What should I do?

My intention as the school year begins is to continue shifting my teaching style to reach more students.  As I have been reading this summer, classrooms need to be more student-driven with greater collaboration.  In my first year of teaching, 18 years ago, I met with the human resources director at the local paper mill.  He told me the most important thing to teach students is collaboration skills.  The mill could teach everything else through on the job training.  They could not teach collaboration well.  The conversation has been a factor in my planning for every class I have taught since.

An article with an intriguing title appeared in my Facebook feed this morning.

Smith’s project will connect college, high school instructors to improve success of STEM students

As a high school STEM instructor who attended this particular college, I am interested in the connections to be made.  Great!  Of course, I want my students to be interested in STEM majors leading to STEM careers.

And then I read this:

“Students often say teaching methods used in introductory STEM college courses — which differ significantly from those in high school science classes — are a major reason why they leave those majors.

“In preparation for the grant, we observed both college and high school classrooms and found that college students listen to lecture more and have fewer opportunities to work with their peers compared to high school students,” says Smith.”

Okay, so the college needs to change, right?   Even better, high school teachers are getting it!  We are providing for collaboration.

So here is my quandary.  I want to prepare my students for everything, life experiences, college, an unknown future, etc.  I can’t ignore that students who attend college may be in lecture based college courses.   Do I somehow add long lectures to my class?  Truly, long lectures are not my style.  I honestly believe that adding lectures is not the way to go.  I will hope the college instructors adjust to meet the needs of students like high school teachers are.






How do you learn?

In the coming school year, I will be teaching a content that is new to me.  I have a background in biology, but I am not strong when it comes to genetics.  I needed to find a way to gain more experience in genetics this summer.

We live in a world full of information.  I could read a book, watch videos, take a class, and other more creative methods.  I am considering a display in our classroom next year with suggestions of ways we learn new information.  My hope would be for students to add to the display throughout the year.  What are some effective ways you learn?

As I live in a remote area, finding a traditional course is not easy and realistically, a college course is more expensive than I need right now.  By chance, a MOOC (massive online open course) originating at Duke began in June.  Dr. Mohamad Noor has flipped his college class and made his content available to the world via a MOOC in Coursea.  Dr. Noor’s course is an excellent example of a flipped classroom.  

I believe my experience in the challenge of learning new material will benefit my students.  I am remembering the panic of not passing the quiz, but appreciate the chance to retake the quiz.  Week 3, in particular, was difficult for me, but my persistence paid off.  Fortunately for my students, week 3 is not material that they will be expected to learn in 9th grade.

As I reach the halfway point of the MOOC, I am feeling confident that my students and I are going to have a great experience in genetics next school year.  

Conflict resolution for students

My summer professional development reading has been exciting.   First I read Shift This! by Joy Kirr and now I have moved on to Learn Like A Pirate by Paul Solarz.   Both teachers/authors have energized me for the coming school year.

One problem that I have had in my previous classroom was conflict resolution.  See, I taught in a unique situation.  My class was an amazing group of students in grades 6 through 8.  Among the class, I had four different sibling groups.  For the most part, the classes had been together since they started PreK in our small rural school.  The students who were not related might as well have been.  The class was ripe for conflict!

Paul Solarz presents a rather simple three-part plan for conflict resolution:

  1. Rock-Paper-Scissors
  2. Compromise
  3. Choose Kindness

I had always focused on compromise as a solution to conflict but compromise didn’t always work. Rock-Paper-Scissors could be a great solution in certain situations.  The most important suggestion is Choose Kindness.  I wanted my students to be kind to each other, but I didn’t have a name for the process.  The idea that a student would choose to be kind to someone else should be praised.   Using the phrase Choose Kindness gives meaning and encourages students to make that choice.

Next year, I will deliberately use these three strategies for conflict resolution in the high school classes I will be teaching.

Don’t Count Me Out Yet!



My high school graduation with my grandmother.

I started this morning as usual – scrolling through my FaceBook newsfeed.  Today, many of my FaceBook friends are displaying pictures of their July 4th festivities.  A nice way to connect and enjoy my cup of coffee.

And then…BAM…an organization I follow shared this article Wondering What Happened to Your Class Valedictorian? Not Much, Research Shows.   Wait…a…minute!  I was my class valedictorian.  Is this article implying that I have not accomplished much?

So I did what a responsible citizen of the internet should do.  I read the article critically.   The article starts with the background of the study followed by this statement, “But how many of these number-one high school performers go on to change the world, run the world, or impress the world? The answer seems to be clear: zero.”

Now I am getting a bit angry.  So I don’t have any interest in running the world, but I hope to be remembered for changing the world for the better at least in my small section of the world.  I may not be Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.  I have made a difference for my students, and I am not done yet!

Okay, so what can I learn from this article.  Well, the overall message is that schools historically have not emphasized skills that support innovation.  Ha! I will show you! This valedictorian is doing everything she can to change the world of education to support innovation.  Keep watching and reading my blog!

Ultimately, the article has challenged me to continue shifting my teaching style in my effort to change the world.   The answer is not a clear zero!



A Teacher is a Master Learner

Introducing himself in my 10th-grade biology class, Mr Vellieux described why he became a teacher.  I heard, “I enjoy taking classes and going to college.  I would have liked to be in college forever, but I needed to pay the bills.  As a teacher, I still get to take classes and I can pay my bills. I enjoy learning”  A few decades later, I may not remember exactly the exact wording.  I am certain that this was the gist of what he said.

