Throwing Caution to the Wind: Community Members in the Classroom

Sometimes you just have to dive in head first, no matter what hesitations or worries you might have. Sometimes people ask me how I accomplish so much or learn so much. I would say that it comes from one simple thing: I’m not afraid of trying new things, failing, and then learning from those mistakes. If I have an idea that I think would be awesome for my students, I try it. It benefits no one to sit and hem and haw over whether something might flop or be great. You’ll never know unless you try.

Based on that mentality, I’ve tried out something this year that is going really well (for the most part–there are always mistakes) this year: inviting as many community members as possible into my classroom.

One of the goals that our building admin has set for every teacher is that they have one community member visit their classroom sometime during the school year. So far, because of diving in head first, I’ve had 12 community members visit my classroom and will actually have 3 more visiting in the next two weeks!

Let’s see who and what I’ve had happen in my classroom, and how diving in headfirst has helped!

  • Local businessman in charge of a local community action project
    • I had students writing persuasive essays about local social justice issues. Students couldn’t find the info online they needed, so we got on my iPhone on speaker and called the local Chamber of Commerce who put us in touch with someone who came into school¬†the next day and was interviewed by my students.
  • Local entreprenuer
    • Students were beginning an entreprenuer project. I contacted a list serve of which I’m a part from my edtech company. A local entreprenuer came in and talked about basic design principles which helped my students make awesome advertisments for their products!
  • Owner of a PR firm
    • As part of the same list serve email, the owner of a local PR firm skyped with all my classes to talk about how to craft their advertising messages for the projects. He even coordinated with a nationally-published education blog for their work to be published online!
  • Graphic designer
    • From the same PR firm as above, she helped students with their logos. She even gave specific mentoring feedback to groups throughout their projects!
  • Local business¬†professionals
    • When my students presented their final entreprenuership and advertising projects, I got 8 separate business professionals ranging from advertisers to local newspaper employees to Rotary club members to come and be guest judges. It was very powerful!
  • PBS Documentarian and social justice musician
    • We will have an assembly for all 8th graders in our whole town to hear and learn from this couple. We are currently studying documentaries in all 8th grade classes, and they are coming this next week to present to all the 8th graders!
  • Journalist who helped cover the Steven Avery trial
    • As I wrote about in another post, we are examing the film-making techniques of “Making a Murderer.” I actually got in touch with a journalist who covered the trial! He agreed to come to class. We’re so excited!

I could go on and on about how awesome it has been for my students to have these guests. And, I’ll just keep on diving head first and making random phone calls and sending random emails and random tweets as much as I can to get even more people to come in and help my students learn.

Like I said, although there have definitely been some things that I’d like to change in the future (and I’ve been learning from guest to guest), I won’t stop throwing caution to the wind.


Making a Murder: Teaching Documentaries through pop culture

The unit that I’m teaching right now with my 8th graders is about documentaries. Our inquiry question for the unit is, “Are documentaries credible sources of information?” We’ve been teaching terms like lighting and music and types of camera shots as well as reviewing traditional persuasion techniques. We are now in the phase of students applying that knowledge to documentaries by analyzing how these techniques are used to persuade the audience. It is then up to them to decide if the documentary is credible or not.

I, like almost every other person in America over the age of 11, is obsessed with the Netflix serial documentary “Making a Murderer.” While watching, I realized that this documentary uses all of the aspects we’ve discussed in class in order to persuade the audience. I asked the principal, found an episode that really was a great example, and found all the parts I needed to cut out in order to make it PG. (Let me tell you–such a job lesson planning by having to watch an episode of my current, favorite show.)

Before we watch the show, we did a DocentEDU lesson that introduced the students to the concepts. I LOVE DocentEDU because I was able to take a real magazine article and add my own insights, questions, and discussions to make a coherent lesson. It really helps make the endless options of the internet into a lesson format that is relevant and real and manageable for my students. Here’s the lesson if you want to make a copy.

We will be watching Episode 2 of the series, minus some content that I’ll skip. If you’d like to look at (or make a copy) of the analysis note paper, you can get it here.

#onlyinMN: Research, persuasion, creation

This week we will start our next unit with my 6th graders. The goal of the unit is to teach basic research skills and citation skills as well as some Minnesota history and geography along with nonfiction reading and writing skills. The great school I’m at has created this unit to be centered around a creation of a brochure for a landmark, activity, or place in Minnesota.

I am lucky enough to teach enriched 6th grade, and lucky enough that I feel comfortable enough using blended learning practices. I’m also lucky enough that my colleagues made a great base of the unit. I went in and modified it today for the enriched 6th-grade class. I also tried to add in more of the 4 C’s.

  • Instead of just publishing to the class, students are going to take part in the Explore Minnesota organization’s campaign of #onlyinMN. This bridges social media platforms (I will post) and gives a more authentic audience and purpose.
    • Their goal will now be, instead of only to inform, to persuade and inform. They must persuade someone through information to explore their event, landmark, or place of choice.
    • Their posts will be posted through our class Twitter account.
  • Instead of only making a brochure, students will create a 3-pronged marketing campaign including:
    • An internet pop-up ad using Google slides (here’s the explanation video)
    • A commercial using Animoto (explanation video)
    • A social media post that I will post to the #onlyinMn hashtag with our class Twitter account (explanation video)

Students will obviously research and plan their marketing campaign before creating the products. This will include exploring and researching one place, landmark, or event. They will also have to learn how to cite their sources. I also am focusing on teaching them how they must use images that are only free to use or modify.

