Sunday, December 23, 2018

The Candy Jar Mindset

"You get what you get and you don't throw a fit."  I've heard this statement many times and I've even used it a few times in my own household with my own kids.  I've also found myself saying, "It is what it is" often in response to things not going the way that I had hoped or planned.  While both of these statements are appropriate in certain situations, I'm not sure that they represent the perspective that I want to have the majority of the time.

The "you get what you get" and "it is what it is" mindsets have often been an excuse for me to give up.  I've used them as a crutch during those times that I knew I should've pursued something more or worked harder to get whatever it was that I was working toward.  Using those statements caused me to see life, projects, and goals as a slot machine. In doing so, I was giving myself an excuse to be a passive observer instead of an active participant.

I don't gamble often and don't enjoy it much at all.   I'm a really sore loser and get so frustrated when I begin to lose money.   However, I've been to Vegas and a few casinos closer to home with friends and family.  I typically just play the penny slots but very rarely win a dime.  When I think back on the times that I've played, I realized something.   When playing the slots I pull the handle and wait to see what happens.  If the outcome isn't what I had hoped, I become frustrated and often give up. I throw my hands up in the air, say something like, "It's just not my day," and walk away wishing things had gone differently.  Unfortunately, I sometimes react this same way when I experience struggle or failure in real life.  I sit as a passive observer waiting for something really cool to happen and becoming frustrated when it doesn't.

I recently remembered my grandma's candy jar from when I was a kid.  She had a big jar with a variety of candy options inside.  It always seemed that the candy I wanted the most (Banana Laffy Taffy) was at the bottom of the jar.  I had three choices, I could wait until everyone else ate the candy on top, I could eat some of the candy that I didn't like to get to my favorite, or I could put forth the effort it would take to dig into the jar to reach the candy that I so desperately wanted at the bottom.

Isn't life often like this?  Sometimes, we have to wait our turn to get what it is that we want and other times we have the option to make something happen.  There have been so many times that I have had to do something that I didn't want to do in order to reach a goal.  I've had to become comfortable with the uncomfortable and be willing to do things that required me to be fearless.  Other times, I've had to do the hard work, the digging, to make something happen that wasn't going to happen on its own.

I believe that doors are opened and closed for us every single day. I believe that when a door is closed, sometimes it is locked and never to be opened again.  However, I also believe that there are situations in which we just need to keep knocking and keep believing as we seek opportunities that have been laid before us.

I remember when I wrote, Genius Hour: Passion Projects that Ignite Innovation and Student Inquiry.  That was definitely at the bottom of the jar.  I knew that I wanted to write and share the 6 Ps of Genius Hour but I also knew that time, willingness, and fear were all on top.  It was going to be some serious work to dig through those things to get to what it was that I really wanted.  But, I did.  And I'm so glad that I did.  Because, while I was digging to the bottom, I also tried some new things.  In doing so, I learned that some of the things that I thought I wouldn't like, I actually enjoyed.  I learned new things about myself and realized that if I never go after what I want, I'm allowing myself to be a passive observer, just like at the slot machines.  But when I'm an active participant and I'm willing to take the good with the bad, really cool things begin to happen.

So, in 2019, I will have the Candy Jar Mindset.  I'll do things that I don't want to do and will work hard to dig through the mess to get to what I know I can and will accomplish.  I say it all the time, but I believe in this generation of learners and want to work hard to continue to pursue change in education.  I've made my list of "candy" that is at the bottom of my jar and will soon make decisions on whether or not it's worth the digging to finally have it in my reach.

What is the candy at the bottom of your jar?  What will you work hard for in 2019?  How can you change your perspective from being a passive observer to being an active participant and going after what you want to accomplish?  Make your list and think about the new things that you will have to try to get to the bottom or what you will have to dig past to reach what it is that you really want.

Happy 2019!  Let's make it AMAZING!
Monday, December 17, 2018

Creating Change in 2019

2018 is almost a wrap and it's been so fun to see what educators are doing to create real learning experiences for their learners.  As we near the end of this year,  I think it's important to consider the potential for new ideas, real change, and innovation that comes with the new year.  What has to happen for real change to to occur?  What does real change look like and how will we know when it is here?

Change means that something must look and feel different.  One definition of different is novel and unusual.  Many of our students are experiencing "business as usual" every day when they go to school and the reality is that the experience should be anything but usual.  It's time for change and not just change, but real, authentic change that can be seen and felt by everyone involved in the school experience.

I wanted to take some time to explore three ways that we can create real change in our classrooms, on our campuses, and in our districts...

