Day one of the 2017 Summer Academy and Innovation Class

Today was the first day of our 2017 Summer Academy at the local BOCES site in upstate New York. Today, also happens to be my first day teaching Innovation class. I had previously only taught social studies classes during the school year and during summer school. This year, I decided I wanted to try something new and broaden my teaching experience. So, I took the opportunity to teach a class that I had almost zero familiarity with and no experience teaching.

What is innovation class?

To be honest and frank, it is different things for different teachers and for each student. As I told my students today, “you know as much about what this class is going to be like for you, as I do.” This wasn’t meant to be a mind trick like a few thought. Instead, it was an honest observation about where we currently stood in innovation class. To me, innovation class is an opportunity for students to blend together ideas from genius hour/20% time, PBL, IBL, and passion projects. It is an opportunity for students to identify and research a problem or question, and develop a solution or a product/service to attempt to fill a need for one. This class is meant to instill and practice 21st Century learning skills, a passion for learning and exploration, and to allow students to go outside the normal box of education.

So what will the students be doing?

We have yet to choose our topics, so that is where we will start first. Students will need to find a topic that interests them and develop a guiding or essential question to drive their research and exploration. Then they will begin their research of the topic and as they conduct their research they will be expected to keep a bibliography of their sources and then produce a solution, product or service to solve their problem or answer their question.

Reflections

This course will be much more student centered and self-paced then I am used to in a class. However, it will give me the opportunity to practice and experiment with new tools and assessment methods this summer. I am looking forward to learning alongside my students this summer and seeing what they choose to study and what they create.

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Wondering: Does our education system teach financial literacy?

Is financial literacy a vital skill that schools should be prioritizing? Is it prioritized? Is it taught properly and with enough real-world connections to matter?

Growing up in a small school, with only 21 class mates in my grade, we didn’t have many teachers in our school. We had two teachers per subject for math, science, social studies, and english. Yes, we did have electives that were offered by these teachers but never did they focus on financial literacy. We did have a financial math class (but you could not receive a NYS Advanced Regents degree if you took it) and we used to have a business class for many years before the cuts came. So, I am curious. Do schools have teachers who focus primarily on financial literacy? And how do these teachers teach?

In the school district that I work at we do have a business teacher and family and consumer science. These teachers do teach financial literacy skills. However, do students really walk out of these classes with an understanding of how to manage money and how to reach financial goals? Now let me be clear, this is not a knock on the teachers who teach these courses. They do a great job managing a very large curriculum and trying to teach a million different topics of equal importance. My gripe is with the system.

Shouldn’t financial literacy be one of the most important skills a school teaches? Shouldn’t our educational system prioritize the acquisition of the necessary skills and knowledge to be sound consumers and smart investors? I think the answer is obvious, but that the system is stacked so that doing this is not beneficial to those who benefit from poor consumer habits and the mountains of debt we acquire in our lives. For the individual and the family, financial literacy is one of the most important skills one can acquire. You will engage with money and monetary goals weekly, if not daily!

So what should schools be doing? This is the hard part. My own financial skills came from independent study and curiosity inspired by the struggles of people around me. My thoughts are that schools, at the very least, should offer electives, workshops or extracurriculars that allow students the opportunity to explore the ins and outs of money management and planning for financial goals. These opportunities should help instill principles of earning, saving and investing money responsibly and intelligently. If schools have the resources and time, mandatory courses that can inspire students to explore the financial world should start in the 7th grade. Have students go through a simulation of running a family, running a business, investing in the stock market, and creating/marketing a product or service. In reality, I know that these things are done in schools, they are done in my district, but we have to stop and find the disconnect that is keeping these strategies from being effective in producing smart consumers.

 

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Executing The One Day Role-Play

Social Studies has often been synonymous with the thought of lectures, PowerPoint slides, note taking, taking multiple choice tests and writing essays. With the push to shift away from primarily direct instruction and focus on engagement and the 4 C’s, social studies teachers need to find new and innovative ways to make their class stand out from others and keep students on the edge of their seats.

Many of us got in to teaching history because we have a passion for it. Some of us can communicate that passion and instill it in our students just through lecture alone, but that isn’t enough and that isn’t the social studies class of today— hopefully. So what can social studies teachers do instead to communicate this passion and get students to “do history”? The One Day Role-Play!

What is the One Day Role-Play?

It is a single class period of exciting, non-stop engagement! For one class period students are given a role (for advanced level– have them create roles of their own!) and they must plan and prepare and then execute the role play. This activity engages students in critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity! Hitting all 4 C’s! Students must work together to achieve a goal, whether it is to debate whether to declare war against Great Britain in 1812, to argue the injustices of the Jim Crow South in front of a Mississippi judge, or being the founders of a new colony on Mars. These activities will engage students in a broad spectrum of tasks and allow students to practice skills of leadership within their teams or groups.

