Thursday, July 2, 2015

Innovation Day 2015

So I have gotten a little behind on blogging but have had such a busy summer, I just haven't had a chance to sit down and write.  But this morning as the kids sleep in and I have a few quiet moments, I thought I would share about Innovation Day and what we learned.

After reading about many different schools and their Innovation Day experiences, we decided to give it a try on our campus.  I say this often but I am so blessed to work for an administration that is willing to think outside of the box, try new things, and take risks to give our students meaningful learning opportunities.

So on May 29th, we held our 1st Annual Innovation Day.  I was lucky enough to have connected Heather Russell from Region 10 earlier in the year and she shared all of their resources.  A few weeks before Innovation Day, I visited each grade level and talked about what innovation is and why this day was so important.  We watched Caine's Arcade and then I challenged them to think about what they would create, make, or design on Innovation Day.  The teachers were given a link to share with their students. This link took them to the Google Form where they were asked what they were going to make on Innovation Day.

After all of the students completed the form, we sat down and divided them into rooms based on their projects. After looking at the projects, we came up with the following rooms: Cardboard, Architecture, Engineering, Technology, Art, Culinary Arts, Science/Math and Physical Education. The most popular rooms were Cardboard and Culinary Arts.  Students were so excited to design their amazing creations from cardboard and actually mix, blend, and cook at school.  We didn't even look at grade levels as we wanted the rooms to be multi-age.

We also asked our teachers to choose rooms that they would like to supervise.  While some of our teachers were nervous about Innovation Day just because it was unlike anything we had ever done before, they were excited and willing to give it a try.  We encouraged the teachers to choose a room that would give them an opportunity to learn.  So we didn't want the teachers that loved to cook in the Culinary Arts room.  Instead, we wanted the teachers to learn from the students.  We wanted the students to be the experts and we wanted to learn from them and their creations.  Before the big day, I shared this information with our teachers to prepare them for the big day.

Taking Heather's advice, we also had Wild Card options for students that didn't bring their materials, finished early, or just couldn't decide what to do.  This was simply a list of projects that students could choose to complete.  We offered a variety of options hoping they would find something that they would really enjoy.

Throughout the day, we also asked our students to reflect by asking them to respond to the following  (again, thanks to Heather Russell):

What do you think today is going to be like?

How do you feel right now?

What is a challenge that you have faced today?

Draw a picture of what you created or designed today.

I won't lie and say that the day was wasn't.  There are so many things that we will do differently next year.  But it was a success because our students were experiencing meaningful learning.  They were solving problems, thinking critically, and collaborating while doing things were meaningful for them.  In my opinion, it doesn't get any better than that.  While walking around and visiting the different rooms, I couldn't help but notice that all of the students were engaged.  They were interested in what they were doing and they were learning.

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When the day was over, there was lots to clean up and lots of reflecting to do.  I am so thankful for the teachers that stepped up and helped with the clean up and closure as I had to leave a little early to catch a flight.  As I reflected on the day, I realized that we had given our students an opportunity to be themselves, to learn on their terms, and to experience school in a new way.  It was a good day and even with all of the things we could have done differently, the kids LOVED it.

So now it's time to start thinking about Innovation Day 2016.  I cannot wait!

Has your district/campus tried Innovation Day or something like it?  Do you have any advice or suggestions for those wanting to try it?  Please feel free to comment with questions or suggestions. I'd love to hear how other schools are making this happen!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Bammy Nomination - What It's Really About

So last week, I was completely surprised when I learned on Twitter that I had been nominated for a Bammy Award by Don Wettrick.  It was such an honor to read the nomination. I was so excited, so thankful,  and couldn't wait to share the good news. But then it happened...fear set in.  I worried that others would think I was boasting if I shared and so I shared with a very limited few.

As I thought about the nomination this weekend, I began to realize that this is not about me but it's about my students, my supportive administration, and my amazing PLN that has given me back my passion for teaching.

In 2013, I became a connected educator and began learning from others on Twitter.  I took in as much as I could and began blogging often to reflect on my learning.  It wasn't long after this that I saw Don Wettrick on Two Guys and Some iPads.  I listened as he talked about Innovations and the amazing things that his students were doing in his classroom.  After hearing him share, I wondered what this would look like in an elementary classroom and began to ask questions.  Shortly after this, Don Skyped with my students and the rest is history.

Innovations and Genius Hour has changed the way that I see my role in the classroom.  Instead of considering myself the expert, we look beyond the four walls of our classroom and find the real experts.  My students create their own learning experiences and share their learning with the world.

