being a teacher, Lesson Planning, student voice

Debate Boxing – A Way to Get Kids Thinking Fast

December is a fun month to teach if you know how to use the inevitable energy that the students bring in.  While I may long for my fireplace and a good book, my students are eagerly awaiting snow, break, and perhaps even Christmas.  To say that our classroom is loud in the afternoon is an understatement.  Knowing the energy level of the kids, my smart colleague Reidun, therefore, proposed doing debate during the month of December, and boy was she right.  The energy is infectious, the kids are committed, and the engagement is high.

While the students have successfully completed their practice unit, we are now gearing up for the big one; the summative debate where they must find their own articles, research reliability and also try to prep for whatever their opposing team will throw at them.  This is why thinking on their feet is so important, as well as being able to listen to what is actually being said and then formulating a response.

Enter debate boxing.  Not my idea, nor the idea of my colleague, but definitely an idea that needs to be shared (If you know where it came from please let me know so I can link it!).

The concept is simple:

Pick something for the students to debate.  We used this podcast from NPR’s More Perfect because it does not give a black and white answer.  We use the podcast to discuss how our perspective changes as we uncover more facts.  This took us about two days as the students took notes throughout and we stopped and discussed.

Then, using their notes, have students draft an opening statement.  I only gave them ten minutes to do so, because I don’t want them to get hung up on this.  They know they need to have an opinion, evidence for it as well as explain why their evidence proves their claim.

Then, split the class into two teams based on their opinion.  Have each team select a team member to start off their match.

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Either, create a ring in your classroom or have the two students debating stand on a table or a chair.  Either way; have where they are stand out.  Then with their notes in hand, one team reads their opening statement.  Their opponent then gets 45 seconds to give their rebuttals based on what they heard and what they know and off they go.  The rebuttals go back and forth at a fast pace.

At any point, the member can “tap out” and have someone else take over or we also said that the team can switch them out.

After a few minutes, the round is over, the team members both switch and the other team reads their opening statement.

You can go for as long as the kids have something valuable to say.

For a twist toward the end, I had the teams switch opinions and argue opposite of what they had.  This was amazing as they had gotten rather intense about their opinion and now had to debate for the opposing claim.

Today we debrief, we discuss what they learned from the experience, and also why thinking on your feet and listening is so vital when we discuss.  While our classroom may have been loud yesterday and just a tad bit crazy, it was the best kind of crazy there is.

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being a teacher, boring, inspiration, Lesson Planning, lessons learned

Today I was Boring

I love Mondays.  They are loud, a little bit crazy, and always exciting.  My students are tapping their feet, their are sharpening their pencils and asking a million questions about what we are doing this week and when are we going to get to do this really cool thing?  The noise can be kind of intimidating to cut through but then you realize that it is excitement, not just chatter, and it becomes a different beast to maneuver altogether.

Today, I was boring, though.  I had my lessons planned, even with discussion questions, extra surprises and movie clips.  And yet, I fell flat.  During social studies, where I was teaching the writing of the Constitution, I yawned.  And you know if the teacher is bored, then imagine what the students feel.  So I stopped.  I put the book down that I was reading aloud and then asked them what questions they had.  A little bit of perking up.  Then I asked them to write on the board everything they knew about the office of the president, some motion and activity.  Then I started to drone on again – moment lost.

I don’t know what it was today.  I had a long night with my daughter with croup, my mind is heavy with the scary legislation vote looming over us, and I didn’t take the time to think this morning.  I have a pretty set morning routine where I get in 1 hour and 15 min early, turn on my music, jam to that while I clean, pull out, discuss, give hugs to colleagues and just focus.  Today I had no music, ran around, got visited by students early, stopped by a great Valentines Day breakfast and just spoke a lot of politics  By the time the bell rang, I was ready physically not mentally.

