fluvanna middle school

Technology-Infused Socratic Seminar, Round 2

If you’ll remember from this post, I worked with a group of 2 teachers to add some technology into the Socratic seminars they held with students every so often. It went over well, but I had some things I would have done differently upon reflection. Thankfully, I was contacted by two other teachers and had the chance to implement some new changes.

This time I had the pleasure of working with Virginia Staton and Theresa Scruggs, as well as their collaborative teacher, Janet Hunter. They had observed the work I’d done with the other two teachers and wanted to implement it with their own classes. I was more than pleased to assist, and they wanted my input because this was something out of their comfort zones. I assured them it was no problem, and that we’d take the risk and jump together.

Before I sat down with them, I sent them my observations from the previous seminar. Our first meeting consisted of them giving me insight on their classes, and me providing my thoughts and ideas. I wanted to change a few things from the previous time. I wanted to introduce just one new technology tool to the students, and I wanted to make sure they were introduced to it prior to the Socratic seminar. I wanted to also have smaller groups using this tool at a time so that the teachers facilitating each group could really focus on instruction with those students.

I felt that the benefits of Backchannel Chat were better for our first Socratic seminar over Padlet, so we focused on that tool. We would be completing the Socratic seminar on All Summer in a Day. Once our tool was selected, I focused on teaching it to each of the teachers and we had some practice chats during that training. Along the way, we discussed how to introduce the tool to students in the classroom to give them practice.

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It was decided that some time in class a few days prior would be spent introducing the tool to the students. I would assist where needed between classes. I would introduce digital etiquette and link the chat to digital citizenship, touching on how academic discussions are different than just chatting with friends. Then students would rotate in groups to get hands-on practice.

I had a chance to lead some of these groups. I usually had about 5 students at a time. We did a short refresher on what had been introduced to the entire group, and then we did a chat full of ice-breaker questions. I used the time to explain how students could answer or add more detail to comments, and also how they could continue the conversation. Each of these little sessions took 10-15 minutes.

On the day of the chat, the library was set up with the Socratic seminar table in the center, with two tables on either side of it for observers. Off to the left of that was the Backchannel tables. We had two tables, one for each group. Finally, in one of the mini computer labs, we had a research station. Since students would be reading All Summer in a Day, we wanted them to research on the real Venus vs. Bradbury’s Venus, and use that in their discussions. The rotation was as follows: Research, Backchannel Chat, Observation Table, Socratic Seminar. One of the teachers had gone a step further and made sure to add discussion starters/prompts to each Backchannel table. She had also given each spot at the Socratic seminar table a number placard and then assigned a matching placard to each spot at the Observation tables. That way, there would be no confusion over who was observing whom during the activity. It seems like a very simple touch, but it made a large difference.

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Each station was led by someone. Kate McDaniel, our librarian, and I led the Backchannel groups. Mrs. Hunter led the research team, and then Mrs. Staton and Mrs. Scruggs led the Socratic seminar groups. Teams had no problems rotating through stations, and students were able to implement the work from one station to the next. For example, students used the information gained during the research session in the Backchannel discussion, and then students used information from the Backchannel discussion for their turn at the Socratic seminar table.

Looking back through each group and their Backchannel discussions, I feel that the preparations we did in advance paid off. These students were able to give detailed discussions and even added to answers that classmates gave. While I worked with each group, I listened to the Socratic seminar sessions in the background and heard them using key points from the discussions we’d had in my group.

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Transitions were fantastic between groups, and while Socratic seminars were in session, groups were quietly engaged with each of their tasks. I was very pleased with the outcome, especially after looking over the transcripts. I had one group who gave very detailed answers, and they kept working on adding to what other members of their group. I would have loved to have had them longer just to have seen where their discussion would have led.

At the end of the day, I spoke with all involved, and we agreed that the first Socratic seminar had been successful with the students. In the future, we’d love to integrate Padlet, and then rotate the two tools in and out so that things are switched up. We are planning to do at least one more seminar this year and then plan on deciding how to begin using Socratic seminar earlier next year. I’m super excited!