Just like that, I found my passion for teaching again.  I began to realize that this is what I wanted for my students.  I wanted them to learn in ways that were meaningful for them.  I wanted to design learning experiences instead of write lesson plans. I wanted them to learn from outside experts that could teach them more than I ever could.  I didn't want to lecture but instead wanted to learn with my students.

I began to connect with other Genius Hour teachers including Joy Kirr, Paul Solarz, and Terri Eichholz.  I learned so much from them and still learn from them almost every day.  Without their resources and blog posts, I would be lost.

My students have found that Genius Hour helps them find purpose.  Their work is relevant and meaningful.  Because of this, they want to be in my classroom.  They look forward to class and enjoy sharing their projects with anyone that will listen.  Their desire to learn new things was the fuel that ignited this fire and their willingness to continue to learn has kept it burning.

I remember the day that I went in to tell my principal about Genius Hour and that I planned on just letting the students learn what they wanted, how they wanted.  Instead of resisting and making it difficult, she simply said that she trusted me and told me to go for it.  Without her support, none of the things that we are doing right now would be possible.

Finally, the parents of my students have been patient, understanding, and gracious as we have implemented this program over the last couple of years.  We have learned together how to be flexible and creative as we make the dreams of the students come true.  It's not always easy and it doesn't always work out, but together we do all that we can to make each project as successful as possible.

So all of that to say that I will not be afraid to share my Bammy Nomination.  Instead, I will be thankful.  I will be proud of the work that my students have done and the amazing connections that I have made along the way. It's not about me or what I am doing.  It's about my students that I am learning from each and every day.  It's about the amazing administrators that trust me enough to allow me to take risks.  It's about the parents giving their children the opportunity to do amazing things.  It's about my incredible PLN that has made me the teacher that I always wanted to be...a teacher that takes risks, trusts her students, and looks forward to coming to work each day.  Most importantly, it's about being able to share the positive things that are going on in education and realizing that we all play a role.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Using Technology to Help Struggling Writers

Yesterday, I was collaborating with one of our teachers to find ways to help improve her students' ability to write.  She had several students that were struggling with understanding the prompts and writing while staying on topic.  After looking at a couple of options, we decided to try Write About This and Tell About This as a tool to give students a visual aid and make connections as they started their stories.

Tell About This is an app that provides students with a picture and prompt.  The prompt is read aloud and students press the microphone in order to record their voices as they respond to the prompt.  This give students a place to start.  They feel comfortable sharing what they see because it is what it is. They can't be judged on simply stating what is there.  After the recording, the video can be saved to the camera roll and shared on YouTube or other outlets.

In this case, the student was having trouble describing and sharing how a thunderstorm might make her feel.  The teacher explained to me that she was off topic and that she wasn't sure that the student was understanding what she was being asked to write about.  With that information, we decided to provide the student with a picture of a thunderstorm and asked her to share the details that she saw. As you can see the original prompt was to tell how she might feel but we quickly realized that we were going to have to start with details.  I talked with her about details and asked her to just tell me what she saw when she looked at the picture of the thunderstorm.

After that, we recorded again and I asked her to tell me how she would feel if she was in this thunderstorm.  We talked about different feelings and then asked her to record again sharing her thoughts.  

After recording her thoughts using Tell About This, I then showed her the same picture in the Write About This app.  I asked her to think about what she said when we recorded. We talked about the details that she shared and the feelings that we talked about.  I then explained that writing is a lot like speaking on paper.  I told her to use her pencil or the keyboard instead of her voice to share her thoughts.  She seemed to understand and was ready to write.  This is what she wrote when we finished the details portion of the activity.  We plan on going back and adding the feelings portion to this to put together a complete paragraph. 

This student went from having difficulty understanding how to describe a thunderstorm to being to able to make a connection because of an image.  She used her voice to document what she saw and then created several sentences using that information.  

These apps helped me understand how useful it is to help students understand that writing is simply speaking on paper. As this student progresses and continues to use these tools, I hope that she will find her voice and begin to write independently.  However, until she feels comfortable, using these apps together will serve as her training wheels.  Instead of saying "I don't know what to write" or "I can't think of anything" she will have a tool to serve as a launchpad for her writing assignments.

Write About This is a great tool to use for whole group writing as well.  You can simply project the prompt onto your wall and ask students to journal.  Sometimes a picture is motivating and can serve as a visual aid for those students that need a starting place.  

Here is another place to find wonderful photo prompts.  These prompts require some critical thinking and encourage students to use their imagination.  My students love to blog using these photos and I often use them as a way to start our class time.  

How are you using technology to encourage writing? Please comment below to share new ideas or how you are using these same apps to engage your students.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Formative Assessment Using Educreations

As I've mentioned before, I visit K-2nd grade classrooms twice a month to introduce and implement the Depth and Complexity icons.  I use this time to encourage students to think differently.  Last week I introduced the Changes Over Time icon.

