Monday, May 22, 2017

Reflection on Unpacking Standards

As a rookie teacher, I admit that I make many of the mistakes discussed in the content for this activity. It is quite common for me to plan my daily activities around the textbook or other content that I have available. I haven’t really second-guessed this strategy. I’m not aware that any teachers around me follow any other strategy either.
Now, however, I can see a much better way. Grant Wiggins taught several teachers about how unpacking standards works. Ultimately, the teacher begins with the end in mind. What is the most important thing for students to experience/learn/acquire/create as a result of this class/unit? Based on the answer to this question, teachers can then work backwards to create goals, activities/projects, and lesson plans. Teachers would look at their textbooks and ask themselves, if these are our goals, what should we do with the resources available? If my goal is for my students to love reading by the end of the year, I will need to prepare my classes very differently vs. a goal to have my students reach some level of reading proficiency by the end of the year.
            As an example, Grant Wiggins showed a sample math unit. He began by showing a list of 77 runners. These runners all competed in many different races. Sometimes they raced against each other, but never did all 77 runners run the same race at the same time. Based on their results, what is a fair way to rank them all? After some class discussion about the definition of “fair,” the students were broken into small groups to discuss. And find some way to rank all the runners.
            The next day, the teacher asked the students to decide a fair way to grade them over the course of the year. Students again had a class-wide discussion, and then broke into groups to continue the debate and then come up with a plan to grade all of the students.
            The third lesson students presented their plans for the runners and the student grades, and debated some more. They discovered it was very difficult to rank the runners in a way that everyone agreed was fair. Similarly, they had a difficult time figuring out how the teacher should grade the class most fairly.
            During the fourth lesson, for the first time, the teacher introduces some math principles which are taught in the textbook.
“It turns out math gives us some tools to judge this. Let’s open the books and learn about mean, median, mode…”  This is the first time students open their textbooks during the unit….

I love this unit and the way it is taught because students are already deep into the real-world application of the math principles before the principles are even introduced. This way all students will know WHY they are learning the concepts and will be more interested in correctly applying the math. When the students understand how the math is useful and also have a desire to solve a real life problem using math, it becomes exciting to learn the principles and apply them. I think if more students learned math this way, there would be a lot less animosity towards math.
In my business class I need to structure learning the same way.  The best way to teach my content will be for me to find case studies and have the students solve the case studies. When they really understand how challenging it would be to resolve issues for all sides, then we introduce economic principles or the need for regulation and how it is applied. Once we solve problems within our case studies, the students can then very effectively analyze the correct and incorrect application of business principles in real life examples from around the world. At that point conversations about why Hong Kong has the most expensive real estate in the world, or why the US housing market imploded in 2008 will be far more meaningful and fun for the students.
I will also be sure to emphasize our class goals throughout the year. My hope is that at any given moment I can ask the students what standards we are working towards are and they will know them.  I also like the idea of planning around the end result because I think it will help me keep a better perspective when I plan the amount of time each unit deserves. The pace of our class will be dictated by the standards and the students, not the textbooks. Based on this unpacking of the standards, I will know which content needs more in-depth discussion, and which content can be skimmed over or even skipped completely. Textbooks, after all, were written for a wide-ranging audience, not specifically for my students in my class.

I’m excited (and a little bit intimidated) by this perspective. I’m also excited for my students. I hope this process will help us be more effective at helping the students develop a love of innovation and entrepreneurship, as well as a deep respect for the markets and the way they work. I also want them to understand economic principles well enough that when detrimental policy changes are proposed, they will be able recognize and teach others why the new policies would be a bad idea. I’ve got an exciting year ahead of me!

