Thursday, August 1, 2013

Class Reflection

              During my time in my social studies class this summer session, I have learned a great deal about what it means to be an effective and innovative social studies teacher.  Before this summer, when I thought of social studies in elementary school, I remembered very little besides reading textbook chapters and recalling history facts.  But wow has my mind been blown by this class.  Social studies in elementary school is a subject where the possibilities are endless.  Lessons can be made in any social studies domain such as civics, political science, sociology, history, economics, citizenship and let's definitely not forget the Arts.  It is incredibly important that we teach our students content from each of these domains so that they can grow up to be active citizens in our democratic republic.  Lessons in any of these domains can be integrative with other subject objectives and content as well.  For example, in a fifth grade lesson plan that I created this summer, the students are learning about state representation in the House of Representatives.  In doing so, they will be also making graphs to show correlation between state size, state population and state representation.  I think I am able to speak for my class when saying it is extremely easy to plan an integrative lesson that includes content and objectives from a social studies domain.
              Another huge takeaway from this class is learning the importance and effectiveness of Backward Design.  Backward Design is a helpful strategy for curriculum and unit planning.  Successful teaching is able to occur when there is clarity about desired learning outcomes, both short term and long term, and the evidence that will show that learning has occurred.  When planning lessons and units, the Backward Design process requires teachers to first identify desired results for students establishing essential questions and established goals for understanding.  Next teachers are to consider the performances and products that will reveal evidence of meaning-making and transfer.  The third and final step for teachers is to plan lessons and learning experiences accordingly.  While this process may seem unorthodox at first to some teachers, it is one that allows the teacher to be a 'coach of understanding' through units rather than a lecturer through a textbook.  To me personally, Backward Design is how I have always planned lessons.  Before creating an activity or learning experience, I consider what I want the students to learn and how I can tell if learning is actually taking place.  If teachers consider adopting this unit design, they will find that with every lesson that they create they are able to answer the question of 'why they are doing what they are doing'.
                My favorite part of this class was visiting the NC Museum of History and the NC Museum of Art.  It was incredibly beneficial to tour these museums with my professor in order to envision how a field trip could be made to either one of these sites.  I had never considered before just how lucky we are to have these resources right in our backyard!  Surprisingly, I had the best time at the NC Museum of Art.  Our docent was extremely helpful, and I could easily picture using this museum as an integrative resource in my units.  I was astonished with how much this museum has to offer.  It features a Rodin exhibit with thirty sculptures and one of two Judaic exhibits in the whole country!!  To not use these museums as field trips would be a waste.  I personally can not wait to plan lessons and trips to each of these museums for my first grade students this coming Fall!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Reward Systems in the Classroom

The topic of my blog post for this week is reward systems.  Differentiated reward systems are seen in classrooms throughout the U.S. When teachers create their classroom management, they must consider consequences for interfering behavior and then also consequences for positive behavior.  Students need a consistent system for both positive and negative reinforcement that they can relate to and comprehend.  A reward system is a great way to give positive reinforcement to those students who show positive behavioral and academic choices.  Through my experiences in the classroom, I have seen many examples of reward systems.  One example that I have seen is teachers hand out dollars to students who make good choices and then at the end of the week students can spend those dollars in the classroom treasure box.  Another example is the teacher gives her students tickets for good choices and then the students put the tickets into a jar to be picked on Friday to go to the treasure box.  Another component of this specific reward system is when the class's tickets reach a certain line on the jar then the whole class gets a reward.  I like this component because it is rewarding the entire class for a series of positive choices.  In my own classroom, I think I will have a reward system based on each student and based on the class.  I like the second example's system and would envision something similar in my classroom.  To my reward system, I would also add that whenever the student receives tickets she or he should write it in their agenda to their parents.  I have seen this technique before and I really like it because students get excited about letting their parents or guardians know that they behaved and worked well that day.  Ultimately, I would like the students to be working towards a reward that is not materialistic, but is intrinsic.  When students are intrinsically motivated to make positive behavioral and academic choices, they are able to begin self-regulating their behavior and performance.  Self-regulation will be the ultimate goal of whatever reward system (and consequence system) that I will create one day in my classroom.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

"Taking a Trip Through Our Government!"

