Default Settings

Computer programmers make choices on your behalf.  Usually the “default settings” are configured in a way that most people would want them, or at least are set so that the computer program is the simplest to operate.  Advanced computer users are quick to start making changes to the default settings:  they want programs installed in specific places, they want different programs to open certain files, and they want programs to behave in a precise way.  Altogether, they take control of their computer and tweak it to improve how it operates.

As I prepare for the first day of a new school year, I have been thinking about the “default settings” for a classroom.  When students enter my classroom each day throughout the first week, I feel like I’m installing a new program on my computer.  As I install the program I make choices on how the program will run – I can modify the default settings.  This process of modifying the default settings of a classroom is what makes teachers into “advanced users.”

Students already have default settings pre-programmed from day one.  In my case, these settings are the result of over 10 years of formal schooling, and from the social pressures of being a teenager.  Here’s one example:  Grade 9 students don’t like to share ideas publicly.  Why?  Because in their 10 years of learning, they have had relatively little opportunity to do so.  In addition, they have learned that it is best to protect yourself at all costs from looking awkward, vulnerable, or different.  As an “advanced user,” I know that if I hope to have discussions, debates, and active participation in my class, I will need to change this default setting.

These are some of the new default settings that I want my classroom to have:

  • contribution is always valued
  • struggling is okay – readiness, resilience, and resourcefulness pave the road to success
  • collaboration is key – working with new/different people is useful and interesting
  • character counts (“it’s nice to be nice”)

In my first week of school, the emphasis is not on curriculum but on building community.  Expose your students to the type of learning environments you want to use throughout the year.  Provide time for students to learn each others’ names; Get students to talk and share their experiences; Make them form groups – many different groups; Get students to move around.  Each activity that students participate in slowly changes the default settings.  Here is an example of activity I use to create a classroom expectations video with my students.

After a week of moving around, sharing, praising, and collaborating, I have changed the default settings of my classroom.  Students then come to class with a different mentality – A mentality I can really work with!

Image Credit:  Lollyman

A Photo Each Day

I was thinking today about how popular it is for people to be doing various “365 projects,” like taking a photo each day for a year and sharing them. I think there is tremendous benefit in capturing a photo each day for two main reasons: 1. It creates a tangible history of your life and it’s fun to look back on the little and big moments; 2. I think it might change how you go through your day because you are aware that the photo will one day be a reminder of who you were/where you were/what you were feeling.

It occurred to me that it would be great for students to participate in a “365 project” for my class (although it would only be 80-100 days for a semester-long course.) A lot happens in my class each day. Wouldn’t it be great if you had one or two students whose job it was to capture the essence of each day?   They would have to make decisions about what to take a photo of: If the students did a lab, they might take a picture of the lab apparatus; if the teacher talked the entire period, they might take a picture of the board note; if students were doing presentations, or there was an in class debate, or a video was shown, or the class went to an assembly, or there was a supply teacher, or researching in the computer lab – whatever it was, it would be captured!

The way I see it, the point of this exercise would not be as a “lesson recap,” rather it would be to inspire students to be more aware of their lives and the events that happen to them (especially events that encourage learning, personal growth and excitement).  Moreover, I would want students to feel they had the creative control over what the image would be given what class was like for them.  If they had a great class, not because of the lesson, but because a really great joke was shared between friends, then I would want to see the picture attempt to capture that.

I also think that the photo-per-day project would be a good way for teachers to reflect on their classroom teaching.  Looking back over a semester of photos that have been captured by students would be a very good way of getting a sense of what students experience in your classroom.  If almost every picture is a photo of the blackboard … I think that says a lot more than a thousand words about your teaching style!

I know that we are already a month into the new semester, but I think that I am going to try this idea out with my students.  For each of my courses, I already have a Ning social network where students blog and share videos/pictures regularly.  One of the great features of Ning is the ability to upload blogs/images/videos directly from a mobile smartphone by emailing the file to the social network.  This feature will make it really easy for my students to start a photo-per-day project and share their images with the rest of the class.

