Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Using the 3E's to Design Meaningful Learning Experiences

I don't know many educators that get excited about writing lesson plans.  Most of us don't look forward to planning something that we know we will not enjoy doing.  So, I guess the question becomes if it isn't something we are looking forward to doing with our students, why are we doing it and why would we expect them to enjoy doing it any more than we enjoyed planning it?

I remember a few years ago, reading Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess.  I quickly realized that not only was it okay to design wildly creative lessons, it was the only way I was going to engage my learners.  I still believe and have learned from experience that it's so much more fun to design meaningful learning experiences than to write a lesson plan.  

Many people often ask, what does that look like?  How do you design a meaningful learning experience?  I've shared thoughts, ideas, and even digital tools but I recently realized that a meaningful learning experience simply requires us to engage our learners, create an experience, and empower them to do something with what has been learned.   Think of it this way...

en·gage - participate or become involved in

Ask yourself...how can my learners be engaged in a way that will make them WANT to learn?

Engaged learners want to be there. They are invested in what is being learned and have a desire to want to know more.  So, how do we make this happen?  I can tell you this...we won't be able to make it happen by announcing at the beginning of class that they should listen because this will be on the test, or this is something that they will need when they get older.  None of that matters to them.  They are all about the "right now" and have difficulty understanding why they need to know something now that they can Google later.  And the reality is, with an attention span of 8 seconds,  it's no surprise that they need to know this quickly.  

What does that mean for us as educators?  It means we need to create hooks that will result in them wanting to know more and cause them to look forward to the rest of the learning experience 
  • Use a creative writing prompt to create discussion or drive curiosity.  Visit Photo Prompts and/or Writing Prompts for some very cool ideas!
  • Check out the Teach Like a Pirate hooks...so many ideas!
  • Visit The Literacy Shed and find a short video that you can use as a spark to create excitement and wonder.
  • Create your own hooks by knowing your students well enough to know what will get them going!

ex·pe·ri·ence - an event that leaves an impression someone

Ask yourself - What experiences can be designed to give them a reason to invest in the learning?

Isn't this what we should always be trying to do in our classrooms? Don't we want to leave an impression on our learners? Think about the difference between an activity and an experience...an activity is just something that someone does. An experience is something that someone does that leaves an impression...BIG difference!

There are so many ways that we can design experiences that will leave an impression on our learners and help them make connections.
  • Use virtual reality to take them to places that they never thought they would be able to go. One of my favorite resources is 360Cities. Take your students anywhere virtually and let them explore!
  • Connect with outside experts and let your students hear how what is being learned is used outside of the classroom.
  • Ask them to create video games using Scratch or websites using Weebly to share what they have learned.

em·pow·er - giving someone the power to do something

Ask yourself...How can my learners be empowered to apply what was learned in a real way?

Applying what has been learned in a real situation is very important.  In doing so, they begin to understand the why.  Empowering them to take ownership of their own learning and then do something with it makes learning real.  And if it isn't real, if it's just something we want them to be able to do a worksheet, why in the world are we wasting our time and theirs?   Empower your learners to apply what has been learned.
  • Ask them to create video games using Scratch or websites using Weebly to share what they have learned.
  • Share learning with an authentic audience by blogging, posting on social media, or using Flipgrid.
  • Reflect on what was learned...give them opportunities to move beyond remembering (what I learned and how I learned it) to reflection (what I learned and why I learned it).
  • Give opportunities to move beyond surface level learning.  Offer choice and opportunities for students to dive deeper into personalized learning experiences. Allow your students to learn by pursuing their passions. Find ways to weave learning into what they are pursuing. Give them opportunities to learn by doing by making Genius Hour a priority in your classroom.

So, I encourage you to STOP WRITING LESSON PLANS!  Start designing meaningful learning experiences by engaging today's learners, creating experiences that will help them make connections, and empowering them to do something with what has been learned.

Today's learners have so many ideas, so much to offer.  They deserve to experience real learning that is not only meaningful, but fun.  Know that when something is fun for you and your students, it will be something that they remember.  Be willing to take risks and do whatever it takes to move learning beyond what it has been into what it can and should be.  Let's be brave enough to leave the past in the past and create real learning experiences for today's learners!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Be a Thermostat!

When we came home this evening, our house was freezing!  My husband had turned the heater way down and it's actually cold here in Texas right now.  When I went to turn the heat up so that I could enjoy a warm and restful evening, I was reminded of a metaphor I once heard and couldn't help but think about how it relates to the classroom, campus, and district culture.  The metaphor actually comes from a sermon that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave in 1954.  His message was this...

