Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Student Contract

Happy Summer!

I have finished another campaign through the adventure that is middle school.  With summer now upon me, I can start to work on grad school, next year, and preparing for Baby J to get here in October!

But I was at the doctor this morning and of course they were behind schedule.  I had mentioned before my ideas of "leveling" up and badges.  While I sat there this morning I came up with what I think is the answer to making this system work.

I have always graded on points.  So if each point earned is an "experience point," then I can set targets for leveling up.  With my flipped videos and hopefully differentiated reading assignments all going at one in my room, some students are going to get done quicker than others.  They can either be bored, pacified, or enriched!

So what I decided this morning is that students who complete work early will be able to contract out assignments for additional experience.  For example, a student may be interested in slavery.  He/She would contract out an assignment with me to research their topic and then produce some kind of product.  I would love it if these contributions may even become part of my videos down the road.

We would agree on a due date, points available, and how the assignment would be assessed.  Then the student would go off and be busy enriching themselves while others work at their pace.  The points they earn would go toward the experience they earn, as well as would count toward their grade.

This is what I'm thinking it will look like:

This student contract idea I think will work out well.  I'd love some feedback or suggestions however so spread the word on my blog and feel free to comment!

But alas, it's time for me to go fix my pool.  Can't start summer until I do.

Here's to all you do-

Mr. J.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Random Thoughts for Next Year

Hello on a rainy, rainy Sunday!

As my school year has finished, I have only the dreaded day of cleaning up my room and packing things up between me and this summer.  However I am working on figuring out an entirely new approach for next year and I wanted to share my thoughts so that I don't forget them!

Idea #1:  Badges/Achievements/Leveling Up

I have loved the idea for badges or achievements in my class similar to Xbox or the Scouts for a long time.  I have always kind of have an idea like this, and I also mentioned it in a previous post.  I read about the idea from a tweet.  Here's the link:


I love this idea using a flipped model where kids may have some choice.  Imagine them going the extra mile for the Civil War research achievement, or the Test Ace badge.  The possibilities are endless, and with programs such as Edmodo and Classbadges both offering the ability to do this free and electronically, it's hard to ignore it.

Idea #2:  Reworking My Room to the Centers Model

If I am going to be having students work in groups at different paces and on different activities, providing separate stations to work at seems to make more sense than 30 desks that cramp up my room.  I can imagine a station to use computers, to read, to compose/write, to work on a project, and finally one near my desk and board to work with me.  I'm blueprinting this idea in my mind, and I'd love it if someone out there had any good ideas.

Idea #3:  The United States History, World History, Tag Team Social Studies Championships

This idea I actually toyed with this year.  I'm a wrestling fan (27... but still a kid).  I bought several of the toy championship belts and modified them with our school logo and symbols.  The student with the highest grade in 8th and 7th, as well as the highest average grade between two partners (tag team) got to carry the belt and could wear it in class.  I had two boys who battled over it and loved to hold it or wear it in front of the other one in a playful manner.  I thought it was hilarious, and awesome.

Idea #4:  Routine Writing

Ok, so this one isn't really my idea.  This one was out of necessity due to the common core and more specifically my school district.  Regardless, routine writing is going to have to be built into the use of my flipped videos and also my reading materials.  I like the electronic route because no one ever told me that this has to be on paper.  One idea I particularily like I got from Anthony Fitzpatrick, author of Social Studies can be SPECtacular.  Here's a plug for the book:

Social Studies can be SPECtacular

I modified the SPEC approach to create a template of my own.  Again, no real innovation on my part, just some of that borrowing that we teachers do from people who are smarter than us or beat us to the punch.  Anyways, I created my model from Fitzpatrick's ideas called inSPECt.  This is what it looks like:

That stands for Social, Political, Economic, Cultural, in (the) text.  Students have to learn to find these themes in the text, which creates a need to discuss them.  I made a quick prezi (and I know it's not perfect) for this idea.  I showed this to my kids, and for some it helped.  Going into next year I need to set all of this stuff up ahead of time with them if I expect better results.

Idea #5;  7th Grade Boot Camp (and Probably 8th Too)

Tying in my badges, ranks, etc. I'm going to start the year with "Boot Camp."  There are so many things that need to be taught so that other things can be done.  Things like how to use a flash drive, how to save a file, how to cut, copy, and paste, how to print in our labs, how to scan a document, and how to use our copier machine.  Teaching these things as expectations may also take a little bit of the sting out of the teaching of behavioral expectations which drive my kids nuts.  I'll just sprinkle those in.  This would also be a great start to the centers approach.

