Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Possibility of the Unexplored



80% of the world's oceans are unexplored. We have no idea what exists, what's possible, and what might be beneath the surface of the unexplored waters. Because of the difficulty, risk, and cost associated with exploration, we are unaware of the potential that lies beneath. 

What if the same is true for student learning? What if we have only scratched the surface of our learners' potential because of our unwillingness to be uncomfortable, fear of taking risks, and inability to see what's possible? 

The reality is that the shallow parts of the ocean and those close to the coastline have been explored and receive much of the attention and time dedicated to exploration.  These parts are easy to access and really aren't that risky.  Sound familiar?

I know that for me, in my own classroom, teaching surface-level was easy.  I was comfortable in doing so and felt like it was where I spent much of our time.  Ever so often, we would venture into the deep unknown, but it wasn't easy and I certainly wasn't comfortable.  

Fortunately, a few years ago, my mindset shifted and I began to realize that it wasn't about what made me comfortable or how risky it was, it was about what my students needed and wanted from a learning experience.  And, they needed to go deep.  If I'm completely honest, they didn't know that they wanted to go deep at first.  They were just as scared and uncomfortable as I was.  But once we decided to take the risk and spend our time beyond the shallows and in the deep, everything changed.

So, what's the difference between surface level learning and deep understanding?  

Surface level learning is easy.  Deep understanding is difficult.
Surface level learning is comfortable.  Deep understanding is uncomfortable.
Surface level learning is about compliance.  Deep understanding involves taking risks.
Surface level learning involves worksheets and repetition.  Deep understanding involves learning through application.  
Surface level learning is often driven by the teacher.  Deep understanding is driven by the learner.

The next question is how do we move into the deep in a way that makes sense and doesn't cause everyone to want to jump ship?

Talk to your learners.  Help them understand the difference and be able to recognize when they are experiencing surface level learning and when they are experiencing deep understanding.

Observe other teachers.  Look for the ways that they are diving into the deep and be willing to ask questions and learn from them.

Try new things.  Innovative ideas such as Genius Hour and Makerspace give learners real opportunities to dive deep and learn by doing.  

Be reflective.  After a learning experience, consider the percentage that was surface level and the percentage that involved going deep.  Do you need to make adjustments?

Change your perspective.  See your role as leading learners rather than managing students.  Lead those that are ready into the deep, while continuing to prepare those that aren't.  

Look for opportunities.  When designing a learning experience, consider how it can be taken deeper.  Can it be done through questioning, real-world connections, creativity, or reflection?  

These are just a few ideas to get started.  The goal is to move beyond what has been easy and comfortable and start doing what's best for today's learners.  So, how about it, my friend?  Are you willing to go deep?  What is it about the shallow water that has kept you there for so long and might that very reason be enough to push you into the deep, unknown, unexplored waters of student learning knowing that is where the potential for real change exists?

Source:  "How much of the ocean have we explored?." 11 Jul. 2018, https://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/exploration.html. Accessed 20 Apr. 2019.


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Fixing Up Your Lesson Plans



If you haven't heard of Waco, Texas, you might not be a fan of Fixer Upper on HGTV.  Chip and Joanna Gaines have created quite the stir in our little town and have created an experience unlike any other.  They are a local couple that take older homes and remodel, redesign them into beautiful living spaces that people are going crazy for right now.  They also own Magnolia Market, a place for others to find home decor similar to that used on the show.

As I drove by the Silos (a shopping experience created by Magnolia) the other day and saw people walking around with smiles on their faces, excited to be part of the Magnolia experience, I couldn't help but wonder what we need to do to make school a similar experience.  What if our students came into school looking forward to what would happen, wondering what they might see, and willing to spend time exploring, investing, and ultimately learning?

While no longer filming new shows, Fixer Upper definitely had a format that they followed.  And even though they followed that format, each show was unique, fun, and inspirational.

I recently created the 3 E's Design Template for teachers to use when designing meaningful learning experiences.  I remember hearing Dave Burgess share about creating experiences and it made so much sense to me.  That was years ago, but it made such an impact on me that I still love to share the idea of creating experiences with the educators that I am able to influence.

I've found that when I talk about designing experiences, many educators totally understand and want to do this in their classrooms.  However, so many of them just say that they aren't sure where to start.  That reason alone is why I created the 3 Es Design Template.  I wanted to make it simple for educators to implement this into their own classrooms without feeling as if they had to "recreate the wheel".

