Spring Break Rolling By

its-official-science-just-confirmed-that-spring-break-is-the-shortest-week-of-the-school-year-a269cI always get so many ideas for my classroom when I’m on Spring Break. Teaching is a tough job on your wit and candor and when you get these breaks, you reall appreciate it. If you do it right, you improve. Would you care to share with the community and I here how your Spring Break makes you better?

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Less Paper Lesson Planning

I had a rough day recently where I realized paper was not a good foundation for a week of lessons. Our copy machine is hit and miss.

Some days it will work perfectly, other day it will be the primary discourager of teachers on campus, myself included. I am always looking to make my teaching “foolproof” so I sat down with a huge chart tablet and started creating what I called “Less Paper Lesson Planning.” The embarrassing truth it that I only used it one day. However, the concept is still with me and I think about it as I plan the lessons for my classroom. I was told once that a goal will always put you in a good direction, whether you achieve it or not. The greatest ideas seem to come only after many failed ones are attempted. I guess that day I set a very deep-set goal that hasn’t gone away. We have a lot of materials at our disposal every day that can be used in place of copies. Projectors, ELMOs, PPT, white boards, smart boards, pair sharing and verbal response, computers, tablets, ipads … more are coming our way all the time. I am finding that when I put my emphasis on “less paper” more innovative ideas come.

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Negative Effect of Forward Questioning

http://www.youtube.com/v/gFmFOmprTt0

Quite cool. This shows the effect of forward questioning: when you ask kids questions based on material you have not yet taught. How many times would it take feeling helpless before you bought out.

YouTube – Learned Helplessness

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Learning Objective

IAB_CL1_PX01642Series on EDI intro: Explicit Direct Instruction, or EDI, is a set of teaching strategies assembled by Data Works, a research company in California.  I have been trained and certified as a trainer and have found it a great way to deliver effective lesson plans.  It consists of steps which you will find in each post in the series here.  I hope you benefit by the series.  Please leave a comment, let’s have a dialog.

In the teaching method EDI, “Learning Objective” is the beginning of the lesson.  It should be stated clearly and the kids should show evidence of understanding by repeating it back and then answering as random non-volunteers. I usually write this on the board and explain any new or difficult words.  Then I say it and have the class repeat it.  You are establishing the goal of the lesson.  This helps the students mentally prepare for the lesson.  Many times teachers do “forward questioning,” or, questioning without teaching.  Forward questioning is a big no no.  A clearly taught learning objective is the best weapon against it. Here are some teaching methods.

Even though EDI is the focus here, a learning objective is an excellent part of any lesson plan. You state what we will be doing and stay faithful to it through all stages of the lesson.  It’s like a target guiding what you do and what you assess in the end. Now, onto the second step of my favorite method of teaching.

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Transition Activities to Break up the Long Day

8-tips-to-smooth-transition-between-consulting-firms-e1387739127278Whether a teacher sees the day as long is irrelevant, we’re there for the students. Having said that, the school day “bell to bell” can feel extremely long to a student. This can result in poor classroom behavior. I have good news, good scheduling and transition activities can help students stay awake, alert, and engaged throughout the school day. If you do a day correctly, you’ll hear the coveted, “Mr. Riley, today seemed short!” The first thing you need is a solid schedule that is accessible to both students and teacher.

In between blocks of teaching, you should have transition activities on hand in case you need them. A few that I use are: throwing the nerf ball with a simple, silly question. Whoever catches it has to answer. I do stretching, classroom-safe forms of what I call “quick yoga,” singalongs (This Land is Your Land etc.), and even putting our heads down with the lights dimmed to simply process the silence. Surprisingly, some of my students have requested this, You get the point: breaking up the day can make it run more smoothly. The theory of time spaced learning states that more chunks of information are retained in a period of time when breaks are taken periodically. In effect, doing “break” activities actually can produce more learning than trudging through the day like mud trying to stay focused and on task. Please help me and other teachers: What do you do to break up the day?

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A Snapshot of How I Make Lesson Plans

Every weekend, after the laundry and wrestling with the chores, I am faced once again with the same professional challenge: making a weekly lesson plan schedule. The obvious reason for this is to have a backbone for the activities and learning that go on in my classroom all week. The other reason is to ensure to myself and others that I am not just “winging it” without a plan. Good teachers make weekly plans. I have been at this for 16+ years and I won’t say I am a “good teacher” I will let others say that if they wish. I have found that making weekly plans yields smiles and growth returns from my students. Finding the weaknesses of my students’ scores as well as the way I have taught up to this point is the goal of my weekend planning time. Here’s a very broad presentation of how I sometimes do it.

NOTE: In this field, while I seek only to help teachers from a peer-to-peer perspective, there are an abundance of snooty types who seek to criticize and devour ideas different from their own. I would like it known that this is a very personal sharing post and is certainly not meant to be perfect nor the “only” way one can prepare for a powerful week of teaching. For you to get something out of it, you may have to do a bit of “reading between the lines.” having said that, I would not be as excited to share this with you were I not extremely excited about what I do and they way I do it in this particular situation. Thank you for having an open mind as you continue. Incidentally, why are so many teachers the “snooty” type? Hmmm. I’ll let you address that in the comments. Now for: “How to Make a Weekly Lesson Plan Schedule.”

