All Students Deserve a Voice

In every classroom, we teach many students including those less comfortable sharing in a group setting. When we have whole group or even small group discussions, how do we plan for those introverts who aren’t so comfortable in those conversations? How do we give those students a loud voice when we know they have one?

Often technology can provide the perfect outlet for our true introverts. It can give them a voice and a place to participate loudly in our classrooms. Here are a few of my favorite tools for such conversations.

  1. Today’s Meet: this provides a Twitter-like back channel for students. The teacher quickly and effortlessly sets up the “room.” Students get into the room (no login required) by following the link, typing in their name, and answering the question provided by the teacher. OR the teacher uses it as a parking lot space for questions throughout the class. Either way, quieter students find their voice.
  2. Spiral.ac: this has several functions but one is a wall where teachers can create a question (one on each wall) and students can answer the question. In this space, teachers can send the answer back to a particular student if he/she has not answered it completely or needs more detail. The teacher can organize several walls so that throughout a class period, the teacher could move from one to another as the teaching continues. This way the conversation or reflection moves from space to space.
  3. Padlet: similar to Spiral.ac in the wall function except it only has one wall per URL. Although in padlet, students can not only have conversations, but they can also upload videos, pictures, and documents to the wall to then share with one another. Great conversations!

So, if your students aren’t 13 and you’re not using individual social media accounts, these are some good ways to get them talking to one another throughout a class  period or across classes. See what you think!

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Student Driven

As an educator one characteristic that I want to instill in students is the ability to problem solve and fail forward as they connect with the world. So often we find ourselves giving students answers, or if we don’t give them the answers, we lead them right there because we have a correct answer in mind. So what are some ways we can break this cycle? How can teach to get our students to be the thinkers and the ones who problem solve?

Here are a few ideas and tools:

Use the Question Formulation Technique. This allows students to work in groups and create and answer their own questions throughout a project. It’s powerful! I have them do it in a Google Doc or Microsoft Word (with sharing on) so that they can collaborate together as each group creates questions. This way groups can see one another’s thinking.

TES Teach Blendspace is a playlist that is easily created because it connects to your computer, YouTube, Google Drive, or the web. You can easily drag and drop resources into it. By strategically placing some assessments for students to determine what they do and don’t know, learning can be put into their hands to decide which assignments to do. You put a variety of choices for learning so that if they prefer learning through watching videos, those are there; if they prefer learning through games, they have that option. If they prefer reading articles, you’ve pulled those in too! A great way to personalized learning and allow student-driven learning.

Blogging! Whether it’s WordPress, Weebly, Blogger, or Kidblog, giving our students a voice to share their learning, connect in an authentic way with the world, and learn digital citizenship in context is important.

If you’re looking for something a little different and new, take a look at Adobe Spark. You have three options: create a web page, a video, or a social media post. In Adobe Spark are sharing options which allow students to go public.

Just a few ways to begin to go beyond the classroom and have students consider the world as they consider what they want to learn and how they create to make it happen.

 

Student Ownership. For Real.

Student ownership. I’ve watched my student tech team develop into this amazing group over the past year. Last year, I had a vision that I wanted to come to fruition; but even with that I couldn’t have imagined what it would become, what we would become in one short year.

Let’s go back to the beginning. I put out applications for students who were interested. I work in a middle schools, so there are sixth, seventh, and eighth graders. I simply wanted students who had some interest in technology, being a team, advocating for their school, and promoting through social media. Students joined for one or all of these reasons.

Soon after joining last year, ten of my eighth graders joined four other middle schools to be inspired by iSchool Initiative and create a three-year plan for our school. They set their sights high. They came together as a team and became leaders. Some of the initiatives they wanted our team to do included the following:

  1.  teach teachers and students more about technology; we are a 1:1 iPad school and they felt this was a need
  2. open media center in the mornings for students

Empowerment has become our middle name. Maybe our first. Students led app speed dating where they taught apps to teachers. Our student “my iPad has an issue” Google doc went to their iPads, so that they could be first on the scene before it went to our local IT. They did team building through activities like building virtual computers. Currently a few of them are trying to get a budget to build the computer for real!

The project that has generated the most excitement is their modern-day technology lab created in a room from a broken down computer lab. They created the floor plan. They  worked with me to determine what we needed to purchase for it. As a result, they own this lab.

These are middle schoolers who feel pride in what they do every day. They have a purpose in coming to school and are quick to tell me what they need and advocate for it.

Now that is real life. That is what school should be.

 

Building a School from the Ground Up: Part II #IMMOOC

I started this blog post about three years ago, addressing the idea that we often do what we’ve always done without reflecting on the WHY. We tend to go about our daily business and not stop to consider what if?

