Academies

Academies: Let's Get Started! (A "How-To" Guide)

Thursday, December 29, 2016

So, are you ready to give it a go? Here are some tips to help you get started. 

Expand the scope of the traditional elementary education with Academies! Motivate students with this interest-based approach to learning. Ideas for how (and why!) to implement Academies in your classroom included!


Please note: There are many different ways to do this! The ideas below just represent some of the methods that have worked best for me. This is post #2 in a series. To read post #1, An Introduction to Academies, click here.)

How To Begin:
I begin with a Survey to inventory the interests of my students. I like to use a student survey that combines both closed and open-ended prompts. An open-ended question such as, "What do you like to do in your free time," is a great way to tap into students' individual and unique interests. The closed prompts, such as a checklist of interests, helps students to consider categories they might otherwise miss. The opportunity to choose their course of study is a new way of thinking for many students. The closed questions model some of the possibilities available and help them to think outside the traditional classroom curriculum. Once the surveys are complete, I sort the data and look for trends in student interest. I use these trends to seek out Academy presenters.


Expand the scope of the traditional elementary education with Academies! Motivate students with this interest-based approach to learning. Ideas for how (and why!) to implement Academies in your classroom included!

I administer the survey in the spring. This gives me the summer months to explore different Academy options and gather presenters. At the same time, I send a letter/survey to parents and school staff. The letter, which you can download below for free, explains the purpose of Academies and encourages members of our school community to share their interests, talents, and skills with our students. While staff members are often unable to donate their time because of the school schedule, they often have meaningful connections that they are willing to share.

Expand the scope of the traditional elementary education with Academies! Motivate students with this interest-based approach to learning. Ideas for how (and why!) to implement Academies in your classroom included!
Download for free here.
Expand the scope of the traditional elementary education with Academies! Motivate students with this interest-based approach to learning. Ideas for how (and why!) to implement Academies in your classroom included!
Download for free here.

In addition to the letter home, I share this information on my web site, include reminders in my newsletters, and "advertise" at special events, such as Open House or Curriculum Night. Word of mouth is also a powerful way to attract presenters. The enthusiasm from students, presenters, and parents generates a lot of positive buzz, which encourages others to volunteer their time and talents.

The community is also a powerful place to find talent. I encourage you to partner with nearby colleges/universities, local businesses, and public organizations. They have a wealth of resources are often quite eager to support students and learning.
Once student interest has been established and I've begun to seek out expert presenters, I create a calendar for the year. At my school, it works best to host Academies during the intervention/enrichment block; this way students do not miss any core classroom instruction. Academies take place every Friday and each session runs somewhere between 4-8 weeks, depending on the needs and availability of the presenter. Once the calendar is created, volunteers can sign up for the chunks of time that work best for them.

My Top Tips for Success:
Let me begin here with a disclaimer. A big one. I am still figuring it out myself. I began in the fall of 2012 and each year I do it a bit differently; I learn new lessons, I make new mistakes, and I add or take away elements. So, the tips below are not the "best" way; they are just my suggestions based on trial and error - and trial again.

1. Have a go!

Just try! Trust me when I say that when I began in 2012 I was NOT great. At all. In the beginning, I didn't always have enough presenters to offer a range of choice each week. Academy topics were sometimes driven by what volunteers were available - and it really didn't matter. Students were excited to learn new content and skills, and some students discovered interests that they didn't even know they had.

2. Start Small:

Start with one Academy and try it for 3-4 sessions. Academies do not need to be fancy or elaborate in order to be meaningful.


Expand the scope of the traditional elementary education with Academies! Motivate students with this interest-based approach to learning. Ideas for how (and why!) to implement Academies in your classroom included!


3. Be flexible:
Academies are ideally driven by student interest, so I've found that it is important to be adaptable. For example, in my first year, we had organized an Academy on American Law. Part way through the first session, the presenter posed an ethical question inspired by Harvard professor Michael Sandel about the value of one human life. The students were hooked. We spent the rest of the session debating this question. At the end of the first day, the presenter and I decided to change the Academy from American Law to Ethics in Modern Society. The students then spent the next three sessions thinking critically to tackle complex moral and ethical questions.

4. The Presenter is Key:

Just as a good teacher can make all the difference, so can a presenter. A perfect example is our Shakespeare Academy. This could have been a terribly dull and boring topic for 5th graders, but our presenter was dynamite! By the end of the first day, she had the kids composing a rap in iambic pentameter. The next week, she compared Romeo and Juliet to the Super Bowl, dividing students into two teams - the Montagues and Capulets - to play out the plot. Let me say in all honesty: I have never enjoyed (or understood) Shakespeare so much!

