Rotten Kids or Lack of Exposure?

This past week I was working as an instructor for some Spring Break camps.  I was working with elementary/middle school aged children and I was running a “Sports & Computers” camp.  To be completely honest, I hated my time there.  It was exhausting, frustrating, and stressful, but most of all, it was discouraging.  It seemed like no matter what we did, the kids weren’t happy with it.  They didn’t want to play sports, they didn’t want to learn anything on the computers, they didn’t want free time with the equipment, and they didn’t even want to watch any movies we offered up.  All they wanted to do was get free time on the computers to play Minecraft or other popular games online.  There were obviously many moments where they were having fun playing sports or showed interest in learning a few things on the computer (whether they were aware of it or not!), but even in those times, they were constantly thinking (and asking) about the next time they would get to play video games.  It was discouraging for me to think that this generation of kids was that addicted to video games and not even sports could take their mind off of it.

This phenomenon put me in a very negative and depressed headspace.  It got me thinking about my own childhood and trying to reflect upon whether or not I was any different than these kids.  I tried my best to be unbiased, but even still I couldn’t help but feel like these kids were just headed down an unhealthy road and may be too far gone to come back.  Although I tried to stay as positive as I could and convince myself that there are good groups of kids out there, I couldn’t shake this unhappy feeling.  I blamed society, I blamed parents, I blamed the video game industry and I blamed the kids.  These kids were a lost cause and it worried me for our future.  I kept telling myself how I would keep this in mind when I was raising my own children some day and learn from the mistakes that had been done to these kids.  I vowed to keep “the child” in my future children and not let them lose their imagination and inquisitive nature so easily.

Throughout the week I tried to fight the resistance a bit.  I did what I could to convince the other instructors that we should give the kids free time with the equipment.  Some of these times were not as good as others, but for the most part, this unstructured play was the most successful moments of the camp.  A few times when we were stuck in a very cramped gym, some of the kids were caught looking to their phones and iPads to entertain themselves, but usually everyone found something to do and kept themselves engaged.  I would still have kids coming up to me telling me that they were bored though, to which I would reply with “Well then go find something to do!  There is plenty of stuff to play with!  Use your imagination and be creative!”.  Our most successful example of unstructured play was when I let the kids loose with half a gym full of gymnastics mats.  It started out with disputes of who got to use which mats, but after that was sorted out (with a little assistance from me), the kids had a blast.  The kids didn’t necessarily forget about Minecraft, but they had fun, worked together, used their imagination, built structures, compromised, and got their sweat on.  There were times where I felt like I was letting the kids do some activities that not all educators (or maybe some helicopter parents) would be comfortable having the kids do, but nobody got hurt and the kids made sure to test their boundaries before jumping in head first.  This small part of the week felt good…but not as good as what happened on the last day.IMG_4320

On the last day, the organization I was working for had no space booked out for our group to work in, so we had to quickly adapt.  We found a park nearby that we could take the kids to so we headed there and set up a game of Capture the Flag.  As per usual, the kids complained and didn’t make things easy on us.  Participation wasn’t great and the game didn’t get to a very strong level of competition or fun.  We came back after lunch with a new game plan for some unstructured free time.  In the afternoon, this park was like a whole new place, and the kids were like a whole new group.  We brought out some random equipment for them and then set them loose to do as they pleased.  There happened to be some construction going on nearby so there was a large dirt/rubble pile in the middle of the park and there was also a very climbable tree in our midst…

All I saw in the afternoon was positives.  I saw kids organize their own game of baseball (with sticks in the place of bats I may add!) which to me showed improvisation, leadership, problem solving, and compromising (in the form of self-refereeing).  I saw kids speak politely and appropriately to a stranger in the neighbouring c
ommunity garden when they lost their Frisbee over the fence, which illustrated leadership and social responsibility.  There were examples of imagination when kids were playing with sticks as though they were swords and when they played “Minecraft” by digging holes in the rubble pile.  The rubble pile also provided opportunities for inquiry as a large group of girls went worm hunting in the dirt, and got up close and personal with the Annelids as they examined them one by one.  Another example of inquiry was when some kids got to experience the convenience of levers when they worked together to move some giant rocks out of the rubble pile (also an example of problem solving!).  And speaking of problem solving, how about when the kids took flag football belts, cinched them up around those giant rocks and drug them to the climbing tree so that they had a step to help them climb onto that first branch, and then, once they had that first step, using the football belts again as handles
after they cinched them up tight around some of the higher branches.  The teamwork used in that experience was outstanding!  Some kids weren’t strong enough to pull their body weight up onto the first branches (which is sad in itself), but they took the challenge head on and didn’t give up.  When they still continued to have trouble, their peers used the aforementioned ideas and helped assist everyone up into the tree.  Once kids were in the tree, I saw a lot of risk management as the kids who were brave enough to climb to the top made sure to shake and test each branch before they stepped onto it.  I’ll admit, I was feeling a bit uneasy at times, but I kept telling myself I needed to trust the kids, and I’m glad I did because they did exactly what they were supposed to do.  Before long, any fears I had of kids falling and hurting themselves vanished.  The final positive example of the afternoon was another risk management example in my opinion, and it was when a few boys were wrestling with each other.  Nobody got hurt, nobody got angry, everyone just had fun and worked on some fundamental motor skills while doing so!

