Classroom Happenings


posted Jun 4, 2014, 11:08 AM by Benjamin Brazeau   [ updated Jun 27, 2014, 3:16 PM ]

Technology meets demonstration of knowledge.  In the past students have completed tasks for the final that included examination of information that we have covered throughout the course.  This was done through a variety of writing assignments.  This year I wanted to try something new.  Students worked on creating their final video projects that demonstrated their knowledge of events that we weren't able to cover in class.

The twist is they had to do it in a Forrest Gump style video.  Students created a timeline of the 10 most important events describing what they were and why they were important by analyzing the lasting legacy of the events.  They then created a 5-10 minute video where they showcased their understanding of the events.  This video was to include a story similar to Forrest Gump where he recalls his experiences during these incredible historical events.  Students were to utilize a video capture software called screencast O'Matic, but other chose other methods.  The technology wasn't as important as the final product.  

I wanted to include the final products students created in World History.  There are some great examples of creativity.  We wrapped up the year with presentations of these projects.  

This was my first attempt at this activity, so there are some great examples of content and storytelling, some examples of good content, and some that could be better.   In the end that is what happens when you attempt new things where students don't have examples to use as a baseline.  There is also the issue of time, how much time do you give, for some it seems there is too much time, others, not enough.  In the end I enjoyed the activity, and think the students did as well.  They were excited to see each other's work. 

Final note of the presentations before I forget- To keep them all engaged, I asked everyone to fill out feedback sheets for each video presentation.  Students were asked to provide constructive critiques of the work of their peers.  I asked them to include at least 3 positive things and 2 areas for improvement.  We then shared out these ideas.  Sometimes students volunteered, other times I randomly called upon audience members.  Each time we discussed the presentation in terms of the rubric I provided for them.  It was a powerful piece of learning.  Students were provided immediate feedback not only from me, but their peers.  They were able to hear what others thought, as well as see their work in relation to that of their classmates.  The really cool thing is the students in the audience were in line with my ideas for feedback for the most part.  At times they had deeper insights about things they liked, or ways to express their critiques that was meaningful and reflective.  

With some tweaks, I will use this lesson again.  It may or may not be an end of the year task, but it definitely is a great activity to allow students to create something more meaningful than a MC test. 

WH B Forrest Gump Final Project

March Madness!

posted Apr 9, 2014, 6:03 PM by Benjamin Brazeau   [ updated Apr 9, 2014, 6:55 PM ]


Yes it is that time of year when the snow begins to melt and our attention turns to warmer weather, getting outside and enjoying spring.  For many others it is that magical time of year when 64 college teams for both women and men's basketball compete to determine who is the best in the nation.  As a former basketball coach, I love this time of year for so many reasons.  This year I have learned some cool ways to bring the tournament idea into the classroom.  No we are not placing bets to who will win the NCAA tourney, but rather using the structure of a tournament to determine who is the best, or most influential person in history.

My first attempt at this came with Presidential March Madness.  Students nominated and then researched a President who will face off against other presidential contenders.  Students created videos and fakebook pages, fake facebook pages to provide information to their classmates.  The presentations began with students watching videos about their President to the class.  I have included the videos and fakebook pages below.

Presidential Bracketology ‎‎‎(Responses)‎‎‎

Debate Rounds!


After students learned about the various presidents through the video and fakebook pages, they faced off against each other in a debate activity.  The debates consisted of 2 minute opening statements followed by an 8 minute question and answer session where students could ask each other questions.  As students became more familiar with the concept of the debate, the dialogue became more heated.  Students dug up dirt on each other's president, and asked some tough questions. At times it was very intense, and I must admit very fun to watch the two go after each other's persona.  Students asked questions that showed they had done research, and for the most part were able to provide good answers to those probing questions.  The rest of the class got sucked into the debates, and reacted as a crowd might to a slam dunk when a tough question was asked.  It was exciting and so educational.   

Below is the bracket and the results-  

I had originally wanted to complete the second half of the bracket where students completed the activity for a second president so we were able to learn about more presidents, however time has put this plan on hold.  I also originally wanted to connect this activity with other classes in my school, or to other classes via Twitter, but timing became an issue.  In the end this was a great lesson that I will definitely use again!

