What to do with small class sizes?

I’m sure this is going to bizzare, but I have a problem with small class sizes.

Not small like 20 students. I mean small like 8 students.

I teach at a VERY small school. There are about 115 students in 6 grades (7-12). Core classes are at a good size (generally 20-30) but options classes are quite small. A CTS class has about 6 students, my band class has 7 students and an extra History class has 2 students.

Now perhaps it’s great to have 2 students in a class, but for my band class it is a huge disadvantage. I can barely play any legitimate high school band music. I feel like my students are at a huge loss because they won’t have the experience of playing in a large ensemble. Also if even one of them is sick or away we lose a major part of anything we are rehearsing.

Now on the other side of this discussion is that many, MANY other schools in my board are suffering from the opposite issue. They have upwards of of 40-50 students in their core classes and up to 70 in their elective classes. Couldn’t they just lend me some students?

What’s a teacher to do?

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International Youth Leadership Summit 2013

So I have had the extreme privilege of being a staff facilitator these last few days at IYLS2013. This has been a crazy experience for me as I only had a few weeks to get ready and make sure all the paperwork was in an I actually knew what I was doing. But it was all totally worth it!

Day 1: Thursday Evening

  • Registration and a quick dinner of pizza (favorite of the students)
  • Opening ceremony (Naheed Nenshi and Gareth Lewis spoke, and they were both excellent! Especially when Mayor Nenshi was stopped by our delightful school board’s firewall… )
  • Breakout into technology sessions – I attended the talk given by Dr. Alex Couros. He spoke about our digital footprints and what comes up when we google ourselves. The most I got out of that talk was to make sure that whatever you found was something positive (a blog, news article, paper you wrote, etc.). It was very inspiring as a teacher. I also have a really neat new text-to-vote poll website. Thanks Dr. Couros!
  • Small Groups Meet – As I was a staff facilitator, I was to organize the groups getting together and get them going on their project for the few days. Their project was to use social /digital media to talk about a local or global issue. My two groups chose to work on homelessness in Calgary and the Calgary Humane Society (which is where I got my cat!). I felt quite happy with their choices as they were not controversial or too difficult to find information on.

Day 2: Friday 

  • Small Group Sessions – Groups met and worked on their projects (both groups started work on a video)
  • Keynote: Amanda Lindhout – Wow. She is an amazing speaker and I really think she got her message across to many of the students in attendance  If you don’t know too much about her, I recommend you look her up. Short version, she was kidnapped in Somalia and was held for over 400 days. She was released upon a ransom being paid. Now she runs Global Enrichment FoundationI was very touched by her talk and I am lucky to have had the opportunity to hear her speak.
  • At this point in the schedule there was a break/snack, and they we were to move to breakout sections, but sadly a little flu caught up with me and I went home to sleep it off.

Day 3: Saturday

  • Kids Go Global – A great talk given by David Chantler about linking global causes with theater and student work! I hope that I can get my school involved with something like that one day. 
  • Group Activity – This was probably the most fun the students had over all the conference. A dance group came in and taught the students how to do a BOLLYWOOD routine. Such a cool experience! I have some video and pictures and they are just so cool to see.
  • Small Group Work
  • Lunch (delicious subs)
  • Final Small Group Work
  • Final Words/Presentations – What a great finale to a superb 3 days. I was thanked for the work that I did (which was marking, having good conversation, learning about some really cool things and having fun), and then we got to watch the presentations that the students had been working on. They were really well done. I was so impressed with the work they accomplished and made me feel like we have a really good group of people growing up to take care of our world.

Thanks to all the folks involved in IYLS2013. I hope I can be a part of it again next year!

Canadian Parents Doing the Right Thing (financially that is)

Just as a little positive encouragement (in the form of furthering education). Take a look at this article!

Essentially it lays out that parents are opening and contributing to RESPs. This is amazing because, as I well know, mine actually paid for the majority of my degrees. I was lucky that I didn’t have to have a job and go to school and whatever else I needed to do to get enough money to make it through 5 years of school. Now more and more parents are doing what my fabulous parents did, having the foresight to save money so that if anyone wants to, they can further their education too!

Merit Pay – Canada Edition

In case you don’t know merit pay is kind of a tough topic to deal with. According to wikipedia, “Merit pay is a term describing performance-related pay, most frequently in the context of educational reform. It provides bonuses for workers who perform their jobs effectively, according to measurable criteria. In the United States, policy makers are divided on whether merit pay should be offered to public school teachers, as is commonly the case in the United Kingdom.”

There has been many talks among many school boards about merit pay. Mostly in the States but it has started to become a discussion in Canada. Many of you know that I am based out of Canada but I like to know about all of North America specifically.

When I came across this article, it kinda got my wheels turning about this topic. Sure it would be cool to get a little extra money for doing what I do best (or so I think), but do I want to be judged consistently throughout my career? Not really…

Also how is the whole system going to work? Teachers who have more “difficult”classes get more just because their students are coded/special needs or those who have the top students in the board get more? How would we be judged? I don’t think there is any one way that this could be decided. There are so many factors involved in teaching. New teachers would barely have a chance of making anything and they’re are the ones that need it (Come on, 6 years of school!).

And what about the students?

