What Might Have Been and What Can Be

imageIn education, things are contantly changing. Some methods show up as new ones but they’re really just renewed from times past. We have to be comfortable with change. This isn’t just about technology, though it is true with that as well. Rather, it refers to Common Core and Madeline Hunter’s lesson plan and every other trendy style that has come down the pike with mixed results. We need to synthesize old and new based on the needs of the students. This is what makes us valuable. If we couldn’t do this, anybody could step into the classroom and pretend to teach. When things change a lot, there is bound to be a lot of failed attempts. We rely on those failures to learn what works. The key is to not give up. Keep your eyes on the prize.

I spent years going around as tech for my school. It was my adjunct duty to my contracted teaching position. In other words, I wasn’t a tech guy per se but people would call me to make their speakers louder or get their power point presentations to work. At any rate, I learned that one sort of document camera we had at our site did not work well with out projectors. It took a lot of trial and error to figure out the best ones but eventually through staying with it, I finally pinpointed the strengths of one over the other. Today, almost all the substandard ones have been replaced and the teachers all use the best ones. This was a shot n the dark at first but through time, trial, and error we improved the school’s ability to reach kids. This is just one example. I have had to try methods of choosing random non-volunteers and learned what worked best for me. This turned out to be playing cards with kids’ names written on them with Sharpie. Because the benefits of trying and failing in teaching are so huge, I love to share this quote with you teachers that may have tried and failed recently:

Every day is a new beginning
Stay away from what might have been
And look at what can be.

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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?”

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Inspiration for New Teachers: The Tortoise, the Hare, and Personal Bests

On your teaching journey, don’t compare yourself with others. Just do your best and you will find much success.

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This post is dedicated to the new teaching degree students who are feeling the sting of our times in education. Don’t give up! Teachers, especially new ones, are under a lot of pressure sometimes to create the best walls, the best lesson plans, and the best APPEARANCE to the teaching “pack” around them. I remember when I was starting out back in the late nineties when I sometimes felt like all the veterans around me were like the “hare” and I felt like the slow moving tortoise. You know it’s an old fable but it stands up true today in our fast paced teaching career more than ever.  If you do the right things, consistently, and keep at it, you will finish the race strong. Those doing the work for education degrees shall have their “day in the sun.” Best of all, you will make a difference in the lives of children.

It seems sometimes that the fast running hares of the world are enjoying their developed speed all around us, but you can’t let that sway you from the road in front of you, however small. They were once like you and if you keep your resolve, you will be successful as they are at teaching. You may even be better at it. Like my high school track coach Mr. White used to say: “Don’t worry about Jamie Oman, you run your own race Riley and get a personal best!” Jamie Oman was a CIF champion runner, I was simply a point man for the team. Every time I “took a man” I felt pride and I carry that with me today.

Times are tough now in education. Stay strong, we need the best teachers to stay in the profession while thousands are quitting. On your teaching journey, don’t compare yourself with others. Just do your best, stay focused on your own teacher evaluations and you will find much success.

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3 Things to Ask in a Parent Teacher Conference

The parent teacher conference is an excellent time for teachers to meet parents and find out how their child is doing in class. You might say it’s the great “demystifier” for the rest of the year. Teachers have questions which are answered in teaching degrees. If parents have any questions, they should be resolved in … Continue reading 3 Things to Ask in a Parent Teacher Conference

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The parent teacher conference is an excellent time for teachers to meet parents and find out how their child is doing in class. You might say it’s the great “demystifier” for the rest of the year. Teachers have questions which are answered in teaching degrees. If parents have any questions, they should be resolved in the parent conference. Along with presenting their scores, it’s a great opportunity for you to get information from parents. Information from parents is so important it should be taught in teacher degree requirements. Here are 3 invaluable questions to ask in a parent teacher conference.

  1. What is your child like at home? They may be shy about this one. Try to resist clarification as you want the answer to not be coached. This information is highly valuable to you as it will give you points of contact with the child as you teach her/him throughout the year.
  2. What book is your child reading currently? This opens the conversation to discuss reading and how valuable it is in education. Encourage them to talk with their child about what book she/he is reading and ask them questions about the polt and characters.
  3. Do they have any questions for you? Give parents the opportunity to ask you questions. Let your guard down and professionally answer any questions they give you.

We always talk in parent teacher conferences but we sometimes miss a golden opportunity to listen to parents. When we open up and listen to parents, we get all sorts of persuasive tools to use with the student. For example, if a parent says: “Comic books, comic books, he wants to write them one day.” I can use that for example by saying things like:

“This math concept is something you could use when designing a comic book!” And hopefully I will get “buy-in” more readily from that student . The next time you meet with a parent, try these three questions and see if you are helped by them. I think parent input is worth more than a handful of teaching degrees.

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10 Tips to Teach Kids with Repetition

  1. Enunciate new vocabulary clearly and slowly and repeat it in the lesson
  2. Have them write concepts verbatim.
  3. Have them respond to you verbally their own synthesized answers.
  4. Have them do the same in writing.
  5. Have them share verbally in pairs.
  6. Have them share on white boards and hold up (an instant assessment tool)
  7. Give them a short written test.
  8. Pick a random non-volunteer.
  9. Do the similar lessons after complete after 24 hour period pass.

Result?  Proficent kids!

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