I was so inspired by this activity that I wanted to add it to other activities.  I went online and found many other teachers using this Bracketology idea for most important Cold War event, most influential Egyptian Pharaoh, and so many more.  


I used to do a pretty cool lesson for the Renaissance/Global Convergence where students would create interviews between Explorers and the Natives they "Discovered."  Well the software that I used to use doesn't exist anymore, so here comes plan B.  I sought out help from teachers that I know from twitter and several responded.  I found one that connects the idea of the March Madness showdown tournament with the TV show Survivor.  

This week began Survivor Renaissance.  I have put the ideas on my site under the World History tab.  Students were divided into tribes, chose a Renaissance figure to research, and have begun working on learning about their Renaissance person.  By the end of the week they will create their poster for our meet and greet activity.  Students will learn about other Renaissance people by examining the posters created by their classmates.  There are individual and tribe/team challenges that make this activity more like a game than the Presidential March Madness.  After the meet and greet and tribal challenges to help students better understand the Renaissance people and time period, we will debate.  Students will participate in a tribal council where they will face off much like the March Madness debates.  In this activity, students are competing as individuals, and members of a tribe.  If their person moves on both the individual and the tribe earn points. 

I can't wait to see the full results of how this gamified activity adds to student engagement and helps bring the Renaissance era to life.

Genius Hour Results- The Question- What next?

posted Feb 1, 2014, 1:01 PM by Benjamin Brazeau

PictureI learned about Genius hour this summer and was very excited to bring this to my classroom. I have already posted about what I did to implement it earlier. This time I am reflecting on the results.

I gave my students most of the semester to complete their projects, and for most this was way too long. The time frame for most seemed like an eternity and they weren't able to fathom a project that would encapsulate this time frame. I adjusted and gave them a 30 day challenge that they could do like I tried a 30 day fitness challenge and had to admit to them that I failed. Mine was poor timing, just before Thanksgiving, yes I set myself up for failure, I get it. However, this served as a great teaching example that we can fail to achieve our goals if we continue to work at them. The purpose of the activity is the journey, it is the progress and the process of learning that counts.

At the end of this semester I am now reflecting on the results. I did this with 2 courses which included 110 students. In the end I had just over 10 students that didn't complete any kind of project. I had several who did minimal reflection and blogging about their learning experience. I am talking 1-2 sentences to explain what they did. As I go through their projects, I see some areas where this project is an epic failure. My intent was to inspire students to go out and learn about something that was important to them. A lot of them did it because they felt they had to. Several didn't do it at all as I previously mentioned. I even had one student ask me 2 days before the final submissions if he could do a 30 day challenge on fitness. Let's see if you can do the math here. So my first experience was not the overwhelming success, or the inspirational hook to get students excited about learning.

Glad you waited for the silver lining, here is the payoff. I had some students who did some amazing things with their time. I am inspired by their efforts, and I have to share those with you. I tend to write a lot to explain my thoughts and ideas. This time I just want to say that I will let their projects speak for themselves.

There were some issues with sharing the videos, so I included a few examples that stood out with a link to their blog which includes the video.

Learning to Juggle 2 students worked together- 1 the teacher the other the student learning to juggle.

Learning to Wrestle - a junior decided to join wrestling for the first time. He chronicles his experience.

A student works to improve his baseball skills.

YouTube Video

Student creates world monuments using Minecraft, was upset because he didn't finish 2 buildings. I will let you judge whether or not he failed.

YouTube Video

Student uses stop motion animation to create short Transformers film.

YouTube Video

My final thoughts- I think Genius Hour can be an amazing experience for students. I think as I move forward the time frame will be shorter, and I will have more examples and better control over what they do for their final project. I am going to try this project again, and even if I don't get all to jump in, or to buy into this amazing opportunity. The examples of those who have done the project are worth the time and effort.

Try something new, challenge yourself to give up control and let the students take you to places you never thought you could go. Enjoy the journey for the destination will be amazing!

