Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Bring the Model UN to your classroom - (End-of-year-Series Pt.4)

This may be shamelessly Citizenshipy but 'Model UN' is my favourite summer activity. Using materials from Global Classrooms I set out my classroom as a mini-UN conference. Each student is given a country placard and they represent that country in all debate. Instead of ordinary register we do a country 'roll call' ("Delegate for china?" "Present!") and we use the rules of UN debate to discuss topics and head towards a resolution.

This involves keeping a speaker's list and deciding how long each person will speak for:

Students also have time to negotiate individually and convince others of their propositions. This bit involves a free-for all of discussion and debate:

It's one of the most exciting parts of the year and students LOVE being given an adult way of discussing things. While some subjects might not find this exact format suitable I would encourage you to think about other settings you can simuate. Maths at a model stock exchange? Scientists at a science policy debate? Usually teachers are only limited by their imagination....

Monday, 29 June 2009

Creating Board Games - (End-of-year-Series Pt. 3)

Helping students make revision board games is a fun end-of-year activity that helps consolidate learning from the past year. I use a powerpoint presentation to introduce the concept to students along with a letter explaining the activity purpose.

Online there are plenty of templates to support student imagination- for example I found this racing car example at Jeff Ertzberger's website.

At the end of the project I laminate a few of the best ones to use the following year with disengaged students. One student even managed to create a 'poker style' revision game with a card table that became quite a hit during the final revision weeks!

Friday, 26 June 2009

Make (don't watch) videos - (End-of-year Series Pt. 2)

End-of-year videos become boring for students, they traipse from classroom to classroom like they are in one great big cinema. The act of watching films is good once around but after a while they start to act like they are stuck on a never-ending plane ride and I don't blame them.

To be alternative get hold of a video camera and get them to make their own films. I had one video camera for an entire class of Year 9 boys. I gave them one hour, the camera and told them to make an educational video about STIs (we'd been covering sex ed). They came back with the most incredible - already edited on the camera - movie. Some parts are factually inaccurate but the narrative is there and they are savvy with their use of shots and editing. I now use the movie in other lessons to see if students can spot the mistakes.

Another example is from a few years ago when students made a video about knife crime. This took slightly longer but this one is allowed to be on youtube so you can see their work.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Make A Museum in Your Classroom (End of Year Series)

Inspired by American school Science Fairs, I use exhibitions as a way of getting students excited about research and investigation. Topics have included: Environment, Teen Life, Demography & Domestic Life. In teacher training people have created exhibtions on respiration, accounting procedures and refugees.

I build up to creating our museum exhibition over a few lessons. (The full Scheme of Work can be found here - this one is environment themed)

Lesson 1
We start brainstorming what a good exhibition looks like, by showing students some examples from past lessons and online. We then brainstorm possible questions and pick the ones we will investigate. I also add in the most important part here: each display must have a display board with words and pictures AND each team must create an interactive model that explains some part of the answer to their question.

Lessons 2 & 3:
Students research and prepare for 'creation' day. I give each group ONE lesson only to complete the visual parts of their display. On the day they may bring ready-made items in, e.g. written displays or pictures, to stick onto their card, but they will only have 50 minutes. To prepare students for this I give them decision cards. On the cards each team makes decisions about the team member responsible for the model, pictures, writing, etc. [This lesson was observed during our OFSTED and the inspectors loved it because it gave 'structured independence' to the students].

Lesson 4:
Creation day!

Lesson 5
: The museum bit. So, on the day, students have 10 minutes to set up. Each stand leaves one pupil at the display, ready to explain to passers-by. The rest of us go out into the corridor - with bags and coats if necessary - and we line up. I explain that we are on 'a trip' and that students have worksheets to fill in. "You must treat the museum with respect as you are representing our school and I don't want visitors going away thinking badly of school" I say (cue much good-natured groaning here...). Students go into the classroom, look at each other's exhibitions, ask questions and complete their worksheet. Because every student must complete their worksheet fully, students rotate who stays with the display and who is moving around.

As long as it is set-up properly with good instruction, I have
never had this lesson go wrong. Everyone is on-task and enjoying themselves.

