Where do you start? And when to restart

So today was the first day after spring break. 

I’m exhausted. 

But I’m also really, really excited. Why? Because I’m starting with new ‘stuff’ that excites me. I rolled out a new forensic science unit today, and the kids are completely hooked. And I’m starting a new online portfolio program for the rest of the year. And I added two new classes to Google Classroom. 

I was sharing this at lunch and had a colleague ask ‘how do you find time to do all of this ‘stuff’?  That’s when I realized my gifts: giving myself permission to overplan, and letting kids know ‘this might not work.’

Overplanning. 

My bright idea was to create five CSI-themed centres, which my classes of 30 could rotate through in 5 groups. I started with researching forensics-related skill online, and then created activities to fit each skill. I came up with a fibre burn lab, a chromatography lab, a fingerprinting lab (one with powder and one with crazy glue), a hair ID lab, a substance ID lab, a spatter analysis lab….. And realized I had too much. 

So I reorganized it as two 5-day rotations, found a few more ideas for centres, and started work in earnest. First, I planned what info I needed, as if I was making my own ‘teacher notes’ pages.  Then I saved a copy of that file, and made it a kid-friendly ‘student info’ file. I left just enough information in to act as an INFO card, one per station, and removed any of the teacher prompts that the kids really didn’t need to see. Finally I created a third file where I made handouts to support each centre, pages that could go in a ‘case file.’  I spent a few days finding supplies around town, including buying crime scene tape and borrowing a magnetic powder wand from the local Police department. I spent one afternoon sorting everything into 10 trays, ready to be placed on centres. I spent another afternoon cutting up fabric samples for a burn lab and testing reactions for a chemistry lab. And voila: a two week unit that essentially runs itself, leaving me to float and assess my kids while they get to play Crime Scene Investigator. On the fifth day, while they are on their last centres, I can prep anything needed for Rotation 2. 

And as I was doing all of this Planning and prepping I realized that *this* is the first key idea: plan for everything big to be a future resource that can essentially run itself. I have the added motivation of sometimes selling resources online, but really, this is the key to my success in the classroom. I front-load the creation of units to purposefully free me up to work from within my class, and see what they’re learning. This is when I get to see the most, and learn the most about how my kids learn. All that extra time at the beginning gets the ‘sage off the stage’ and puts me right beside my kids. 

Here we go….I hope 

The second key to my ‘try everything new’ reputation is starting small and letting kids know, unapologetically, that an idea may flop. A few weeks ago I learned about an amazing new app from Sesamehq.com. The app and web site work together to build online portfolios of student work. Kids and teachers can post work. Assessment creation is built in. Curriculum strands are built in. Communication with parents is built in. It’s an incredibly rich app, which is actually very easy to use. But I’ve warned my kids that we may stumble a bit. I have committed to rolling it out in only one strand of language to start, to give myself time to play with it, but not add unnecessary stress to my world. If it works, I’ll try new strands in the fall. If I stumble, I only impact one strand. Overall, it’s a good risk/reward balance. It’s kind way for me to try something new. 

And that’s it really. Starting small, and front loading classroom planning to make room for authentic assessment while the kids drive the inquiry forward. With these two guiding principles I stay in touch with my kids during the day, and focussed on my family in the evenings. My class gets rich, authentic tasks, strong feedback, and new ideas, but I stay within my available energy and time. 

And tonight I think I’ll do a puzzle with my daughter, since I made myself the time. 

MPJ 

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