Thursday, August 31, 2017

One Year in AP: Contextualization

By Mark Heintz


A step back if you will.  This year, I have two main focuses. Two driving questions that I have in my mind while making decisions.  They are:
  • How do I know if my students know? 
  • How do I get them to know if they know?  
Whether that is a skill or content, I want to know if they know it.   I no longer think it is acceptable for me to guess or get a feeling on whether or not they know it. Getting the students to know if they know it is down right hard, but I am really attempting to get to a point where the students can recognize their understandings or progress on their skill levels and content knowledge.  Therefore, the purpose of this year of reflection is see how I make progress towards these two goals and elicit feedback from staff, students, and hopefully people who follow along in the journey.

Answer the Question

My focus this week was for students to be able to write two different types of short answer responses and learn the essential content of the Neolithic Period and the River Valleys Era.  Not only do I want the students to able to do the skills (in this case, write well) and know the content, I want them to be able to know if they know it.

 I approached the writing using the ACE acronym that I stole from Freeman-Pedia.  I love the simplicity of it. ACE keeps them focused on the task at hand and make connections to how they would be assessed.

Cite Specific Evidence

How do I know that the students know the content and can do the skills?  Well, the clip below is one document on the progress towards my goal. To address my week's focus I prompted the students to write about how their previous academic journey's would help them or hurt them this year.  To do this, they wrote in the way they would be assessed at the end of the week with a new and content-specific short answer response.

Their first responses revealed a lot about their writing, but also their previous journey.  To help the students know how they progressing on the skill, I asked them provide feedback to their peers on their work.  Linda Ashida captured some of this process and you can watch that video below.

I noted a few timestamps to help with the viewing and citation of evidence.

I used Teamshake to get students into pairs
I explain ACE
I explain how citing evidence needs to be providing specific evidence.  
I explain how to explain.
Students give feedback to other students. They are underlining and annotating.
I provide whole class instruction and the cognitive research
Students evaluating each other's work
Explanation of new context-moving to content specific -Egypt and Mesopotamia
Students reading through information on River Valley Civilizations
Redirect whole class to provide feedback and help with recall

Here are two samples from the content-specific short answer response at the end of the week.

Explanation of the Evidence

I two content quizzes that were fill in the blank. It covered all the objectives and were fill in the blanks.  The kids did really well on these and they proved that they knew the content.  Whew! I think I got that one. 

The writing is a lot harder.  In the two samples above, the first student did what the task asked.  The student addressed the question in the first sentence by stating a change from Paleolithic and Neolithic societies.  The student brought in the specific evidence of warriors, artisans, and elites to validate that point. Finally, the student stated agricultural surpluses and population changes led caused this change.  
The second student failed to give an explanation as to why the change occurred.  This is where most of the student ended up.  To be honest, I am completely happy with their progress!  They knew the facts and they were able to correctly identify the skills.  Keep in mind, that the national average for a short answer out of 3 points is right around 1.  It is incredibly hard and to have the students get through two of the parts is incredible progress.  

Reflection and Impact

Changes for next year, I will only give the students one of the short answer. I will model one more with them before they take the assessment.  

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Authentically Engaging Students in 1st 5 Days

By Kim Miklusak

In AP Language we decided to do an assignment right off the bat that would not only help us get to know our students and what is important to them, but also help them dive right in to rhetoric and authentic writing.  This year students will be participating in the NY Times Student Editorial Writing Contest.  For this project, students will write an editorial on a topic of their choosing, 450 words, with at least 2 pieces of research.

We reviewed the assignment with students, they read the NYT winners from last year, and compiled a list of skills they noticed made the editorials successful.  We then brainstormed topics we were interested in with the people at our table.  To start narrowing down our topic, we got students up on their feet, doing a "speed dating" activity that I have seen our foreign language teachers do, specifically Linda Ashida.

One side of the room talked about the topic they were interested in; the other side of the room asked questions to help narrow their focus and ultimately reach a call to action.  After every 30 seconds, students would switch and continue to speak about their topic.  They ended the activity by returning to their seats and debriefing with their table.