I’m looking forward to seeing what comes of this!

All images are from my cousin Kim, who did a 365 Project last year.  I think that she’s a fabulous photographer!  Check out her 365 here.

Video Supply Lessons

A few years ago, I came across this blog from Mr. Robbo called “How I Teach When I’m Away From Class,” and I thought it was a brilliant idea.  Basically, rather than leaving long and detailed written lesson plans for the supply teacher to read to the class, he records a short video of himself explaining what the students are expected to do.

I have used the technique a few times, and it is wonderfully successful.  My students have always responded well to it.  I think that seeing my face at the beginning of class helps students to remember that, even though I am not present today, I still very much want them to have a productive learning day.

The example video below is a “lesson plan” I left for my grade 10 Applied level Science class two weeks ago.  It was really important to me that I do the video lesson plan for this group of students because they generally do not respond well to change.  It was also still very early in the new semester and I wanted to reinforce the expectations we had been discussing at the beginning of the year.  (Have you ever noticed that even good students try to take advantage of supply teachers?  It seems they lose all sense of behavioural expectations.)  I also think that it’s great when you can show the students what they are going to be working on in class while you are away so there is no misunderstanding.

If I am organized ahead of time, I like to record my lesson videos at school and put them on the school network drive so it is easy for the supply teacher to show.  I have also put the video on a USB stick or, worst case scenario, uploaded the video to my website to be shown from there.

At the time when I recorded this video I could not find my digital camera, so I had to use my cell phone instead (which is why the quality is poor and the recording is so shaky).

As a precaution, I still type up basic instructions for the supply teacher so that they know what the video instructions are going to be about ahead of time.  This is also a good backup in case there is a tech issue and the video cannot be shown.

Hidden Curriculum

This past Thursday was the start of a new semester – a new group of students and a new opportunity make some changes to my teaching.  It’s always refreshing!  I have often said that one of the best parts of being a teacher in a semestered school is the chance to “reboot” twice a year.  You can build on all of the successes from the previous semester, and let all of your mistakes dissolve away.

Over the past few years, I have worked hard to refine my “Intro Day Presentation”  (although, it actually spans multiple days.)  I have written about this presentation in greater detail here.  The most recent addition to my presentation is a focus on the aspects of my classroom that I deem the “hidden curriculum.”

A hidden curriculum is often thought of as the “lessons” learned in an educational environment that were not openly intended.  According to Wikipedia, the concept of the hidden curriculum “expresses the idea that schools do more than simply transmit knowledge, as laid down in the official curricula.”  My hope is that by exposing the hidden curriculum of my classroom to my students, then they will have a better sense of what is truly important for their learning.

So far, I have identified 6 items in my hidden curriculum:  Collaboration, Self-Directed Learning, Problem Solving, Making Connections, Creativity, and Character Education.  I say my hidden curriculum because I think that a hidden curriculum is very much a by-product of the type of learning environment a teacher creates (often unconsciously).  By definition, a hidden curriculum is not overt.  It has been through a process of reflection I have realized these items are embedded skills that my students are required to develop in order to be most successful because my teaching strategies and my assessments rely on the skills of my hidden curriculum.

Below, I have given a brief summary of the language I use when explaining these items to my students.

1. Collaboration

“To learn Physics, you will need to rely on others for support.  You will also benefit greatly from being an active contributing member of our learning community.  The more you are able to give (using your own talents), the more you will get from this course.  In this course, you will have lots of opportunity to refine your skills of collaboration.”

2. Self-Directed Learning

“Learning Physics cannot only happen for one hour each day.  You will need to look for opportunities to learn about Physics outside the walls of the classroom.  You will need to reflect on your strengths and your weaknesses, and seek out opportunities to improve your skills.  In this course, you will have lots of opportunity to refine your skills for self-directed learning.”

3. Problem Solving

“Physics is about understanding the natural world.  In order to build your understanding of Physics you will be asked to solve challenging problems.  Some problem solving will occur by applying concepts of Physics to difficult questions.  However, you will also be using your skills for problem solving when working with others, designing and building projects, and performing inquiry investigations.”

