Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Joy Hour AKA Genius Hour (Progress Update)

Learning needs to be recognized as possible happening anywhere, anytime but also as a self-motivated activity by the learner.  What does a Monday Genius hour look like in my class?

"Everyone in my family knows how to crochet but me"
Students scatter themselves around the room to paint, crochet, research, draft, and practice sign language. Two others work in the storage room down the hall learning to play the piano and the ukulele.

When community members come in to mentor the progress, students meet them at the office and guide them to a conference room where they can talk in a professional, quiet environment.

50 minutes later, we tidy up and share inspiration and "ah ha" moments from the hour. That night, students blog about their individual learning from the hour (for a literacy and writing grade). On Wednesdays, 1-2 students bring up their blog on the overhead and give highlights  (for speaking assessments). Students in the audience take turns asking probing questions about the experience and process (for listening assessments).

Researching genetic diseases for equines;  Future Vet
At this point, one group are nearing completion of its first chosen topic: how to start up a concession stand business. Their next step is to work on preparing a TEDx talk type of presentation on our main stage in the auditeria.  (Learning not to be afraid of a microphone and a big room is a useful skill.)




Researching Power or Prayer and Energy Therapies to Heal

Two students drafting novels started during NaNoWriMo

Please check out their blogs and give them comments or questions! Learning to write for an audience without receiving feedback can cause it to begin feeling more like a journal -- entirely different genre. ;)

Topics under study:
Planning family trips
Climate Change
Sign Language
Designing a video game
Weaponry & Tactics of WWI
How to paint
How to crochet
Writing and submitting a novel
How to define Happiness
Equine genetic diseases
How to build a concession stand business
Planning a trip to Italy for a family
How to modify a bike for mountain trails; Build & enact a training program
How to compose digital music
How to play the piano
How to play the ukulele
Diverse & unusual cultural practices around the world
Jobs related to border patrol, the military, and SWAT
Anorexia vs Bulimia
Healing Touch energy therapy 

The overall goal? LEARN. In doing so, students are learning to synthesize information from multiple sources, analyze their thoughts about what they are learning, write using discussion variety, speak casually and formally about their learning process and hopefully, end up with new skills for personal or professional use. 

So far the students are unanimously geeked out about this opportunity. Stay tuned for updates. 




Friday, February 3, 2017

Genius Hour Launch

Why? I mean really, why incorporate a genius hour into a regular core class?  Is it just about continually doing something "new"? We know education has its yearly trends and veteran teachers have long known things cycle in and cycle out.  The just have to decide if they are standing strong against the current wind or continually going to try the next popular (dare I say it) fad. If we're honest, we'll admit it. Education has fads. They come. They go. 5-7 years later they are renamed and here they come again...if they had merit the first time around. Cross curricular units, project based learning, differentiated instruction,... you get the idea -- and I have been and remain a strong advocate of all of these. So... genius hour? Total student choice?  To me it seems to wrap up all of these together, so why wouldn't I try it. 

I started by showing my students this video.   Then we brainstormed the hope that school sanctioned time spent in the pursuit of personal interest would encourage creativity, motivation, active learning, public speaking, collaboration, and a host of other skills.  We talked about whether we should make a requirement that the learning must be applicable or usability to others in the class and the school, like Google was doing with their employees. The students' enthusiasm was lukewarm. I presumed this was because we had just finished a semester on problem-solving for community needs; thus, we decided not to limit the students' choices of topics.  

I encouraged them to begin brainstorming and dreaming. What would they like to learn or learn how to do that they already didn't know. It could be related to any curriculum or area of interest.  It also did not have to be so large that it lasted an entire semester. I explained that different projects would finish at different times. When one finished, the student would present their learning and then undertake a new learning objective.  

A few days later I asked them to narrow their topic and brainstorm materials and needs for their top 3. Then, from there, I asked them to commit and complete a learning contract and do a one on one mini conference with me to get initial permission to begin. They are also to have at least one mentor session with an adult who has intimate knowledge and expertise with their topic. (Hint. Hint. If you are willing to do a Face to Face, phone call, or Skype session for one of these students, please let me know.)