I remember what he said because it sounded amazing.  I loved learning in elementary school.  I loved learning in high school.  I loved learning in college.  I didn’t want to leave college.  Like Mr Vellieux, I have bills to pay.  I found a job teaching high school science and I didn’t take a semester off from my own learning until I was well into my 30s.

More recently, I heard (or read) the phrase, “The teacher is a master learner.”  (Please forgive me that I don’t remember where I first saw the phrase).  AHA!!!!  Yes, I am a master learner and that is the reason I became a teacher!  

Over the years my learning has shifted.  In college, I was more interested in the environment and the world around me.  Now, my learning is focused around how to improve my classroom environment.  The opportunities to be a master learner are more varied with online courses, MOOCs, YouTube and my favorite, Twitter.

I cannot imagine the day when I stop pursuing my own learning.

Responsibility Partners

Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz is my next reading passion.  I am toying with the idea of responsibility partners as presented in the chapter about peer collaboration.   Students are partnered up randomly to provide a sounding board for the project and to keep each other on task. (I’ve summarized the role in the simplest way if you would like to learn more…read the book.) .

Responsibility partners would have worked well in my middle school classroom and would have improved collaboration.  Who doesn’t benefit from someone to bounce ideas off?  We had developed a classroom culture that students cared about each other.

So now I am moving into a high school classroom.  Will the idea work in high school? Responsibility partners are the right thing to do for students because it is a skill needed for a successful life.  Relationships of all types are like this concept of responsibility partners.

My husband and I are responsibility partners.  My daughter and I are growing into responsibility partners (as she is growing older, I am giving her more responsibility.)  My co-workers are my responsibility partners.  My co-leader in girl scouts is a responsibility partner.  Responsibility partners are everywhere!

School and classrooms are about practicing skills for a successful life.  Does it sound like I have convinced myself to incorporate responsibility partners in our classroom?

Summer Reading

If you have read any of my previous posts, you know that I have finished reading Shift This! by Joy Kirr.  The next book on my reading list is Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz.

Although I enjoy reading for pleasure on a the kindle app with ebooks, I have discovered I prefer to read for learning in print form.  I like to use a pen to underline and add comments as I read.  An old-fashioned way to interact with the text.

I need recommendations for what to read after Learn Like a Pirate.


A classroom without grades…oh how I hate grading.  Grading seems so arbitrary.  Only a few students gave a complete answer so I take off 3 points for each item missed.  Were those items important?  Did I provide the students with enough opportunity to learn it?  Did the students understand what the question asked?  Number grades are so arbitrary.

Joy Kirr describes her classroom without grades in her book Shift This!.  She has inspired me to look for a way to provide feedback without the arbitrary numbers.   A good method of providing feedback will contribute to learning much more than number grades.  What is a good method of providing feedback?

As I am changing schools this year, I don’t really know yet how many students I will be meeting this year.  I don’t know enough about these students or their past experiences or even the daily school schedule.  We are going to have to meet and develop our relationships before I can truly find what works for us.

Providing feedback that is productive to learning will be a goal of mine this school year.  Constructive feedback is the best way to promote learning.   My classes (and their parents) will hopefully be forgiving as we develop a strategy that works for us.

Standards – Based Shifts

So, I have not yet taught a true standards-based class.  I am sold on the idea of standards-based education and believe it is right for students.   I want to teach in a standards-based classroom.

The standards for the classes I will teach next year have been established by someone else.  I can work with these standards and hopefully develop a system that works for my students and for me.  I have many ideas and I recognize many of my ideas will fail.   Failure is a step in the process.  If I don’t try, I can’t move forward.

I hope to provide students several options to demonstrate mastery.  Level 2 mastery or basic understanding of a concept would be equivalent to a grade of an 85%.

Level 2 mastery or basic understanding of a concept would be equivalent to a grade of an 85%.   Students at a level 2 understand vocabulary and can recall basic facts.  I am thinking tasks in a notebook or commenting on the works of others might be evidence of a level 2.  I would like to see at least one piece of evidence for a level 2.

Level 3 mastery is considered proficient.  For me, a proficient grade would be the equivalent of a 93%.  Level 3 would include creating something to demonstrate mastery of high order thinking in the concept.  The rubrics already developed for the standards help to define the mastery level.  I would hope for 2-3 pieces of evidence at level 3.

Level 4 mastery is the most difficult for me to define.  Many of the rubrics do not have level 4 defined.  I am thinking that a level 4 would require a student to take their level 3 evidence and publish it.  We can develop systems of feedback from authentic audiences.

Wow, I am excited to put together my starting point.  I look forward to coming back to this in the future and reflecting on how naive I am.

Class Website – All About Science

As suggested in Joy Kirr’s book, Shift This!, I’ve started building my class website.   To start with the site will be basic, but over time I hope it will become a wealth of information for students, parents, and other stakeholders.  Because I work in a Google Apps for Education School, I decided to use Google Sites.  I hope the site will integrate well with Google Classroom.  Google Classroom may be one of my favorite classroom tools.

Check out my site here.  As I get started, I’d welcome ideas on how to improve the site.