Monday, September 3, 2012

In 5 Minutes...

What can you with 5 minutes and a classroom of students?

We have this ritual at our school. A couple days before school starts, incoming Freshmen walk through their schedules, meeting their teachers, figuring out where their classrooms are, getting acclimated to high school. They’re in each classroom just 5 minutes.

So what to do in 5 minutes?

Here’s a window into my teaching soul: I agonize over those 5 minutes, always have. It’s the very first 5 minutes of our relationship. First impressions are made on both sides. They’ll judge me, they’ll judge my class. They’ll decide if this is somewhere they want to be, if this is somewhere where they’ll be challenged, if this is somewhere where they can learn.  

So I faced this question once again this year: How will I spend those 5 minutes?

A bit of background: here are some ways I spent those 5 minutes in recent years:

- I hid under my desk and spoke to the class in a loud British accent via my Shakespeare finger puppet, who inquired about Mrs. Felske’s whereabouts, introduced the class, and finally, ten seconds to go, introduced Mrs. Felske, who popped up and said “Hi,” to an entertained albeit freaked out room of students. Never hurts to be a bit crazy, right? Keeps ‘em guessing.  

- Last year, I got ahold of two iPads and with the assistance of my son recorded a 15 second interview with each student. As a result I knew all of their names (by face) the first day of class, and we had something cool and surprisingly nostalgic to show on the last day of class.

I liked both of those activities; both worked well, but my challenge still remained: how to make those 5 minutes more student-centered: how could they be in the driver’s seat?

My classroom focus this year is full integration of technology: students will each maintain an individual website that will function as their “desk” in my room; they’ll be blogging to the greater world, reading and analyzing rhetoric from Google Reader RSS feeds, using web 2.0 tools demonstrate and expand their language arts skills. I’ve included elements of these in recent years, but this is the year, I’m determined, they will all come together.

So back to the 5 minutes: How to preview this year of tech integration, set the proper tone for learning, get them actively engaged, and get to know them a tad...all in 5 minutes?

After they entered the room, I explained my challenge to them: “How can I have a conversation with 27 individual students in 5 minutes?” One student said “You can’t.” “Ah, but I can, with your help...” And we were off.  Here’s how it went:  

- 30 Seconds: a whirlwind intro to me and my class (message: it’s not about me, it’s about you)
- 1 minute: an explanation of their assignment: Create a 1 minute voice recording, introducing yourself to me: who you are, your background, things you like to do, eat, read, watch, think about. Go to, hit record, hit stop, hit share, and email it to me.  (message: We’re about doing in here!)
- 3 minutes: Work and complete assignment (message: We waste no time in here!)
- 30 seconds: save and email assignment: done! (message: You can do this; in fact, you just did!)

There was a flurry of excitement, uncertainty, concentration. Then, the announcement came for them to report to their next class. I looked around: the majority were pressing the send button. I ran around and finished the export with those who weren’t done, and voila, I had 26 recordings in my inbox (one somehow didn’t make it, but will have the chance at a re-do).

What had just happened? Possibly the most economical use of 5 minutes I’d ever experienced in a classroom.

How did it happen?
- The prepared environment: I had spent 10 minutes putting out all the laptops and turning them on, one at each desk, sending the message to students as they entered the room that we’re ready to get to work.
- The right tool: is as easy as it gets for voice recording. No login required. No settings to monkey around with. It’s a big clean white screen with a record button. No learning curve. I told the students where the built in microphone was located and they were ready to go.
- Trial run complete: I had tried the recording process myself and finished in 1.5 minutes including hearing the preview. I had a student try it earlier that morning: process complete in 2.5 minutes. This was doable.
- Enthusiasm: “You can do this! Let’s go!” And they did. 

What did I learn listening to their recordings? Here’s a spattering from various students: I have 3 sisters. I’m a very slow reader, be patient with me. I’m a Doctor Who fan. I broke my leg and can’t play soccer. I love Japanese Anime. Shrimp and steak, yum. I LOVE reading. You know my brother; I am not my brother. I’m an official ‘Nerd Fighter’ - (said by several students, leading me to look up the term and smile). I’m going to be a novelist. Are you seriously listening to me? This is fun!  Spaghettios complete me, seriously, if you ever have an extra can... “The Fault in our Stars” by John Green ripped my soul out this summer - you must read it!  You’re going to love me! I don’t like the sound of my voice so this recording is already outside my comfort zone - what’s going to happen in here? Football isn’t just a sport for me, trust me. If you’re patient with me, you’ll end up liking me, most people do. Blue M&M’s, I only eat the blue ones. I predict this is going to be a great class.

Me too.

Five minutes matter. Every minute matters.

Have a great 2012-2013.