Saturday, September 23, 2017

Flipgrid and Genius Hour

So I have to admit...I definitely have #flipgridfever right now.  I have been reading so much about how teachers are using it to creatively give opportunities for reflection, connection, and collaboration.  The more that I read, the more I realize how powerful this tool can be for learners.

Just yesterday, Ethan Silva (a 6th grade Social Studies teacher at China Spring ISD), shared on Voxer how he was hoping to use Flipgrid as he starts Genius Hour in his classroom.  After listening and thinking about the role Flipgrid could play in Genius Hour, I thought I might share some of the ideas that I had.

I couldn't help but think about the huge role that reflection plays in Genius Hour and how powerful video reflection is for our learners.  What a perfect fit!  I instantly thought about the 6 P's of Genius Hour and how educators could set up a Flipgrid to use throughout the entire process.

If you haven't heard of the 6 P's, this was a process that I used in my classroom to make Genius Hour manageable for and meaningful for my students.  Each one of the 6 P's is an important part of the process and gives students a kind of roadmap to follow so that they don't become lost or overwhelmed by the openness of such a project.

When I thought about the potential that Flipgrid has to make this process even more manageable and more meaningful, I was pumped!

So, I jumped onto Flipgrid and created a Genius Hour Grid, just to see what it might look like and how easy it might be to create.  I created the grid in about 10 minutes and could not wait to share how I thought this could be done to create a place for students share and reflect throughout the Genius Hour process.

As you can see in the image above, I created one grid and a topic within that grid for each of the 6 P's.  In the topic description, I asked questions that students might answer when they posted their video to the grid.  

Passion - What do you want to learn about? What do you think is interesting? What can you get excited about?

Students could also share their Thrively results here or even post a picture of their Passion Bracket.

Plan - Who will be your outside expert? What materials will you need to complete the project? What will you need to do each day to reach your goals?  How much time will need?

Pitch - How will you share your idea with the class? How will you get us on board? 

What do you know?  What do you want to know?  How will you find out? (KWH)

- What did you learn today?  What connections did you make and what would you like to share?

You might include the link to the Reflection QR code here so that students can respond to the question that they randomly receive.  You could also attach the QR code as an image and students could scan to receive their question.

Product - What did you create? What can you show us to demonstrate your learning?  If you were unable to create a product, what could you have done differently?

Presentation - How do you plan to share your learning? Can you share your idea or project with others? What tools will you use to make your presentation engaging for the audience?  

What did you learn?  What action did you take?  What questions do you still have?  (LAQ)

In creating the Flipgrid, I realized that it's important to put the 6 P's in backward so that they will be in the correct order.  In other words, when creating the grid, create Presentation as the first topic and Passion as the last topic.  This way, when it's complete, Passion will be on top with Presentation at the bottom.

As students move through the process, they can post their thoughts, reflections, and responses on the grid.  This gives them the ability to pitch, present, and reflect any time from anywhere.  This takes away the need for the teacher to always keep up with who needs to pitch and who needs to present.  They can simply do so on Flipgrid whenever they are ready instead of waiting for a time in class that works for everyone.  

Using Flipgrid also gives everyone an opportunity to respond and give feedback on Genius Hour projects.  It allows us to share pitches and presentations beyond the walls of the classroom, giving students an authentic audience.  

In my classroom, the QR codes on the image above linked to the website that walked them through what to do for each of the 6 P's.  I had to create a website, add all of the content, and then link the QR code to the different pages within the website.  Using Flipgrid, you can simply put all of this information in the Grid by clicking Actions, Share Topic, and choosing QR code.  Copy the QR code, paste it onto cardstock, create the bulletin board, and it's done!  Crazy cool!

I cannot express how excited I am about sharing this.  Please let me know if you have any questions.  Every student deserves an opportunity to pursue their passion and Flipgrid makes Genius Hour even more manageable for teachers and more meaningful for students.  

If you'd like to know more about Genius Hour, please feel free to check out my book, Genius Hour: Passion Projects that Ignite Innovation and Student Inquiry.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

4 Meaningful Ways to Practice Reading Comprehension

Reading can be such a wonderful experience and it's so important that students see reading for what it is.  In real life, we read for many reasons.  We read for enjoyment, we read for information, and sometimes we read when we don't want to because it's necessary.  However, we never read to earn points and win prizes. 