And what a difference that makes!  All day I played catch up, tried to find my brain – it must be around somewhere – and just made it through.  That is not what teaching is supposed to be like; surviving.  So I wonder; what do others do when the lesson isn’t working?  Do you throw it out?  Stop and do something else entirely or just lumber through it?  I felt I robbed a great moment in history from my students today, something that I cannot get back.  So when your brain disappears and the day just seems to happen to you, what do you do to put it back on track?

I, for one, am going to bed early, charging my Ipod, getting my red shirt ready (all union workers are wearing red to show unity this week) and packing chocolate in my lunch tomorrow.  I will not let my students down like this again.

being a teacher, being me, Lesson Planning, Student-centered, teaching

Simplify

As I prep for the upcoming week of lessons, I find myself cutting ideas out and slimming things down.  I am simplifying my lessons.  And not because I am “dumbing” them down, not at all, instead I am offering my students the luxury of only having to focus on key concepts rather than overwhelming them with all the bells and whistles.

In order for my students to take ownership of the learning they have to understand what they are owning.  They have to be able to take an idea, make it their own and then push it through.  if I add too many components to something, they will end up confused, bogged down, or just plain bored.

In college I was taught to make it exciting, to add visuals, support, brainstorming sheets and even hand signals.  I now rebel against that notion of having to add more every time. Perhaps that is why I am no longer a supporter of IWB’s in every classroom.  I don’t need to be more interactive, my students do.

So this week, I am cutting back all the extras.  I am focusing on what the goal is and letting students add their distinctive spins on it.  I will have supports ready if needed but I will not assume they need them.  I will speak less and engage more.  Simplify my teaching = expand their learning.  I am excited.

This post was partially inspired by this excellent post written Josh Stumpenhorst @stumpteacher.

being a teacher, Lesson Planning, New Adventure

A New Adventure Begins

With the start of a new brilliant year, I am excited to unveil my new blogging adventure:  Lessons from the Fourth Dimension, a blog dedicated to sharing lesson plans and resources in my classroom.  While I teach 4th grade, these plans are meant for anyone to use and adapt to suit their needs.

I have been inspired by so many people, so this is my way of trying to give something back.  Thank you so much for your support on this blog, I hope you enjoy this new adventure.

being a teacher, college, Lesson Planning, lessons learned, new teacher, questions, students

Veering Off the Chosen Lesson Path – or Why You Should Take a New Route

As college students when taught the craft of becoming a teacher, one thing is hammered into us again and again; the necessity of lesson plans. We are given graphic organizers to ensure that we account for every single possible thing; special needs, types of learing, beginning, goal, standards and on and on. I slaved over my mine, creating perfect fictitious classrooms that would need my supposed expertise to reach the goal.   It would always be me as the fierce director bringing students into learning, the keeper of the flame.

As a first year teacher, I continued my meticulous planning, always knowing the end goal and more importantly the exact path that I would take to go there.  Students were forced down my chute of learning so that they could reach their glorious destination, often not having time to take a different direction, a different approach.  I had curriculum to get through and by golly I would!

And then I realized what I was really doing.  By glossing over student questions, by forcing my path on the students, I was losing them.  I was losing their inquisitiveness, their creativity, their sense of learning style and most sadly, I was losing their trust in me as a teacher.  Why would they open up when I barely ever slowed down to listen to them?  It wasn’t that I wasn’t a decent teacher, I was, but that was it, decent.  No room for individuality, no room for new discoveries, just here is the goal, let’s reach it.

Learning is always happening in any classroom you walk into.  But notice the different types of learning.  Is there room for student exploration?  For veering off the path?  For taking a totally different route altogether?  How stringent is the teacher with their lesson plan, is it followed minutely or used as a guide for the ultimate goal?  How loud are the students?  How engaged?  I was once asked by my principal what my goal for a particularly disastrous lesson plan was and I couldn’t tell him, what I could tell him was the path I was going to take.  What a wake up call that was – thanks Mr. Rykal -know your goal, think of a path but then don’t be afraid to go another route, to listen to the students,  let them shape the learning.  I promise, you will see the difference in excitement, in caring, and in learning.  Do you dare to take anther route?