 

A Technology-Infused Socratic Seminar

I spent most of my time yesterday with a team of 6th grade English teachers. These students were beginning their first Socratic seminar sessions in the library. Two classes come together. In the past, these classes have followed the traditional format for Socratic seminar where groups come together to discuss a text in a round table discussion setting. Some students were also along the sides taking notes as the discussion progressed, and others were observing the current session to provide feedback to classmates. The teachers were observing in the background as well, only stepping in to redirect if necessary.

This semester, the two teachers, Dawn Baber and Melanie Kennedy, wanted to change a few things with their seminars, and they wanted to add in some technology. They wanted to be able to assess student work after the task, and document student thought processes in terms of understanding the text. This would allow them to design further learning experiences for the students, as well as take notes for future instances where the text is used.

The first step was changing how the students took notes on the seminars that they were observing. Instead of taking pencil and paper notes, these teachers wanted to try using Padlet instead. Padlet would allow the students to see each other’s notes, and would also allow them to comment on each other’s replies to add to student notes. After the session, teachers can have students look back to these notes and add additional comments to keep the discussions flowing. It also becomes a way to review for any content quizzes or exams.

The second step was adding a backchannel chat option to the seminar. Originally, students in this section were observing and taking turns switching in to ask questions during seminars. The teachers had found an option for this called Backchannel Chat. They really liked the setup of this site, especially since students logging into a chatroom could have that login tied to their Google accounts. Students would be unable to create goofy names, or be anonymous with comments. Teachers could also remove comments or set the chat to moderated, even with a free account.

Originally, it was decided that Backchannel Chat would be used for students to post questions as they listened to the seminar in the center. However, when we implemented this, it did not work as well as we wanted. Students were so busy asking questions that they weren’t really focusing on the seminar in progress. Instead, this became an online discussion where students could ask questions and answer back and forth. I typically started the discussions with a question, and the students would take over after a few minutes.

We ran sessions every period, implementing these tools, and learned a lot along the way. There was definitely a lot of risk involved, and some failure along the way, but that’s how trying something new works. Things don’t always go as planned, and sometimes it takes seeing the lesson in action to see the failure.

Based on both sessions, we realized that every class period needs a separate Padlet. The students were putting on short notes, which in turn added to the amount that had to load on the page. While Padlet can have unlimited users, it struggles to load massive boards, and our students encountered traffic jam error messages. I would also like to look at having students take notes in just one post on Padlet, versus every time they hear something new. It might make things a little easier. We also may look at removing it from Socratic seminar sessions, as it may not be the best tool for the job, and we don’t want to use it just to be using it.

Backchannel chat went over pretty well. We had issues with one of the groups in the last block of the day not being able to handle it, but otherwise students picked it up very quickly. It was nice to have a chat room that students cannot log into without their G Suite account. I could also mute students who were having trouble responding, and students were also able to “like” comments in chat.

Often, I started the chat with a question, and students began by answering that question. From there, they would discuss and ask more questions about the text. If I felt that things were a little quiet, I would through out another question based on the text, and that would help things pick up. We did have some students who did not respond, but they were engaged and following along with the chat. I think that with a few more sessions, these students will do much better.

The one group I mentioned above did have issues with chat. They were not ready to handle it in a group that size (about 10 students), and would often spam chat with ridiculous hashtags or unneeded information. The good thing was that I could remove comments and warn them first, then switch them to read only if they continued. With this group, I would try again with a smaller amount of students.

The best positive from using Backchannel Chat as the session the groups would attend before doing a Socratic seminar in the center of the room was that they were able to prepare better. They could pull from questions they had asked in chat, and continue discussions from chat. We noticed an improvement in the conversations that took place once we were using Backchannel as an online discussion tool instead.

