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.

Friday, December 2, 2016

What I Learned from Subway Surfer About Failure

Wow!  It's been a while since I have had time to write a blog post.  Since my last post, so many things have changed.  I accepted a job this summer at our local service center and absolutely love what I get to do every day.  While I miss the classroom, I enjoy being able to visit classrooms all over the region and encouraging teachers to do what is best for this generation of students.

Anyway, I wanted to share an experience I had a few weeks ago and just now had the time to sit down and collect my thoughts.

Last month, I was headed to Baltimore to visit a district and found myself very bored on the plane.  I had forgotten my book, my phone was in airplane mode, and I wasn't tired enough to take a nap.  As I began swiping through my apps, I found the Subway Surfer app that my daughter enjoys playing. Because of the lack of entertainment options, I thought why not?

I clicked on the app and began playing.  I realized early on that it was not going to be easy and I had a lot to learn.  As I continued to play, I also realized that I was experiencing failure over and over.  I would start running and hit a barrier, miss a bonus, or run into a subway car.  However, even though I was failing, I wanted to try again.  I wanted to see if I could get past the barrier,  grab the bonus, or avoid the subway car.

I also noticed that I learned from each failure.  Every time I would play, I would get better.  The better I got, the harder the game became and the more I was challenged.  I wasn't asked to complete a level that I had already mastered and I was instantly given an opportunity to correct my mistakes.

As the plane landed, I began thinking about the connections between the video game that I had just played and education.  I think we can learn a lot from the gaming community as we all know that many of our students absolutely love video games.

They will play for hours and will continue to play even after failure.  They talk about games, read books about games, and are often passionate about becoming better.  What is it about video games that encourages this behavior and why are students so willing to continue to play through the frustration and challenging situations?

I believe that instant feedback plays a huge role in this entire situation.  They keep playing because they know instantly what they have done wrong, are given the opportunity to try again, and are able to "level up" when they have already mastered specific levels.

Is it possible that students are less concerned about grades because they are so accustomed to instant feedback that waiting a week for a graded paper means nothing to them?  Is it possible that they realize that "mastering" a skill doesn't result in leveling up or being challenged so they lose interest? If receiving a grade or failing a paper doesn't result in an opportunity to correct those mistakes or get better, what is the point?

I believe that as educators, we can learn so much from video games and student behavior while playing video games.  Let's ask questions, pay attention, and know our students well enough to realize when something is working.  I'm not saying that instant feedback is always possible and classrooms can always model a video game.  However, I do think there are aspects that we can learn from and begin to use in the classroom to engage students and help them make connections.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Geography (and so much more) Using GeoGuessr

I have always loved Geoguessr and knew it could be used to practice so many different skills.  It has been a while since I've used it in my classroom.  However, this six weeks our Focus Topic is Geography and I wanted to get my students pumped about learning about the world.  Geoguessr instantly came to mind!

For those that aren't sure what Geoguessr is or how it works, it is a website that provides an image taken somewhere in the world.  Players must look around and use clues to decide where on the map they think the image can be found.  They make a guess and then they are provided with a map showing their guess as well as the actual location.

Before we started, I modeled using the website and explained the process to my students. Using my teacher computer and the projector, we visited Geoguessr together and looked at the image that was randomly provided.  I explained how they needed to use inferencing to make their best guess about where in the world the photograph was taken.  We talked about the clues that we could use to make our inference.  We decided that we could focus on the road signs, the side of the road that the cars were driving on, the climate, and whether the area was rural or urban.  Then, we made our guess.  

The great thing about Geoguessr is that it provides feedback telling the students how far their guess was from the actual location in miles and kilometers.  They also receive points for their guess depending on the distance.

Using this information, students can practice so many different skills.  During this lesson, I asked my students to play 5 rounds.  They kept track of their guesses and the distance between it and the actual location (in miles).  After 5 rounds, they found the average (or mean) of all five guesses.  Then they compared their averages as a table.  The person with the lowest average was the winner!