Final note: Make sure you have time to pack away or let the next teacher know that you will be late!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Forthcoming Feature Announcement.....

The End-of-Year 7-Part Series starts tomorrow!
The last few weeks of term can be tricky to manage. Students are being pulled out for extra-curricular activities, kids are high from post-exam excitement, teachers are exhausted and the weather takes its toll on shabby, high-up, no air ventilation classrooms. The joys of inner-London.

Over the last few years I've trialled various end-of-year projects with students and will be sharing 'How To' guides for the most successful over the next 7 days. Starting tomorrow with: Make a museum in your classroom.

Website of the Week; Dustball Checker*

Many classes I teach are graded solely on coursework. With the internet so readily available students will occasionally turn to 'cutting and pasting' when they have left assignments to the last minute, or if they don't understand the work. Clamping down on this has been one of my goals this year.

The Dustball Plagiarism Checker is a brilliant tool for doing this. On the first page you copy and paste student work into the box. It seems to carry any amount of text and even if the original document has pictures it works around them.

After this, hit the 'check' button and a new page will pop up with a selection of sentences and the verdict - 'ok' or 'suspected plagiarism'

Finally, and this is my favourite bit, by clicking on the 'possible plagiarism' bit you get taken to a google page showing the websites. You are then able to present the sudent with the website that the text was taken from. It's also worth checking these as sometimes there are a LOT of hits with the same sentence - in this case, it's simply that the topic means a student is likely to write that combination of words. If there's only one hit returned, and it matches a lot of the work, then it's likely to be plagiarism.

* A quick note: All of the websites I write about are genuinely ones I use in my classroom - they are not sponsored links or anything like that. I write about them mostly so I have a quick place to get the link from. This does mean that some weeks I won't write about websites because I don't have any new ones.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Planning for Parent's Evening

Many schools have now done away with Parent's Evening but if you are in the fortunate position of being involved in them here is my number 1 tip for an effective parent meeting.

Have something for parents to take away with them

I create small pre-printed cards with information pertinent to students studies that I can give to parents. At the top it has the topics we covered this year (this helps get over the: "So what is citizenship?" question but also gives a structure to topic and helps parents feel secure in their knowledge of the subject). I then put a tick-list of things that people can do well - e.g. active participation, evaluation of topics, questioning skills and I will tick the one the student did best and explain why I ticked this to the parent.

Finally, there is a space at the bottom. I ask the student what they think went well and we write this in. I then add anything I want them to work on next year, along with some encouragement, before signing and passing over.

A slightly more 'serious' version was made by a fantastic colleague of mine, Louise Baldwin. She created a 'science' card inclduing space for various module grades. She then talked through the system with parents - many of whom did not speak English well and appreciated the simplicity of the card and the fact they were given something to read and follow in their own time.

This system works for three reasons. 1. Parents get a lot of information over an evening so it's helpful for them to have something to reflect on when they get home - especially if English is a second language. 2. It means every kid has a record of what they did best which makes them more likely to feel efficacious about the subject. And, finally, 3. Because the slips are printed on coloured card they look like certificates and everyone likes being given a certificate - it's human nature!

Monday, 22 June 2009

Remember to eat breakfast

Today is the last external exam for Year 11. Breakfast club happens each day during exams and students pour in for toast and cereal to ensure their brains are ready for their exams. We practically bombard students with the fact that they should eat breakfast to improve exam performance. Yet, ask most teachers what they had for breakfast and - with wrinkled nose - they will ask you "does coffee count?"

We need to take our own advice sometimes.

Friday, 19 June 2009

If you'd never seen a learning environment - how would you create one?

Over on Brent G. Wilson's website there is a wonderful powerpoint about the varieties of classroom you can create*. He poses one particularly good question:

" If we wanted to design a learning environment, without ever having seen one, what would we come up with?"
-- and he credits this to 'Tom Carroll at PT3 Grants'

It's a brilliant question. As I begin preparing for next year I find myself falling into habits. It will be my fourth year of teaching and gradually I've figured out what works for me and, hopefully, my students. I also find myself guilty of occasional groupthink or being swayed by a 'majority' view of education. This question has got me thinking about what I really believe learning should be about and what this means for my classroom layout and planning.