Topics that were chosen for this first round:
*How to compose music using an online program
*What are the requirements and duties of the border patrol
*How to draft, revise, and submit a novel for publication
*How to implement a food stand at spring sports events
*What is happiness? How to create and sustain it in one's life over time.
*What is the history of the ukulele and how to play it; how to create passion for playing music
*How to crochet hats and scarves
*How to use American Sign Language to communicate
*How to develop a video game from start to finish using Unity.
*What are the psychological effects of anorexia, bulimia, and current treatment programs
*How to read music and play the piano.
*What equine genetic diseases exist and how to prevent and or treat them
*How do cultures vary and how do subcultures and countercultures exist within the larger cultures across the world.
*What is the impact of new technology , doctrines, and tactics on the battlefield during World War I and World War II?
*How to use physics to modify a bike for a Mountain trail and what type of wellness plan is necessary to prepare for the trip?
*What are the properties of acrylic paints and how to use appropriate techniques to paint with that medium?

Assessment?
Each night after a genius hour, students will be expected to update their blogs regarding their process, their insights, frustrations, problem-solving, and so forth.  That will demonstrate their writing skills. Then, upon presentation, that will demonstrate their speaking skills and the skills from the actual learning contract. They will have to extend invitations to people who have knowledge in their area of study to be in the audience while presenting, so that they may receive appropriate questions and feedback on their presentation. 

 Once I get a little into this with the AP Language Class, my hope is to start it in Psychology class, and then hopefully with the sophomores. Cross your fingers for us all as we level up our education one more time, in one more way for 2017.  

Again, if you have questions, suggestions, or are willing to be a mentor, please let me know. 


 




Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A New Year -- A New Focus: The Healthy Child


It is that time of year once again. No, we are past Christmas and New Years is a momentary tick of the clock before the real event -- submitting new course descriptions and recruiting enough of the rare and untamed creatures known as "intrigued students" to enroll for Fall 2017 coursework.

Fools by Neil Simon
I have been fortunate to work in a district with supportive administration. They have let me pilot a variety of new courses and formats: project-based learning, personal curriculum in World Lit, US History and American Lit blocked combo, RTI, Play production, Publishing, and a variety of independent studies for singles and small groups.  But now-a-days the big question is not just what might be fun and of interest to teach but more so, what do students--no, young adults-- truly NEED to learn and in what format would be most useful for them?

In a seven period school day, along with club, athletic, and job involvement, the average student has little energy and little time for "play" let alone learning healthy living patterns. Most adults have difficulty balancing a job, a family, and a healthy life style.  How are youths supposed to intuitively pick it up?

While teaching Psychology and AP Psychology, I always expand the chapter on Stress to a two week Stress Management unit. The students tell me it is one of their favorite units, and now I wonder if it is time to expand it into its own course? With the blessing of my Department Head and my Principal, I am drafting a semester curriculum to teach Stress Management and Psychoneuroimmunology as a social studies elective credit.

Mandala Design
Pet Therapy Experiment
In the past I have covered coping techniques such as essential oils, pet therapy, journaling, art therapy, music, energy therapies, meditation, deep breathing, movement therapy (Tai Chi, yoga, massage, hiking), time management, dream analysis, plant impact, sleep patterns, effective communication and listening.