Take Risks - Risk-taking can be scary stuff.  It's no secret that taking a risk can sometimes result in  struggle or even failure.  However, if we don't take risks, we will never know what can and will work with today's learners.  Holding on to what is familiar and comfortable results in frustration for our learners that need school to be so much more than just a place that they go to learn things that they can search on Google or learn from YouTube.  Be willing to stick your neck out for them.  Get comfortable being uncomfortable and begin to see risks as opportunities to do what's best for today's learners.

Change your Perspective - What if we saw school as an experience instead of a place? The word experience implies action and by definition, will leave an impression on those that are involved.  Seeing school as an experience shifts our perspective and helps us understand that in order to leave an impression, we must move beyond traditional practices.  Learning for today's students must be authentic and they need to know how they will use what is being learned beyond the walls of the classroom.  Create experiences by giving them opportunities to make those connections as they learn by creating change themselves.  (To learn more about helping learners make connections, check out the latest Meaningful Moment on the podcast.)

Get Connected - We are better together!  There are so many educators doing such great things.  Being connected helps us realize that real change is not only possible, but happening!  Seeing someone else take a risk by changing their perspective often motivates us to do the same.  Make it a priority to see beyond your classroom, your campus, and your district.  Connect with others on social media and seek out networking opportunities.  Instead of making excuses for not being able to do what they are doing, ask questions.  Be willing to learn and stay open-minded as you connect with educators doing things beyond your own comfort zone.  Remember, we all want what's best for today's learners and it's only together that we will be able to create real change.

So, what's stopping us from making 2019 the year that school becomes more than just a place?  Fear, unwillingness, compliance, comfort zones, and complacency...just to name a few.   It's time to move beyond these things and into what we know is best for our learners.

Don’t allow the fear of failure to keep you from being the educator that today’s learners need you to be. Instead, chase after your purpose with a fearless willingness to do what it takes to create real change.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

6 Ps of Genius Hour Online Course

So much has happened since developing and sharing and the 6 Ps of Genius Hour.  I have been so blessed to be able to write about the process, share my experiences all over the country, and connect with amazing educators that are wanting something different for their own classrooms. 

As I really spent some time focusing on what's next and how I best wanted to continue to share what I believe to be a process that helps educators make passion-based learning a reality in any classroom, I thought about what I loved about what I do.  It's the connections that I love the most.  I love hearing from educators that are making Genius Hour a priority in their own classrooms and sharing with others.  I love talking to teachers that are frustrated and so hungry for change that they are willing to take a risk and do something different.  The stories, the relationships, and the realization that we really are better together has been such a driving force for me. 

I wanted to be able to share the 6 Ps of Genius Hour with more people.  I wanted to be able to share in a way that still gave me an opportunity to connect and create relationships but I also know how difficult it is to get out of the classroom and make time for professional development.  And while, there's no doubt about it, I love sharing with educators in person, I love online learning as well.  I love being able to learn in my bed in my pajamas whenever I want.  I like being able to move at my own pace and learn on my terms.  Because I enjoy these things, I'm assuming that there are many others that feel the same way.  And because of this, I decided to create the 6 Ps of Genius Hour Online Course on Teachable

This course is my answer to those that don't want to sit through 6 hours of training and that need to be able to learn on their time on their terms.  I've done the best that I can to create a learning experience that will not only engage but empower educators to make passion-based learning a reality in their classrooms. 

So, what does it look like and how is it different from any other PD that you might have experienced? First, I've created learning experiences that are comprised of three critical pieces.  These are the same critical pieces that I think should be used in the classroom to create meaningful learning experiences for our students. 

1.  Engage - This piece of the experience is designed to catch your attention and help you understand why the information is important.

2.  Experience - This piece will give you an opportunity to apply the learning in order to connect with what is being shared.

3.  Empower - This final piece challenges you to do something with what was learned in your own classroom. 

Second, I've included specific ways throughout the course to connect with the Genius Hour community as we embark on this journey together. I hope to begin to see each other as sounding boards, classmates, and friends as we learn and grow. 

The course includes the following and can be done at your own pace...

  • 10 modules addressing the 6 Ps of Genius Hour and MORE
  • 20+ videos with practical advice and ideas 
  • Learning opportunities designed to engage, provide an experience, and empower
  • Screen-recordings of technology tools that can be used in the classroom to make the process manageable
  • Access to the Genius Hour Flipgrid created for those enrolled in the course to collaborate and share
  • Access to the 6 Ps of Genius Hour Facebook Group for ongoing connectivity
  • Downloadable resources for classroom use
  • Certificate of Completion
I believe that every student deserves an opportunity to pursue their passions during the school day.  I believe that we can teach the standards through Genius Hour while giving our learners opportunities to apply and practice life-ready skills.  It's because I believe these things and my own classroom experience that I want to share this process and my experience with anyone and everyone that will listen.