So . . . What do you think? Are you ready to give it a go? If you have questions, ideas, or need any help, I'd love to hear from you!

Academies

Academies: Interest-Based Student Learning

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Creativity and Innovation are more important than ever in today’s classroom. Our world is changing on a large scale and at an increasingly rapid rate.


Expand the scope of the traditional elementary education with Academies! Motivate students with this interest-based approach to learning. Ideas for how (and why!) to implement Academies in your classroom included!
Ken Robinson 

Yet creativity is often at odds with the traditional classroom. With standardized measures for achievement and highly structured schedules, teachers often feel like we do not have the time to be creative.

But what happens if we don’t MAKE time to be creative. According to George Couros, “school can easily become a checklist for our students” (Couros, 2015). Daily reading passages, multiple choice tests, and homework can make school feel like a predictable routine or list to check off as opposed to an exciting opportunity to explore, learn, experiment, and grow.

So, how do we make school a place where students feel inspired and empowered by their learning, where learning is relevant and fun, where students have the opportunity to explore areas of personal interest and passion, and where we can recognize and develop a diverse array of talents?

Expand the scope of the traditional elementary education with Academies! Motivate students with this interest-based approach to learning. Ideas for how (and why!) to implement Academies in your classroom included!

I am constantly amazed and inspired by the innovative methods I see educators use in my school and across the globe. This post is about one way I attempt to bring creativity and innovation to the classroom.

Expand the scope of the traditional elementary education with Academies! Motivate students with this interest-based approach to learning. Ideas for how (and why!) to implement Academies in your classroom included!


What Is An Academy?
An Academy is a small group elective that students sign up for based on their interests. Academies are designed to feel like mini-college seminars where students can explore areas of passion outside the scope of the traditional curriculum. Academies take place during the school day and are hosted by a parent or community volunteer who has a passion, talent, or expertise in a certain area. I offer Academies to students in grades 3-5. Groups meet once a week for 45 minutes and each session lasts anywhere from 4-8 weeks. Past Academies have included:
- Film Making
- Civics
- Video Game Design
- Shakespeare
- Leadership
- Yoga
- French
- Ocean Ecology
- Coding 

Why Offer Academies?
Why would a rational human being introduce one more thing into an already jam-packed school day? It seems nearly impossible, right? However this 45 minutes a week is one of the best investments I have ever made in my students. Here's why I did it:

1. Expand the Scope of the Curriculum: In his book Out of Our Minds, Ken Robinson explores the "hierarchy of subjects" in education. Across the globe, he explains, schools focus primarily on reading and math, with some time devoted to science and social studies, and minimal attention to the arts. For students who are not interested or do not excel in one of these areas, school can be frustrating, discouraging, and seemingly irrelevant.

Expand the scope of the traditional elementary education with Academies! Motivate students with this interest-based approach to learning. Ideas for how (and why!) to implement Academies in your classroom included!
Click here to watch his popular (and brilliant) TED talk, Do Schools Kill Creativity?

My goal was to provide students with learning opportunities not typically offered during the traditional school day. Learning is a life time adventure and I wanted my students to see and be inspired by the diversity of learning opportunities that exist outside the walls of a classroom.

2. Identify and Develop Diverse Talents:  Academies are an opportunity to identify a variety of talent. Through the expanded content, a greater diversity of talent can emerge and be identified. Academies are also an opportunity to nurture and validate talents not typically addressed during the school day. By doing the Academies during the school day, we send the message to students that this type of thinking and learning is valued and valuable.


Expand the scope of the traditional elementary education with Academies! Motivate students with this interest-based approach to learning. Ideas for how (and why!) to implement Academies in your classroom included!

3. Have Fun!Learning is fun right? Academies are designed to:
- spark student interest and motivation
- excite students about learning
- improve student attitudes towards school

In their book The Schoolwide Enrichment Model, Joseph Renzulli and Sally Reis discuss the power of the "Three E's" - enjoyment, enthusiasm, and engagement. Their research shows that "when the Three E's are working well, students not only like school better, they also show improvements in school achievement" (Renzulli & Reis, 2003). Renzulli and Reis go on to say that the Three Es "produce higher achievement than test prep" (Renzulli & Reis, 2003). Word.


Expand the scope of the traditional elementary education with Academies! Motivate students with this interest-based approach to learning. Ideas for how (and why!) to implement Academies in your classroom included!

So, what does an Academy look like? Below are examples of just a few of the Academies I've hosted over the past few years.

1. Design Your Own Video Game: This academy was hosted by one of my former students. While taking an online course in middle school, he learned how to create video games using a free program from M.I.T. called Scratch. My former student taught participants how to use the program to design video games, share them online, and play each others.

