Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What if?

So it's almost here.  The 2015-2016 school year is right around the corner and our summers are coming to an end.  While it's been so nice to rest, relax, and get caught up on several things around the house, I'm ready.  Ready to see my students and hear about what they did this summer, ready to reconnect and collaborate with my co-workers, and ready to try new things in the classroom in order to give my students opportunities to experience meaningful learning.

That being said, I know the school year will also bring failure, frustration, and fear.  Every year I worry that the innovative things that I do in my classroom will not work.  What if I'm doing it wrong? What if students don't respond to my teaching style?  What if parents aren't on board?  What if my co-workers think that my teaching style is too "out there"?  What if?  That question seems to be something I focus on in every aspect of my life.

As I thought about these questions today and the beginning of the school year, I realized that my what if's could still be my focus.  However, instead of focusing on the negatives, I will focus on the amazing possibilities that the new school year brings.  What if I'm doing it right? What if my students not only respond but have the best year ever?  What if parents appreciate and support our classroom? What if my co-workers are encouraged and inspired by the things that we do in my classroom?

If I am to model what I want for my students, I have to think this way.  I want my students to ask themselves...what if I can change the world?  What if my thoughts do matter?  What if my voice can be heard?  What if school can be a springboard toward the career of my dreams?   I don't want them to be afraid of falling.   I want them to see falling as part of the process, part of the journey.

So as we prepare for the school year, let's allow ourselves to ask what if.  But let's use those what if's to allow ourselves to try new things in the classroom.  Be brave, take risks, and find ways to make your classroom a place that students want to be.   Let's make 2015-2016 a year that our students will remember for the rest of their lives!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Summer Boredom Busters

It happens every summer...kids get bored.  It's too hot, friends aren't home, or they just need something to keep them busy.  Check out some of the awesome resources below to offer meaningful learning that is fun and engaging. I love to share these with my parents throughout the summer using Remind.

Camp Wonderopolis - This is a completely free program from Wonderopolis.org.  There are six different wonders that students can explore and experience.  Each one includes a reading activity, a video, a maker activity, and a dashboard to track progress.  This a great way to encourage curiosity throughout the summer.  My students love Wonderopolis and Camp Wonderopolis is just a reason to love it even more!

DIY.org - This website is perfect for kids that enjoy making, designing, and doing.  They are given a list of skills and choose which challenges they would like to complete.  After completing three challenges, students earn a badge and after completing six, they earn the Master Skill badge.  I am a huge fan of DIY.org simply because it give students an opportunity to apply their learning in ways that are meaningful for them.  If you have not seen this website, check it out and give it a try.  You won't regret it.

Camp Google - So I just learned about Camp Google this week.  I was so impressed!  It is a free camp that is filled with fun science experiments. The learning adventures are led by experts and you can join at any time.  Ocean Week is happening now and you can even watch a National Geographic deep sea dive!  How awesome is that?   Other topics include space, the wild, and music.  Students earn badges as they participate and are even challenged to complete hands on activities.

DogoNews - DogoNews has been a favorite of mine for a while.  It is a wonderful place to find student-appropriate current events.  Each story includes pictures, video, article comprehension questions, and a critical thinking question.  I also LOVE that DogoNews offers a map when readers click on a location that they do not recognize.  Readers can click words in order to be given a definition as well.  There is a Summer Reading Club that encourages students to read and review books throughout the summer.

If you are looking for ways to keep your kiddos busy this summer or just want to offer some meaningful learning experiences, check these out!  You will be glad that you did.

Why I'm Excited to be an Educator Right Now

So often I hear teachers talk about the negative aspects of being a teacher right now.  We complain about testing, our paychecks, and the attitudes of the students that we teach.  The teacher's lounge is full of conversations about why we don't want to be at work, how soon we can retire, and what other opportunities might exist outside of teaching.

Since I have become a connected educator,  I have come to the realization that teaching is where it's at right now.  I know it sounds silly but hear me out.  Below are three reasons that I am so excited to be an educator today and look forward to being in the classroom more and more each year.

Collaboration and Relationships - Because I am connected, I have had the opportunity to meet and connect with and learn from some of the most amazing educators on the planet.  I have been able to find ways to reignite my passion for teaching, challenge my students, and make my classroom a place that we all want to be.  Being connected makes it possible for me to learn all the time.  I am able to read about educators that are trying new things, taking risks, and being the change in education.  In doing so, I am motivated to step outside my comfort zone and do what is best for my students.  I see my role as an educator differently than before.

Just this morning I was able to join Kevin Honeycutt's Periscope to hear Ginger Lewman's Keynote at Podstock.  Even though I wasn't able to attend the event, I was still able to learn and experience a little piece of Podstock from my couch.  Personalized learning is waiting for me every single day on Twitter, Periscope, Voxer, and Google+.