Why role-play?

Role-plays are essentially a single day of applying your knowledge and skills to an activity related to your current topic. It is an opportunity to provide a more student-centered classroom that is fun and engaging, and that involves taking risks. Students will remember these activities more than they will your lessons, if done properly! “But, aren’t you worried they won’t remember the content?!” No, I am not. These role-plays should force students to take their content knowledge and apply it in a situation in which they become a participant in. When you want to learn how to hang new cabinets in your kitchen you might watch a couple youtube videos and read an article, but then its the actual immersion into the task itself that will help you to learn and reinforce your ability to apply that knowledge.Now, in the event the role-play flops (which they can and will do!) students may not remember much of the content that you expected them to recall during it. And that is ok! If the role-play is set up properly, the role-play will still reinforce those oh-so important skills that are necessary to being successful in career, college and civic life!

FAQs about the One Day Role-Play

How do I set the role-play up?

There is no single way to create a role-play. Start with your essential question and build from there. What do you want students to learn? What do you want them to experience? What would be the most engaging or exciting task you could put in front of them from this time period or topic? Then build from there. If you are on the Spanish-American War, try having them run a Yellow Journalism Newspaper company with events from today! For the Cold War, have them divide into two debate teams and host the ¨Cold War Clash!” and have them debate the merits of each sides political and economic system!

What if my one day role play runs into two or more class periods?

Ideally, try to complete the activity in one class period if at all possible. I sometimes use two days and designate the first day a “planning day” where I will begin to explain and hype up the role-play, and then give them time to plan their strategies for the next day. However, if it takes two days to execute the actual role-play, that’s fine! Just remember, the longer it runs, the more its going to start to feel like work for some, instead of it being a fun activity that can break up your daily routines of class.

What are the biggest obstacles?

Poor planning. Lack of participation. Uninspiring topics. All three of these things are deadly to the one-day role play. Planning on the teacher’s part is critical to the success of the lesson. However, do not over plan! Some of the best role-plays run on a lot of improvisation. Participation is key. Often times you will have students who do not like to speak in front of class, and unless you find some meaningful way for these students to still contribute and be excited, then you can slowly lose them and those around them.

Where or from whom can I learn more?

Follow and direct message the following individuals on Twitter to seek out more information on the one-day role play.

@paradis_lance

@RichardStarace

Additionally, there are other resources out there. I will share more of those resources at a later date!

 

Thank you for reading. Please share your thoughts, comments and suggestions with me below! I look forward to discussing the merits and pitfalls of the one-day role-play!

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How to reach your goal of becoming a teacher

Ever since I was about seven years old, I have always been focused on long term goals. I am not really quite sure where or when it started, but that is the earliest I can remember thinking about my future in a meaningful way. Now of course, I didn’t really know what I wanted to be, but I was starting to figure out what I was passionate about and one of those things was planning and the other was history. I used to watch the Military and History Channel whenever I got the chance and my father and I would watch war movies and wild westerns together. I didn’t figure out that I wanted to become a teacher until seventh grade, when I met my middle school social studies teacher. Once I had an idea about what I wanted to do for a living, I sat down and researched the steps I would need to take to be successful and achieve my dreams. I followed a set of steps that I would like to share with you, so that potentially, they may help you reach your goal of becoming a teacher as well.

Step 1: Find your passion

Before setting your sights on becoming a teacher (or anything for that matter), you need to decide whether you are actually passionate about your goal or not. You do not want to proceed with these plans if you aren’t completely sure that you would enjoy being a teacher.

In interest of full disclosure, I was not completely set on being a teacher but I had prepared myself with backup plans, in the event that I didn’t enjoy teaching or I wasn’t able to get a job. My other options were small business owner, financial planner, or building trades.

How can you figure out whether you are passionate about teaching or not? Well, first off unless you plan on being an elementary teacher, you probably need to have a single subject that excites you and that you are fairly knowledgeable in. Is there a subject that stands out to you? An age level that you would prefer to work with? If you aren’t sure, then I would suggest you take the opportunity to reflect on your own school experience and imagine what classes or grades you could see yourself teaching. Then, my next step would be to make sure you enjoy being around and teaching kids. To do this, go on to step 2.

Step 2: Volunteer or take summer jobs doing similar work

Always explore your potential career choice early in your journey, if possible. What I mean by this is to try to find a similar line of work that can help you experience what having a teaching job would be like. This way you can learn pretty quick whether you have the intangibles that are necessary to be a teacher. Going to college and becoming a teacher can cost a pretty penny, so being sure that it will be a good fit can ensure that you invest your money wisely.

