Wednesday, November 8, 2017

May I Go to the Bathroom? this is not a typical classroom blog post.

It's not about flipped lessons or classroom activities or student reflections.

It's about trips to the bathroom.

For as long as I can remember (at least since I've been teaching at the Junior High; I don't remember what I did when I taught at the High School) I have given students "bathroom" or "hall" passes. Three a grading period.

Use them for whatever you need - go to the restroom, get something left in a locker or other classroom, as a tardy pass - and if you don't use them, I'll give you up to ten points on a test at the end of the grading period.

I think the passes served the purpose I intended. Students - for the most part - didn't leave class unnecessarily. They thought twice before asking to leave. Ten points on a test is not an exorbitant amount; it would often bump those 79s or 89s to the next letter grade.

They weren't perfect, though. For some students, the passes "burned a hole in their pockets." They would use them up within the first two weeks of the grading period and then beg me the rest of the grading period to leave the room.

Getting the passes ready for students (I gave them three paper passes to keep up with) each grading period was a pain.

It began to bother me that I was giving points for something that had nothing to do with what a student learned. I justified it by telling myself students who never left my room must be learning at least ten points worth of stuff that those who left my room didn't, but...really?!?

And then there was the nagging question: shouldn't a kid who needs to go to the bathroom be allowed to go to the bathroom?

I began to consider dropping my hall pass policy.

But...what if kids abused my lack of bathroom structure?!?!?

I decided to take the risk.

Do you need to go to the restroom? Go.

Do you need to run between classes to get something you forgot? Go.

Are you a couple of seconds late to class? Welcome.

Are kids constantly in and out of my room? No. In fact, even WITH hall passes, I could always tell that a lesson was failing to hook kids if requests to go to the bathroom spiked. When class time is enjoyable for kids, they don't ask to leave the room.

There are a couple of kids who ask to use the restroom several times a week, but they don't seem to be abusing the fact that I let them go. I figure I'm the teacher who doesn't require a pass to go, so they ask.

I had one girl who was being consistently late to class. I talked to her about it, and she's now on time.

It's interesting to me that the type of kid who would burn his passes quickly and then still ask to go (yes, there was a type) rarely asks to go at all.

I wasn't able to give the "You have your hall passes" answer when kids asked for extra credit (but they are still allowed to correct and redo most of their graded assignments, so I still don't give extra credit), but I feel better knowing my grades continue to be a more accurate reflection of what my students know, not how compliant they are.

So...I did away with hall passes, and my middle school classroom didn't fall apart.


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

What Keeps Me Going? #flipblogs

Life is still happening in my little corner of the world, and things such as blogging and participating in Twitter chats continue to get pushed to the side.

But I decided to at least add a blog post to this weeks #flipblogs to get a post out there and add my two cents' worth.

What keeps me going?

The follow-up question is: What tools, tech, ideas, beliefs, etc., sustain your flipping?

This is my fourth flipped year. What sustains me?

I still use the same tools and tech I used when I began flipping. I make videos in Explain Everything; I host them on YouTube.

My goal for this year was to begin remaking some of the videos that are now in their fourth year of use (I have made new videos each year, but a few are still the originals). I have not been able to do that. But it has been so nice that, when my extra time and energy is otherwise occupied, my flipped classroom is, in many ways, running itself. I'm still tweaking lessons and looking for new ideas, of course, but when I need to I can post a previously-made video, prepare a previously-used activity, and have a successful class.

What really sustains me are my experiences and the experiences of my students.

Students continue to tell me they enjoy their time in class.  They continue to tell me how useful videos are for self-pacing and studying. They continue to say videos are one of their favorite aspects of the class.

I can't imagine my class any other way. I can no longer stand to hear myself for more than a few minutes at a time (I know...I know...I apologize to all those students through the years who had to listen to me for 30-40 minutes each day). I enjoy seeing students work together and help one another. I enjoy the interaction I get with students as they work through and learn material.

I continue to see all the benefits of a flipped classroom I saw when I first flipped, and that's what keeps me going.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

(At Least) One Good Thing

Some school years are hard. Every school year has hard times, but some years are just plain hard.

This year is proving difficult mostly due to things going on outside of the classroom. Things in my personal world have been off-kilter since March. There are things I am having to focus on that are taking a good deal of my mental, emotional, and physical energy. It's just where I am right now, and I have no idea when things are going to let up.

I have good classes this year. I have one challenging class (always to be expected), and I had a full-fledged meltdown with them this week unlike anything in recent memory. I am enjoying my competitive algebra team; they are eager to learn and want to know all the "hard stuff." My Algebra 1 kids are learning how to pay attention to and follow instructions, but they are good kids and are slowly learning the ins-and-outs of my out-of-the-box classroom.

As usual, it is way too easy for me to focus on how HARD everything is.

So this week, inspired by #onegoodthing posts on Twitter, I started making a concentrated effort to look for what IS going right.

Of course, there is more than one thing going right. I've just found I need to be looking for them instead of focusing on all the difficulties all the time.

- Thanks to all the hours and hours of prep over the last several years, my classroom sort of runs itself. OK, we all know that's not completely true. But I have lessons and activities and videos ready to go and am FINALLY able to just make sure they're all put in place for the next day. I had thought to begin remaking a lot of videos this year, but it's not to be right now. I'm still making tweaks to things, of course, but I don't have that "starting from scratch" feeling this year. I am currently not able to stay at school several hours late each day, and I'm not having to, thanks to the work that's been previously done.

- I am figuring out how to use technology like Google Forms Quizzes to give quicker feedback, make grading a little easier, and report progress to parents and students more efficiently. Blog post to come.

- I am seeing growth in students. My Pre-Algebra kids really struggled with multi-step equations. As we moved into equations with variables on both sides, we slowed down and did some focused practice. I put some scaffolds into place - reference sheets, for example - and began demonstrating for individual students how to use previously-worked examples to help them work current problems. Slowly, over a matter of days, I saw lightbulbs come on. Students who previously couldn't correctly apply the distributive property were solving equations with variables on both sides, distributive property, AND combining like terms.

- One day we made a reference sheet for how to recognize how many solutions an equation has. The instructions said, "Find and copy an example...." Many students said, "Can we just make up our own example?" Why, yes! Yes, you can.

- We were reviewing solving equations by speed math-ing. One of my lowest students said, "These are too easy. Can we have some harder examples?"

- At a grade-level meeting this week, challenges with two of my students were discussed. A colleague offered to speak to one of the students, and I contacted the parents of the other. Both showed marked improvement. They and I both saw what they CAN do and how to encourage continued success.

- After the come-apart with the aforementioned class, I compared myself to Hades in Hercules when his hair flames up and apologized, saying I don't like to do that. I focused the rest of that day on relationships. I assured them they are not bad kids (one asked), but that sometimes they make bad decisions. I tried to show them I want them to be successful and I want us to have a positive experience during the time they are with me each day. I still think I am going to have to get creative to really figure them out - I'm currently brainstorming and waiting for the "A-Ha" - but we are making progress together. difficult as things are and as distracted as I feel - it is very weird for me to not be able to focus on school as much as I would like - there are good things happening in Room 12. It WILL be a successful year!