Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Google Teacher Academy Mountain View - The Gift of a Near Win

A couple of weeks ago I found this TED Talk by Sarah Lewis on Twitter: Embrace the Near Win.  As I reflect on my second Google Teacher Academy (GTA) rejection, this talk resonates with me.  Here are some quotes:

"Success is a moment of time..."
"The pursuit of mastery is the reaching not the arriving..."
"The near win shows you how little you know..."
"What, right now, do we plan to do to address that mountain in our sites..."
"We thrive not when we have done it all, but when we have more to do..."
"Coming close to what you thought you wanted can help you attain more than you thought you could..."

What do these quotes have to do with my failure or "Near Win"?  They are motivating me to work to improve and become the educator who is chosen for GTA.  Here is my plan for improvement:
  • As I watched the video submissions of other applicants, I realized how much my video sucked.  I was so stuck with the process of making the video that who I am as an educator did not shine through.  BIG MISTAKE!  I tried to follow David Theriault's advice about creating a winning short video:  CLICK HERE (thanks for sharing David!), I was frozen with fear.  Instead of being myself and letting that come out by telling a story, I did the opposite and made it forgettable.  So, I will make sure my video tells a story and that who I am as a person and educator shines through.
  • Even though I have been using Google Apps for the past 5 years, I still have much to learn about infusing GAFE tools.  So, I will become a Google Educator by July 2014 and a Google Education Trainer by October 2014.
I have to say that the past and present "Chosen Ones" are impressive and truly innovative educators.  It seems like each round gets more competitive and the bar gets raised just a bit higher.  It is truly inspiring to know that all of the recent applicants (successful and not so much) are making a huge difference in their classrooms/schools/districts and they impact student/adult learning and motivation.  I will continue learning with/from them on Twitter and Google+. 

I look forward to the process of completing my next application for GTA Austin.  I will be like astronaut Jose Hernandez from Stockton California.  He applied to the astronaut program 12 times before getting accepted.  Hopefully it won't take me that long!? 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Building Balloon Cars - Ambiguity and Cognitive Dissonance

NOTE: These beginning paragraphs are the "Background" to the what and why I do this activity with my students, you can skip to the lesson link below if you are short on time and want a fun and challenging activity to do with your students the last weeks of school.

 from: Krissy Venosdale: Venspired.com                                                                     
Way back in the summer of 1995, I attended a summer institute on integrating technology into the classroom.  I received a computer with a dedicated phone line for internet access, a stipend, and two weeks of STEM (not called that back then) activities.  There was a cohort of 25 Idaho teachers who would build what we now call a professional learning network.  The expectation was that we would use our computer and dedicated phone line to collaborate and stick together as a group since we taught in different areas of the state.  One of our first activities (and the only one I remember) was experimenting with rubber band cars leading to the building of balloon cars.  It took the entire first week to test the cars, collect data, make observations, and then transfer what we learned to build our own balloon powered car.  Of course we were working in collaborative teams and using the computers to organize data, graph data, and make notes (much more clunky than using Google Docs/Drive).

The University of Idaho science professors who were leading our group used ambiguity to force us out of our comfort zones.  There were no guidelines, just guiding questions.  When they introduced the rubber band cars they handed them out, dumped a pile of rubber bands on each table and we sat in silence for a few minutes thinking and waiting to be told what to do.  As the seconds ticked away, our looks became more perplexed as we continued to wait for instructions.  Finally the professors broke the silence and said "Get to work".  "What are we supposed to do?" one brave student asked.  They answered with two simple and profound words, "Be scientists!"  They gave us the ultimate statement of ambiguity to send us on our thinking way long before #geniushour and #20%time existed.  After continuing to sit with dumbfounded looks on our faces, (we were all very obedient science teachers/students who wait for instructions and procedures) the professors realized they needed to gently nudge us forward.

They began by asking us a question, "What is a scientist and what do scientists do?"  Make a list in your groups, you have 2 minutes to brainstorm.  For the first time that morning the room was a buzz with chatter.  After the brainstorm session, we shared and made a collective list to help us remember our role as active, thinking, tinkering, and information seeking scientists.  The next guiding question the professors asked was, "What are you going to do with the rubber band cars in front of you?"  Again they sent our groups into a brainstorm session and the room was once again a buzz.  We shared with the whole group after 2 minutes and wrote the collective list on the board.  The professors asked one last question, "How many of you have enough information to get started?" All of our hands went up and we spent the rest of the day and the next two days "playing" with rubber band cars in the halls of the science building.  At the end of the three days, we had rubber band car races down the halls.  We used the data and knowledge we gained from tinkering and experimenting with them to find the combination of tweaks that resulted in the fastest car and the farthest car.

