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.  

You can check out our projects and student blogs by visiting

Sunday, March 1, 2015

What Our Students Don't Need

So often I focus on what our students need and want in the classroom.  While it's difficult to always know exactly what these things are, I know so many wonderful teachers that are doing all they can to find out and provide those things in their classrooms.

Today, I started thinking about the things our students don't need.  What are the things that we can do without in the classroom?  These are a few of the things that I thought of right away...

1.  Sarcasm - Sarcasm is something that many of us use to survive our day.  We, without intention (or sometimes with intention), make sarcastic comments to others in an effort to get a laugh, make ourselves feel better, or just as a habit. As adults, we get this.  We know when sarcasm is meant to be funny and when it is meant to be hurtful.  However, not all of our students have the ability to know the difference.  One sarcastic comment may make a student question his/her ability, knowledge, or even their worth.  While there are many students that understand sarcasm, there are also many that do not.  That sarcastic comment that may or may not be funny is not worth the adverse effect that it could have a student's self-confidence.

2.  Grades on Everything - Not every assignment needs to be graded.  More often than not, feedback is much more important than a number grade.  Students often receive grades without any knowledge of how they can improve or why they received that grade.  Sometimes, students just need feedback. They need to hear us explain what they did well and what they can do to improve.  Better yet, we may need to listen to them explain what they thought of an assignment.  What did they struggle with? Would they suggest that we assign this in the future?  Feedback and conversation is worth so much more than grades.  While I understand that in most classrooms and schools, grades are necessary, it's not necessary to grade everything.  It's more important to form relationships and remind your students that you value their thoughts and opinions.

3.  Lectures - The students in our classrooms are unique.  They are collaborative, creative, and are very aware of the fact that they can Google almost anything.  As teachers, we must begin to realize that we can still teach our students and guide them without standing at the front of the room talking for an hour.  Instead, we can give them opportunities to experience learning and create learning experiences that lend themselves to collaboration and creativity.  It's okay not to have all of the answers and allow our students to see us as learners as well.  In doing so, we create an environment that makes learning meaningful and exciting.  It's no longer an event, but an experience. Students are encouraged to wonder and ask questions, knowing that you might have to find the answer together.

These are just a few of the random things that I thought about today.  While there are no perfect classrooms and I definitely don't have all of the answers, I think that we can begin by focusing on what our students need and don't need.  Not what's easy, not what's convenient, but what will create the best learning experiences for them?

What are some things that you think our students don't need?