Monday, November 9, 2015

A Mystery Skype to Remember

I'm a little late on writing this post but wanted to share because it was such a fun day for our students and gave them an opportunity to see themselves as teachers as well as students.

We were recently given the opportunity to participate in a Mystery Skype with teachers at a session at the Microsoft campus in North Dakota.  Kelly Rexine had contacted me to ask if we would be willing to participate and we were more than willing.  We were so excited!  Our third grade students absolutely love to Mystery Skype and I thought it would be a great opportunity for them to share their expertise and excitement about the topic with teachers that were wanting to learn.  

I want to begin by saying that our third grade teacher, Mrs. Battistella, is amazing at making each Mystery Skype a success.  She does a great job of explaining the roles, asking for feedback, and ensuring that it is a learning opportunity for everyone that is involved.  The first time that I observed her class participating in a Mystery Skype, I realized right away that every student was engaged, willingly engaged. 

We began the session by taking time to let Mrs. Battistella explain how a Mystery Skype works.  She shared the roles of each group and explained why each of them are important to the process.  After this, we turned it over to the students and let them work their magic.  

When the students correctly concluded that the audience was in North Dakota, they were so excited! As closure,  Kelly asked his audience if they had any questions for the students.  One teacher asked what it was about Mystery Skype that the students liked.  In response, several students shared that they liked learning about new places and liked that they were learning by having fun and meeting new people.  They absolutely loved answering the questions and being the experts as they shared with the teachers.

It was so fun watching them find ways to share their learning and express their feelings about the activity.  I was so impressed with their willingness to speak up and give their perspective.

As we wrapped up, Mrs. Battistella asked her class to reflect on the event.  She has a wonderful reflection sheet for each Mystery Skype and so she gave one to each student.  Below are a few of their responses. 

I love that almost every student was surprised to learn that they could teach teachers. They were in awe of the fact that they had spent their afternoon showing teachers how to do something well.  

It was such a fun day!  The students were given an opportunity to teach and they did.  Sometimes learning from students is more engaging and has more of an impact than learning from our peers.  I love nothing more than to hear from student panels and see students doing whatever it is that I am learning about.  I am so thankful that Kelly was willing to ask our students to teach educators about Mystery Skype and share their perspective.

If you haven't considered trying a Mystery Skype in your classroom, you should.  It is such a wonderful way to encourage critical thinking while using geography skills.   And even better, it's a lot of fun!

Genius Hour - Application at its Best

So I recently began challenging my students to find ways to apply specific standards when working on their Genius Hour projects.  For example, this week I gave them a TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) objective for Math,  ELA, Science, and Technology.  I then asked them to tell me if they found a way to incorporate that specific skill into their project.

I wasn't sure how this would work out or how my students would respond to the challenge.  I like to give them as much freedom as possible during Genius Hour and worried that this might put a damper on things.  In order to encourage them to consider using the skills, I offered a digital badge for each skill that they were able to apply during Genius Hour.  It was not mandatory and students were encouraged to find creative ways to apply the skills.

Genius Hour in our classroom

The first week was a little bit rough as they were confused about how to weave the standards into their projects and just weren't really sure why we were doing this.  The second week, I gave them a second set of standards.  Fifth grade students were challenged to use the following:

Math - Select tools to solve problems
Science - Collect information by observing
ELA - Use context clues to clarify meaning
Technology - Use various search strategies

Before we started Genius Hour, I spent several minutes giving specific examples of how these might be used in our projects.  I talked about using measuring cups, rulers, and other tools to measure.  I shared how they might take notes while they observed or watched YouTube videos.  I explained that when researching online, we sometimes use context clues to clarify meaning of specific words.  Finally, we talked about searching on Google and Pinterest and the various strategies that we might use.  As I explained, I realized that the students were beginning to catch on.  They were asking questions and sharing their own examples as well.

We are on week 3 of applying the standards and I have to say that it is making an impact on my students.  Above all else, they are beginning to realize that they are applying the skills that they are learning in class.  They are making connections between real world application and their classroom experience.  I love that they are able to see that the standards are not just something that can be done on a worksheet but instead something that they can incorporate into their life outside of school.

I knew I was onto something when one of my students sent me a message on Edmodo.  She asked me if she could earn a badge for using one of the standards outside of class.  In other words, if she realized she was applying a standard in her everyday life, would I give her a badge for that?  My answer...of course!  Isn't this what I want?  Don't I want my students to understand that they can apply what they are learning outside of my classroom?  Just seeing that she could apply the standards to her Genius Hour project has given her the ability to see the many ways she uses her learning every day.

We certainly still have a lot to learn but I'm so glad that the students are responding to this idea.  It has not hindered their creativity in any way and is in fact, encouraging them to be more creative. Many of them are finding interesting ways to weave the standards into their projects and realizing that this can be done in so many ways.

I look forward to encouraging this throughout the year and seeing where it leads.  I believe that if we can't find ways to help our students make these connections, the work is not meaningful for them.   If it's not meaningful, I'm wasting my time and theirs and that's just not something I'm willing to do.