Day four began with the professors dumping piles of materials down in front of us and challenging us to use only those materials to build a balloon powered car that would be the fastest and/or the farthest.  We experimented for a day and at the end of day 5 we had balloon car races in the halls of the science building.  The ambiguity and cognitive dissonance was at times extremely frustrating, but it lead to a strong commitment to the process and a willingness to persevere and get it figured out.  And, way back then, we could not Google It.

So, the next school year in my middle school science classes in Twin Falls, Idaho, we played with the rubber band cars and then built balloon cars.  And from that time, the project became a yearly staple in my classroom.  Before I share the lesson plan, I want to share some interesting observations I have noted as my classes have completed the exploration over the years:

  • High achieving students struggle with this process because of the ambiguity - they don't do "play and figure it out" well
  • You will be surprised and inspired by what your students create.
  • Be prepared to provide questions to guide struggling groups so that they do not give up
  • Remind everyone that this learning experience is about the process and that there is no failure 
  • Figure out ways to give the students hints without telling them what to do
Here is a very basic outline of the lesson and supplies you will need: 

I will be going into third grade classrooms this week to have them build balloon cars and I will add pictures here.  You can use the links and information below to have your students explore NASA's Balloon Car Challenge.  I would do this part with middle school students.

  • Pick 8 of the cars, write their name, distance and time.  Then calculate the rate of each one (SPEED).

Have a great end of your school year!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Building a District Innovation Team

This quote is something I work to aspire to as a classroom teacher with my students, as an instructional leader sharing and presenting with other educators, and most recently as a curriculum coordinator.

A few weeks ago the topics for #satchatwc were Creativity and Innovation.  As usual the discussion inspired me to think about how I can facilitate creativity and innovation in my school district.  This year has been a transition year for me from the classroom to a coordinator position.  As I have worked to define and figure out my new role, connections to my life as a classroom teacher have started to help in my transition.  As a classroom teacher I worked to empower my students to take control of their learning.  Now instead of directly impacting students, I need to empower the administration, teachers, and anyone else directly linked to students and instruction to do the same.  Just like in a classroom, I do not get to hand pick the adults who work in our schools and district.  In the classroom I worked hard to empower all students whatever their background or experience and now I need to do the same with the adult learners I work with by meeting them where they are to begin movement however fast or slow.

One of my projects for next year will be to leverage the instructional experts that already exist in our schools.  The following is a "rough draft" of an idea to foster creativity and innovation in my school district.

My goal is to create a district "Innovation Team" to empower teachers to become leaders, share their expertise, their learning process and inspire them to lead and support their colleagues.  Next year we will be expanding our use of Google Apps for Education (GAFE) into our K-5 elementary schools.  So our Innovation Team will be focused on GAFE and other instructional technology tools.  Keeping the quote from Lao Tsu in mind I want to use a model that I am familiar and comfortable with.  I want to build a Professional Learning Network based on the National Writing Project summer institute model.

  • Begin by sharing a best practice or sample lesson (model the instruction)
  • Discuss/debrief the lesson see how it can fit into each teachers practice
  • Take it to your classroom and try it out and document the results to share with the team
  • Read, watch videos, reflect, collaborate, struggle, invent, design, and question as a team
  • Encourage members to choose a #20% or #geniushour topic within our team to become an expert
The goal is to build capacity and confidence within the team so we can leverage their expertise and use it to provide models of professional development within the district.  At the beginning I may need to facilitate with ideas, documents, resources for discussion, but the true strength is that the team will take over and guide the direction.  I will sit back, ask questions and provide needed materials and they will do it themselves. This will enable a variety of practices to be established such as:
  • #edcamp staff meetings or staff development days
  • Professional development planned and lead by Innovation Team members
  • Instructional rounds where teachers go and observe each other and discuss
  • Administrator/leadership team participates in this process as coaches rather than evaluators
Again, these are the beginning thoughts and draft ideas.  We are starting from scratch with Google Apps for Education and I want to start small with a team that is willing and able to explore and learn and then share with their colleagues in a supportive way.

I'll take any suggestions, ideas and input you have to share.