Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Gamification to Increase Student Motivation

I love games, perhaps maybe even a little too much. Not only did competition take place every day with my siblings growing up, but some of my best memories of games include those that took place during school. I will never forget winning one event in particular—the Utah Bee. It was an exciting competition throughout fourth grade between different classes in my area. It tested our knowledge of everything about Utah. So I guess when I started teaching English and Spanish at Sorenson’s Ranch School, I naturally looked to see ways I could add healthy competition into the activities. I have tried many different things in hopes of improving engagement. It can be hard to find the perfect activity that matches the content with something that interests the learner. In addition, some students may feel left out or bored if they do not know a lot about a specific topic. Admittedly, for various reasons, I have not done as well as I had hoped in creating a classroom that regularly uses student gameplay. In any regard, I believe that when I can effectively weave components of games into learning, students increase their participation, motivation, and social skills. a One aspect of class where I have tried to include games is during our daily starter. In English, our “Gotcha Grammar” accompanies a challenge to see who can be the first to complete the corrections needed. It adds a bit of excitement, and it helps kids into their seats to do schoolwork at the beginning of class. It also helps captivate students who maybe would not usually do the starter or be a disruption. Ultimately, I found these little grammar games are most effective when there is something to win. A small treat has done wonders in helping students give their absolute best effort. It naturally creates an environment where students look to work together to find an answer. Another occasion I have tried to add movement and fun activities is near the end of class. Researchers analyzing the average teenager's attention span, do not appear to be unanimous in their research. But, I believe that if a student can achieve roughly thirty-five minutes of studying, they deserve to have some fun. I have tried to include fun activities that have a Language Arts twist. One game is where we take a ball and play hot potato, but in this version, each student has to come up with a part of speech and not repeat what has already been said. If we are playing with verbs, one student may catch the ball and yell "to run," and the next student may catch the ball and yell "to fly" until a new verb is not thought of or repeats itself. In that case, the student leaves the game. Most students like playing these games at the end of the class, as it is a relief from studying and other stressors. It also creates a sense of community among the students and builds relationships. Teaching Spanish at Sorenson’s Ranch School has also brought many opportunities to engage students in fun activities. One lesson which I thought did well to motivate students was “Simon Says” or “Simon dice”. In this classic game, students follow the orders but with the newly learned Spanish vocabulary. Again, it has some goal resulting in a prize, like the last one standing gets a sucker. A game like this is great because it is familiar to everyone and can bridge the gap between languages. It also requires a lot of physical movement, which works as a great brain break and engages the kinesthetic learners in the room. Overall, gamification is a tool that creates a vibrant class culture and suits my teaching style. Classroom instruction should include a variety of methods to engage all types of learners. One of my challenges now is to find ways to motivate those students who perhaps are not as excited about competing over school topics. The question is if I am doing everything possible to get as many students participating and motivated as possible. It is a never-ending quest, but the more I connect school topics with the love of the game, the more motivation learners can find to succeed.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

March Happenings

The middle school is starting new classes for the second half of the school year here at Sorenson’s Ranch. We finished Modern History and are moving into Geography. We also finished Our Nation/Utah History and are moving into the Careers class. We are continuing with PE and Math that are full year classes. Geography is the first and second class of the day. The students are curious about what to expect from the class. We did a pretest to see how familiar the students are with Geography. Some of the students know a lot about it and some need to learn more. We will be discussing the different areas of Geography here at Sorenson’s Ranch throughout the next 6 months. The students will be designing maps to show countries, cities, topographical and political maps. The other new class that we are starting at Sorenson’s Ranch is Careers. The students will learn all of the different aspects of finding a career. We started the class with an interest survey to help them decide what career they will do well in. Students will learn about what the job entails, salary, availability by area, and other details about different careers that may be of interest to them. They will learn how to present themselves during the interviewing process. During Math class we have been working on several different concepts. Some of the students have been learning about graphing, others have been working with solving inequalities. We will also incorporate worksheets that are based around St. Patrick’s Day. At Sorenson’s Ranch there are different ways that Math can be approached. Each student has individual ways of learning and the concepts are adapted to real world situations when possible in order to make them more understandable. Here at Sorenson’s Ranch we use a lot of adaptive learning approaches in order to help each student become successful. Peer tutoring, one on one tutoring, group learning among other approaches are being used on a daily basis.

Social skills training, in a therapeutic boarding school.