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Unpacking Business Standards

In preparation to teach business studies next year, I have been studying Grant Wiggin’s philosophies entitled “understanding by design.” I have tremendous business experience and fairly strong teaching experience, but this coming year will be my first time teaching business as a subject in school. I’m excited. I will be teaching business studies to 11th and 12th grade students, and this post is about my plan for a unit with my 11th graders. I will be teaching at an international school in China and will be using standard 22847 from the IB. I chose this standard because I think it is one of the basic building blocks that business studies depends on. If I am not effective in transferring this skillset to the students, they will have a difficult time applying any of the later lessons and skills. In this post I will describe how I intend to help my students demonstrate knowledge of innovation and entrepreneurship in business contexts (standard 22847.) To accomplish this, I will need the students to become proficient in several skills. I intend to help my students develop these skills through activities and projects, which I will also describe here. The students will need to demonstrate to me and to themselves that they can identify and reproduce innovation and entrepreneurship in business settings by completed targeted assessments, which I will also describe here.
To be sure we are all on the same page, I will use the following definitions within this unit:
Business context refers to activity within a specific business entity which may be – for profit or non-profit; in private, public, or voluntary sectors; a business unit, or other special purpose body.
Entrepreneurshipenterprising behaviors which support identifying business opportunities, and organizing, managing, and assuming the risks of a business organization.
Innovation – the creation and application of something which adds value to the business, which may include but is not limited to a new or enhanced product or service or process.
Our first objective will be to correctly identify enterprising behaviors in business people.  This will be accomplished with a classroom discussion, including video and powerpoint presentations to engage the students and teach the new concept. Assessment will be done through simple class discussion and a quick quiz the next day in class.
After the students clear about the types of behaviors exhibited, our second objective will be to correctly identify innovation and entrepreneurship within the context of a small business. I anticipate that many students will come into the unit with many misconceptions of what comprises innovation. Thus the first competency will be correctly identifying and describing innovation with reference to business. To accomplish this, the students will be asked to observe descriptions of products, services, or processes and articulate how it is or is not new or enhanced. Students should be able to produce their own examples and report their findings back to the class in the form of a group discussion. Those group discussions will eventually lead to far more comprehensive projects, also completed in groups, which I will describe later.
Our second, related competency, will be correctly identifying and describing entrepreneurship with reference to business. To accomplish this, students should similarly be able to observe examples, and correctly identify business roles, business opportunities, risks involved, resulting businesses, and personnel elements relevant to the successful completion of the entrepreneurial effort. Ultimately this effort should be not only observable, but also measurable. Again students will be asked to research their own examples as homework and return to their own groups to describe and defend their findings.
After observing and correctly identifying elements of effective innovation and entrepreneurship in class, and then demonstrating deeper understanding by independently researching and presenting new examples from the “real world,” student groups will be asked to work together on an innovation/entrepreneurship project. With their group, they will take the best local example of entrepreneurship or innovation and do personal, deep-dive research into the origins of that success. The group will need to contact the local company/group/individual who showed excellent innovation or entrepreneurship, and set up an interview. Students in the group will generate their own set of questions and prepare a time to video an interview between one of the students in the group, and the business professional. Questions should include things like “how did you identify the need for __________” or “did solving this problem have any unintended consequences, either positive or negative?” etc. Students will then edit their interview into a feature interview video, and share with the class. Students will also show business manners and savvy by creating a genuine and effective means of expressing gratitude to the business owner (preferably in a way that adds value to the business.)

To review, our three proficiencies are:
1)   identifying enterprising behaviors in business people
2)   identifying innovation and describing it with reference to real-world business examples
3)   Identifying entrepreneurship and describing it with reference to real-world business examples
Our three assessments are:
1)   class discussion and quiz (for proficiency #1)
2)   completing individual research to identify real examples of both innovation and entrepreneurship (for proficiencies #2 & 3
3)   defending individual research in front of peers (in a small group setting) and teacher (for proficiencies #2 & 3)
Our learning experiences and activities include, but are not limited to:
1)   class discussion
2)   individual research
3)   defending research in a small group and to a teacher

4)   collaborating with small group to create a presentation highlighting a local innovator or entrepreneur (this project involves many skills and activities)

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Applying Classroom Rules and Procedures

Applying Classroom Rules and Procedures

Providing positive reinforcement to students who are contributing to classroom and providing timely and appropriate responses to students who are disruptive or otherwise not following rules and procedures in middle school classrooms in China.