4. Making Connections

“Physics connects to our lives in a multitude of ways.  I will do my best to bring those connections into our classroom so that you can learn about the cross-curricular nature of Physics.  As you learn about Physics, begin to look for those connections on your own.  You are encouraged to share your insights with the rest of our class in order to help others see the connections to their life also.  In this course, you will have lots of opportunity to refine your skills for making connections.”

5. Creativity

“Learning of any kind is a personal journey.  You are encouraged to be creative in the ways that you choose to learn Physics, and the ways that you communicate your understanding to your teacher and your peers.  In this course, you will have lots of opportunity to develop your creativity in how you express yourself, how you solve problems and how you contribute to our classroom community.”

6. Character Education

“We cannot learn in a space that does not feel safe.  This year, you will be encouraged to reflect on your personal character and the ways in which you contribute to the inclusiveness of our learning community.  In this course, you will have lots of opportunity to develop your personal character.  Remember, it’s nice to be nice!”

In recent years, I have really de-emphasized the actual curriculum content of my courses in the first few days of school.  I believe the emphasis should be on establishing a positive classroom community first and foremost.  This semester, I have tried hard to communicate the idea to my students that our Physics/Science course is only the context for learning much bigger skills – skills that extend far beyond our course, or even our school.  I tell them, “If you want to learn the Physics curriculum in a deep and meaningful way, focus primarily on learning the hidden curriculum.  These skills will not only service you well in our course, but throughout your process of life-long learning.”

If you’re a teacher, consider what is your hidden curriculum?  What skills do you expect students to develop that are not part of the overt curriculum?  I would love to hear about it in the comments!

Image Credit:  olaerik

Using an Avatar

The Teacher Challenge for this week is to write a post about Avatars.  The challenge asks:

Do you use an avatar on your blog – why/why not?  Do you prefer your real photo or a representation?  Explain.

I have not traditionally been a fan of using a comic representations of myself for my digital avatar.  I read a lot of blogs and follow a fair number of people on Twitter.  With a large influx of content and ideas, it is often difficult for me to keep track of who is sharing it.  I always prefer when people choose to use a photo of themselves rather than a cartoon representation because it is easier for me to feel like I have a relationship with that person (see my post on “The New Knowing“).  For me, a name and a personal photograph is an anchor that can use to link online content with the people who have shared it.  I think that digital avatars obscure that relationship, especially when people change their avatars regularly.

One site that I have used before for creating avatars is BeFunky.com.  Although this site is not specifically for creating avatars, it is possible to use their simple photo editing tools to create some neat effects on a picture of yourself.  One of the great advantages of the service is that it is free and you do not need to create an account to start editing photos.  Here are some of mine:

graham_avatar_Cartoonizer_small

graham_avatar_cartoongraham_avatar_inkify

Blogging – Year 2

It was just over one year ago that I started this blog as a new year’s resolution to myself.  I am proud that I have kept up with it.  In 2010, I was able to produce 35 blog posts, which is an average of almost 3 each month.  Of course, I was not able to write as much as I would have liked, but I am glad that I didn’t give up.

As of yet, I do not have a new year’s resolution for 2011, but I am mulling things over right now.  I may not be able to clearly outline an official resolution – instead it may be a general conscientiousness.  I recognize that I need to get better at scheduling my time, being more productive, and trying to find a better work-life balance (you may notice that I am writing this blog at 1AM on a Wednesday).  For me, these three things are very closely connected.

This year Edublogs has created the Teacher Challenge, which is intended to give new edubloggers a kickstand to support them, or give more experienced bloggers a kick start to get them writing more in 2011.  I think it’s a great idea and I am going to try and participate as much as I can.  For the first challenge, I will address the topic 10 things you should know about blogging.

