Thursday, September 3, 2015

Creativity and Learning Take Time

I first learned about Genius Hour two years ago when attending a Classroom 2.0 Live Saturday Meeting  (this is the archived recording and all the resources).  They started off with the video below:

As I have been coaching 3 STEAM classes this year I have noticed each class has a thoughtful learner who carefully takes their time.  In the four sessions I have collaborated on each of these students has had his/her success and struggles.  

I ask all educators, please give these kiddos the time they need to find success and struggle through an activity.  The struggle and frustration are key to their learning.  If there is a time limit placed on these kiddos it will cause them to shut down in SOME instances.  

Now, I understand that they need to work through their time issues, however, if you are implementing #geniushour, or #makerspaces, or #robotics, etc...  PLEASE let these thoughtful kiddos have as much time as they need to go through their process.

On that note, I want to share one more thing:
I often tout myself as a relationship builder on this blog, in twitter chats, and elsewhere.  It is one of my core beliefs.  Sylvia Duckworth sums it up in this sketchnote: (However, I believe it true for all not just children)
Click Here to watch Rita Pierson's TED Talk
I believe that relationships are the foundation.  You are thinking, the foundation of what?  The foundation of everything - not just learning but changing thinking or beliefs, risk-taking, creativity, problem-solving, innovation,  etc...

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Creating our "Ish" Selves

Last week, I posted our "Ish" lesson from the STEAM classrooms I am coaching this year.  Part two of our lesson was to create our "Ish" selves:

I saw these picture collages when I attended the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) conference in San Diego, CA way back in 1996 (wow! 19 years ago...)  I have had my students make these collages of themselves every year I was in the classroom since then.  The past two years I have not had a classroom so it was a gift to do this in/with the classrooms I am coaching.  Here is a quick how to:

  • Have the students stand with their legs apart and their hands out (palms facing me, fingers spread)
  • I take two shots:
    •  one from the bottom of their hands up to their heads zoomed in so that the student fills the entire frame. 
    • one from the feet up to wherever the frame is full of the student.
  • Order/Make/Print two copies of each photo so the students have 4 photos to work with
  • Have the students cut each picture into horizontal strips
  • Students create their collages by placing their strips onto construction paper
  • No gluing until they have played with the layout of their strips

As Chelsea (Mrs. Atkinson) and I watched the students cut and place and play and share and collaborate and talk and laugh and create and... 

We were taken aback and at the same time she asked me "this noise is okay, right?"  I assured her that this was the noise of creativity, engagement, and discovery and I also assured her that it would get louder before it got quieter.  The students were making sure that everyone in the room saw their "Ish" selves.  

After finishing our 8th day of school, I am so thankful that I get to spend time in classrooms with teachers and their students.  

As a coach I will defer to a twitter post by Michael Niehoff 
"Sometimes you have to believe in someone else's belief in you until your own belief sets in..." - Manny Scott

Sunday, August 16, 2015

We Are "Ish"-es This School Year

Every since Joe Wood introduced me to the book "Ish" by Peter Reynolds 4 years ago, I have looked at myself as a learner and the adult learners I work with in a different way.  SPOILER ALERT: in the book, Ramon realizes that if he sees himself as an "ish" then there is no need to strive for perfection.  It is okay to be artist-ish.  When I share this book with students, teachers, administrators, all learners, I stress that when you are an "ish" you are continually growing and learning.  It is the perfect moniker for me because I know that no matter what I know or can do, there is always room for more learning and improvement, I am an eternal "Ish".  

I have the privilege of modeling being an "Ish" for the teachers in my district this year.  Interestingly, Friday our third day of the new school year was very "Ish-Ish":

I began the day helping a fourth grade class log into their GAFE (Google Apps for Education) accounts for the first time.  We had students who did not exist and about a third of the students were asked to change their passwords (not good).  Luckily patience and flexibility reigned and we worked through the issues.  

Later that day, I worked with a multi-age 2/3 STEAM class.  We began by reading "Ish".  I asked the students to think about something they are really good at and gave them a quiet moment.  I then asked the students to think about something they wish they were good at or were working at being good at.  Then I began reading.  At the end of the story I asked the students to raise their hands if they have something they are "Ish" at, here are some of the responses:

tennis-ish, karate-ish, reading-ish, math-ish, drawing-ish, video game-ish...  

I informed the students that during our time together each week we will be actively practicing "Ish-es".  Sometimes we will have successes and sometimes failures and ALL times we will learn.  There was a collective sigh of relief as we embark on our year-long journey.  

My pre-assessment activity took place after the students got logged onto chromebooks for the first time.  The student pairs built straw towers.  I call it a pre-assessment because the classroom teacher and I were able to assess the students risk-taking level.  I was surprised that there were 3 students who were so frozen with fear of failing they completely gave up, even after pep talks from the teacher and myself.  At the end of the 15 minutes the towers were a little sorry looking and the students were forgetting that they were "Ish-es".  I took pictures and told them that this was our first try and that this is our starting point.  We will look back at the end of the year and see incredible growth.  Next week we will use the chromebooks to do some research on building straw towers and let them do some planning before they try again.

The year of "Ish" has begun!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

One at a Time - Go Slow to Move Fast

Image by Krissy Venosdale @venspired

This is a quick post about a shift in my perspective.  For those who chat with me on twitter and elsewhere, you know I often talk about the importance of building relationships - with students, fellow educators... the list is long and distinguished and I'll narrow it to one word: EVERYONE.  Mistakenly, I have thought that I need to reach many teachers at one time as I work to move my district and shift culture.

However, this year I have learned that ONE device, teacher, student, and/or Google tool can have a much larger impact.  This year has been a series of ONES.  So in the spirit of starting a new school year my word for the year is ONE.

