Sunday, February 22, 2015

6 Things I Learned from #EdCampAwesome

This weekend I attended EdCampAwesome in Royse City.  I got up at 4:00 in the morning...YAWN...and headed out with two of my friends and co-workers.  We were so excited and anxious about our first edcamp experience.  We couldn't wait to get there and find out what edcamps are all about.

When we got there, the atmosphere was so exciting!  People were smiling, music was playing, and the organizers were working hard to make sure that everything was running smoothly.  I knew immediately that this was going to be a fun day of learning and collaboration.

At the end of the day, I had learned so much and here are my takeaways from my very first edcamp experience...

1)   I'm not alone.  Edcamps give you an opportunity to collaborate with like-minded educators.  Sometimes it's hard not to feel alone when trying new things and sticking your neck out for a change in education.  At edcamp, you are surrounded by educators that are doing the same thing and loving every minute of it!

2)  Excitement is contagious.  Edcamps are a great place to find renewed passion and energy.  I was reminded this weekend of why I do what I do.  I realized that there are so many teachers wanting to try new things, giving their students new opportunities, and wanting to learn new ways to provide meaningful learning in their classrooms.  It gave me a fresh passion for sharing and blogging in an effort to teach and learn from other other educators.

3)  Twitter brings us together.  Twitter connects educators and gives us the best opportunity to learn from other.  As I sat in the sessions, met new people, and followed them on Twitter, I was reminded of how easy it is to collaborate and learn from others using Twitter.   In all of the sessions, the facilitators were people that I already followed on Twitter, and it was great to meet them and learn from them in an edcamp setting.

After the Genius Hour session, I chatted with Heather Russell. We quickly realized that we were already connected on Twitter and shared a passion for Genius Hour. After a short discussion, we decided to find a way to connect our student blogs in an effort to encourage collaboration.

4)  We need an edcamp in our area.  After attending the How to Start an EdCamp session, I realized that we could easily organize an edcamp in our area.  I was so excited to learn details and get advice from Stuart Burt and Zach Snow on how to effectively plan an edcamp.  They shared some wonderful ideas.  

After this session, I was asking a few questions and met Kari Espin.  She teaches at a school just a few miles down the road from me and was interested in started an edcamp in our area as well.  We connected on Twitter, talked about a few ideas, and decided we could do this!  I'm so excited and can't wait to bring the edcamp magic to the educators in our district.

5)  Education is where it's at!  Teaching is not for everyone.  It's hard sometimes and frustrating. It's easy to feel like we are fighting a losing battle and that things will never change.  However, things are changing.  Teachers are doing amazing things and our students are being given opportunities to change the world.  But we have to keep sharing, learning, and being passionate about what we do.  In doing so, we have an opportunity to impact others and give our students the education that they deserve.

6)  I work with some some amazing educators. After attending edcamp with my friends and coworkers, we were able to have lots of discussion about our classrooms and what we learned.  I was so encouraged by the things that they do in their classrooms and the amazing ideas that they have about engaging students.  It was fun to see them excited about what we had learned and we had so much fun sharing, laughing, and learning with and from each other.

Finally, I want to thank the amazing organizers and session facilitators of EdCampAwesome!  Jaime Donally did a great job with the AR session. She gave us so many opportunities to experience augmented reality and how it can be used in the classroom.  Heather Russell shared her passion for Genius Hour and why our students deserve an opportunity to explore their passions by doing.  Zach Snow and Stuart Burt are just awesome!  They shared their vision and experiences in planning EdCampAwesome.  Their passion for innovative education is evident and such an inspiration for us all.

I had such a great time and look forward to attending many more edcamps in the future.  If you have not been to an edcamp, what are you waiting for?  Find an edcamp near you on the Edcamp Wiki and get there!
Friday, February 13, 2015

One Size Does NOT Fit All

Today is jeans day at my school.  There is nothing better than your favorite pair of blue jeans.  They fit perfectly, make you feel good about yourself, and allow you to be comfortable.  As I put on my favorite pair of jeans this morning, I had this thought...

The more I thought about this throughout the day, the more I realized that this is a perfect illustration for how many of our students feel every day in our classrooms.  

