CD Hovercrafts – A Fun Science Craft Idea

A science lesson can be such a great part of the teaching day. Unfortunately for some, it can also be the most boring. I am always looking for innovative ways to get kids’ attention while teaching them science. Bill Nye videos are very useful and they are titled by standard which makes it easy to select one for your class. But video can’t be the sole thing you rely on when igniting interest. I discovered in the last few years that crafts or experiments can awaken even the most sluggish learner.

I’m currently teaching guitar in Summer school and I saw a science craft another teacher did I want to share. It shows how one force can work against another in unison to create movement. In this case, it is a hover craft. The materials needed are: 1) an old CD you don’t want anymore 2) a balloon 3) The “pull top” style water caps (see image) and 4) a glue gun.

As far as the lesson goes, the sky’s the limit. Do you think you could do something with this idea? I’d love to hear about it.

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Great Lesson Basics – Mixing Methods

IAF_CL1_PX01192If you’re like me, you’ve been to hundreds of trainings, most claiming to be the greatest lesson method. Then, you learned they were good and bad but never universal. Have you ever sat down and tried to piece together the best of the best into something that works for you? Whether you have or not “knowingly” done so, that is the role of the teacher … to synthesize a lot of information, create, and innovate. I used to be a huge proponent of a method called “EDI.” In fact, my EDI posts get the most traffic of any posts here on the blog. I am proud to share EDI because plain and simple: it works! A few years later since my initial EDI training, I have created sort of a hybrid set of “great lesson basics” that work to foster student achievement. I am happy to share them here with you.

  1. Learning Objective: I have to introduce what I am teaching and what the students are expected to do in order to be successful after the lesson.

  2. Engagement: This is a step I invented. It is what people often call a “sponge activity.” It can be a story, a puppet show, a short video, a game, anything that gets the learner absorbed into the subject matter.

  3. Importance: I have found time and time again that when the kids know the value of learning the lesson, they are more engaged and thus learn more and faster.

  4. Steps: Everything in education can be broken down to steps. This is often easier said than done. Taking time with the steps is invaluable toward getting kids to meet the demands of the lesson.

  5. Guided Practice: Simply put, SHOW THEM HOW YOU DO IT. Use the steps and model over and over. I learned to play guitar by imitating Dave Sharp on the Alarm albums. I would move the needle back again and again until I knew every guitar riff. Kids are the same today with academics. Show them and then show them some more. Gradually release them to do it on their own.

  6. Independent Practice: At this step they should be doing what they watched you do over and over. Make sure they can do it before you let them go on their own.

20120815-140604.jpg7. Small group intervention: There are usually going to be a group of kids who need extra guided practice. Take them to a side table which the whole group is working independently. Just repeat the steps of the lessons for as long as you have time or until they get it, whichever is first.

This is the lesson method I have developed through the years. I would really appreciate your comments of what you think of it, ie; how I might improve it. Thanks for being part of the Dynamite Lesson Plan professional learning community.

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Keep Old Stuff

Keep old Curriculum 2To some this post is stating the obvious: keep your old materials for teaching. With all the “home makeover” shows on today, there is a definite emphasis on minimalism. Feng Shui and Hoarding are also a part of our modern vocabulary but throw all that away and keep old stuff! Remember encyclopedias? I kept a set. I don’t use them often but it’s a teaching opportunity to show the kids what life was like before the internet. We would consult World Book instead of Google. Kids get a sense of history that way. For example, compare the Apollo flight to the moon article in an encyclopedia to a Google search. Kids just don’t know there is a difference.

Keep old Curriculum 3Keep old textbooks that the District tells you to discard. I know so many teachers who regret getting rid of an old math series we used to use. I kept 21 of them! I wish I would have kept the 35 I once had. Another thing these are really good for is independent study. I sometimes get requests for independent study curriculum when kids are going to be out for weeks. When you have an old text, you can work with it and not risk losing the current texts. Of course, kids muct always have the option of taking home the current text per William’s act. These textx are great for small group work and even homework.

Keep old CurriculumMath manipulatives are notorious for being thrown out, as are Science kits. Both are golden to have around. I have noticed, for example, that many of my kids annot tell tradition time as in the hands of a clock. I got a hold of a kindergarten math kit a colleague had kept and I used it to teach time in about three sittings of 3 minutes each. Tis is helpful to all subjects and in all standards. You never know where it will pop up. Not to mention the kids that may think it’s cool to have an analog watch. Keep old stuff, I guarantee you’ll use it, Of course, some stuff must be thrown away. Someone said, it you don’t use it for 2 years, throw it away. I’ll leave that up to you.

