A Teacher’s Quick and Dirty Guide to Cosmos

For the past two summers, I have had the privilege to work with an amazing collection of teachers as a part of the MSU-Wipro STEM & Leadership Teaching Fellowship. One of my favorite aspects of spending my summer as an MSUrbanSTEM instructor is seeing the amazing artifacts that can be created in such a short amount of time by this world class collection of educators. This year, the fellows read Cosmos by Carl Sagan in preparation for our summer session.  Over the course of only a few days, and intermingled with a myriad of other tasks and assignment, the fellows crafted this amazing resource for other educators – A Teacher’s Quick and Dirty Guide to Cosmos.

Igniting Students to Share

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Through the countless avenues of inspiration, this year our staff took on the challenge of offering an “Explore Hour”, which is essentially a daily Genius Hour for our students. (If you are unfamiliar with Genius Hour, I strongly urge you to check out Joy Kirr, as she was one of the first educators with whom I spoke to about Genius Hour, and does an amazing job curating resources for anyone interested in the idea.)  Those of you familiar with Genius Hour will know that one of the essential elements of it is students sharing their learning, whether this be through publishing on blogs, gallery walks of their artifacts or through public speaking style presentations. The latter of which being an area most of our students had the least amount of experience and the most amount of anxiety. Most students felt very anxious about making mistakes in front of peers, and having too much or not enough material. This is where Ignite comes into play.

The basic idea of an Ignite Presentation is that all presenters are limited in both slide count, and time.

  • 20 Slidestumblr_inline_n567m8pnnd1rkv4z0
  • 15 Seconds per slide
  • 5 minutes total

This creates a small window in which the speaker must convey their idea to the audience. What I felt this could provide for our students was an opportunity to present, but with two of their biggest anxieties limited. By limiting the content, and the time, it almost guarantees that the presenter will be rushed, and will feel as if they don’t have enough time to share all of their work. This relaxed all students, as no one felt they “didn’t do enough” or were outdone by the student who did a presentation 10 times their length.

We decided to try these out the week before Spring Break, when we felt students energy needed to be matched with a task that required equal energy. Since this was their first experience with such a radical presentation, Jeff and I (we co-teach Explore Hour) each delivered an example Ignite Presentation at the start of class. For the first attempt, we decided to reduce the slide count to ten, and the time per slide to five seconds. We then let students choose their topics by pulling them out of a bowl of ideas we had made prior. These topics were intended to be so simple the student could easily research or explain them. The true challenge would be, how do you explain or argue this topic given your slide and time restrictions?

The response form students was amazing. As an alternative school, a large portion of our students have often joined us because of some negative experience, either personally or academically. However, this assignment saw participation and completion leap roughly 40-50% over previous presentation assignments. Students not only felt comfortable sharing with their peers, but were extremely supportive, often applauding a student who seemed nervous as they took the stage, or offering words of encouragement to those who stumbled through their presentation.

While just a taste, the Ignite Presentations were beyond my wildest expectations. Students presented publicly to a room of over thirty teenagers and at least three adults (our principal took time to stop in for the presentations!) and all did so with tremendous confidence, while continuing to build their public speaking and communication skills.

I am not sure where we will go next with Ignite, but I am sure that it will be used again. Perhaps a fresh take on the traditional core class presentations?

Click Here to see a few examples of student presentations.

Topic: Argument – Best TV Show

Topic: How To – Make Mac & Cheese

Power of Participation

As Michigan (and most of the midwest) is being blasted with another “Polar Vortex”, I have taken the opportunity to catch up on some much needed grading.

I have been reading through letters my Government class recently wrote to newly elected officials, discussing issues that they believe are important and should be addressed. The more I read from my class, the more impressed I became with my students.

As a general rule, I always assume that my students will surprise me, but that feeling never gets old. I had the such a feeling when I read a letter from one of my students to Governor Rick Snyder about marriage equality. In this very polite, articulate and well written letter, one line stuck out to me.

During your first term you had said many times that you have no problem with marriage equality, so my question is why do we not have it?

In this one line, I could feel the passion, concern and urgency of the writer. As a teacher I was proud of the accomplishment of the writer to convey their thoughts eloquently, respectfully and powerfully, but I was also excited for them.

Out of all the assignments this year, the assignment to write a letter to an elected official was far and away the most completed by the class, with the highest scores received across the board. I would like to think this is because I have gradually built their skills to a fantastic crescendo, and hopefully I have to a certain extent, but I think the biggest factor in this assignment was giving young people agency.