Sorensons ranch has recently undergone a change in the program that encourages positive reinforcement, teaches social skills, and gives responsibility to students to acknowledge how to improve behavior. Where points were mostly used as a negative consequence to correct behavior, the emphasis on the new program is recognizing positive behavior and awarding points accordingly, when negative behaviors must be addressed, students are given the option of recognizing how they could improve and minimizing point loss. This makes every staff and teacher a partner of the therapist, and encourages all interaction to tie back to the therapy. Positive reinforcement increases an individual’s tendency to adopt a new practice over time. This conditioning method has gained popularity over other operant conditionings, because it creates a positive learning environment preferred by therapists, staff, and teachers in the classroom. Students are also encouraged to do behavioral role play, which involves practicing new skills during therapy in simulated situations. Social skills training is not a specific curriculum, but rather a collection of practices that use a behavioral approach for teaching age-appropriate social skills and competencies, including communication, problem solving, decision making, self-management, and peer relations. As staff and students readjust to a different way of helping clients the effectiveness of the program will continue to improve.

Introduction to Business and Financial Literacy

Often Sorenson’s Ranch School (SRS) students complain that business and financial literacy classes are hard and not required in their home state, but taking the classes in high school can give students a competitive advantage in the college admission process. If college is not in the student’s futures, at least business and financial literacy classes give them an understanding of the function of commerce in society and a basis for becoming better employees and citizens of their communities. In Addition to expanding students’ knowledge about business, entrepreneurship, and personal finance, these classes teach students many crucial life skills, including leadership and time management. Using this foundation to build on, SRS students begin to understand how personal financial responsibility will touch all aspects of their lives. Business classes introduce students to what it takes to make it in the business world. We are introducing information students can use to help them decide what they are going to do with their future. With changing regulations in society, children today are not given the opportunity to work and learn with hands on experience as did past generations. Today’s children have been immersed in technology and crave interaction in a different manner than past generations. As our society and business adapts to an ever-changing world, these students will become the new business leaders. Business and finance classes at SRS give students those first steps, and insights about what to do next in life. If students decide continuing education is not for them, SRS can still give them the basics necessary for everyday life, no matter what path they choose to take. High schoolers’ hardly know what direction to go, or what skills to build on when they are getting ready to go to college. If we start teaching them skills in high school, they will have a better understanding of the path they can take for the future. By teaching SRS students solid life skills, we are helping all of our futures.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Sorenson’s Ranch Student Motivation

At Sorenson’s Ranch, teachers try to keep students active and engaged. Active students learn more and do better in the classroom. We recognize the importance of motivation, and we work hard to celebrate student progress. ​Teachers choose assignments that allow students to use their creativity. When possible, we allow students to pick their own genre—such as reports, poems, creative writing stories, or plays—when assigning a topic. Students are able to choose their own theme when creating computer programs. Many CTE classes allow students to create their own topics for projects. We want them to take pride in their work and this helps them buy-in to assignments stay more motivated. Teachers pride themselves on being open-minded rather than judgmental. We try to make it clear that we are here to help students succeed, respecting student efforts. Teachers try to share an observation or ask questions without criticizing. Teachers provide feedback geared toward student success. Student are more engaged and learn better when they exercise choice, feel important, receive accurate and timely feedback, and know that they can be successful. Feedback, not pressures of low grades, leads to better performance. After relearning material, students have the opportunity to redo assignments to get to mastery level. This creates a feeling of success which helps with motivation. Students come to us with different abilities. Teachers create lessons for everyone—taking into consideration the different ability levels. Teachers try to provide feedback to students promptly, frequently, and efficiently. Accommodations, like more time or reduced workload are implemented for students where needed. Students need to see a direct connection between their effort, a response from their teacher, and work completion. We work with students individually to get students to graduation or to grade completion.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Safety is an essential part of learning.

