Got Questions?: A Quick Fix Inspired by my PLN

First, a huge shoutout to my #EduMatch family for helping me figure this one out.  Many thanks to you all for your amazing tips.

Update: One thing I forgot to add is that my class is taught in the computer lab, so this is more so a fix for classrooms that have access to technology (computer lab, 1:1, BYOD, etc.).  However, the steps focus heavily on Google Forms.  My friend in EduMatch (as stated below) had a great idea, that works well for schools with limited tech.

The Scenario:

I recently moved to teach at the high school level, and I must say, I am loving it!  The students are amazing, as are my coworkers, the administration, and the parents.  This is a wonderful experience.

Each of my six classes has its own culture.  The only constant is me, and even I try to adapt for each period.  Over these past four weeks, I’ve enjoyed learning about my students.  I have one particular period that is full of hard-working and sweet students, who tend to ask for a lot of help during independent time.

Questions are great!  I love them, but I would prefer that students help each other, because the best way to learn something is by teaching it.  Also, it often helps to learn from a peer.  Finally, there is only one of me, and about 30 of them, so sometimes it’s hard to keep straight who had a question, and in what order.  I know it must be frustrating to wait several minutes, and to be quite honest, my short-term memory isn’t the best, so people are occasionally skipped by mistake.

I posed this question in the #EduMatch Voxer group, and got some fantastic responses.  One of my fellow Edumatchers suggested that students put their names on the board, and that would solve my problem.  Someone else agreed, but said that some students may feel shy about doing so, and suggested QR codes going to a Google Form as a solution.  There was even an app proposed, similar to the system used at the Department of Motor Vehicles.  I downloaded it, but couldn’t figure out how to use it in the classroom, without creating paper tickets.

The Fix

Friday morning, I woke up inspired as it all came together.  All three of these suggestions had something to them, so I decided to synthesize them.  The result was a Google Form that I whipped up and beta tested in first period with upperclassmen.

Ms. Thomas, Help Me!

Here’s how I did it.

  1. Create a simple Google Form.
    1. If your school is GAFE, you can have it automatically collect the username of your students while they are signed into the domain.
    2. Make sure to put something along the lines of “ask 3 before you ask me,” or any variation of that in the description, as a gentle reminder that their classmates are also available to help.
  2. Add questions, such as “Your Name” (optional, if you already did 1.1), and “The Nature of Your Question.”  Feel free to add more if you wish.  I suggest the multiple choice format.  More on that later.
    1. I have three categories: about the assignment, need a pass, or other.
  3. Design it however you would like.  I didn’t do much with it, since it served a very basic purpose, and we were just trying it out.
  4. Copy the link and make it into a bit.ly with something easy to remember. (Mine is bit.ly/thomashelpme)
  5. Open the “View Responses” form.
  6. Apply conditional formatting to make every multiple choice option turn a different color.
    1. I picked multiple choice, because it is guaranteed to populate the responses exactly how you set it up, without being affected by punctuation, spacing, spelling, etc.
    2. Multiple choice is also great because students can add their own “Other” category, if it’s not listed as an option.  You can see at one glance what the student needs.
    3. Conditional formatting will allow you to take all the kids who don’t understand the assignment at once, and explain it to them.  This is a huge time-saver.
  7. Project the spreadsheet so that the students can all see it.  You may have to resize your window if you want to split your screen.  When students can see where they fall in the queue, they won’t get frustrated, because they will see that you are not ignoring them.

I’m so excited to try this out with the class in question.  I think it will go over well, as it has in my other classes.  The key will be to stick to protocol, but once we have it down, then it should work.  Please let me know if you have any tweaks or suggestions.

Fight Club Mentality for “Teechurs”

In my humble opinion, Fight Club is one of the best movies of all time.  If you haven’t seen it, and plan to, you may want to stop reading now, because some major spoilers lie ahead.  I’ll wait.

Photo credit: https://c1.staticflickr.com/5/4094/4921687348_c328c75012_b.jpg

The first rule of Fight Club is that you do not talk about Fight Club.  I’m a rule-breaker by nature, so I’m about to blab it all.  If you’re still reading, that means that you agree not to get mad at me for basically giving away the plot of the movie.  Pinkie swear?

It’s been a little while since I’ve seen the movie, but here’s what I remember.  There’s this somewhat geeky office guy (I forgot his name), played by Edward Norton.  He meets Brad Pitt’s character, Tyler, who is a total hottie and bad-booty, and together, they come up with this thing called Fight Club, where guys get together and basically beat the mess out of each other.

I’m not a huge fan of blood and violence, so I didn’t see this movie until a few years ago.  What drew me in was that after I saw Inception, I went on a hunt for other psychological mind-freak movies, and saw that Fight Club was on many lists.  So, I decided to give it a shot.

Oh…my…gosh.

Beware, *spoilers* lie ahead: as you watch the movie, you see Tyler rubbing off on Edward Norton little by little, until at the end, they drop the bombshell on you.  It turns out that Tyler and Edward were the same person all along.  Whoa!!!

