All Treats and No Tricks!

booWith Halloween only a few days away, I was tempted to provide a few “tricks” in this week’s post but decided that I would resist that temptation and only hand out “treats” for your enjoyment.

  • The first item was passed along to me by a colleague and adds to the growing list of articles addressing the topic of multi-tasking and technology. Don’t Look Now! How Your Devices Hurt Your Productivity.
  • The Faculty Focus website had two nice articles this week that look at topics that are common in discussions of teaching these days. The first one Teaching Critical Thinking: Some Practical Points looks at a skill that we all talk about but most of us have a difficult time actually teaching.
  • Finding Signs of Progress When Learning is Slow looks at one of my favorite topics, namely, effortful learning and how difficult it can be for students.
  • The last “treat” this week is a longer piece that is a good primer on the topic of Design Thinking (DT). DT has become very popular in education circles of late and provides a framework and way of thinking that can be used in every discipline. This primer is quite thorough and includes a bunch of excellent links for those who find the topic intriguing. Well worth the time!

Is it really 2015 already?


Friday 4: Another year to get better

I am not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions since I am not good at keeping them. I do, however, take time at the beginning of a new year to reflect on the year past and set some personal and professional goals for the upcoming year. I like the word “goals” rather than “resolutions” because, in my mind, goals can evolve and change as the circumstances change as opposed to resolutions that seem so rigid and unforgiving. Goals are also a desirable destination unlike many resolutions which are simply a laundry list of bad habits that one resolves to not do during the new year…too negative for me. I certainly hope that you have taken some time in these first few weeks of 2015 and thought about some personal professional goals that you are working towards. As teachers, we should all have things that we are working to improve or add to our educator toolbox. If you have not yet committed to some goals for 2015, perhaps this week’s Friday 4 will give you a few ideas to consider. Enjoy.

  • Using video to improve practice is a piece that appeared recently on the Teaching Channel website that makes a good case for why you should routinely videotape yourself in class. I am a huge believer of the power of videotaping and would encourage everyone to try it at least once in the coming year.
  • Top 10 Evidence Based Teaching Strategies is a piece from the Pinnacle Education website that I ran across that is spot on when it comes to impactful teaching strategies.
  • Why Understanding Obstacles is Essential to Achieving Goals is a piece from the Mind/Shift website that may be helpful when working with students or advisees who are in need of some motivation.
  • The Power of a Teacher is a piece from the Center for Teaching Quality that is a good reminder of the incredible responsibility we have as teachers, coaches and dorm folks in the lives of adolescents.


How many days until vacation?

4fingers For most educators, this is that crazy time of the year between Thanksgiving break and the winter holiday break. You know the drill…try to balance the desire to get a complete “unit” in before break with the inevitable onslaught of obstacles such as special schedules, holiday events, weather related cancellations of part or all of the school day and the general craziness that surrounds the holidays. If you teach seniors, you can throw in the emotional rollercoaster that comes with the release of early college acceptances.

Regardless of how frenetic the next week or two get for you, you have to remember to take time for yourself and recharge your professional batteries. To that end, I have 4 items this week that may serve as your elixir. I have two neat tools that recently crossed my desk that you may find could add a little pizzazz to your lessons in 2015. Why not spend some time over the winter break playing with a new toy (er, I mean “tool”)? The final two items are more reflective in nature and may help you to focus on the big picture for a bit and not get so caught up in the day to day rat race that teaching can sometimes feel like. Without further ado…

  • Have you ever wondered how you or your students could create those snazzy looking infographics that you frequently see in magazines or online? Well, there is a free online tool that can help you or your students actually create your own infographics. Piktochart is a website that will walk you through the steps to create visually appealing presentations that “make information beautiful.” Thanks to my colleague Meg Blunden for sharing this cool tool.
  • Tour Builder is a new way to show people the places you’ve visited and the experiences you had along the way using Google Earth. It lets you pick the locations right on the map, add in photos, text, and video, and then share your creation.” Think “virtual field trip” and you have a sense of what this tool allows you or your students to create. There is a brief video on the site from a history teacher who uses Tour Builder in his classroom that can be seen here.
  • Fostering Reflection is a piece from a past issue of Educational Leadership, the professional journal of ASCD that is a good reminder of a frequently omitted aspect of professional learning.
  • Golden Rules for Engaging Students in Learning Activities is a piece from the Edutopia website that will allow you to put your “reflective hat” on after the last article and put it to use.  😉


End of term time tidbits

4fingers For students and teachers, the month of November is a time of transition. The fall term is winding down which, for many of us, means that our students are preparing for exams and we are all eagerly looking forward to a well-deserved break that comes with the Thanksgiving holiday. To celebrate the end of fall, this week’s edition of the Friday Four features 2 items that all teachers can use with their students to help them be more reflective about the past term and to best prepare for any upcoming exams. With the prospect of a bit of down time on the horizon, I have also included 2 items for you to ponder over the mini break; one is a podcast interview with Elizabeth Green, the author of “Building a Better Teacher”, and the other is a call for proposals for an upcoming CAIS event.

