Getting started with student paced learning - An interview with Jake Miller

 

Who are you and what do you do?

Jake Miller: (00:33)
Yeah, well, for those people that are from Sydney Australia and do know me, and maybe this is you, Dan, I think I need the I'm waiting for my invite to come visit. Cause I've never been to Australia. I need to visit Australia someday, but I am far from Australia. I'm in Ohio, in America. I am an eighth grade science teacher. Currently. I previously taught math and science and STEM and spent five years as a tech coach before going back into the classroom full-time as a science teacher. And that, that ed tech really is my passion, at least in my work outside of spending time with my own family and my own kids, but my passion and my work is educational technology. I found years ago that I really love, you know, as much as we say, you know, we love the feeling of when a student finally gets a concept in class that they never thought they'd understand.

Jake Miller: (01:14)
And they're like, we see that light bulb click. I found that what I really love is when I see a teacher do that in regards to educational technology, a teacher that maybe wasn't, didn't feel confident about their use of educational technology. And then if I could help them get that light bulb moment, that's something I'm really excited about. So I do that stuff through speaking and presenting and my podcast, which is called the educational duct tape podcast, and recently published a book titled educational duct tape as well. But that's kind of the ways that I feed that, that, that fire that I have, uh, for supporting educators with the use of technology in their classrooms.

 

What strategy do you think helps create lifelong learners?

Jake Miller: (02:11)
Yeah. One issue that I've had, I'll start with, I'll start with not the right strategy, right? One issue that I've had in my own time in the classroom, both currently and in the past is student's dependency on waiting for the teacher to tell them what to do next. And students dependency on grades and the students aren't taking a lot of initiative and the students aren't the owners of their own learning experience. And therefore they're not going to become lifelong learners because they're just playing the game of school essentially. And it's a lot of it is not the student's fault. It's because of the system that we as adults and the adults before us created in our schools is this, I teach you, do I grade you get it back? And if it's not for a grade, you're not going to do it, uh, issue.

Jake Miller: (02:56)
And so years ago I had a resolution to that and my stem class that I used to teach, and I haven't yet implemented it in my science class. I teach now because I haven't had time to get it off the ground. And I think it's an important thing to note, like, no matter how good the strategy is, sometimes it takes a lot of time to make it make, you know, make it happen in our classrooms. Even if we know it's the right thing to do. I think we need to give ourselves permission for that. But years ago I was teaching the stem class. I was really proud of the stem class. I taught students, took it and they learned a little bit of basics of coding. And they learned a little bit basics of computer science and some civil engineering and some online CAD programs.

Jake Miller: (03:31)
And they learned the basics of 3d printing. And they learned they did some hands-on engineering design challenges, where they learned to think kind of like a mechanical engineer or somebody like that might. And if the goal was really to expose kids, these different things that they might, you know, go into in their future careers or education or things like that can kind of tap into parts of themselves that have never been a part of their schooling experience. And I was super excited about the class and the, my friend, Dave, who co-designed the curriculum with me was super excited about the class. And a lot of kids were super excited about the class, but then I had this one class, this one quarter who they're, they're what I call that class. And every teacher knows that class where you're like, how, how did I get this group of kids together?

Jake Miller: (04:11)
Like what, ..., how, how did this group of 30 young people end up in a room together and are they here to punish me for something? And I realized that the reason I was having so much behavior problems with this class was because of the pace that I taught them at. A lot of the kids misbehaving where kids who were either highly capable and fast processors and fast work completers who were bored while they waited for my pace, pace to catch up with their work, uh, speed, or they were maybe were slower processors or just really deliberate thinkers who took their time through challenges, or maybe they were a struggling student. And I was going too fast for them. My kids in the middle, who I call the Goldilocks students, uh, the porridge was just the right temperature for them. Right. And they were fine in my class.

Jake Miller: (04:55)
They didn't misbehave, but I had kids on the other two ends of the spectrum. Some of them were misbehaving and they were only in those two groups. So to solve it, I made a student paced curriculum. So I took a, uh, a website. It was a Google site at the time. Um, and I turned all of my lessons. It was the same lessons that I had been teaching. I turned them all into lessons that didn't require me anymore. Right. It might be a video of me. It might be a Google doc that gave them instructions. It might be a website that gave them instructions, whatever it was. They were able to just click on the link and go through the project and kind of, or the assignment and just, and just do it. And I was free then to go around the room and support them with it.

Jake Miller: (05:33)
And it, it not only did it get rid of those behavior problems, which was what I was really trying to do. It did the other thing that kind of you're, you're bringing up on your podcast regularly, which is creating those lifelong learners because I saw my students then take control of their own learning process. They were in the driver's seat, even though they didn't necessarily have a choice over what they did. They had a choice over when they did it and how fast they did it and when they needed to slow down. And when they needed to do homework, when they needed to come in during their study hall to get help, and they became responsible for their own learning. And I like to think that that then impacted the way they acted as learners. After that, you know, we, we see it regularly. I teach middle school here.

