Tuesday, September 29, 2015

My House aka My Classroom

When I was very young, there was a show on ABC called the Curiosity Shop.  Three kids would enter this shop and puppets and a witch would introduce them to a wide variety of learning experiences.  And of course, who can ever forget Mr. Rogers, who welcomed us into his house everyday.  It was so intimate, that he allowed us to watch him change his shoes to sneakers.  One thing these show had in common, they wanted kids to feel comfortable in someone else's house.

I know there is a move to allow your students ownership of your classroom.  It's not YOUR space it is OUR space or even THEIR space.  I have read about how ditching your teacher's desk allows students to see that you are serious about that.  I take a different approach.

I flat out tell my kids the classroom is where I will spend most of my waking hours over the next 10 months.  The one island I have is the area behind my desk to the back wall.  I call it "My House".  No one can enter it without permission.  And it does have an alarm (me yelling "GET OUT OF MY HOUSE")

Here is why I do it like this:

1) Students would see it as disingenuous for me to say it is our/their classroom.  I teach 8 sections of history, students would recognize that with so many students coming in and out, it cannot truly be their classroom.

2) It helps teach boundaries and respect.  We all have personal space and property that we expect to be respected by others.

3) An adult designed a place for kids.  Just like Mr. Rogers and the Curiosity Shop, I had young people in mind when designing my room.  It is not filled with history posters, but sport, movie, plastic snowmen, etc.  Some of the items in my room have been given to me by former students to display.  And it is not that I do not seek suggestions of what to do in the classroom.  Just like a good architect, I need to hear the needs from the people who will be occupying the space, not just the landlord.

No matter how you go about it.
Students need to feel comfortable
In Your/Theirs/Our Classroom
For Engagement to Occur

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Playing the Back to School Night Game

I have always struggled with what to do during Back to School night.  Do parents want to know who I am, my curriculum, my classroom procedures, etc.  I teach middle school history, and only have the parents for about 10 minutes.  For this year, I created a Kahoot game for my parents to play:

Here is a link to a video so you know what Kahoot is:

And by the end of the night, on my 24th Back to School night, I have finally realized what I want parents to take away from that night:

I want them to experience a small bit of the excitement
that their child experiences in my classroom.

And a few nights ago the competition of the Kahoot game and the fun and laughter that occurred throughout the night did just that.

Kahoot Game

I used questions within the Kahoots game to introduce topics that I felt were important to discuss with the parents, especially the purpose of gamifying my classroom and although I want students to have fun in my class, my main goal is to raise their knowledge & understanding of history.

The first class hardly had a chance to play.  As the night went on, we made it through more and more questions.

Take Aways:

Only give a minute to enter the game.

Make sure the game pin number is always visible so they can enter in mid game.
The game isn't the most important thing
Giving your student's parents a taste of the excitement of your class is. 

Tell parents without cellphones to play along as if they watching Jeopardy on TV.

Phrase the questions as segue into what you want to talk about.

For example, the question

"My wife grew up in West Virginia, what was her favorite baseball team?
Reds, Pirates, Yankees, None, she hates baseball

Answer: None, She Hates Baseball

Parents laughed at the trick question (and some of them agreed with my wife).  I then discussed my baseball themed classroom and why I have chosen to attack the problem of student motivation through it.  In the end, I tied the original question back to their child by stating,

"If your son or daughter hates baseball & you think they will struggle with me, remember, my wife has been with me for 18 happy years, and she hates baseball, I'm sure your child will be able to handle one."

When time ran out in the first class in mid game, a parent wanted me to still display the current leaderboard so everyone knew she had one.  From that point I always would announce the current leader when it was displayed on the screen as a game show host would do to build up the level of competition in the room.  In one class, the parents were having fun "trash talking" with one another of how they were going to win.  

Playing Kahoot was an excellent choice to play during Back to School Night.
Now parents have a frame of reference when their child says, 
"We played Kahoot"
And they will know their kid had a fun day of learning in history.

Other lessons from the night.

Digital Baseball Card

I tried to have my students create a "Digital Baseball Card" on a Google Slide, filled with information they find important about themselves, that I was going to show their parents as they walked into the room on the projector screen.  I miscalculated the amount of experience students had coming into my class on different computer applications and skills. What should have been wrapped up in a day or two, went longer for others (along with taking pictures of the students, their team logo, etc).  These mistakes along with all else that was happening (teaching, coaching, preparing for Back to School night, being a husband & father) one day was not enough time to put the slides into one slide presentation for each class.

Take Aways:

You do not have to try every new idea you have at once.  
Be willing to sacrifice a new idea if you cannot do it well.

The Baseball Card and Ticket Info

I handed out over 100 baseball cards that included information to my website and new class Twitter & Facebook page.  I also had parents fill out a "ticket" with their email.

Follow Up With an Email Home in the Next Two Weeks 
Thanking them for Coming Out
Reminding them of Class Twitter/Facebook Accounts 
Share the Great Things their Children Are Experiencing in Your Classroom

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Back to School Night Game

Dear Katie,

Before the age of social media, the best forum to give your students' parents a taste of your classroom was doing it through Back to School Night.  For a few years, I created a VH-1 Pop Up Video themed PowerPoint presentation complete with the popping bubble sound.  The presentation I am creating this year is incorporating aspects of my baseball theme, gamified classroom to the parents.

As parents walk into the room, they will receive a "baseball card that will give them information about the classroom, including my email, website, and positive quotes from former students about the World History Athletic Club (the name for my baseball themed classroom) and a "ticket" where they can share any important information about their child.

As they walk into the classroom, projected on the screen will be a carousel of their children's "digital baseball cards" that they created the first days of school to allow me to know them better.  On the card, other than their picture, will be facts they love to share with others and their thoughts on they believe is the best way to engage them educationally.

Typically, teachers have about 8 minutes to share information.  Some parents want to know more about the person in front of the classroom, some want to know what their child be will be learning, others the amount of homework and big projects that will be completed at home, and then there are those parents who just want to know the processes of your classroom.  In order to hit all of this within the time frame minutes, the bulk of the information will be given through videos that can be accessed through the class website.

A hurdle is to convince parents that "academic" doesn't mean straight rows & lecture, but that games can be an effective way to encourage engagement.  In order to demonstrate this, we will run one of the games we play in my class. I have created a Kahoots game (highly recommend, find out more at for my parents to play.  The beginning questions are in the format that resembles a push poll, where the question is asked in a way to present information to the person being asked and is more important than the respondent's answer.   One of my questions is, "In this class, students sit in...".  The answer is TEAMS and some time after the question will be taken to discuss the role the teams play in the class (more than just to have them for the games).  The last few questions will come from the actual topics their child will be learning in class that year.

It takes some planning, but I remember the old adage, "You never get a second chance to make a first impression", so make your Back to School Night presentation a strong one.  But don't waste all your work for that night by not backing it up with continued excellence throughout the year.  I am sure you will not.

Best Wishes to In Your First Back to School Night!

Uncle Kevin