Other topics I may include cover...
  • What is stress? What are stressors? And how do they affect the physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual body?
  • Understanding Neurotransmitters and chemical impact
  • Personality Assessments and Stress Habit Identification
  • Identifying family patterns: the good, the bad, and the ugly
  • Accurately identifying Emotions
  • Stress Management Proactive and Reactive Methods (Physical and non-physical; extroverted and introverted styles)
  • Relationships: scouting, trial and error, maintaining, grieving
  • Dealing with disappointment (discouragement, dysthymia, Depression)
  • Designing a healthful home and work environment
  • Dealing with Technology Fatigue 
  • Personal Care and Nutrition
  • Cultivating empathy 
  • Cultivating creativity
  • Cultivating confidence and self-awareness
  • Cultivating Small Talk with Strangers
  • Coping with Choice and Inquiry in school and work
  • Mediation, Minimizing Conflict, and Working Through It
  • Dance for Confidence and Release
  • Understanding and appreciating diversity 
What else? I have a few weeks yet to polish it. Right now, for the face-to-face version, I envision it a blend between a physical education attendance and participation required course and days of blended learning and self-inquiry for application. 

Currently Michigan's Online Course Catalogue does not list any similar course.  So, I wonder if I should also offer it as a virtual version? In prepping for the F2F, blended course, it would be fairly easy to make an adaptation for purely online students.  The level of student-teacher interaction could be non-existent to very involved depending upon choice.

Wizard of Oz modern dance
What do you think? As a parent, teacher, administrator, counselor, community member -- whatever your field or background: What do you think would be helpful to soon-to-be adults to help their overall health, wellness, and perspectives for life?  We all want them to be happy, well-adjusted, productive, sane, and healthy. Perhaps it is time for the schools to provide such education?

Online curriculum offered by universities are listed below if you are want to offer your own version at your school. Otherwise, stay tuned and perhaps you'll see my curriculum offered at the State site some day.

Phys-Ed Course:
Forest Trail Academy Online
Weber State University Health Credit 

Monday, October 17, 2016

Mass Personalized Curriculum: Turning Tradition On Its ...Tradition?

I took the leap. Okay, it's only with one class period of 15 students, but it is a leap be sure of that. 15 extremely introverted, average to struggling readers but whom profess to be college bound in a World Literature class.  Why did I upend the flow and traditional process of the class? Because their extreme timidity was driving me mad.  I am not a fan of lecture nor talking to hear myself pontificate (and yes, I could go on for awhile on certain topics).  Passive sponges do not radiate energy nor what learning is to be. Passivity is not what I want their last English class of high school to be about. So? What were my choices? Systematically dole out curriculum and pretend they are interested or... force them to actively choose their curriculum and learning.

Now, I say "force" but we know to move a traditional, introverted class into active learning, there has to be some...subtle nurturing. After laying out the potential for choosing their own topics, their own skills to be assessed, and more choice on time lines, there was the hesitation of a few deeply seated concerns:

Q: What if I fail?
Q: What if I procrastinate?
Q: What if I don't know what to do?

I reassured them that anyone who was willing to give this a try for at least a semester, I would not let them fail. In fact, just like in a traditional format, the only way one can truly fail is to simply not show up and not do any of the work. Besides, it is a senior English requirement and I don't want them not graduating and having to retake the class. ;)

One thing is for sure, designing and contracting a student's own curriculum cannot be done by a passive, quiet student. They HAVE to discuss with the teacher (now facilitator) on the steps in the process. So, not only am I finding the first rounds of contract completion going a bit slow, but I'm finding that it is difficult for students to articulate what they might want to learn beyond basic Bloom's Taxonomy levels even given basic topics or themes which relate to the minimal required literature we are to cover. This process, in addition to increasing student choice and activity, may very well cause an increase in student confidence as well. It will be worth noting during the process.

Given the topics of "Heroes, Villains, Monsters, Fate and Destiny," we brainstormed potential aspects that intrigued us.  They ranged from What is the difference between a villain and a monster? to Has the definition of a hero changed throughout time?  Another student started by looking at the minimum myths we were to cover and was more intrigued with focusing on learning more about labyrinths and how they've been used in literature and motifs throughout history.