For me, using the 3 Es is super simple and makes sense.  As I watched Fixer Upper the other day, I realized how similar this idea for redesigning a lesson plan is to Chip and Joanna's ideas for redesigning a home.  Let me explain...

The 3 Es are Engage, Experience, and Empower.  The idea is to ENGAGE learners as soon as they walk into the classroom, design an EXPERIENCE that they will want to invest in, and EMPOWER them to take their learning beyond the walls of the classroom.

Engage - On Fixer Upper, the first thing Chip and Joanna do is offer choice to their clients.  They take them to different houses and share with them why they might or might not want to choose that particular property.  Choice plays an important role in engaging our learners.  When we help them know what might or might not work for them, they are able to make decisions based on who they are as learners instead of who we want them to be or think they should be.

Experience - After the home is chosen, Chip and Joanna have a great time as they demo and renovate the property.  They laugh, sometimes run into a roadblock that needs to be overcome, and work hard to create something that represents what the homeowner needs and wants from their living space.  The homeowners experience wonder, excitement, and even sometimes, a little frustration as they walk through the Fixer Upper experience.  These feelings and emotions are the same feelings and emotions that students should feel as they experience learning.  They should be given opportunities to struggle and overcome roadblocks but should also experience wonder and excitement.

Empower - Finally, Chip and Joanna give the new homeowners ownership. They turn over the keys and give the new owners full access to use what has been created.  The same needs to happen for our learners after a learning experience.  At some point, we have to give them real ownership of the learning through reflection and connections to the world beyond the walls of the classroom.  Without this piece of a learning experience, there is no why, no relevance.

So, how will you "fix up" your lesson plans?  What experiences can you design so that your learners are engaged and empowered?  Check out the 3 Es Design Template as well as the upcoming Online Course to learn more.  After doing so, you will be designing experiences in a way that is so much more fun and will make learning meaningful for your students.



Listen to the podcast about the 3 E's below or on iTunes by clicking HERE.



Thursday, March 21, 2019

Reflecting on Flipgrid

So, it's no secret that I think reflection is not just important but imperative for every learner.  Finding time to reflect and ensuring that the reflection is meaningful is not always easy.  I think the first thing that has to be considered is the difference between reflection and remembering.  We have asked students in our classrooms to remember...remember a fact, remember a strategy, or remember a deadline.  But what if we began to focus on reflection and what's the difference.  I think it's fairly simple.  Remembering is what I did and how, reflection is what I learned and why.

Creating a reflection grid on Flipgrid is a great way to make reflection meaningful and manageable.  I'm a huge fan of the Reflection QR Code from Tony Vincent.   This is a randomized code, which means that students can scan the same code and receive different questions.  I talk about it all the time as I used it in my own classroom to help my students learn to move from simply remembering to reflecting.  I wish I had known about Flipgrid because by smashing these two things together, you can create a really cool reflection opportunity for your learners.

Here's how I created my Reflection Grid and it was super easy!

1.  Create a grid on Flipgrid and name it "Reading Reflections" or "Today's Takeaways" (you get the idea.)
2.  Create your topic where your learners will post their reflections.
3.  Set up the amount of time you want to give them to reflect.  I think 2-3 minutes is perfect.
4.  Describe what you would like for them to do in the description.

Example:  Please take time to reflect on what you learned in class today.  You may scan the code or click the link to be directed to a reflection question or reflect on your own.  Please remember that I don't need you to tell me what you did today in class.  I was here!  I need to know what you learned from today and what you will do with what you know moving forward.  

5.  Under Topic Resource, choose Upload an Image.  Download the reflection QR code image from Tony's website and add it to the grid.  (Choose the 1:1 crop ratio so that it will fit.)
6.  For Topic Attachment, add the link to Tony's reflection questions - tonyv.me/reflect.  This will give students the opportunity to simply click for a random reflection question.
7.  Name the attachment, Click to Reflect
8.  Create your topic.

Here's what your students will see...


That's it!  Share the link to the topic with your learners and make this a priority every single day.  Giving students an opportunity to reflect gives them an opportunity to connect to the content.  In doing so, they will reach a deeper level of understanding as it becomes personal.