One of the most important and difficult issues in middle school teaching is appropriate and timely feedback from the teacher to students. In middle school, students are smart enough to know that some of their assignments are less important than others, and are also physically restless in their maturing bodies and it is difficult to sit still in a classroom setting all day.  This is particularly true in China, where my students begin class each morning at 7:50, and return to their dorms (or homes) at 9:00 PM each night. While they have regular 10-minute breaks, 2-hour lunches (they are supposed to sleep for half that time) and 90 minute dinner breaks, the amount of time the students are expected to sit quietly in their seats each day is still difficult for many of them.

My job as a teacher is to inspire and educate my students to reach as much of their potential as possible. I accomplish this most effectively when I provide timely and effective consequences (positive and negative) for their behavior. 

Positive Reinforcement 

I have found that giving positive reinforcement significantly improves behavior. The student who is complimented feels proud and happy, and other students what to improve as well. When classes start to become more disruptive, I find it is almost always because I have neglected positive reinforcement for too long. Positive reinforcement also has the added benefit of communicated to the students what NOT to do, but in a nicer way. This reduces the behavior management load.

Effective positive reinforcement begins in the first few days of class. I believe it is important to monitor students to discover what motivates them. Some students want to be praised out loud— in public. Others would be demotivated by this. It is important for the teacher to understand each student and what drives that student. It is also important to learn the students expectations of themselves, so that reinforcement can be applied at the right time for the student (not too early, encouraging the student to lower their standards, and not too late, because praising after the student gives up feels fake to the student.) 
When one or more students perform a task in an exemplary way, or does something praiseworthy, I try to reward them in a very personalized way. Here are some types of positive reinforcement:
*verbal  (thanks/good job/well done/great work…)
*non-verbal (thumbs up/pat on shoulder/smile…)
*public (applause/stop class to recognize someone or something/awards in class/give points to students on Class Dojo)
*involve family (wechat message to parents/tell homeroom teacher of students great work…)
*academic rewards (add participation points, which helps final grades)







Behavior Management (negative behavior)

Negative consequences need to be immediate as well. However, there is a range of behavior and teachers must show wisdom and “withitness” to discern the correct consequence for the behavior. These strategies include:

  1. preemptive work (teacher notices a student is angry before class begins and speaks one-on-one to encourage the student to do their best in spite of their frustration.
  2. Verbal/Non-verbal acknowledgment 
  3. observe potential problems (keep eye contact with students who appear to be losing focus)
  4. Move (teacher should be walking around the room and observing students from different angles

As student behavior digresses, teachers can apply strategies appropriately:

  1. make eye contact: make sure the student knows you are observing the behavior and expect them to stop it
  2. physically move towards students. Enter their personal space if they don’t notice ahead of time.
  3. Stop class and confront behavior. Explicitly tell them the behavior is not appropriate
  4. Remove student from class and speak one-on-one in the hall while the class does personal work.
  5. Send student to teacher’s office
6)   If behavior continues beyond one class, alert student’s homeroom teacher and decide when/if to alert parents.
7)   Call a parent-teacher meeting

8)   Reduce students personal credit points (this leads to student be expelled)





References:
Marzano, R. J. (2007). The Art and Science of Teaching. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Virginia, USA. Retrieved September 16, 2016 from https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/platform-user-content/prod-copy/get_help_resources/activity_resources/module4/The_Art_and_Science_of_Teaching.pdf