We brainstormed what should be on a student learning contract and compiled a working draft.  We read sample learning objectives then drafted and conferenced on them. Next, students brainstormed potential assessment formats. (The struggle for another day will be to veer students away from Google slide presentations. The newest boring BANE of assessment choices.)  Next, as they begin researching both non-fiction and fictional sites to assist in answering their research questions will be hand out a copy of their Common Core State Standards for ELA to keep track of which assessments cover which skills.

The ultimate goal would be for students to contract out all skills for a course in numerous cross-curricular focused projects and have appropriate content team members in on the assessment of said projects. I will count this trial as a success if the following can occur:

A) We don't give up.
B) Students become more comfortable in writing advanced level learning objectives and look enthused rather than intimidated by the process
C) Their individual skills still improve during this process

Oh yes, and
D) We don't give up.

I am beginning to read a new book offered to me by my admin. One of the key phrases which also spurred my decision to start this was simply: What would you do if you weren't afraid?    This might be right. It might be wrong. Or it might just be simply the right time to try something new.

Wish me luck.




Saturday, October 1, 2016

Digital After Hours Kick Off: Test Review Session over Analyzing for Author's Attitude

Last year I began on-line after hours study sessions and writing lab conferencing.  This scenario reached students when they were actually engaged in their homework and allowed for reassurance, reteaching, and conferencing on questions as the needed --and wanted--it.


How to set it up?

  • Tell your students when you will be on. 
  • Create a Googledoc that anyone can edit. 
  • Post the link where the students will find it -- like on your class webpage and then TELL them clearly where to find it. 
  • For a test review, post protocals for conferencing use at the top of the page as well as any digital tools they might use. You might include a Screencastify tutorial link at the top of the page if it is the start of your semester and you haven't gone over the tools in class yet.  
  • Create a space for students to type questions. 
  • Create a section for application of skills and include a link for additional practice sites.
  • Greet each individual student as you see their icon appear in joining the page.
  • Stay positive. 
  • Expect lurkers. 
See the link for what this year's first test review page looked like. You can still see the student's questions and involvement in the application area.

I would not recommend trying to manage a live conference and accept individual emails for private questions at the same time. Too many tabs open and you may miss something or feel harried during the experience. (In the screenshot below you can see I how many tabs I was bouncing between for an after hours test review last year.)  Overall, students can learn from seeing others' questions. Quick questions can be posed in the chat box while practice and application can occur on the actual page. Last year,  when I tried my first writing workshop after hours conference, I had not anticipated that groups would start an inquiry chat on the rubric document, the actual conference document while others sent individual emails .

Students posted text to workshop on the main page. Others posted quick questions in the side chat box

Highlighting, text color, bold-face, and underlining can all assist with focus on key aspects of the communication. Additionally, students and the teacher can use the "editing suggestions" and "comment" feature to highlight key questions or feedback.

This year, I thought I would start it early with my sophomores. The result? The one (yes, 1) student who showed up between 7:30 and 9 PM was very active and scored the highest on the actual test over analyzing for attitude. The others? Success rates varied tremendously.

Every group of students is a little different. In reflections, they are noting that this course requires them to be more active in studying and doing independent work to be prepared for class than their prior English classes.  (In my opinion that is how it should be -- 10th grade should be more challenging than 9th grade and students should be required to have more self-responsibility for their learning.)

Though attendance was bleak, I will continue to offer the sessions. I'm grading papers at night anyhow so it isn't a huge ordeal to have the conference page open to watch for posts.  For this particular group of students,  before the next evening help session, I will email the parents/guardians so they are aware of the opportunity.  Even if attendance remains low, it will be worth it to offer for the few who take advantage of it and I will know I offered more of myself, my time, and my knowledge to assist those who wanted to maximize their learning.

Friday, September 16, 2016

When is "enough," Enough?

(Image from RobertWMills.com)
Two weeks down of the 2016-2017 school year and I'm at the point already where I need to take inventory of the technology I've introduced. Why? Technology should be a tool and not another "thing to do" if we are using it wisely; the last thing I want to do for my students --or myself-- is simply overwhelm them (us) with continuous apps, programs, platforms, and edugames. Focus is still a must for progress.  So, let us reflect... Oh, and no, we are not a 1:1 school Many of the students have smart phones, we have 2 labs for time sharing, and from two prior grant rounds, I secured around 15 ASUS tablets for my room.