Student Learning -multiple methods of mastery!

posted Feb 1, 2014, 12:45 PM by Benjamin Brazeau

The first semester has come to an end.   While I observed my students working on their build your own civilization project, I was reminded of the multitude of projects and learning opportunities we have embarked on this semester.  I am now reflecting on what the students accomplished, what they learned, and how to make it better next time.  If you son and daughter has ever talked about what happens in my class, I am sure there has been some discussion about how they might have been frustrated with the work, or the fact that it was challenging or difficult at times.  I would wholeheartedly agree.  If I were a high school student in my class, I know there would be days that I might think, can't you just tell us the answer?  And my current response is no!  I am not the person with all of the answers, in fact I have more questions than answers.  In my teaching career I have transitioned to the methods and practices I currently use.  I have evolved in my thinking about what and how students should and do learn.  My aim or goal is to challenge students to think about the material we are studying in a manner that is more meaningful and will lead to deeper, longer lasting understanding of the concepts.  I rarely use multiple choice questions in class because I reflect on my own experience and realize that when preparing for a bubble test, the knowledge only stayed with me momentarily.  However when completing a project, the knowledge was build through experience, through my own work and discovery.  I still remember projects I did when I was in middle school and high school.  I do not however remember a single multiple choice test.  That is not to say that multiple choice is bad.  I am just making the point that I am pushing for deeper, lasting knowledge that builds on the factual information that is typically tested on a multiple choice test.  We take that knowledge and create something out of it.  Our learning doesn't stop when we can identify the bill of rights, or which civilization was the first to use the wheel.  It is about using prior knowledge in an application of some form to demonstrate a larger, more far reaching concept.  

The courses are also about developing 21st century skills.  There are many examples of these skills, but in general they are problem solving, deeper level thinking, collaborative, creative type skills.  I am pushing my students to be thinkers.  When they leave my classroom, they will forget much of the content that we have studied.  Yes I have accepted that, think back to your high school career and how well would you be able to solve a quadratic equation, or remember the rules for a dangling participle, or how to convert jules into moles, or what was President Andrew Johnson's plan for Reconstruction after the Civil War?  Students will not remember everything they are taught, but they are more likely to remember the skills and ideas that they are working to master.  

I have created a short list of activities, lessons or projects that have been completed by my students in Sociology, World History, or US History during this first term.  I hope to continue to add to these examples as time goes on.  

What should be taught in schools -WH Students presented in front of members of the school board about what should be taught, the Big Bang Theory or Intelligent Design to explain how the world began.
911 blog post Student Examples - US and Sociology students interviewed an adult about their experiences about the 9/11 attacks and shared their results and ideas with students from across the country.  I included the link above.
LCHS culture video - Sociology students participated in an activity with students from around the country creating a video about the culture of their school.  Our students created videos about the culture of LCHS and shared those with the other schools.   
Build Your Own Civilization - WH Students studied civilizations and used that background information to build their own civilization in a post nuclear apocalyptic world. They made laws, created a social structure and had to plan where in the world to create their civilization.  There were many elements of social students present in this activity as well as critical thinking and reflection.  
Audio posts for US - I have realized that I use a lot of writing in my class, partly because it is a better way to demonstrate depth of knowledge than other testing methods, and also because I find writing to be fairly easy.  This year I tried to give students an alternative.  They are able to complete their assessments using audio or visual posts.  I posted previously about audioboo, but students have also used screencastomatic to complete tasks as well. 
Genius Hour - This was student's opportunity to do something they were passionate about. They were given some class time to devote to the completion of this project.  I wanted students to see that learning can be fun.  They could choose just about anything to learn about, and there are some amazing results. 
Civilization Storybook- WH students researched and created storybooks about their assigned civilization to teach the rest of the class about the early civilizations.  Students not only had to learn about the civilization, they had to use their creativity to turn historical facts into an interesting story. The results are on the WH page. 
Indian Removal Act- US students were asked to learn about and take on the role of one group who would be impacted by the Indian Removal Act of 1830 that led to the Trail of Tears.  Students had to represent the point of view of their group as we debated the merits of this historic decision.  
Create Your Own Constitution- US students again role played members to the constitutional convention and were faced with significant issues and problems to be address by a fledgling nation. They role played the interests of their assigned delegate and state and worked to create decisions to govern this new nation and set the foundation for the country's future.  