I Start with a rolling cart. I put a minimum of books and TE’s I need into the rolling cart so I have the access I need at home on the weekend. You may not be sure what to bring. In that case, let me give you my choices as an example: a math TE, the district pacing guide, ELA curriculum (Mine is a PDF so is always at home with me), a Google Calendar printout from the week below (read about how I make the Google calendar printouts here), the state standards blueprint, the state standards released test questions, and finally a printout of my students’ most recent assessment scores. (Photos are not the most recent Common Core standards that I use in accordance with district standards.)

I start with their assessment scores. 1) I identify the lowest standards and write them daily into the lessons. This is often called “backward mapping,” whatever they tested low in, teach again. 2) Then I find matching curriculum and write that into the Google Calendar lesson plan. The former is pretty simply since I have access to Oars.net. This is a great online program that aggregates assessment data for teachers. I can see in an instant what standards are high and need only be spiraled and I can also see the low stuff needing intervention. The way I go through my day teaching these lessons in in almost constant evolution. Having said that, watch for a post in the next week or two where I will share how the weekly lesson plan looks in a given teaching day. What do you think about my art of planning a teaching week? Have you anything to add? That would be great. I comment and link back!

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Back to the Old Drawing Board

 

 Someone asked me if I agreed it takes about 5 years for a teacher to feel comfortable with her/his craft. I responded by saying it’s taken me 3 years in Santa Ana and 13 in Adelanto to get here today where I am yet again rearranging the furniture and tweaking my behavior program. I say it comes in waves but a dedicated teacher keeps putting out blood, sweat and tears. This all makes the learner experience better. Of course I pull from the stuff I learned in my first five years. Nonetheless the time since has been full of trial and error. The error sometimes shows me more than the success. If you know what doesn’t work, you can narrow it down to what does.

 

 A few days ago I started getting that urge to uproot my seating chart. Kids had settled in and we’re getting used to some bad talking habits during the lessons. In my normal way, I like to think big by writing on a huge piece of cardboard. This time I added a C shaped table and made my teaching area further back. I made a seating chart on a spreadsheet and rearranged some of the overly lively kids to be better located. The kids are always excited and motivated right after a classroom makeover. This was no exception. With 32 school days left in the year, I’m glad I mixed it up. It will work much better, it already is. I’m sore from moving huge tables but I feel satisfied this will give them more of what they need from my 4th grade program. What does “Back to the old drawing board” mean to your teaching?

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Fewer Goals More Success

If you are a high achiever who has 110 things on her/his to-do list today, this post may not be for you.  If you want to be a high achiever but get overwhelmed at times, this might be more suited to you. I was talking to a new friend, Justin, the other day through emails about how we can get over indulgent in work and actually be less effective.  That conversation made me think up a challenge post to my readers:  I want to tell you to focus on only three things today. You decide what they should be.  You’ll be tempted to focus on more, but limit yourself.

As a teacher, I tend to get bogged down in all the demands from the district and parents.  Sometimes, it can sap my energies.  The professional solution is to focus my energies with an almost tunnel vision on no more than 3 things.  I can still do other things, but my success for the day will be determined on whether I got those three things accomplished.  For example, tomorrow my 3 are: 1) Multiple meaning words, 2) Finalize my parent conferences calendar, and 3) Teach the final 2 math concepts we’ll be testing next week.  There are many other things I could/should be worried about, but these three are the most important.  I will name the day a success when these three things are done.

It is the regular attention to goals that makes me feel like a great teacher.  I wasn’t born great and I do not remain great just because of what I have done.  My puritan upbringing cringes at calling myself “great,” but I am simply referring to the data that says: I set goals and achieve them.  To me, for any occupation or endeavor in life, that is success.

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Lesson Planning and Teacher Preparation Over the Weekend

Teacher Preparation prepares you for many things. It also leaves a lot of holes. You aren’t ever schooled how to use your weekend hours which is unfortunate because there is still plenty to do at the end of the week. Lesson planning for instruction, aka teacher prep, is the single most important part of what I call the “Dynamite Lesson Plan.” I have the toughest class many can imagine this year. I have discussed many solutions with my grade level colleagues and we are trying them. We are all having a hard time so we are modeling every activity they must do from lining up to raising their hands. We are doing a “respect lunch” where the kids who have shown the most respect all week get to have lunch with us in our rooms. After all, behavior management really can be reduced down to that one word: “respect.” You may or may not learn that in your teacher preparation classes. Interventions such as these really are just cosmetic fixes. Effective lesson planning is really the secret ingredient to behavior management.

I recognize that the only way to really “teach” my kids and get test results is to prepare dynamite lesson plans and that often means using the weekend hours. Classroom management follows this, not the other way around. I spent a couple hours this morning, a Saturday, poring through state standards for math. I developed EDI lesson plans based on key standards that are supposed to be assessed by the District this week. It was rough. Especially since my sinuses were really acting up. It’s these hours we teachers on not credited for. They are more than most know.