From their students wrote their first draft of their editorial.  Over the next few days they shared with their peers, receiving preliminary feedback on audience and purpose.  This week students will revise their appeal to strengthen their appeal to ethos, next week pathos, the final week logos--ultimately they will write one final draft in which they find the appropriate balance for their specific call to action.  Our goal is for students to write several drafts over the coming months, incorporating what they are learning in AP Lang, but also using what they are leaning from the writing process and applying it to their classroom reading and writing as well.

Please follow us at the hashtag #1YrInEng to see how we are doing!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Build Community & Problem Solve at the Same Time

By Linda Ashida

  • Are you searching for answers to a question?
  • Do you need fresh ideas to respond to a challenge?
  • Are you looking for new ways to build community and foster teamwork in your classroom?
  • Are you exploring new strategies for a lesson? 
  • Do you imagine lessons where students do more of the talking and learn from one another?

Did you answer yes to one of the questions above?

Then the Reciprocity Ring Exercise could be for you!


Joe Bush led us in this team-building and problem-solving activity for our second Team on Tuesdays. You can learn more about this weekly learning exchange series from our previous post: Connect with Students from the Start.

First Joe explained the concept for the activity and how it has been used in business for brainstorming and problem-solving. He then shared how he has used the exercise in his Leadership Through Service class.  The students posed questions and leveraged the ideas of their peers to share answers, solutions and resources. After doing the activity with his students, he realized how valuable it could be for teachers to use in their classes.

The Process 

Simple Steps in a short period of time (15-30 minutes)

1) Write one or two questions on the wall.
2) Rotate to read the questions of your peers.
3) Share ideas or resources.
4) Continue rotating to learn from the ideas and responses of peers, and add any new ideas.
5) Debrief as a group (on both the process and the content shared)
  • What are the takeaways? 
  • What will be your next steps?

The Result

With simple steps in a short period of time:
  • We left with new ideas, solutions and resources to our own questions.
  • We were inspired by the questions and responses of our peers.
  • We brainstormed ideas for using this same activity in our own classrooms to foster a learner-centered environment; to get our students collaborating with their peers for answers to questions or solutions to problems.
  • We established new connections with our colleagues.
  • We made plans for follow-up conversations and connections in each others' classrooms.


See the video and photos below to get a better idea of what the activity looked like.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

One Year in AP: Week One

By Mark Heintz

Last year I attempted to blog about my class and a newborn thwarted those attempts.  He is adorable and it was totally worth the failed endeavor.  However, I am attempting it again! To help, I tweet once a day from my AP World class to capture the essence of the class and a few pictures to visually record the day.  Then once a week, I will add more context through the blog.  You can follow me on twitter with the hashtag #1YearAP.  Furthermore, Linda Ashida is coming into my classroom at least once a week to visit, observe, and help in the reflection process.  She visited my class on the first day of school we sat down to reflect on the week.

Getting to Know the Students

For the students, school started on a Wednesday this year. I make the attempt to learn all of my students name on the first day.  I am terrible at pronouncing student's name and a few years ago I starting purposefully saying all the names wrong like Key and Peele's substitute teacher.  It really helps me remember all the names and helps build relationships with the kids.  They keep whispering to each other if I am doing it on purpose.  I am pretty good and being dead pan, which goes a long way with keeping up the performance.

 Interpreting History from the Start

Once I go through the names, I want the students to start interpreting history themselves.  I use images of the Venus statue and Taylor Swift. I have the students come up comparisons of the two and then we start to guess what life was like when the Venus was created.

Day two started with a 32 word summary of a short reading on the Paleolithic Era.  The students struggled with the word restriction which gets them to think about what words are the most important. Then students moved to other groups and provided feedback on the evidence they used and word choice.  The students read another quick excerpt, I hope you are seeing a pattern with the class. We read a lot in class.  After reading they pulled out evidence to support a claim about how the Neolithic Era was a significant turning point in human history.


For Friday, the students attempted to draw the world with the regions from memory.  The students were in groups and were asked not to talk as they attempted to make their drawing.  Then the students rotated to another group's table and gave feedback on the drawings.  Then I stood in front of the classroom and had them guess about my life based on what I was wearing and physical appearance.  We discussed how one item may not be enough to validate a claim.  It was impressive what they came up with. I was wearing a cross-country shirt, have a farmer's tan, and am fairly thin.  They figured with these three observations, they could safely assume I am a runner.  Then they turned to a partner and did the same process to each other.  Finally, they read (yes!) and excerpt from Jared Diamond and determined whether or not he validated his claim with enough evidence.  