What do these projects have to do with diversity, different methods and mastery?  I shared these with you because each has students demonstrate their understanding in a different methodology.  They ask students to engage various forms of their learning intelligence from public speaking, to technology skills.  Each one is based on a different content topic, but each asks students to think critically, analyze information, in most cases work collaboratively, or engage with others in some way to obtain information and understanding.  Through these and many other examples, I have been able to see the strengths of my students.  At times this strength has been perseverance .  I say this because public speaking or technology are not the strengths of all students, but through their efforts to ask for assistance and determination they were able to accomplish some amazing things. 

Genius Hour and 30 Day Challenge - Student lead Learning!

posted Dec 27, 2013, 3:17 PM by Benjamin Brazeau   [ updated Dec 27, 2013, 3:18 PM ]

This year I decided to try many new things, but one of the most significant was to give up class time to something called Genius Hour, or 20% time. I have posted on this before, but I think it is still something new enough to necessitate a brief explanation. The concept comes from google and 3M, very successful companies that thrive on creativity. The basic idea is to provide employees with time to work on projects they are passionate or curious about. How does this fit into education you might ask? Well, I, like many others have found students, especially at the high school level feel uninspired and forced to learn things albeit at times, reluctantly.

The project aims to provide students opportunities to learn what they are interested in. To provide class time to explore their passion or curiosity in a safe manner free from grades and negative consequences.

The day I rolled this out, about 2 weeks into the first term, I thought students would be excited, astounded at the freedom, and almost uncontrollable in their enthusiasm to learn something new. This was the exception, not the rule. There were some who were absolutely excited, but what was most surprising was the reaction where students continued to ask me what should they learn about. They wanted me to assign them a topic. I was almost shocked at this reaction. I thought they would be busting with ideas, and challenged to only focus on one project.

Students struggled with choosing topics for a few weeks, some longer. I think students struggled with the freedom to choose anything they wanted. This was something new to them, at least something they didn't experience with regularity to know how to handle such intellectual autonomy. I have found this aspect of the project very interesting. It never dawned on me that they would struggle with making a choice. I found examples of other projects and shared a plethora of potential learning opportunities. This satisfied many, but there were still some that I don't think have bought into the project completely.

My final sales pitch came after seeing the video below about a 30 day challenge. I even told my students that I attempted one for exercising everyday. It started just before Thanksgiving, and was met with epic failure. I have exercised since then, but with no real regularity, and the scale tells the tail of my dismal failure! So after the new year I will again start my challenge and work to vanquish my nemesis. I shared the video and my failed story with my students and saw the light bulb go on for many of them.

YouTube Video

The complete results of their efforts will not be known for a couple of weeks, but I wanted to write about the transformation I saw in them after introducing the 3o day challenge. Students were excited about the possibility to do something, to try something, and to know they could fail. All of these ideas were presented with the original genius hour project, but for some reason the idea of a 30 day challenge sparked something in them. I have a student who is working on learning to juggle. This has been a great project because he has brought the tennis balls to class and at the beginning of class, demonstrated his progress, and he is making remarkable strides. I have 2 other students who are rehabbing injuries, and chronicling their journey to recovery. Others are working on improving their eating habits by removing fast food from their diet, or preparing healthier food choices at home. Students are connecting to this project, and although I would love for it to be connected to academic learning, I am excited to see their enthusiasm for learning.

I have been inspired by my students, and even at this point, I know some of them will fail to produce a quality final product. However, this experiment was designed to spark the interest, creativity and passion of my students. If some of them didn't jump into this term, maybe seeing other's projects may be the catalyst for their own innovative spirit to take flight. I will post some of the results after January 15, 2014.

