A New Start: Learning an International Approach to Education

PYP-EngWhen my husband and I made the decision to move abroad, we knew it was the opportunity of a lifetime. It was a chance to learn a new language and culture, meet new people, travel, and see the world from a different perspective.

For me, it also meant beginning a new stage in my teaching career, as an international educator. I was so curious: how would international schools in Switzerland differ from public schools in the United States? What would the International Baccalaureate (IB) be like? How would becoming an international school teacher change me and my teaching?

It has been two months now since I returned to teaching, and I’ve begun to answer these questions. Over the past four weeks, I’ve also been taking a class about implementing the IB’s program for primary school students (called the Primary Years Program, or PYP). This post is a way to synthesize what I’ve learned so far.

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Creating Google Presentations with Elementary Students

Today, I want to talk about one of the most powerful and versatile technologies to use with students: Google presentations. For anyone who just groaned and thought, “That’s all? Google’s version of PowerPoint?” don’t count me out yet! It’s true, Google presentations are a lot like PowerPoint or Keynote presentations.  Except, they allow for seamless collaboration and sharing between students, teachers, parents, and the rest of the world.

That power turns a simple technology — a digital slideshow — into a way for students to teach an engaged, authentic audience as they synthesize ideas, pursue independent studies, compare conclusions from experiments, jigsaw small group learning, and even publish e-books. Continue reading

Homework That Changes Lives

love homework.  But I didn’t always.  I used to hate homework.  I hated it as a student, and I hated it as a teacher.  I hated it for all the reasons it is now questioned by education researchers.  Homework at the elementary level is usually:

  • Busywork (for teachers and students)
  • If un-differentiated: too easy for some students, too hard for others
  • If differentiated: unbearably complicated and time-consuming for teachers
  • Stressful for families
  • Graded too slowly or infrequently to give students valuable feedback
  • A poor form of assessment
  • Something we (and I mean all of us: teachers and students and families) do only because we have to, or because we think we should, or because other people think we should.

I am also really skeptical of the idea that homework at the elementary level teaches study skills in and of itself.  Now, if you put into place a real system for programmatically teaching children to study at home and at school and use homework strategically to reinforce that system, well, ok then.  But usually, people expect that just by giving kids homework, they will learn study skills.  Instead, I think kids learn how to procrastinate, how to put up a good fight with their parents, and how to put as little effort into their work as possible in order to get it done quickly.

I tried all kinds of traditional homework systems: weekly packets, daily assignments, even differentiated homework that involved making different packets for several different groups of students (which, by the way, is insane).  And then I went to the Skillful Teacher, learned about effective effort, and decided there had to be a better way.

I asked myself, what if homework was really valuable?  Better yet, what if homework was life-changing?  What if it could teach students — prove to students — that with effective effort and time, they could achieve anything? Continue reading

Homework, Week 1: Our First Reflections

I am really pleased by how smoothly homework choice went this week. I followed my plan and had students set a simple class goal on Monday: “to have a good homework routine and have fun.” Then, students brainstormed how they could achieve that goal. Students wrote plans like “find a quiet spot,” “start immediately when I get home,” “do my homework at ____ [name of after school program],” and “set a timer.”

Instead of assigning the Thursday Night Reflection for homework, we did our reflecting as a class Friday morning. Before we began, I brought us back to the equation, “effective effort + ____ = _____.”

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Making Homework Choice Work: First Steps

Lots of people tell me they think homework choice is a great idea, but they’re wondering how to make it work in their classrooms.

In my classroom, we’re almost finished with our first week of homework choice. From where I stand (make that sit, totally exhausted) there are three keys to implementing the system successfully: Continue reading

Empowered, Independent, Impressive

The beautiful thing about empowering kids to choose their homework is that they can do exactly the right work to help them achieve their goals.

For a student struggling with subtraction, that might mean practicing subtraction facts, playing mental math games, or doing subtraction story problems every night. After a few weeks (or maybe months), this approach can help students to close the achievement gap and take real pride in their success.

Future posts will describe the different homework options in my plan, but for this post, I want to talk about independent studies. They are the perfect choice for high fliers who really don’t need to practice subtraction facts or words they already know how to spell. Continue reading