Should Class Presentations Be a Part of Our Curriculum?

I used to dread giving oral or class presentations in school.  I would stress about speaking in front of my peers and be unable to focus on what the other students were saying.  I was always so nervous.  Did I learn anything from preparing for and completing these stressful presentations?  Yes, I learned that I hate speaking in front of a group of my peers.  I also learned that I sweat in strange places when I get nervous.  I’m not sure those two standards are listed anywhere in the Common Core.  So then, I’m forced to wonder, Is there value in having students present a project or learning to the class?

After months of preparation, the students shared their I-Search Project Presentations with the class today in Humanities.  The students played their movies, read their Prezi slideshows, and walked around with their posters like Vanna White.  Meanwhile, the rest of the students shuffled around in their chairs, played with their pencils, had their heads on the desks, and seemed genuinely uninterested in what was being said.  Of course, being the diligent and controlling teacher I am, I did monitor the situation and reminded students of the fact that they are being graded on their ability to stay focused and engaged throughout class.  I had to refocus several students and remind others to stay on task throughout the period.  After three reminders, some of the students invested a bit more focus and asked questions following the presentations.  However, only a few of the boys did that.  The rest still seemed disengaged.  So, what’s the point?  Instead of wasting class time, we could have been covering new standards, working on a different project, reading, or doing something else more engaging.  What’s the benefit in having students present something aloud in front of their peers?  What skills could the students possibly learn from an exercise like this?

  • Oral Speaking Skills
  • Public Speaking Skills
  • Annunciation
  • The Power of Practice
  • Risk Taking
  • Memorization

Yes, the theory behind class presentations make sense.  However, in action, they seem to cause more stress and anxiety for our students.  Despite having modeled, practiced, and discussed the keys to public speaking throughout the academic year, most of the students made use of none of these strategies during today’s presentations.  So, why bother?  While we need our students to be effective global communicators, are presentations the only way these skills can be practiced and learned?  No.  What about group work?  What about projects?  These are both great examples of ways students can learn to communicate with their peers.  While we do want to celebrate the great work our students do in the classroom, I question the validity of class presentations.  They seem to be a time waster and promote unfocused behavior.  Any activity during which I spend more than 50% of my time monitoring and redirecting, is futile.  It’s no good for the students or me.  I want the students to be engaged with what they are learning and see the relevance in what we are doing in the classroom.  I don’t think many of the boys were engaged or saw the value in what their peers had to say today.  I say, no more whole class presentations.  There are many other more exciting and interactive ways to have students share their learning and accomplishments with their peers.  Let’s take a risk as teachers and close the door on class presentations so that we can create many new learning opportunities for our students.

The Power of Conversation

In the words of my greatest mentors, “Sometimes, all you need to do is listen.”  Wow, were they ever right.  To fix difficult situations, help students, ease nerves, solve problems, bring about peace, and so much more, all you need to do is listen.  This idea became brightly evident to me in the classroom today.

After three weeks of vacation, classes resumed this morning.  Many of the boys were tired and seemed a bit out of it.  Homesickness already started to permeate the campus campus before classes even started.  In Humanities class today, we wanted to ease the boys back into the swing of academia.  So, Reader’s Workshop filled our time together this morning.  The students love to read and so we figured, what better way to get them hooked back into class than to give them what they love.  Our focus for student conferences today was goal setting for the spring term.  We wanted the students to set a reading goal for themselves as we head into the final nine weeks of school.  Not an overly lofty agenda, but we still wanted to accomplish something.

I like to use this conference time as a chance to catch up with the students and converse with them for a bit about non-reading, life stuff.  So today I asked each of the seven students I met with, “What was a highlight from your Spring Break?”  A simple question that allowed for the students to share what they wanted to.  Many of the students talked about all the fun things they did over break.  Some of the students had gone on trips to places with much warmer temperatures than NH.  They shared their stories before we got into the meat of the conference.  This helped to set the stage for productive conversations.  The students seemed much more open to brainstorming specific and SMART goals.  Was this because they had a chance to talk about what was really on their mind?  Did they feel more comfortable and at ease?  Perhaps, or maybe they have just gotten so good at goal setting over the course of the year that creating new goals is second nature.  Whatever the reasons, things went smoothly in the sixth grade classroom today.