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Puppet Communication

Puppet Communication in Upper ElementaryCommunication should be of the utmost importance to a teacher. She/he should consider all tools at her/his disposal to get the point across to kids. All the planning and research in the world can’t be used unless the teacher knows how to communicate it to students. Direct communication like speaking to a class or one-to-one has it’s place of course as probably the most important and effective mode of transporting knowledge from teacher to student. Still, indirect or implicit communication can have a stronger impact in select situations. For example, when teaching social rules of the classroom, a skit or puppet show may be more effective than a lecture. The stuents can see themselves and their peers in the puppet and not feel self-conscious or defensive about the content. Sometimes, even having the kids make brown bag puppets or other type and then allowing them to speak through the puppet.

I got these 2 puppets from my friend who sort of collects them. Ever since we were kids, we were both playing with puppets. The first one was probably my first birthday. My friend has been a collector and puppeteer ever since. I asked him if he knew the best place to buy some. I found out Toys R Us had a nice selection online. I was very fortunate that day because he gave me two high quality puppets as gifts. I use “Mr. Pig and duck” once in a while in my teaching. Anytime I am about to make an word picture or any sort of example, I think of using them. The kids attention is drawn to them like moths to a light bulb. It never ceases to amaze me how powerful puppets are to captivate student attention.

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Proximity and Presentation in Lesson Plans

Teaching can never be described as a simple endeavor. Planning lessons is a challenge that will always stupefy the greatest teaching minds. That doesn’t mean we give up though! Humility is a necessary ingredient in the dynamite teacher. If we ever reach a mental place where we feel we “have it wired” I think we will never reach our potential as educators. Through difficulty and yes, failure, we become great. Anyone who tells you failure isn’t a requisite for teaching greatness is not a great teacher in my opinion.

We talk about the methods of great teaching and we talk about our objectives. One thing we don’t talk about enough is the proximity and presentation of our lessons. Take this idea for example: say you have delivered guided practice to your class on a math topic for nearly 2 hours and you still do not see 80% accuracy in the kids. You might be tempted to blame them or even still yourself for not getting the lesson out in an effective manner. Quick, simple question:

“Where do you stand?”

Could it be possible the kids couldn’t see your numbers as you wrote them on the board? Could it be possible your glorious “steps” you created and taught were hidden from the students because the screen turns snow-blind at a given angle? Perhaps you should take the time to test and measure the proximity and presentation of your lesson before you begin. No time teaching kids is ever wasted.  However, you can make the most of your time by deciding the answers to some of these questions before, during, and after your lessons:

  • Can every seat see me and the content I am presenting? You might go to every seat with your content on the overhead to test this. Or, you might ask a colleague to pop in and test your visibility
  • Where do you stand? You should know the blind spots you create with your body and/or writing hand.
  • Is the overhead or document camera a better tool than standing at the board for the content you are delivering?
  • Are your visuals big enough for the back to see.

After you have addressed question like these, you are more likely to produce a dynamite lesson.  But don’t stop there. If you find yourself puzzled as to why kids aren’t getting it, you don’t have to wear yourself out asking questions like background checks for employment. Simply use proximity and presentation as a way to troubleshoot and pinpoint issues holding your teaching back. The reason you aren’t reaching all your kids may very well lay in the question: “Where do you stand?”

Common Core and Typing Skills

Here’s a teaching related topic I wrote on a couple years ago.
tumblr_mtibaspb9k1ssyq3bo1_500When I was in school, typing was not as universally required as it is today. The students of today must type in their answers to standardized tests like Common Core. As a teacher, I have to help my students type in their usernames and passwords all the time for reading and math tests as well as other learning websites they are required to use. In the case of some, it takes 20 minutes just to log in. That’s why my school site purchased a typing program for the kids. As tech, my job was to upload the student information to the game. I did so and I think using this game is going to really infuse self-assurance and speed into their typing. In turn, I hope it enables them to test more accurately.