The intrinsic motivation to read is very important.  If the desire to read doesn't exist apart from earning points, learners lose interest and might have difficulty wanting to read later in their educational careers and outside of education. When a love for reading isn't developed early, it's difficult to find that love later in life. 

So, how do we help students learn to love reading? I think the first thing that we have to do is find ways to help students reflect on their reading in ways that are relevant and meaningful to them.  Reading a book and then taking a test does not necessarily mean that a student is reflecting and truly comprehending what was read.  It means that they have a good memory and can remember what they read shortly after doing so.

Because Genius Hour was a priority in my classroom, my students were responsible for documenting their own learning each day.  In doing so, I realized that very few of them knew what real reading comprehension actually looked like.  I would often see students visit a website, read the information, and then use that information to do something while working on their Genius Hour project.  When they were documenting their learning, very few of them would document that part of the process under ELAR.  I once asked a student why they didn't document that as learning and practicing reading comprehension.  Their response? "I didn't read something and then take a test, I read it and did what it said."  We then had a conversation about what reading comprehension really is.  Reading comprehension is simply reading something and truly understanding what was read.  When you can take that information and actually do something with it, you are practicing application.  Unfortunately, many classrooms are giving students a false understanding of reading comprehension by using point systems to represent "understanding" what was read. 

In order to create reflective readers, it's important that we explore different options and give students opportunities to show their understanding in a variety of ways.  Here are five meaningful ways for students to practice reading comprehension...

BookSnaps - Snapchat is the most popular app used by the generation of learners that we have in our classrooms right now.  It's easy to generalize and assume that our students are using this app to send inappropriate images, messages, and videos that will disappear.  The reality is that most kids like it because it's lots of fun and allows them to share things quickly without including a lot of words. 

BookSnaps give students an opportunity to use this tool to reflect on and share what they are reading.  They can instantly share their learning and make it visible for the world to see.  Tara Martin developed this idea and shares how to create a BookSnap in this video.

You can read more about BookSnaps here or check out #BookSnaps on Twitter.  This is such an easy way to make reading comprehension relevant and meaningful for today's learners and it's lots of fun too!

Augmented Reality Book Reviews  - Augmented reality is such a great way for students to share book reviews. Similar to QR codes, augmented reality allows for something to be scanned with a mobile device to reveal more information.  That information can be delivered as a photo or a video.  This technology gives learners an opportunity to "attach" book reviews to the covers of books so that other readers can access that information before choosing the book. 

Book reviews are very personal and require reflection.  Knowing what their peers thought about a specific book can help engage and create curiosity when books are being chosen.  Augmented reality allows them to use their phones or iPads to grab these reviews easily and quickly.  You can read more about how to create augmented book reviews here

Book Talks - Simply talking about a book and what they have read give students the opportunity to reflect and understand.  However,  it's often difficult to use valuable class time to just sit around and chat about what students are reading.  FlipGrid is a tool that allows students to respond and collaborate using video.  Using this tool, you can post specific questions about a book that your class is reading together.  You can also ask questions and allow them to respond regarding whatever book they are reading individually.  Students can also share videos as a way to recommend a book to their peers.  FlipGrid gives learners an opportunity to talk about what they are reading and respond to what other learners have shared.  In doing so, a culture of collaboration will begin to develop and student voice will become a priority.  Read about how one school used book talks on FlipGrid to connect globally with the 30-Second Book Talk Challenge

Comic Creation - Creativity is an important part of learning and asking students to create based on what they have learned allows them to process in order to understand.  Using tools like Pixton and Strip Designer, students can create a comic strip to summarize the book or story that was read.  They can design characters and settings that represent the mental images that they saw while reading and include the parts of the plot that they feel were most important.  After creating the comics, students should share them out with other students and maybe even the world.  It would be fun to create comics based on a novel study and then compare and contrast those comics to realize the importance of different perspectives.

There are so many other ways that students can practice reading comprehension.  These are just a few ideas that will make learning and understanding fun and meaningful for your students.  Take time to talk to your students about what comprehension is and why it is important.  Help them really grasp the why behind reading comprehension and then watch as they begin to recognize real opportunities to practice the skill in everyday situations.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

3 Ways to Find Your Passion for Teaching (Again)

It happens to almost every teacher.  There comes a place in our career that the passion just isn't there.  We forget why we do what we do.  We become frustrated by expectations, paperwork, and standardized testing.  We begin to fear that our voices cannot be heard and we begin to do day after day what we know isn't working and isn't best for our students.