The Tyler in Us All

Yesterday, I was driving to band practice and listening to Voxer.  In one of the groups I was in, the conversation shifted to how powerful the mind can be, in allowing you to accomplish more than you thought possible.  I added my two cents, and got back to driving, then began rehearsing our new material.  I wasn’t satisfied with how I sounded, and realized that I’d have to get my confidence up before arriving at practice if I wanted to sing better.  So, I asked myself, “how would Sarahdateechur sing this song?”

Then, it all came together.

I’ve written about how I’ve survived (and even occasionally thrived) as a shy, introverted person in situations that have required me to be outgoing.  I’ve done so by channeling Sarahdateechur.  It probably sounds ridiculous, but I’d be willing to bet that many of us have alter-egos of our own creation.  Little kids may be onto something when they create their own superhero personalities and pretend.  I’m just saying.

What if we were to create these fictional, better version of ourselves, and just become really good at imitating them?  To the outside world, it would appear that we were that person.  Truth be told, we ARE that person, but sometimes it’s easier to pretend it’s someone else.

In the movie, people would see Edward Norton, but when he was “Tyler,” they would ascribe that behavior to him.  I vaguely recall a scene when he was in his boss’s office, and tearing the room up.  That was all Tyler, but the boss saw Edward.  To the boss, Edward is dangerous.  Edward is crazy.  But Edward didn’t see himself that way.

Take that scenario and flip it upside down.  Sometimes we think that we are less-than…not as good as we can be.  Why not pretend that our alter-ego is, then do our very best imitation of that person?  For example, I was super-hype over this Google Glass app called “Race Yourself.”  I don’t know if it ever came out, but I was intrigued by the concept.  How engaging would it be to run alongside a representation of yourself, trying to beat your best time?

Growth mindset, I’m not sure.  However, I will say that although I tend to be shy, it has helped me tremendously to “pretend” that I’m Sarahdateechur (not Sarah…there’s a difference) when I’m in a professional situation.  Even if I do a horrible imitation, it’s much better than I would do otherwise.

Educational Implications

Recently, I made the drastic move from K-8 to high school, within a new content area.  Truth be told, I was very nervous at first, never having dealt with this age group before.  However, after getting some great advice from my friends, family, and colleagues (and a prior video of myself, surprisingly enough), I decided to try it.

If I were to do this, I would have to be on my A-game.  Being someone who even has trouble looking people in the eye, it would be a struggle to project confidence.  So, I pulled off my best imitation of Sarahdateechur, the teacher who I would want to have if I were a student.  She is confident, kind, fun, inspiring, fair, and innovative.

Trust me, it feels ridiculous to type this…but that’s exactly what I did.  Sarahdateechur has taught my classes the first three weeks of school, while Sarah has done the work behind the scenes.  The co-teaching model is working well so far, and I hope to maintain this partnership 😉

The Rules of Fight Club

Ha…ok, these aren’t the original rules.  However, here are some tricks that have helped me, and will hopefully help others:

  1. Create your persona.  Trust me, it might seem weird or awkward…it still does to me…but whatever works, works.  Don’t let feeling silly stand in the way of results.  If it helps, you can feel free to apply the first rule from the movie: you DO NOT talk about your alter-ego.
  2. Dream big. This persona/alterego/educational superhero…he or she can be whatever you choose to make him/her.  What kind of teacher/principal/coach/superintendent/etc. would you want to have if you were a student?  Create this person in your mind.
  3. Don’t make excuses. Superheroes don’t have excuses.  If there’s something blocking their way, they go around it, above it, through it, whatever they have to do to save the world.  When you face a challenge, educate yourself on how to overcome it by talking to your PLN, reading up on the topic, whatever you have to do to find a solution.  Never stop trying.
  4. Be the change.  Each week in my classroom, I put a quote on the board, something I carried over from coaching basketball.  The quote might be for my students, it might be for me, or it might be for the world at large.  Gandhi once said, “be the change you want to see in the world.”  This was last week’s quote, and it resonated so much with me that it might reappear.  If you want a kinder, fairer world, you must be a kinder, fairer person.  Our alter-egos will probably know this, and should act accordingly.
  5. Seize the magical moments. What makes a superhero/alter-ego great?  Well, if we look back through comic book history, it usually boils down to one magical moment.  There was that very first time when the superhero had the choice to help someone with their superpowers, or go on with business as usual.  The same goes for us.  We are already awesome, as we are helping our students.  But remember, our alter-ego is constantly pushing us to go even further.  Sometimes we get great ideas that can change the world, or help someone else, but often we think that we’re not “good enough” to make them happen, and these good intentions fizzle out and die in our brains.  News flash: you are more than good enough, and YOU can bring that idea to life.  If you don’t believe me, ask your alter-ego.

No matter how small we may feel, we all have the potential in us to be great.  Many times when we feel inferior, or that we can’t do something, we can push through it and thrive.  Sometimes the trick is simply to visualize it, and to do our best imitation of the great person who will get it done.  Even though we may sometimes think otherwise, we ARE those people.  Activate your inner Tyler, and see what greatness you will achieve.