There is the week in review! I hope to have you read next week.

Read week two here.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Critical Thinking on the First Day of School

By: Rachel Barry

Following up on yesterday's post on the ways teachers build relationships with and among students on the first day of school, I wanted to share a more in-depth look at my first day of classes.  

This past spring and summer, numerous math teachers around the district embarked on an opportunity to take a massive open online course (MOOC) from Stanford University called How to Learn Math for Teachers.  This course focused on how to change student mindsets towards mathematics, pedagogical strategies to promote active learning, and build critical thinking skills.  (Small plug...there were about 80 teachers across the district - math, science, special education - who took this course, and it was AWESOME!).  Prior to taking the class, I felt that I had a strong understanding of how to change the focus in class from grades to learning, however, this class gave me numerous more strategies to emphasize this more through how I communicate and how I create effective classroom activities.  Here are some activities that I did on the first day of classes to both build relationships as well as challenge students to think critically.

Would You Rather...?
In groups, I had students develop a "Would You Rather...? statement, one per group, and wrote it on their tables (see whiteboard tables here).  Then, the students rotated around the groups and voted at each table.  
In my AP Statistics class, I took this a step further and had students discuss the expected outcome prior to voting.  This is a key concept of statistics, so I loved being able to bring it up on the first day.  In this class, we continued the first day by performing a simulation where they worked in groups, getting to know one another, and getting introduced to statistics.

In my regular Algebra classes, I had the students calculate the percentages of tallies for each.  It was interesting to see the various methods that students used (proportions, decimals, etc) and whether or not the set up two equations or if they calculated one and then subtracted that from 100 to get the other.  We then had a class discussion on how many math problems can be solved using different steps or methods.  

This lead perfectly into my next activity...

Number Sense Activity
For this activity, I put this problem on the board and showed students how to solve this using traditional methods.  Then I challenged them in their groups to come up with FOUR other ways to solve this problem.  
Some students hit the ground running, while others sat back.  It was interesting when most groups got two right away (15 + 15 + 15 + 15 and 4 + ... + 4), and then they hit a road block.  Some students immediately started drawing (a grid of 15 x 4, four circles with 15 dots in each), and others sat back and observed.  Many students also separated or broke down the numbers (10 x 4 = 40, 5 x 4 = 20, 40 + 20 = 60 or 15 x 2 = 30, 15 x 2 = 30, 30 + 30 = 60).  The last method, though only two of my three classes saw it, was time.  

As groups were finishing up, I was having students share at the front of the board.  I have always struggled getting students (probably me coming up with excuses as to why it may not work) to do this regularly in class, so I decided to just start it on the first day, as a class norm.

I repeated this method with 25 x 7, and the students were much quicker, using other groups' methods.  Many students then saw the connection to money.

Rectangle Activity
For the next activity, I drew this figure on the board and asked students "How many rectangles are in this figure?"
Now that students were acquainted with one another, the brainstorming started much quicker.  In each class, after about a minute or two had passed, a student asked "Is a square a rectangle?"  YES!  Exactly what I'd hoped!  We then had a (short) discussion about the importance of asking questions and challenging me throughout the course by asking "Why?"  Then students continued working.  It was very cool to see students using colors, breaking down the figure, etc.  (If you want to know, there are 18!)

Fractions Activity
The last activity was for me to formatively assess students' prior knowledge of fractions.  Our first unit focuses on simplifying exponents and radicals, and if students do not fully understand the basics of fractions, they will struggle when we throw in variables, exponents, and square roots.  

I wrote random fractions on a bunch of notecards.  Each student was given a notecard and a partner.  Each pair was given a die.  Students were to roll the die, and if the die landed on an odd number, they added the fractions, while if it landed on an even number, they subtracted the two fractions.  Once they solved for the correct answer, one person traded their notecard with one of another group.  They repeated the process.  Next, they used the same notecards and rolled the die with an odd number meaning that they would multiply the fractions, and an even number would mean dividing the fractions.  They switched cards, and repeated.  

Finally, students opened their iPads, logged into Schoology and pulled up a Google Form survey.  In this survey, I ask them both routine questions (when is your lunch/study hall, who is your counselor, when is your birthday, etc.) and getting to you know questions (what are your future career goals, is there anything that I should know that would help me better teach you?)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Connect with Students from the Start: Team on Tuesday Kick Off.