The title of this blog post is the title of my hook lesson that I have created for my group's UbD unit plan.  I am extremely excited about this 5th grade lesson plan because it is an interactive lesson that makes great use of  a Web 2.0 tool.  The overall goal for this lesson is to spark student interest in government.  In order to achieve this objective, this lesson plan transforms a classroom into an airplane flying to the capitol of the United States and the capitol of North Carolina--thanks to Google Earth.  Through this extremely neat online resource, the teacher is able to guide the students to buildings in each city that house the different branches of government.  The rationale behind this lesson is that students will be able to visualize where our three branches of government function both locally and nationally.  This lesson allows students to be able to see places that they might not normally get to see from a super neat street level view.

And the coolest part of this lesson is made possible by Google Earth.  When the teacher reaches the White House, the last stop on the trip, you are actually able to go INSIDE the White House to show the students a virtual tour.
In order to get inside the white house, click on the yellow man seen in the right side of the screen.  Then drag him inside the White House and release.  You should now be looking at a picture similar to this:

I randomly stumbled upon this virtual tour, and it astonished me.  I hope I will get a similar reaction from my students during this lesson!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Diversity in Social Studies

When thinking back to my social studies education as a learner in elementary school, I remember studying history through a textbook.  In my mind, history was a dull, boring subject that didn't impact me whatsoever.  It wasn't until college when I finally started noticing all of the topics that we didn't learn in my early years of schooling.   Minorities and those with different perspectives were left out of my education.  We simply focused on major cultures, societies and ethnicities when discussing history.  Schools have begun attempting to promote the learning of diverse cultures specifically with Black History Month and Hispanic History Month, but some teachers only mention these minorities during those months.  It is my goal as a teacher to make sure that voices and perspectives of minorities are represented in my social studies lessons year-round.  Students will be reading books and primary sources about or by minorities as well as learning in the classroom with their diverse peers.  We must educate our students that diversity is a positive that creates differences in our society that are to be respected by others.  I want my students to be comfortable sharing information about their lives and not feeling shy about others being critical of their point of view or opinion.  For specifically, ELLs and students with disabilities, I plan on including their diverse backgrounds in the classroom, and I am hopeful that they will share information about their lives with our classroom community.  I would also make sure that I find material and content that has interest  and connections to each of my students so that each student knows his or her perspective is important in my classroom.  This is why finding literature and media from minority perspectives is so essential to elementary social studies.  Students need to learn about the biases in history and how not all people are affected by history the same one way.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

UbD in Our Current Education System

In my social studies class this summer session, we are learning about how to create unit plans through Understanding by Design (UbD).  UbD is a framework of research-based practices that have been proven effective in helping teachers develop instructional activities that promote high levels of student achievement.  This type of teaching is one provides teachers with the ability to provide students with essential content understanding and multiple forms of assessment to present their understanding.  I personally really like this framework because I am required to consider the 'why?' when creating lessons and activities...something that is often left out by a lot of teachers when lesson planning.

However, there are a few challenges to UbD which could be the reason why it is not apparently widespread around schools.  One challenge is that this framework is complex and requires teachers to modify their original lesson plan frameworks.  Sometimes teachers are not accustomed to thinking about the 'big picture' when planning lessons, and this idea of the 'big picture' is a critical component of UbD.  This change of thinking will require teachers to be trained how to plan units according to UbD.  Thinking ahead to the future, UbD training sessions would be beneficial to all teachers since specifically in the areas of science and social studies teachers frequently unit plan collaboratively.

However, this framework is not one that can just be used in social studies and science.  The most advantageous aspect of UbD is how simple it is to plan interdisciplinary lessons.  This is where teachers can make up for the fact that too many teachers are not teaching social studies because it is not being tested.  UbD allows teachers to easily plan lessons that are across curriculums and domains to make the classroom a more authentic, meaningful learning environment.  Social studies for example can be found in math, literacy or even science lessons, and it is obvious that the teacher has planned for this interdisciplinary learning because of UbD.

