#choosekind

School is finally in session here in the Capital City and our students are busy settling in to new routines, earlier mornings, and getting to know their friends and teachers. When I was still in the classroom, one of my favorite things was to spend the first week getting to know my students, learning about their interests, getting their feedback on what they wanted their classrooms to look and feel like, and having them create digital collages and word clouds representing themselves.

Just as we can work hard to make our classrooms warm and welcoming, it’s incredibly powerful when an entire school gets involved and sets a theme for the year. One of the schools in our district – Sheridan Road STEM – embraced the theme of kindness this year, inspired by the book Wonder by R. J. Palacio. In fact, the entire school is reading the book and doing a book study around it, the themes it represents, and embracing the idea of being open to others, being kind to all people, regardless of their appearance, circumstance, or background. What a powerful message for our young people to hear, especially in our current political environment.

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This is a powerful message that schools across the country are embracing and using to connect with others. Some of the things being shared on Twitter with #choosekind are incredibly inspiring. I personally haven’t read this book yet, but I am very excited to participate in the book study along with the teachers and students at Sheridan Road STEM. 

How will you #choosekind this year?

 

Blended Learning Day Camp 2017

Remember when you were a kid and you went to camp – and it was awesome? Well, last week I got to go to “camp” – and it was awesome! Michigan Virtual University has put on an annual Day Camp for the last three years. Centered around implemented blended learning, the conference features both inspiring speakers as well as examples of teachers implementing blended learning in their classrooms.

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Not only did I get to attend, I was asked to be a Camp Counselor and have my own cabin of campers. Each camper was assigned a cabin (table) and a seat, which was designed to get people out of their comfort zones and to network with others. Our table was split into two cabins – 12A and 12B – and each cabin had a counselor. Most counselors at each table were instructional technology specialists or building leaders. We acted as the moderator to help break the ice with our campers, facilitated some lunchtime discussions around our practice, and helped to manage the GooseChase scavenger hunt.

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And we got some sweet swag! There’s a fanny pack hiding in that coffee mug!

The Keynote speaker for the event was the incredibly inspiring Pernille Ripp. She’s a middle school teacher in Wisconsin who has a really interesting story about how she became a teacher and landed in her school. Aside from the hard work she engages in as a teacher, Pernille also is the founder of the Global Read Aloud, which several teachers in our district have participated in.

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We hear a lot in education about doing what’s best for kids, but we don’t often actually ask kids what it is they want we teachers to do. Pernille does this – and then she makes changes to her instruction and how to interacts with students. Not only does this create an environment where students feel comfortable to contribute to their learning, it also demonstrates to students that their voices are valued and matter. When we think about how we want to teach our students to engage in the world, what better way to model that for our students than to ask them to use their voices and have conversations about those wants.

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I could go on and on about how much what Pernille said resonated with me, but something she has been promoting for a few years is around behavior charts. I couldn’t agree more with her. Whether or not I’m having a bad day should not be public knowledge. Continually publicizing students’ behavior issues really doesn’t seem to make a difference in student behavior. I have seen behavior charts used in classrooms. The well-behaved students continue to behave well. The students who are on “yellow” or lose points become disgruntled or upset and continue to act out, until they go to “red” or lose more points. Of course eventually, those students on “red” lose other privileges. I think about how I would feel if I went to a conference session or a work meeting and was called out for talking or being off task. I certainly wouldn’t engage in the rest of the training with an open mind, and the next time I had to work with that presenter or leader, I’d have an attitude and would have my guard up.  Why would we expect any different from our students?

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There were a few big takeaways from the Blended Learning Day Camp for me. First, I loved the scavenger hunt component using the GooseChase app. GooseChase makes the work of a scavenger hunt super easy. You create a game, others join your game (you can password protect them), and then they complete the various challenges within the game. You can have participants take photo evidence, use GPS location, take a video, or write a text response. I love the multiple modalities incorporated into the app, and it’s so easy to create a game or participate in one. I’m definitely going to incorporate this into some of my day-long trainings this summer.

Another takeaway was the opportunity to get up, network, and play with a small group of teachers. Throughout the day there were multiple times when we were able to stand up, solve a problem, make something, or explore. We had a playground/Makerspace with a variety of “toys” – Spheros, MakeyMakey, Little Bits, BryteBites, etc. There was also a BreakoutEDU game. If you haven’t done one yet, I’d highly encourage you to give it a try. You can order a kit online, or you can make your own. It is a WONDERFUL community-building activity, first week of school, “brain break” activity. It requires students to work together to solve a common problem – with some tension added in as they are fighting against a clock and other teams. The GooseChase game also asked participants to find areas outside of the conference space, so it was fun to get outside and walk around.

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Lastly, I’m excited to participate in a book study with author Liz Kolb, who just published a new book called Learning First, Technology Second. We got to hear about the impetus behind her book and some of the highlights of her research findings. I’m not-so-patiently waiting for my book to arrive from ISTE so I can dive in and really participate in the online book study.

Your Turn: What were some of your favorite summer learning/professional development experiences? What made them so awesome? 