The other great positive with Backchannel was that we set a Chromebook by the seminar leader at the center table. When they couldn’t think of a question, they could pull one in from chat and use it. Of course, students with me were pleased when they heard their question used in the discussion.

Overall, a lot of positives occurred, but so did a lot of failures. We are using these failures to redesign and rethink the next session so that we see more successes. Who knows what Socratic seminar will look like next time?

Minecraft & the Ideal School, Day 2

When you let your imagination run free, you’re sure to come up with some amazing ideas. That’s exactly what some of my students are doing with the Ideal School project.

Day 2 began with students picking up where they left off. Many of them had completed half of the work with the 3 different Padlets. They spent some time today working on their School Design questions, which many enjoyed, and of course, some got distracted with all of their ideas. There was definitely some great discussion between students about the facilities they would offer, and how they would design their schools.

Once work was completed on all 3 Padlets, students were able to begin Task 4- Sketching their School Design. Prior to the class meeting, I had modified this section of my original lesson plan. I wanted students to be able to messy sketch and just get an idea of what would be in their schools and where it would be located. I didn’t want them to have to worry about carefully plotting the design layout just yet. I had made my own samples of a messy sketch and a good sketch to share with them in Google Classroom. My samples only show a small section of a school building.

This is where many students ended class. They were laying out the messy sketch designs. Some will have a school with multiple floors, and others will have a single level school. I even had some students want to come down during dismissal time to continue working on their sketches. This is perfectly fine by me, and I love that they are eager to keep working outside of class time. Students will be able to move on to the second sketch when they show me their completed messy sketch and I make sure that the requirements for the school are met. They will not get to the end of the project, only to be told they are missing something.

Overall, day 2 went well, but I think that was mostly because I spent time before the class tweaking the lesson plan again so that it was more specific, and really got students to put some thought into their work. Originally I just had them graphing their sketch with all measurements and such, but I realized that this was not a good idea because they would have had no idea how the overall sketch of the school should look. I felt that this could lead to mistakes and frustration. I also added into the lesson that the messy sketch needed my approval before the good sketch so that I could make sure that all required pieces were included.

This revision led to me creating my own examples of both the good sketch and the messy sketch. I wanted students to see a model so that it would be clearer to them, and many did appreciate it. I am really hoping that the graph version turns out well, because I have so many students who struggle with this when it comes to Minecraft. They have trouble creating their design on graph paper so that it transfers easily into Minecraft.

I am certain that my changes to Day 2’s part of the lesson made the difference in how the activity proceeded. Day 3 is meant to be a continuation of Day 2, and I expect most students to finish the messy sketch and be working on their good graph copy. Below, you can see the work from Day 2 from some of the students:

Very much looking forward to Day 3 next week. I am looking forward to seeing what the students come up with for their ideal schools!

Reflection: Minecraft & the Ideal School

I was recently tasked by one of the FMS administrators to design an enrichment activity for students involving Minecraft. This activity would be worked on once a week during the Genius Hour slot. I would end up with students 30 minutes each week, and the students would be selected as candidates by administration. Students would have final say in an interest meeting- if they didn’t wish to participate, they didn’t have to do so.

I love Minecraft (which you’ve seen from reading this blog if you are a repeat visitor), but I didn’t want to just sit the kids down to play. I wanted them to be challenged by a problem, so I set out to research. I ended up finding various projects on the Ideal School, so I decided to give the project a Minecraft twist.

The final version ended up with a few parts:

  • Part 1- Discuss issues in today’s schools and brainstorm ideas for structure of the school day, learning and lessons, and ideas for school facility.
  • Part 2- Draft a design of the school on graph paper
  • Part 3- Use Minecraft to create a model of the ideal school
  • Part 4- Complete a series of questions to provide information about the Ideal School
  • Part 5- Present results to administration

Today was the first day for our group to meet thanks to unfortunate timing of snow days. Students logged into their computers and joined the Google Classroom. I had displayed the class code on the projector. Once students were in the classroom, I gave them an overview of the project and all the steps that would be completed.