Potential experiences that can help you explore this career option include: summer camp counselor, youth sports coach, babysitting, swim instructor, tutor, etc. These types of experiences could be paid or volunteer.

Step 2.1: BONUS- Some of these experiences can come with additional perks that can also help advance your future career and financial life. For instance, in New York State there are a couple State level retirements programs. The two that I am most familiar with is the ERS, employee retirement system, and TRS, teacher retirement system. When I worked as a camp counselor starting in 2008, I was able to enroll in the ERS and start paying the 3% of my paycheck. This had a very large advantage for me. I was able to join ERS Tier 4, which would provide a pension of 60% of my final average salary if I worked thirty years in the system and I only needed to pay in 3% for the first eleven years of being in the program. If I had waited until obtaining my first teaching job before joining, I would be in Tier 6 and would have to pay a percentage of my salary for every year of service and would not get as large a pension. If you really think that a career in teaching is for you, investigate the retirement system in your state and find out if there is anyway you can join it early.

Step 3: Get your recommendations in line

This step really shouldn’t be something you have to force. You should already be a person who people would want to write glorious recommendation letters for you and be your reference for your first jobs. However, if this is the first time you’ve stopped to think about the importance of having people in your corner, then it is time to make a change.

Make sure you are positioning yourself in a positive light in your community and go out of your way to make a positive impact on those around you. Being a shining light of hope and optimism can be one of your most important tools towards getting people in your corner. Talk to as many people in your field as possible, discuss your plans for your career, and ask them for advice. These people might be your connections to help you get your first job and even if they aren’t, their knowledge will help you grow as an up and coming educator.

Step 4: Choose your path and college

This step is very important and requires you to do some homework! Search for a program that is accredited, reputable and provides a pathway to certification. These things are a must. Next, you need to look at the opportunity and experience side of the college. Does this college provide coursework that will provide you with valuable experience and skills that you can show value in an interview with and translate to an immediate teaching position? Will you get enough experience in the field to feel comfortable when you start student teaching? Are the professors respected in the education community and are they up to date on the latest education research? Next, decide on what you can comfortably afford to pay for college and research grants and scholarships to help pay for your education. If you overstretch yourself, be absolutely sure that this investment will pay off in the long term.

Step 5: Create value in your student teaching experience

Student teaching is probably the most important part of your journey to becoming a teacher. This is your best chance to go above and beyond, make connections and earn respect from colleagues in the field. Clear all your other responsibilities and focus on your adding value to your school district. Even if the district you are student teaching in doesn’t have any openings, focus on adding value during your time student teaching to make connections that can open other potential doors for you.

How can you add value? Take up additional responsibilities, if you are allowed to. Help out with lunch/recess duties, monitor the halls, proctor after school events, volunteer to help with sports programs or clubs/extracurricular activities, or tutor students in out of school suspensions. Be unafraid of speaking up during department, team and faculty meetings. If you have something you think can help, add it to the conversation, whether its directly or indirectly through your mentor teacher. Take calculated risks. Student teaching is not about just continuing the status-quo. You need to make a splash. Try something new and push your mentor teacher to try new things as well. This can make you memorable and show you have value. Just being great at delivering lectures will not get a school district to drop everything and hire you. Find your niche and explore it.

Step 6: Certification

This one should be obvious- get certified as quick as possible. Study and prepare for your examinations. Do not wait to take them until later in your education. Being certified as soon as you possibly can be, means that you can be employed that much faster.

Step 7: Seek out interviews and connections

Once you have completed your education, or are nearing the end of your education, and you are certified, or completing your certification, start to seek out as many interviews as you can get. Polish up your resume, get your reference letters together, and put together a portfolio that shows your teaching prowess. Seek out connections in administrative positions who can put you through mock interviews or give you interviewing tips. Research how to prepare for interviews. My biggest suggestion when preparing for an interview is to research the school district to find where you can add value or help a school on their path to meeting their set of goals. Once you have done your research, develop a set of three questions that you will ask your interviewers. None of these questions should do with compensation or time-table for hiring (if they like you, they will tell you). Focus these questions on the goals of the district, their thoughts on your fit as a candidate, and what they see as the most important aspects of a great teacher.

Step 8: Keep working at it

If your search for a job stalls out, make sure to keep in the education field. If it is truly your desire to be a teacher, spend some time substituting in a school district that you would want to work for, or might have a potential opening in the near future. Put in to coach sports (if that is your thing). Keep on top of educational research and trends and maintain your connections in the field. Network using social media and maintain or develop an online teacher portfolio to showcase your value to potential school districts.

 

All in all, these steps will hopefully help you to get your first job teaching. These steps are not meant to be a perfect guide on how to become a teacher, but have been created using my own experience as a young teacher. Let me know your thoughts and any suggestions for additional steps or areas to expand on.

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First blog post

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