Podcasting

If you’re like me, podcasts have completely taken over your listening preferences. I listen to pods while I’m getting ready for work, running, driving to work (which reminds me, I really need to cancel that XM subscription…), cleaning the house, etc. They are awesome and FREE, which is even better.

This year I decided to challenge myself and get a little bit outside of my comfort zone. I started a podcast! Wha!? It’s pretty sweet, and for the 3 people who subscribe, I hope you’re enjoying the content! Fun fact, there’s more to it than just recording yourself. The hardest part was going through the process of how you share the podcast once you have it created.

Thanks to my PLN, Twitter, and Google, I decided on Shout Engine as the host for the podcast. Once you have a place to host it, you also then need to use the RSS feed to submit to iTunes. It’s a bit of a process. But, now that I have the workflow down, it’s pretty neat. I’m co-hosting the podcast with my coworker Eric Spicer, who is a Technology Integration Specialist at Averill, one of the schools in our district. The two of us try to have a digestible how-to video or technique to implement and we also end the podcast with a short tech tip. Our goal is to eventually get teachers using podcasts in their classrooms – as learning supplements and eventually as ways for students to showcase their work.

You can check out our podcast on iTunes or on Shout Engine. Let us know what you think!

What podcasts do you listen to?
How do you use podcasts in your classroom/professional sphere?

The System

I’ve been spending a lot of time in professional development – in book studies, Twitter chats, reading and engaging with blogs, and talking with other teachers and ed tech coaches at events – and I’m really confused.

It seems like so much has changed in education and yet nothing has changed. We know better how students learn. The skills and demands that students will be expected to have are far different than those that existed when I went to school. Our world is much more connected. Technology and access to information inundates and sometimes overwhelms us. It can feel impossible to process all that information sometimes. And yet… I still walk into classrooms and see teachers refusing to let students engage with the world. I hear teachers tell students not to touch anything until they are given explicit instruction. I watch students puzzle and problem-solve on their own, but then shut down when forced to follow along step by step with a teacher or trainer. The thing is, adults feel safe when someone tells them what to do step by step. Kids don’t! Think of a toddler. How does he or she learn? A little boy puzzles over how to get the block into a hole; he tries several holes until he finds the shape that matches the block.

We want students to be problem solvers. We want them to be critical thinkers. Students no longer need us to TELL them what they need to know, we need to show them how to find the answers. We need to teach them HOW to assess and analyze the information they’re given. Students need to apply the knowledge they have in ways that are meaningful, make sense, challenge them.

Nothing is going to change in education until we – the system – changes. We have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. We have to be okay with giving up some control. We have to be alright with students exploring – and maybe stumbling upon something they shouldn’t. And when they do, we capitalize on that and use it as a teachable moment. If we only tell kids what NOT to do – and punish them when they make a mistake – how likely are they to actually try and innovate?

Sharing Stories

Last week I had the pleasure of working with one of my favorite people and her awesome students. She’s a reading specialist here in Lansing and last year I introduced her to the Global Read Aloud last year and she read Fish in a Tree with her students. This year, her kiddos are reading Pax, and, like me, they have all fallen in love with the story of a young boy and his pet fox.

One of the things we love about the GRA is that it allows students to make connections over a common story with people from all over the world. It’s so validating for students to be able to hear people commenting on their ideas and opinions, asking them questions, and making connections.

On Thursday, the students and I used the iPad app Shadow Puppet to create short videos about their favorite character in the book. Prior to my lesson with the students, Mrs. Jacobs had the kids draw a picture of a scene from the book that included their favorite character. They also had a script of what they wanted to say, since some students freeze up when they have to record themselves! After a quick lesson on how to use Shadow Puppet, the kids were off to the races. It was awesome to listen to their explanations about why they chose a particular character.

After everyone recorded their videos, we uploaded them to YouTube. Then I got to sit with the students and Mrs. Jacobs and talk about what they had read so far. I have read the whole book, so the students were anxious to pick my brain about what happens in the book. It was fun to hear their questions and to not really answer any of them, because no one REALLY wants to know how it ends before you get to it!

We are a bit behind the official reading schedule for the Global Read Aloud, but we are really enjoying the deep dive and discussing the book. We’d love to connect with you over Google Hangouts or Skype. Let me know!

 

Top 10 in 10: Reality for Michigan or Just Empty Rhetoric?

Yesterday I attended the METS Fall 2016 Rally in Jackson, MI at a wonderfully creative and innovative space created by Consumer’s Energy. It is a true example of combining new and old with collaborative and non-traditional learning spaces. Classroom design and flexible learning spaces seem to be on my mind lately as I begin providing input to our District Bond Committee in charge of purchasing new equipment, furniture, and other learning materials for our re-designed schools. While it is important to remember that simply changing “X” isn’t going to result in [insert educational buzzword here], it is equally important to begin the conversation about what learning looks like.

For myself, I often struggle to be creative or even productive in my office building cubicle. I’m constantly distracted by the ringing phone, people coming in and out, sounds of the copy machine, etc., not to mention being surrounded by concrete blocks, beige cubicle dividers, and no access to flexible seating or alternative lighting. Alternatively, when I can curl up on a beanbag, sit outside, or enjoy some natural light, I feel much more energized and engaged with my work. The same is true for our students. I always hear the comments from teachers after a long day at a conference about how tired they are – from SITTING!