I began to think about gifted students.  These students often feel like what we are teaching in our classrooms is too small, too tight for them.  They long to stretch their learning and make it meaningful for them.  Gifted students often become frustrated because the learning just doesn't fit. It's information that they already know, facts they've mastered over and over, or just mundane learning that they do not find interesting at all.  But day after day, they show up, try to squeeze themselves into the learning that is "too small" and "too tight" for them.  I think about how I feel when I wear jeans that do not fit.  I feel limited and annoyed.  I can only assume that this is how our students feel as well. 

Then, I thought about the students that struggle.  The ones that become frustrated and find themselves in a classroom that seems too difficult for them.  Our classrooms probably feel uncomfortable for these students.  The learning simply falls off when they give their best effort to learn and retain the information that they are being given.  On the rare occasions that my jeans are too big, I feel anxious and awkward.  This is not a feeling that I want my students to experience.  

Finally, I realized that so many of our classrooms are designed to the meet the needs of our average students.  The learning is "just right" for them and fits them perfectly.  It's the same as if we went to the department store to buy jeans and they only had sizes to fit average-size larger sizes, no petites...just average.  Can you imagine the frustration?  We definitely wouldn't return to that store!

However, our students don't have that option.  They don't get choices.  They must attend school  and find ways to either squeeze into or hold up the learning that they are offered each day.  

Every student might sometimes need to shop in a different section.  I definitely haven't worn the same size jeans my entire adult life.  I go back and forth...sometimes I need smaller and other times, I need larger.  But I have the option to shop in any section, at any time.

I'm writing this to encourage teachers to make it a priority to make sure you have all of the "jeans" in your classroom.  Let your students try them on and see what works for them.  Encourage them to find learning that fits and makes them feel good about themselves.  Offer variety, give choices, and trust them enough to let them decide what works and what doesn't.  Don't be a "one size fits all" classroom.  Because, well, it just doesn't!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Unanswered Questions

Unanswered questions are difficult for many gifted students.  They often want answers and they want the right answers.   This week we have been talking about the Unanswered Questions Depth and Complexity icon in class.

As an introduction to this icon, we discussed the unanswered questions in the Disney movie, Frozen. We asked questions like, "How did Elsa get her powers?" and "Where were their parents going when they were killed in the shipwreck?"  We then discussed how these unanswered questions make the movie more interesting because it allows you to imagine and create situations that may or may not have happened.   It is because of these unanswered questions that Frozen is so intriguing and fun to watch.

We then watched this wonderful short film from The Literacy Shed, one of my favorite websites for writing prompts and critical thinking.  It is called Dangle and can be found on YouTube as well.  It's a perfect video to encourage students to ask questions and wonder.

After watching, I asked students to blog their answers, just questions.  Here are a few first grade blog posts...

And here are two of my fifth grade students' blog posts...

I was impressed with some of their questions and the number of questions that some of them had.  I hope that this activity encouraged them to ask questions and understand that unanswered questions should be a part of every learning experience.  

Image result for unanswered questions depth and complexity icon
Image Source:

We use the Depth and Complexity icons to take our learning to a deeper level.  If you would like to learn more about the icons, check out the following resources:

Teachers Pay Teachers - Depth and Complexity Literature Circles

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Branding - Their Story Matters

After reading Pure Genius by Don Wettrick and subscribing to the NHS Innovation Class YouTube channel, we were inspired to begin sharing our progress through video updates.  I introduced this part of our projects by asking my students to design a digital or posterboard background to serve as the backdrop of their video updates.  I explained that this background is important as it will serve as a visual representation of their project each time someone views their video.  Each time a student shares a video update, they will do so using the green screen.  We will use the DoInk Green Screen app to place their designs behind them to represent their project.  Below is an example of one of the videos that we created today.  The rest of the product introductions will be uploaded to our YouTube Channel soon.  

As we began designing our backgrounds and discussing what students wanted to share, I realized that each student was creating a brand for their projects. Furthermore, by developing and designing their projects, they are finding ways to share their ideas, passions, and intentions with others.  My students are using their projects to enhance and represent their personal brand.  My elementary students are already developing their personal brand!

We discussed how our Genius Hour projects play a role in our personal brands and give us an opportunity to share our passions with an authentic audience.  The students were very excited to publish their videos on YouTube and begin sharing their journey as they create, design, and carry out their passion projects this semester.  