Coming back from a break presents a vital opportunity to reconnect with our students.  By asking them questions about their vacation, they feel respected and cared for.  After classes today, two students lingered behind before heading to lunch.  So, I asked those two students, who I hadn’t conferenced with today, about their March Break.  One of them shared about his trip to Arizona and the Grand Canyon.  This then lead into the other student talking about a similar trip he had gone on a few years back.  Connections were made between the students.  Plus, it seemed to really help lift their spirits.  They seemed happier as they walked to lunch conversing about their trips.

Asking questions and creating an open dialogue with students is so important in building relationships.  We need to make numerous deposits in our relationship banks with students so that they trust us and feel safe and cared for.  Maslow’s hierarchy of needs tells us that in order for learning and thinking to happen, the basic needs of our students must be met.  Conversations are an easy and quick way to foster care and engagement.  We need our students to feel supported and safe in our classroom so that learning and growth can happen.

Is Our Public Education System Defunct?

As a product of a public school education, I feel no worse for wear.  However, as I’ve learned much about teaching and education over the years, I do wonder if I could have gotten more from a private school education.  Who knows.  At this point in my life, as a teacher at a private school, I do know that my students are receiving a far better educational program than they would see from our local public schools.  While I think of myself as a good teacher, I’m far from great.  I’m not the only reason my students are gaining a stellar education.  The public school system in our country is broken and in need of a major overhaul.  

Despite seeing the discrepancy between public and private schools for years now, it was made crystal clear to me when I read an article regarding remarks that Nancie Atwell made after receiving a prestigious teaching award.  She said, “If you are a creative, smart young person, I don’t think this is the time to go into teaching.”  Isn’t that an oxymoron?  In order to fix problems, don’t we need innovative problem solvers?  So then why is one of our country’s best educators discouraging students from becoming teachers?  Earlier in the article, Atwell is quoted saying, “Public school teachers are so constrained right now by the Common Core Standards and the tests that are developed to monitor what teachers are doing with them. It’s a movement that’s turned teachers into technicians, not reflective practitioners.”  So clearly, she too believes that our public school system is broken.  Now what?

Prior to the tanking of the economy a few years back, many people were already frustrated with the public school system and started opening Charter Schools.  This caused public schools to decline even more due to the lack of funding, motivated teachers, and students.  Then, following the stock market crash of our generation, those families who had been sending their children to private schools could no longer afford it.  So, for a couple of years, public schools were inundated with more students than ever before.  This proved challenging for many schools and teachers.  The government and people saw this problem as it was manifesting.  They tried to put a Band-Aid on it with the implementation of the Common Core standards.  While the theories and ideas behind the Common Core make complete sense, in practice, they have butchered the public school system even further.  If these trends continue, more students will be failed by the very institution that was created to support and educate the youth of America.

While I’m no expert in the field of fixing broken systems, I have been an educator for 14 years and have generated some creative ideas about how the public school system can bring about the much needed change.