Teachers know what students need.  There is something that we all have that drives us to want the best for our learners and causes us to come back every day even when we feel defeated.  That something is passion.  It might be a passion for impacting the future, a passion for pouring into the lives of your students, or a passion for engaging and empowering today's learners.  Whatever that passion is, it exists and plays a role in how and what we do every single day in our classroom.

Even though I believe that passion exists in every teacher, I also believe that it can become stifled.  The flame flickers and we begin to worry that it might actually be extinguished if we can't find a way to reignite the flame soon.

The good news is, that flame can be reignited, and not just reignited but set ablaze if you will take the steps to actively pursue the passion that you once you had.  So, how does that happen?  How do you find your way back to being the teacher you want to be instead of the teacher that you are expected to be?  How do you become the teacher that your students need?

In thinking about how I found my passion again, I realized that there were three things that helped me find my way again.  I began to take risks, I found my tribe, and began to share my story.  In doing so, teaching became fun again, I began to realize I wasn't in this alone, and I began to understand the value of my story and classroom experience.

So, if you feel like that flame is flickering, take a deep breath, embrace the struggle, and do what you need to do find your way again.

Take Risks - Taking risks is not easy. Seth Godin says, "If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try."  How often do you do things in your classroom that scare you?  Honestly, if you are consistently comfortable teaching this generation of learners, you're doing it wrong.  Because things are changing so quickly and these learners are so different because of their instant access to information, we should all be a little uncomfortable.  With discomfort, comes the need to move, to change.  Allow your discomfort to push you outside of that comfort zone and take the risks that you know are worth taking for you and your students.  Be willing to learn with them and do whatever it takes to make the learning meaningful and relevant every single day.

Find your Tribe - Being a connected educator changes everything.  Finding your people, knowing them well, and trusting them enough to share and grow together is a game changer.  Like-minded people give you the boost and support that you need to stretch yourself as an educator.  In connecting, you begin to see what education can be instead of what it is in your classroom, on your campus, or in your district.  Finding your tribe gives you a support system that encourages you, pushes you, and supports you to do the hard things.  And when you begin to the hard things,  you begin to realize that challenges are opportunities to learn and grow as you move toward finding your passion for teaching again.

Share your Story - We are better together!  Education is hard.  Teaching is mentally and sometimes physically exhausting.  It's not easy to bring your A game every day and it's even harder to develop original ideas on a consistent basis.  So, it's a good thing you don't have to.  So many educators are sharing their stories.  It might be on Twitter, it might be a blog, it might even be through sharing your experience at a conference.  It doesn't matter how, but find ways to share what you are doing in your classroom.  Share what works...share what doesn't work.  Just share!  In doing so, you will begin to see that reflection is imperative for you as an educator and gives you an opportunity to see your teaching from a different perspective.  And let's face it, if you don't share your story, someone else will!

There's a lot that we can complain about as educators in today's classrooms.  But the reality is that there has never been a better time to be a teacher.  Let's step back from the negativity, own who we are as educators, and begin to do whatever it takes to provide our students with meaningful learning experiences that will engage and empower. Our students deserve passionate teachers that believe in them and all that they bring to the table.  Passionate educators create passionate learners that have the potential to change the world.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

What If Wednesday? Let's Talk Failure...

What if failure was seen as an opportunity to grow?

What if failure was seen as the beginning instead of the end?

What if failure didn't define students but just became part of the learning experience?

Failure...the word in and of itself definitely has a negative connotation.  It brings feelings of anxiety, defeat, and fear.

In education, failure does not look like it does outside of the classroom.  In "real life", failure is an opportunity to improve, an opportunity to grow, and something that everyone experiences.

Unfortunately, in the classroom, failure is sometimes seen as the end, instead of the beginning.  It's a failing grade on a test, an F on the report card, or a bad choice that results in a consequence with no opportunity to learn from the experience.  Failure is also not something that everyone experiences in their educational careers.  I know many students that have no idea what it feels like to fail because it's never happened.  They have never seen failure for what it is and feel that if they ever do fail, they will be a disappointment to those around them.

Every student deserves the opportunity to experience failure.  They deserve to struggle and must learn that sometimes the best learning actually happens in the struggle.  It is the experience and reflection that builds resilience, grit, and an ability to persevere, even when the learning takes work.

