Saturday, August 27, 2011

Tell your students YOU MATTER

Eating your way to understanding
lunar phases task, sent to me as a
MMS from a cell phone . Relevant,
fun, and important as a type of
scientific model.
I've thought about the phrase 'YOU MATTER' in the past two weeks with my family, my 9-12 students, and my friends after watching @AngelaMaiers TEDx talk.  

As I start the new year, I am cognizant of the fact that it's my job to help kids uncover knowledge, address misconceptions, reflect on their understandings and find joy in the study of science. 

I need to make certain that I listen to my colleagues and my PLN and my personal mentors as they share their knowledge; I need to share my ideas with them so we can learn from one another.  It's a rich stream of ideas for me and the climate I cultivate for my high school classroom.  

Here's what works for me.
  • Be accessible  Find a way to connect with kids in addition to the classroom, whether it's your Skype address, a Twitter account, a number that they can text or call through (try using Wiggio or Gmail as a message portal if you want to track the messages for your own safety and peace-of-mind), and an email address. This isn't new....we all had teachers that had phone numbers in our local telephone book who would talk if we called for help on homework...remember? I talk to kids by working through the hallways during passing time, and find out what is important to them.  I compliment them on their achievements.  I connect to the kids and I'm available through communication avenues to help them with issues of importance outside of the school day.  This is about Relationship, and It Matters.
  • Be relevant  If I can't tell a kid WHY we are doing something, and why it matters, perhaps it means that I should reconsider the idea, or figure out how to make it matter.  I've jettisoned most of my textbooks in favor of digital media, and my teaching has become focused on project-based learning.  We build things, we take the time to connect current events (like the earthquake of the last week), and we adjust our projects as needed.  This is about Knowledge, and the ideas of My Kids Matter.
  • Use the tools  Different learning styles mean kids need different learning options, and they need to know their strengths.  We figure that out at the beginning of the year, then I divide the class into teams, complete with team expectations and tasks, ask them to let me know if something isn't working, and I try to provide more than one pathway to get there.  I go around and visit each team, checking to see if they are having troubles, just like a supervisor at a business.  Content reading, model building, web walks are all happening at different rates, and we have 'company meetings' at the beginning and end of each class period. This past week, some kids made historical astronomy timelines using online software, some made Power Points, and others took paper and pencil and made their timelines, and then sent a MMS text or a webcam photo shot to my email address.  There's more than one way to do this needs to become a rallying cry for kids and teachers.  It's easy for the kids, but for the teachers, it is saying that the Needs of the Kids Matter.
  • RESPECT your students Seriously. Every year since I have started teaching, I seen the phrase,  "Respect isn't given.  It must be earned." in someone's classroom, or on a set of class rules or expectations.  How sad is that?   You respect your boss, at least a bit, from the moment you are hired.  You respect people like the President even if you are of another party.   Why shouldn't we start out respecting kids, and treat them like we do personal relationships? I listen to them, discuss with them when there is a problem, and  Approaching it from the other way around is a disaster, leading to a boot camp mentality.   We need kids to know that Respect for Others Matters, and that starts with ME and the classroom climate we create.
  • Believe In the Content You Teach I want my kids to do great things, and that means they need STEM skills. They need to be scientifically literate. They need Higher-Order Thinking Skills.  I've stopped making them memorize things that they can look up on Google in 3 seconds (no more quizzes strictly on vocab) Instead, we use the information we gather, including vocabulary and current news events, in context. We are able to contrast, create, share, and strategically plan as a way to problem-solve. For example, the first project in my introductory science class is to prepare a housing model and a specific disaster plan for surviving an Iowa catastrophe.  We've been looking at models of the New Madrid fault, plate tectonics, weather disasters, and tying them all together around the big ideas of convection, conduction, and radiation. They're doing great things, because Science Content Matters!
What are you doing to make sure you are having a year that tells others #youmatter?   I'd love to hear from you.

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