Jake Miller: (06:15)
And these many of my students, this is the first time, you know, as their eighth graders that they've ever found school to be truly challenging. Right. And they're having to juggle multiple assignments in multiple curricular areas and multiple homework assignments. And it's never been too much for them. And now they're finding, they don't know how to organize themselves for those situations. Right. And that's such a skill that we need through high school, through college, through work and school, wasn't doing that for them. It didn't teach them how to do that. And I think a student pace curriculum really gives students some of those skills because they start to manage themselves. They become responsible for themselves. It brings in that kind of executive functioning stuff that we talk about where they're taking full responsibility over the work they're doing

How much of this student-paced learning is prepared?

Jake Miller: (07:24)
It was the full term and that's why, you know what I said earlier that I haven't done that in the current science class that I teach now, it's because I'm on my second time teaching that class. And I don't, I don't know my activities and my curriculum quite well enough to craft it out ahead of the students, getting to it and give them them that student pace. But this was the second or third time that I was teaching this stem course. It was a, a quarter long course about nine weeks. And so I had taught at once already, so I had all the curriculum ready. And so what I did was I would make the activities. I just had to stay ahead of the kids. I, I was not ready for the whole quarter at the end of the class. And I remember the students saying, well, Mr.

Jake Miller: (08:01)
Miller, um, you said, we're going to work on this all quarter and just go at our own pace, but there's only six activities here. That's only going to take us a week or so. And I'd say, well, yeah, but tomorrow there'll be seven. And the next day there'll be eight. And that's what I would do every day. I would just add another activity onto the end of that. And actually because, because the students were working without requiring a lot of interaction from me, sometimes I was even doing that while they were in class, you know, they were sitting working and I was sitting at working, of course, I'd spend maybe half the class walking around and talking to them, but I was able to spend a lot of time actually just doing that work and preparing the content for them. Um, so that it was ready for them when they got there.

Jake Miller: (08:36)
So, yeah, it was the entire quarter, a smaller one to one to five day assignments just in order. And they just went through them in order. And I'm, like I said, I didn't have them all ready to be in, in the quarter. I had taught them, uh, as a, as a not student paced course before. So I was just turning them into student paced curriculum one day at a time as I went through it. And there were days where I was struggling to keep up with that rate, you know, and I would be honest with the students about that. I would tell a kid who was ahead of the pace, I'd say, Hey, listen, the next assignment isn't ready. I, you know, I, I, I'm having a hard time keeping up with my own pace here. Uh, what I want you to do is explore this for today. And the kid number one was excited to explore something of their own, but they were, I, I hope that they were impacted by the fact that I was willing to admit to them, Hey, I'm doing my best tastes. Sometimes, you know, sometimes these things happen to us as adults. And I think they got a lesson from that too, you know, but then in following quarters, it was already, I just had to keep tweaking it as I went through it.

Which skills do you think you're really helping to develop in your students to set them up for lifelong learning? 

Jake Miller: (09:47)
Well, I think, I think that's one piece of it, but it's also being able to, uh, it's, it's different from a true self-assessment. Maybe, maybe it's almost like a mindfulness in relation to their own work. And it's a self-assessment of where, where they're at and not so much as what they're understanding, but where they're at, because they had to know, not only did they have to monitor their pace, but they had to take that information about their pace and know what steps they needed to take, you know? No. Is this the time where I can go deeper into a project or is this a time where I need to really buckle down and go as fast as I can? Or is this a time where I needed to come in for extra help or spend extra time on it? So not only were they monitoring their own pace, they were making, um, you know, mature decisions about what to do in order to handle whatever they've noticed about that pace while they're monitoring it,

Where would you recommend a teacher get started this week with student-paced learning?

Jake Miller: (10:47)
So the one thing I came into this knowing, and I talk about this a lot on the Educational Ducttape Podcast and in my book is the idea of, uh, when you know, better, you do better, right? So you have to, and it's a quote from Dr. Maya Angelo there that requires that you have to know certain things in order to do better. Right? So at this time when I started this, I knew that student pacing was, uh, had had potential for helping me in my class. But I also had other knowledge. I already knew how to screencast. I already knew how to put activities up on a website, or it could have been an LMS, right. So I had this knowledge already in place that allowed me to do better. So I think that's some of the things that they could do is maybe learn how to screencast your lessons, right?

Jake Miller: (11:29)
Like if you don't already screencast your lessons, you, it's hard to student pace. Your course, if you're not recording videos for the kids to watch, because you still need to give them some instructions there. So maybe you learn how to screencast. Maybe you learn how to use a tool like Mote to record audio. Um, instead of a screencast, you could just be an audio file from the teacher. Right. But learn some different strategies for putting your information online. It's asynchronously available, right? So a student can watch it when the student's ready for it or listen to it when they're ready for it or read it when they're ready for it. I think doing it in text, oftentimes my students didn't read it completely. Right. That's just the way students are. So I think video and audio are really best. So I think that would be the first step I would take is developing that skill, that ability. And then you could start to leverage that, to create something that student-paced.

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