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  • Writer's pictureKevin Butler

Active Learning - Part 2

Updated: Feb 16, 2020

Hey there, WELCOME to the third BLOG post of Lights, Cameras, TEACH. I believe that just like an action-packed movie, a successful classroom needs a good director. Each blog post will share ideas about why I think it is essential to keep kids engaged in active learning and how to make the classroom a place where kids want to be.

In my previous post, I posed a few reflection questions.

1) Who are your role models?

2) Have you had a mentor who supported your educational journey?

3) Do you have a teacher tribe? If so, how do you inspire each other?

For my 17 years in the classroom, I have been fortunate to have many role models. In 2010, I visited the Ron Clark Academy for the first time. If you don't already know, the Ron Clark Academy is a private middle school in Atlanta, Georgia. Co-founders Ron Clark and Kim Bearden didn't just create an extraordinary school; they created a place where teachers from around the world come to visit and participate in professional development.

RCA's co-founder, Kim Bearden, has been an important role model for me. You can rarely pinpoint an exact moment in time when your life is changed. Spending time in her classroom, watching her teach, and listening to her speak, unlocked a passion I didn't know I had.

The first time I met Kim was about six months after my mother had passed away. I was in my seventh year of teaching, and while I loved my job, the pressure of state assessments and scripted curriculums were becoming draining. Kim reinvigorated me, and for that, I will be forever thankful to her and The Ron Clark Academy. In all honesty, I owe so much of my success to Kim, Ron, and the entire RCA community.

I've also been fortunate to have several mentors. Over the years, numerous teachers and administrators have encouraged me to be my best and have helped me take a vision a turn it into a reality. Teacher friends like Adam Dovico, Camille Jones, Rae Hughart, and Nancy Chung, inspire me every single day. Former and present colleagues such as DaNean Cossack-Smith, Nina Smith, Lisa Wells, Deb Mazura, Elise Allen, Melissa Jordan, Sal Alaimo, Marvin Jacobson, Tanika Schliebe, and Mary Chen, have all contributed to my journey as a teacher and will be forever members of my teacher tribe.

In this post, I am going to continue talking about my first experiences teaching non-negotiable, active learning. Like I explained in post #2, the term "active learning" comes from Edgar Dale's research, which states humans remember 90% of what they do. One of the ways I have students engage in active learning is my room simulations. In my last post, I described the Cruise Around the World, The Reading King, and Indiana Jones and the Lost City. In this post, I am going to break down three more.

After teaching students about rounding decimals, I do my Rodeo Roundup room simulation. During this lesson, students become "pig farmers" and must collect pigs branded with numbers that will round to a number they are assigned.

The night before this lesson, I blow up about 160 pink balloons. There's a combination of large balloons and small balloons. I write a number on each balloon. These numbers will round to numbers students are assigned.

For example, a student may have a box with the number 0.564 on it. The student must search the classroom for eight balloons with numbers that will round to 0.564. A pig branded with 0.5641 or 0.5639 would be examples of numbers that would count as correct. After students find two big pigs and six baby pigs, they bring their box of pigs to me. I check over their work to see if they "rounded up" the correct pigs. In addition to being dressed as a farmer, I have pig sounds playing in the background and a big red barn backdrop covering the wall.

When presenting my Creating the Experience workshop at schools and conferences, I conduct this simulation during the workshop. Rather than balloons, I use paper pigs placed into a burlap bag. Teachers sort the pigs into correct piles based on what number each pig is branded with. I've seen teachers take this idea and do it with Latin root words, multiplication and division, and various phonics patterns.

My goal when teaching American History is to present content from multiple perspectives. Halfway through my American Revolution unit, I transform my classroom into Independence Hall. In Back to the Future, Independence Hall, students travel back in time to look at the American Revolution through the lenses of women, Africans, American Indians, and British Loyalists.

While sipping tea, eating biscuits (cookies), and wearing spectacles, students read four different articles (by battery-operated candlelight). Students take notes using a quill pen (ballpoint pends that I hot glue feathers on) insdie a leather (pleather) bound journal describing how each group contributed to helping the thirteen colonies break free from British rule. Students take their notes from this lesson with them to writing class and, with the help of their writing teacher, write and publish a multi-paragraph essay from different viewpoints.

As part of my non-fiction unit in March, students participate in a game of Text Structure Madness. After learning about the five different non-fiction text structures, I transform my classroom into a college basketball court and divide students into two teams.