Today's Tip? Ponder this questio for a little while. Ask some colleagues what they think. And see if you can plan next year's classroom to be a little bit closer to the environment you would want.

* The powerpoint is called Learning Communities: Laboritories of Innovation for Teaching and Learning,

Thursday, 18 June 2009

"I saw this and thought of you...."

When I was 13 my form tutor, and teaching idol, Ms. Watson gave me a newspaper article about my favourite author Terry Pratchett. Weeks earlier she had seen me reading his book furtively under a classroom table and spoken to me about my love of his works. The article was ripped from the Sunday Times Magazine. She handed it to me and said: "I saw this at the weekend and thought you might like to read it." I was a good kid so teachers often said nice things or picked me for trips, but I remember being genuinely touched by the idea that a teacher thought about me outside of school. That article is still in my copy of Pratchett's 'Hogfather'.

I told this story to a colleague who said she often did the same thing. When she gave the item to the student she would say: "I saw this and thought of you." It was then down to the student to respond. Sometimes they dismiss the item, othertimes they beam and place it somewhere carefully. In all cases I do believe it makes the student feel more valued and more liked as long as it is given from a genuine belief that it is something they are interested in.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Website of the Week: Wordsift (An 'evolving' dictionary)

Students often don't know what words mean. Yesterday, my 18 year-old students looked at me blankly when I said the word "Evolution". "Darwin?" I ventured. "Monkeys into men? Butterflies changing colours in cities?" Nothing. *Sigh*.

In this case I usually suggest students look at an online dictionary. However this usually results in their being confused about words in the definition. Alternatively students look in a thesaurus and then end up with words in their essays with completely different meanings than the ones originally intended.

Wordsift is a visual dictionary that gives pictures and a 'mind-map' of related words to get around this. It was particularly helpful for Evolution, producing the following screen:

The pictures on the left, taken from google, gave an image that students immediately identified with ("Ah, monkey into men!") and the box on the right gives a series of words. Hold your mouse over them and a plain english definition appears. Click on the other words and a whole new word constellation begins. The map clearly shows how closely related the synonyms are and gives students a chance to find out their meaning by holding the mouse over them.

Great for showing the whole class when stuck with a concept.

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

The Importance of Telling Lies

A bit like Calvin, my Sociology class will believe anything. This directly contrasts my previous school where I once spent 20 minutes failing to convince a class that a tunnel runs under the sea between England and France. ("Yeah right miss, and I can walk to Bangladesh from our house too innit"). Given this, you might think that my sociology classes naivety is a good thing. Wrong.

Without a sense of scepticism they are unable to criticise or evaluate research. When presented with research that had 'scientifically proven' the lower IQ of black children in America my -- mostly black African group -- accepted this and dutifully wrote it in their books as fact. Single parenthood causes crime? "Okay, I see that" was their simplistic response. After all, some academic has said it so it must be true. Right? Still wrong.

So now I have a simple device. When presenting new information I tell students that I am going to slip in a number of lies. Sometimes I actually do it, sometimes I don't. But it gets them engaged, guessing and thinking critically. It means they listen more intently and read more carefully. And, hopefully, one day it will get them to question some of those terrible assumptions they so readily accepted earlier in the year.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Praise in public, Reprimand in Private

When I was younger my mother would force me to sit with her while she ate her dinner. She worked late so my tea was eaten hours earlier. Nevertheless, each evening she would drag me downstairs to talk about our day as she ate. She worked (and still works) as a secretary so her stories were filled with office politics and managers pulling rank on the admin staff. Regardless of what had happened that day she would, however, maintain a simple principle: "Praise in public, reprimand in private."

As a teacher these words echo in my ear each day. In 3 years of teaching I have only raised my voice or told a child off in front of others a handful of times. I always make the effort to take the child aside and speak to them privately. Even when I've had children screaming, swearing and throwing things I try to remain calm and only speak to them about their behaviour once in private.

