Archive for October, 2016

An Enagaging Classroom

As educators, we are challenged to address and close the achievement gap as we work to achieve Equity and Excellence for All.

When analyzing data of underperforming students, lack of engagement is often cited as a contributing factor to student lack of success by both teachers and students. We know from the research of Hattie that instead of asking ‘what works’ we need to ask ‘what works best?’ Almost all of what we do has an impact on learning but most of what we do has a very small impact. Cooperative learning is nineteenth on Hattie’s list of 195 High Impact Influences showing more than .59 effect size making it one of the highest leverage influences that positively influence learning.

Classroom A
1. Teacher teaches about 10 min.
2. Stops and asks a question to the class.
3. Calls on one or two  students.
4. Repeat.
Result: Status quo continues.

Classroom B
1.  Teachers teaches about 10 min.
2.  Stops and asks a question.
3.  Asks students to Turn and Talk.
4. Repeat.
Result: Drivers and Riders. Those that know continue to learn and those that struggle, hide or opt out.

Classroom C
1. Teacher teaches about 10 minutes.
2. Stops and asks a question.
3. Teacher introduces a cooperative learning structure that ensures the engagement principles of PIES.
4. Repeat.
Result: Engaged learners held accountable to each other and the content.

The key to the success of the Student Engagement rests not with the implementation of engagement structures, no matter the model, but with the awareness and internalization of the power of the four cooperative learning principles known as PIES.

Positive Interdependence (no winners and losers)

  • Do the students feel on the same side?
  • Does the work of one benefit all?

Individual Opportunities (no free rides)

  • Does each member have to publicly perform in the group?

Equal Participation (no domination, no hiding)

  • Does each member participate for roughly the same amount of time?

Simultaneous Interaction (stay engaged)

  • How many many students are speaking or writing at once?

These four principles lead to engagement, and engagement leads to learning, and learning is why we exist!

Mommy…. My Pre-K Teacher is a Boy!

Mommy! My Pre-K Teacher is a Boy!

How does the journey through education system lead to a person choosing to be a Pre-K teacher?  Let’s take a walk through the life of someone who chose the education profession with the want and desire to teach the youngest students.  The first thing we need to get out of the way is whether wanting to be a teacher is innate or developed.  The whole nature versus nurture argument, we’ll save that for another blog.  For our purposes, we will say that it is innate. Just go with me on this one; who in their right mind would want to babysit 20-25 other people’s children for 6-7 hours a day for the “enormous” amount of pay teachers receive?

Knowing I was destined to be a teacher from the day I was born, I took on certain leadership roles growing up:

  1. Being the first one to see if I could cross the four lane street during rush hour without stopping (the screeching sound scared me more than the cars).
  2. Riding my bike down the steepest hill in the neighborhood, forgetting that I was on my older brother’s bike with only hand brakes.
  3. Running through the neighborhood (I guess blindly) and having my lip meet the concrete pole (still have the scar to prove it).
  4. Chasing that one girl (every neighborhood had that ONE) not listening to my friends as her older brother walked around the corner.
  5. Joining the basketball team while my friends joined something else (could go into details, not necessary for this blog).
  6. Graduating high school and then immediately going to college (older brother and sister completed but didn’t go directly to college).

In college I had to make a decision between money, celebrity, notoriety, fame, distinction, recognition, or being a teacher.  It was such a hard choice, but as I said earlier, I was born to be a teacher.  Other excruciating decisions had to be made in this field of education. What was I going to teach? Below is chart of pros/cons of my choices that help me make my decision.

Grade Level Pros Cons
High School Coaching; one or two subjects Teenagers who think they are adults
Middle school n/a I remember when I was in middle school
Elementary school More freedom on curriculum; teach every subject Have to give young students failing grades
Early Childhood Get to start off the students off; see tremendous growth, parents more involved, flexible curriculum, students love you, etc., etc., etc. Snotty noses, dependent students, diapers


Obviously, I chose Early Childhood. Who wouldn’t after looking at the chart.   It was also nice that all of my classes were full of human beings of the opposite sex (who were extremely infatuated with a male early childhood major).  I like to tell myself that last part and it makes for a good story.  After completing the various classes, observations and practicums, I was drawn to the really early grades.  At the time, I knew there was a stigma, from people not associated with education, that is linked with males in the field of early childhood. It didn’t fit me. In fact, everything about my exterior challenged any preconceived stereotype that had ever been made about early childhood teachers. However, my passion was for the youngest children. The way they responded to my presence in the classroom assured me that I was wanted and needed in the earliest grades.  I made up my mind after 16 weeks of student teaching (8 in 1st grade, 8 in pre-K) that any grade over 2nd would cause me to go running instead to work to become famous, a celebrity, rich, etc.  Hence, my first teaching job was in Pre-K.