Connecting with the World - My classroom no longer revolves around me and my students. Because of technology and social media, we are able to share our work with the world as well as connect with outside experts to help us experience real world application.  Skype and Google Hangouts make it possible to connect with people and give my students a chance to see how their learning can be applied in real world situations.  This changes everything and makes the learning real.
Learning Outside the Classroom - Learning doesn't have to be limited to the classroom anymore. Tools such as Edmodo, Google Classroom, and Remind101 give me the ability to stay connected to my students and their parents throughout the summer.  I am able to share things like Camp Google, DIY.org, and Camp Wonderopolis with them in an effort to encourage students continue to learn even when they are not at school.

We have even taken some of our field trips this summer that we were able to take throughout the school year.  The student in this picture made a donation to the local humane society and was recently interviewed by a local magazine about her Genius Hour project and desire to help animals.


I can't help but be super excited about education right now.  We have the ability to give our students the world as well as opportunities to experience learning by application.  We are no longer confined to the four walls of the classroom.  Encouraging them to be world changers, difference makers, and dream chasers gives me purpose.  We are impacting the future and our jobs are meaningful.  It's time that we start realizing how awesome it is that we get to do what we do every day!  Being a teacher is where it's at and I am so glad to be a part of it all!

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Innovation Day 2015

So I have gotten a little behind on blogging but have had such a busy summer, I just haven't had a chance to sit down and write.  But this morning as the kids sleep in and I have a few quiet moments, I thought I would share about Innovation Day and what we learned.

After reading about many different schools and their Innovation Day experiences, we decided to give it a try on our campus.  I say this often but I am so blessed to work for an administration that is willing to think outside of the box, try new things, and take risks to give our students meaningful learning opportunities.

So on May 29th, we held our 1st Annual Innovation Day.  I was lucky enough to have connected Heather Russell from Region 10 earlier in the year and she shared all of their resources.  A few weeks before Innovation Day, I visited each grade level and talked about what innovation is and why this day was so important.  We watched Caine's Arcade and then I challenged them to think about what they would create, make, or design on Innovation Day.  The teachers were given a link to share with their students. This link took them to the Google Form where they were asked what they were going to make on Innovation Day.

After all of the students completed the form, we sat down and divided them into rooms based on their projects. After looking at the projects, we came up with the following rooms: Cardboard, Architecture, Engineering, Technology, Art, Culinary Arts, Science/Math and Physical Education. The most popular rooms were Cardboard and Culinary Arts.  Students were so excited to design their amazing creations from cardboard and actually mix, blend, and cook at school.  We didn't even look at grade levels as we wanted the rooms to be multi-age.

We also asked our teachers to choose rooms that they would like to supervise.  While some of our teachers were nervous about Innovation Day just because it was unlike anything we had ever done before, they were excited and willing to give it a try.  We encouraged the teachers to choose a room that would give them an opportunity to learn.  So we didn't want the teachers that loved to cook in the Culinary Arts room.  Instead, we wanted the teachers to learn from the students.  We wanted the students to be the experts and we wanted to learn from them and their creations.  Before the big day, I shared this information with our teachers to prepare them for the big day.

Taking Heather's advice, we also had Wild Card options for students that didn't bring their materials, finished early, or just couldn't decide what to do.  This was simply a list of projects that students could choose to complete.  We offered a variety of options hoping they would find something that they would really enjoy.

Throughout the day, we also asked our students to reflect by asking them to respond to the following  (again, thanks to Heather Russell):

What do you think today is going to be like?

How do you feel right now?

What is a challenge that you have faced today?

Draw a picture of what you created or designed today.

I won't lie and say that the day was perfect...it wasn't.  There are so many things that we will do differently next year.  But it was a success because our students were experiencing meaningful learning.  They were solving problems, thinking critically, and collaborating while doing things were meaningful for them.  In my opinion, it doesn't get any better than that.  While walking around and visiting the different rooms, I couldn't help but notice that all of the students were engaged.  They were interested in what they were doing and they were learning.

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When the day was over, there was lots to clean up and lots of reflecting to do.  I am so thankful for the teachers that stepped up and helped with the clean up and closure as I had to leave a little early to catch a flight.  As I reflected on the day, I realized that we had given our students an opportunity to be themselves, to learn on their terms, and to experience school in a new way.  It was a good day and even with all of the things we could have done differently, the kids LOVED it.

So now it's time to start thinking about Innovation Day 2016.  I cannot wait!

Has your district/campus tried Innovation Day or something like it?  Do you have any advice or suggestions for those wanting to try it?  Please feel free to comment with questions or suggestions. I'd love to hear how other schools are making this happen!