We talked about what this means and discussed many different things that change over time including people, relationships, and landforms.  We watched the YouTube video of Enemy Pie by Derek Munsen.  When it was over, we discussed how the relationship between the narrator and Jeremy Ross changed as we read the story.

I wanted to make sure that the students understood changes over time and could explain it in their own words.  I decided to use the Educreations App to allow them to demonstrate their understanding.

After giving each student an iPad, I explained that they needed to draw a picture of something that changes over time.  As I walked around the room, I saw that they were drawing many different things.

When the drawings were complete, we used the microphone to explain our drawings and how they change over time.  I asked to students to save their projects under their names so that I could go back and watch them later.  When I went back I watched them, I was very impressed with their explanations and drawings.

After thinking about it, I realized this would be a great way to start a writing activity.  Ask students to illustrate, tell a story, and then write their story.  This would be the perfect opportunity to demonstrate that writing is simply speaking on paper.

Using Educreations as a formative assessment turned out to be a great a lesson and the students loved it.   Just wanted to take some time to reflect on this activity and share how this app can take an ordinary lesson and make it extraordinary.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Genius Hour ~ Keeping It Real

thinking? Asking questions? Growing? Developing ideas? Creating? Solving problems by digging in and pushing through the hard stuff that lies between a problem and a solution? That’s learning.
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I have many people ask me about Genius Hour.  They want to know what it is, why it's so important in my classroom, and what my students gain by creating and designing their projects.  

Of course, I could go on and on about the benefits of Genius Hour and my students could talk to you for hours about why they love this time in our classroom and why it's important to them.  

But every once in a while, my students say or do something that makes it abundantly clear that Genius Hour is changing them.  They are collaborating, designing, sharing, reflecting, and so much more.  They are using technology in ways that take their learning to another level and make it real for them.  

Yesterday, I had my fifth grade students in class.  The students were all working on their individual projects and I was working with students to contact outside experts.  One of my quieter students came rushing up to my desk and said that she thought she had deleted her website.  We use Weebly for Education to create websites and as I looked through her account, I realized that she had in fact deleted it completely.  She asked if there was any way to restore the website or if there was anything that I could do.  I explained that I thought it was gone and she would need to do the best she could to recreate the website.  She was frustrated but handled the news well and went back to her seat.

I noticed when I looked at her that she was very focused and really looking for something on her Chromebook.  After about 15 minutes, she came back up to my desk and said, "Mrs. McNair, I think I found a way to get my website back.  Do you think you could call this number and see what they can do?"  I looked at the website she had looked at and sure enough, there was a number to call for help with restoring deleted websites.

How could I say no to that?  My fifth grade student had solved a problem that I thought was unsolvable. She had used her research skills and perseverance to find a solution.  So, we called.  The number connected us with Weebly and we spoke to a wonderful representative who after a little research, was able to restore the website and save the day.  

Why is this story important?  One of my students that would have normally panicked and been very upset about losing her entire website used the skills that she has obtained through Genius Hour to creatively solve a problem.  She knew that the world was bigger than just our classroom. She knew that I wasn't the only available expert and that she could reach out to someone that knew more about the subject to help her.  In doing so, she was able to solve a potentially devastating set back in her project.  

I was so proud of her and even texted her parents to share her ability to think outside the box.  I was reminded of the importance of Genius Hour and why it is so beneficial for my students.  Genius Hour keeps the learning real.  My students are becoming thinkers, designers, collaborators.  They are experiencing their learning, taking responsibility, and finding opportunities to make the learning meaningful for themselves.  And in doing so, they are making me one very happy teacher!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?

This evening, as we were discussing the future of education on #txeduchat,  Vicki Davis tweeted out this wonderful piece of advice.  I immediately thought of all of the changes that are happening in education and the changes that aren't happening because of fear.  I also remembered reading a Twitter conversation in which Joy Kirr suggested "What Would You Do If You Weren't Afraid?" as an EdCamp session.  So I started thinking, what would I do if I weren't afraid?  What am I afraid of? What would happen if I conquered those fears and just did what I knew was best for my students?

I think many of us are afraid to be wrong.  We are afraid of change because it means that we might have to change.  We might have to do things differently and that might require risk and even failure. Many of us fear what others will think of us if we share our opinions or try something different in our classrooms.  By allowing this fear to control us, we are unable to give our students the innovative and creative experiences that they need.  Many of us fear test results if we stray away from test prep and worksheets.  We know that we will be held accountable for these actions if our students do not perform well on their tests at the end of the year. Because of this fear, we stick with the safe and comfortable lesson plans.  When the reality is that our students can learn so much more, including the standards, from learning experiences that encourage them to take risks, experience failure, and solve real world problems.