What do y'all think about UbD?
Have you ever used or seen it used in a classroom?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Authentic Assessments to Match Authentic Tasks

During this summer, I have taken classes in both science and social studies content areas.  Through these classes, I have strengthened by understanding of effective assessment in the elementary classroom and how I can deliver assessments that show full student understanding.

When most people think of assessment, they are plagued with past memories of tests, pop quizzes, and standardized testing.  While these structures of assessments might help the teacher see which students have mastered the content, the teacher can not be 100% sure that a student has full content understanding.

According to the textbook we have been reading for social studies, Understanding by Design Guide to Creating High Quality Units, a student has full content understanding if she or he constructs big ideas in her or his mind through processes of inquiry, inference and rethinking in order to 'transfer' material learned across situations, places and times.  If teachers are expecting students to have this understanding for content in their classrooms, then teachers must learn to properly assess this understanding so that students are able to show their range of performance.  This is why performance tasks are one of the most effective assessment strategies that a teacher can use.  Typically this requires students to apply content learned to a new situation that they are not expecting or haven't seen before.  Students must use strategic thinking methods autonomously and must use habits of mind to persist with the taks and polis the work to suit purpose and audience.  Through an assessment such as this, a teacher is able to get much more insight into the students' knowledge to guarantee that they really understand versus only seem to understand.

In the areas of science and social studies, performance assessments are extremely applicable.  In these content areas, teachers are teaching authentic lessons to help students understand fundamental content that will be builded upon throughout their education.  It is only appropriate to assess students after these authentic lessons in an authentic manner that requires them to apply their understandings.  Performance assessments do just this!!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Power Tools Class Reflection

Over the course of the past two months I have learned an enormous amount about how to use Web 2.0 tools in the classroom.  These tools have the power to transform a classroom to a fun, engaging environment where students are not only learning critical content skills, but also crucial 21st century skills.

First, I would like to start with a self-reflection of this blog.  This is the first blog I have ever created, but I am glad that I did so before I got into the classroom.  Blogs are great ways for teachers to share educational resources, to update parents and students, and to self-reflect about their pedagogies.  With this blog project, I developed a niche for updating my followers on online resources such as gliffy, infuselearning and wikis.  I see myself using a blog in the future as a way to communicate with the students and parents in my class as well as a way to share and discuss resources with my fellow teachers.  I thought I did a really good job with the layout and design of my blog, and over time I developed a more engaging writing style.  This engaging writing style is something that I will definitely take away from this class because it keeps my followers coming back to read my updates and it facilitates discussion on my blog.

Another great tool for discussion that I really enjoyed from this class is our class webliography.  For this project, we created a wiki where my fellow classmates and I posted reviews and rubric scores for different technology resources.  This project was so beneficial that I see myself using it well into my teaching years.  I am hopeful that my classmates and I can stay in touch on this webliography and update each other on great technological finds.

During this class, I was also exposed to a new pedagogy style that is sweeping schools: flipping the classroom.  This classroom management technique is one that requires the students to listen to pre-made  lecture videos for homework.  Then the next day the class can focus on hands-on activities that require the students to apply skills learned from the videos.  I think this pedagogy style is extremely beneficial for both students and teachers.  Basically a classroom that is flipped is a classroom that is transparent--parents and students know exactly what you're teaching so there are no surprises.  Students are able to learn from the videos are that own pace, and teachers are able to give more direct attention to more students throughout class time.  It is difficult to argue against this pedagogy style.  I am planning to continue studying flipping the classroom to see how plausible it is in an elementary setting.  But overall, I can't wait to try out this new engaging, resourceful teaching style!

This class has been one where the products that we have created will serve us well throughout our teaching professions.  I wish that more teachers learned about the power tools that are available to classrooms now.  These tools have enormous potential for our students and the skills that they are learning.  We must remember that we are preparing our students for a technological age where they must possess both collaborative skills and technological skills.

Thanks for following me throughout this journey!!  I will try to keep posting throughout the rest of the summer!