Unfortunately the afternoon wasn’t 100% positive.  The other instructors I was working with didn’t seem to see what I was seeing, and so when the time came that a computer lab was free again for our group, the instructors decided it was time to pack up and take the kids back inside.  It killed me inside to stop what was going on, especially when the kids showed no signs of being unengaged with the current activities, but I was only one voice and wasn’t going to undermine my fellow instructors.  We headed back in where the kids spent the rest of the day on computers.  The day still felt like a success to me though.  We successfully got the kids to forget about computers and Minecraft for about an hour.  A small win for physical activity (and nature!), but still more work to be done.

 

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An Argument For Retests

I’ve never been sure about how I feel about retests in school.  Part of me always felt like no retests were a good thing because we need to have those consequences in place to show kids how life works.  If we don’t work hard and don’t prepare ourselves properly then we get poor results.  That being said, sometimes certain students have legitimate reasons for not being properly prepared or maybe just didn’t understand the material as quickly as other students.  In that case I felt like we should give students the chance to write a retest, but then who is to say what is a legitimate reason and what isn’t…and if the student is even telling the truth about their reason.  So do we give every student the chance at a retest to be fair and risk having that privilege be taken advantage of by some dishonest students?  Or do we just say no to any retests and tell the students with legitimate reasons that sometimes life gives us bad luck and we just need to roll with the punches?

So as you can see, it has always been a dilemma for me.  Recently though, I had a colleague propose a new perspective to me that has taken over this decision for me.  As a strong believer in promoting a growth mindset, the idea that giving students retests sends the message that hard work and effort can pay off.  It also helps students learn from their mistakes (in this case the mistake of not studying enough!) and make changes to fix them.  If they weren’t prepared for the first test, whether it was their own doing or not, they have the chance to put in some extra time and effort to study harder and retake the test.  They have to do this extra work or extra studying, all the while keeping up with their regular class work as well, so as to avoid falling behind further.  They will undoubtedly be putting in a strong effort if they plan to be successful in writing the retest AND keeping up with the regular class work.

If this were to happen with the intention of promoting the growth mindset, then the teacher needs to also make a commitment to spend extra time outside of class time with the student if the student needs that extra help.  It would also take extra work from the teacher because I think it would be best to create an entirely new test.  If the same test is reused then this philosophy is subject to being taken advantage of as well as students could cheat or just learn the answers to the specific questions that they already saw.  This would defeat the purpose of the retest as the student isn’t gaining a better understanding of the material and not learning a valuable life lesson.

The next question to address is how many retests do we give?  Are they unlimited and the opportunity is always there to put the extra effort in, or do you cap the number of attempts as a way of showing that opportunities don’t last forever and when faced with an opportunity, it is wise to act on it and put the effort in at that point in time?  For me personally, I would consider putting in a policy that you can continue to do retests as long as your mark improves on each retest.  As soon as you earn a lower grade than you did on the previous test (or retest) then you can no longer rewrite it.  My thinking is that this way, you know kids are taking advantage of the chance to try again because they improve their mark.  If they get a lower grade, then they most likely didn’t put the effort in and are just hoping that they luck out and do a bit better.  Of course, it won’t necessarily happen this way every time, but I like to think if someone puts in enough effort, they should be able to improve their mark.  If not, I guess it is up to you as a professional to find your own philosophy on the matter.  For me, this makes sense and this works.

So to any teachers out there who use written tests in their classroom, this is an idea to consider!  Take it or leave it, it is simply another perspective that changed my thinking and I thought may change yours.  Either way, hopefully it sparks up some conversations around the staff room.  Keep sharing your ideas with colleagues and seriously consider what your colleagues have to say as well!IMG_5990

Starting With The Misconceptions – Veritasium

Last Spring, a colleague of mine showed me a Youtube channel and eventually this specific video.  The message being shared in the video has stuck with me ever since because it makes so much sense and because his Youtube channel has such engaging videos.