Students need to feel safe in their environment in order to learn. If a person is worried about getting beat up - physically or verbally, that person cannot open his or her mind to effectively put things into long term memory. Effective teaching requires that teachers create an atmosphere in the classroom where students are free to ask questions without fear of being made fun of or being made to feel stupid. The tapestry of life is woven from discovery and memory. From the moment of birth, we are exposed to a continuous flow of sensory experience — sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Our remarkable brain takes the images and sounds, the feelings, scents, and tastes of each moment and creates an internal representation of the external world. In the beginning of life, all is new: each experience is a first. Each image, melody, scent, and caress bathes the newborn's brain in data as it attempts to organize and make sense of this world. Over time, we create memories, and we learn. Learning is fun when it is curiosity driven. In the words of one of my former students whom I refer to as “the great philosopher Ned”, “Math only sucks until you get it.” The difference between a student “getting it” or just trying to survive by memorizing enough information to pass the test is whether the learning is curiosity based or fear based. It comes back to safety in the classroom. The fear response is essential to the health of the human brain and body. Under threat of any kind — hunger, thirst, pain, shame, confusion, or too much input coming in too fast — we respond in ways to keep ourselves safe. When the fear response is triggered, our minds will focus only on the information that is, at that moment, important for survival. Fear kills curiosity and inhibits exploration. Hear at SRS, most of my students come into my classes with math anxiety: a fear of math (and the experience of learning math in a group) which requires that they never ask a question which could expose them to an uncomfortable social experience, and a fear that I will find out just how much they don’t know. To combat this self-imposed barrier to effective learning, I tell them about what I call the “basic agreement.” This agreement stipulates that I will do my best to teach them from where they are at any given moment. As a result, they don’t need to pretend to know things they don’t know, and if they ask a question, I will do my best to answer it in a way they can understand without editorializing about when they should have learned it and how many times it has been explained before. Their responsibility is that they will do their best to learn. This means asking questions to help me learn how they learn. Once I know how they learn, I can teach in a way that allows them to understand and remember. All of us can vividly recall a situation (perhaps many) when a teacher reviled a student with words like, “How many times to I have to tell you?” or “You should have learned this in 1st grade.” The anxiety is present in students of all subjects, not just math, and teachers play the dominant role in creating physically and emotionally safe places for students to learn. I find that after the initial “I hate you” phase, students who receive consequences for aggressive behavior toward peers quickly become champions of protecting other students from aggression. Here are some key behaviors I try to use in creating a safe classroom here at SRS: • Maintain a clean, organized classroom. All people feel safer and more comfortable in a clean organized classroom • Be the same teacher yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Follow through on promises. Be consistent in discipline • Be kind, and let students know you care. I chose this profession to make a difference, and I want my students to know that I care about the long term effects of my teaching. I want to my students see higher goals for themselves and help them believe in their abilities by helping them master challenging tasks. • Protect students from misbehavior. Always follow through on discipline for students that threaten others. Demonstrate that you care enough about not to allow bullying, triggering, coercion, or intimidation. These behaviors can help students overcome learning anxieties in any classroom environment, but they work particularly well among our population at SRS

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Mastery Learning at Sorenson’s Ranch School

Sorenson’s Ranch School uses mastery learning which enables students to move forward at their own pace as they master knowledge, skills, and concepts. Effective implementation completely changes how students learn, how teachers teach, and how schools work. Mastery learning transforms how Sorenson’s Ranch School develops curricula and how learning is measured, as well as how teachers are trained. Mastery learning as a concept and even as an instructional practice is not new. It has been around since the 1960s. We use it to better enable our students to be successful on an individual basis. It allows us to individualize classwork for each individual student. Our classes are student paced, teacher guided which has worked very well for us at Sorenson’s Ranch School. Mastery learning entails the concept that all teachers can teach and all students can learn. At our school we believe using this concept, all students can be taught to learn excellently. Each student controls the delivery and flow of their classes and learn independently adapting the curriculum to fit their needs. We believe in a personalized method of instruction to meet all student’s needs. Typically, most students are more successful with this learning model. Students learn at a faster rate and learn more. At SRS, we believe this model is perfect for our students. Students who have not done well with the traditional lecture classroom, often thrive in mastery learning. The motivation for mastery learning comes from trying to reduce achievement gaps for students in average school classrooms. As students may be out for group therapy or discipline, they can successfully come back into the classroom, pick up where they left off, and continue progressing. The mastery learning method divides subject matter into units that have preset objectives or unit expectations. Students, alone or in groups, work through each unit in an organized fashion. Students must demonstrate mastery on unit exams, typically 80%, before moving on to new material. Students who do not achieve mastery receive remediation through tutoring, peer monitoring, small group discussions Additional time for learning is prescribed for those requiring remediation. Students continue the cycle of studying and testing until mastery is met. This gives students the opportunity to be successful. Pier tutoring is an important part of this model of learning. When students help other students, it solidifies the learning for the tutor and teaches the one being tutored. We believe students will feel successful, move quickly, and complete their education. We strongly believe that all students should get the high school diploma. We are committed to push students to achieve this goal. For students who struggle, we adapt curriculum to fit their needs yet still getting credit for them and having them learn. We enjoy working with students and seeing success in all students. We are happy to report that we have a high graduation rate. We are very successful in placing students after completing their education. Teachers, therapists, and case managers use this learning model to get results getting the student to graduate.