I spend a lot of my free time searching the web. I search for teaching related items, new ideas, Common Core strategies and more. I get some of my best ideas for my classroom from exploring what other teachers are doing.
This weekend, I came across an amazing idea that I knew I had to share with all of you. One of the things I love the most about the Common Core, aside from the increased rigor and common curriculum, is that students are put in the driver's seat of their education. They are at the helm, right where they should be. I know that I have taught many students over the years who are very content to take a passive, back-seat-of-the-car approach to their learning. The idea I want to share with you may well just change that.
Let me be honest: this idea was thought of to be used with elementary children. However, there isn't a reason in the world it couldn't be adapted up (WAY up!) for middle and high school. More on that in a moment.
For our younger friends, imagine this: you have the standards and curriculum that you need to teach. You wonder why you never have time to help Little Johnny or Little Susie with just a few extra minutes of intervention to reinforce that math concept or that reading strategy they have worked so hard on. Guess what? You do.
I'd like to call this idea "Flex Friday". Flex because it's flexible. You could call it anything (it's called STAR Friday on the blog where I found the idea). Basically you teach your content, your lessons and do your fabulous teaching thing Monday through Thursday. The students are hanging on your every word, everyone is engaged and learning (hey, it's my fantasy...). Come Friday, you pass the proverbial torch. You put the students in the driver's seat.
Flex Friday Basics
The students get a schedule paper, customized however you'd like to make it to fit your needs, but they determine what they will do and when. This is great for students who need intervention because you can make some parts mandatory based on data if you need to (particularly useful for younger students) or provide them choices within a range of areas you know they are struggling in. (Check out this blog post for an example of a schedule sheet.)
The students run the show. You can continue to keep your normal "schedule" but students are working on areas they need support in and you are then freed up to grab that few second conference, reinforcement or teachable moment you didn't have time for yesterday (or the day before).
Why this idea fits Common Core: first and foremost, you are differentiating without even really doing anything. The materials and content you've used all week are still available to students but they are either reinforcing, extending or bridging that learning. Best of all, they are doing this because they want to! Secondly, you've spent all week teaching Common Core related content and standards. "Flex Friday" simply allows you to expand those lessons, continuing to hit the standards, but at the students' direction rather htan your own.
Making it Fit in Middle and High School
Of course my only experience with middle and high school is six weeks of teaching ELA in summer school to 6th graders and being a middle and high schooler myself once upon a time. However, I firmly believe this would still be applicable to the "big kids". Think about what you have to teach. Is it reading/English? Math? Social Studies or Science? We are now all accountable to Common Core and thus you can make this fit.
Think of it sort of as "centers" for secondary students. You can set up mini-stations for exploration, provide ideas and let the students choose a project or model it just like the elementary classrooms: students get reinforcement or support if they need it or have an opportunity to pursue enrichment so that you can support the students who need just a bit more support. I can envision providing these older students with an outline of tasks and/or standards and letting them reach for the stars in how to learn these concepts. Web searches, projects, book studies and more could all be part of an on-going student focused learning environment.
Author's Note: I have not used this idea myself as I just learned about it over the weekend. However, I can assure you that this will be one of my biggest "to add" ideas for next school year. If you are intrigued and plan to try it, please let me know how it goes when you do! I'd be interested in sharing the journey with you.
This week's tech tip is a site called Museum Box, which can be accessed by clicking on the link: Museum Box. This website is an interesting place where teachers can have students produce evidence or create a description of a historical time, person or event in the past by putting items in a virtual museum box. The site allows users to display text, movie files and even look at other museum boxes submitted by other users. Museum Box is a great interdisciplinary tool because it can be used in all areas such as English, social studies, art and many other subjects. Museum Box pushes students to have to evaluate, inspect or defend issues and explore and develop their thoughts and ideas.
The basic format of Museum Box is the cube. The application provides instruments for uploading just about any type of digital content, including images, videos, sounds, presentations, word processor documents, and Web links. Audio and text content can also be created directly in Museum Box, allowing users to explain and recount their information. Voiceovers can be created by speaking into a computer microphone and then saving the clip in Museum Box’s website.
One of the features of Museum Box is the ability to set up a school account. Teachers can register their schools and there is a $99 fee for the service, which is worth the price. Once a school has been signed up and registered, teachers can administer the site and add pupil accounts or ask pupils to sign up. Once students have their accounts set up they can then create and submit their boxes to their teacher for approval and publication. Students only need to register once or be registered once by their instructor and can use their student user accounts at home or at school to load and save work within the Museum Box website.
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Kids are incredibly perceptive, and often they know a lot about what’s going on in the world. Teaching using current events is a great way to tap into a student’s curiosity and knowledge of the world around them, while building a foundation for them to be engaged, informed citizens. Here are some great news resources that can help.
Many teachers know Time for Kids as a classroom magazine they can order. To get to some of the content you have to subscribe, but they also have a great website with plenty of free news stories and videos to explore with your students.
DOGO News was started by a parent who wanted an age-appropriate source for her kids to use for current events assignments. DOGO News doesn’t have the breadth of some other sites, but the stories it does cover are those that are sure to be interesting to kids.
The Washington Post has a kids section called KidsPost, but for people who don’t get the paper there’s also a great online KidsPost. While some stories are definitely targeted toward kids who live in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, there are many others that are of general interest.
Like DOGO News, Here There Everywhere was also started by a mother who wanted to create a great resource for her kids. Stories are written in a very kid-friendly way, and the site doesn’t shy away from difficult topics. A recent story about the Boston Marathon bombings includes a caution that kids might want to read the story with a parent, and then explains the tragedy in gentle, kid-friendly language.
PBS NewsHour Extra is specifically designed for students in grades 7-12. It promises “News for Students and Teacher Resources,” and it delivers on both counts. Some stories from PBS NewsHour also have a home on this site, as well as articles specifically written for kids. Lesson plans for teachers are also available. There’s also a section called Student Voices, which is content produced by students. Students are encouraged to submit their own story ideas.
Any newspaper can be used in the classroom with older students, but USA Today has a specific program to make teaching using the paper easy. Reading with USA Today is a program that uses the newspaper to reach reading skills. This is not a free program; the curriculum and newspapers must be purchased, but there’s also a lot of content available for free on their website. The best part is that the lexile levels of USA Today’s stories range from 950 to 1250 which makes many of the stories very accessible for middle and high school students.
This week’s tech tips is a very useful way to view hashtags on a variety of social networks. For example, Tagboard (http://tagboard.com) currently aggregates Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Vine, Google+ and App.net hashtags, which allows the user to see on one screen content from the six networks. Tagboard has another convenient feature as well, the ability to search any hashtag via Tagboard directly from the location bar for Google Chrome or Safari web browsers by downloading the extension from Tagboard’s website at http://tagboard.com, then go to tools.
What is a hashtag? A hashtag creates a way of putting messages of similar topics in one place so that a user can search and see the results in a more efficient manner. Usually a hashtag has a word or even a phrase that is followed by the # symbol. For example, "Just found out my dad is my English teacher. #awkward" or "It's Monday!! #excited #sarcasm" or you could you search #CNN.
What makes Tagboard so convenient is that users don’t have to be subscribers to any of the networks because that is taken care of by Tagboard. In a matter of ten to fifteen minutes, you can check a variety of hashtags that are important to you or students and learn a lot of information. Below are some of the more popular hashtags in education according to EdTech Magazine's Corey Murray, posted March 29, 2013.