I hope that you find this quick tip helpful and something that you can easily implement into your own classroom.  Feel free to comment below and let me know what you think!

Monday, February 4, 2019

6 Ps of Genius Hour Global Grid

I have exciting news and I absolutely can't keep it in any longer! The 6 Ps of Genius Hour are going global! When talking about Genius Hour, we often talk about the importance of an authentic audience. While it sounds like a great idea, finding ways to connect our learners is not always easy and can often seem like more work.

Because I'm no longer in the classroom, I miss being able to give feedback, share ideas, and help learners make connections through their Genius Hour projects. I was recently trying to think of a way to solve both of these issues. I realized that while I've been encouraging educators to create their own Flipgrids for Genius Hour, it would be more beneficial to have a Global Grid for students to share ideas, give each other feedback, and connect with other learners all over the world.

The 6 Ps of Genius Hour is a process that I created to help Genius Hour make sense to my learners. Throughout the process, my students would identify their passion(s), plan their project, pitch their idea to their peers, work on a project to develop a product, and then give a presentation.


CLICK HERE for a PDF with links to the tech tools.

Within the grid, there is a permission slip to send home to parents, instructions on how to use the grid, and videos for students to watch to understand what they need to do in order to share their ideas, reflections, and thoughts. In each of the topics, I have recorded to a video sharing encouraging words and what needs to be posted.

My hope is that this grid will help our learners practice life-ready skills such as collaboration, communication, creativity, critical thinking, and reflection while pursuing their passions. I hope that it impacts educators and learners all over the world and gives us all an opportunity to work together to make a difference in the world. Selfishly, it will give me an opportunity to connect with learners and help them with their projects just as I did with my own students while I was in the classroom. I miss seeing those lightbulb moments and watching my students light up when they were successful or persevere when they experienced failure or frustration.

If you would like to learn more about the 6 Ps of Genius Hour, you can check out my book, Genius Hour: Passion Projects that Ignite Innovation and Student Inquiry or the 6 Ps of Genius Hour Online Course. Both resources are a deep dive into the process and will help you as an educator find ways to weave the standards and life-ready skills into your Genius Hour time with your learners.

Access the Genius Hour Global Grid HERE!



Some important tips for using the Genius Hour Global Grid in your classroom...

1. Obtain permission from parents before allowing students to post.
2. Remind students to use communication skills (eye contact, nonverbal skills, listening) when sharing ideas, giving feedback, and learning together.
3. Use this as an opportunity to discuss digital citizenship and remind students to promote themselves positively.
4. Allow students to record as many times as they would like in order to share their ideas. This many be new for many of them and it's important that they are given the opportunity to produce a video that they feel comfortable sharing.

I am so excited about this and can't wait to see what happens! I look forward to hearing how the 6 Ps help you and your learners make Genius Hour a reality in your classroom!
Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Candy Jar Mindset



"You get what you get and you don't throw a fit."  I've heard this statement many times and I've even used it a few times in my own household with my own kids.  I've also found myself saying, "It is what it is" often in response to things not going the way that I had hoped or planned.  While both of these statements are appropriate in certain situations, I'm not sure that they represent the perspective that I want to have the majority of the time.

The "you get what you get" and "it is what it is" mindsets have often been an excuse for me to give up.  I've used them as a crutch during those times that I knew I should've pursued something more or worked harder to get whatever it was that I was working toward.  Using those statements caused me to see life, projects, and goals as a slot machine. In doing so, I was giving myself an excuse to be a passive observer instead of an active participant.

I don't gamble often and don't enjoy it much at all.   I'm a really sore loser and get so frustrated when I begin to lose money.   However, I've been to Vegas and a few casinos closer to home with friends and family.  I typically just play the penny slots but very rarely win a dime.  When I think back on the times that I've played, I realized something.   When playing the slots I pull the handle and wait to see what happens.  If the outcome isn't what I had hoped, I become frustrated and often give up. I throw my hands up in the air, say something like, "It's just not my day," and walk away wishing things had gone differently.  Unfortunately, I sometimes react this same way when I experience struggle or failure in real life.  I sit as a passive observer waiting for something really cool to happen and becoming frustrated when it doesn't.

