smart aleck in your room might well be practicing the skills that we want him or her to have. The trick is to recognize what we are looking at. They might be trying to be critical thinkers and apply their new skills. Take their effort. Analyze it with them. Teach them how. Model respect.

Throughout geometry, we’d explore proof-writing (which is basically a formalized, mathematics version of persuasive writing.) I used to sell it to my students by saying “Stick with me and I will teach you how to win an argument with your parents.” And I’d refer to that all year. “Let’s look at the argument you are trying to make.”

And rule #0, is if the argument is going to work, the LISTENER needs to change his or her mind when you are done. That means keeping them with you the whole time. That means not doing or saying anything that will shut them off. So, if you are trying to convince your parents (or other adults) to change their minds, you have to present your case in way that won’t shut them down. Now we are talking respect, evidence, cool heads, eye-contact, word choice… That’s proof writing. That’s argumentation.

That’s taking the smart aleck’s skill set and turning into functional critical thinking.

Building the right assessment

Episode #13 of “Instructional Tech in Under 3 Minutes” is on the assessment tool Formative. Now, according to the Formative’s promo video, this is the perfect tool for you if you love Google Forms and Kahoot. (Which I do…)

So, here’s the deal… it combines the diverse flexibility of Google Forms with the ease of access of Kahoot, which is a nice combination. Real time feedback is a nice touch as well.

This is the third mostly-assessment tool that I’ve highlighted and I do that on purpose. Mostly because building the right assessment can be a little tricky. If you’ve got a well-chosen learning target paired with the appropriate instructional strategies, then it makes no sense to haphazardly build an assessment experience for the students. Kahoot, Google Forms, and Formative all have their unique features. So, with their powers combined, they become a system that can create mostly any kind of assessment questions you might need. Individual or group, performance or self-report, anonymous or named.

It can be tricky to build the right assessment. Have a number of tools in your toolbox is often the first step.

Why Google Forms? Because Legends Never Die

Google forms isn’t a new tool. Not even close. But that doesn’t matter.

A good tool is a good tool (particularly if your school has embraced Google). Particularly a tool that has an ease of use (both for students and teachers), is highly flexible, and can be used on any device.

But, the fact that this tool has been around a while doesn’t mean it’s the same tool it was back in 2010. File uploads and different kinds of gridded responses are among the latest updates.

Plus, adding Equatio to Chrome will make adding math notation much easier, too.

So, give Episode 10 of “Instructional Tech in Under 3 Minutes” a watch and remember Google Forms the next time you need to gather input from your students.

 

Kids love videos… right?

Kids love videos, right? Students enter into this multimedia experience where they… sit and watch. And often do nothing.

I’ve seen a number of big box math curricula that are clearly trying to address their predictable and uninspiring math curricula by offering VIDEOS where some puppet or animated character presents the math.

I’ve had the same reservations about the #FlipClass movement which traditionally makes heavy use of the video as a teaching tool. And I have the same problem with all of them: Very often, the students simply aren’t active participants in the presentation and thus aren’t learning nearly as well as they could be. (Derek Muller discusses this same point here…)

If we want the video to provide any tangible improvement over live presentations, we need to use the video to engage students in ways that live presentations can’t.

That’s where I think tools like EdPuzzle could be powerful. Check out Episode #9 of “Instructional Tech in Under 3 Minutes” up above. I like the potential of EdPuzzle (like I liked Zaption before it.) I agree that videos can be very effective tools. I’ve recommended them on many occasions (See Speedometer Problem, Pencil Sharpener Problem, or Dan Meyer’s Magic Octagon as examples.)

But videos aren’t an absolute good. And tools like EdPuzzle can help take the potential learning of videos and convert it to more kinetic learning.

The Cure for the Common Slideshow

I love slide shows. I do. They’re, like, the biggest mystery tool going. No tool has such a wide range of quality of use.  I’ve actually seen some folks do some wonderful things with it. And I’ve seen some simply terrible slide show presentations.

It’s remarkable how little thought people put into the experience of their learners when they design their slides. So, that’s the key question with any presentation: What should the learners be doing while you are presenting? What should they be learning? Feeling? Experiencing?

Boredom is almost ALWAYS not a goal, I would expect. The key is giving the listeners / learners / audience something to DO while you present. Google had added a built-in “audience needs to do something” module to their slides application. Check out the video above.

I mean, it could be argued that there are times when a slideshow is appropriate. (Although there should be other options explored.) But they don’t have to be passive and boring. Check out the video above to see what Google has done to support better slideshows.

Forget your teaching for a minute – What are the STUDENTS doing?

For a moment, I want to reframe the conversation about instruction. Suppose you’ve got a bit of content the students need to learn. Often, teachers think, “How do I need to teach this?” This a fine question, but I’d like to suggest, perhaps, a better one.

What should the students be doing to learn this bit of content? (You see the difference?)

Episode #7 of “Instructional Tech in Under 3 Minutes” shares Nearpod, which is a tool that gives teachers options and puts them in a position to ask the question “What should my students be doing to learn this?” (Nearpod isn’t the only such tool. It’s just a nice choice that is free, device-agnostic and pretty easy to use.)

A while back, the National Institute of Health published a paper discussing some of the pros and cons of “Wired” Children –That is, children who have a lot of screen and device time.

This matters to education. Our classrooms are becoming increasingly wired. And while the conclusions in the article are definitely not conclusive, a few trends bubble to the top and one of them is simple:

With tech, thought energy is best spent focusing on what the young people are DOING with the tech rather than the form of the tech itself. Chromebooks vs. iPad, Google vs. Microsoft, Kahoot vs. Quizizz… these are the wrong questions. Rather, ask: What should the students be DOING with the tech to maximize learning?

It reminds me of some advice a dietician gave me once. She rhetorically asked me, “What’s the best diet?” And then, after a pause, she answered “The one you’ll stick with.”

This is a similar thought process to the explicit instruction vs. inquiry debate that I’ve discussed several times before. It’s the wrong approach to consider which of those teaching methods is “better.” What are the students doing?

If you’re inquiry exploration has the students spinning their wheels, you may need to explicitly instruct them. If your explicit instruction turns your students into a passive audience, then they need to explore some stuff. Some content is tough and they won’t be able to explore it very well without some instruction. But lectures are boring, so the students need to be active participants in the explicit instruction. (And no… taking notes doesn’t count.)

Nearpod is one tool that gives you options. It can add explicit instruction to inquiry explorations. OR, if you’d prefer, it adds explorations into direct instruction.

Either way, it is a tool that gives you a chance to answer the question: In order to maximize the learning in during this time, what should the students be doing?