If you’d like to see a copy of the whole unit, here’s the link.¬†

I made this whole unit as one long assignment so that I could teach it in a blended manner. I’ll spend a few minutes introducing the whole assignment and asking questions, but the document is designed that the next 2 weeks (or so) of class will be completely up to the students’ own pace. If you notice in the document, it has several features which allow this:

  • Table of contents for easy navigation (students can find their way!)
  • All materials (docs, etc) needed for the project are linked in this main directional doc
  • Every new task has a directional video linked right where the task is introduced.
    • I don’t have to explain everything to the whole class at all! When students get to that section, they can watch the video. If a student forgets the directions, they can watch the video! No more teaching to the middle!!!!
  • All directions for the entire project are in one place, so it won’t be confusing for students to find what they need to do
  • I’ve put approximate times for each step on the document
    • I will give verbal cues as to a desired timeline, but students can use their class time as needed

I’ve said before on my blog that blended learning keeps me sane (and saves my voice). It also really allows me to be the best teacher I can be since I can now work with students as they need it, differentiating for their specific learning needs.

I’m really excited for this unit and the real purpose and audience that it creates. I know from previous units that this really engages and excites my students. I’ll update at the end of the unit with great and awesome student work.

Also, be sure to follow our class account @Hogensheroes


Blended for autonomy (and sanity)

I teach much of my lessons in a blended model. I don’t flip, but instead allow students to work on assignments on their own or in small groups, at somewhat of their own pace, most of the time.

Why? Well I could spout off all the scientific research for why this is great, but let me tell you some of my reasons that are in addition to that research:

1-The kids like it! Many like it for different reasons. Those reasons range from being able to work more independently, to being able to interact more with peers, to having choice in the classroom, to simply not having to hear their teacher drone on for another class period.

2-I get to work with my students on a small-group and individual basis more than if I was so teacher-centered. When the directions are on a doc and in a video, and students are engaged in a task that spans a longer time period, I’m able to rotate around the room and help students as much as needed.

3-This might be silly, but it’s huge for me. I don’t lose or wreck my voice. When I talk to the class as a whole for maybe 3 minutes a class period, I don’t have to raise my voice at all for anything. I can tell the days that I failed at blended learning almost just by how my voice feels.

4-The earlier point goes to my sanity as well but what really helps my sanity is the fact that blended learning decreases so many of the things that make teachers go crazy (behavior issues, herding cats feelings, not having time to differentiate, no time to work with the students who need it) and replaces it with just the opposite in a positive way. I am a much happier, healthier teacher when I run my class this way.

This past week in my 8th grade classroom, students did the following:

a-wrote their reflective journals when they wanted, looking back at my directional videos as needed

b-chose a documentary completely on their own that they wanted to watch and analyze

c-worked on creating a blueprint for a documentary they’d like to pitch to producers and created an infographic on Canva to illustrate it

As long as students were working, I was happy. As long as they asked others for help before me, or relied on my direction videos, then I was happy.

I would really, highly recommend trying some aspect of blended learning in your classroom as soon as possible.

Soon I’ll post about the tech tools which allow me to teach this way.

Taking over the library: a recipe for authentic learning

Today was our last day of our reader’s workshop unit. As I wrote about previously, I arrived in this unit to create a constant sense of authentic audience. This was mainly done in two ways: makerspace reflection videos were posted for all students to see and students knew that their final products of book reviews would be put in the library and on Amazon.

Today we went and took over the library with our book reviews. First, all students wrote their reviews in a Google doc. They then changed the sharing setting so that anyone with the link could view. They then used to create short links which were then printed out. Next to the links was the message, “Want to know if this book was good? Read this review from another student here at the school!” We then went and taped these reviews in the inside covers of the books.

Mir was such a great feeling to see my students filling the library with their excitement and anticipation of other students reading their work. They were so excited to know that, not only will their writing be read by someone else, their writing might actually help someone make a decision about a book!

I’ll be posting the reviews to Amazon soon under my account. (I have 6th graders so they can’t do this themselves.) it’s been a great ending to a great unit!

Book Reviews: Finding an Authentic Audience for Reader’s Workshop

I am currently finishing up the second time I’ve taught literary terms through the reader’s workshop model. I’ve loved both times. One thing that I reflected on after my first time teaching with this model was that my students needed more of an authentic audience for their final assessments/creations. So, this go-round students are writing book reviews. We are then posting those book reviews in two places:

  • School Media Center:
    • As shortened links and QR codes in our school media center inside the hard copies of the actual book that each student read. This way, all future students who pick up the book will have a guide to answer the question, “Will I like this book?”
  • Amazon Customer Reviews:
    • As reviews on the listing of the book for purchase on Amazon. I am doing this under my account since my students are too young to do this themselves.

My students are very excited for this interaction and the real audiences that they will reach. More importantly than just simply reaching an audience other than their teacher or classmates, my students know that they will actually be helping inform someone’s decision!

I think that having authentic audiences is a powerful way to motivate and engage students. Even more so, knowing that those authentic audiences will use the product is even better!

Overall, writing a book review and publishing to several places beats writing another boring book report that only your teacher will see.