Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Planning Lessons for the Whole Year

I plan my lessons for the entire year but rarely stick to them. Still, it helps me feel better going into the school year.

Early on I realized that flexibility is the name of the game. There may be 180 days of school, but snow days, assemblies and sickness can wreck a tightly scheduled plan. Over the years I've developed a system for organizing lesson plans that gives both flexibility and the assurance that we will cover all the important content areas.

First, I list out all the lessons for every class. Usually the curriculum will have a list and sometimes I use the table of contents. When I have developed my own curriculum, it may take a year or two to feel out the pace. Ideally, about 95% of your class time should have a plan, including projects, review and testing.

I then spread the lessons onto a calendar. Several of my classes are on a rotation so it's important for me to see when they fall. Monday classes miss several weeks in the winter because of holidays. I can either adjust their flex time, reduce their review days or reschedule them on another day of the week.

The whole process can be time consuming. It's also frustrating when an unscheduled field trip takes an entire grade level away the day I had a fabulous lesson planned. So the calendar view is more of a guide, while the lesson list functions like a checklist. When the two begin to differ, I know that my pacing has fallen off and I can look for opportunities to bring everything back in line.

For me, the content is always more important than getting through the material. I don't want to hold students back or rush them through just so I can stay on pace. It also helps to have some optional extra content to add in. I may not want one class to get farther ahead of another section, so it's good to have supplemental material for them to work on.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Discovery Lab Decorations

School is less than a week away and I finally have my classroom decorated! Gathering inspiration from the Adler Planetarium, mission control and space lab, I tried to create a futuristic environment. Experimentation, discovery, failure and problem solving are the qualities I wanted my room to express.

Painter's tape gave decorative lines to cabinets and defined "screens" on the walls. I also organized the desks into pods or groups of four. Each group is a different color. They have a mission journal and instruction binder plus a dry erase square for brainstorming. I plan to use group interaction a lot more this year instead of isolated work by students.

While working on my room, I was often reminded of set design for theater. In a sense, every classroom is a bit like a stage where the drama of education unfolds. I might even wear a lab coat or smock as costuming in keeping with the theme!

Check out my Flickr album below to see all the different elements around my room, including a panoramic view from my desk!

The primary font I used is Nasalization and the secret code is Fam-code font based on a mason cipher system. There is a key posted but students will need to find the key, make the connection and decipher the text on their own. I'll continue to add secret codes all year long.

For the Mission Accomplished bulletin board, I plan to take a photo of each class with a color version of the unit badge and post them. So it will become a year long review of all the things we've learned and document how we've grown. The Data Center board is ideally for collecting and displaying student data. I haven't quite decided exactly what that will entail, but may become a place to display student work.

The little travel postcards are vintage looking but feature literature, science and inspirational quotes. While planning the overall look that I was going for, I used Pinterest to collect ideas. Browse my pinboard to see what inspired me!
Follow Ben's board Classroom Decoration on Pinterest.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Digital Citizenship Certified

Our official Digital Citizenship certified school banner arrived today! While I have been using Common Sense curriculum for several years, it's nice to have your efforts recognized. At this time there are only six other schools in Indiana who provide this same level of digital citizenship training for their students.

Common Sense, the national nonprofit organization dedicated to helping kids and families thrive in a world of digital media and technology, has recognized Kimgsway Christian School as a Common Sense Digital Citizenship: Certified School for educating its students to be safe, smart, and ethical digital citizens.

Kingsway has demonstrated its commitment to taking a whole-community approach to preparing its students to use the immense power of digital media to explore, create, connect, and learn, while limiting the perils that exist in the online realm, such as plagiarism, loss of privacy, and cyberbullying.

"We applaud the faculty and staff of Kingsway Christian School for embracing digital citizenship as an important part of their students' education," said Rebecca Randall, vice president of education programs for Common Sense Education. "Kingsway deserves high praise for giving its students the foundational skills they need to compete and succeed in the 21st-century workplace and participate ethically in society at large."

Kingsway has been using Common Sense Education's innovative and research-based digital-citizenship and literacy resources, which were created in collaboration with Dr. Howard Gardner of the GoodPlay Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. The resources teach students, educators, and parents tangible skills related to Internet safety, protecting online reputations and personal privacy, managing online relationships, and respecting creative copyright. The free resources are currently used in more than 85,000 classrooms nationwide.

For more information about Kingsway Christian School, go to  www.kingswayschool.org. To learn more about the criteria SCHOOL NAME met to become certified as a Common Sense Certified School, visit http://www.commonsensemedia.org/educators/certification 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Defining Intelligence Through Moral Choices

What can artificial intelligence reveal about our past?
As a fan of science fiction, I enjoy a good book or movie that explores artificial intelligence. As a computer programming teacher, I've discussed if the Turing Test is a good bench mark. But as I examined the themes that literature and entertainment address when discussing AI, I realized I've heard them before.

As the robot begins to develop awareness, it is always confronted with a moral conundrum. It is not the AI's witty dialogue or charming personality that reveals it's intelligence. Instead the "innocent" robot must wrestle with a choice between good and evil. We may not think of intelligence this way, but it could be defined as a moral awareness.

This is the same story about mankind found in Genesis chapter 3. Adam was innocent, or unfamiliar with the consequences of a contradiction to God's nature.When he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, his eyes were opened. That's the moment good AI stories recreate. An innocent or AI robot becomes aware of moral choice and the consequences it brings.

It's the same choice we face every day, which may be why science fiction keeps coming back to it. There is an assumption today that intelligence means smarter and better, that we are more intelligent today than we were yesterday. But the reality is we are no better off (probably worse) and intelligence is not on a sliding scale.

Mankind is unlike animals or machines in that we understand our moral choices. And the more we realize our nature is continually set at odds with God's character, the more we realize our need of a savior. Our choices alienate us from God so greatly that we are condemned to an eternity in hell. Jesus alone provides the means to fulfill God's wrath through the greatest act of love.