Saturday, April 20, 2019

The Possibility of the Unexplored

80% of the world's oceans are unexplored. We have no idea what exists, what's possible, and what might be beneath the surface of the unexplored waters. Because of the difficulty, risk, and cost associated with exploration, we are unaware of the potential that lies beneath. 

What if the same is true for student learning? What if we have only scratched the surface of our learners' potential because of our unwillingness to be uncomfortable, fear of taking risks, and inability to see what's possible? 

The reality is that the shallow parts of the ocean and those close to the coastline have been explored and receive much of the attention and time dedicated to exploration.  These parts are easy to access and really aren't that risky.  Sound familiar?

I know that for me, in my own classroom, teaching surface-level was easy.  I was comfortable in doing so and felt like it was where I spent much of our time.  Ever so often, we would venture into the deep unknown, but it wasn't easy and I certainly wasn't comfortable.  

Fortunately, a few years ago, my mindset shifted and I began to realize that it wasn't about what made me comfortable or how risky it was, it was about what my students needed and wanted from a learning experience.  And, they needed to go deep.  If I'm completely honest, they didn't know that they wanted to go deep at first.  They were just as scared and uncomfortable as I was.  But once we decided to take the risk and spend our time beyond the shallows and in the deep, everything changed.
So, what's the difference between surface level learning and deep understanding?  

Surface level learning is easy.  Deep understanding is difficult.

Surface level learning is comfortable.  Deep understanding is uncomfortable.

Surface level learning is about compliance.  Deep understanding involves taking risks.
Surface level learning involves worksheets and repetition.  Deep understanding involves learning through application.  
Surface level learning is often driven by the teacher.  Deep understanding is driven by the learner.

The next question is how do we move into the deep in a way that makes sense and doesn't cause everyone to want to jump ship?

Talk to your learners.  Help them understand the difference and be able to recognize when they are experiencing surface level learning and when they are experiencing deep understanding.

Observe other teachers.  Look for the ways that they are diving into the deep and be willing to ask questions and learn from them.

Try new things.  Innovative ideas such as Genius Hour and Makerspace give learners real opportunities to dive deep and learn by doing.  

Be reflective.  After a learning experience, consider the percentage that was surface level and the percentage that involved going deep.  Do you need to make adjustments?

Change your perspective.  See your role as leading learners rather than managing students.  Lead those that are ready into the deep, while continuing to prepare those that aren't.  

Look for opportunities.  When designing a learning experience, consider how it can be taken deeper.  Can it be done through questioning, real-world connections, creativity, or reflection?  

These are just a few ideas to get started.  The goal is to move beyond what has been easy and comfortable and start doing what's best for today's learners.  So, how about it, my friend?  Are you willing to go deep?  What is it about the shallow water that has kept you there for so long and might that very reason be enough to push you into the deep, unknown, unexplored waters of student learning knowing that is where the potential for real change exists?

Source:  "How much of the ocean have we explored?." 11 Jul. 2018, Accessed 20 Apr. 2019.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Fixing Up Your Lesson Plans

If you haven't heard of Waco, Texas, you might not be a fan of Fixer Upper on HGTV.  Chip and Joanna Gaines have created quite the stir in our little town and have created an experience unlike any other.  They are a local couple that take older homes and remodel, redesign them into beautiful living spaces that people are going crazy for right now.  They also own Magnolia Market, a place for others to find home decor similar to that used on the show.

As I drove by the Silos (a shopping experience created by Magnolia) the other day and saw people walking around with smiles on their faces, excited to be part of the Magnolia experience, I couldn't help but wonder what we need to do to make school a similar experience.  What if our students came into school looking forward to what would happen, wondering what they might see, and willing to spend time exploring, investing, and ultimately learning?

While no longer filming new shows, Fixer Upper definitely had a format that they followed.  And even though they followed that format, each show was unique, fun, and inspirational.

I recently created the 3 E's Design Template for teachers to use when designing meaningful learning experiences.  I remember hearing Dave Burgess share about creating experiences and it made so much sense to me.  That was years ago, but it made such an impact on me that I still love to share the idea of creating experiences with the educators that I am able to influence.

I've found that when I talk about designing experiences, many educators totally understand and want to do this in their classrooms.  However, so many of them just say that they aren't sure where to start.  That reason alone is why I created the 3 Es Design Template.  I wanted to make it simple for educators to implement this into their own classrooms without feeling as if they had to "recreate the wheel".

For me, using the 3 Es is super simple and makes sense.  As I watched Fixer Upper the other day, I realized how similar this idea for redesigning a lesson plan is to Chip and Joanna's ideas for redesigning a home.  Let me explain...

The 3 Es are Engage, Experience, and Empower.  The idea is to ENGAGE learners as soon as they walk into the classroom, design an EXPERIENCE that they will want to invest in, and EMPOWER them to take their learning beyond the walls of the classroom.

Engage - On Fixer Upper, the first thing Chip and Joanna do is offer choice to their clients.  They take them to different houses and share with them why they might or might not want to choose that particular property.  Choice plays an important role in engaging our learners.  When we help them know what might or might not work for them, they are able to make decisions based on who they are as learners instead of who we want them to be or think they should be.

Experience - After the home is chosen, Chip and Joanna have a great time as they demo and renovate the property.  They laugh, sometimes run into a roadblock that needs to be overcome, and work hard to create something that represents what the homeowner needs and wants from their living space.  The homeowners experience wonder, excitement, and even sometimes, a little frustration as they walk through the Fixer Upper experience.  These feelings and emotions are the same feelings and emotions that students should feel as they experience learning.  They should be given opportunities to struggle and overcome roadblocks but should also experience wonder and excitement.

Empower - Finally, Chip and Joanna give the new homeowners ownership. They turn over the keys and give the new owners full access to use what has been created.  The same needs to happen for our learners after a learning experience.  At some point, we have to give them real ownership of the learning through reflection and connections to the world beyond the walls of the classroom.  Without this piece of a learning experience, there is no why, no relevance.

So, how will you "fix up" your lesson plans?  What experiences can you design so that your learners are engaged and empowered?  Check out the 3 Es Design Template as well as the upcoming Online Course to learn more.  After doing so, you will be designing experiences in a way that is so much more fun and will make learning meaningful for your students.

Listen to the podcast about the 3 E's below or on iTunes by clicking HERE.