  1. The Common Core State Standards need to be treated as a springboard to a curriculum and not the curriculum itself.  Teachers need to have the flexibility to create a curriculum tailored to the students in their classrooms and not the average Joe or Jane that the CCSS were made for.  Teachers must no longer be judged on their ability to get students through the CCSS each year.  Education is a journey and an experience and not a checklist.  The CCSS treats teachers like record keepers and list checkers, which we are not.
  2. Tenure needs to be considered a four-letter word in schools around the country.  Great teachers will change and evolve each year.  Bad teachers will not.  Why reward those teachers who refuse to change?  Out with the stagnant teacher rulers and in with the student-directed teacher changers.
  3. Grades are inaccurate and false when they are not based on standards or objectives.  Schools need to implement standards-based grading and get rid of the arbitrary lies we call mathematical grading calculations.  If we don’t want our students to lie and plagiarize, then why should we model such poor behavior as their teachers?
  4. While I understand the need for data collection, basing student and teacher achievement on ridiculous standardized testing that uses guessing and trick questions to assess students, needs to be eradicated.  The portfolio system is a good way to fix this problem.  It stays with the student as they progress through the grades.  Data can be extrapolated from the student portfolios as a way of gathering data for schools.
  5. Empower and support teachers across the board.  Administrators need to stand by their teachers at all times, unless laws or major rules are broken.  On many occasions, however, principals or school officials side with the parents or school board regarding teacher or classroom issues.  Teachers need to feel like the ones in charge have their backs.  We’re a family and families take care of each other, is a good motto to live by as a school.
  6. Find ways to not cut programs like the arts or sports.  Be creative when budgeting and planning.  The arts are a way for those outliers to get hooked on learning and growing.  Don’t take that away from them.
  7. Find a way for students to be active during the school day.  Give them recess or inside play of some sort at more than one point during the day.  Hormones and growing create energy and the need to be active and physical.  Create safe ways for this to happen in your schedule.
  8. Be open to flexible grouping.  Rather than group students by age or their “grade-level,” try grouping students by their abilities.  I’ve worked with many sixth graders over the years who should have been grouped with eighth or ninth graders.  Don’t allow past constraints prevent you from trying new ways of creating classes or groups of students.
  9. Rethink homework and its purpose.  Is it necessary?  Should it be graded?  Why do students not do homework outside of school?  These are all questions that need to be discussed when implementing a homework plan for a school.
  10. Create a schedule with students in mind.  Middle School and High School students need a later start to the day.  Their brains and bodies are very different from younger students.  Stagger school starts to embrace this research and support our students.
  11. Have a growth mindset at all times.  This goes for teachers, administrators, and all school staff members.  Change is hard and difficult to bring about and is the only way to fix a broken system that will continue to breed more crime, unemployment, and apathy within our country unless we do something.

We need to do something to bring about change in our schools.  Instead of complaining or telling future generations to not go into the field of education, let’s work together to fix it.  It will take all of us to do it, but it can be done.  We’re not at the bottom of this rabbit hole just yet.  So, let’s start clawing our way out so that students want to become teachers because that’s where all the magic happens.

Creating Unforgettable Memories

Thinking back on my high school days, the one memory that stands out above the rest is the field trip my art class took to Washington, DC.  We went to art museums and even saw a play.  It was so much fun.  I’ll never forget Mrs. Clary and taking the train from VT to Washington, DC.  Had I not taken that trip, would my memory of art class and all that I learned be so mentally tangible?  I think not.  Experiential learning triggers the mind in unique ways.

Today, my basketball team is spending the night in my school’s student center and theater.  We’re staying up all night playing video games, watching basketball movies, eating pizza, and enjoying each other’s company.  The boys are having a blast already.  One player said, “I’ll never forget this team and what I learned.  Even if I play on a different team next year, I will never forget everything I learned this year.”  Wow!  I didn’t realize the power of the family spirit I attempted to foster within my team.  Not only did they grow and develop as a basketball team throughout the season, but they grew as a community and team too.  While we had our ups and downs throughout the season, each and every consecutive game was our best game of the season.  Our trajectory was up and to the right throughout the winter season.  Each and every player made progress from November to the end of February.  Although the boys love playing basketball, it was the other special bonding experiences we did throughout the season that they will never forget and treasure forever.

In January, I noticed that our boys were playing with a lot of fear.  They were afraid when they got the ball and either passed it away or had it stolen from them.  They didn’t trust their basketball instincts.  So, to help break my players of their fear, I took them away from the court.  We went outside to play kickball on the ice covered lake in our backyard on a sunny Wednesday afternoon.  The boys had so much fun slipping and sliding across the ice as they chased balls and ran the bases.  At the end, I brought it back full circle as I asked them, “Did we fall into the lake?  No, we faced our fears.  It’s scary to think that the ice could break at any minute and then we would fall into freezing cold water.  But we didn’t fall in.  So, remember this in our next game.  Play with no fear.”  In our next game, they played fearless.  It was awesome.