What the video explains is that we often don’t actually engage with material that we are being taught very well because we feel that we already understand it and therefore don’t need to learn it again.  Whether we think we understand it from experiencing the material in life or because we have been taught it previously, we more or less check-out because we are quite sure we already know how everything works.  The problem is that we actually misunderstand what is being taught and so this phenomenon of checking-out just keeps us in the dark.

The video goes onto explain that to battle this, we as teachers need to start our lessons by teaching students the misconceptions.  We teach them what they think they already know….and then drop the bomb on them that what they just heard us say (and what they already knew was right) is actually wrong.  That grabs their attention and now we have an attentive audience that is ready to learn.

This video uses Science as an example, because that is the speaker’s background and it works quite well, but I think this could probably work in many other subjects.  We learn best from making mistakes, so if we can point out the common mistakes that many of our students could be making in the subject we are teaching, then we can help them work their way to an understanding of the truth.  I suggest that we keep tIMG_0775his in mind next time we are teaching (and especially if we are teaching Science!).

*On a side note, any Science teachers out there who are looking for a great resource, this guy has an amazing youtube channel called Veritasium.  Give it a look and see if you can work any of his stuff into your class!  He has a very effective approach to teaching!

Educational Analogy – Philosophy Part 2

Quick little write up here today.  I just wanted to share an analogy I’ve used in the past that I really like.  My analogy is that, as an educator, I want to be a shepherd instead of a feedlotter.  I want to be a shepherd that leads his flock (my students) to the pasture (of knowledge) to graze on whatever plants (information/experiences) they choose.  A feedlotter is much different.  A feedlotter is given a herd and keeps them penned up in a corral. Then when feeding time comes, the feedlotter mixes up the food that he thinks is best for the herd and puts it in the manger for everyone in the herd to eat.  The herd is all given the same food (information) and expected to enjoy it, as well as benefit from it the same as everyone else in the herd.  Preference and personal differences are not taken into account when you’re a feedlotter.

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So to be more direct,  I want to help lead my students to their own passions and help them achieve self-actualization.  I don’t want to be a teacher that gives them the facts that someone else decides is best for them and I certainly don’t want to just tell them those facts so that they can remember them for a test.  I want them to learn on their own from their own decisions and experiences.  I just want to give them the opportunities they need to get to that point of learning and understanding.  I’m not sure if this will make sense to everyone out there, but it makes sense to me and I really feel that this analogy captures the essence of what I want to be as a teacher.

Collaboration Series: Part 8 – Physical Education

Physical Education and Physical Education?  How can you collaborate two of the same classes together??  Well, I was tipped off by a fellow colleague on some ideas about how to work together as a department to offer students more flexibility and more of what they want.  Basically, in most schools there is always multiple PE classes sharing the facilities at the same time.  Multiple classes, multiples teachers, IMG_3172multiple different activities.  Why not give the students the chance to choose which teacher they go with and which activity they take part in?  It may help eliminate that problem we always have where half of the class is pumped with the lesson that we’ve prepared and the other half looks like their dog just died.  If students have two or three or four options each day for what activity they can take part in, then hopefully there is at least one option they will want to participate in, and the more participation we can get, the healthier our students should be.  Another outcome that I think might come from this is more even competition levels.  If there are multiple options as far as groups go, students might sort themselves into competitive levels.  We won’t have the inexperienced and nervous students playing against the after school athletes.  It won’t happen that way for sure, but it might!

Now this is much easier said than done.  Obviously assessment could get tricky if we have a different group of students each class, but let’s work together as a department and think outside the box a bit.  Maybe we can rely a bit more heavily on self assessment and even some peer assessment.  Maybe this class choice doesn’t happen for the entire year.  There are ways around this so let’s put our heads together.  Another issue would be making sure units end at the same time so that all the groups are changing over at the same time, but that really shouldn’t be too hard to coordinate.

A complaint I would expect to hear from skeptical teachers on this idea would be that we would have students who just play floor hockey for the entire year because that is all they want to play and they can just keep switching teachers.  Simple solution: Not every teacher needs to teach every unit.  Have an “Invasion Game Unit” where one teacher (who is more comfortable with it than others) teachers football, while another one teaches Ultimate Frisbee, and the other teaches Rugby.  Then when it’s time to end the unit, the department moves on to a “Net/Wall Games Unit” where one teacher is running Badminton while the other two run Volleyball and Tennis.  Kids don’t get to miss out on Dance, no!  They get to pick to either go with Teacher 1 and learn the Polka, or go with Teacher 2 and learn Creative Dance, or Teacher 3 who is teaching Zumba.  You can still cover all your bases in the curriculum, but the kids have more choice and more options and the opportunity to get exposed to more activities.  It also let’s teachers avoid activities that they know they should teach, but are maybe less comfortable with the subject matter than other teachers in the department.  I’m sure there are still other problems with the idea, but that is for you and your colleagues to sort through during some collaboration time.  There is always a way.  Go find it!

