Sunday, December 29, 2013

End of Semester Reflection: Thoughts on Semester One in a 1:1 Class

So this will probably be a lengthy post. To go all teenager hashtag on you #SorryNotSorry. Please feel free to read on, but do so at your own risk.

I feel like I learned more this semester - my first in a 1:1 classroom - than I did my first year teaching. Granted I see more now than I did in year one, but there were just crazy amounts of learning that went down this semester.

So what went down this semester? I thought you'd never ask.

Some Positives

(In no particular order. And these paragraphs don't flow together. They're like bullet point paragraphs. Whoops.)
My class this semester

Students had a lot of choice in the content of their projects this semester. In the two big content-related projects from the semester, kids had huge amounts of choice around the content of their learning: the content of these projects were bound only by the unit we were studying. Kids could go out and learn something of their choice about World War II and the Holocaust - 1:1 allowed that kind of freedom. It allowed students to ask - and answer - their own questions within units. It gave them the opportunity to pursue their passions within a given unit. HOWEVER, this freedom came at a cost: there were big content holes that my kids had. More on this later.

Another good part of class was the choice students had in the way that they could demonstrate their knowledge - yay to all of the free internet tools out there! Or they could use good old pencil and paper. Or Minecraft. Or build a diorama. Or just about anything else that they wanted to build.

Self-directed learning generally goes well with my kids. They have now spent a year and a half in the weird that is my classroom. Students have gotten use to less structure. They have gotten comfortable (or more comfortable) making choices about the content of their learning and following through with a deliverable.

After a year and a half together, my kids collaborate online like woah: they have done a lot of this and they do it well. It's fun to watch!

20time has been a lot of fun. After an epic failure last year, students have taken to the format I'm using this year well. (Thanks Kevin and Kate!) Most importantly, my students are doing meaningful work that will impact others in a positive direction. I can't wait to see these projects come together second semester!

20time has made Friday - always a fun day to teach - an absolute dream to be at school! (We do our 20time projects every Friday.) I get to walk around and troubleshoot with groups. Kids are on task and excited to get this opportunity and freedom in class.

Despite the emphasis on choice impacting other aspects of my class (mentioned briefly above and also discussed below), this semester has been SAMR-friendly. I think I'm working to modify and redefine what a history classroom can be. It's exciting! Lots of bumps are happening along the way, but it's exciting. Students are creating. A lot. That's a good thing.

Being 1:1 means that new collaborative inquiry structures are needed. I've worked to redefine what historical inquiry can be in 1:1 classroom. In short, ask a big question, provide a few sample resources, and give kids not enough time to fully wrap their heads around the question you ask. No one can do all the work - there isn't time - and if you ask the right question kids are engaged. More on this new inquiry structure can be found here.

I think I've got a dream class: I almost don't need to be there to teach it. And it's my last class of the day. I just got lucky, but it is most certainly a positive.

For the first time ever, I might have zero kids fail. Which is always the goal, but not something I've ever been able to do.

If you push hard enough for things - repeatedly, to lots of people - often times the things you want will show up. After running my Chromebooks on the student BYOD network, and complaining to a lot of people about how slow it was, I was able to get my own private wifi network that runs only my Chromebooks. Huge win!

The "ask forgiveness not permission" maxim went well. Because of it, I made big steps toward making my class line up more completely with what I think my ideal classroom is. Thanks to not asking permission, I eliminated tests and added 20time this semester. This mindset worked out well - I'd strongly recommend it to anyone.

No homework. That's still a positive.

I got to hang out with tons of awesome peeps: Robert Pronovost and I organized a #brewcue every month this semester. Edcamps were plentiful: edcampSFBay and two SoCal edcamps happened this semester. Yes, edcamps are awesome. Yes, these three helped prove this rule. CUE conferences and events - the fall CUE conference and the North Bay CUE event - continued to drive me to be better. Hanging out and talking to awesome people helps me to create higher expectations for me and my classroom than my administrator could ever have. Love my PLN!

Some Negatives

The unit structure I chose to use allowed for my student to have a lot of choice. However, this choice came at the expense of content knowledge: there are definitely huge gaps in the content knowledge of my students. And while big picture I'm okay with this (you're going to make mistakes whenever you try to innovate in your classroom) it's something I need to clean up.

There was entirely too much writing clumped into about six weeks at the end of October and November and not enough earlier in the semester. Another drawback of student creation: probably not enough writing tasks.

I am abjectly failing in one class: resentment towards tasks - even tasks that allow for significant student voice and choice - dominates that class. It is far and away my biggest failure from this semester. It is also going to be my biggest victory second semester. More on That Class here.

All of the online collaboration and creation that my students have done has come at the expense of class discussions around document work and other big ideas that we've covered. I need to do a better job finding this balance to get my kids the space to process ideas together.

My assessment structure isn't what I want it to be. While trying to give kids space to take risks in the classroom, it has morphed into something I don't love. Can we just get rid of grades? Great.


Overall, the semester was a positive one. Probably the most fun semester I've ever had in the classroom. I'm blessed so be working with a group of awesome kids who will roll with me and try things and then provide good actionable feedback that helps make my class better.

That's probably the biggest positive of the semester: a spectacular group of kids.

And learning. By me in particular. If my kids learned 20% as much as I did this semester, they learned a ton.


I'm excited for what second semester has in store. We've got a fascinating three or four weeks to spend on Afghanistan. We're going to spend a couple weeks on Syria. There's an awesome counterfactual history project that we'll do. And May? I've got no idea. My kids might run class in May.

And this the fourth - and last - semester with these students. It's gonna be a blast.

We're gonna crush it. I can already tell.