My 4 Things (because 10 was too many for me)

  1. Blogging is supposed to be fun and enjoyable. This is something I have had to remind myself many times over the past year.  It is easy to put expectations on yourself (e.g. how often you will write), and then feel disappointed when you fail to live up to your own expectations.  Whenever I start feeling bad about my blog, I remind myself why I started blogging in the first place.  Needless to say, “to make me feel bad about myself” was not on the list.
  2. Blogging builds connections. One of the highlights of my first year of blogging was the first time I was quoted on someone else’s blog!  It is really great to feel like my posts are a valued contribution to the edublogosphere.  Writing a blog helps you create an online identity and opens opportunities to connect with other outstanding educators.
  3. Blogging is a bit of an ego balancing act. On the one hand, you should be writing for personal reasons, not for public attention.  Your blog will be interesting to read because it comes from you, and your thoughts have value!  However, it is difficult not to get preoccupied with “readership.”  After all, you could just use a journal if you didn’t want people to read your blog!  I have a number of widgets on my blog to track the readership because I like statistics, but I really try not to focus on that – The motivation to blog should be intrinsic.
  4. Ideas are easy – coherent thought is more difficult. I currently have about 25 draft blogs waiting to be written.  The reality is that coming up with ideas to share is actually pretty easy.  About once a day I think, “that would make a good blog post.”  But, when the fingers hit the keyboard, the story changes.  All of a sudden, the idea is not as fleshed out as you originally thought, or you begin anticipating the criticism, or you’re not sure how to communicate the ideas concisely, or you just don’t have the time to give your ideas the one-on-one attention they need.  In the end, I still think it’s better to catch the post in a draft, then have it slip away forever.  One day, it will get its chance.

If you are thinking of starting a blog, I highly recommend it.  If you already do blog, how much does my list ring true for you?

I wish everyone a happy new year.  I hope 2011 will be filled with tremendous growth and accomplishment.

Photo Credit:

Scrap Pile

Mystery Breeds Intrigue

mystery

This past November, I gave a presentation at the Science Teacher’s Association of Ontario annual conference.  The presentation was called, Social Networking in Science Education:  Learning Beyond the Classroom.

In the presentation, I tried to make the case that our students are, in many ways, different than the generations of teenagers who came before them – primarily because of the world in which they have grown up.  Furthermore, that recognizing exactly how students are different must inform our teaching practice if we are to remain relevant to students in the 21st century.

One of the ways that I have been expanding my ability to reach students has been with the use of social networking sites in my classes (like Ning, Edmodo, and grou.ps).  There is no doubt in my mind that social networking has been a phenomenal success with my students and I continue to be excited about using this tool to break down the walls of my classroom.

The following was the printed description of the presentation at STAO:

Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter have revolutionized the way that people interact online.  This presentation will discuss how teachers can leverage social networking technology within their classrooms to improve student engagement and extend learning beyond the walls of the classroom.  The presentation will demonstrate how to use many different free online services to create moderated social networks that uphold student privacy and maintain safety.

Previously, at the 2009 STAO conference, I delivered a presentation called Wikis in Science Education.  The turnout was wonderful – 45 attendees, who filled every seat in the room.  Going to this year’s STAO conference, I expected a similar turnout.  After all, everyone knows what social networking is and I thought that my description would have been perfectly clear and unambiguous.

As it turns out, only 8 people came.

I still feel the presentation was a wonderful success and the small number created a very intimate sphere (of which I was very thankful considering it was my first time giving this talk.)  In fact, because of the small group, we were able to have much more discussion and audience participation, which I think brought a more personal element.

Reflecting back, I have wondered what made the difference in attendance from one year to the next.  I would have thought that if “wikis” could draw a crowd, then certainly “social networking” would be an even bigger pull.

Then it dawned on me – teachers may already think they know what social networking is all about!  Moreover, many teachers hold the belief that social networking is the opposite of what their class needs.  After all, Facebook consumes the attention of our students, drawing them away from good ol’ fashioned learning!  A teacher might only read the title of my presentation before deciding that they already know everything they need to know about the presentation.