Would having a financial incentive really prompt me to do my job any better? Right now, I would do my job and not get paid. I love my job. I love my students and I only ever want them to be as successful as they can be. Giving me more money isn’t going to change that.

For merit pay to work, I honestly think it would take a really long time to sort out all the kinks.

Do you want merit pay? Would it make a difference on the students?

What about assessment?

This great little article talks about assessment. Oh what a grand wondrous topic. I think we’ve all taken (or had to take) a PD session or a class on this all important subject. This author takes it in bit of a different direction. Are we so concerned with assessment and evaluation that we are missing out on other parts of our student’s education? They argue that we may be putting the cart before the horse. With all things I think a balance is needed to maintain the best for our students. What about you?

 

Flipped Classroom

I’m sure a few of you have seen this already but I just think it’s the coolest. I also find this particularly funny because my last practicum was in a traditional learning center and it’s totally different and totally the same all at once. For example kids sit in their desks that face the front, but there are moment where they go to the carpet to learn, they watch videos on the SMARTboard, they’re even learning how to use iPods/Apps to help learn. Pretty cool eh?

Flipped Classroom

Created by Knewton and Column Five Media

 

Curriculum

So, the ‘new’ music curriculum framework that the Alberta government put out a few years ago was mostly scrapped after negative feedback from educators, and as a result, is not scheduled to come out until 2017 (? don’t quote me on that exactly). Which even if it is a little ridiculous (music educators in Alberta haven’t had a new curriculum since about 1985), at least it’s a target.

Of course, the thought that came to my head was ‘How on earth do you design that?’ If you have another six years to put into creating a curriculum and then just beginning to implement it after that, how can you possibly be sure about what students will need to be learning then?

This isn’t really a gripe, just more of a reminder that as teachers we are not only expected to be magic fixers of all ignorance in the world today, we also need to be psychics with accurate visions of all possible future needs of our students.

What would you put in a curriculum for any subject that was going to be put into place 10 years from now?

My personal list of very general skills/knowledge:

– website design and online networking skills

– music performance across multiple genres, incorporating technology aids

– social issue discussion, with particular emphasis on human rights, the role of government, and implications of technology

– how to be a nicer person

Homework will be obsolete?

I read this list a few months back and I honestly thought it was a little scary at first. After thinking about things for a little bit I’m quite excited for these things to come to fruition. Here are a few of my favorites, but the full list can be found here!

  • DESKS
    The 21st century does not fit neatly into rows. Neither should your students. Allow the network-based concepts of flow, collaboration, and dynamism help you rearrange your room for authentic 21st century learning.
  • HOMEWORK
    The 21st century is a 24/7 environment. And the next decade is going to see the traditional temporal boundaries between home and school disappear. And despite whatever Secretary Duncan might say, we don’t need kids to ‘go to school’ more; we need them to ‘learn’ more. And this will be done 24/7 and on the move (see #3).
  • FEAR OF WIKIPEDIA
    Wikipedia is the greatest democratizing force in the world right now. If you are afraid of letting your students peruse it, it’s time you get over yourself. I still use wikipedia as a base for information gathering.
  • ATTENDANCE OFFICES
    Bio scans. ‘Nuff said. We may have to wait a while for this one!
  • PARENT-TEACHER CONFERENCE NIGHT
    Ongoing parent-teacher relations in virtual reality will make parent-teacher conference nights seem quaint. Over the next ten years, parents and teachers will become closer than ever as a result of virtual communication opportunities. And parents will drive schools to become ever more tech integrated.
  • PAPER
    In ten years’ time, schools will decrease their paper consumption by no less than 90%. And the printing industry and the copier industry and the paper industry itself will either adjust or perish.

Mimio Vote

The past couple of weeks, I’ve been experimenting with new technology known as Mimio Vote. It’s the best thing that’s happened to science education since Borax. Maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit, but it has worked wonders in my Biology 20 class. The idea behind Mimio Vote is each student has a multiple choice handset, like in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire Ask the Audience. This allows you to poll the students with a question at any time during the lesson. It used to be that lessons would consist of 20 minutes of notes followed by work time, or rather, time for motivated students to learn and non-motivated students to stall. Now my lessons take 50 minutes of a few notes with frequent Mimio Vote questions. Students are allowed to have their books open and talk to the people around them before answering. The idea is to get them to think about what they just learned, or to review background about what I am about to teach. Ironically, many of the questions I use for Votes are the same questions I would put on worksheets, only now, students actually want to answer them. It’s also helping immensely with their multiple choice test skills. If kids don’t get it, the results show right away and we can talk about why the answer they picked was wrong. Because the feedback is immediate, we can move on with the lesson knowing that everyone is on the same page. Feedback from the students suggests that they absolutely LOVE learning this way and they don’t mind that the lesson takes longer. It keeps them engaged and thinking during the lesson, instead of just being fed information in the form of notes. I think that a big pull for the kids is the novelty factor and the fact that the buttons on their handsets light up in pretty colours. I wonder if the novelty will wear off over time. In my Bio 20 class, it doesn’t seem to be losing its effect. Sometimes I wonder if this will take a toll on independent learning skills in the long run. It’s almost like they are being forced to work only one way and at one pace. There is very little self-motivation involved. However, their test results are showing huge improvements and retention of information. Mimio Vote: Talk to your administrators about investing in it.