Sunday, October 30, 2016

PBS Day!

Schools across the nation do a lot of things to encourage good behavior and learning habits in kids. We institute program after program to make a difference. A lot of time, these programs fall under their own weight because we don't constantly work at them to keep them going and improve them. I have been in many situations where we had a PBS (Positive Behavior Support) or PBIS (Positive Behavior Intervention and Support) program that didn't work because the application of the program was uneven. Some teachers and administrators in the school pushed it hard and others did nothing to support the program. They were destined for failure.

At East Naples Middle School, we have an impressive PBS program. Kids are encouraged everyday to do their best. Behavior expectations are taught explicitly, we celebrate achievement and we reward positive behaviors. Once a month, we have a grade-level awards assembly to celebrate the kiddos who achieved great things during the previous month. This regular recognition system allows kids to see tangible recognition for their hard work. Roughly every six weeks, we also have a PBS day. Our PBS day is a half day when kids can choose their activity and go play for that half day. It is based on criteria determined beforehand and kids are aware of the expectation.

Tomorrow is our second PBS day of the year. In the afternoon, kids will go outside to play soccer, basketball, and run track while other kiddos will be in the computer labs playing games or working on projects. The kids get to choose. There will also be snacks, common student areas and other bonuses for kids. It is a really cool day for the students.

This program is applied evenly and consistently. Our principal laid out the expectation and all teachers are on board. We organize the activities each time and set things in motion. This is a team effort and it pays off in a good school climate, happy kids and happy teachers. The way the PBS program at East Naples Middle School is done is a good model for other schools.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

More Bang for the Buck with Kindles

Every teacher tries to stretch a dollar. ELA teachers have it particularly tough because we are constantly building great classroom libraries. A classroom library is essential for kids. They need to see books around them all of the time. Their environment has to be language-rich and accessible. Kids need to be able to immerse themselves in books, pile them on their desks and rummage through them in order to find the perfect books for themselves. I encourage all of this.

Starting at a new school this fall, I had zero books in my classroom library. Through some diligent shopping at thrift shops and used bookstores, I've been able to accumulate a few hundred titles. Kids have been reading many of them ravenously. We have our very popular titles and we have some that I thought would be more popular but are not. Oh well, maybe some kids will discover them later in the year.

Over the past few years, I had built up a Kindle e-book library of over 120 books. These books stay attached to my "school" account so that I can access them anywhere. My "school" Amazon account is a second account that I set up for all of my school purchases. It is not a school e-mail; it is a second Gmail account that I use for school purposes. Anytime I have a Kindle or the Kindle app, I can access any of these e-books by logging in on Amazon. Easy peasy.

Since August, I have been hunting around on Ebay and Amazon for inexpensive Kindles. I've lucked out. I was able to buy ten Kindles for between fifteen and thirty dollars each. Having these ten Kindles in class allows ten kids at a time to access any of those 120+ books that I have. Amazon allows you to register many devices to the same e-mail address (account) and put the same book on up to six devices at the same time. That means that six kids can read the same book simultaneously. Now, I get my Kindle e-books when they are on sale and I never spend more than 2.99 for a title. If you're patient, the books that you want will go on sale at some point. and the Amazon Kindle Daily Deal e-mail are both helpful for me to see what is on sale each day. I subscribe to both. So, for 2.99, and sometimes less, I can have six kids reading the same book. Those books never go away, never get destroyed and never get lost. That's what I call stretching a dollar!

So far this year, the program has been awesome. The kids take good care of the Kindles and always check in to see if one is available. Management is a breeze. I sticker each Kindle with a "Return to Don Eckert, Room 39, East Naples Middle School" label and a sticker identifying which Kindle it is (Spiderman, Star Wars, Hello Kitty, etc). On a part of our whiteboard, I write the Kindle (Spiderman) and the name of the student who has checked it out (Aracely). When Aracely returns the Kindle, I erase her name and check it out to the next kiddo on the waiting list. On and on we go. If a student has kept a Kindle for an inordinate amount of time, I will check in with them to see if they are still reading it or ask for it to be returned.