It’s truly amazing how many things we use a computer keyboard for nowadays. There are no more “Smith Corona” old-school typewriters on the desks of writers. Computers are not the future they are the past and the present. Even with all the blogging I do, I am still a “search and plunk” typist. I often think about what I could accomplish if I didn’t have to look at the keys while typing. I’m not sure you can teach an old dog new tricks. It would be great teach kids keyboarding skills while in elementary school. One way to get our kids comfortable with typing their thoughts and answers into a computer is by using games. The Common Core test is the high stakes test of today. The scores this year (2014-2015) are a baseline and after this year they will show the public the progress schools are making. Since teachers cannot type the answers for the kids, it’s high time the school taught them to type proficiently. What do you think about teaching typing skills in school?

Online Diary: ‘Mr. Riley and Mr. Pig’ – How I Believe Puppetry and Guitar Help My Students

damien_riley_and_mr_pigEveryone has at least one special “talent booth” in the big tent of what they do. I have a few I like to think. Actually other people tell me I do so it isn’t boasting. I’m good with computers and technology, I’ve been called a “natural teacher” and sometimes I bring puppets to life in my class. I’ve been using Mr. Pig to motivate students for a long time now, probably 5 years I think. He was given to me by a friend who is much more serious into puppets and puppet shows. I approached him about wanting to get a puppet and he basically let me have a pick from a large container of them. I’ll always be thankful to him for that. When you’re trying something new, it truly helps to have support from a friend.

I got Mr. Pig and Mr. Duck that day. Through the years, both have served me well in the classroom. I can make kids smile nd get them excited about boring subjects with puppets. Both of the have a voice and my kids sometimes beg me to “do the puppets.” It’s become a laid-back fun activity we do a few times a month. As someone who works daily with ten-year olds, I can tell you things like puppets that capture their attention are invaluable resources.

Mr. Pig has a voice like Joe Pesci. When I start making him talk, it’s odd because I feel like I really am him. Like Senor Wences and other ventriloquists, It’s like I am talking to someone else. I love getting into puppetry. I also play guitar for my kids. I find it’s good to have something to break up the monotony and lower the affective filter. When you have tricks like puppetry and music at hand, you ca go further than without. I can’t tell you how many people through the years have told me they wish they could play the guitar. Like anything, technology or puppetry, it’s all about getting into a space where you can play with it. I learned puppetry through play with my class. I learned guitar the same way. I played along with every REM album through my teens and twenties along with The Alarm and a few other bands. None of that was hard, it was PLAY! Maybe that’s why the puppets and music I share now make the kids smile. I am sharing play.

I think about what makes life worth living for me and I can tell you it isn’t my college diplomas. At the same time, public education preaches that we teachers should always push college as the end of the rainbow. I think we all know that isn’t worth sacrificing for. It’s the passions and play that we love that gets us off the couch and out into the world.

I earned my degrees so I could pursue the things l love like guitar, drama (puppetry), podcasting, blogging, taking vacations, going to the beach, eating out … now as I write those things I feel excited to be teaching, to be learning. Any one of these things might be called a vice by a schoolmaster but I tell you they are the carrot in front of the donkeys eyes that keeps him/her studying! I believe I need more incentive to go to college and less concern about college itself in my class. I want my kids to have a reason for living that drives them to be educated and gives them a thirst for knowledge. You can’t force play, you can model it though. A kid with no ability to play is truly the saddest kid. My hope is that my own children as well as those in my class will be experts at play. College or a good job and life is just the by-product. That’s why I hope they remember more than just algebra. I hope they remember Mr. Riley and Mr. Pig.

As far as guitar goes, I learned at 8 years old by my father. He taught me 3 chords: A D and E and he showed me a finger technique I called “Pluck brush thumb up down.” It has a kind of “Happy Trails” 2/4 country rhythm to it. That was nearly all I needed to get hungry for playing more. Soon, he had taught me all the chords and I hard started singing along with those. Eventually I would transfer what I learned from Dad into the electric guitar and I played in a few bands … notice the word “play.” I know in my classroom it is difficult to do things that look like play all the time. After all, we are running a school here. Still, I am convinced after 17 years doing this job that kids need to have play modeled for them and they also need time and space to explore their own play. I am always looking for ways to weave play into the curriculum the state wants me to use.

It’s great for me to have things I can go to when I get free time. I want my own children to see me doing things that I enjoy, things that are play to me. Ultimately, that is all we have after the paycheck. If you don’t know what you want to play, money and prestige at work will never satisfy you. I suppose there are people who can play all day at work but I suspect even those people need an outlet, an escape of playing something else. For example, a video game programmer needs to mountain climb. People sometimes tell me I “play” with kids all day so my job is easy. Oh if you only knew a teacher’s days! Still, they may be right for a few days but when you work with kids every day the extent of your contract, you can burn out. I know the things that I like to play and I hope I foster the notion of play in my students so they can grow up and keep a smile on their faces in this crazy, often wicked and heartless (whether meaning to be or not) world.