Yet, few teachers really know what a wiki is.  That word is still novel in the world of education, and because it is a little bit mysterious, it develops intrigue.  I think that when I prepare presentations in the future, I will be more careful in the wording of the title and description – specific enough so as not to mislead, yet elusive enough to generate interest.  Of course, this idea is just a working hypothesis.  It is entirely possible that my wiki presentation in 2009 sucked so badly that no one wanted to hear me talk again in 2010!

I am lucky enough to have opportunity to deliver the social networking presentation again in May at the conference for the Ontario Association of Physics Teachers.  This gives me an opportunity to test my hypothesis.  Any suggestions for a new title and description that would develop more mystery and intrigue?

Image Credit:  turboalieno

Levels of Classroom Management

I was looking over my stockpile of draft blog posts when I rediscovered this one and thought I would finish it.

I have been thinking more about approaches to classroom management this past month because I have been working with a student teacher from OISE/UT.  In trying to help my student teacher understand the subtleties of classroom management I was telling him how I have come to understand that there are three levels of managing student behaviour in a classroom setting, and that I have progressed through each of the three levels over my years in this profession.

Level 0 – No management

This is not really a level at all, but it’s where I began in my first year.  The basic mistake that I made is having the assumption that if you simply treat students nicely, then they will do the same for you.  The problem is, students and teachers don’t always have the same definition of “nicely.”  At the time, my definition of “nicely” was “please sit quietly and take down all the notes without talking to each other.”  I didn’t yet understood how to engage a teenage brain for 75 minutes.  Looking back I think that my students must have been pretty bored, so it is no surprise that they felt the need to be disruptive – their brains needed to!

Of course, students have some inherent ability to behave due to their socialization, so my classroom was not complete mayhem.  Some good learning occurred, but it was not a great “learning environment”; equipment got broken often because there were no firm expectations on students; I was usually exhausted because I was always putting out fires and reacting to small behavioural interruptions.

Level 1 – Compliance

I didn’t take long at Level 0 before I realized that if I was going to keep students in line, I was going to have to demand it.  This was the stage when I created a list of classroom rules and referred to it often.  I started requiring students to be absolutely quite during lessons.  I started to rely on consequences more readily – calling home, detentions, lectures, and sending students out of class.

I don’t want you to get the picture that I was a strict disciplinarian because I really wasn’t.  Discipline is not in my nature, so it was very foreign for me to give students detentions or send them to stand in the hallway, but I did it because I thought I had to.  This stage was also pretty exhausting for two reasons:  First, I always felt like I was giving lectures, calling home and using my personal time to supervise detentions; Second, I had to present myself as a bit of a “tough teacher” in order to demand respect.  As I have said, this is not my personal character at all, so it was very tiring for me.

Level 2 – Tone (agreement)

Level 2 is where my classroom management really started to go in new directions that had positive results and that fit with my personality.  I call this level “Tone” because I really started to hone in on the atmosphere in my classroom as mechanism for moderating student behaviour.  I remember the first time I delivered instructions in a new way.  I communicated my expectations about student behaviour before starting a lab … then I stood there silently looking at the students, holding their attention for a few long seconds (though it felt like 5 minutes).  I was not upset, or demonstrating frustration – Instead, I was holding their attention so as to communicate just how important my expectations were.  In that class, they internalized my high expectations for their behaviour and I realized just how much of an impact my tone would have on student behaviour.

The tone or atmosphere of the classroom moderates student behaviour.  It makes students accountable to the teacher and to each other, not because students believe they will get in trouble for misbehaviour, but because students internalize the sense that poor behaviour is unacceptable.  If you are a new teacher, you may have a hard time understanding what I am saying here (I am struggling to explain it), but if you seek out a role model teacher at your school, you will feel the difference in their classes and the ways that they interact with their students.

I think that this level of classroom management can also be called “agreement” because it involves getting students to “buy in” to the expectations of the learning environment.

Level 3 – Community (engagement, empowerment)

Building “community” is the highest level of classroom management that I have achieved so far, and it became a major part of my approach to teaching only 2 years ago.  I realized then, that having a positive tone of high expectations might dissuade some students from using disruptive behaviour to “take away” from classroom learning, but it did not inherently encourage students to use positive behaviour to “give back” to the classroom learning.