Students Epiphany!

posted Dec 27, 2013, 2:20 PM by Benjamin Brazeau

Today (11/14/13 just delayed on publishing post) was the first day of a new term, or quarter depending on which schedule you are used to. I got to school today after a weekend full of grading finals, preparing the snow thrower for the upcoming winter, maybe this year it will make it the entire season, and even a little fun with my wife at the Packers game. When I arrived I knew I had to prepare for wrapping up my lesson on the move to agriculture. I had students create skits and perform them in front of the class, but needed a way to pull the ideas together to allow for the transition to civilization.

I must admit I didn't bring my A game to this lesson. I didn't prepare for this lesson as well as I should have. I was trying something new, and was expecting just basic responses to basic questions. I created a few questions for students to examine with a partner about the benefits and problems associated with the move to agriculture.

The objective of the lesson was to have students to see that there were significant changes to society once we moved to agriculture. Again the structure of the lesson could have easily failed to achieve this goal. Instead it turned out to be a very cool experience for me and the students. The lesson was not spectacular because I wrote great questions, that's for sure. The lesson wasn't great because I had a great plan for the day. The thing that I believe made this lesson go well was the conversations I had with students as they worked on answering the questions. It was these brief discussions with students that turned a bland lesson into one that I had to share with others.

I have made it a point to spend more time talking with groups while they are working. I want to sit in on their conversations for many reasons. One important one is to engage the quiet student who would otherwise be lost in the large group conversations. This time those conversations rescued my failing lesson.

As I moved from group to group, the responses students shared, helped me adjust my ensuing conversations with the next group of students. If the lesson ended with these conversations, I would done about as well I would expect with the preparation I had completed. I would have gone away thinking, I had some good individual discussions, and reflected on how to improve. But the lesson didn't end there. We moved to a full class discussion that went unexpectedly.

If students were able to understand that gender inequality started as a result of farming, I would have been happy, but the lesson didn't end with this revelation. As the conversation continued I found the concept of surplus dangling in front of me. I then provided them with a little scenario to help illustrate the idea of inequality of wealth and power that results. I told them some of them were good farmers, some struggled with growing crops.

Last year in Wisconsin we had a very wet spring and many farmers got their fields planted late. I used this to illustrate that some wouldn't have had enough to survive the winter. So I had students pick 2 students who were very successful and had a significant surplus of crops. Now we had 2 good farmers and several struggling farmers. I asked the successful farmers would they trade some of their food with those who needed it. They agreed, but they wanted something in return. I asked those who were in need of food what they would offer. The first class offered labor and I followed up with how much time would they be willing to work. They started with days, then like an auction, they drove up the bidding until one said they would work forever to food from the good farmers. The other classes went similarly with the addition of selling their own children into slavery, or giving up parts of their land. 

Here it was, the beginning of slavery or at least indentured servitude or debt slavery and it came from the students. I could see the lights turn on  for many students as so on as I restated the idea that a fellow student had just volunteered to work for ever for the other farmer. They were processing what this meant. Some even asked him if he was willing to be a slave for the rest of his life. Others playing their role, offered up other classmates, and some their own children. 

This is where the conversation transcended the discussion of agriculture to a walk through major historic events. They saw the development of gender in equality, slavery, the beginning of job specialization and how that too led to inequality. I then examined what the farmer with surplus and now workers gained. They were able to gain power, and wealth. The students also discussed what those individuals would do with the power and to maintain their power. We could have been talking about events of modern times. I need to continue to build to students understanding those connections, but we need to cross that bridge later on. 

I feel very fortunate. My students took a lesson that I thought was a doomed and they turned it into a winner. I will say the decisions I made along the way, especially immersing myself into the student's group discussions made a significant difference in how I adapted the lesson and the final results. If I had sat back and waited for the students to just report out, I never would have heard their ideas, or had opportunities to process their levels of understanding in order to create the guiding questions I made as the lesson progressed. I didn't come to class as prepared as I should have but the engagement and connection to students allowed this lesson to prosper and be a meaningful experience for all of us.

Student Rockstars!

posted Nov 11, 2013, 5:46 PM by Benjamin Brazeau   [ updated Nov 11, 2013, 6:29 PM ]

I hope I am able to do justice to this experience.  Last week as we were bringing first term to an end, I asked students to create a skit where they act out a conversation between members of an ancient hunter gatherer group.  The conversation was about whether or not the group should stay hunter gatherers, or transition to a settled farming way of life.  Students were to show their understanding of both ways of life by presenting the pros and cons of each lifestyle. They would wrap it up by recommending which lifestyle they thought would be best for them.  