I really tried to create this course for every educator.  And, by every educator,  I mean those that love every minute of what you do and those that are in desperate need of something different.  I say that because I've been in both of your shoes.  But, I can tell you that when I gave my students opportunities to learn by pursuing their passions, I found my passion as an educator.  I realized what I thought would keep me from teaching the standards actually gave them opportunities to make real connections and reach a deep level of understanding that was never going to come from worksheets.

So, I created this course in an effort to share with others what I believe changed everything for me as an educator.  If you have any questions, need more details, or you are are looking for something different like the FREE Genius Hour Book Study or an In-Person PD Learning Experience for your staff or district, contact me anytime!  

Saturday, August 4, 2018

What are Your Core Beliefs?

It's almost time.  The first day of school is almost here!  I know that this is a busy time and there is lots of PD and prep work happening for educators right now.  However, I want to encourage you to take some time do something that will drive and influence your entire year...identify your core beliefs.  You see, your core beliefs about education, students, learning, and relationships are already impacting what you do and how you teach.  They are your "why", the reason that you do what you do.  But have you ever taken time to really stop and name those core beliefs?

Identifying your core beliefs and sharing them with others help to make them a reality.  So, how do you know what they are?  How can you share them and why should they be top priority?  I think it's best to start with what you believe that every student deserves.  I like to think of them as targets that I was aiming for with every experience that was designed, every tool that was used, and every relationship that was built.  Now don't get me wrong, there were many times that I missed the mark.  But when I did, I knew it and was able to regain focus and aim more carefully with the next attempt.

As you think about your core beliefs, don't think about standardized testing, standards, or lesson plans.  Just focus on what you truly believe that every single learner needs and deserves from you and your classroom this year.

Let me share my core beliefs...

🎯  I believe that every student deserves an opportunity to experience new learning.

🎯  I believe that every student deserves an opportunity to share their learning.

🎯  I believe that every student deserves an opportunity to learn from failure.

🎯  I believe that every student deserves an opportunity to learn by doing.

🎯  I believe that every student deserves an opportunity to pursue their passion during the school day.

Those core beliefs drive everything that I share.  Because I believe these things, I am passionate about real learning experiences like Genius Hour and Makerspace.  I will talk to anyone that will listen about my experience with my own students and how allowing them to own their learning by pursuing their passions changed everything.

Now, it's your turn.  Think about what you believe to be true about what students deserve.  Start with something as simple as I believe...and then be completely honest.  Don't get caught up in worrying about what others will think about your core beliefs or if you will really be able to make them happen.  Just focus on what you believe students deserve.

Now, write them down and put them somewhere that you will see them every single day.  Don't lose sight of these beliefs when things get hard.  Instead, hold on to them throughout the year as your guide, your compass when you aren't sure if you are going in the right direction.  If you question something that you are planning to do in the classroom, ask yourself if it matches any of your core beliefs.  More importantly, ask yourself it goes against any of your core beliefs.

Often times, we have great ideas and ambitions when the school year starts.  Then, things get crazy and we revert back to what's easy, what's comfortable, and what's familiar.  For me, having these core beliefs held me accountable as I took risks and tried new things.  I knew that if it was going to result in one of these beliefs being activated, it was probably a good idea, even if it wasn't successful right away.

In short, here are some simple steps you can take to create, activate, and share your own core beliefs.

1⃣  Take some time to focus on what you believe to be true about education.

2⃣  Write down 3-5 of those beliefs that you believe deserve your focus and attention.

3⃣  Think about the ways that your beliefs can be "activated".  In other words, how can you make it happen?

4⃣  Post your core beliefs in a place that you will see them every single day.

5⃣  Share your beliefs on Twitter using #ameaningfulmess and with anyone else that will listen.

Very soon, you will have students coming through your doors.  And while you are accountable to lots of people, your ultimate accountability is to the learners that are relying on you to create meaningful experiences that will engage and empower.

It's going to be a great year and I can't wait to hear your core beliefs for 2018-2019.  Take some time and make your core beliefs a priority...I think you will be so glad that you did!

In Episode 1 of A Meaningful Mess Podcast, I talked more about core beliefs and how they can impact you as an educator. Listen below!

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Genius Hour and The Global Goals

It's easy to allow Genius Hour to become a time for students to create simply for the sake of creating.  And, don't hear me saying that's a bad thing.  However, I do believe that it's important to move toward asking our learners to design projects that will create change or provide solutions for real problems. 

Below are some practical ways to help students understand what they can do to create change through the projects that they design...

1)  Introduce learners to The Global Goals.  This is a wonderful resource that helps learners see the bigger picture.

Image Credit:  United Nations

2)  Use the Design for Change: One Idea: One Week Experience from World's Largest Lesson to inspire action and give students a springboard for bigger ideas.

3)  Give learners an opportunity to dive deeper into their ideas by using the Youth Changing the World Toolkit.  This resource gives students the tools that they need to design a project that will impact their school, community, or maybe even the world.

