Reflecting and Projecting

Post date: Jun 8, 2015 4:17:54 PM

We ask students to reflect on their work all the time - it is only fair if we do it too!

Reflections on

The website continued to grow this year. It recently passed 100,000 visits - and that doesn't count the original version of the site which was up for two years. The site averages about 100 visits a day during the week. When I think about that it is mind-boggling. That resulted in my invite to keynote speak at a local history conference earlier this year. Almost everyone there had heard of me and I was told more than once that students at various schools love me. That was beyond surreal. What started as a little project to share media sources I use has turned into this massive thing.

The site also grew physically (virtually?) this year with the addition of my US History curriculum. I'll reflect more on that in the classroom section but I'm pretty happy with how the site side of it turned out.

Reflections on Room 110

This was not my most effective year as a teacher. Trying to wrap my head around how to do assessments to fit Common Core was a constant thorn. I still am not happy with where I ended up but at least I've got a bunch of bad ideas out of the way.

It was also really tough to give all my students the attention they deserve. Designing new activities for 175 days of the school year (which I did for my US history classes) took up much of time. I didn't use a single lesson from another source without significant changes all year long. I hardly touched the textbook. That was my challenge to myself. I met it but it definitely came with a cost. Nothing was perfect but most went okay. Only a few lessons bombed completely (Lexington Letters - I'm looking at you.)

I worked the kids in my 8th classes really hard mentally. I wanted to prepare them for AP level work at the high school and I think I may have landed a bit short but I know they were pushed like never before. I'm incredibly proud of how they stuck with it (and with me) despite the rigor. I'm grateful for the group of kids I had. None of them buckled and gave up, even when early results weren't what they expected. They all ended up stronger than they started and I count that a success. Are they ready for AP? I don't know but I know they are more ready than any of their peers!

I hardly touched my World History stuff this year due to the time spent elsewhere. I updated a few lessons here and there, particularly the History Analysis readings but I can't think of a single new thing I did all year. This absolutely does not mean my curriculum is perfect. My units are still very uneven in terms of engagement and rigor. My students had a great time and learned a ton but I didn't give them all I could. I again had a great group of kids. I did not write a single office referral all year and didn't even have to cancel a single lab. I almost always cancel at least one to show students the academic behaviors I expect. These kids gave me those expectations all year long without the need for a demonstration! Thanks guys.

What really stuck out this in the classroom was the emotional difficulties faced by my students. I'm going to sound old here but I think this generation is in trouble. The communication revolution of the last decade (and especially the last few years) simply must have a psychological effect on humanity. We've seen these massive changes in the past and they are always a massive disruption. Our kids don't know how to empathize with others. They are desensitized in a way I've never seen before. Is The Trail of Tears really that bad when our kids have literally seen beheadings on video? Is Brother vs. Brother meaningful when I have kids who haven't seen their Fathers, let alone their brothers, since they were two and who count as 'Friend' as someone who clicked a button on their Instagram profile? It's scary.

These kids still face all the problems of previous generations as well. Their families are breaking apart. They doubt themselves. They get depressed. They feel unloved. They are bullied. The difference is now they get their support from what are essentially non-entities. They get platitudes from celebrity tweets that are supposed to make everything better. Their friendships are easily ended because they are trained subconsciously to just 'unfollow' if they are no longer interested. Even scarier to me is the fact that this is all unrelenting. When I was a kid once I got off the bus after school I could leave the drama behind. Bullies didn't bother me in my room. Nobody cared what my hair looked like at home. Today's kids have to keep up their front literally 24/7. It never turns off. Many of students hardly slept because they were up until midnight texting and woke up at 5 to do their hair and make-up. If that is how relationships are measured it won't change. We, as a society, need to get very real with this. The kids aren't at fault. We are for ignoring their needs for connection.

Lastly, and my greatest pride and joy of room 110 this year, is how I fell in love with my Elective family. I've loved them from day one of course but these last couple months it has grown so much more. As we've gone through the hardest two years of life together these kids learned to trust me and I them. They sought out my opinions and approval all the time. They left me with more love than any class I've had before. I obviously can't ask for anything more than that. My experiment with them was to see what a group of 30 middle school kids could do with two years of unconditional love and support. The results were stellar. I had tons of kids with straight As. I didn't push them to that - quite the opposite in fact. I was instead pushing they do the best they could regardless of the letter attached. The fact is they wanted to do well. They wanted to make me proud. They did.

Projections for this Summer

I'm working on 4 projects this summer.

1) Undermining TeachersPayTeachers at every possible opportunity. The deeper I get into the history teacher community the more I hate, yes hate, that site. As an economist I know the psychological effects of a purchase. When we buy things we convince ourselves to like them more than we should. It's justification. We don't want to admit we made a bad purchase because it would reflect poorly on us. I feel this is the case with so much of the stuff I see on TpT. It just isn't good, period, yet I see it shared on Pinterest, Twitter, etc. A low-rigor worksheet made by a teacher is no better than a low-rigor worksheet made by a textbook company. I'm not saying every single assignment needs to be whiz-bang, high-rigor stuff but I am saying it should be free, especially if it isn't.

So, all summer long I'll be posting stuff to TpT for free in hopes that people there will stop supporting a system that I find detrimental to the community.

2) Creating PowerPoint tutorials. After many, many requests I'm going to do some PPT tutorials on how to turn typical PPTs (like the ugly nonsense often found on TpT) into modern presentations that students love.

3) Gamifying my classroom. This has long been an interest of mine and I'm ready to make it happen or at least go down trying. I'm buried in this stuff right now and still have some major kinks to work out but I'm excited about it.

4) Building out my "Thrive" units for my Elective class. Last semester my Elective class focused on personal growth based on the materials from the Thrive Institute for Success and I loved it. I've got those kids for two full years so why only use a semester?

Projections for 15-16

I'm back to all 7th World History next year (at least most likely) so I'll be re-examining all that stuff again. I'm in the process of redoing the themes to all my presentations to fit in with the game narrative that will guide my entire class next year.

I'm going to solve the assessment problem. I must.

I'm going to love my new Elective class even more than the last. (Sorry guys, I have to grow too, right?)

I'm going to be the best teacher I've ever been.