One of our discussions at the Rally yesterday centered around the State Superintendent’s missive to make Michigan a Top Ten state for education in ten years. To that end, he has laid out a plan of 10 strategic goals that we as a state need to pursue and get better at if we are to thrive and improve education in this state. You can read more about the plan here.

While on its surface, these ten strategic goals sound wonderful and certainly no one is going to disagree with things like, “Develop, support, and sustain a high-quality, prepared, and collaborative workforce”. However, we spent a fair amount of time digging in to these strategic goals, and a few things struck me. There are a variety of underlying issues that must be addressed in order to truly help Michigan schools become one of the top 10 in the nation.

We discussed these strategic goals in a really innovative format. There were several tables set up; at each table was either a high school student from an area school or a young professional from the area. Each guest had a strategic goal they discussed with the others at the table. It was a unique way to discuss a variety of issues with a diverse group of people.

As I listened to one particular guest discuss the importance of strategic goal 4 – “Reduce the impact of high-risk factors, including poverty, and provide equitable resources to meet the needs of all students to ensure they have access to quality educational opportunities” – I was struck by how little of this is within the control of schools and districts. Michigan schools are funded through property taxes, but how much of those taxes are allocated for schools are decided by the state legislature on a per-pupil allotment. Resources to support families – welfare, affordable child care, access to reliable transportation, access to healthy food – have been whittled away and so many students come to schools without their basic needs being met. We have so many more responsibilities and duties as schools, but have less money than ever with which to fulfill these.

Another factor that strikes me as puzzling is the goal of creating “a prepared and quality future workforce[.]” We as teachers know that teaching students to fill in bubbles, take tests online, and memorize facts and figures aren’t what’s best for students. We also know that those types of skills are not in demand in today’s workforce. Children need to learn how to interact appropriately in a digital space, students need practice and access to engaging with others around the globe. Students should be creating and curating, not consuming and engaging in “digital worksheets.” And yet…teachers are evaluated on how well their students achieve on an assessment. We measure all students’ learning via a standardized test. We are still checking boxes instead of using a holistic approach that evaluates multiple factors of a teacher’s “effectiveness.” In fact, the state superintendent released his recommendations recently for ANOTHER new state test. For the past two years, schools have used the online M-STEP test that is administered in the spring. Districts throughout the state spent countless hours ensuring their networks were ready to handle the influx of traffic, that computers were functional. Teachers helped their students navigate the testing environment so that the test would measure what students actually know rather than how well they can take a test online. In our district, because many of our schools are 4-6, the better part of two MONTHS were engaged in testing, taking away valuable computer time because those labs were tied up with testing. Now, the superintendent wants to do away with the M-STEP, create a new, different assessment, and have it be administered in both the fall AND the spring.

We know what’s best for kids. We want students to show us what they know. We want them to be prepared to engage with and in the workforce. We want them to have access to a variety of educational opportunities. And yet, we also still seem to want them to be really good test takers. Teachers simply do not have time – or the freedom – to take risks in their classrooms when they know they are being evaluated on a state test.

It’s imperative that we as a society look at our values and our priorities. We cannot continue to cut taxes for the wealthiest 1% and lessen the amount of dollars going into social welfare problems and expect change. Schools cannot do it all. Parents cannot do it all. Even together, parents and schools, cannot do it all. Without the support, skills, training, and resources that can be provided through state and federal agencies, we risk being able to truly make Michigan a Top 10 in 10.

School Year Goals

One of the best parts of working in the education field is the opportunity to start fresh each school year. Similar to how lots of people set New Year’s Resolutions on January 1st, I have been spending a lot of time thinking about what my goals for this school year are.

Rather than come up with a list of three or four “things” I want to implement in schools or projects to complete, I have decided to focus instead on something that is both small and large. Last year, I heard George Couros speak at ISTE, and one of things he said really stuck out to me: “What if every teacher tweeted one thing a day they did in their classroom […] and took five minutes a day to read each other’s tweets? What impact would that have on school culture?” You can read more about Building Culture from George here. 

Today’s educational environment – in Michigan especially – is challenging and demoralizing. Threatened with closure, almost 100 schools throughout the state are waiting to learn their fate. The state’s largest public school district (Detroit Public Schools) have students and teachers in buildings with mold growing on the walls, floors, and ceilings. It’s a mess, and it can be really hard to stay positive and work throughout the school year to continually try to innovate and come up with ways to engage students. It is challenging when you’re in the thick of it, to remember all those little moments that get buried in the daily minutiae of teaching.

So, this year, my goal is to tweet out one thing each day that I did or saw in my classroom observation. As the Technology Integrationist for the entire district – all 25 schools – I am sure I will have a lot of things to share! I’m going to share to the hashtag #LansingComeUp. As part of the mission to bring positivity and hope to this area, students brainstormed this hashtag as a way to show people that great things are happening in our schools and we are coming up. I invite you to join me; let’s make this year the best one yet!