  What would you do if you weren't afraid
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So, what would I do if weren't afraid?   By nature, I am a very fearful person that worries so much about what others think about me and my opinions.  I have to admit that since becoming connected, I have become much more outspoken about by thoughts and opinions when it comes to education. While I am very aware that I am not always right, I think it is so important to engage in conversations and create discussions that open doors for collaboration.  Even so, there are still many topics and ideas that I shy away from because of fear...fear of rejection, fear of judgment, and fear of failure.

I spent some time this evening thinking about these things things.   So, here is my list of things that I would do if I weren't afraid...

1)  I would invite teachers into my classroom to see Genius Hour in action and watch as my students work on amazing projects that give them opportunities to learn by doing.

2)  I would share my blog with teachers on my campus in an effort to start conversations and encourage reflection.

3)  I would find ways to encourage our junior high and high school campuses to provide mentors and internships for students.

4)  I would find more opportunities to speak up for change and would encourage others to do the same.

5)  I would trust myself and know that as long as my students are the priority and I am attempting to make the learning meaningful for them, I am doing the right thing.

Being fearful doesn't bring change. I will never overcome my fears by doing nothing.   Acknowledging them gives me a desire to conquer them.  I don't want my students to suffer because I was afraid to try something new.  Instead, I want them thrive and love learning because I was willing to go out on a limb and give them the opportunities that they deserve.  So I will take Vicki's advice and will not fear change, but instead will recognize and fear complacency, mediocrity, and apathy.

12 motivational quotes found on Pinterest  My darling Mike, Is this what you were thinking?
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So, I thought it might be cool to share the things that we fear as educators as an opportunity to support and encourage each other.  What are some things that you would do in your classroom if you weren't afraid?  Share them on Twitter using the hashtag #notafraidEDU or comment below.  

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Unexpected Benefits of Genius Hour

I began implementing Genius Hour in my classroom almost a year and half ago.  I've learned so much and still have so much to learn.  What started out as a one hour a week activity has now become the backbone to my classroom.  We now work on Genius Hour for half a day each week and my students have been nothing less than amazing.

In starting Genius Hour, I expected it to be fun and engaging.  I expected my students to be excited about working on their passions and knew that it would make a huge difference in the way that I was teaching every day.  While all of these things have been true, there have definitely been some unexpected benefits to Genius Hour and the impact that it has had on my students.

Digital literacy has become a priority in my classroom. My students are able to use digital tools that will work best for their projects. In doing so, they are learning how to be appropriate and safe online. When we first began Genius Hour, I was suggesting websites and apps that might be helpful. Now, my students make suggestions and take it upon themselves to find digital tools that will benefit them and their projects the most.  Yesterday, I realized that one group was using Google Drawings to design their outdoor classroom with no help or suggestions from me.  As a teacher, this is what I want for my students.  I want them to be able to seek out and find digital tools that will take their projects to the next level. Almost all of my students have created websites and feel very comfortable using technology to connect with others.

Since starting Genius Hour, I have realized that my students have become very self-aware.  They know what works for them and what doesn't.  They aren't afraid to speak up in my classroom to share what they want to do and how they want to do it.  While their plans don't always work out, they know that they have a voice and that their opinions matter.  My students are very passionate about their projects and I am so proud of their desire to try new things and think outside the box to make things happen.

Things don't always work out. Every project does not end well or produce the results that we were expecting.  We don't always hear back from the outside experts that we contact.  We sometimes have to realize that our original idea will not work and we need to make adjustments.  But in all of this, my students are learning.  They are learning that they are capable of dealing with failure and overcoming the struggles.  They are realizing that obstacles don't mean defeat.  In my classroom, failure is something that is going to happen.  However, my students know that if they aren't making mistakes, they aren't risking enough.  Genius Hour has encouraged my students to take risks, experience failure, and find ways to overcome obstacles.

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I'm not sure my students realize how much I learn from them.  They inspire me every day as I watch them ask questions, take risks, and take their learning to new heights.  I have learned to let them try almost anything within reason and expect great things.  They inspire me to be creative and take risks. I look forward to class each day because I never know what challenges we will encounter and what creative solutions my students will use to overcome.  Learning from them each day makes my job meaningful and makes me want me to be there.  

I honestly cannot think of another teaching strategy or learning experience that would give my students the opportunities that they are given with Genius Hour.  Every day I show up and am amazed at my students' ability to create, collaborate, design, and reflect.   They inspire me to be the best teacher that I can be and sometimes that means just letting go and letting the learning happen.  

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