I recently remembered my grandma's candy jar from when I was a kid.  She had a big jar with a variety of candy options inside.  It always seemed that the candy I wanted the most (Banana Laffy Taffy) was at the bottom of the jar.  I had three choices, I could wait until everyone else ate the candy on top, I could eat some of the candy that I didn't like to get to my favorite, or I could put forth the effort it would take to dig into the jar to reach the candy that I so desperately wanted at the bottom.

Isn't life often like this?  Sometimes, we have to wait our turn to get what it is that we want and other times we have the option to make something happen.  There have been so many times that I have had to do something that I didn't want to do in order to reach a goal.  I've had to become comfortable with the uncomfortable and be willing to do things that required me to be fearless.  Other times, I've had to do the hard work, the digging, to make something happen that wasn't going to happen on its own.

I believe that doors are opened and closed for us every single day. I believe that when a door is closed, sometimes it is locked and never to be opened again.  However, I also believe that there are situations in which we just need to keep knocking and keep believing as we seek opportunities that have been laid before us.

I remember when I wrote, Genius Hour: Passion Projects that Ignite Innovation and Student Inquiry.  That was definitely at the bottom of the jar.  I knew that I wanted to write and share the 6 Ps of Genius Hour but I also knew that time, willingness, and fear were all on top.  It was going to be some serious work to dig through those things to get to what it was that I really wanted.  But, I did.  And I'm so glad that I did.  Because, while I was digging to the bottom, I also tried some new things.  In doing so, I learned that some of the things that I thought I wouldn't like, I actually enjoyed.  I learned new things about myself and realized that if I never go after what I want, I'm allowing myself to be a passive observer, just like at the slot machines.  But when I'm an active participant and I'm willing to take the good with the bad, really cool things begin to happen.

So, in 2019, I will have the Candy Jar Mindset.  I'll do things that I don't want to do and will work hard to dig through the mess to get to what I know I can and will accomplish.  I say it all the time, but I believe in this generation of learners and want to work hard to continue to pursue change in education.  I've made my list of "candy" that is at the bottom of my jar and will soon make decisions on whether or not it's worth the digging to finally have it in my reach.

What is the candy at the bottom of your jar?  What will you work hard for in 2019?  How can you change your perspective from being a passive observer to being an active participant and going after what you want to accomplish?  Make your list and think about the new things that you will have to try to get to the bottom or what you will have to dig past to reach what it is that you really want.

Happy 2019!  Let's make it AMAZING!
Monday, December 17, 2018

Creating Change in 2019

2018 is almost a wrap and it's been so fun to see what educators are doing to create real learning experiences for their learners.  As we near the end of this year,  I think it's important to consider the potential for new ideas, real change, and innovation that comes with the new year.  What has to happen for real change to to occur?  What does real change look like and how will we know when it is here?

Change means that something must look and feel different.  One definition of different is novel and unusual.  Many of our students are experiencing "business as usual" every day when they go to school and the reality is that the experience should be anything but usual.  It's time for change and not just change, but real, authentic change that can be seen and felt by everyone involved in the school experience.

I wanted to take some time to explore three ways that we can create real change in our classrooms, on our campuses, and in our districts...

Take Risks - Risk-taking can be scary stuff.  It's no secret that taking a risk can sometimes result in  struggle or even failure.  However, if we don't take risks, we will never know what can and will work with today's learners.  Holding on to what is familiar and comfortable results in frustration for our learners that need school to be so much more than just a place that they go to learn things that they can search on Google or learn from YouTube.  Be willing to stick your neck out for them.  Get comfortable being uncomfortable and begin to see risks as opportunities to do what's best for today's learners.

Change your Perspective - What if we saw school as an experience instead of a place? The word experience implies action and by definition, will leave an impression on those that are involved.  Seeing school as an experience shifts our perspective and helps us understand that in order to leave an impression, we must move beyond traditional practices.  Learning for today's students must be authentic and they need to know how they will use what is being learned beyond the walls of the classroom.  Create experiences by giving them opportunities to make those connections as they learn by creating change themselves.  (To learn more about helping learners make connections, check out the latest Meaningful Moment on the podcast.)

Get Connected - We are better together!  There are so many educators doing such great things.  Being connected helps us realize that real change is not only possible, but happening!  Seeing someone else take a risk by changing their perspective often motivates us to do the same.  Make it a priority to see beyond your classroom, your campus, and your district.  Connect with others on social media and seek out networking opportunities.  Instead of making excuses for not being able to do what they are doing, ask questions.  Be willing to learn and stay open-minded as you connect with educators doing things beyond your own comfort zone.  Remember, we all want what's best for today's learners and it's only together that we will be able to create real change.