Monday, April 24, 2017

High Performance Expections


In this incredible video, 6th grade STEM teacher Donna Migdoi teaches Newton’s three laws of motion and kinetic vs. potential energy in a collaborative and fun way. Students are broken into teams, given a budget with which to buy supplies, and asked to design and create a “roller coaster” track out of tube sections with a “car” using a marble (students can choose a big or small marble.)  I will discuss some of the elements of the project that I think are exemplary, and how I believe this project assumes very high academic, behavioral, and procedural expectations. After analyzing two other teaching videos, I will summarize with my personal classroom applications.
Multiple elements of the roller coaster project show high teacher expectations. Students began today’s lesson together in a “chiming” session. Chiming is what I would call reflection. Instead of being teacher lead, as it is in my class, Mrs. Migdoi sat off the table while the students sat at the big table and fed off of each other’s comments. Of course this requires very disciplined and focused students to stay on track and learn from each other.
After the chiming, students performed a personal plan on their papers. They carefully labeled each part of the plan/drawing, and then took their personal plans to their groups to discuss the final engineered roller coaster track. In groups, they showed designs and debated amongst themselves until they could agree on a design.
Designs were tested with computer simulations, and if the track was not safe (too much speed) changes would have to be made until students could simulate a successful design. This element of the project taught systems thinking to the students.  The idea that each element influences the whole system, and in order to figure out what was not working only one element could be tested at a time. The students continued to work together throughout this process.
Additionally, a budget was given to each team, and in order to buy materials for the tracks, students needed to spend money out of their budget. Thus students had to figure out how to solve problems without buying too many materials. It also created horizontal integration by adding real life math to the project.
From the first step to the last, this project was full of high expectations. During chiming, for example, one student from each team sat at the big table to reflect, while the rest of the class observed the reflection. My reaction is amazement at the level of class discipline that exists. My 6th grade students would not be able to sit and reflect together at the big table, let alone sit away from the table and listen respectfully to the discussion. Incredibly high behavior expectations. 
I was very impressed with the correct use of language-- another sign of a well-trained class with high academic expectations. The students were correctly using terms like "rise" and "run" and "kinetic energy" etc. In my class that is 100% ELLs, the students would get excited at the prospect of a project like this, but then would not be able to think through their thoughts in English fast enough and would likely resort the Chinese to communicate. Nevertheless I am brainstorming ways to spice up some of my projects with her ideas. 
The second video showed a Chinese teacher teaching mathematics to her students. The video can be found here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h7LseF6Db5g 
In this video a Chinese teacher is teaching math to non Chinese students, likely in an immersion school. The 2-minute clip shows how the class chants through the multiplication tables together with a rhythm. I am familiar with this rhythm in part because I have taught in China for nearly 10 years. I suppose some might feel it shows some high expectations in that students are all expected to memorize the times tables. On the other hand I remember memorizing all of the multiplication table and didn’t think it was particularly demanding. Having a song to help memorize the table would have been helpful, but the expectation was for all students to memorize all of them just the same. I don’t think I have observed any obvious higher standard among the common Chinese citizen/student verses American students/citizens. It is true that Chinese students perform exceptionally well on tests. Being more familiar with the situation here than most, I feel confident in saying that much of the superior test scores come simply from the numbers of people competing for the spots in the schools that are taking the international tests.  Consider this; there are more honor students in China than there are students in America. Combine the massive numbers with the system students follow, and the reason for the high test scores becomes more obvious. The system I’m referring to is an established process for placing students in schools. Public schools are the most competitive and cheapest. Only the best students can test into public schools. Students who do not test high enough will need to pay 20 or more times more money in order to attend a private school. Public schools are also ranked, with the highest testing students entering the best public schools. This testing, shockingly, begins in grade school. So the best test takers in 4th grade move into more competitive classrooms and more competitive schools for 5th grade. They also test into middle school and high school. Finally, they test into university with the infamous “gao kao.” Far from the “no child left behind” mentality which seeks to give immigrants and mentally challenged students a fair shake at a good education, China’s system is ruthless. And there are plenty of students competing for those top spots.
But there is a reason why parents of these students are fleeing China’s education system by the hundreds of thousands. Parents do not spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to get their children into American schools because China’s education is so great. They are paying the big bucks precisely because the system is failing its children. Only the best of the best of the best are able to study at the elite high school which participate in the international tests. Meanwhile they are competing against the AVERAGE American student, including non-native English speakers and children with disabilities. If you were to take the elite American students and contrast their scores with the average Chinese scores, you would see the same massive difference in performance.
I think it is likely helpful for students to have some kind of memorization tool to learn the multiplication tables. I do not think that China does a good job educating it’s citizens and I do not believe teachers, as a general rule, have high expectations for behavior or performance in China.

