Sunday, September 18, 2016

Can we talk about homework?

Me in first grade
Could you assign oppressive amounts
of homework to a face like that?
My introduction to homework came in first grade. Every school night, I had to write my numbers from 1 to 100, copy spelling words, and fill out some sort of worksheet. It took hours to complete: not because the assignment was difficult, but because I filled my time with distractions and dawdling to avoid the dreaded task. As I went through school, the assignments got better, but my attitude never did. I was a certified homework hater.

As a teacher, I found the other side of the homework situation wasn't much better. I did my best to assign meaningful practice in math and language arts, but it just didn't work. I found the students who most needed the practice didn't do the homework, often because they needed more assistance than they had at home. The students who reliably turned their homework in would have been better off using the time spent doing homework on reading or an extension activity. In addition, class time and relationships were sacrificed to extracting completed assignments from the kids who didn't get them done at home.

One of the benefits of switching from teaching fifth grade to my current position was that homework was not an expected part of my classes. The students who came to me were responsible for homework assigned by their regular classroom teacher, the time spent in my room was for enrichment.

Now that doesn't mean that I never wanted my students to take my class home with them. I challenge my kids to read 40 or more books a year: there isn't enough free reading time in the school day to make that happen. When my kids are confronted with a challenging idea in math or an argument from something they have read, I hope it's compelling enough that they will think about it overnight.

Last year, my entire school had a discussion about the necessity of homework. We read articles, surveyed families, and shared opinions about it. We didn't create a blanket homework or no homework policy, but an agreement that any homework assigned would be intentional and meaningful.

This week, my school's homework policy ended up on the front page of the Coeur d'Alene Press and in a KREM 2 News segment. It caused me to do even more reflection on how we want to build a bridge between school and home learning for our students.

This 3 topping pizza would cost 9.7¢ per
square inch at my favorite pizza parlor.

Image: Pizza Toscana in a box
[Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I want my students to continue thinking about what they've learned in school. When I show up dressed as Charles Pinckney on Constitution Day, I hope a few kids will go home and look up the text of the Constitution and learn more about the compromises made during the summer of 1787. If we calculate the cost per square inch of the Giant Sicilian pizza, a few of my kids are going to figure out the cost per slice of their family's dinner, right? If they want to break our class speed record for counting by 8s, won't my students practice at home?

The more I think about it, I don't know if my kids are taking their learning home with them. So, this year I plan to be more intentional about suggesting how they can practice, study, and engage in their own academic exploration after the bell rings at 3:30. No homework isn't the same as no learning at home.

In addition, I am going to encourage my students to take advantage of the enrichment opportunities available to them. Maybe less "homework" will mean more Invent Idaho projects, more entries in our local library's writing contest, and better preparation for our school spelling bee.

The big question is how to get that message to my students and their parents. How can I help my students become self-directed learners to the extent that they look for opportunities outside the school day? Do you have an answer? I'll be seeking them all year, and I'll keep you updated as I continue to experiment and refine...

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

#IDedchat: Summer reading June 22, 2016

This week, I'll be hosting #IDedchat along with Sarah Windisch. It's summer, and that means we finally have time to sit down and read. I know my summer reading is always a mix of professional books, KidLit, pulp novels, and internet articles. Even though my to-read list is endless, I'm still always looking for recommendations.

Tonight, let's give each other some recommendations for summer reading. We will try to just have an open discussion and just throw out ideas from our own diverse reading lists. Think about the questions below to guide our discussion, and Sarah and I will throw them out throughout the chat if we need to keep the discussion moving.

I hope you'll join us tonight, and I really look forward to hearing your recommendations!

Summer Reading
June 22, 2016
7 p.m. PDT / 8 p.m. PDT / 9 p.m. CDT / 10 p.m. EDT

Some of these questions come from a chat that I hosted for the gone, but not forgotten, #slowchated

What are you currently reading?
Which book do you most recommend for other teachers?
What is your all-time favorite book?
 Share something you read as a student that sticks with you to this day.
Why did it make an impact?
Share something you read that inspired a change in your practice this school year.
 Share something you have read and are still digesting.
 What do you most want your students to read?

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Edcamp Cd'A is coming.

Things have been really crazy for me for the last couple months. When I presented at the Coeur d'Alene Education Partnership's State of the District event, I said that I wanted to bring the Edcamp experience to our region within the next year. Before I knew it, Edcamp Cd'A was coming together. It will be the first Edcamp in North Idaho, and I can't wait to see how it goes. I'm working with a terrific team to put it all together, there is just a lot to do before it gets here. If you're in the area, I hope you can join us.

Edcamp Cd'A
May 14, 2016
9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Lake City High School

Monday, February 15, 2016

Presidents Day 2016

Last year I said that I would be switching to clean-shaven presidents and doing two portraits a year. So, without further ado, here is one portrait of a bearded president. I guess that's what I get for putting it in writing.

This year's portrait was inspired by this photo of Ulysses S. Grant taken by Matthew Brady circa 1870
Accessed from The Miller Center Presidential Portrait Gallery

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Inspiration from #IETA16

My head is still swimming from all the education awesomeness I experienced at my first Idaho Education Technology Association (IETA) Conference. Between the sessions, exhibit hall, and networking, it was one of the best conferences I've attended. Rather than leaving with a mile-long wishlist of technology, I have ideas that I can use in my classroom and share with my colleagues.