In an effort to learn more about personal branding, I read 7 Things You Can Do to Create an Awesome Personal Brand on the Forbes website.  I was so surprised to find how closely this article related to Genius Hour, Innovations, and all of the things that we are doing in our classroom right now.  Online presence, personal websites, finding ways to produce value...this is what we do!

After discussing the term branding as a class, we watched the following video about branding and what it means.

After my students left, I began to do even more research on personal branding and found Doing Good Work Matters More than Your Personal Brand by Meghan M. Biro. I love that she explains that your brand is your entire package.  Our students need to know that the whole package is important.  I want my students to do good work that matters.  I want them to be known for being risk-takers and world changers.  I want them to know that they are capable of so much more than getting the answers correct on a worksheet.  “Good work that matters”...this sums up Genius Hour so well.  

I want to encourage my students to tell their story and give them the tools that they need to do so in an effective and appropriate way. In doing so, I hope to help them realize that they are capable of amazing things and their stories do matter.

Want to know more? Check out these resources...
Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level
Doing Good Work Matters More than Your Personal Brand
7 Things You Can Do to Create an Awesome Personal Brand
Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Trello in the Classroom

I am spending this week reintroducing my students to Trello.  This is an amazing tool that has such potential in the classroom!  

We used Trello last year to document our progress as we worked on our Genius Hour projects.  I had read about how Paul Solarz was using Trello with his students and wanted to give it a try.  I didn't spend too much time showing students how to best use their boards but allowed them to use it to manage their time and progress as they worked on their projects.  

As we began our new round of projects this semester, I was looking for a tool that would allow my students to organize their thoughts, document their learning, and store important information.  I immediately remembered Trello and how easy it was for my students to use.  I was excited about the possibilities and began to brainstorm how we might be able to use it to make our learning even more meaningful this time around.

We began by looking at Trello together and I explained that each project will have a board with specific lists. Students will be responsible for adding cards to each list throughout the semester. I then explained that the students would need to share some of the standards that are addressed in their project using their Trello boards. For example, if they are cooking as part of their project, they will be using measurement and fractions to carry it out.  Therefore, they will list fractions and measurement under the Math list on their Trello board.  If they will be writing and publishing a book, they will list editing, proofreading, and writing for a purpose under the Reading/Writing list on their Trello board.  

Students also included a Tech list where they will keep track of the different tech tools that they use as they work on their projects.  We added a Progress list for students to document and track their progress.  Each time they work on their projects, they will add a card documenting what they accomplished.  Finally, we added our KWHLAQ list (another idea from Paul Solarz).  Students added a card for each letter and wrote about what they know, what they want to know, and how they will find out.  They will add the LAQ cards when the project is completed.

I'm not quite sure how this is going to work out but I'm very excited about the possibilities that this tool has in my classroom.  It is a wonderful way to encourage time management and accountability as students work on their projects throughout the semester.   

There are so many other ways that Trello can be used apart from Genius Hour as well.  Below are some ways that I think it can be used in the classroom to make learning meaningful for our students.

*  Teachers could use the boards to create lists of students.  This would be a great way to track progress and concept mastery. (You have the option to make boards private)

*  Teachers could create a board for each student to document information...parent contact information, interests, and even goals could be kept on a student's board.

*  Students could create a board for lists of their favorite books.  They could create lists for different genres and share those boards with other students. 

*  A classroom could create a board to share encouraging words for each other throughout the year.  Each student could have a list and other students could add cards to their list to encourage and share nice things about them.  

*Administration could use a Trello board to collaborate with teachers.  They could have different topic lists and ask teachers to share their thoughts and ideas by adding cards.  

As I said, the possibilities are endless. My students were excited about having a central location to store their information.  I am excited that my students will be able to see how their projects give them opportunities to apply learning in a meaningful way.   I am often asked how we fit the standards into our Genius Hour projects and this will give my students a voice in sharing what standards they use and how they use them.  

I would love to hear how you are using Trello in your classroom or how you think it could be used to create meaningful learning experiences for your students.  If you haven't tried it, Trello is definitely a tech tool worth checking out. 

 Because my students are in elementary, I created a board for each project on my Trello account. They do not have their own accounts.