All I wanted to do was sip Chamomile tea and watch the Biography channel. Instead, I forced myself to focus on creating lessons with audio visual material and engaging concepts prepared in advance. As always, I know it may work and it may not work, but the weekend helps me to refocus on my promises to my kids … even when they don’t keep theirs to me.

I will get in my Jeep Monday morning with a renewed sense of hope for my classes. I have 95 kids all day and I teach them math. My goal is to have them score higher than a more affluent school across town. I want to show that economics do not dictate achievement. I’ll probably get beat up this way and that by various factors at work but I will have that lovely weekend once again for teacher preparation and concentrate my efforts on what matters once again.

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Preparing Students for Jobs that Don’t Exist Yet

A friend I teach with sent me this link. I think we all can identify with one factoid if not most or all of them. The most significant for me was the one that said we are preparing students for job descriptions that don’t exist now but will.

http://www.youtube.com/v/cL9Wu2kWwSY&hl=en&fs=1&

Another teacher friend of mine wrote about the same thing on her blog today. Wow, this says to me we need to prepare our kids with the basics to adapt to wherever the bread and butter may be:

Can you envision today’s high school or college students carrying out jobs like these:

Bio-botic Physcian

Chef-farmer (agri-restaurateur)

Clone rancher

Digital archaeologist

Drone dispatcher

Exozoologist

Energy Harvester

Global system architect

Holodeck trainer

Mobile BioMass Therapist

Personal brand manager

Smart car interior advertisement sales representative

Space junk hauler

Transhumanist consultant

Robotician

The World Future Society; an organization served with the charge of making those predictions can. In their recently released special report (PDF) these were among some of the 70 specific jobs predicted for 2030.

via Jobs of the Future – Will Our Students Be Prepared? | Angela Maiers Educational Services, Inc.

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How a School Climate Can Change

There’s a lot of talk of global climate change but what about teacher attitudes. I’ve seen them change big time and it’s causing bad stuff to happen you might compare to global warming or acid rain.

I remember in my early days of teaching there was a camaraderie that existed in the air. At the mailboxes, people would smile and greet each other. Sometimes people would talk and find themselves tarrying past the bell (God forbid!) In my eyes that was always more valuable than getting to class on time. Getting to know other teachers and feeling cared for was like medicine for that staff. Things aren’t the same now, maybe it’s just how life is and I need to grow up?

Now, it seems everyone on staff is into their own things. They are stressing in their face and their voices. Some days I feel the only people I can let my hair down with (figure of speech, I’m bald) are the classifieds and grounds staff. I hate when everyone is rushed. With public school being attacked from all fronts, everyone is crossing t’s and i’s and all that stuff. Everyone is locked and loaded to point the finger to save their job. It’s a real shame I say. Kids keep growing up, they want to be cool (thank you Mr. Neil Young for reminding me of that) and they want to play!

Teacher drama only hinders learning. Can we be better teachers when we’re stressed and hurried? Some must think so because it’s the order of the day. I say NO WAY. Relax and develop your passions as a teacher. Then, share that with your students. Most people aren’t made happy by their work but rather their passions. The happiest people have seen that modeled and know how to get it in touch with it. Now, for teachers who want to foster the humanity of their school climate, the question comes, how much are you willing to do to make things better?

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I Met my Wife 12 Years Ago This Day 8-30-2002 (Slide Show)

Without Sarah, none of my teaching would be possible. Dedicating this post to her, and us. May we have many more years ahead like the past 12.

Sarah and Damien Met on this Day: 8-30-2002 by Slidely Slideshow

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In the Mean Time, Just Teach Kids

tony-lays-it-all-out-on-the-chalkboardI loved the Nike slogan in the 80’s “Just Do it.” This is something we as teachers in negotiations need to remember. If you read too much of the news around education, it will leave you feeling left out to dry. For some reason the climate in political circle is bad toward teachers. It’s not warranted however. We in education have seen so much good happening in our classrooms, schools, districts, and regions. We know teachers are continuing to pass on knowledge and students are receiving it. There is an issue of economics that has center stage. The conservatives for the most part want higher test scores and they want the ability to produce them without traditionally credentialed teachers. They open chart schools, of which some are very good I must say, that employ low paid teachers that are not unionized. I assume they still must be credentialed but if they can save money I am sure they will find a way around that. We studied hard to get two degrees in college and we long to show our ability in the classroom. We work hard to see measurable growth in our students. Unfortunately, this is not being seen by some voices in our culture. 

This is where I have to put the blinders on. The road forward involves teaching kids. I need to guard my heart against epithets in the news that strike down teachers and call us lazy. I need to be ensuring my kids in my classroom are showing measurable growth. Even if my kids show measurable growth, the so called revolutionaries out to take apart public education will likely change the target. In a way this is an amazing opportunity to just help and not get caught up in the political games. Only we know how the kids learn because we are with them. With respect of course, we need to use all tools at our disposal to meet our self-made goals or our kids. We will weather the storm out and then our culture will ask us, hopefully, “How did you do it?”

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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?

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