"Be a thermostat, not a thermometer."

When I first heard those words, it took some explanation before I really understood what it meant.  You see, a thermostat sets the temperature in the room and makes it a comfortable space for those that are within its influence.   This doesn't mean that some people aren't a little too hot or a little too cold, but it means that the temperature is adjusted to what is most appropriate at the time.   It is constantly checking the temperature of the room and making adjustments to maintain a temperature that is just right.  A thermometer, on the other hand, reacts to what is going on around it.  If it's hot, it reacts by displaying a high temperature...if it's cold, it reacts by displaying a low temperature. 

Unfortunately, it's easy to be a thermometer in education.  It's easy to react to a situation and display a hot or cold demeanor.  In the classroom, it's easy to yell or be sarcastic when students are not being respectful or doing things that they know they shouldn't.  It's also easy to react this way when we are around other teachers that have a way of making our temperature rise.  When we get hot, we say and do things that we don't mean.  When we get cold, we often react by pulling away and trying to do things on our own.  Both of these reactions are detrimental to the culture of a classroom and a school.

Instead of reacting to the temperature, set it.  Find your temperature and allow others to feel your influence.  Do what you know to be right for today's learners and set a temperature that makes others want to do the same.  In the classroom, this may mean taking a minute to think before reacting to a situation.  It might mean that you share ideas with a colleague that has a completely different view about what today's classroom should look like.  It may be something as small as smiling at an administrator that you know is having a difficult day.  Whatever it might be, make adjustments to maintain a temperature that is consistent and influential.

So as we start the new year...be a thermostat.  Be proactive instead of reactive and encourage others to do the same.  Let's make 2018 an amazing year in our classrooms, campuses, and districts!

Current Events in the Classroom

When I was in school, I remember having to find and summarize current events every week.  Things have changed a bit since then and our students have instant access to news at any given moment on social media.  The problem is that they believe almost everything that they read and don't always get all of the facts when it's just a post on social media.

Current events are important and still have a place in the classroom.  Reading and sharing current events help students stay globally connected,  builds vocabulary,  and encourages critical thinking and problem-solving.

If you are like me, I certainly don't feel comfortable asking students or even my own children to visit MSNBC, CNN, or FoxNews.  There are just too many inappropriate articles, bias, and specific details that are not okay for young readers.  That being said, there are several places that your students can find current event articles that are engaging and appropriate for them at any age.  Below are a few of my favorites and the reasons that I love them.

DogoNews  - www.dogonews.com

❤️️  Articles are relevant and include lots of images/videos
❤️️  Vocabulary - Students can click on unknown words to receive a definition
❤️️  Automatic Citation - Cite using MLA, APA, or Chicago with the click of a button
❤️️  Assignment Options - Comprehension and Critical Thinking questions for $2/students
❤️️  Post articles/assignments to Google Classroom with one-click
❤️️  Article can be read aloud by choosing the audio version
❤️️  Students can also post and share book reviews with an authentic audience on DogoNews

Newsela - www.newsela.com

❤️️  Lexile level of article can be changed instantly with the click of a button
❤️️  Article can be translated into Spanish with one-click
❤️️  Activities include writing prompt and quiz with each article
❤️️  Teacher can assign articles to students
❤️️  Pro-version allows customization of writing prompts and access to individual progress
(prices not published on website but I believe it's about $18 per student)
❤️️  Power words give students an ability to explore new vocabulary

Time For Kids - www.timeforkids.com

❤️️  Articles include lots of images and videos
❤️️  Lexile level of article can be changed instantly with the click of a button
❤️️  Article can be translated into Spanish with one-click
❤️️  Printable quiz available for each article
❤️️  Full access available for $3.20-$3.60 per student
❤️️  Vocabulary embedded throughout the articles as power words

Tween Tribune - www.tweentribune.com

❤️️  Totally FREE!
❤️️  Lexile level of article can be changed instantly with the click of a button
❤️️  Easy-to-access lesson plan ideas
❤️️  Short quiz available with each article
❤️️  Assign to students with one-click
❤️️  Teacher dashboard for easy navigation and accessibility

What are some things that students can do other than simply taking the quiz after reading a current event article?

  • Find the problem in the article and design an innovative solution.
  • Locate where the event occurred on a map and learn more about that continent/country/area.
  • Make a prediction of what will happen as a result of this story being shared.
  • Find the math, ELAR, science, social studies in the story and explain the role that they each play.
  • Find a story with which you feel a personal connection and share why.
And if you need more ideas, check out 50 ways to Teach with Current Events.