It's no secret that this generation of students loves video games.  The opportunity to fail safely plays a huge role in their willingness to play a game over and over.  They are okay with failing because they are given multiple opportunities to be successful.  They don't have to do anything extra, they don't have to answer to anyone,  they just keep trying until they get it right.  And they do just that.  They try and try and try until finally...success.  And that success is so sweet because of the many failures that led them to it.  It's a badge of honor to defeat a game that is known to be difficult.  They talk about it, they share strategies and play until they experience success.

What if that's how they saw the classroom?  What if they were willing to try and try and try until they were successful?  What if they saw completing a difficult classroom challenge as a badge of honor?

As adults, we fail every single day.  We learn from those failures and are often better because of them.  Let's stop letting failure define our learners in the classroom and help them realize that when they fail, it is an opportunity to learn and grow.  In doing so, we will create learners that are willing to learn by doing, take risks, and try until they get it right.

                                                        Image Source: @teacher2teacher

Saturday, February 4, 2017

5 Ways to Find a Student's Passion

Finding a student's passion is never an easy task.  Today's students are different. While many assume that they are shallow and unwilling to learn, I believe just the opposite.

Today's students know so much more than we knew when we were in school.  They know what's going on in the world and realize that they have a voice.  Because of this, they are not as interested in facts that can be Googled but instead want to solve real problems.  Not word problems that they cannot relate to...real problems.

I believe that student passion is the "sweet spot" of education.  My boys play baseball and their coaches are always talking about the sweet spot on a bat.  When the ball hits that sweet spot, the ball is hit more effectively and results in the desired outcome.  The same is true for student passion. When our teaching meets their passion, the learning becomes real and our teaching is more effective.

But, how do you find a student's passion?  How do we know what they want to learn and how they want to learn it?  Here are five suggestions:

1 - Conversation.  Talk to them.  Ask them what they are into and really listen when they begin to share.  After the conversation, show your students that you listened by acting on what they shared. Make it a priority to engage them in more conversations about their passions and find ways to help them explore that passion.

2 - Observation. Watch your students.  Watch them at recess, lunch, and in between classes.  Listen to what they talk about when they don't know you are paying attention.  Students talk about their passions.  If it's truly their passion, they can't resist.  They think about it often and like to share what they know about the subject.

3 - Thrively - is a wonderful way to find out student passions at the beginning of the year.  Register your entire class at the beginning of the year and allow them to take the Strength Assessment.  In doing so, you will know what each student wants to learn about and even how they learn best.  This tool is so beneficial and so easy to use.  Thrively is also FREE!

4 - - This website helps students connect learning with skills.  Students simply choose a skill and complete challenges to earn digital patches.  I love because the skills are real-life professions and students are able to learn by doing.  Such a cool way for students to explore lots of ideas and activities as they begin to find their passions.

5 - Outside Experts - Allow students to talk to experts outside the classroom.  Making connections with what is happening in the real world will sometimes spark a passion that students didn't know existed.  Hearing how experts use the standards in the real world helps students make connections between the standards and application.  If they don't know how it applies to the real world, it's hard to justify why it is being taught in the classroom.  Sometimes, just talking to someone that is doing something really cool will ignite that spark and help a student find their passion unexpectedly.

Passion is the first step in the 6 P's of Genius Hour process.  A student with a passion is a student with a purpose.  When they find their purpose, they become engaged and begin to realize that they have the power to make a difference and solve real problems using the standards that they are learning in the classroom.

If you'd like to learn about the 6 P's of Genius Hour,  you can pre-order Genius Hour: Passion Projects that Ignite Innovation and Student Inquiry TODAY!

Don't Assume, Ask

The definition of assume is "to suppose to be the case with no proof."  I have to say that I've noticed in education, we make a lot of assumptions.  We come to lots of conclusions with no proof other than our own discomfort or fear of failure.  Let me give a few examples of assumptions that I have heard recently...

My students can't learn that way.  They need structure and need me to guide them.

My teachers won't teach that way.  They will see this as "one more thing."

My administrator will not let me teach this way.  They will not listen if I suggest something other than traditional teaching.

It sounds crazy, but I have heard every one of these as we start to really explore and talk about passion-based learning in the classroom.  We assume that it is too open-ended for our students.  We assume that it's too much freedom and that they won't be able to handle it.   What if we are wrong? What if today's students are longing to learn by doing and realize that application is the most powerful form of learning?  What if our students have the power to change the world and we are simply stifling that power by passing out worksheets?

