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.
Sunday, February 7, 2016

Classroom Conversations

I've been thinking a lot lately about my students and what I can do to help them realize their worth, their capabilities, and their strengths.  I want them to leave my classroom knowing that I thought that they could tackle any problem.  When they leave elementary, I want it to be with the courage to do amazing things because they have been encouraged to see themselves as nothing less than amazing.

As an educator, I definitely have days when this is not the case.  I get frustrated, tired, and even discouraged at times.  I wonder if they understand why we do the things we do.  I wonder if they grasp the reality of the impact that they can potentially make.

This morning, our pastor was sharing about the impact we have on others and spoke about something that he does every year.  He said that he makes two list titled "What Others Think About Me" and "What I Want Them to Think About Me".  He then looks at the differences and spends time thinking about those differences on the lists.  He responds by writing how he can change their perception.  What can he do for them to make an impact, help them see him for who he wants to be, and really make a difference?  

This afternoon, I began to think about my students and how such an activity could help me become a better teacher and have a greater impact on my students.  In doing so, I realized that making this list would be a wonderful start.   So, this week, I will ask my students, "What do you think about our class and how things are going?"  I will listen and reflect as they share.  I don't want to respond with excuses or justification with the things that they think I should change.  I just want to hear them.  

After I have reflected on their responses, I will make a list of "What I Want My Students to Think About Our Class".  Then I will compare the two lists and determine how I can make changes to ensure that my students are seeing the me that I want them to see.  I don't want to assume that I am doing what I need to do to help them succeed, I want to hear it from them.

In an effort to give our students control of their learning, it is so important that we, as teachers, are willing to learn from them.  We need to take time to really listen to their voices and then react with intention and purpose.  We may not be able to take every suggestion and make every single change that they suggest but if they see the classroom as "ours" instead of "mine", they will begin to take ownership of their learning.  

So, if anyone wants to join me in having this conversation this week in the classroom, please do!  I will write again before the end of the week to share my lists and the changes that I will make as a result of the conversations that we have.  I will use the simple chart below to document our conversation.  

Feel free to do the same and share with me on Twitter.  I would love to see how both teachers and students respond to the conversation.

Have a wonderful week and be the teacher that your students deserve!  

Friday, February 5, 2016

TCEA Reflection

Wow!  TCEA was such a great experience and I am still reeling from all of the wonderful things that I learned and the wonderful people that I met this week.

This year, I was able to attend TCEA on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. I went with one of our amazing science/social teachers, Desiree Toombs. While I would have loved to stay all week, this was just enough time to attend several sessions and meet lots of new people.

On Tuesday, I was able to present with an amazing group of girls including Jaime Donally, Fran Siracusa, Kari Espin, Lisa Monthie, Cassie Reeder, and Deb Atchison.  I was so surprised to find out that Fran was calling in from Clearwater to share during the session as I had met her at LaunchMe with Brad Waid back in October.  It was so fun to realize that connection and be able to say hello again.  I also had a blast sharing laughs (as usual) with Kari and Lisa. Jaime did an amazing job sharing Live Video Streaming and we played a fun game with puzzle pieces that gave everyone a chance to experience the different tools that we were sharing.

I also stopped by the TCEA Radio Booth to say hello to my sweet friend Christy Cate who was amazing all week.  She did such a great job keeping us updated and interviewing so many people throughout the conference.  She is one of the sweetest, friendliest people that I know and I can't wait to hang out with her when I visit Region 14 in Abilene this summer!

Wednesday morning, I was lucky enough to present Genius Hour with Don Wettrick.  Don has played such a huge role in changing my mindset.  After meeting him and learning from him over the last two years, my mindset and reasons for teaching have completely changed.  I no longer see my classroom as my own but instead see it as a space for my students innovate, create, and learn based on their passions.  I understand that my students deserve time in their school day to make connections and learn about things that are important to them.  Presenting with Don was such an awesome experience and one that I will remember for a very long time.  

Then it was lunch time with one my favorite GT educators, Terri Eichholz.  I love her blog, Engage Their Minds, and I learn so much from her on Twitter!  We were able to catch up, share some laughs, and hang out.  Her passion for doing what is best for students is so contagious and I absolutely love chatting with her every chance that I get.

After several great sessions that afternoon, it was time for some relaxation with great friends.  I am such a fan of so many of the educators from Weatherford ISD.  I absolutely adore Amanda Rogers, Shelly Stout, Jacqueline Rose, and the rest of their crew! They are so passionate about giving their students opportunities to be innovative and creative.  It seems they always have something new to share and contribute.  We chatted over dinner and came up with some amazing ways for our students to collaborate and connect.  The AMAZING Jaime Donally joined us and kept us laughing.  She is so full of energy, passion, and ideas.  I am so thankful that we connected as I learn so much from her every time we are together.

Wednesday evening, we joined the #gueri11aed and #txeduchat for a Tweetup.   All I can say that is Region 11 rocks!  How could it not with amazing people like Charles Cooper, Tom Kilgore, and Tracie Cain?  They are doing amazing things and I am so excited for Elementary Con in June!  I feel like I already knew Tom Kilgore but we were able to meet face to face and share more about what we do in education.  Such a great time connecting and collaborating with some of the very best!   Cassie Reeder and I chatted about Genius Hour and I can't wait to hear the amazing things that happen as she introduces it to her students.

I started Thursday morning with the hilarious Laura Kile.  I met her when I presented in Midland last summer and we became fast friends.  She always makes me laugh and has such an amazing personality.  Being able to run into her and then spend time catching up was such a treat!

After my presentation on Thursday, it was time to say goodbye.  I had made so many connections and was reminded of why my PLN is so important to me.  They are the ones that keep me going, encourage me to do things that are WAY outside of my comfort zone, and give me the courage that I need to be real about what is best for my students.  I don't know that they will ever know the impact that they have on my classroom each day but I am better because of their awesomeness!

So, until next year...