My students loved learning from a fellow student. It was incredibly inspiring and empowering. They also loved that when I missed one Academy class because I was out sick, I could no longer understand or keep up with what they were doing in class! Also very empowering.
Expand the scope of the traditional elementary education with Academies! Motivate students with this interest-based approach to learning. Ideas for how (and why!) to implement Academies in your classroom included!
2. Yoga: This academy was hosted by a parent who is a yoga instructor. The academy was simple, yet magical! Students came in the clothes they wore to school and we laid out towels in the media center. While students were initially excited by the opportunity to move, they ended up appreciating so much more! Through the expert guidance of our host, students learned how to use their breath and mindfulness to manage stress, build confidence, and increase confidence. It was also a wonderful opportunity for my students to be a part of a healthy, non-competitive, nurturing group. As I said earlier - Magical. Truly magical.
Expand the scope of the traditional elementary education with Academies! Motivate students with this interest-based approach to learning. Ideas for how (and why!) to implement Academies in your classroom included!
3. Film Academy:  The presenter of this Academy, a parent and cinematographer, introduced the students to a film making technique called "Shot Reverse Shot." In this technique, one character is shown looking at another character; then the other character is shown looking back at the first. Each shot shows the unique point of view of that character. Our presenter used this technique to work with students on point of view and perspective. They then created a short film about the importance of seeing and appreciating the point of view of another. You can watch the the short video here. (One of our students also created a blooper reel, which you can find here.)
Expand the scope of the traditional elementary education with Academies! Motivate students with this interest-based approach to learning. Ideas for how (and why!) to implement Academies in your classroom included!
This is a brief glimpse into my classroom Academies. What questions do you have? How do you encourage creativity and innovation at your school?  Want to learn more how to implement Academies? Check out the follow-up post here.

Anticipatory Sets

Hook Your Students! The Consensus Placemat

Tuesday, July 26, 2016



The consensus placemat is a great way to focus students' attention and activate prior knowledge! This cooperative learning activity is one of my favorite no-prep, anticipatory sets. Read on to see how the consensus placemat works, view examples, and grab a free printable template!


Welcome to post #2 in the series: Hook Your Students! How to capture (and keep!) their attention. To read post #1 about Anticipation-Reaction Guides, click here.

This week I will share how I use the Consensus Placemat to motivate and prepare my students for learning. The Consensus Placemat is a cooperative learning tool designed to increase student engagement and individual accountability.

To complete the placemat, the teacher poses a question about an important idea, concept, or skill. Each student then takes time to think independently about the question and write their response in their own space on the edge of the placemat.

When every member of the group is finished writing, the team shares ideas. I like to use Round Robin to be sure that each student has an opportunity to share their ideas and hear the reasoning of their peers.

Once every idea has been shared, the team works together to create one answer with which every member agrees. The team then writes this consensus statement or summary in the center of the placemat.


Consensus Placemat - How I use it to motivate and prepare my students for learning


Why Use a Consensus Placemat?The consensus placemat is an easy, low-prep tool that offers many benefits.
  • It is a great way to activate students' prior knowledge and to see what students already know. 
  • It encourages participation from every student. Students who may be reluctant to raise their hand or share ideas are able to actively contribute to the discussion in a relaxed setting. Because each member must construct their own response first, it increases equitable participation and individual student accountability.  
  • Students must think critically to support their ideas and evaluate the reasoning of others. 
I typically use the consensus placemat as an opening hook to build student interest and readiness. Students are excited to learn from their peers and they are eager to verify their individual ideas and team summary. I have also used it as a closing exercise to reinforce key concepts and check for understanding.

Are you ready to give it a go? Here is a blank template and some prompts to get you started:

  • Is a rectangle a square? How do you know?
  • What are the steps of the water cycle? Show what you know using words or pictures.
  • What is alliteration? Provide an example.
  • Describe our rules for recess.
  • Are all odd numbers prime? Explain how you know.

I hope this tool is of value to you and your students. What questions do you have? How do you use the consensus placemat with your class? Let me know; I'd love to learn with you!

Advance Organizers

Hook Your Students! Anticipation Guides

Monday, July 25, 2016



Anticipation-Reaction Guides are a great way to focus students' attention and activate prior knowledge! This opening activity is one of my favorite anticipatory sets because it can be used across the curriculum. Read on to learn more about the Anticipation Guide, see some examples, and grab a few free printables!


This post is the first in the series of Hook Your Students! How to capture (and keep!) their attention. Before I share one of my favorite teaching "hooks," let's briefly discuss what a "hook" is.