Creating a classroom community takes time, but it is time worth investing.  At the beginning of each semester, I allocate a significant amount of time to community building activities and teaching students to interact with each other in positive and fulfilling ways.  Each year, the activities change, but they generally emphasize the following points:

  • Everyone must know everyone else’s name (students will be working with everyone at some point in the semester)
  • Creating a sense of belonging (every person has something to contribute and is a valued member of our community)
  • Developing a set of norms that facilitate learning (My three questions are:  What do you need from me to help you be successful?  What do you need from each other to help you be successful?  What do I need from you to help you be successful?)
  • Teaching students the value of cooperative group learning

At the level of classroom community, every behaviour can be measured by its ability to contribute to the classroom community, or take away from it.  At this level, students will mostly manage themselves.  When intervention from the teacher is required, simply asking the student to reflect on how their behaviour is affecting the community as a whole is often enough to bring them back into the sphere of learning and sharing.

If you are trying to get a better sense of how I build community in my class, you may be interested to see My Intro Day Presentation, or look at A New Approach to Classroom Expectations that I tried this year.

If I have learned anything about classroom management, it is that managing student behaviour is a personal journey.  The levels I have outlined above are the levels that I progressed through and they represent approaches to classroom management that resonate with my personality and teaching style.  I also know that my journey is not complete.  I hope that in a few more years, I will be able to tell you about Level 4-6 as I discover what they are.

Photo Credit:

mick62

maczter

massdistraction

Assessment As Learning

There continues to be a big push in our school board to incorporate more “Assessment As Learning” into the learning process.  Basically this means helping students to develop skills for self-evaluation and metacognition.  One of the ways that my department has opted to try and integrate this into our science curriculum is through the use of student friendly check-brics.

One example of a simple check-bric might look like this:

Criteria Met Not Met
My graph includes a title and labeled axis.
My graph includes a line of best fit for the data and an equation of the line.
My graph has a caption, briefly describing what the graph is about.

white space – please ignore

The check-bric above is the type that a student might complete before handing in an assignment.  Generally, the point is to help students self-reflect on their work so they can make the necessary improvements themselves.  In my class, after the students complete the check-bric above, they are given the chance to take their work home and improve it before it is handed into me for more formative feedback.

Over the last year, I have started to use check-brics not only for students to assess their work, but so they can also assess their learning.  For example, if the students were participating in a learning activity, such as a scientific investigation, I will develop a simple check-bric for my students to look at before and after the task.  Below is an example of one I used the other day for a learning activity about accelerated motion:

Statement Yes Kinda No
I have a good understanding of how to use the motion sensors
I have a good understanding hot to use the Datastudio software
I understand why a distance-time graph can have different shapes
I can explain what is happening in a distance-time graph based on the shape
I understand why a velocity-time graph can have different shapes
I can explain what is happening in a velocity-time graph based on the shape
I know how to calculate the speed of an object from a d-t graph
I know how to calculate the acceleration of an object from a v-t graph
I know how to calculate the displacement of an object from a v-t graph
I can see how an understanding of accelerating objects relates to objects in real life

white space – please ignore

What I like about this approach is that students can see before they begin an activity, what the activity is designed to teach them.  I think that if a student is aware that “understanding the shape of a displacement-time graph” is important and that the activity is their opportunity to learn this concept, they will be more likely to ask for help from other students or from me while the activity is going on.

white space – please ignore

At the end of the activity, I do not need to collect any “product” other than the check-bric.  The learning results of this particular activity were pretty good:  About 8 students put mostly all YES, about 14 put mostly KINDA, and about 4 students put mostly NO.  Immediately, this tells me who my “experts” are in the class, and who needs the most extra help.

The part I am really excited about is what I hope to do with this data.

