Thursday, January 15, 2015

Students, Time Management, & Visual Timers! Oh My!

It's the start of a new year! Fresh beginnings, new routines, and implementing goals are on our minds here at ALEC as we wrap up our first week of the year. We have been looking for tools and systems to put in place that structure our after school time in the most productive way possible and provide appropriate educational opportunities for our students.

While students grow and adapt, we understand there will be challenges along the way. Consistency is something we have found to be quite important with our students. The more consistent we are, the more our students understand what is expected of them. Hence, when we follow a routine schedule each day, our students are ready, responsible, and respectful.

However, change is inevitable. Whether it's a multi-week break, new students, new policies, or even a change in weather; we are challenged to transform our routines in order to be flexible and resilient.

I had noticed prior to break that students weren't on the same page when it came to homework time. Some would waste the first half of the time talking or being goofy and then be rushed and anxious to finish their homework during the last half. Some just didn't want to do their homework. A few students have even been quite upset at the teachers for not "allowing" them to finish their homework once we moved on to activity time. So, self-discipline, which is a foundation for time management and concentration, is something quite important for our students to practice so they can learn to be even better students.

I started to do some research online and I found a really helpful tool that we could easily implement here at ALEC. Matt Gomez, a Kindergarten Teacher and Blogger, wrote an article describing his experience utilizing visual timers with his classes. He writes that he first began to use them for his own sake then quickly realized how it was a great tool for his students to understand time and use time in a better way. I recommend reading his story.

With the start of a new year we decided to give it a try. I used Matt's suggestion of Online-Stopwatch's classroom timers, specifically the Clock Countdown. We are using a laptop and our television (you could use a Smartboard or just a computer). All you have to do is follow the link, click on clock countdown, click on "Use the Clock Timer Full Screen", set your time (hours:minutes:seconds), click set and start. Also, there is a button in the upper right-hand corner to make it full screen and there is a "Back" button to change your time.

The first day we used this visual timer, I overheard many students mentioning how much time was left throughout homework time. The teachers also enjoyed the countdown so we could all have a quick reference on time, but the students really got the most out of the timer.

I was helping some 5th graders with their homework and one of our students began to rally his peers. He would say, "Oh there's only 10 minutes left, come on let's do this." For the rest of the week we kept implementing this new tool and each day seemed to get better and better in regards to time management and self-discipline. A tip that Matt gave, which we haven't tried yet, is to keep the timers at 15 minutes or less. So, if you have a 30 minute session, divide it into two 15 minute sessions. I could see this working well with prioritizing time more efficiently since students don't seem to hurry until the timer gets to 15 or 10 minutes.

When the countdown was around 10 seconds, all the sudden our students began to countdown. I was a bit shocked to see them so aware of the time. This was new for our students. It made our transition from homework time to activity time a lot quicker and more definitive.

We are now using the timer for homework time and our free time at the end of the day. The countdown timer really challenges our students to practice self-discipline in terms of completing tasks and time management. I only see this new tool helping more and more this new year as they get accustomed to the visual timer becoming a regular, consistent part of our routine.

- Corey


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