Monday, February 18, 2013

A week in the life...

One of the big questions a lot of teachers have when trying to implement a flipped class or flipped learning model is what to do with all the wonderful time they now have available in class. Here is an example of some of the many ways that we spend our time:

Monday, February 11, 2013

What if School Days Were More Like Snow Days?

The smell of cinnamon rolls wafting up the stairs, even as an adult, I still expect snow days to begin like this. As a kid, there is nothing more exciting and magical than waking up to find out that school has been canceled. I'll admit, as a teacher, I often experience the same excitement. I recently read an article that discussed snow days. The article itself provided no new information; how superintendents make their decisions, how it impacts parents, teachers, and of course students. What did surprise me were many of the comments that were made in response to the article. Some I expected to see- working parents noting how difficult snow days are for them, which is very understandable. Surprisingly though there were quite a few comments citing how a snow days took away from education and what a shame it was. Those comments made me reflect back to my own years in school. I will admit, as I went through my memories there weren't too many that I had where I was sitting in a desk absorbing facts being thrown at me. There were however a lot of memories of working with neighborhood kids to build snow forts, which required not just team work, but some engineering to ensure that the ice tunnels could with stand the weight of a snowball attack. I remembered watching Gone With the Wind with my mom and first understanding that the Civil War had more than one perspective to it. I also remember curling up with a good book, the American Girl series when I was little, and as time went on everything from Johnny Tremain to Les Miserables was enjoyed with a cup of hot cocoa by the fire on a snowy gray New England Day. To say that snow days are a wasted opportunity for learning is to assume that learning takes place solely in the classroom. 

As I went through my own snow day today, I realized now only was today not a wasted opportunity, but a great opportunity for learning. Though I'm a teacher and do my best to make my classroom a hands on experience, I'll be the first to admit that real true learning takes place outside the classroom al the time, and it should! I'm going to throw out a crazy suggestion, not only do I think snow days are a great opportunity for learning, but I wish school could be more like snow days...let me explain.

On a snow day most students will sleep in, contrary to waking up in the dark and rushing off to school, snow days allow for waking with the natural rhythm of the body. This morning I awakened refreshed, a whole hour after my usual rising time, and that glorious glorious hour gave me such energy that I've forgotten how over worked and under-slept we as a human race really are. As I woke up and eased into my day I had time to create a "To Do" list for the day, things I had to accomplish. Wouldn't it be nice if our students could get that little bit of extra sleep they need and create their own "agenda' for the day, really contemplating what they need to get done, rather than it being dictated to them?

After waking up I made myself a hardy breakfast, the kind that I would never have time for on a regular school day. I remember this being one of my favorite things about snow days when I was little- sitting at the table eating breakfast- instead of grabbing a piece of toast as I ran out the door. The majority of my students do not eat breakfast before school, I can't blame them, I too don't like to eat that early in the morning. I usually have something during my prep period while I correct. My students don't have that luxury, as a result by the time mid-morning rolls around they are so hungry that any attempt to disseminate information prior to the feeding frenzy that is seventh grade lunch is lost. Wouldn't it be nice if students could actually sit down and enjoy their breakfast, thus coming to school with energy to face whatever tasks lay ahead?

As I ate breakfast I turned on the news and caught up on the world around me.  For twenty minutes as I ate I became engrossed in all the information that I had missed out on over the weekend. While I make sure we watch the news in my classroom, many of my students have little knowledge of the world around them. I used to think it was apathy on their part, or their parents lack of willingness to discuss current events. I've come to realize its about timing and priority. My students are so over scheduled. They barely have time to sleep, so expecting them to sit down and catch up on world events seems unfair given their demanding schedules. Wouldn't it be nice for them to have time to become lost in world affairs, if only for 20 minutes?

After breakfast I set out on my to do list. For me it was mundane household tasks that I had been putting off for quite some time. The snow day gave me the found time to get all of them done. As I checked each task off of my list I felt accomplished. While I gave myself a set time that I wanted to have everything done by, I did not dictate how much time I could allot to each task, therefor I just worked at each thing until it was done, giving myself time to make sure that I did a good job, and did not stress about the workload. Each day my students rush from class to class, attempting to finish all of their tasks for each one in the allotted forty minutes. Its no wonder they are so stressed, there's no regard to the fact that some tasks, and subject areas are going to be more challenging for some students, and therefore require more time. Yet we expect everyone to work at the same pace and comprehend subjects in the same amount of time. Wouldn't it be nice if students could be focused on getting tasks done in a way that provides them with understanding and a sense of accomplishment, instead of always rushing to beat the clock and keep up with their peers in meeting deadlines?

Finally once all my "to do" list tasks were done for the day I was free to take advantage of the off time to pursue a few items of pure interest for me. I caught up on some blog reading that I had been putting off, watched an episode of History Detectives that has been sitting in my DVR for a while, started "The President's Club" a book that I have been carrying around for weeks with no chance to jump into, and finally looked up a new recipe and spent some time working at it and perfecting it. I googled several conversions, researched the best wine to use and even looked up a new way to mince garlic, all because it was something I was invested in. Wouldn't it be nice if once their "necessary" tasks were out of the way, students had the chance to explore what they were interested in, reading about what their passions are, teaching themselves something new? 

I realize that not all of this is possible, and furthermore I realize that more of this has been possible within my classroom because of my flipped class set up, but I can't help but think as a whole there's more to be done. Snow days just have a different pace to them, they're relaxed, lazy in a way that doesn't make you feel guilty, they are honestly totally self absorbing. I think some times we need to tell our students to chill out, to be a little lazy, to jump of the point grubbing, overscheduled conveyer-belt and enjoy the beauty of an unstructured day. 

While snow days may not have their "magical" feeling that they did when I was younger, they certainly still have a sense of wonder to them- an entire day, a blank slate ahead, to be filled with whatever I choose, whatever I need to get done, and whatever I want to learn. Snow days allow us to peacefully explore, quietly learn, and calmly accomplish. Wouldn't it be nice, if in school, students felt the same?