Monday, February 3, 2014

Re-thinking my blended classroom in 2014.....thanks Arne Duncan!

Well my blended classroom is evolving rapidly. I have a full class set of ipad minis since October of 2013 that we use as regular part of daily work in a variety of ways. The ipads have become a valuable everyday tool for learning.  In addition, I was awarded a MakerBot 3-D Printer grant through  This has prompted an after school 3-D Club. We are exploring and learning about 3-D design software together. It is the future for these students.

I am once again re-thinking homework. I have so many students that don't do homework. It doesn't matter what I expect of my students on their own. At least 60 percent of them don't do it. It can be a 3 minute video, practice 5 math problems, copy some notes, or work on a small project. No matter how big or small, there is just no work ethic to complete anything. Which brings me to the next thing that has prompted me to re-think my classroom, Annie Murphy Paul's Brilliant Blog on student accountability.

I agree with Thomas L. Friedman and Arne Duncan…………too many parents and too many kids just don't take education seriously enough and don't want to put in the work needed today to really excel?

As a middle school math teacher, my goal is help each of my students grow and learn to their greatest potential. I teach my students about brain research, successful learning practices, and use technology to meet their learning needs on all levels. Although each of my 100 students is at a different point in the learning progression, it is my job to move them along that continuum of learning standards. It is the planned intentional goal of standards for all students to reach at least a proficient conceptual understanding at their grade level. I challenge all my students to do their best and I provide them with every possible opportunity to succeed. Parents, for the most part, do not support this effort. They complain about the homework, the technology, and the content. They blame me when their children fail. Over the last 5-7 years I have observed a rapid decline in the work ethic parents expect from their children while blaming teachers for their children’s failure. I have many students who come to school every day unprepared for whatever reason. It puzzles me that these failing students have no concern for their lack of progress nor attempt to seek the variety of opportunities I provide to help them succeed. They are not bored or unengaged, they are happy, social and seem to have no understanding of the work ethic it takes to succeed in a competitive world. I have a deep concern for the future of this generation of students and the huge economic gap that will be the result of this mediocre work ethic.

I think Arne Duncan is absolutely correct calling all parents and educators to compel our students to be accountable for their learning.  It is our job to teach our children about work ethics and achievement. It is time for America to expect nothing less than the best from our educators, students and parents. It takes a village to be a great nation.

In light of my view, I have decided I need to find a way to compel my students to work harder but not in a traditional way. The flipped classroom still has the feel of "homework" to my students so I am trying the following things. First, I have not assigned "homework" for a week now. Interestingly, none of my students have asked me why I have broken from a pattern of always expecting something from them at least 4 nights per week. I have posted a list of the weeks lessons online and on the board in school. Each day, the groups sort out (differentiate themselves) by where they are in their learning. Some is by choice, "I need more help with this or that" or "I am ready for the challenge and have completed all required work." I find I am working hard doing a lot of small group teaching but so far it seems more effective. Second, when students fail a test because they didn't do any work, I usually allow the failure but now I call them on it. I point out they have not reached the learning objective so we will have to do more learning and re-test. This took two more classes and some "weekend work." NOTICE, I didn't say "homework." I presented the work after a review as this is something that is now needed for you to learn this and pass the second test. Interesting, there were parents who complained about the weekend practice to help their child pass a second test.......thus part of the problem in America.

The experiment continues so I will have to blog again after thirty days. What I do know is I am doing what Arne Duncan asked, "compelling my students to do more" not by piling on homework but instead teaching the necessary effort it takes to reach a goal. After all, it does take a whole village and we teachers are part of the village. Compel your students rather than assign work and let me know what happens.