By Linda Ashida

Today the Collab Lab kicked off the first of our Teaming on Tuesdays, a weekly learning exchange in various formats that will include Spark Sessions, Show and Tell, Lesson Demos, and Book Chats.

We welcome all EG staff to join us in the Collab Lab on Tuesdays during the morning professional learning time. We will also connect with colleagues across District 214 and beyond on future Tuesdays via Google Hangout and Periscope. (More on that soon!) Each session will be framed around a different focus question that will drive our discussions and sharing. All staff are invited to share topics of interest for future weeks.

We anticipate that these conversations will be a springboard to future collaborations: connecting again one-on-one or in small groups, and visiting classes. 

In fact, that already happened with the 12 staff who came together to share! Two participants invited colleagues to stop by their classes the same day to see examples of the strategies they shared. Three others dropped by the Collab Lab later in the day to share how they were  planning to implement an idea they heard from another colleague! Talk about multiplying our learning from just a 40-minute exchange of ideas!

If you weren't able to join us for this first Teaming on Tuesday, no worries! Of course, as always, we used the whiteboard wall to document the ideas that everyone shared. We will keep them on the wall at least for a few days so that you can stop by to get an idea or add a new idea of your own!

And . . . even without stopping by the Collab Lab, you can do the same with this very Collab Blog post: Get a new idea, or share one of your own in the comments below!

Read on to see what we learned today!

Today's guiding question: 

What do you do to build relationships with your students from the start?

Today's format: Show and tell.  

Round 1:  Each person takes 2 minutes to share their ideas with group. (This could also be done in a speed-dating format.)
Round 2: Follow-up conversation:
  • What works?
  • What challenges or question do we have? 
  • What are our next steps?
Wrap up: Call to action:
  • Keep the conversation going.
  • Consider sharing examples via Twitter or the Collab Blog 
  • Consider extending an invite to class to see strategies in action.

Ideas we shared:

Rachel Barry:  
Connect students in ice-breaker activities with varied prompts such as "Would you rather . . ? Use Team Shake to solve challenge problems. Rotate teams often. Remind students that mistakes are ok, in fact, important because we learn from them. 

Mark Heintz: 
Act as Substitute Teacher trying to figure out pronunciation of each name while taking attendance. Take notes to pronounce names correctly from start. Names are important.  On index cards students write answers to "get-to-know-you prompts. Mark uses these cards throughout the year call  and group students He keeps refers often to the cards to really get to know his students.

Tim Phillips:
Get-to-know-you activity with Claims. Throughout the year, students will use evidence to defend claims, so he starts they year with an activity to do this with non-academic prompts first. He also has students fill out a get-to-know-you survey,  including question: What can I do to help you be successful?"

Ricky Castro: 
One-on-one conferences with students. These conversations serve as a way to get to know students and prevent issues. Ricky talks with them about challenges from previous years and asks, "How can I help you?" He does a "Drop-the-Rug" team-building activity and name game. He starts year with Identity unit, so that embeds discussions that build relationships. Ricky is also considering plans to do home visits on Saturdays to involve parents as partners in solutions to best meet the needs of our students. More on that soon.
Mary Kemp:  
Students respond to get-to-know-you questions including: Something you'd like me to know about you? How are you as a learner? Successes? Challenges? These questions help her understand, and better respond to, the needs of the diverse learners in her classes. Mary also does problem-solving activities in teams, including a pass-back activity that she already invited us to see in her Physics class. Students work collaboratively to solve different problems and correct and revise with each pass-back that happens every 45 seconds. Check out this video clip the strategy in action!

Jim Arey:  
Team-building activities like egg-drop activity. He also does a map activity: asking students to identify: "Where is your family from?" Then they pair with a classmate and share. He does processing activities with talking circles, and Chiji cards. Jim also has his students maintain a Reflection Portfolio across the semester.
Amanda Lamorte:
Low-key get to know you activities. Take toilet paper sheets and share an idea for each sheet (interesting fact about you, etc.) Dice roll activity where each number corresponds to a category that they respond to. Can do with different kinds of candy, too.