These students, who often voice a feeling of helplessness in the political realm, took full advantage of speaking directly to their representatives. This is one of those moments I want to bottle and relive over and over again. Hopefully, by providing more opportunities for my students to connect personally with the “real world”, I can.

Bow Tie Tuesday

Everyone needs a chance to feel a part of something. Sometimes, that means joining an organization, rooting for a team or even listening to certain music. However, I always try to remember that while it is easy for some to feel included, our students often feel the pressure, stress and anxiety of feeling excluded and isolated. It is extremely important for us to provide them a safe atmosphere where they can feel like they belong, and are included.

I have learned so much from my PLN (Personal Learning Network), and I have often been inspired in the most surprising ways. Last year I saw a member of my PLN, a principal from Wisconsin named Curt Rees, use his dress and style as an opportunity to make himself more approachable to his students. Always looking for a way to connect with my students, I decided to follow his lead.

IMG_0302Bow Tie Tuesday at Allegan Alternative High School did not start out as an attempt to make anyone feel included. In fact, it probably started last fall when I wore a Michigan State bow tie that I found online, in an attempt to be the “obnoxious Spartan fan” my students groan about. However I noticed that every time I wore a bow tie, more students would approach me to ask about it, and this led to more “personal” conversations. Meaningful conversations with students are always valued, but especially so with students who often avoid any non-academic interaction, much less approaching me to chat about clothes or life.

Bow Tie Tuesday was finally born around last June when a student approached me about also wearing a bow tie on the days I did. It was this request that finally opened my eyes to the ability for Bow Tie Tuesday to be a tool to connect more with my students.

IMG_1533Starting this fall, I have worn a bow tie every Tuesday. The first week it was just me. However the conversation with both students and staff quickly grew and by the third week of school there were two other staff members and at least three students wearing a bow tie in the halls of AAHS. This past week was our best yet, with no fewer than a half dozen students either brining their own bow tie or borrowing one from a teacher. While that number is
exciting, what I really loved was the tens of students asking how they could get involved. Students from every social clique, age, family background and academic level.

IMG_1490As we move throughout the year, my goal is to get more students involved in our quirky event. As a teacher, it is by far one of the least time consuming and easy parts of my week. However it has created another shared experience for our students, many of whom are grasping for that experience with someone. Hopefully more will continue to buy in, whether that be creating posters to get the word out, or borrowing one from a friend. Either way, Bow Tie Tuesdays have reminded me that sometimes it really is the simplest, smallest act that makes a noticeable difference with our students.

MAET Words, 2014

One of the great activities from this summer was the collaboration between all three MAET courses to create the video you see below. Those of us in Chicago teamed up with the East Lansing cohort and the overseas cohort in Galway, Ireland to piece together this excellent Steve Jobs quote (which you can see in it’s entirety below).

MAET Words, 2014 from Punya Mishra on Vimeo.

 

Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: that everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that people can use. Maybe that’s the most important thing, to shake off this erroneous notion that life is there and you’re just gonna live in it, versus embrace it, change it, improve it, make your mark upon it. However you learn this, you’ll want to change life, and make it better. Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same. – Steve Jobs

Learning Upgrade Product Review – Tech & Learning Magazine

 

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Over the past few months I have had the honor of reviewing various educational tools for Tech & Learning Magazine. Recently I reviewed the product “Learning Upgrade“, which you can read in the July issue of the magazine.  It has been a tremendous experience and I look forward to exploring my writing and the various great tools available to the educational community.

 

You can check out my first review for T&L Magazine, for the product “Goal Book“, which was published in the June, 2014 issue.

MSUrbanSTEM Wipro Fellowship

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For the past few weeks I have had the honor of working as a member of the MSU-Wipro Urban STEM Fellowship’s instructional team, with twenty-five of the most dedicated, inspiring and motivated educators in Chicago’s Public Schools. These past two weeks were the initial face to face portion of a year long fellowship that focuses on helping STEM educators create transformative, innovative and multimodal learning environments for their students.

Throughout the two weeks, I had the privilege of watching fellows dive into content, pedagogy, technology and social justice as they collaboratively worked towards revolutionizing the way young learners in Chicago experience the STEM subjects.

I will do my best to share the amazing ideas and creations developed by the fellows. There have already been too many to explain in one post. Please visit the web portfolios for each fellow, as they will be showcasing their work by publishing on their personal sites. After spending the past two weeks around these amazing fellows, I am thrilled for all of the Chicago students whose STEM related experiences will be profoundly different this school year.