When I created this lesson, my intention was simple, to give students an alternative way to present their knowledge and understanding in a way that engaged more of their intelligences and was hopefully more fun for them.  What I experienced was a truly touching example of inclusion, acceptance and compassion.  I would love to share with you all of the various examples of the skits, but the one I have selected is a true example of what happens when you let students have choice in our classes.  I let students choose their groups, and this particular group went out of their way to include two students who have some unique learning challenges.  They not only decided to have these students be part of their group, they sought out to make sure they were given important roles in their skits.  The students were encouraged throughout the planning stage, and it was phenomenal to see the group interact, all of them interact together throughout the process.  

I cannot say enough how proud I am of my students who rise to the challenge daily with difficult course work focused on developing 21st century skills like problem solving, and critical thinking.  I don't want to short change any student, but this group exceeded my expectations.  Their actions touched me so much because I don't know if at their age I would have made the same decision.  I am inspired by their compassion for their fellow students, and this is another example of how students have so much power in creating an engaging and accepting classroom.  I hope the video below helps you understand how amazingly blessed I am to work with these young people on a daily basis.

YouTube Video

The Lessons Students Can Teach Us!

posted Oct 24, 2013, 8:20 AM by Benjamin Brazeau

PictureFriday night something special happened, something that I believe needs to happen much more frequently. Now I want to do justice to the event as it has meaning for everyone involved in it. However I believe this one moment in time should be more of a lesson to all of us than an incredible experience for a young man, his family and his community. I think what this amazing young man has done should be more about the lessons we can learn from him and make strides to create these experiences for everyone in our lives much more frequently. 

I know Noah, and say "Hi" to this young man on a daily basis. He is always so positive, upbeat, and a character with his seemingly endless number of stories. Noah is a beloved young man in this community. Whether his classmates and teachers truly realize it, Noah is teaching us lessons everyday. Noah has connected a community, a school, and individuals. He has allowed us to share in his life, his struggles and his accomplishments. When interacting with Noah, I find myself slowing down not wanting to miss anything he is going to share with me during that brief encounter. He teaches me patience, enthusiasm and passion. He is filled with excitement and joy every time I see him. I often find myself wondering how he is able to always be so happy when I am running around often stressed about not getting things done. When I have a free moment, I reflect on things in my life, and with the events of Friday, I again found myself thinking about priorities. Noah has reminded me of the things that are important. The relationships in my life, the things that make me happy and the compassion for others. 

Noah's experience is as unique as every individual on this planet. Noah, like all of us has good days and bad days, things we like and dislike. We all have challenges in our lives, and what I really am left with after getting to know Noah and Friday night's amazing tribute is one simple lesson. There are many more people like Noah out there who need to have an opportunity to shine. There are many more of our students, friends, classmates that have unique struggles that need to be accepted and cherished in similar ways as we have with Noah this weekend and during his time here.

I hope my message is clear thus far. I am so grateful to my colleagues, coaches, staff members who helped create this opportunity. I just found out it was the idea of the students, his teammates to put this together, and make this tribute to happen. I think it is a wonderful experience for Noah and his family. I also want all of us to be reminded that Noah isn't the only person among us who needs or deserves to be treated as a superstar. I hope we take Noah's experience and build upon it. We look for other opportunities to showcase our students, classmates, colleagues, family and friends.

Here is the link to the story and video. I commend the local news station for doing a wonderful job of telling Noah's story and giving him his due.

Learning from FAILURE!

posted Oct 24, 2013, 7:28 AM by Benjamin Brazeau   [ updated Oct 24, 2013, 7:45 AM ]

What happens when you work hard, put in good effort, and don't achieve the results you desire?  What happens when you think you have done everything as well as you could, and in the end you failed to achieve your goal?  

