Teachers, Embrace the Madness!

It’s that time of year again. The time of year when everyone seems to be enthralled with college basketball – from the die hard fan who has followed their team all season to the bandwagon supporter hoping for a Cinderella story. Brackets are being frantically filled out and office pools are the topic of discussion for a few brief weeks. Can you feel it in the air?

Personally, I am not the biggest basketball fan, give me football any day. But even I get excited this time of year. And so did my students. Instead of fighting the sports talk and bracket madness, turn it into a teaching opportunity and if you are feeling inspired, try blending it. Here are a few ways to do just that.

Can you tell who my family is rooting for?
Can you tell who my family is rooting for?
  1. Brackets to frame discussion: In 2010, the New York Times published an article on how to use the bracket format to debate academic questions. What I love about this article is that it gives suggestions for debatable topics in multiple subjects which are great inspiration. There are endless possibilities for how to play this version of the madness.  Need a few suggestions? Check out Brian Sztabnik’s Edutopia post on how he uses brackets for AP Lit and scroll down for other content use cases. Blended Twist: try this with your online class! There are electronic versions of the bracket where you can share with all your learners and use synchronous class meetings for the debates or showdowns. Use the chat feature in your web conferencing tool or Today’s Meet for backchannel discussion to determine who is winning the debate live.
  2. The Math Behind the Madness: As an update to their 2010 article, the New York Times then chose to go math crazy in 2014. This is a great revamp of their original article that focuses on the mathematical probabilities related to the tournament and has a great thinking questions related to “the perfect bracket.” If you are interested in adding more statistical analysis or tweaking the lesson, check out some of the fantastic data sets and interactive content on Nate Silver’s website.  Blended Twist:  before launching this set of problems, consider a flipped instructional approach by using a review of exponents, like this Khan academy content, to help student grasp the basis of bracketology before the class meets.  You might also consider turning the reading comprehension questions into some work done outside of class so that your in class time can be spent looking at the math and discussing class opinions.
  3. Fantasy Fun: For those of you who like the ideas above but might prefer football (as I do), consider Fantasy Geopolitics. This is something you could do for a few weeks, a month, or even a whole school year. Check out the list of ways teachers are using this in their social studies classrooms. Blended Twist: Good news! This one is already a blended approach to instruction.  However, you can pair it with Newsela for struggling readers will allow them to compete in the game with access to more manageable texts without losing the content knowledge they would need to draft successfully.

Students love of sports can be distracting in the classroom, or it can be something that builds relationships. As teachers, our tendency is to try and minimize distractions in order to focus on content and as a result, we don’t go with the flow. Instead of fighting the madness, use it to your advantage. Turn learning content into a game and you might just be surprised with the results, especially if you blend it.

Give it a try and share your use cases! And “On Wisconsin!”


Change and Transition

verb: make or become different
noun: the act or instance of making or becoming different
nounthe process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another

My blog has been silent for awhile. Since my last post, there have been many changes and transitions in my life. We have moved once again for the Army, both started new jobs, and a few other developments that were consuming pretty much all of our time. Since so much has been in upheaval, my mind has been on that lately in all aspects of my life, including work.

Making a choice to change and do something different, possibly viewed as disruptive or even radical, in education is a bold step. Perhaps you are shifting to a new block schedule, introducing team teaching or blended learning, or switching to year round school. You’ll question whether you are doing what is best for you, your community, and most importantly, your kiddos. How will you know if the decision you made was right? Chances are that it will take time, which is a luxury schools and districts often don’t have to show the impact of the change. It takes courage, nerves of steel, and a lot of love to stand up for what you believe is needed in your school.

But choosing to take a less traveled path is just the beginning of the journey and arguably the easiest element. It is often said that change is fast but transition is slow. There is an uncomfortable gap between the decision being made and the action steps that come next where the grappling, questioning, and struggling takes place. Emotions enter the picture and transition sets in. It is at this time when it is important to take care of the people who are going on this adventure with you.

As a leader in this new environment, there are three necessary disciplines to help manage your transition time and support the new culture that you wish to develop.

  • Create a sense of ownership. The culture you create from the beginning of the transition will be the foundation for all of your work moving forward. Spend time encouraging your stakeholders to express their feelings, contribute their ideas to the conversation, and cultivate a sense of buy-in to the change that has been made. The sooner you can get people on board and working toward a positive staff culture, the more quickly you can help them move through the transition. Getting to the pedagogical change is important, but it will not be as successful an implementation if your foundation is shaky.
  • Pay attention and listen. What is being said out loud is important but likely not as significant as what is being omitted. What are people feeling a sense of loss about in the transition time? What are they excited about? Is there backchannel conversation happening that could rattle that positive culture you are working so hard to establish? When people’s emotions and beliefs are challenged there is a greater chance for negative energy to enter into the conversation. Honor their opinions but become a master of positivity because people will follow your lead when they are lost or uncertain about the future.
  • Stay focused on your why. There was a reason you decide to make a change. Is it clear to all of your stakeholders not just what the change will be, but also why it was made? It might be that you wanted to ensure that your learners were prepared for college and career readiness. Maybe is it to introduce PBL to a community that is struggling to reach its learners. Perhaps it is to create a sense of equity in your district. Whatever the reason, be clear and transparent to all involved in the change decision and transition process. Muddying the waters by subsequently introducing an evaluation process that doesn’t align to your shift or holding professional development sessions that are unrelated will only lead to confusion, which can damage your culture. Staying focused will give people the north star they are looking for when times get tough or seem to difficult to manage.

No one said that being an innovator would be easy. Be ready. be prepared. And stay focused on your goals. Your staff and your learners are ready for the change. It’s up to you to help them manage the transition.