  • Prompts to Help Students Reflect on How They Approach Learning is a piece that comes from the Faculty Focus website. The article provides many good prompts that can be used with students as they finish up the fall term to encourage them to be more metacognitive about their own learning.
  • Making it stick is a podcast of an interview with one of the authors of the book “Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning”. Students would be well served to employ several of the techniques mentioned in the podcast as they prepare for their upcoming final exams, and we should be sharing these tips with them.
  • What teachers need is another podcast from American RadioWorks that features Elizabeth Green. You will recognize Green from the New Yorker article that I included in last week’s Friday Four.
  • The CAIS (Connecticut Association of Independent Schools) is holding the annual “Teachers Helping Teachers” workshop on January 29 and is now accepting proposals. This workshop is a popular event every year and is a wonderful opportunity to learn something new or to share something with fellow colleagues. I encourage you to take a look at the sessions that were offered in January 2014 and submit a proposal for a session for this year.


An October Cornucopia

4fingersIt has been a busy week filled with videotaping colleagues in the classroom, attending a CAIS conference on Experiential Learning in the Science Classroom and participating in several Connected Educator Month events online. I ran across a bunch of interesting items during the week that do not really fit into a single theme so I am not going to try and pretend that they do. Here are a few…


Students ask for Metacognitive tools

A colleague and I recently engaged our students in a discussion about their most recent quiz and heard some interesting things that inspired me to write this post. We were seeking feedback on why they had not done as well as we had hoped on the quiz and what we might be able to do in order to make it more likely that they would be able to demonstrate their mastery of the material. Not surprisingly, the students had plenty of suggestions! A little context might help to understand/interpret some of their comments. First off, we teach at Loomis Chaffee, a private day/boarding school where the vast majority of our students are highly motivated, enjoy school and are pretty bright. (Not a bad combo!) The class is Molecular Biology, a two term advanced course for seniors and a few juniors that is lab intensive. The two sections have 14 and 15 students, and we use a flipped model predominantly in the class, producing video podcasts for most of the initial content delivery.

Both of us were pleased with the discussion and heard some interesting thoughts from the students, many of which had a common theme; namely, that the students clearly wanted more metacognitive tools at their disposal prior to taking the quiz. Some of the comments included the following:

  • “I was not sure exactly what to study?”
  • “I did not know what I didn’t know.”
  • “It was difficult for me to know if I was truly prepared.”
Most of the comments like these were followed by qualifiers that were a good reminder to us as teachers. The students cited things we had done in the past, either in this course or in Microbiology this fall, that allowed them to better self-assess their level of mastery. More specifically, we have included or done the following things in the past that were particularly helpful for the students:
  • included a list of “questions you should be able to answer at this point” into the handouts for a lab or in the video podcasts.
  • we used “clickers” (Student response systems) more frequently in the fall as a way for students and us to gauge their level of mastery.
  • We have used Google Docs to have students report their progress in an experiment that stretches out over a week or more. This has helped many students keep track of where we are in a longer experiment.
The students clearly were yearning for ways to assess their own level of mastery along the path to the summative assessment and we had not provided quite as many “formal” opportunities as we have in the past. Some of this was intentional as we try to teach them how to become more independent learners and figure out the ways for self-assessment that work best for them. After the students were done giving feedback, we were able to shift the discussion to looking at what their responsibilities are as they work towards mastery of a topic. Their list included:
  • being sure to review the plan for the day before coming to class so that if they have questions, they can ask them in class.
  • thinking more actively about why we are performing each step in the experiment and not just following the procedure blindly.
  • making sure that they read/watch the background material before we begin an experiment and then again after they are done making sure to focus on “what they don’t know or understand.”
  • actively thinking about what types of questions we might ask that would require them to demonstrate mastery of the material. At this point, they realize that we rarely ask any regurgitation type questions.
All in all, the discussion was a productive one that will result in a more conscious effort on our part to build in ways for the students to self-assess their progress and the students’ increasing realization that learning is hard work and requires them to be active participants in the process. It was also a good reminder to us that despite how sophisticated and mature our students are, they are still very much novices when it comes to learning.
I welcome and encourage your comments.