Let me share (a few):

  • Working with one first grade teacher who wanted to try Google Hangouts lead to 3 virtual field trips: Central Park Zoo, Scotland, and England and one mystery hangout with a first grade class in New Jersey - all during the last 2 months of school.
  • Working with one fourth grade special education student helped 5 teachers better understand accessibility tools available on chromebooks and started me on a path of inquiry and discovery around Universal Design Learning
  • Working with one IT director and one superintendent has moved our district from zero chromebooks a year ago to nearly 200 being rolled out this year with more on the way.
  • One Sphero led to my third grade son learning to program and drive it using the app Tickle and demonstrating for his class and school
  • The many other times when I would sit with one educator face to face and figure something out together.
All of my interactions with the teachers I work with are learning experiences for me.  They usually begin with a question that I probably do not know the answer to.  So when I go to meet with him/her/them, I get to share and coach and demonstrate what I have learned from addressing the question(s).  The teacher drives the learning, I ask questions, support, coach and become a learning partner.

This year I will be coaching 4 STEAM multi-age teachers.  I will use this space to document and track the effect my work has on each of them, their students, their colleagues and our district.  Can coaching one teacher at each school start a snowball effect that takes over the district?

Saturday, August 1, 2015

One (Google) Slide Newsletter

A few months ago Ryan O'Donnell shared his "One Slide Newsletters on Google Plus:
Ryan's Tech Tips.  He shared that he had stolen the idea from another member of my PLN, Wanda Terral CLICK HERE for her examples.  As I thought about the coolness of their slides, I knew they would be something I could get my teachers to look at and perhaps use as resources.  I have shared my document with my first five slides above.  There are no rules or whys or hows, you just need to make it fit your classroom, school, or district informational needs.  Here are a few tidbits if you are planning on "copying" or "stealing" the idea from us:

  • I have shared as a view only so if you want to steal, click on file and then make a copy (this will help if you want to use one of my slide templates to cut and paste your own links, information, videos, etc...
  • I used text boxes and Google has made it simple to center and right or left justify things as you move them around.
  • Make sure you use pictures that are licensed for non-commercial use (here is a quick video on how to do an advanced Google Search for images: Click Here)
  • If you use images from fellow educators who give their permission - GIVE THEM CREDIT! (Check out Sylvia Duckworth's sketchnotes and Krissy Venosdale's inspiring posters)
  • Be picky, do not try to include too much, and keep it simple.  Your goal is to make it something worth checking out and clicking on (I'm still working on that one!)
  • The one's I have created are tied to our district's areas of focus.  
I have just begun my journey with creating and using one slide newsletters.  I'll keep you posted on how it goes.  If you create some, please share!!  Feel free to share mine or make them your own!

Happy 2015-2016 School Year!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Finding My Center

Image by Krissy Venosdale

Be me, that is a message I heard loud and clear in Pernille Ripp's blog post Try To Be You.  As I read through the post I realized that the past two years I have lost who I am as an educator when transitioning from a classroom teacher to a curriculum coordinator.  The past few months I have begun to return to my roots or center as an educator and find my way as my "students" have shifted from kiddos to adults.  As I think about the beginning of a new school year, I am ready to use my foundation of beliefs about learners to support my teachers as we embark on a year of newness, challenges, fears, failures, struggles, successes, collaborations, celebrations and unknowns.

I've always been all about building relationships with my students and my community (parents, colleagues, district leadership, support staff, professional learning network, etc...).  That is my "Center" (Rise of the Guardians - What's Your Center?) my foundation - because it allows me to build trust and push my learners to take risks and FAIL so that they can learn and move forward.  The past two years I've felt lost (like Jack Frost) not knowing what my center/foundation is.  And like Jack, it was right in front of my nose so obvious, yet NOT.  Because it was part of the core of my being, I did not realize it was the key to my transition from the classroom to leadership.

One of the activities I started with my math students, I will use with my teachers this year as we embark on a new school year:
The Dot by Peter Reynolds
International Dot Day

Why I read "The Dot" to my middle school math students and why I will be sharing it with my teachers (watch the video or read the book please):

  • You have to start (even if it is ugly and awkward)
  • You have to experiment and try new things
  • Face your fear (whatever it is) and work through it (I'll support and help you!)
  • One more step, small improvements over time constitute large gains overall
  • Track your growth and reflect on what's working or NOT
In my math classes I used "The Dot" as an opportunity to let students know that if they have struggled in math or if they have failed math their year with me will be different.  I acknowledge that no student comes to school the first day and thinks "I can't wait to fail math, (or any other subject) this year."  "The Dot" is my first attempt at building trust with my students.  It allows me to let them know that I expect them to start and make an attempt in learning difficult material.  They need to face their fear of mathematics and opting out is not an option.  One step at a time is growth and reflection will drive the next steps.

With my teachers I expect the same.  As we implement LEGO robotics, Google Apps for Education, Maker Labs, and Chromebooks into our instruction this coming school year,  we are starting from ground zero.  The relationships I started building two years ago will now provide the foundation for the trust required for risk-taking, failing forward and going all in.  It will be important for the teachers to use the lessons learned from "The Dot" to allow them to be messy learners this coming school year.  My job is to support them and model failing forward on a daily basis for them.  Ultimately the goal is to support our students as they become makers, thinkers, coders, collaborators, creators, and digital citizens.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Start the Year with a Bang!

So, I am sharing what our district is crafting for our welcome back activity for our teachers (and we will probably test it out with our principals a few days before.  We would love feedback and input.  Here is a link to our document that you can edit and provide input:

Click Here

I iterated the idea from the searching I did and found from this presentation by Lisa Highfill and Amy Fadeji's Principals Who Flip Presentation.  Click the link and check it out!