The last video was perhaps the most interesting to me. I have never seen this style of “whole brain teaching” and am intrigued. I admit I don’t have a lot to say at this point because the idea is new and strange. But there are a few things I liked… First, it seems like there is tremendous classroom management. In order for the students to learn all of the signs and dances they must spend time on a regular basis learning and then reinforcing them all. The students do appear to be engaged so maybe it is worth the time. The teacher had a hand signal for longitudinal and another signal for latitudinal, and the students worked with partners to reinforce what the teacher had just showed them.
I also see that the students are regularly working together to either teach each other or reinforce the learning. This is something that I try to do as well, but I don’t think my students are ever as engaged as these students appear to be. Perhaps it is the extra movement that really gets them going.
I’m not sure I am a fan of the speed reading. It seemed like the students were enjoying themselves and doing well, but I would get distracted if it were me. I think I would be so focused on the word I was about to read that I wouldn’t have time to listen to my partner and at the end of the activity I would wonder what had just been read.
Setting High Performance Expectations Among My Students

I teach 8th grade ELLs from China and South Korea. The roller coaster project was the closest illustration of a relevant project from my perspective. I was very impressed with the correct use of language-- another sign of a well-trained class with high academic expectations. The students were correctly using terms like "rise" and "run" and "kinetic energy" etc. In my class that is 100% ELLs, the students would get excited at the prospect of a project like this, but then would not be able to think through their thoughts in English fast enough and would likely resort the Chinese to communicate. Nevertheless I am brainstorming ways to spice up some of my projects with her ideas. 
I am also always open to finding memorization devices like the multiplication table. I think it is likely helpful for students to have some kind of memorization tool to learn the multiplication tables. I do not think that China does a good job educating it’s citizens and I do not believe teachers, as a general rule, have high expectations for behavior or performance in China.
Whole body, whole brain activities sound really effective. I admit I don’t have a lot to say at this point because the idea is new and strange. But there are a few things I liked… First, it seems like there is tremendous classroom management. In order for the students to learn all of the signs and dances they must spend time on a regular basis learning and then reinforcing them all. The students do appear to be engaged so maybe it is worth the time. The teacher had a hand signal for longitudinal and another signal for latitudinal, and the students worked with partners to reinforce what the teacher had just showed them.
I also see that the students are regularly working together to either teach each other or reinforce the learning. This is something that I try to do as well, but I don’t think my students are ever as engaged as these students appear to be. Perhaps it is the extra movement that really gets them going.
In my class, I intend to use projects like the roller coaster competition as often as possible. I realize that I will need to effectively train my students before I can expect them to stay as focused as the students on the video were. I also need to set really clear language usage expectations, along with consequences for not living up to those expectations. I think this will require a tremendous amount of upfront training, which will likely be very time consuming, however, once we have established the appropriate procedures and expected behaviors, we will be able to take on regular projects. I can see us asking the students to create their own informational videos: where they teach their peers something fun using a 4-minute video. They would have to do research and work together as a team to shoot educational videos where they speak English and teach something. Another project idea is for the students to make presentations about their favorite city. They could research and prepare a presentation for the class about the great elements of a city they love. Finally, I think perhaps we could spend time learning public speaking, and host a TED event or a speech or debate competition.

Either way I think there are numerous ways to apply the idea that teachers expectations can determine, to a large extent, the performance of the class. Obviously this has repercussions that last long after the school year completes.