On Thursday last week I forget my rule and sniped, uneccesarily, at a student. She was asking for help on a subject I had explained, in some detail, two days earlier but she had lost the notes. Tired and exasperated I sniped at her. She actually took it well and sat down again, cheeks enflamed but still calm. I felt dreadful. Keeping 'face' is so important to students and what had I taught this young person? That questions may lead to embarrassment? Although I did not agree with her irresponsibility with the notes, being mean was not going to lead to a change in her behaviour. More likely she was going to decide that I was unreasonable and give up on her work.

At the end of the lesson I held her back and apologised for my behaviour. Calmer now I could explain why I became exasperated and gave her some strategies for getting answers to questions which didn't involve haranguing me yet again. We both left happy.

Today's tip? "Praise in public, reprimand in private". If you can. Trust me, sometimes it's hard.

Friday, 12 June 2009

The Movies In Your Mind: Inspiration for Teachers

When I began TeachFirst I spent most of my days fire-fighting behaviour management and I would finish, almost all days, with an air of despondency. I genuinely believed I would never be a good teacher. One Friday I was so low that I cried the whole way home on the DLR. The. Whole. Way.

Realising this was bad for my mental health, and that of other concerned commuters, I decided to try something new. Each Friday, as I climbed onto the DLR, I would plug into my music and pick a beautiful track. At first, I couldn't go for anything too upbeat. Pachelbel's Canon in D was great. As the music played I forced myself to visualise the week like a movie montage. It would start off with all the bad things and then, as the music built, I would think about the good moments. The occasional smile, a flash of teaching magic, laughter in the staffroom with other teachers and it would start to make everything a little bit better. Even now, when I feel low, I use this technique to remind me how important -- and amazing -- our job can be.

Should you need inspiration, here's one of my favourite 'teacher-movie' clips to help. The Bon Jovi song played over it is now a favourite Friday Movie Tune:

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Ask questions with lots of answers: My most favourite slide

I created this powerpoint in my third week of teaching because I needed to make a lesson quickly. The class I taught were bonkers and I needed a way to grab their attention. While this didn't make for the best behaviour management (there was a lot of shouting out answers) hey did engage entirely in the process. Asking questions like this works to capture attention because everyone can have a guess. It's a low-stakes question that gets people thinking.

Given that it was a sex ed lesson there were plenty of crude answers but my favourite is still the kid that, so excited he could barely get the words out, shouted: "Have legs! 87% of people have legs." Ah, the wonders of a teenager's mind.

The real answer? "Get married" It's really not that exciting but it proved a great way to start our discussions.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Website of the Week: TED Talks (Ideas worth spreading!)

I am slightly obsessed with TED Talks and while they're more of an indulgence, occassionally I find very cool stories to share with students in my classroom. In it's own words: "this site makes the best talks and performances from TED and partners available to the world, for free." There are more than 400 talks on a range of topic and they are always completely captivating.

- My favourites include Aubrey de Grey talking about the possibility of humans living for a 1,000 years. Sounds crazy right? Not when Aubrey says it! This was a great addition to our unit on human ageing and caring for older people.

- A good one for teachers is "Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity". It's a bit obvious but still a good reminder about the benefits of play.

- Finally, there is a whole science theme page. I struggle to teach my health & social care students some of the science-y parts. Using TED is helping us to see science in new, more exciting ways.

Even if you don't love playing video in your classroom (I have to say I try to avoid lengthy clips where possible), TED is a refreshing way to let exciting new people into your class and open your students' eyes.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

An aside.....

Year 13 are doing end-of-year reflections at the moment. So far my favourite expression is:

I feel that I have changed since starting sixth form because i used to watch TV but since starting Ms Mc's class my life has become all about health and social care."

Awesome. It's the "all about" that makes it for me.

Langer's "The Power of Mindul Learning": Work vs. Play

Yesterday I purchased a battered copy of Ellen J. Langer's "The Power of Mindful Learning". It's brilliant. At some point I will pick apart all the important conclusions she reaches, however the most stand-out bit so far is Langer's insistence that dressing a learning task as 'play' instantly makes it more appealing.

