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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School Versus Learning #IMMOOC Why is there a Difference

As I continue along on this journey of learning, this journey of reading The Innovator’s Mindset with oh, 2,000 of my closest friends, there are a few points that are sticking with me today. Sometime George puts the words into my brain so much better than I can say them.

  1. School teaches compliance. Learning is about challenging perceived norms. (102)

To me this is a solid reason school might need to be tweaked. If school doesn’t equal learning at every level, well….are we doing it as well as we can be? AND are we doing it for the students of today? Better yet, how can we make these one and the same? How can we stop making school be about teaching compliance and get students able to challenge the status quo? Are we ready for that?

I certainly don’t have all the answers but today I watched a science teacher begin her lesson with students determining the questions. She presented an opportunity and they posed the questions they needed answered in order to learn what had happened in that situation.

2.  School is about giving you information. Learning is about making your own connections. (102)

Even in the framework of a curriculum, we have leeway; students can build on their connection to information.

I am watching books come alive for our middle school students as they make choices in what they read for maybe the first time as part of their learning. They are excited about it and engaged in books.

When teachers are gifted at helping students uncover knowledge rather than being wrapped up in covering material, it all comes alive for them.

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.

 

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!

Purpose of School #IMMOOC

The purpose of education is simple and complex. It is simple because we must prepare our students for the world they will graduate into. This is complex because this world is ever-changing. It isn’t the factory line driven world of the 1900’s that our Prussian-style education system is still preparing our students for.

Because of this, we must make some drastic changes to our classrooms and schools to meet our students where they are and prepare them for the unknowns that the world brings.

We know that many careers that our students will choose post-graduation have not even been thought of yet. The best thing that we can do for them is to make students good at learning; good at thinking; good at problem solving; and most of all, good at relating to others. These are the skills that are important in this century.

In this century we can Google any fact or any calculation faster than we can retrieve it from our head. With critical thinking skills students can figure out how to access information and the accuracy of the information that they’re accessing.

The innovation that we most need is open-mindedness to imagine the unimaginable. To recreate schools and get away from low-level trivial knowledge into deeper levels of thinking.

To embrace this change, I try to model it. As an instructional coach, I meet people at their level of comfort and show them how a tool or strategy can enhance learning in their classroom. It is my responsibility to take them from where they are to a place they might not realize even exists: slowly and within their comfort zone.

 

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.

 

 

Leaving a Legacy

I’ve been working with my middle school student advocate team. Together we are learning about leaving a legacy and the importance of advocating for themselves and their school. In my opinion there is no better time for this than during the middle school years. By nature middle school students know that they can change the world. Watching them come together for three days with three other local middle schools was incredible. They fed off one another’s energy as they came up with these plans to each leave a legacy.

One of the iniatives of my team is to teach teachers and students to better use their devices–in authentic ways in class. As we are 1:1 iPads, this is brilliant, timely, and useful. I felt I needed to come up with ways to encourage and assist them with this goal. Today at our meeting I borrowed some tips from Jennie Magiera’s session at GAEtc.

We practiced teaching one another by doing it one step at a time, hands behind our backs, counting to three while we use our voices and not our hands. Tough, of course, when we’d rather do it for our partner! After some practice, they got the hang of it and we came up with a list of useful techy things we’ll teach our peers….theirs and mine!

A Present Worthy of our Children

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) Photo by David Truss

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Photo by David Truss

Most of us go through our day as educators and see things we’d like to tweak here and there: maybe a different strategy, a better schedule, a different technology. For me, I’d like to see a transformation of the way we do things. I see us as still looking so much like centuries ago –still preparing our students to be compliant, factory-line citizens rather than problem-solving creators that the world of today and tomorrow require.

1.  Space: sure, many of our classrooms have changed from using desks to using tables. I wonder why we even do this. How many adults work at tables, crammed into a small space with other adults. Is this a place that we would be comfortable working? I work best on my couch with my legs propped onto my ottoman, for example. Not everyone is like me, but if we are to meet all learning styles and prepare students for life, should we have more alternative seating than just tables and chairs.

Additionally, our classrooms are still, well, classrooms. They are rather restrictive with space. The hallways waste so much usable space that could be used.

2.  Speaking of hallways, most public schools insist that students walk in silent, straight lines. I wonder what we are accomplishing with this. If we taught them to walk on the right side of the hallway, and speak softly, they wouldn’t be disrupting classes. I can’t help but think we would accomplish a better goal.

3.  Curriculum: when will we revisit what students need to learn. When Google can tell us every fact out there, we need to teach thinking, problem solving, creation. Everything we know about school truly must be revisited. We are losing our students and time by teaching concepts that they don’t need to know and won’t ever use. I believe that we could be making so much better use of time in school.

Change the Paradigm: What Makes a Skilled Teacher?

I am a firm believer that teaching itself is a skill. Sure, being a content expert is important, but you have to be a kid expert, a human expert also. This is an entirely different set of skills than knowing your content. Don’t get me wrong, teachers must know the content they teach, but just as important is knowing how to make that content come alive for the students they teach.

Those of us in education, or even parents who have seen the magic of a great teacher, know that it is just that –magic. It is an art and a science all in one. For some people, it is natural, but for many it can be nurtured and taught through the process of education and skilled mentoring. Deborah Ball hits the nail on the head in this speech when she states that we in the field cannot state that it’s just what we do…. we have to acknowledge that it is something that can be multiplied and taught in others.

We have to begin to speak this language of accomplished teaching from the time pre-education majors (if you will) enter the field, so that as a profession we begin to meld together as a profession. We have to begin to work together as ONE: university professors, undergraduates, teachers, administrators, and district officials. All of us must come together with a common language, a common goal, and a common understanding.

That must be that teaching is highly complex and it takes all of us working together with common vocabulary and intentions for the good of all our children to make the future stronger than the past and the present.

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