As I walked around the room, I realized that every single student was engaged and completely focused on the activity.  They were discussing their inferences, justifying their choices, and collaborating to become better at the game.  It became very obvious that my students were making connections...mission accomplished!

I love that Geoguessr provides students with a map.  Students are required to know where the continents are and use important skills to make their best guess.  I feel like geography is sometimes put on the back burner because other standards take priority due to standardized testing.  This activity gives students to practice those other skills while learning about where things are in the world.  
There are so many ways teachers can use this tool in their classroom other than the obvious geography benefits.  In completing this one activity, my students practiced finding the mean (average), adding decimals, rounding decimals, comparing decimals, division, inferencing, and geography.  Not to mention the collaboration, critical thinking, and reflection that my students were using as they worked in groups to complete the assignment.  

Below is a short video that I took while walking around.  My students were so engaged that they didn't even realize what I was doing.   Take a look and notice the level of engagement, collaboration, and excitement as they worked on the assignment.  It was so fun to hear their conversations and realize the connections that they were making.

Geoguessr is completely free and very easy to use.  I would so much rather have a noisy, active, and engaged classroom than a room of students sitting in rows completing a worksheet.  This was such a meaningful experience for my students and they didn't want to leave because they were having so much fun.  Check it out and feel free to share any comments about how you use this tool or plan to use it in your classroom.  
Thursday, March 3, 2016

Classroom Power Tool - Photo Prompts

Starting this week, I will be sharing a new Classroom Power Tool each week.  These will be tools that I use in my own classroom to help my students make connections.  I believe that technology used just for the sake of using technology is a waste of time but when used to make the learning more meaningful, can be extremely powerful.

Photo Prompts are such a great way to engage students at the beginning of class.  They are so easy to use and encourage critical thinking as well as creativity.  These photo prompts are a simple way to encourage writing in your classroom.

Photo Prompts are great for any age group.  They are simple images with very few words.  Writing Prompts are appropriate for middle school and high school students as they ask for more detail and are often about more sensitive topics.

Please LIKE my Facebook Page for more Classroom Power Tools and fun teaching ideas.  
Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Help Wanted!

So, I have spent most of my week chatting with my students and my Voxer buddies about how to best find outside experts for our Genius Hour projects.  As an elementary teacher, it is very time consuming to search for an outside expert for every single project.   Outside of school, it is next to impossible for me to spend my time calling, emailing, and tweeting people that may or may not respond to our requests.

As I have talked with others and played around with different ideas, I think I finally stumbled across what will work for me and my students.  Today I created a Padlet board titled Help Wanted.  We made it look like a bulletin board and posted our requests.  I did not include student names, just project titles and descriptions of what they needed in an outside expert.

After we wrote the posting, I created a Google Form for our experts to fill out.  They simply click the project that they are interested in and fill out the form.  I used notification rules in Google Forms to set it up to email me each time the form is completed.  This way, I don't have to remember to always go check for responses (because I won't).  As experts make a connection and submit the form, I will just receive a notification in my email inbox.  How awesome is that?!

I then clicked Modify This Padlet and Address.  I changed the address to one that would be easy to remember and share out on social media.  After doing so, I shared on Twitter, Remind, Google +, and even emailed the link to our entire district.

I immediately began to hear back from people in our district that knew someone that could fill some of these roles.  As the board continues to be shared on Twitter and Google +, I expect to hear back from several experts that are willing to help.

As a community, we have several parents and community members that are always willing to help.  I plan to create QR codes that link to our Padlet board and place them around the school and maybe even local businesses.  This way, community members will have easy access to the projects and may be inspired to serve as an outside expert for my students.

I am so excited about our Help Wanted board and hope it helps us find the experts we need to make meaningful connections to our learning.  I know it will save me so much time to have a central location and single response form for the experts that are interested in helping us out.