Then, at the end of our season, to bring everything together for my team, I took them on a trip to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA.  They had so much fun learning about the history of the sport they love.  I couldn’t get them to leave because they were having a blast playing knockout on the court with the old peach basket.

These are the memories they will treasure.  Yes, they’ll remember our games and what they learned about the sport of basketball, but in 10-20 years, when they reflect on their time on the Reserve Basketball Team, they’ll remember our trip to the Hall of Fame where they played knockout with their friends or the sleepover where they stayed up all night long playing with their teammates.  It’s these tangible memories that they will carry with them in their long term memory forever.  Students that were on my team a few years ago, still come back and reminisce about our fun trip, sleepover, and kickball on ice game.  They loved those times and will carry the memories with them forever.

Inspirational Projects

“This is one of the first projects we’ve done this year that I want to actually work on in my free time,” one of my students said today during STEM class.  While I tried to hide my exuberance, I was doing back flips, mentally.  Yes!  It worked.  Not only do they love this project, but they are genuinely learning about Earth’s formation.  This particular student had created a Minecraft world inside a cave.  He built several phases of Earth to showcase his understanding.  His first stage was a collection of rocks to represent Earth as a large asteroid.  His second phase showed asteroids colliding together.  He also showed Earth as a molten planet and how water got to Earth via asteroids.  He also had an interactive phase that showed what it would look like when the giant asteroid slammed into Earth.  But he didn’t stop there.  He made a screencast video, explaining the science behind his model.  He created a train track with a miner’s car so that he could ride in it to go through his model.  It was as though he was giving us a tour of his Minecraft world.  Amazing.  Talk about creativity and innovation.  Plus, he was having so much fun completing this project that he wanted to use his precious free time to work on it.  Wow!  Projects that inspire students, engage students.

Today in STEM class, the boys worked on a project regarding Earth’s geological changes.  The students were able to choose the vehicle they used to showcase their learning.  While many students used the recommended Minecraft application to build their model, a few students tried something different that motivated them.  The boys were provided with choices and options so that they could own their learning.  Everyone was engaged and on task.  One student was making a papier mache model of Earth to show how volcanoes shaped Earth’s surface.  He was so focused because he was DOing the learning.

As a teacher, I spend many hours trying to find relevant and engaging ways to inspire my students to want to learn.  I find the best way to do this is through projects where choice is involved.  Some of the best projects allow for much interpretation.  Rather than create a rubric for projects, I provide the students with the graded objectives and a simple goal they need to meet, and nothing more.  The students are open to interpret the assignment in any way they see fit.  Many students challenge themselves to not just meet the objective, but exceed it.  When I hold the bar high, they work hard to get over it.  Projects are an easy and fun way to bring about learning and inspire the students to want to know more.

Two of the international students in my class chose Minecraft to create their model of Earth’s geological timeline.  Not only did they create interactive and detailed models, but they also asked me for feedback before creating their screencast video.  They wanted to be sure they were demonstrating accurate learning.  These two students do not regularly seek help from the teachers.  They do work to get it done and accept the low grades they generally earn.  They don’t really care about learning because the English language is such a huge hurdle for them to overcome.  They let it burden them and prevent learning from manifesting itself.  However, for this project, they were engaged and wanted to learn as much as possible.  When I asked them questions about their model that they couldn’t answer, they did further research to understand the answers.  Then, they sought me out to be sure I knew that they had learned it.  These two students do not act like this in their other classes.  They try to hide behind others or their language barrier.  This time, they wanted to stand out.  They were inspired by this project and the vehicle they chose to showcase their knowledge.  I was so impressed by their excitement.

Had this project been more of a guided activity or textbook reading with notes, these ESL students wouldn’t have learned anything because they would have been so plagued by the language barrier that learning would have been almost impossible.  Projects allow for creativity and open-ended, critical thinking.  Projects trigger different parts of the brain and help inspire bridges to be formed neurologically.  Projects breed excitement and curiosity, which is perhaps why, many students often say the following after a project like the one we are currently working on, “Can we do another project just like this one?”