Collaboration Series: Part 7 – Art/Photography

What a great opportunity to build a bridge between the Arts and Physical Education, and maybe also make a connection between some groups of students that have been known not to get along very well.  I have a ton of ideas for Art and Photography classes!

As far as photography goes, setting up projects that give students the chance to practice taking action shots would be a great learning experience.  This could be something set up by the students where they go and organize a photoshoot with school athletes to promote their home games/tournaments, or it could just be something where they go to those games and snap some shots so as to document the events.  Maybe the project is connected to a school newspaper that has a section of articles on recent sporting events at school and they need some action shots for their story.  Going off the sports journalism idea, there is a possibility to have students take on a role with a “media team” in a Sport-Ed style unit in their PE class.  If students were a part of this media team, then photography could be a part of that reporter component.

Art is very diverse and has a lot of potential as well.  Maybe instead of just taking photos of athletes or sporting events, the art class takes it a step further and turns those photographs into paintings or drawings.  Maybe when creating clay sculptures, an athlete in an action pose if the focus.  I’m sure there would be some students that would enjoy creating a clay figurine of themselves playing their favourite sport.  Maybe not, but it is one form of Art that could be looked into.

Again, going back to the Sport-Ed model, sometimes the teams in class create their own team name.  In Art class, students could go to the next level and design a team logo that they could then take to their textiles class and turn into a jersey.  The connections are endless.  We just need to stop and think and not be afraid to try IMG_3541something out of the norm.  For me, the problem most of us would see with this is the exclusivity of it.  Sure some athletic kids might enjoy doing this in Art class, but what about the ones who have no interest in sports?  My question is, why does every student in class have to do the same projects all the time?  Can we not find a way to make a project general enough so as to foster the creativity of our students and give them the chance to do something they are genuinely interested in?  I want kids to be excited about what they are learning about.  I want kids to be interested in subjects they never imagined would be interesting to them.  If we are doing a unit on clay, find a way to give them credit for creating a beautiful flower or a terrifying monster or a remake of themselves playing soccer.

The last idea I had for Art is the one I’m most excited about.  Around the West Kootenays there are motivational signs that have been made by random people and hung up all over.  They are just little positive sayings that remind us to see the good in life and maybe even boost our spirits a bit on those dreary days.  I love them.  I also think it would be a great collaboration for Art and PE.  Promote health, wellness, and positivity, creating beautiful signs, and walking around town hanging them up to share with the community.  It’s a win-win-win situation.  I see schools creating the signs in Art class and then taking time in PE class to do a walk or run around town with the signs and finding places to hang them up.  I don’t think there should be any problems with hanging them up as far as the law goes, but if that is a concern, the teachers could always check ahead of time.  Along with this idea is to turn old run down properties or abandoned building projects into something positive.  Maybe take your Art class on a walk to that ‘eye-sore’ in your town and give them the opportunity to create some graffiti and brighten it up a bit.  Tasteful graffiti of course, and hopefully with some positive messages worked in so we don’t upset any residents in town.  This one may need some looking into to make sure no trespassing laws are being broken, but I really think it is worth it as the end result will be an improvement for everyone.  And it doesn’t have to be graffiti, it could just be a nice mural to make sure everyone enjoys it!  Alright, that’s it.  Get to work bringing these two subjects together!

Collaboration Series: Part 6 – Metal/Wood

Always fighting with a low budget for your PE equipment needs?  Make friends with a shop teacher and turn those financial obstacles into Metal/Wood projects for students.  Why spend your own personal time building Quidditch Rings for your PE class or school intramurals when you could get a Sr. Wood student to build them for you?  Why spend money out of your budget on new hockey nets when you could get a Metalwork class to design and build one themselves?  IMG_3368

There are lots of different options in the shop classes to connect to PE.  Maybe there are low income students at your school who can’t afford certain sports equipment that they need outside of school.  Give them the option to build what they need for marks.  Why have every kid build a garden trowel if nobody they know grows a garden?  Let them take measurements, and draw up plans on how to build themselves a new baseball bat for their practices after school.  It could go a long way for that student and their athletic dreams, and it won’t necessarily use up more materials than you had set aside for the regular projects.  It is also a good chance to give students a bit of freedom to test their limits.  You can’t tell who is going to become an engineer one day, but maybe this opportunity helps spark that creativity in that student.  This idea won’t work for every situation and there is always the shop budget to deal with as well, but if we put enough heads together, we could definitely do some cool things.  Maybe there is even an option to use some PE budget and some shop budget to throw this collaboration idea together.