While most of the kids are excited about the Kindles, many kiddos still prefer the paper books. That is why it is essential for me to keep beefing up our classroom library. The search for great, cheap (or free) YA Lit books goes on. It's kind of fun, like a treasure hunt. I will be happily hunting for the rest of the year! Fun times.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Wonder Wall

I've seen a lot of great educators use a Wonder Wall in class. It is a student space to dream, wonder, ponder and question. A dedicated white board is transformed into the musings of the students. It is a way for kiddos to share their questions, see others' thinking and get ideas. Wonder walls are great additions to any classroom. I always liked the idea but never had the space to give over to the students. In my new room this year, I have tons of space. We have a white board that runs the length of the classroom. That board is our student space. Each week or two, I ask a question or put a title on that board. The kids have time to fill in their answers, questions and thoughts. Some kids make a big deal about it and some hang after the bell a few minutes to sneak their comment on the board. Either way, kids are participating. For the most part, the comments remain anonymous.

Kids do have ideas, thoughts and questions. Sometimes we don't spend enough time asking kids their opinions and thoughts, but they're there. I think when kids see that their thoughts are valued, they see themselves differently. They see that they are an integral part of the class. They see that their ideas have an audience. They see that their learning is respected as much as anyone else's.

One of my goals this year is for kids to see themselves differently. I want them to see themselves as serious learners who are in school to develop their talents and ideas. The only thing that my group of kiddos lacks is confidence. I don't know how much their learning, ideas and talents have been valued in the past, but they severely lack confidence as students. One of the things that I've learned over that past few decades is that confident learners will learn more because they will try new things and make attempts in class. They are prepared to be wrong and they don't mind if they are. At least they will try. Students who lack confidence will not try because they fear being wrong. Once these kiddos have more confidence, they will take more shots in class and by doing so, learn more. Our Wonder Wall is a good way for students to begin gaining the confidence they need to further their development as learners.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

We Have to Dream!

School is a place of routines. We establish routines at the beginning of the year, making sure that kids know what they are doing and when they should do it. However, on many occasions spontaneity trumps routine. Thursday in class was one of those times. I had planned to show the kids Google Cardboard and let them experiment a little with the sets. Well, we experimented, and experimented and experimented. The second half of class was unintentionally devoted to finding apps, troubleshooting Google Cardboard and sharing our learning. It was noisy, it was collaborative and it was fun.

Kids get a lot out of their reading and writing in class but we also are responsible for showing kids a lot of the technology that is available. In order to compete with kids in schools all over the country, we have to immerse kids in as much technology use as possible. I take every opportunity to bring in tech, introduce apps, and use different technology elements in class. Already we have ten Kindles up and running, each with access to over 120 e-books that I've purchased over the years. Kids love the Kindles and read voluminously on them. Google Cardboard was another opportunity to show kids what is out there and available to them.

I don't introduce these things to kids just because I want them to be "wow'd". I introduce these things to kids so they can see what is available and maybe see themselves creating the next wave of technology devices. I want kids to dream about one day inventing the next Google Cardboard device. I want them to think creatively and maybe take ideas from several different technology pieces they've been exposed to and come up with an original spin on the existing technology.

We have to dream! The more ideas that kids are exposed to, the more ideas run through their minds. New worlds are opened for them and they have a much more well-rounded base knowledge upon which to draw. At Hixson Middle School, I had a little time each week that I called Creative Genius. During that time, I showed kids products and innovations created and invented by people all over the world. From solar highways to powder puff solar lights, these kids were amazed with the elegance and simplicity of other people's ideas. I believe that kids need to see these kinds of things and also gain the audacity to try their hands at inventing their own ideas. We have to show kids big ideas in order for them to think big. Now, no seventh grader may achieve a transformational invention this year. That is not the expectation. What I want them to do is internalize that big ideas are achievable and they have the supportive environment and resources to take a shot at their own big ideas. Maybe it will happen this year or maybe it will happen in ten years. The important thing is that they see themselves as individuals who have the capacity to dream big and maybe transform those dreams into reality.

School is not just a place to learn skills and content. School is a laboratory of learning. It is a place where kids should be dreaming big everyday, saying to themselves, "One day, I'm going to..." That is the stuff of learning. Who knows what will trigger those dreams in our kiddos? The important thing is to expose kids to enough cool things that they connect with something in a big way. The goals they set, even promises they make to themselves, give purpose and structure to their educational lives. We have to coach that attitude in our kids, nurture their dreams and point them in the right direction. It is amazing to see what kids can do in that kind of environment.