Teachers are ready for change.  I believe that with everything in me.  As I talk with them and share suggestions for innovation in the classroom, I hear their willingness to try something new.  I see them perk up at the possibility of finding their own passion for teaching again by doing what is best for today's students.  While it is difficult for them to stop making the assumptions, they get it.   However,  it's often easy to assume that teachers aren't ready for new.  We say things like, "they have too much on their plate already."  What if we are wrong?  What if teachers ARE ready for new?  What if they want to find their passion for teaching and do what is best for their students in spite of it being something new?  What if instead of calling it one more thing, we just called it teaching?  Because, let's be honest.  If our classrooms aren't changing, something is wrong.  Assuming that comfortable is beneficial for anyone in education right now is dangerous.  That comfort and lack of desire to change will eventually lead to irrelevance.

Assuming administration will react in a specific way is simply fear.  Advocating for what students need is a huge part of being a classroom teacher.  As administrators, it's important to not only listen, but try to understand why change is important and the impact it will have on the students.  While it is very appropriate to ask questions and learn more about what is being shared, it's not okay to assume it will not work.  It's also not okay to assume that administration will not listen to new ideas or be open to listening to innovative ideas and strategies to use in the classroom.

So, let's stop assuming.  Stop assuming that a student's potential is based on how well they play school.  Stop assuming that teachers are unwilling to change.  Stop assuming that administrators are resistant to new ideas.

Stop assuming and just ask.  Ask your students how they learn best.  Ask them what they want the classroom to look like and what will help them best learn the standards that need to be taught.  Ask your teachers what will help them implement new ideas and what support they need to try new things.  Ask your administrator what they need from you as you achieve change in your classroom. Encourage them to visit often and ask questions instead of making assumptions about how something is being done.

Mark Twain said, "It is wiser to find out than to suppose."  Nothing could be truer in education right now.  Let's find out instead of making assumptions that benefit no one.  Find out by asking and listening to your students, teachers, and your administration.  In doing so, the assumptions will start to disappear and we will find out what is truly needed today's classrooms.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

What Education Can Learn from Angie's List

I spend a lot of time talking about change in education.  I honestly believe that if we don't start making changes, students will begin to realize that they may or may not need the traditional classroom experience to be successful.  It's hard to's hard to say.  But it's true.

We can learn so much from what is going on outside of education.  If we just take time to look around and pay attention, it's easy to see that everything else is changing based on what this generation needs and wants.  And yet, in education, the majority of classrooms look exactly like they looked when I was in school.  And, though I hate to admit it...that was a long time ago!

Just this year, Angie's List announced that it would be free.  They would no longer charge customers to use their services.  Sounds crazy, right?  Turns out that Angie's List realized that the majority of millennials were not willing to pay for reviews.  So, instead of expecting them to change, Angie's List decided to change.  They did what they needed to do to continue to be successful.  Facing reality and understanding who they were serving came before doing what was easy, what was comfortable.

What can we learn from Angie's List?

1.  It's important that we know our students, just like Angie's List knew their customers.  We should be willing to ask questions and have the hard conversations in order to meet our students where they are.

2.  Change isn't easy but it is necessary.  If we want to continue to be relevant, change is not an option.  It's not hard to figure out that traditional teaching is not going to work for this generation.   Change is might not be easy but if we want what is best for our students, it is necessary.

3.  Reality is what it is.  The reality is that things have changed.  The world is different and our students need different skills in order to be successful.  We can ignore that reality but the ones that suffer from that decision are our students.  It's important to see the reality for what it is and do what needs to be done to prepare our students for their futures.

Angie's list is not the only company in the "real world" making changes.  Companies are constantly reinventing themselves, changing their direction, trying new things.  Why do they change?  Because they want to stay to relevant.  They know that if they are can't meet the needs of their customers, they won't exist.

I can't help but wonder why the lack of change in education doesn't make us extremely uncomfortable.  Most teachers teach because they want to make a difference, impact the future, and help students realize their dreams.  Let's not lose sight of that simply because we have become comfortable.  Let's do what we all wanted to do when we decided to be an educator.   It's time to stop preparing students for a world that doesn't exist and instead help them prepare for their future by knowing them well and changing the classroom to meet their needs.

"Angie's List Does An About Face For Millennials." Fox Business. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2016.