We first began by discussing the issues that they felt kids today faced in schools. I got some really good answers, and wrote them on the board as the kids took turns speaking. I had answers like:

  • lack of educational tools (calculators, books, etc)
  • not all schools have enrichment programs
  • lack of engaging learning

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Students were then directed to view the Google Classroom. I had created 3 tasks to begin with that focused on Part 1 of the project. Each task was designed to be completed in Padlet, which I have used in the past and loved. Students were able to each answer the question in one location. They could also see what their classmates were writing. I gave a quick overview of how to create a post on the Padlet. Students were asked to use their first name for the title, and then use the space to answer the questions on each Padlet.

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While they worked, I observed and asked questions about their plans, sometimes playing devil’s advocate, but mostly just to hear their ideas and thoughts. For example, through discussion one student realized that the way he set up his school year would give students a break in January and February, avoiding some of the potential snow days.

As students finished each Padlet, they marked the assignment as done in Google Classroom. Because we are limited on time, not all work was finished today. Students were told that they would finish this work the next time we met. However, they also have the option to work on the remaining pieces outside of class on their own time. Some students said they would do it, others said no to that idea.

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I am looking forward to seeing what the next class meeting will bring, and what kind of designs will develop when these students begin working with graph paper. Eventually, I will share the lesson plan here as a resource. It will need to be tweaked as the project is completed.

School Branding: It Takes a Team

When you are working to brand yourself as an educator and share your story online, you rely on yourself to share the information. You can’t rely on others to share it for you, and how much you share depends entirely on you. Sometimes, you may go a month or more without sharing anything because life happened. It can happen to anyone. However, school branding is a different beast.

Schools often put one person in charge of social media postings, and hope for the best. One person sometimes has to gather images, check media releases, and share stories. They are responsible for checking feedback, comments, and messages sent via social media. Often, they must report anything out of place to administration. This person often has other roles to play in the school, and so social media may fall by the wayside. This leaves schools unable to share many stories, or they are more likely to share simple things, such as announcements and lunch menus.

School branding should not fall solely on one person’s shoulders. School is a community, and it takes many kinds of people to help it function well. School branding should become part of the community effort, even if it’s a small community group alone at first. Having more than one person work to gather stories, to check releases, and to monitor social media pages distributes the tasks among multiple folks, each with a common goal in mind: share the good with the community.

In my district, it is a slow process. I am working to change it, but it definitely takes time. One of my schools, however, is trying a new approach, and this could very well change the frequency with which we share our school’s stories on our Facebook page. Only time will tell, and I will definitely be observing to gather feedback.

Fluvanna Middle School has periods of infrequent sharing on their Facebook page. Administrator Rebecca Smith has taken a different approach. As she completes observations of teachers in the classroom, she snaps pictures of the activity occurring. These images are passed onto myself. I do not know all 800+ students in the school, so I have teamed up with librarian Kate McDaniel to identify students with media release. We tag team together and delete any photographs where a student may not have permission to be photographed. Next, I email the teacher for a description of the activity that was occurring at the time. I usually need just 2-3 sentences to work with- enough to describe the learning taking place. Once I have the description, I schedule the post for Facebook and use our #flucostories hashtag.

As you can see, this involves the work of multiple people, and helps to create a more frequent story of Fluvanna Middle School. The task of sharing stories on social media does not fall to only one person, nor should it. Based on what we’ve seen so far, we are hoping to continue to use this method to gather many classroom stories for our families to view. In the past, our families have expressed the desire to see a variety of stories from more than just the academic classes, and that’s what we’re working toward delivering.

If your school relies solely on just one person to run their social media, it may be time to rethink the strategy. Communities rely on the people within to help them grow and flourish. If your school wants to have their school story prosper and be spread, then reach out and find ways to bring more folks on board. You just might develop an even better school story than before!