Step 1 - ASSIGN BLAME! -- You get frustrated, upset, typically we react with some form of emotion.  We may blame others and deny our role in the failure.  I will admit that I have experienced both sides of this as a teacher.  I have definitely been blamed for students not achieving their goal, and I have been frustrated at students when they didn't accomplish a task the way I thought it should be done.  

Step 2 - REFLECTION OF LEARNING PROCESS -- This assumes people get beyond step 1 of assigning blame. 
After you realize that you have failed where do you do next?  You still have a goal unfulfilled.  Now before you try to do the same activity the same way and expect different results, I believe is similar to the definition of insanity, it is time to reflect.  Think about what happened.  Start with what was your objective or goal?  Next consider the actions you took and the results that you achieved.  Ask yourself, did you understand the goal or objective, was it obtainable or did you need assistance?  Did you use every resource available to you to achieve your goal?  Where did you go wrong?

Step 3 - REVISED PLAN OF ACTION -- Now that you have uncovered areas that could have gone better, it is now time to create a better plan of action.  If you still have the same objective or goal, what will you differently to achieve this goal?  Does it mean asking for clarification, or help from others.  Does it mean finding resources or asking questions?  For the teacher - it likely means reteaching the lesson, or adjusting the directions to clarify for the student.  It means taking ownership of the areas that you didn't measure up.  It is the ability to admit where you need to make your changes and own your failure.  

Step 4 -  IT IS ONLY A FAILURE IF YOU END THE PROCESS - Failure is part of life.  I helped my daughter learn to ride her bike this summer, and there were more failed attempts than I can count.  If after any one of these failed attempts she had quit, given up, she never would have achieved her goal. Her summer might have ended with a different feel.  Instead she picked herself up, dealt with the bumps and bruises and she and I came up with a better plan to help her ride down the street without dragging me behind her.  

My failure
This week I had my share of failure.  I gave one class of students a test, and when I looked at the results, I realized I failed them.  I didn't provide adequate instruction for them to understand the material in a deep or meaningful manner.  They took the test, and struggled with some of the ideas that I thought we had covered well.  What I found is they didn't have a full grasp of the knowledge.  The first thing that crosses a teacher's mind might be to simply blame them for not studying enough. When I saw the overall results were low, I realized, while their individual preparation may be questionable, I am accountable for the class's results.  

What do you do in this situation?  I looked at how I taught the material, and while I did a lot of activities, and created opportunities to engage in the learning and understanding, they missed some of the ideas.  My plan - reteach the lessons.  I spent the next two days focused on teaching the main concepts, going over readings, quizzing them and checking their understanding.  After two days of reteaching, I retested them on the content.  The results while not perfect, were a significant improvement.  My most important take away is to take more opportunities throughout teaching the material to check for understanding.  I need to do more formative assessments where I check and recheck their knowledge, then adjust my instruction accordingly.  

My second example came with my freshmen world history.  A few weeks ago I asked them to present a position to members of the school board, and was amazed at how well things went.  Maybe this positive result created a false sense of accomplishment and understanding, because today that bubble burst.  I asked students to do another significant critical thinking exercise.  The premise behind this was to persuade elected officials to vote for their position.  In order to demonstrate their idea, they had to compare neanderthals to humans.  

Here is why I and the students failed - I made the assumption that they knew how to create a comparison paper, and they didn't ask for clarification or help when they began to struggle with the task.  I didn't provide adequate instruction to them about how to write a paper where they compare and contrast two groups.  They can tell you how they are similar or different, but to take the next step of turning that into a persuasive argument eluded them.  

Next step - revise instructions- I took the opportunity to discuss this issue with them before I graded any of their papers.  We discussed together what went on, and the issues of communication between us.  I then laid out a plan to revise their papers to include a better representation of their ideas and a better end product.  

Now I also have revised expectations.  If I had provided the revised instructions, and had the conversation about their level of understanding of how to create a comparative essay before starting the lesson, I would expect higher level of written expression.  As my assessment presentation is flawed, I need to adjust for the likelihood that students are going have a better comparison, but they will likely still struggle with the connection between the comparison and their thesis.  