She, and colleague Sophia Snow, gave adults a series of tasks to do. With one group Langer referred to the tasks as 'work' throughout her instructions; with the other group she presented the task as 'playing a game'. The adults then started their tasks. The harder the tasks became the more the work group reported not enjoying the task. They also reported higher levels of 'mind wandering'. This did not happen with the 'play' group.

By the end of the experiment, when participants were completing the hardest task, the 'play' group were twice as likely to enjoy the task and stay focused on it.

Surely there's a tip in there somewhere??

Monday, 8 June 2009

Managing Group Presentations: "And the winners are....."

Keeping students interested and listening when other students are presenting can be a challenge. One tactic is to require each group to give feedback at the end of the presentation. Younger students often find this difficult so it helps to give guidance.

During presentations, each student completes a "You be the judge" sheet. This involves quickly marking each group against specific standards. Afterwards, groups discuss their ratings and complete a group nomination form, nominating their favourite group and explaining the reasons for their choice. Students hand them into a 'nomination envelope'. From this I can pull out the envelopes, a la the Oscars, and read out the results.

By hamming up the process into a ceremony students stay engaged as well as learning how to give feedback to one another. The nomination cards are also great certificates of achievement that the winning group can take away with them.
I can't get box.net to work on the network so I will wait until next time I'm on my home computer to upload these items

Friday, 5 June 2009

Take 2 minutes to say "thank you" to a parent

After reading Miss Cal.Q.L8s post about home school visits, I began thinking about conversations I've had with parents. Parent's evenings are my favourite part of the year. Even though they take hours I come away energised and enthused. I can only hope that students go away feeling the same.

However, my new school doesn't have parent's evening -- in fact, we have very limited communication with parents. Given that I teach mostly sixth-formers aged 16-19 I can see why it is less relevant, but I do feel we're missing out.

I therefore try, each week, to ring at least one student's parents to give some positive news on their progress. Each term I also photocopy the work of the best student and send it in a package to their parents with a personal letter explaining what I thought was so impressive.

All of this is welcomed, but nothing has been commented on more than the fact I say "thank you" to parents. I thank them for sending their children to us, for being a guiding influence and for caring about their children so much. Doing so makes our job so much easier. Often parents react by saying: "Oh no, I didn't do anything..." or "Well, that's what parents are for". Sometimes they even act confused. But 9/10 times I can hear the pride in their voice or I see their shoulders raise a few inches - just the same way that students do when complimenting their work. Thing is, we all need to be told that our efforts in life are being noticed. Simply because we hit adulthood it doesn't mean we stop needing positive feedback.

So...my simple tip would be thank parents as often as you have an excuse. It may brighten everyone's day!

Thursday, 4 June 2009

The Proven Negative Effects of Praising "Intelligence"

Yesterday's website was about rewards for students. My friend, Grainne, astutely raised how careful teachers should be in rewarding intelligence rather than effort. Don't worry, this isn't going to become some hippy love-in where I start pronouncing that we "are all special" and creating daily hug schedules for students. No, the negative effects of praising intelligence is based on hard science and cold logic.

Carol Dweck's important research looked at students who, having succesfully completed a task, were rewarded differently. One group were praised for their intelligence ("Wow. You got a high score. You must be smart at this."). One group were praised for effort ("You must have worked really hard). And a final group were praised for their performance only ("You did a good job").

Here's the scary bit... Dweck then asked students to choose a task to do next. They had two choices. One task was challenging but students would learn a lot (regardless of whether they succeeded); the other task was easier with sure success but, crucially, less learning. 90% of children praised for effort went for the challenging task, whereas the majority of children praised for intelligence took the easy option. This scientific experiment concluded that praising intelligence rather than effort limited student's willingness to challenge themselves in the future. Instead, students became used to taking an 'easier option

Of course, science is not the real world. This is a fairly contrived test. But logic would suggest the same thing. Praise for intelligence praises what you are meaning students start to believe their success is outside of their control - it was down to an innate ability or, perhaps, a fluke. Praising students for what they do enables students to feel positive about taking on challenges and focuses their mind on process rather than outcomes.