Students are given a set of short, non-fiction passage task cards, a die, a mini-basketball, a whiteboard, and a dry erase marker. When the clock starts, students get 60 seconds to read their passages and determine the text structure (compare/contrast, cause/effect, description, sequence, problem/solution). Students write their answers down on the whiteboard, and when the timer buzzes, they hold their answers up. The students who answered the question correctly get a chance to shoot their basketball into the basket. The game continues for about 30 minutes.

To see examples of other room simulations I do with my students, check out my Instagram account. Such simulations include The Order of Operations Room, The Fiction World Series, Fraction Football, Bakery Cafe, and Wonka's Candyland.

The top questions I get about my room simulations ask who pays for all the stuff and where I store it all. My lesson simulations were not all created at once. These were created over many years. When I gather materials for my simulations, I have a few rules for myself.

1. Shop wisely. Yes, I have a budget, and no, it's not unlimited. I'm very frugal when it comes to buying materials for a new simulation. With my classroom budget, I usually buy consumable things like paper, markers, colored pencils, labels, and folders. Props and decorations that I reuse from year to year I buy myself or try to get donated.

2. Buy things on sale. I will use coupons and teacher discounts whenever possible. If something isn't on sale, I will tell the cashier (in my nicest teacher voice) that I am a teacher, and the materials I am buying will be used in school. Almost always, they give me a discount. I also ask for donations. It's surprising what families may have at home or can get from someone they know.

Donors Choose is a fantastic resource to get classroom projects funded. Check out their website for information on how you can submit a request for classroom materials. Many of the more expensive items I have were funded from the help of Donors Choose. I also post things on my Amazon Wishlist and have friends, family, and parents of students purchase items off that list.

3. Reuse everything. If you look closely at my photos, you will see the same items used over and over again. The safari hats are also my archeological hats. The green tablecloths from Fiction World Series are the same used for Independence Hall. The kids do not get to keep the props, like sunglasses and binoculars. Some of my lesson accessories are older than my students!

4. Amazon sells everything. The rest of my materials usually come from either Hobby Lobby or Michaels.

5. Borrow. I borrow a lot (and lend a lot too). I borrow from friends, family, other classrooms, and even my own home. My costumes often come from a generous former parent who works in the costume industry. They allow me to borrow the costumes at no cost.

Storage isn't so easy. In NY, I had a HUGE walk-in closet (the size of a small classroom) to store my materials. I certainly miss that room. Currently, I have limited storage in my classroom. I have a small area I hide behind a curtain that stores about eight large bins of materials (I'll post a photo on Twitter). My school is very accommodating in helping me find space on campus to store some of my larger props. But the majority of my items are in a rented storage container. I don't have any room at home to store things, so most of it sits in the storage unit.

I got a few messages on Twitter last week regarding where I get my ideas. That's a good question. The six lessons I described so far, I came up with on my own. I don't know how I do it. I usually think about what I can use as a backdrop to make learning content more exciting. When I see something when I am out and about, I am always thinking about how I can incorporate that into a lesson. Some of my other simulations have been inspired by other teachers' lessons. Kim Bearden does a Language Arts lesson that involves students operating on sentences. I took her idea and used it in math when I teach the order of operations. Instead of students operating on sentences and punctuation, students are operating on algebraic equations.

Social media is such a fantastic platform to share and gather ideas. I love seeing what other teachers are doing in the classroom and sharing my lessons and activities. The professional learning networks (PLNs) on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, without a doubt, inspire me daily.

Reflection Questions:

1. Who or what inspires you to try new ideas in the classroom?

2. What are your hacks when it comes to gathering supplies and materials?

3. Do you use social media or a PLN to improve your teaching?

Next week I will talk about some of the classroom games I use for active learning, including review games for any grade and subject area.

In my third podcast episode, I hosted my friend and teacher superstar Nancy Chung also known on Instagram as FancyNancyin5th. We talked about what she does in her classroom to engage her students in active learning. To listen to the interview, head over to my Light's Camera's TEACH podcast on Apple, Google, and Spotify.

So that wraps up this post of Lights, Camera, TEACH. Before I sign off, Newsela is one of my free favorite online platforms which features current, high-interest articles on everything, including math, history, science, and current events. The Newsela content is always updated with articles from a variety of sources (from the Associated Press to Scientific American to the Washington Post). The articles are available in both English and Spanish. The articles are Common Core-aligned and available on multiple Lexile levels, ranging from third to twelfth grade. Each leveled text features a quiz. The PRO version (a paid subscription) unlocks additional features.

And, I must plug a book I just finished reading this weekend. Trevor Muir's second book, The Collaborative Classroom, is incredible. His book gives ideas on how a positive classroom environment and collaboration can empower students to be their best. If you have any room on your holiday wish list, I suggest adding it.

Until next time, thanks for reading!

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