Idea #6:  The Flipped Videos

I already mentioned this one in other posts, but it's happening.  Direct instruction will be provided through classroom videos with interaction between me and my sidekick, Mike, the History-Loving Robot.  I make him come to life through Xtranormal, and he also has his own Edmodo account where he interacts with students, and usually makes fun of me.  If you haven't done something like this, do it.  Sometimes your fake sidekick can create a rapport with the kids that just can't stand you or that try to hide from you in class.  I was amazed at how simple this was and how well it worked.  Eventually, my higher students will contribute to the flipped videos in some form, but I don't quite know how yet.

I hope I get this all done.  Happy summer!

Take Care,
Mr. J.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

If You Can't Beat Them, Join Them

Good evening!

I've been doing a lot of reflecting on teaching and my students in general.  I've begun reading a book about kids of the Millennial generation.

I'm not very far into Millennials Rising, but the fact that this generation (1980ish to the present) is distinct from those before it is worth keeping in mind.  Being born in 1986, I am in a position to both represent and teach this generation at the same time.

It may be why I resonate with my students in ways that more experienced (yes older) teachers do not.  There's nothing to take away from veteran, master teachers, but at some point a disconnect forms.  I have found sometimes that my own thinking or experience more closely mirrors my students than my peers, and I'm hoping that this book is going to help me understand why.

For example, I have been tinkering with ideas on how to structure my classroom in a manner that most kids would understand.  I love the idea of "leveling up."  For those of you not familiar, video games such as Call of Duty, Halo, and Gears of War as well as massively-multiplayer online roleplaying games (MMORPG's) like World of Warcraft, Star Trek Online, and Star Wars:  The Old Republic do the same thing.

Leveling up requires the gaining of experience.  Experience is gained by performing tasks or completing challenges or assignments.  Sound familiar?  I figure why not use a system that already is ingrained in a lot of our students' minds?  This isn't capitulation... it's differentiation.  It's just differentiation for a generation that has lived and grown up in a world much different than the one education currently prepares kids for.

So why not?  Is this approach right for everyone?  Probably not.  But that doesn't mean that there isn't a right one out there for everyone.  Take a look around, find out more about your students.  Ask them questions.  Find out what they like.  No sense reinventing the wheel... just re-purpose it.

I am tinkering with an idea to use badges in Edmodo for a ranking system.  Kids would work up through the ranks as such:

I'm hoping that with this type of system that kids will want to work because they achieve status and prestige by doing so.  I may have to throw in some extrinsic rewards as we go, but why not?

Anyways, food for thought.  Summer break starts for my kids tomorrow.  4 years down...  can't believe it.

Mr. J.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Flipped Video on Federalism

I got creative with this one and created an arch-nemesis for my sidekick Mike, the History-Loving Robot.  In this episode of Social Studies Download, students learn and then have to pass an assessment to save Mike and the Space Station of Discovery.  I think I'm on to something here, and this was fun to make!  Check it out!

Learning about civics and saving fake lives... love it.  Check out the ICivics website for a game called "Power Play" that deals with federalism.  I'm pairing this video with that activity.

My 8th graders graduated today.  I already miss them.

Until next time,

Mr. J.

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Few Free Tools That Every Techie Teacher Should Know About

Hello Everyone-

I wanted to take a minute to share a few tools that I have been using to help make flipped videos and enhance my classroom instruction in general.  These are must-haves for any tech-minded teacher.

1.  Windows Live Movie Maker

Windows Live Movie Maker is what I use to edit and put together my flipped videos.  It is free, easy to use, and will accept most file types.  It does have some limits in the editing department, but being free more than makes up for it.

Get It Here

2.  Any Video Converter 5

Any Video Converter 5 will convert most video files from one type to the next.  If you have a file online that won't cooperate with a specific editing program or won't upload to a site like youtube or schooltube, AVC5 will change it to a more common file type.  A more advanced tool, but a useful one.

Get It Here

3.  VLC Media Player

VLC Media Player is a very easy-to-use media player.  It handles most file types where a Windows Media Player or Quick Time will sometimes be stubborn.  Even better, VLC will turn the volume up to 200%, which can be great for playing videos in class when you don't have the best speakers.

Get It Here

4.  Google Chrome

Maybe I am biased, but I prefer it to IE or Firefox.  Just seems to be more useful.  Love searching directly in the URL address bar.

Get It Here

5.  Prezi

Prezi is an online presentation tool.  It's like PowePoint on steroids.  Videos, images, and text can be organized in an almost infinite workspace that can be customized in countless ways.  It takes a few minutes to learn, but is truly amazing.  Students and/or teachers can collaborate by editing and viewing the same Prezi at the same time.  Great for a distance learning environment, or for students who want to work on a project together from the comfort of their homes.  Teachers can sign up for a free educator license, giving them an even better product than the free version.