So, what's stopping us from making 2019 the year that school becomes more than just a place?  Fear, unwillingness, compliance, comfort zones, and complacency...just to name a few.   It's time to move beyond these things and into what we know is best for our learners.

Don’t allow the fear of failure to keep you from being the educator that today’s learners need you to be. Instead, chase after your purpose with a fearless willingness to do what it takes to create real change.





Sunday, November 11, 2018

6 Ps of Genius Hour Online Course



So much has happened since developing and sharing and the 6 Ps of Genius Hour.  I have been so blessed to be able to write about the process, share my experiences all over the country, and connect with amazing educators that are wanting something different for their own classrooms. 

As I really spent some time focusing on what's next and how I best wanted to continue to share what I believe to be a process that helps educators make passion-based learning a reality in any classroom, I thought about what I loved about what I do.  It's the connections that I love the most.  I love hearing from educators that are making Genius Hour a priority in their own classrooms and sharing with others.  I love talking to teachers that are frustrated and so hungry for change that they are willing to take a risk and do something different.  The stories, the relationships, and the realization that we really are better together has been such a driving force for me. 

I wanted to be able to share the 6 Ps of Genius Hour with more people.  I wanted to be able to share in a way that still gave me an opportunity to connect and create relationships but I also know how difficult it is to get out of the classroom and make time for professional development.  And while, there's no doubt about it, I love sharing with educators in person, I love online learning as well.  I love being able to learn in my bed in my pajamas whenever I want.  I like being able to move at my own pace and learn on my terms.  Because I enjoy these things, I'm assuming that there are many others that feel the same way.  And because of this, I decided to create the 6 Ps of Genius Hour Online Course on Teachable

This course is my answer to those that don't want to sit through 6 hours of training and that need to be able to learn on their time on their terms.  I've done the best that I can to create a learning experience that will not only engage but empower educators to make passion-based learning a reality in their classrooms. 

So, what does it look like and how is it different from any other PD that you might have experienced? First, I've created learning experiences that are comprised of three critical pieces.  These are the same critical pieces that I think should be used in the classroom to create meaningful learning experiences for our students. 

1.  Engage - This piece of the experience is designed to catch your attention and help you understand why the information is important.

2.  Experience - This piece will give you an opportunity to apply the learning in order to connect with what is being shared.

3.  Empower - This final piece challenges you to do something with what was learned in your own classroom. 

Second, I've included specific ways throughout the course to connect with the Genius Hour community as we embark on this journey together. I hope to begin to see each other as sounding boards, classmates, and friends as we learn and grow. 

The course includes the following and can be done at your own pace...

  • 10 modules addressing the 6 Ps of Genius Hour and MORE
  • 20+ videos with practical advice and ideas 
  • Learning opportunities designed to engage, provide an experience, and empower
  • Screen-recordings of technology tools that can be used in the classroom to make the process manageable
  • Access to the Genius Hour Flipgrid created for those enrolled in the course to collaborate and share
  • Access to the 6 Ps of Genius Hour Facebook Group for ongoing connectivity
  • Downloadable resources for classroom use
  • Certificate of Completion
I believe that every student deserves an opportunity to pursue their passions during the school day.  I believe that we can teach the standards through Genius Hour while giving our learners opportunities to apply and practice life-ready skills.  It's because I believe these things and my own classroom experience that I want to share this process and my experience with anyone and everyone that will listen.

I really tried to create this course for every educator.  And, by every educator,  I mean those that love every minute of what you do and those that are in desperate need of something different.  I say that because I've been in both of your shoes.  But, I can tell you that when I gave my students opportunities to learn by pursuing their passions, I found my passion as an educator.  I realized what I thought would keep me from teaching the standards actually gave them opportunities to make real connections and reach a deep level of understanding that was never going to come from worksheets.

So, I created this course in an effort to share with others what I believe changed everything for me as an educator.  If you have any questions, need more details, or you are are looking for something different like the FREE Genius Hour Book Study or an In-Person PD Learning Experience for your staff or district, contact me anytime!