Kim Miklusak: 
Speed-dating activity with editorial writing.  Students get to know one another at the same time that they are interacting with content. In this case, their topic ideas for editorials with questions from peers to probe and improve development of topic ideas. Use whiteboard tables for students to share ideas and rotate and learn from peers' ideas.In-depth survey that includes question, "What can I do, what should I do, to help you with .  .? "

Jessica Maciejewski:
Day 1 rotating stations: Prezi on Jessica (student watch to get to know her); assignment example completed by Jessica to see model and to see that she does the work she asks them to do (builds buy-in); a day-in-the life prompt (students share what is a day in their life like); and, improv activities.  Jessica has a book of improv activities if anyone is interested.  (And rumor has it she has a weekly improv show . . . )
Quinn Loch:
Students do an "All About Me" Spark videos. The first weeks they work in teams on fun problem solving challenges.  He invited us to his class the same day to see one in action:  Fortune Telling Fish, captured in the photos below:

Linda Ashida:
Speed-dating activity with varied get-to-know-you prompts. Marathon Pep-talk (Long journey of training, all different levels, can we all cross the finish line? yes! Training has to start long before and we have to commit to cross the finish line. . . ) Index cards with names of students and responses to questions that are referred to throughout the year and when talking with parents at conferences or during phone conversations.

Rita Thompson:
Rita stopped by a bit later in the day to share an activity that has a sginificant impact on the sense of community in her class. She has even noted fewer tardies to her class. She made changes in her "get-to-know-you" survey from previous years.  This year she invited them to share: dreams and ideas about careers; where in the world they would go if they could go anywhere; struggles; pride in an achievement, and more. 

Next steps

Let's keep the conversation going! Even if you didn't attend this Teaming on Tuesday session, consider sharing an idea of your own. And, if you read an idea you'd like to know more about, reach out to these colleagues in person or via their Twitter accounts (linked above with their names). Or, stop by the Collab Lab to chat with us.

The photos below give you an idea of the enthusiastic exchange of ideas we shared. We are looking forward to the Teaming on Tuesdays to come.

Do you have an idea to share? Feedback or a resource to share?  We'd love to hear from you! See us in person or leave a comment below!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

What happens in your classroom the first day of school that makes students run to be there the second day?

By Linda Ashida

What a great question!

This recent tweet by  Alice Keeler reminded me how important it is to consider what we do in our classes on the very first day.  Do we engage our students in such a way that they look forward to returning the next day?

Today on the first day of classes at Elk Grove High School, I realized the Physics team had an answer!

Eleanor Pattie invited me to her Physics class where teams of students were engaged in a problem-solving design activity. Eleanor credits fellow Physics teacher Phil Winter for suggesting the activity. Along with Eleanor and Phil, the other Physics teachers planned to do the same activity as well:  Mary Kemp, Chris Rogers, Tom Boczar and Peter Wang.

Here's what they told their students:  

The Challenge:

Design a free-standing chair using paper and masking tape with at least 4 legs and a back that can hold more books than any other team's chair.


Limited resources
Chair with at least 4 Legs and a back rest
Rise of leg must be at least 1 cm
Chair must hold weight of books for at least 5 seconds

Here's what I saw in Eleanor's class:

The Process:

Teams brainstormed and asked each other a lot of questions to decide how to best tackle the challenge with their limited supply of paper and tape. They came up with very different ideas and began testing them out. They tinkered, assessed and revised their ideas to decide on the best plan.


After trying out a few ideas, they began building.

After the chair building was complete, they began stacking the books, and assessing the integrity of the structure. Would it work?

Feeling confident, another group began stacking. Six books and preparing for more.

Time passed. More books.  Another group wondered. . .  28 books?!! Would it hold for five seconds? Oh the suspense!

Would it hold even more?!!!! 30 books?!!! The team steadied them for another five-second test.

Could they be outdone by another group?!

11 books . . . then three more . . .

23 books and counting!  But wait, those extra big books count for two!  That's 56!!!

The Result:

 Bravo!  The winning group of the day with 69 books atop their paper chair!!!!!!

From the very first day the students were thinking like physicists. The design challenge with constraints was a a problem solving activity that got them working in groups, asking questions, posing solutions, testing hypothesis and reflecting on their results.

All of that, and they had fun, too. I'm guessing they'll will be looking forward to going back to class tomorrow!

A shout out to the physics team for sharing their ideas, and Eleanor for inviting us in!