Avoiding Procrustes’ Bed

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If you haven’t heard the myth of Procrustes and his bed, it’s the story of a man who invited weary travelers to lay in his guest bed. Once in, if they were too tall he lopped off their feet and if too short, he’d stretch them to fit. Horrifying I know and yet aren’t we as educators often guilty of trying to get our students to “fit” the curriculum?

One really simple way to avoid this is to make a point and recognize the strengths of our underachievers. Those that don’t “fit” have other talents, why not put a spotlight on them more often. It’s difficult to regularly do this but if we don’t, we are guilty of the same horrors as Procrustes. I challenge you teachers to recognize students that don’t fit in the same paradigm of achievement as the mainstream. In doing so, you help make the world a much more dynamic and interesting place. What’s more? You save lives of those kids who don’t fit in the academic constraints assigned by politics.

Teaching the Value of Honesty

IMG_2500.JPGHonesty is such a lonely word. That’s why we must be taught what it means. My students are chomping at the bit to take a test on the computer. This is true whether or not they have read their AR (Accelerated Reader) book that they are being tested on. They often will interrupt a lesson or a time of independent work to ask me about taking an AR test. More often than not, at the beginning of the year, they have no idea what their book is about because they haven’t read it thoroughly. When I ask them if they are ready and did they read the test, they always tell me, “Yes! I read it two times.” The data unfortunately speaks otherwise when I see 30% correct, 0% correct. It’s hard to light a fire under kids for reading but it’s even harder sometimes to convince them of the value of honesty.

I think now at 45 years of age, I would rather fail at something honestly than win it by lying. Kids haven’t had the benefit of a forty-something’s years. It’s important for us as teachers to show them the value of honesty. There may still be consequences if they admit they haven’t read enough of their book to pass. But still, I will respect them for saying so and keep them from the sting of failing an AR test. In past years I have had less trouble with this. Kids learned after one or two failed tests that they needed to read more and stay with the book longer time before taking an AR test. This year it seems they are in a hurry to escape the class routine and “play the game” as they see it of typing in a title and guessing at the comprehension questions. I find this both sad and concerning. I think explaining the value of honesty is in some ways the most important lesson of all. I do a lot of frontloading trying to show that. How do you keep your kids honest?

Darn, I Was Gonna Say That

tony-anticipates-his-next-classI’m convinced that teachers who are starting out need to learn this lesson with time. It makes little logical sense to tell kids the answers but it serves a powerful function toward mastery when you are starting a new concept. Students often don’t answer because they do not know what is being asked of them. This can be the actual math or language arts of the thing or it could just be the manner and style in which the teacher expects the answer. Sometimes when students say the predictable phrase, “I was gonna say that,” they aren’t lying. They didn’t know what you wanted from them and that is a simple problem to remedy. At the introduction of the lesson, go around pucking random non volunteers by your chosen method, I use cards. Use this pattern: 1) Say the answer 2) Ask the question and 3) Ask the question again and pick a random non volunteer. This will inform them how to listen and answer questions and get you more familiar with their process. It sounds silly to give the answer and then ask someone to say it back but it really decreases their affective filter and makes them more comfortable branching out and taking risks. In short, they become more comfortable with you so you can ease into more higher order questions like “why is that the answer?”

While it may be obvious to some, remember this is not a cognitive standards based tip. You must teach the material before you ask questions to assess learning. Having said that, the interface and platform if you will of a particular classroom is always unique. Time should be taken to get the kids comfortable with your expectations. By setting them concretely at the beginning, you have a better chance of them learning something. It is like a stage where they are seated and prepared to be entertained only in this case, they are being taught. Every child longs to be right when she/he is called on. I recommend modeling as much as is possible and until at least 70% of the class appears to be answering in the manner you modeled. At that point you can stop expecting them to just say things back, make sure you tell them the expectation has changed and how, and expect higher order thinking and stating of answers. Take time before lessons, especially non-review first-time standards and objectives, to model how correct answers look and what you will be asking of them. You will find many more of your students come out of their shell and don’t have to say after the fact: “Darn, I was gonna say that.”