Monday, March 28, 2005

Lori on the Rio.

Lori and I rode our bikes from her house to Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge today (15 miles) and went on the 4-mile canoe trip on the Rio Grande, after which we rode our bikes back to Weslaco. The highlights in terms of birds were the Ringed Kingfisher and the Green Kingfisher, both of which are Rio Grande Valley specialities in the US.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Excellent Schools Visit and Opportunity Tickets

Yesterday, I visited the IDEA Academy in Donna, TX on one of Teach For America's excellent schools visits. I finally got to see Brent Maddin in action, who is one of the legendary Teach For America alumni in terms of teaching science and from whom all of us have stolen tons of resources. I have always heard really great things about the IDEA Academy (a charter school started by TFA alumni that is incredibly well performing), but it was a whole 'nother thing--wow, that phrase is really awkward when written down--to actually see it in action. Because the school is small and because everything is done the same way throughout the school, the differences between that school and mine are incredibly obvious. Their classes are 1.5 hours long, and I saw every student on task for 1.5 hours. Working in groups, they weren't talking about anything but the work, and everybody was really excited about learning; the culture there is simply incredible.

What was frustrating about my visit was that while it was an idyllic learning atmosphere, that didn't provide many concrete strategies for making my classroom more like it. I talked to Brent about how I can work on improving that culture within my classroom even without the school-wide systems. He told me that I should start giving out positive incentives in the form of opportunity tickets. Whenever somebody is on-task and doing what they're supposed to be doing, thank them out loud and hand them a ticket.

Brent promised me huge results in a week; I saw them in a day. I started handing them out to people who were working at the beginning of class. Within seconds, almost everyone started working immediately and they didn't even know what the tickets were for yet, but they figured that they must have been good! They then got really excited and stayed on task once they found out what the tickets were for. When I give them a ticket, they write their name in it and drop it in the class jar. Then periodically, I'll raffle things off: a few bonus points, a bathroom pass (they were really excited about that one) , a homework pass, etc. When I need to punish people in my 4th period class, I hold them a few minutes into lunch, so today I drew for somebody to leave a minute early and he was thrilled! So far, they're totally invested in the system; hopefully it will stay that way.