I was lucky enough to attend along with my wonderful wife, Sarah Windisch. Since we're both always looking for ways to improve our schools and classrooms, the learning never stopped. We're still talking about all of the things we're inspired to try out.

Monday opened with Darren Hudgins' keynote presentation "The Merchant of Someday." He highlighted just how rapidly access to information and communication is changing the world.
Although the world has changed immensely in the last few years, schools have been much slower to adapt. He challenged us to use our vision of someday to guide us as we sell learning to our students. It definitely set the right tone to kick off a technology conference.
I also got to learn about Hyperdocs from Lisa Highfill on Monday. The basic idea of Hyperdocs is to create an all-in-one digital document that gives students the instructions and resources to explore and learn on their own. Then students can share the basic information with each other online leaving your class discussion time for making meaningful connections and digging deeper. This was my biggest takeaway from the conference. I'm putting this right to work in my classroom for third grade literature circles. I also loved hearing about Lisa's Teachers Give Teachers Twitter account. It's basically a repository for re-tweeted free resources from other teachers. It's a great concept, and I hope it really takes off in Idaho.

The #IDedchat crew got together Monday night. Discovery Education hosted a nice reception for the group and it was fun to spend some time with my usually virtual PLN.
My favorite Tuesday session was almost another keynote as Rushton Hurley talked about making memorable projects. He encouraged us to get students asking interesting questions.
When students are interested, they're willing to produce excellent work. In addition, constructing a memorable project sets the stage for greater student learning.
The rest of the second day was full of great ideas, too, but the highlight was the IETA Teacher of the Year award. It went to a fourth grade teacher from my district who has done some amazing things with technology in her classroom. I always look forward to learning with her at our district technology meetings. Congratulations, Kelli Ogle!

There were so many things at IETA that I want to bring back to my classroom. It will definitely keep me trying new ideas through the rest of this school year and beyond. And I'll keep you updated as I continue to experiment and refine...

For more #IETA16 learning, check out Janet Avery's Storify of Day 1 and Day 2.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The big 10K

Illustration by Sarah Windisch
At some point this week, the Teacher With Tuba blog reached 10,000 pageviews! It's hard to believe I've been able to share with so many of you over the last two years. Before I joined Twitter and started blogging, reflection on my work as a teacher was an entirely private activity. I didn't believe the things I did were worth sharing to a larger audience than the students in my classroom. Then I saw this:

I realized that sharing makes all of us better. I've learned so much through reading others' blogs and discussing the posts I've written. Thank you so much to everyone who reads the Teacher With Tuba blog and interacts with me. It's helped me and my students to reach greater heights. I look forward to continuing to learn together for a long time to come.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Recent reads

Christmas break is a great time to recharge my batteries, reflect on how the first four months of the school year have gone, and re-tool for the rest of the year. This year, it was also a great opportunity to read some of the middle grade books that have generated a lot of buzz this year.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

The most checked-out books in my classroom library are graphic novels, so I'm always on the lookout for good ones with well-developed characters and engaging story lines. Roller Girl did not disappoint. This story of a girl's first experience with roller derby during the summer between elementary and middle school is one of the best realistic fiction graphic novels I've encountered. I especially like how the protagonist, Astrid, demonstrates perseverance through the trials of roller derby camp. It also deals with many of the changing friendship issues that I see kids encounter as they transition to middle school.
I can think of a lot of my kids who I'd recommend this to. I have a feeling that I won't get the chance, though, because it will fly off my shelf before I can.

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley

I was intrigued by Circus Mirandus since I first saw an image of the cover almost a year ago. I've heard great things about it since, but I didn't know what to expect when I started reading it. The story follows Micah Tuttle as he sets out to find help for his dying grandfather by finding the magical circus from his grandfather's stories.
I loved the way this story showed the love between a boy and his grandfather through the stories and experiences they shared. The scenes at the circus created a nice blend between realistic fiction and fantasy. I really enjoyed reading this, but felt like there was a little unfinished business at the end of the story that left me unsatisfied. Still, this is one I will heartily recommend to students. I this is a book that could get some of my single-genre readers to broaden their horizons.

The War that Saved my Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

This book was a surprise. I just recently heard about it at #titletalk and on a couple end-of-the-year favorites lists. My public library had it in their digital check-out library, so I gave it a try. The War that Saved my Life  may be the finest young-adult historical fiction I've read. Born with a club foot, Ada has been isolated from the world by an unloving mother. When the children of London are evacuated to the countryside as the threat of German bombing raids increases, Ada is able to start a new life when she and her brother are taken in by a reclusive villager. The author uses Ada's lack of experience with the outside world as an opportunity to thoroughly explain historical concepts that will probably be unfamiliar to young readers.
As good as this was, I won't be able to add it to my classroom library. There is some strong language near the end that will keep it off my shelves. Still, it's a terrific book and I wouldn't be surprised if it won this year's Newbery Medal.

I hope to read a lot more middle grade books in the coming year. My school library recently ordered some of the other buzzed-about books from 2015, my to-read list from my classroom library is long, and there are sure to be some to add to my list in 2016. I look forward to hearing what my students and PLN recommend!

Purchases made at my links to Amazon provide me with a small compensation that I use to purchase more books for my classroom library. Although I greatly appreciate purchases made through my links, I encourage you to support a local bookstore if you have one available.