What if we changed the schedule?

What if we got rid of this furniture?

What if we got to the root of why students misbehave rather than giving them consequences to change behavior?

What if school was relevant to life?

So many what ifs.

What if the school schedules were changed so that subjects were no longer taught in isolation? Think real world. I’m not just talking elementary kindergarten, either. We know that we need connections for learning to stick. By making connections across content, students learn in a way that is relevant and authentic. Learning feels meaningful and has connections to the world. Project-based learning is one powerful way this might be done.

What if we took the time to understand our students deeply?As educators we often operate in a reactionary way. A student does something we don’t agree with: check or consequence. It happens again –> more severe consequence. And so the story goes. On a given day,  the same students receive consequences over and over. What does this tell us? Are those consequences effective?

OR

We walk by a primary classroom with that dreaded stoplight or card system. By the end of the first month of school, what have those students learned? Often a tracked system where the red kids are quickly labeled, and they themselves find it difficult to change who they are after September. I have often had students tell me, “I am red.” What an awful thing for a five-year-old to believe. Why is he given the label? Because he is excited about school and can’t contain that excitement? By taking time to get to the root of students’ issues, we can properly handle them.

Now, we also must be sure that there are even issues there. Excitement and wanting to stand…. not issues for a five-year-old child!

If I am rebuilding school, my school is engaging. So that busy little 5-year-old from the above example. He won’t be sitting in a desk. There won’t be desks for him to sit in. Before being hired, every staff member will follow the path of a students all day in a traditional school, so that never becomes our school. Our kids will learn through projects and singing and dancing and authentic learning.

They will be outside learning. Recess will be recess. Several times a day. Not moderated by adults. It will involve problem solving by students.

And homework. Nope.

Until we consider ideas we haven’t before, can we really take our education to the next step?

Breaking Out #IMMOOC

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Today I spent time doing breakouts with sixth grade classes. For those who aren’t familiar, think breakout rooms but on a smaller scale.

Students work in small groups with clues tied to given content. In today’s breakout, the content was tied to Gary Paulsen novels and adventures. Once the groups solved the clues, they could attempt at the locks which are either directional, numerical, or word.

Students must use clues, collaboration, problem solving, and content knowledge to solve the clues that will unlock the box.

This is an exciting and new way for students to learn and demonstrate learning. It is the 4Cs (collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity) pulled into content in different ways.

I was taken aback when one student asked for the point of as we were debriefing after the break out. So I threw it back at the class; I took a deep breath, wondering if anyone had gotten it. I knew we hadn’t wasted our time. I had watched them work together; have great discourse; use their brains in new ways. BUT had they?

Deep breath. One student responded: we have to collaborate.

Ahhhh. Yes.

Another: we have to work together.

Yes, you do.

We have to look up information on our iPads. Figure it out.

That is true.

They had gotten it. Learning. Wrapped up in a new package.

They got it!

Coach!

As educational leaders we often talk about taking risks; this week I took one. Our school needed a coach for the tennis team, so I thought, Why not? I coach. I play tennis. Just never both together.

This week I did both together. Most likely with some students who may or may not play better than I do. But could I teach them something? Coach them?

So we got started, and headed to the courts, a bit of self-doubt in my head but never outwardly. I mean, technology coach by day, teacher by day, but was I a tennis coach by night?

Can we wear different roles? Can we be agile and seen differently with different expertise by the same people. Risk taking?

I tell teachers this all the time. Take a risk. Try something new.

Sometimes we have to be pushed out of the bird’s nest. So here I go. Nobody laughed at me.

I will model what I tell my teachers and my students. Risk taking. Trying something new, something that makes me a little uncomfortable.

When do we grow? Just outside of that zone of comfort. And so I will grow in this experience.

I will grow as an educator.

I will grow as a tennis player.

I will definitely grow as a human being.

 

 

Is Creativity Lost in School?

As I was watching a recent episode of The Middle a college English teachers asks one of the characters, Sue, why she is in college. Sue proceeds to tell him that it’s because she graduated from high school to which he replies, “What do you want to learn? What do you want to accomplish?”

She then replies, “Is this a test question?”

He explains to her that most people come to college because they want to expand their world view or become critical thinkers.

Sue says that’s good and begins to write that down. He stops her.

How many of our students are Sue. For how many of our students has formal schooling turned into a Sue? Follow directions. Read. Take notes. Do it for the test. Do what you’re told. Go to college because you’ve graduated from high school.

But I believe it’s even bigger than that. It goes back to Ken Robinson’s idea that schools have killed creativity. How do we, the educators change that?