As Dweck says:
These findings suggest that when we praise children for
their intelligence,we are telling them that this is the name
of the game: Look smart ; d o n ’t risk making mistake s . O n
the other hand,when we praise children for the effort and
hard work that leads to achievement, they want to keep
engaging in that process.They are not diverted from the
task of learning by a concern with how smart they
might—or might not—look.

Since learning about Dweck's work I try -- really hard -- to praise only for effort and performance rather than any innate ability. There are still times when I say to students "Wow. You're a really talented dancer" or "gosh, you have a real skill at listening to others". The look on their face when I spot this and they realise they are good at something is worth it, and I wouldn't want anyone to stop noticing their students' strengths. BUT we must make sure that we make an equally big song and dance out of effort otherwise we will end up with students who are terrified of failure.

Calvin & Hobbes - Giving up easily?

Today's Calvin & Hobbes suggests that Calvin has perhaps been praised for his 'smartness' rather than taking on challenges, one too many times.....

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Website of the Week: Award Maker

I like to give out certificates and prizes all year round, but the end of the year is a particularly good time for celebrating achievement. MyAwardMaker has hundreds of fun templates for recognising the time and effort put in by our students. They also have a great 'tips' section encouraging teachers to step away from rewarding 'intelligence' and instead creating goals related to other skills, such as leadership or positive attitudes.

All awards are free, easily customisable and downloadable.

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Loud OR Quiet Lesson?

My good friend Loic has a great short-term strategy for classes who are acting up. It's particularly effective at this time of year with fidgeting, worn-out students. Each time he plans a lesson he equally prepares two ways of covering the same material - i.e. an active way and a 'quiet' way. For instance, if revising materials he might plan a kinaesthetic card sort activity where students move around the room matching up cards. Additionally, he plans a 'matching worksheet' and written questions around the same topic.

When students get to class he is able to either assess where they are in terms of energy and pick the most suitable activity. Or, and here in lies the genius, he will explain to the students about the two prepared lessons and genuinely ask which one they prefer. They have to think through which lesson will provide the most learning and give reasons justifying their answer. In doing so students invest in the planning process, realise what needs to happen for them to learn and - generally - they are much better behaved.

Of coure, planning TWO lessons is a lot of work and I'm not suggesting this as a long-term strategy. But in the short-term, if a class are a little off-task, it really can help.

Monday, 1 June 2009

7 Tips for Hot Weather

It's going to be 26 degrees in London today. I teach on a 5th floor classroom with south-facing windows, and no air conditioning. Even worse, we've had catches installed on the windows so they only open 4cm. Joy.
So, here are my tips for dealing with the heat.

1. Get tissues. I dedicated an entire post to this matter here but seriously, kids get sweaty faces and they need to rub down as they come into the room.

2. Open windows early in the day. As soon as you get in, open windows and prop the door to ensure flow of air. Even if outside traffic noise is unbearabe you will have to be louder. I explain to students that today we deal with the noise in order to stay alive.

3. Water Bottles - Encourage students to bring water bottles to school and ask them to put them on their desk. My rule is that fluid must be see-through and not fizzy. If students get head-aches or hot, encourage them to keep drinking.

4. Use Settled Starters - During hot weather I have a starter sheet on the desk for each pupil at the beginning of every lesson. It should be something really simple, i.e. a wordsearch or cryptogram. Doing this will encourage them to sit down and concentrate - giving them time to cool down.

5. Turn computers off - If you have computers in your room, switch them off completely. They will be generating a surprising amount of heat that you can do without.

6. If you bend rules, be consistent and explanatory - At the beginning of the lesson state what the new rule is, why it is has changed and how long it will last. For example: "The rule is that you must wear your blazer in class. Today it is very hot so I will change this rule today only. You may take your blazer off and put it on the back of your chair. (wait for movement). Tomorrow I expect you to have blazers back on, unless I say otherwise."

This works because students appreciate you thinking about their comfort but they realise that hot weather does not mean classroom procedures suddenly go out the window.

7. Get outside in your breaks! Enjoy the weather while we have it.