Edmodo is still the learning management system (LMS) that I am currently using to post daily objectives, handouts, do auto-checking assessments, and for students to share links. (Our administration says that accessibility to Canvas will be coming shortly but my plan is to transition only one course mid semester and move the others over in January.) If students are absent, I joyfully redirect inquires to the LMS and reassure them if they still have questions after reading that, then please let me know. I also emailed parents, counselors, administrators, and the Special Education faculty access to the courses so they can stay abreast --and potentially involved-- in the curriculum.

Proboards is still my preferred discussion board since the class of 2000: it has a clean design, scaffolded comments with the ability to quote, link, post pictures, take polls, and more. AP Language and World Literature have posted self introductions and are currently exploring and commenting on other students' posts to find common interests.  Eventually, students will host online discussion on controversial topics to hone their discussion and debate skills while World Lit. students will use it to explore the validity of urban myths from aliens to the local haunted Trestle.

Google is our go-to for ELA on-line writing portfolios. World Lit. used Googledocs to store research and then collaboratively author an urban myth on EMP survival. AP Language is using it to draft a series of paragraphs each in a different rhetorical mode/purpose. One student who has severe OCD is using it to type notes versus attempt handwriting in class. ELA department members are using it to collaboratively write our first series of Standards Based Grading assessments. Finally, my sophomores had to demonstrate professional email format by writing about their multiple intelligence online assessment results and their personal hobbies. My textbook chapter notes are put into Googleslides for students to use and compare the quality to their own notes to assess if changes need to be made while doing the next chapter.  Hyperlinked documents enable students to make a list of class work for reading.

Blogger, Word press, Wix, and Weebly are the top choices by AP Language students for setting up their online Writing portfolios and blogs. Though students may be a little hesitant right now about the purpose of individual blogs, it is my hope that the frequent publishing with some choice on topic, may assist the development of their voice and style. Potential real world feedback will hopefully strengthen writing for a real audience.

Yes, the web in general has also been used widely so far. World Lit. has been reading comparative flood myths, AP has read science research articles, sophomores took online personality assessments, I stream relaxing music from YouTube, and an online free countdown clock attempts to keep students focused through the use of Kairos (sneaky teacher). (I must be missing something else...hmmmm....)

As far as additional staff uses, Screencastify has been used once so far to make a how-to video for my dept. teachers regarding setting up and sharing folders in Googledrive. (I'm still not used to my voice while recording but hey, it is what it is.) We still enter attendance and grades in eschool. And I still bug my former A.P. by sending him chat inquiries when I see him online in Googlemail. Sorry, Matt...kind of.)

Advertising school activities and lessons has become a recent "soft" skill requirement for teachers and districts. So, PR is managed through Twitter and Facebook primarily. You can find me @OHSMcLemore to keep up with class work and photos that relate. I posted about 15 Homecoming pictures and two videos just tonight.

The first two weeks are drastically different from days of ol', but hopefully the pay off will be worth it in the long run. Do I have plans to introduce more? Yes. But, why ruin the surprise?   When is enough, enough?  Only when more becomes unmanageable and counterproductive. So, here is to a productive year empowering youths, co-workers, and myself to continue growing, learning, increasing workplace and college skills, while reaching for all of our stars.