Lessons learned from my failure - 
1. I need to teach the skills necessary to demonstrate or present the content, not just the content.  I have to include some sort of pre-assessment to determine their level of understanding of the skills or technology being used to assist their demonstration of understanding.  In this case, I assumed they understood how to write a comparison paper.  They demonstrated the ability to make comparisons, the issue was with their understanding of how to connect the ideas of similarities and difference, to their thesis.

2. I may have to provide more in class, guided instruction where students create their products.  I was checking in with students frequently when they did their presentation topic, and for this paper, I only worked with them the first day and then turned them loose.  

3. Be Reflective, seek help, and be receptive to criticism.  No one likes to hear that they didn't measure up.  No one enjoys failing.  So when faced with a challenge, you can either continue to do it the same way and wonder why you or your students haven't achieved the results you want, or you can ask the tough questions.  Be prepared for the sometimes harsh realities.  In the end if you are serious about achieving a goal, you have to open yourself up to hearing you could have done better.  

4. Failure is a learning opportunity.  We are too quick to dismiss it as a total and complete loss.  There are people would would say the Packers' reaching the NFC championship to only lose to the 49's is a total waste of a season.  Some are too quick to discard the learning and enjoyment the experience up to the point of failure brought.  Fail = First Attempt At Learning!  Please don't be discouraged with failure.   Don't let that first attempt be your last attempt!  

Turning a mere activity into an experience!

posted Oct 2, 2013, 10:03 AM by Benjamin Brazeau   [ updated Oct 3, 2013, 7:30 PM ]

Today my classroom was transformed into a school board meeting where students presented to members of the school board, and teachers.  I have taught the lesson, "What should be taught in schools, Big Bang or Intelligent Design?" for the past few years.  However after a summer of learning, I decided to challenge my students to move beyond the activity of discussing and writing a paper for my eyes only.  I presented them with the scenario that they will be creating a presentation for actual members of the school board.  So I had to contact members of our local school board, and am very pleased to report that I was able to get two to agree to be in my classroom for the two days of presentations for three of my World History classes.  

Students were asked what they think should be taught in schools.  They were presented with information about the two ideas that help us understand how we got here.  The two theories were presented as best I understand them with the help of readings that students interacted with and we discussed as a class.  In the presentation of this activity, I make it very clear that neither one of them is perfect in their explanation, and it is okay to believe whatever they choose to believe.  

The task is pretty simple.  You are to present to the panel, what should be taught, and support your ideas for why you chose this position.  It is a difficult concept, and a controversial topic, and we discussed some of the ideas surrounding these theories as we studied and prepared for the presentations.  Students can share and include their opinions and beliefs in their presentations, but they were instructed not to approach this as if it were solely about their own personal beliefs.  They must consider all students, parents and teachers in their decision.  

This is my first time completing this activity, and I wish I could share their hard work and amazing projects with the world.  The students have worked incredibly hard and the results should be celebrated.

What an amazing experience!  I had to change text color to hopefully draw your attention to the fact that this experience was incredible!  It is one that I will remember for the rest of my life.  I expected the presentations to go well, especially since students had put in such hard work.  However, I found this experience transformed my role from evaluator to cheer leader.  I have talked to each student over the past week several times about their project and had a feeling about how each of them would perform.  There were some I knew would excel in their demonstration of knowledge and ability to defend their point of view.  There were others that I thought might struggle in this format.  As I watched the students present, I started making note of the things they did well, and areas that they could improve upon as I have always done.  But after a few presentations, I realized how amazed I was at their efforts.  No, not all of them were perfect presentations.  What they turned out to be, was an inspiration to me.  I stopped watching the presentations thinking about how to evaluate them, but more excited to see the awesomeness that is this group of students.  I was most impressed with the presentations by the shy students, the soft spoken students, the ones that in our conversations needed more guidance.  When these students stepped in front of the panel, I wanted them to succeed.  I wanted them to show their knowledge and understanding.  What I saw was outstanding.  They shined!  For some they overcame a fear, others were able to demonstrate knowledge and understanding beyond what I had seen before their final presentation.  I have never been more proud of my students than I am right now. 

1-10 of 15