It takes many hours of dedication and purposeful practice to perfect a craft. I did not have the luxury of growing up in a household that included teachers.  I was the first classroom teacher in my family.  How was I going to make sure I would be the best Pre-K teacher possible was with the 10, 000 plus hours needed as Syed suggests in his book, Bounce. (p. 12) Maybe I had the natural talent. Even though in college I went through many hours of pre-service work, it was not anywhere close to having a classroom of your own.  Many questions were in my mind on how to perfect this new adventure:

Should I read more books?  (not a good idea, reading put me to sleep…and still does)

Should I visit more Pre-K classrooms?

Is this really what I am supposed to do?

How can I make this the best experience possible?

Another aspect I had to face was being a male pre-k teacher.  I truly just wanted to teach.  I knew that there were not very many males in the Pre-K field and that different stereotypes were placed upon those who were.  I sometimes struggled with the notion that I would have to defend myself to colleagues and friends about my choice.  Was this really the feelings and thoughts of everyone else, or was it a mindset? (Syed, p. 169) I somehow had to work through these struggles to clear my mind, to hopefully help me succeed.

“That’s a nice bulletin board!” “That’s such a cute idea!” “That’s so sweet!”  “Oh, how pretty!” The preceding phrases were never words that I could imagine would ever describe my work in early education.  I never thought of anything I did as “sweet” or “cute.” Yet, I had to start thinking this way because of the fact that I was involved with the youngest students. What could I do that could bridge the gap between my rough exterior and the tiny minds that I would be affecting for years to come. How could I be “sweet” and “cute” but still feel like myself.

As the first year approached my mind was inundated with what was going to happen in the classroom. I had to remove the doubt and have irrational optimism. (Syed, p.169) Students did not have a choice but to love this “big teddy bear.”  Parents would trust me to teach their students. Administration and colleagues would believe I was the best for the job.

Finally, the first day arrived and doubt started to creep into my mind again.  Standing 5’11” and weighing about 220 pounds (that was the “freshman 15”…plus 15…plus 15…plus 5) over students maybe weighing in at a whopping 34 pounds and at a height of about 40 inches, I greeted them with a traditional “GOOD MORNING BOYS AND GIRLS”.  I can only imagine how my deep, bellowing voice must have echoed in each of their little heads. Still, the first day went smooth.  I experienced the normal first day jitters for teachers and students with a couple of tears as parents dropped their students off, but as the day went on I knew I had made the right decision.  This was my calling.  Students were comfortable and sought help when they were feeling down.  I even received a few hugs as they were leaving for the day.

After an exciting first day as parents picked up their students, one little girl excitedly told her mother, “Mommy, my teacher is a boy!”sanders

6 Important (And Totally Doable) Ways to Turn Your Classroom Into A MakerSpace

1. This most important piece to any MakerSpace is…SPACE! You will have to find some room in your class to setup as the work zone. This area needs to be large enough to fit some shelves, a work bench or two, wall space for some art or design ideas, and that’s about it. You want your students to feel like they have the room to create anything so don’t undercut the square footage. Some might want to put this area in the back of the class to minimize distractions, but don’t be afraid to make this a focal point of your classroom!


2. An unorganized MakerSpace is a no-no. Tools and materials need to be properly organized and stored. You want to limit ‘dead air’ by having the students find what they need when they need it. To minimize confusion and misplaced materials, you’ll want plenty of storage bins. These can get expensive, especially if you buy name-brand versions, but don’t underestimate the importance and utility of a cardboard box. LABEL. LABEL. LABEL. Everything needs a location, and it’s up to you to make it make sense.


3. Host a Tool Drive with your class. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has an extra hammer, screwdriver, or box of nails at their house that they never use. As expensive as they are when you buy them new, host a tool drive for unneeded household tools. Authentic materials will make you’re MS more exciting and offer more ways for your students to create and design.


4. Buy in BULK. Mainstay items like glue, tape, popsicle sticks, and construction paper should all be purchased in bulk. Buying liquid glue by the gallon should be the norm. Scour your school for empty glue bottles to use as refills. I’ve found Amazon has the best prices on bulk items like this, while also offering two-day shipping. If you’re like I used to be, and find yourself out and about 3-4 nights per week buying things for your class, you’ll love this built in feature as well!


5. Don’t be afraid to join in on the fun! The best way for students to gather ideas is seeing them in action first. Take some time out of your day to model some creative ideas in your MakerSpace. Turn into a carpenter and model how to hammer some nails into some old wood. The more your students practice, the more comfortable you will be with them working independently with potentially dangerous items. Whether you’re studying The Three Little Pigs or The Odyssey, come up with a clever prototype to show your class so they feel they, too, can build based on literature. If you’re studying simple machines in Science, construct a Rube Goldberg machine that utilizes each of the styles. Any chance you find to use the space, use it. The more fun you make it look, the more use it will get.


6. Host MakerSpace Night at your school. The number one hangup for parents is seeing how MS is relevant to classroom learning. To most, MakerSpace just looks like playing (which I’m all for, as well). The more you can educate the parents, the more you can offer your students during the day.

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