Use It Here

6.  Merge PDF

Ever wanted to scan documents and combine than into one PDF file?  Go to this website and you can!

Use It Here

More to come in the future!

See ya around,
Mr. J.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Flipped Video Prototypes

Here's my 6 flipped videos on the American Revolution.  Looking for any feedback.  Otherwise, feel free to use.  Going all-out starting next year.

Take Care,

Mr. J.

A Paperless Classroom?

Hello Education World-

With one week to go in our school year, I did a little experiment in a paperless assignment.  

A quick trip through the Illinois government after our field trip to Springfield allowed me to use a web quest that we have done in the past about the major details of our state government.

In the past, I have just given students a copy of the web quest that they filled out on their own and turned in like conventional assignment as they worked through it.

This time however, I attached the document to Edmodo.  I was actually out of the school on a personal day for a wedding the day the web quest was completed.  I left instructions for my kids to download the web quest from Edmodo.  I used the "Developer" tab in Microsoft Word to add form fields so students only could type their answers into the document.  They cannot alter the format of the document, which makes things so much simpler.

I would strongly suggest to anyone that if you are going to give a student a digital assignment to utilize this feature.  For a quick run-through on how to do it, here's some more help:

Anyways, my students completed the assignment rather efficiently and then re-saved and submitted the assignment to Edmodo.  No paper, nothing to take home, nothing for a 27-year-old teacher who has been guilty of misplacing an assignment or two in his career (that's why I have a hard time holding it against the kids) to lose.

More importantly, the "comments" feature on Edmodo allows me to give feedback individual to each student.  Because I can grade assignments like this on my computer, I work on them while I'm sitting with my wife, watching TV, or as I'm getting ready to go to sleep.  Grading in bed is probably my ideal way to provide effective feedback.  Might as well be comfortable.  But effective feedback is a best practice identified by Marzano in his meta-analysis, so responding to each student quickly is a good thing.

I also took the liberty to post to Edmodo a comment or two about the web quest that would clarify things to all students.  They all struggled with what the "county seat" was, so adding a quick comment to all students is another small layer of instruction that can hopefully be seen by several students.

Making sure that there are other things are happening on Edmodo makes sure that kids check it on their own.  Next time, I'll tell you about Mike, the History-Loving Robot.  Mike is just a character I have created, with his own Edmodo account.  He comments randomly and also speaks to my kids through youtube videos.  Take a look:

Until next time,

Mr. J.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Inaugural Post

Hello All-

This is my first foray into the wonderful world of blogging!  My name is Brad, and I am a middle school social studies teacher in Illinois.  I am in the middle of pursuing my master's degree in educational administration, and I have fallen in love with educational technology.

If you are looking for me out there on the web, here is where you can find me:
@bradjacobson23 on twitter

I am in the process of working myself back into the daily routine of teaching.  Over spring break I was diagnosed with MS, and have been working hard to get myself back on track physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  I can say with confidence that my students helped me get through this difficult time.

Before I had gotten sidetracked with my own problems, I was working on flipping my classroom.  I read the book Flip Your Classroom:  Reach Every Student in Every Class Everyday, by Johnathan Bergman and Aaron Sams.  

Get it Here!

That's the link if you want to buy it.  I downloaded it to my kindle.

I created six videos about the American Revolution which are on my youtube channel.  I used Windows Live Movie Maker, which is free, to make them.  From there I used a usb microphone and my SMART Board to annotate and make comments.  I created a mascot so to speak as well.  I paid for a subscription to, a movie-making website.  I created Mike, the History-Loving Robot as a comic relief and just goofy character for my videos.

Mike is my announcer, sort of the Ed McMahon to my Johnny Carson.  He also is featured in his on account on Edmodo.  He communicates directly to my students through Edmodo and also indirectly on my videos.

We'll talk about Edmodo later.

The first thing I learned about flipping is that it takes time.  It's not going to be perfect on the first try, so don't try to be perfect.  SAVE EVERYTHING!  I saved everything I made until I was sure I didn't need it any longer.  

Flipping is taking time, but in the end I del like the instruction is going to be better.  The time spent pays off when it comes to differentiation and grouping as well.  

I'll paint a better picture of what I have done in the future, but for now I will end by saying that it is important that you know your audience.  My kids need entertainment and variety, and my flipped videos try to do that.  Boring them in class with a lecture or outside of it with a video does me little good, so I made sure to win them over.

Take Care,
Mr. J.