I believe it’s a few things.

  1.  Teachers must be encouraged to take risks. There has to be a culture within schools and school systems where educators are comfortable trying new things and being innovative. Without moving into the year 2016, we are stuck in the last century and with it an old mindset.
  2. Encourage students to also take risks and take the time to explain what they’re doing. We want them to question and go deeper rather than just accept at face value.
  3. Add more play! We know that in Finland, students get fifteen minutes of recess for every hour they are in school with huge success. Imagine what this would do for students’ creative juices. Not only that, what might it do for ADHD, sensory issues, and on and on?
  4. Less homework. There has been so much discussion about this in the last few years. Home time is for family, sports, and extracurricular. Our students aren’t getting enough sleep; how can they think and be focused for school if they don’t have time in the evening to unwind and sleep?

It will take teamwork to make changes in our education system. These changes need to come from us, the educators, from within our system, to do what’s best for us and our students!

Getting to this Point…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Going through the National Board process early on in my career certainly helped shape me as an educator. Additionally it had provided me with opportunities I would not have otherwise have: I have spoken with district and state superintendents, local politicians, and one of the highlights was speaking before members of Congress on Capitol Hill.

But our career is not made up of highlights but of day-to-days…..how we impact students, educators, and the field overall: that is what will make a career.

For me going through the process solidified my reflective nature. I have renewed also and that process gave me the opportunity to reflect on the professional learning I had gone through and how that learning actually impacted my practice. I took months to reflect on the training that I had completed and determine how worthwhile they were; what impact they actually had. As a result, I am particular about how I spend my time. Particular about the professional learning I take part in. Particular about the degree programs I choose.

I am currently the Innovation & Technology Coach at a middle school. I oversee the professional learning at the school as well as coach teachers as we move our school to one that is project-based learning and 1:1 iPads.

I work hard to use that same high standard to create personalized professional learning for my teachers and staff that I want for myself. I am reflective after each PL session that I plan and ask for feedback to better it for the future.

The National Board process is one that allows us time for reflection. Reflection to become better teacher. Reflection to become better coaches. Reflection to become better educators.

Creating a Positive Culture for Innovation

For many of us the year either has started or is about to start. Those first few weeks are the most important in establishing positive culture in our classrooms. In my school we’re moving to 1:1 iPads, so creating a risk-taking culture where students know the boundaries but aren’t afraid to make mistakes is so important.

#satchatoc had a meaningful discussion about establishing a culture of innovation in schools. Building this culture of innovation and creativity is essential to bring schools and students into the present and get them ready to lead in the future.

This idea of creating a culture where students and educators alike utilize technology to problem-solve and create a better world is an ongoing theme in education.

How do we encourage creativity and innovation in the classroom? Creation tools like iMovie, Educreation, Explain Everything, Thinglink, blogging, and Book Creator can help.

So, how do we get people to this place of innovation?

As educators we are always working to better ourselves, trying to learn so that we can share our ideas with our students. By being connected, we open a whole world (literally) of information and people to learn from. This chat is a perfect example as it is called #satchatoc; is based in Oceania yet draws an international crowd.

Modeling multiple solutions to questions as well as big ideas is huge! If we as the model in schools can get this and show our students that often problems do not have just one answer, it makes it okay for them to take risks, grow, and seek multiple answers to questions.

Moral of the story: what we do week one with our teachers and our students to create a positive culture where taking risks becomes the norm will determine how our year goes.

How are you starting your year?

Student Engagement….Has it Changed over the Years?

Flickr photo by William Ferriter (CC BY 2.0)

As a young teacher right out of college, I knew I was going to change the world. I was an inner-city teacher and nothing was going to stop me–even if it meant closing my door sometimes to do what was right for my students. I remember one time having a conversation with my principal and telling her that I could use the textbooks (that were two plus reading levels above my students), or I could use trade books and other resources that I had that were written at their level. I assured her she wouldn’t regret it –confident on the outside but a bit nervous on the inside. After all these were second graders who for the most part didn’t know primer words. Innovative strategies were definitely what it was going to take to be successful. Technology wasn’t the same back then; however, student engagement was just as important then as it is today. That was and is the heart of a lesson. Without engaging our students we have nothing. Meeting these second graders where they were, making class fun for them, and being innovative in the process….that’s what it took to bring those students to where they needed to be.

Today we have so many tools at our fingertips. By collaborating and using these to the best of our ability, we can reach our students….every one of them. Sometimes it means throwing one thing out the window to try the next and figure our what it is that is going to engage them and get them to a place where they are excited by school and learning. Most importantly, though, at the center of our classrooms are the students..and whatever it takes to engage them.

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