The Power of Competition

In school, I hated competitive games and sports.  I wasn’t a big fan of losing, which is what usually happened to me or the team I was on.  I was always last picked in gym class.  The one time my basketball team gave me the ball in a game, I scored on the other team’s hoop.  Sure, I like winning, but growing up, that wasn’t a big deal for me.  I was all about having fun and hanging out.  Marbles was my sport of choice and I was the Marble King at the Hanover Street School in fifth grade.  I even won a mini basketball in a game of marbles once.  Do you know how hard it is to get a mini basketball to roll into a tiny marble hole and stay?  It’s challenging.  I was all about puzzles and problem solving.  However, I’ve come to realize that a majority of people on Earth are all about competing and winning.  Life is one big game for them.  So, although my life isn’t a game but an adventure, I realize that I’m an island, comparatively.  As a teacher, I try to incorporate competition in the classroom as much as possible.  It helps build camaraderie and motivates students to excel at learning.  Making the classroom one big game, helps engage students in relevant learning.

This afternoon, following classes, the students participated in a Fitness Day competition in which the students competed in various athletic events to determine Mr. Cardigan.  He who jumped the highest and farthest, did the most pushups and situps, and ran the fastest, will be crowned the victor during Saturday’s Sports Awards Assembly.  The students were so excited about this big event.  They all put forth their best effort to try and best their friends and peers.  This same competitiveness is seen in the classroom on a regular basis.  The students, despite trying to persuade them against doing it, share and compare grades.  Generally, this competition is done respectfully and in a way that allows them to motivate their peers.  “I got a 3.5/4 and you got a 4/4.  I can do better than this.  I’m going to redo this assignment.”  When these games get out of hand and the comments become negative, I step in as a teacher and mediate.  I remind them of our Class Norms and Core Values.  These interventions are rarely needed in the classroom.  Clearly, our students value and respect the community we’ve built in the classroom and enjoy the friendly competition.

Some of the ways we’ve tried to gamify our curriculum:

  • Wind Power Debate was judged by a panel of faculty members with a winning team
  • Test Review Jeopardy Game
  • Pinewood Car Derby
  • Making and playing games to demonstrate their learning
  • Egg Drop Vehicle competition in Astronomy Unit

These activities and projects were highly successful because of their competitive nature.  The students were motivated to create an effective argument with their team to defeat their opponent.  When the students know that we will be playing Jeopardy in class, they review and relearn the material that will be covered to be sure they can help their team win.  The pinewood car derby motivated the students to research several designs and rebuild and revise their car based on its aerodynamics.  At the start of the year, the students worked diligently to test, rebuild, revise, retest, and revise their egg drop vehicle prior to the test.  Had these activities not included a competitive side, would the students have put forth the same strong work ethic?  Would the students have learned as much about these topics had there not been a competition involved?  Brain-based research supports games and competition as a way to engage students.  If the students can own their learning, the knowledge and information can easily be transferred to their long term memory.

Thoughts on Standardized Testing

Standardized tests lead to a lack of creativity and perseverance within our students.  Students can no longer think critically about problems or overcome adversity because schools are preparing students for a world of bubble filling.  How often in life do you need to fill in bubbles with a #2 pencil?  Other than voting, rarely.  It’s not a skill our students need to have in order to be successful global citizens in the 21st century.  So, why do we continue to shove them down the figurative throats of our students?

Today, the sixth, seventh, and eighth graders at my school completed the ERB Tests during the academic morning.  With a few breaks sprinkled in, it took from 8:00 a.m. to noon.  Now, while I clearly don’t see the educational value in completing tests like this, I was curious what the students thought.  During the test, they seemed bored and complacent.  Many of the students struggled and were stressed out during the test.  So, I thought for sure that the students hated it and would have nothing but negative comments regarding the whole process.  Boy, was I wrong.

So, I interviewed several sixth, seventh, and eighth graders this afternoon following the testing.  Many of the students thought the test was boring but the most effective way to assess what students are learning at our school.  While they suggested some minor tweaks, they don’t think any major changes need to be generated.