What is a “hook?”
A hook is a short instructional activity used at the beginning of the lesson to capture students’ attention and to build interest and motivation for learning. Hooks are also known as anticipatory sets, set induction, and advance organizers. I like to use the term “hook” because that is what these activities do – they “hook” students and actively draw them into learning.

Why Use a Hook?
A hook is not only fun and engaging, but it prepares and motivates students for learning. Using a hook helps to:
  • Focus student attention on the lesson 
  • Set a purpose for learning 
  • Activate prior knowledge 
  • Check for student understanding 
  • Build curiosity, anticipation, and interest 
Let’s look at an example:

An Anticipation-Reaction Guide (AR Guide) contains a series of short statements about the topic or concept you plan to teach. Some of the statements are true and some are false. Before interacting with the content, students read the statements and decide if they agree or disagree with the statement. Students record their prediction, an “A” for agree or “D” for disagree, in the left hand column. Students can answer the statements on their own or collaborate in pairs or small groups. Oftentimes, discussion can help students to activate prior knowledge and make connections with past experiences.

Once predictions have been made, it is time to present the content. This can be the text you are about to read, a video, a series of photographs – whatever tool you plan to use for instruction. Once students have had an opportunity to engage with the content, they revisit the anticipation-reaction guide to verify their predictions. Students record their final answers in the right column.

The focus is not about whether the student’s prediction is right or wrong. The goal is to revisit the statements with a critical eye to build understanding of the concept or skill. The discussion surrounding why statements are true or false helps to reinforce key concepts and build lasting comprehension.

Here is an example from my classroom. (You can download this, and the other printables shown in this post, for free here.) In 3rd grade, our first ELA unit is about Fables. In order to develop a solid understanding of what a fable is, I present my students with the anticipation-reaction guide shown below. I encourage students to work in pairs to discuss the statements and use their prior knowledge to make predictions.
Anticipation Guides: prepare and motivate students for active learning! (ex: Fables)
I then show students a short video, such as The Tortoise and the Hare or The Dog and His Reflection. Once the video is complete, students revisit the A-R guide to verify their original ideas and we pause for discussion. What did we learn about the characteristics of a fable? What statements do we still need to answer? If needed, we can watch another short video to explore unanswered questions. We can also record remaining questions on an anchor chart and search for the answers as we read throughout the unit.

Using the AR guide, students are actively engaged in learning. Instead of passively receiving information, students are empowered to build meaningful, long-term understanding.

While the Anticipation-Reaction Guide is traditionally used in ELA, I’ve found that it can be easily used and adapted to other content areas as well. Here is an example from my 4th grade math class. When we began our exploration into polygons, I began with the AR guide below.

Anticipation Guides: prepare and motivate students for active learning! (ex: polygons)

After completing the left hand column, I introduced the content, using examples and non-examples. I've included a copy of the activity for your reference.
Anticipation-Reaction Guides are a great way to focus students' attention and activate prior knowledge!  This opening activity is one of my favorite anticipatory sets because it can be used across the curriculum. Read on to learn more about Anticipation Guides, ideas for implementation, and grab free printables.

With the AR statements in mind, we explored the examples and non-examples. Students were so excited to use the images to confirm, clarify, and update their first predictions. We revisited the AR guide throughout the lesson as we gained new insights and information. Again, the emphasis was not on whether we were right or wrong, but the content and quality of our discussion. Students had to think critically to justify their ideas, support them with evidence, communicate their reasoning to peers, and critique the rationale of others.

Using the AR guide and the visual examples, students were able to craft a clear and accurate definition: “A polygon is a plane shape that has 3 or more straight sides and angles.” The definition was much more meaningful and had a longer-lasting impact because my students were invested in creating it themselves.

Are you ready to create your own Anticipation Guide? Let's Do It! Here is a blank, editable template to help you get started:

Identify the key concepts or skills you want students to learn. What do students really need to know in order to understand this concept or skill?  Write 4-6 declarative statements about the concept, making some statements true and others false.

Anticipation-Reaction Guides are a great way to focus students' attention and activate prior knowledge!  This opening activity is one of my favorite anticipatory sets because it can be used across the curriculum. Read on to learn more about Anticipation Guides, ideas for implementation, and grab free printables.

Options for Differentiation:

• Present it orally. Read the statements out loud. This can be a great option for younger students and less proficient readers.

• Add a "WHY" column to the chart. Students can use this area to justify their conclusions.

• In lieu of 4-6 statements, offer one open-ended question. (ex: what is a polygon?) This strategy will help to activate prior knowledge and provide you with insight into what the students already know.

What else do you need to make Anticipation Guides work well for you and your students? What other "hooks" would you like to learn more about? Let me know; I'd love to help!

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