After these things have been shared and introduced, it's time to get out of their way and let them go for it.  Help them find outside experts, find ways to weave learning into the projects that they are designing, and listen when they have ideas or struggles.

Focusing on The Global Goals will help this generation understand the potential that is there for them to drive and create real change.  It will remind them that they can make a difference and can learn by doing so.  So, let's take Genius Hour to next level.  Instead of just creating projects to share with parents or even on social media, let's encourage them to be problem-solvers, innovative thinkers, and drivers of change.  In other words, let's let them be who they are meant to be!
Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Using the 3E's to Design Meaningful Learning Experiences

I don't know many educators that get excited about writing lesson plans.  Most of us don't look forward to planning something that we know we will not enjoy doing.  So, I guess the question becomes if it isn't something we are looking forward to doing with our students, why are we doing it and why would we expect them to enjoy doing it any more than we enjoyed planning it?

I remember a few years ago, reading Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess.  I quickly realized that not only was it okay to design wildly creative lessons, it was the only way I was going to engage my learners.  I still believe and have learned from experience that it's so much more fun to design meaningful learning experiences than to write a lesson plan.  

Many people often ask, what does that look like?  How do you design a meaningful learning experience?  I've shared thoughts, ideas, and even digital tools but I recently realized that a meaningful learning experience simply requires us to engage our learners, create an experience, and empower them to do something with what has been learned.   Think of it this way...

en·gage - participate or become involved in

Ask can my learners be engaged in a way that will make them WANT to learn?

Engaged learners want to be there. They are invested in what is being learned and have a desire to want to know more.  So, how do we make this happen?  I can tell you this...we won't be able to make it happen by announcing at the beginning of class that they should listen because this will be on the test, or this is something that they will need when they get older.  None of that matters to them.  They are all about the "right now" and have difficulty understanding why they need to know something now that they can Google later.  And the reality is, with an attention span of 8 seconds,  it's no surprise that they need to know this quickly.  

What does that mean for us as educators?  It means we need to create hooks that will result in them wanting to know more and cause them to look forward to the rest of the learning experience 
  • Use a creative writing prompt to create discussion or drive curiosity.  Visit Photo Prompts and/or Writing Prompts for some very cool ideas!
  • Check out the Teach Like a Pirate many ideas!
  • Visit The Literacy Shed and find a short video that you can use as a spark to create excitement and wonder.
  • Create your own hooks by knowing your students well enough to know what will get them going!

ex·pe·ri·ence - an event that leaves an impression on someone

Ask yourself - What experiences can be designed to give them a reason to invest in the learning?

Isn't this what we should always be trying to do in our classrooms? Don't we want to leave an impression on our learners? Think about the difference between an activity and an activity is just something that someone does. An experience is something that someone does that leaves an impression...BIG difference!

There are so many ways that we can design experiences that will leave an impression on our learners and help them make connections.
  • Use virtual reality to take them to places that they never thought they would be able to go. One of my favorite resources is 360Cities. Take your students anywhere virtually and let them explore!
  • Connect with outside experts and let your students hear how what is being learned is used outside of the classroom.
  • Ask them to create video games using Scratch or websites using Weebly to share what they have learned.

em·pow·er - giving someone the power to do something

Ask yourself...How can my learners be empowered to apply what was learned in a real way?

Applying what has been learned in a real situation is very important.  In doing so, they begin to understand the why.  Empowering them to take ownership of their own learning and then do something with it makes learning real.  And if it isn't real, if it's just something we want them to be able to do a worksheet, why in the world are we wasting our time and theirs?   Empower your learners to apply what has been learned.
  • Ask them to create video games using Scratch or websites using Weebly to share what they have learned.
  • Share learning with an authentic audience by blogging, posting on social media, or using Flipgrid.
  • Reflect on what was learned...give them opportunities to move beyond remembering (what I learned and how I learned it) to reflection (what I learned and why I learned it).
  • Give opportunities to move beyond surface level learning.  Offer choice and opportunities for students to dive deeper into personalized learning experiences. Allow your students to learn by pursuing their passions. Find ways to weave learning into what they are pursuing. Give them opportunities to learn by doing by making Genius Hour a priority in your classroom.

So, I encourage you to STOP WRITING LESSON PLANS!  Start designing meaningful learning experiences by engaging today's learners, creating experiences that will help them make connections, and empowering them to do something with what has been learned.

Today's learners have so many ideas, so much to offer.  They deserve to experience real learning that is not only meaningful, but fun.  Know that when something is fun for you and your students, it will be something that they remember.  Be willing to take risks and do whatever it takes to move learning beyond what it has been into what it can and should be.  Let's be brave enough to leave the past in the past and create real learning experiences for today's learners!