  • “I think it was fine.  Testing should be done like this to test what students know.”
  • “The tests seemed long and excruciating.”
  • “I felt like it was pretty well organized.”
  • “It was long and boring.”
  • “I personally find it helpful to get testing over all at once.  It’s better than having it spread out over several days or weeks.”
  • “I think it’s a good way of testing what we know.”
  • “Most people were bored.  You can’t show everything you know by taking one test.”
  • “I feel like it’s a pretty good thing.”

When asked if there is a better, more effective way to assess what students know, most every student I questioned, seemed to think that standardized testing is the best way.  They provided some valuable feedback on how they would change the testing procedure, but overall, they seemed to think this method of assessment is valid.

  • “They should break the test up into smaller sections over the course of several days.”
  • “I felt pretty uncomfortable sitting so close to someone during the test.  I think next time there should be only one person per table.”
  • “The majority of the students had too much time to wait between tests.  Instead of dividing the test up, combine sections so that students who work faster can move ahead.”
  • “I don’t think there is a much better way to test students because teachers still need to know what the students know.”
  • “I think they need to create a more fun way to test the students like with a video game where when you answer a question correctly, you advance to the next level.”
  • “I feel like a lot of students are intimidated by standardized tests.  Maybe the test makers could create them in a tricky way so that the students didn’t know they were being tested.  Maybe like a Jeopardy game some game with a prize.”
  • “Maybe if they split the testing up into more days or ask fewer questions it would be better because students would then have more time to relax instead of just cramming it all into a couple of hours.”
  • “As a student, I don’t want any tests.  Homework can do that.  Teachers can assign take-home tests so that students have unlimited time to complete them.”
  • “In my class, many people didn’t care about the test since it wasn’t graded.  They didn’t take it seriously and just guessed.”
  • “Because students are in different levels of math, there needs to be different math tests for students based on the class they are in.”

Following these interviews I was a bit perplexed.  Even though most of the students seemed disengaged and bored during the test, most students seem to think it’s an effective way to assess students.  Why?  Are they just so used to standardized testing that they know nothing else?  What about projects or hands-on work?  While I disagree with standardized testing for many reasons, I wonder why the students agree with it.  What is happening in classrooms around the globe?  Why are our students so comfortable with testing but can’t seem to solve problems in innovative ways or overcome adversity?  Our educational system needs an overhaul.  We need less testing and more doing.

Can Computer Games Serve an Educational Purpose?

Computer and video games were just starting to take off when I was growing up.  The big deal for me in the fourth grade was learning to make the turtle move around the screen by typing in simple commands.  I’m not really sure I learned anything by doing that, but it sure was fun.  As technology has evolved, so have the games.  We live in a world where almost everything has been turned into a computer game.  There is a game where you pretend to use a fingerboard to do tricks.  Wouldn’t it be more fun to just get a fingerboard and do tricks in reality?  To each their own I guess.  Due to this switch in how our students learn, live, and think, we as teachers need to adapt.  Lecture-based classes are becoming a thing of the past.  Our students struggle to stay focused for long periods of time due to the way they live their lives.  We need to account for that and mix things up in our classes.  We also need to utilize the games they play for educational purposes.  Like Ani DiFranco states in one of her songs, “Every tool is a weapon if you hold it right.”  We need to change the way we think about the games and technology our students live and play with.  If we don’t accept and embrace the change happening to our students, then are we really helping prepare them for the 21st century?

Today in my STEM Class, the students began working on the final phase of the Geology Unit.  Using the computer program Minecraft, they have to create a model showcasing at least five major, historically accurate geological changes Earth’s surface has undergone in its past.  They are pumped for this project because they already love Minecraft.  They get to demonstrate their understanding of the content using a game they enjoy.  It’s like their parents told them they were having ice cream for dinner.

Of course, the explanation and purpose for the use of Minecraft is crucial for a project like this.  The students need to understand exactly how they must use Minecraft.  They need to know that this isn’t an opportunity to just play around and create whatever they want in their Minecraft world.  We reviewed and discussed the purpose and expectations as well as the due date.  The students understand what to do, how to do it, and when to have it done by.  If clear parameters aren’t placed on a project like this, it could easily turn into free computer play time quickly.  Preparation is key when using computer games in the classroom.  But so is risk.  Sometimes, you just have to jump and hope for the best.