(Pic from Eskipaper.com)

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Integrating Nature to Assist Learning

Henry David Thoreau did a short stint as a teacher and preferred to take his students outside. His philosophy was "The World is Our Classroom" and his method was "huckleberrying" --better known today as student-Inquiry . Thoreau also contributed to the ecological history of Massachusetts by tracking every bloom of the local flora and fauna. Maybe he knew what the world is just now rediscovering -- humans need nature interaction. Biophilia (designing with nature, light, and temperature in mind) can yield amazing results. Science has documented the impact in hospitals, schools, and office work places. (If you want all the formal study citations, let me know and I'll pull them. This is just a smidgeon of what I wrote my facilities research paper on for an administrative degree.)
Okay, so WHY keep plants near you inside?
*One company reported that in addition to increased positive perceptions by employees, reported PRODUCTIVITY among senior staff went up significantly, from 3 percent to 6 percent.
*A window view of nature, plants in the work environment, and even pictures of nature (green landscapes) can help with ATTENTION-restoration and a BREAK FROM STRESS. Experiments at the University of Michigan demonstrated that both walking in nature (in contrast to an urban setting) as well as viewing pictures of nature for at least ten minutes in one sitting reduce stress levels and improve FOCUS attention and MEMORY.
*Windows and nature views can impact student TEST SCORES and COMPREHENSION. In a study from 1996, students receiving optimal daylight allowance increased their attendance from 3.2 to 3.8 days per year in contrast to students with non-daylit schools; test scores increased between 5 and 14% while test scores dropped in mobile classrooms with limited daylight in the same district (Green, 2012, p.21) A similar study in California revealed that students with the most daylighting tested 7-18% higher than those with less and demonstrated a 20-26% faster learning rate according to research in 1999 by Heschong. The greatest improvements were seen in classrooms with both daylight and windows allowing direct views of nature” (Green, 2012, p.21).
Biophilic design can address a number of physical and mental concerns for learners and staff members; it can “improve stress RECOVERY rates, lower blood pressure, improve cognitive functions, enhanced mental STAMINA and focus, DECREASE VIOLENCE and criminal activity, elevate MOOD , and increase LEARNING RATE.
Research by Shibata and Suzuki revealed that MALES without plants near perform worse/slower than females without plants near on thinking/creativity tasks. Also, males with plants placed in front of their work area performed better than males without plants present.
*Poor indoor air quality (IAQ) causes high ABSENTEE rates in the work place and schools. Sick Building Syndrome causes people to experience nausea, headaches, fatigue, and upper respiratory infections. Tests have shown that plants and even vertical gardens/living walls can decrease airborne spores by 20 percent and increase worker focus, attention-restoration after technology eye strain, and improve productivity.
So -- mental stress recovery, improved attendance, focus, mood elevation, increased learning rate, mental stamina, lowered blood pressure, increased comprehension and test scores, improved memory... Need I go on?
What personal effects have I seen? Sophomore boys gather around my Norfolk pine and actually pet the soft needled branches. One class immediately named my Pony Tail miniature palm tree "Noodles" and made it a name tag. Often students would choose to sit near the plants and have asked for cuttings to take home to their own rooms. Is it worth it? Yep. And don't fear there are some great low maintenance plants you can incorporate into your work place.
NASA has even researched which plants are the easiest to maintain and the most helpful in improving air quality in the home. They suggest:

I have incorporated the following and had great success with student reaction and longevity of the plants with only Eastern sun exposure.
Sun:
  • Norfolk Pine
  • Snake Tongue/Mother In law
  • Spider Plant (hanging)
  • Cactus
  • Poinsettia
  • Ice plant
  • Aloe Vera
  • Wandering Jew (hanging)
  • Geranium

Shade/Part Shade:
  • Philadendrom:
  • Nephthytis Pink Allusion (Syngonium Podophyllum) trailing vines
  • Golden Pothos
  • Peace Lilly

 You don't have to cover your window ledge -- especially if you have a nice view of a green landscape out your windows. However, if you don't have windows AND you don't have plants, I strongly suggest you enlist a local painter to paint you a landscape mural.  The greenery helps to calm the system and promote positive thought -- both of which is severely needed in today's world and for our students.

Here is to the start of a beautiful, green school year.

Both pictures are from two years ago. Except for the potato plant, everything else is still alive and thriving.