In the Mean Time, Just Teach Kids

tony-lays-it-all-out-on-the-chalkboardI loved the Nike slogan in the 80’s “Just Do it.” This is something we as teachers in negotiations need to remember. If you read too much of the news around education, it will leave you feeling left out to dry. For some reason the climate in political circle is bad toward teachers. It’s not warranted however. We in education have seen so much good happening in our classrooms, schools, districts, and regions. We know teachers are continuing to pass on knowledge and students are receiving it. There is an issue of economics that has center stage. The conservatives for the most part want higher test scores and they want the ability to produce them without traditionally credentialed teachers. They open chart schools, of which some are very good I must say, that employ low paid teachers that are not unionized. I assume they still must be credentialed but if they can save money I am sure they will find a way around that. We studied hard to get two degrees in college and we long to show our ability in the classroom. We work hard to see measurable growth in our students. Unfortunately, this is not being seen by some voices in our culture. 

This is where I have to put the blinders on. The road forward involves teaching kids. I need to guard my heart against epithets in the news that strike down teachers and call us lazy. I need to be ensuring my kids in my classroom are showing measurable growth. Even if my kids show measurable growth, the so called revolutionaries out to take apart public education will likely change the target. In a way this is an amazing opportunity to just help and not get caught up in the political games. Only we know how the kids learn because we are with them. With respect of course, we need to use all tools at our disposal to meet our self-made goals or our kids. We will weather the storm out and then our culture will ask us, hopefully, “How did you do it?”

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Monetary vs. Non Monetary Rewards in the Classroom

Here’s another topic for my teacher journal and I hope to get some external input in the comments on it. In every class there should be some sort of rewards system. Kids are small adults and adults work for rewards, why shouldn’t they? In teaching, I have found the PC and mainstream way most teachers take is the way of monetary rewards. Kids follow the rules and get junk the teacher buys with her/his own money or other sources. There is a problem I see with this monetized rewards system. If kids do right to get a tangible physical reward, they will only do right when they can get a reward. This is a poor way to prepare kids for life because many times in life we are not rewarded monetarily for doing the right thing.

I prefer non monetary rewards. When I was a Pizza Hut manager, the trainers told us that people will do more for a compliment than they will for a slight raise. People want to be seen. Again, students are small people so why wouldn’t they behave the same way grownups do? Throughout the day, I make sure I am giving high fives and compliments when they are warranted. I don’t go out and buy a bunch of monetary “prizes” for my students. Once in a while I will buy my kids stuff but I keep this few and far between because I know training them to crave non-monetary rewards is a more suitable training for the world we all live and work in.

It’s possible I’m a little bitter because in 1997 something happened in my classroom that really changed me. I bought a small mechanized Harley Davidson motorcycle toy to give away at the end of the month. (I also regularly bought monetary rewards for my class at that time). The $40 toy was stolen off my desk and I never retrieved it. The kids never revealed who and how it was taken. I decided pretty soon after that event that it was not the best idea to have monetary rewards in the classroom. That’s my view, what do you think?

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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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