All of these options have features that may or may not work in your classroom.  Check them out and find the one that is right for you and your students.  Exploring current events is a great option for students that have finished work early or have already mastered what is being taught.  It's also a great filler activity that is both meaningful and relevant.  Reading nonfiction articles, learning new vocabulary, and using critical thinking to solve real problems is never a waste of time.

What are some of your favorite current event resources?
Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Creating Empowered Learners in 2018

It's hard to believe that another year has come and gone.  So many things are happening in education and it's an amazing time to be a part of it all.  Even though there are great things happening, there is still work to be done to continue moving forward.

As educators, it's so easy to become focused on test prep and data when we return from Christmas.  For many, it's a time of trying to get through the curriculum and grading worksheet after worksheet to determine who needs intervention and who is lucky enough to get enrichment time while those students receive that intervention.

What if there was another way?  What if we focused on real learning in 2018 and made the standards something that students were empowered to apply instead of just expected to regurgitate on a worksheet?  Here are five ways that I think we can empower students as we start the new year...

Student-Driven Conferences - Take time to talk with the learners in your classroom.  Ask them about their strengths and weaknesses.  Thrively is a great tool that was created to help students learn about their own passions and strengths.  Allowing your students to take the Thrively assessment when you return from the holidays will give you a fresh perspective and an opportunity to see them as individuals with unique strengths.  Let them share what works for them and what doesn't.  Ask questions that will lead them to think about their own thinking and encourage them to know themselves well as a learner.  In doing so, you will create a culture of learning that isn't one size fits all but values every individual.

Focus on Feedback - Grades don't help students understand why.  It's just a number that many students could absolutely care less about.  And can we blame them?  They complete an assignment on Monday, we grade the assignment and give it back a few days later.  The reality is that most students have seen a ton of media between completing the assignment and having it returned.  They don't even remember what it was about or what they were supposed to learn from it.

Feedback is different.  Gen Z values feedback and almost expects it in order to reflect or become better at something.  Focus on giving your learners more feedback in 2018 and less grades.  Flipgrid is a wonderful tool that allows students to share their learning through video and receive feedback from others after posting...definitely a gamechanger in the classroom! Allow conversations to be the priority and find ways to give them feedback as quickly and often as possible.

Let Them Struggle - As teachers, we help our students all year long.  We answer questions, guide them toward the correct answers or solutions...and then test day comes.  When they ask a question on test day, we respond with "I'm sorry, I can't answer that for you, just do the best you can" or a similar statement depending on the script.  All of a sudden they are being left to struggle on their own with no help.  If that hasn't happened all year long, it can be super scary and almost paralyzing.

So, let's allow them to struggle all year long in our classrooms.  Give them opportunities to problem solve and figure things out without any guidance or help.  Design experiences that can be solved many different ways but make it a point not to figure it out yourself before doing it in class so that when they ask, you can genuinely say, "I have no idea...you guys are going to have to figure it out."

Connect Your Classroom - Connected classrooms give students an opportunity to learn from others and help them make connections to what is being learned.  Ask an outside expert to Skype into your classroom to share how they use the standard that is being learned in the real world.  Allow your students to ask questions and collaborate with the expert to make those connections so that they see the value of why they are learning that particular concept.  Use tools like Nepris or a Help Wanted Wall to make connecting with outside experts a reality in your classroom.

Mystery Skype connects classrooms from all over the world and encourages them to use critical thinking, collaboration, and communication to learn about new places and each other.  To learn more, check out #mysteryskype on Twitter and jump right in!

Passion-Based Learning - Last, but certainly not least, Genius Hour is a great way for students to learn by doing.  Unfortunately, Genius Hour is often used as enrichment or an activity for gifted students that already know what was being taught in the general education classroom.  I believe that every single student deserves an opportunity to pursue their passion during the school day.  In doing so, they begin to see how the learning can be applied and not just regurgitated on a worksheet.  Genius Hour is meaningful learning through application and has the potential to change the way this generation learns and prepares for their future.

To learn more about Genius Hour, please visit my website.

So, 2018 is here and it's up to us as educators to make it all that it can be for our students.  Let's work together to make sure that it's a great year that brings the changes in education that our students deserve.  It's an exciting time to be an educator...it's just a matter of being brave, doing what we know is right, and believing enough in today's learners to get out of their way and let them learn by doing.

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.