As I observed my students today, I was impressed and amazed by the ways they challenged themselves.  Some students are creating a floating Earth to show the layers of the planet and the changes it underwent as it evolved while other students are creating separate areas of their world to show the changes.  A few students are making interactive models that will change as the users move about them.  So cool!  I made sure to check in with each student by the end of the period to be sure I knew what he was doing.  I asked them, “Tell me what I’m looking at.”  Every student was able to scientifically explain how their world displayed Earth’s formation.  Amazing!

Now, realizing that all students are different, those students who were not inclined to use Minecraft, could brainstorm another way to demonstrate their understanding of the content.  Two students chose to use Play-Doh to create the various stages of Earth’s development.  One student wanted to make a papier mache model of Earth.  Providing the students with options and choice allows for creativity to be fostered and developed as well.  The students feel heard and respected this way.  It also awakens the inner artist within the students.

So, while this is the second year I’ve done this project, I still have many colleagues that question its validity.  They say, “Why do you let your students play games in class?” or “How are they learning anything?”  To them I say, “Please, come, observe my class and find out for yourself.”  Of course, no one comes, but the door is always open.  It’s frustrating that despite all the current research on games, student engagement, and learning, many teachers still have a fixed mindset about games in the classroom.  They think games have no place in school.  Then why is it that the students from my previous class last year still talk about how much fun and learning took place during this project?  Why is it that some teachers are stuck in the way they feel education should be delivered?  We are not living in a factory model society any longer.  We need to prepare our students to think critically and creatively and solve problems in new and unique ways.  We need our students to learn to persevere through struggles and overcome adversity.  How can they do all of this if we never give them a chance to play and DO the learning?  Games like Minecraft are an easy way to get kids learning, thinking creatively, and having fun.

Does Dress Code Matter?

My freshman year in high school, the school board adopted a hat policy.  Students were able to wear baseball caps and other brimmed hats in school buildings.  As a student, I thought it was the coolest thing ever.  Even though I didn’t wear a hat, I felt compelled to start because I was able to.  That year, almost every male student I saw around the school was wearing a baseball hat of some sort.  It was awesome!  It allowed us to show our identity.  I wonder though, am I now going very bald because for four years of my teenage life I wore a hat, which prevented my hair from breathing and getting the sunshine it so desperately needed?  Ahh, the things a 37 year old contemplates while reflecting on his younger days.

On Saturday, the sixth grade hosted a dress down day to support the local charity our students are working with: End 68 Hours of Hunger.  What a great idea.  Raise money for a good cause.  The students dislike wearing class dress anyway.  This way they can be free and relaxed on a Saturday.  We raised a ton of money for the charity.  But, at what cost?

While I am only speaking for my class as I haven’t had a chance to chat with the other teachers about their classes on Saturday, things were a bit off.  The students were full of energy, difficult to focus, and hard to manage.  They spoke out of turn, were a bit disrespectful, and struggled to accomplish much work in class.  Was it because they were dressed casually?  If they were wearing their normal khakis and a collared shirt, would the day have gone differently?  Does our dress code benefit our students academically and socially?  Do they stay more focused and on task when they are dressed formally?  Does a dress code make a drastic difference in the academic performance of our students?

As I reflected on Saturday’s bumpy morning of classes, I was also reminded that the dress code wasn’t the only change in our routine.  We were also missing three students due to athletic commitments.  Plus, Saturday was also the last day of winter sports for my school.  On top of that, two days earlier, we had a special all-school event that tired many of the students out.  Did all of these changes combine to create the perfect storm of Saturday?  Or was it one or two of them alone?  Did those three missing students mess with the calibration of the class so much that the others couldn’t focus?  Were the boys just excited about one final game or special event coming up that afternoon?  Was that what caused the craziness we saw in the classroom yesterday?  Or was it something else entirely?

Who know’s what caused the chaos of Saturday, but it does make me wonder if the students being out of dress code made a difference.  Does dress code affect our students?  Although tomorrow is another day, it will be interesting to see how the focus is as the students will be back to wearing the normal class dress.