My first thought was that I needed to seek out the students who did not understand and talk to them directly, and I will definitely do that.  But, I am also attempting to empower my “experts” more and get them involved in using their mastery to help others.  I have arranged for pairs of experts to record a short video (less than one minute) explaining how they understand one of the rows of the check-bric.  They are encouraged to use words and diagrams as they see fit and they can use the department’s Flip video camera any day after school.  Ultimately, they will post the videos to our class social network for all other students to see.  I am really hoping for a positive response to this, so that it can become a regular occurrence in my class.

I see the creation of student videos as a really valuable use of the assessment as learning data for a number of reasons:

  1. It empowers students to see themselves as having something of value to share
  2. It distributes the responsibility of reteaching content to weaker students from the teacher to other capable students
  3. It provides opportunity for the “KINDA” students to re-approach the content, even if I may not have time to get around to each of them individually
  4. It permits all students to review the subject content at a time that is convenient to them – whether they are in the library at school, at home, or visiting their grandma for the weekend (Comment:  I think that asynchronous learning will be a big part of the educational landscape of the future)

I am excited about how this first attempt will go.

Image Credit:   KTVee, Mechki

A New Approach to Classroom Expectations

Every year I discuss classroom expectations with my students.  Each year, this conversation looks somewhat different, but it generally involves asking students for input.  I have heard some teachers say that “developing classroom expectations with students allows them to feel some ownership of the rules, and they are more likely to follow them.”  I don’t really believe that.  In my experience, students know all the right answers, which is why every list of classroom expectations I have ever seen looks pretty much the same.

I feel that asking students for input on the classroom expectations is really a token gesture – it looks like a nice thing to do, but it’s not really a useful way to have a lasting impression on student behaviour.  The important part of generating a list of classroom expectations with your students in not what they come up with on the list, but how they come up with the list.  It is the process of generating a list of expectations that helps to establish the tone of the classroom.  Do you ask students to work collaboratively?  Do you encourage students to be creative in the presentation of their ideas?  Do students feel it is safe to contribute?  Does each student have a voice?

This year I tried something new.  First, I asked students to write down 5 expectations that all people (including the teacher) should always uphold while in the classroom in order to make it a better place to be.  Next, I asked students to form small groups and consolidate their lists.  Finally, we generated a list as a class by including only the expectations that showed up in more than one group.  This all took 20 minutes.  So far … so good … and pretty boring!

The next stage was to assign certain expectations to each group (it worked out to be at least two each.)  The groups were asked, “what does the expectation look like?  how will we know we are doing it?” – this generated some good discussion in the groups.  I then asked students to come up with a “picture” that we will take with a digital camera to remind us what the expectation looks like.

IMG_0217 modI had to give the students an example:  “If the expectation was, come to class prepared, we could take a picture of a student holding all of the necessary materials – pencils, paper, etc.”  The students immediately started talking in their groups about how they would capture their assigned expectations.  What would they do?  Who would they involve?  Did they need props?  Should they do multiple images?  All of this great discussion came out!  Most important to me, the students were collaborating on a task that was not clearly defined.  They needed to be creative; they needed to be problem solvers; they needed to communicate and compromise.  All of this interaction is what builds community in the classroom, not this list of expectations!

Finally, we took 10 minutes or so to set up each of the photographs, and captured the pictures with my digital camera.  My students really seemed to enjoy the activity and I feel that they left the class that day with a greater sense how to work effectively together, and a stronger image in their minds of the classroom expectations we generated.

That night, I went home and uploaded the pictures to Animoto, found some music licensed for use with Creative Commons and put together a short slide show to watch in class.  I have shown the video at the beginning of class for a few days.  The students think that it’s pretty cool because it is their photos in the video and the video is much more engaging than a list on the wall.  From now on, I will only need to show the video if I feel that the class needs a gentle reminder.

For your viewing pleasure, I have embedded a modified version of our classroom expectations video.  In order to protect the identities of my students, I have put cartoons over their faces.  In general, I tried not to change the wording of the expectations that the students came up with.  I wanted them to feel that this video came from them and not from me.  Also, because each photo was part of a larger conversation we had in class, the image probably communicates more to my students than it might to you.  Enjoy!