It’s a Big Job…

The nights are getting longer, temperatures are dropping a bit, the sun is coming up a tad later every morning, pens and notebooks are on super sale in the store. Summer is winding down and it’s about time for school to start again. While people are always somewhat reluctant to head back to work after a vacation, most teachers I know are ready to get back in their classrooms after a couple of months away. They miss the energy of a new school year, their students, the creativity and collaboration of lesson planning and learning from students.

This year, I am also getting excited as I am transitioning into a new role. For the past two years I have supported the Magnet Program in Lansing. These five schools focused on STEM, STEAM, and Global Studies/Spanish Immersion. Through that role, I built relationships with some wonderful people and helped to share the power of technology in creating meaningful and relevant learning opportunities for students. Now, as that program is winding down, I have moved into a new role where I am supporting the entire district’s technology integration efforts.

While it is a big job – one of me and 27 schools – I am excited for the opportunity to continue to push students and teachers to do new and innovative things with the assistance of technology. But, it is going to be a challenge to support so many people with only so many hours in the day. This year I am trying something new – a booking tool that syncs with my Google calendar. Hopefully this will eliminate a lot of the back and forth emailing that sometimes happens when people want to set something up. I anticipate there being a bit of a learning curve as the most common way to connect with someone is to send them an email. I am hopeful, though, that after a couple gentle reminders, most people will look to the booking site first rather than email.

I put together a little flyer to showcase who I am, what my role is, what I can do, and how to reach me. This will be posted on our Technology Integration website as well as shared with the people in Central Office and all the building principals. In a district our size, it’s impossible to know everyone, so this was the best way I could think of to get my name out there. Let me know what you think!

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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!

Blogging With Students

It can be really hard to get students to write – right? So often students do not resonate with the topic we’re asking them to elaborate on, or there are barriers and challenges that make writing at length difficult for them. One of the schools that I work with has a very large ELL population, and it can be challenging for them to write – they don’t know the English words or they don’t know how to spell them. Writing for a teacher, turning it in, waiting for feedback, then shoving the paper in a folder isn’t always the most meaningful way for students to grow in their writing. Too often the feedback comes at the end – and it only comes from one person.

One of the teachers I work with really understands this struggle and has been working to make writing curriculum more engaging for her kids. We worked through a couple of different platforms and decided on KidBlog. We liked the built in safety features and – because our students don’t have email addresses – it was an easy way to get student accounts without collecting personal information.

Blogging opens up the opportunity for students to share and engage with many other people – whether it’s the other students in the classroom, their friends at another school, or globally. When students know that others are reading their work, they have a higher level of ownership over it. Aside from that, the conversations often continue as others comment and ask questions and the author engages in a dialogue. Students, then, are naturally reading and writing more as they respond to comments and questions on their own blogs as well as interacting with others’ blogs as well.

To get kids excited about blogging, we knew we had to go beyond just “Tell me about your goals” or something similar that kids have been asked to think about many times before. Having attended a session at a conference last summer on introducing blogging to students, I knew one of the best ways to get kids excited about writing was to let them write about anything they wanted – their passion. I wrote a short “post” (on paper) about one of my passions – running. I decorated the paper similar to how you would decorate a blog page, and then read the blog to students.

Students were then given 10 minutes to write about anything they wanted. The only rule was they couldn’t stop writing for the entire 10 minutes. At first they were reluctant and hesitant; many of them didn’t think they could write for 10 minutes about anything. We continued to encourage them to write and write without talking. After a bit, students did settle in and the quiet was really neat – just hearing the sound of pencils on paper. Once students had time to write their post, we discussed commenting. I shared with students how one of the ways blogging is different than just writing something and turning it in, is the opportunity to have communication with others who are reading your blog. We talked about some of the things students might have commented after reading my blog post about running.

A little mini lesson was really all we needed to remind students about writing in complete sentences, using proper grammar and spelling, and writing comments that added to the conversation. We kept comparing it to what you would say if someone told you the story face to face. Most students understood that it would be rude to just say “Cool” to someone’s story. After that, we gave each student 3 sticky notes and had them write their names on each note. Then, students got up and walked around the room, reading other blog posts, writing comments on the sticky notes, and posting them around the edges of the blog. IMG_5254

It was really neat to see kids reading and quiet. Students were on task and engaged. At the end of the commenting period, we asked students to share what they learned, how the comments made them feel, etc. Then, the one student who had been the most reluctant to engage in the lesson at the beginning asked if they could do it again, reading others’ posts. We ended up doing it two more times. One student wanted to read everyone’s post and comment on everyone’s blog. It was awesome!

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Fairview Animal Hospital

As a Biomedical focused STEM school, students at Fairview Elementary utilize Project Based Learning units centered around learning more about their Magnet Theme. Kindergarten, First, Second, and Third grade students participated in an Animal Hospital. Lots and lots of work went in to putting this event together, but the end result was an amazing learning opportunity for these young scholars!

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Through the help of local partnerships with The Red Cross and Wal-Mart,, we were able to transform the library into a medical lab, complete with doctor’s kits, x-rays, and medicine.

Students began their experience with a hands on lesson from the Red Cross on CPR. They had the opportunity to practice on a medical dummy and to ask questions about what the Red Cross does. Then, students were given a stuffed animal and a little story starter about the symptoms of their patient. Students worked with an adult volunteer to diagnose their animal through a series of questions on a Google Form. Once students figured out the diagnosis, they were given directions to X-Ray their patient and what type of medication to distribute. It was really neat to see students talk through what might be wrong with their patient, to ask them questions, and to hear them explain their reasoning for a particular answer to a question.

The Innovator’s Mindset Book Study – Week 3 (Chapter 3: Characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset)

In week 3 of our book study, I’m exploring the 8 characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset. (Psst! It’s not too late to catch up on the first two weeks of our book study – Week 1 and Week 2)

One of my favorite things about this chapter is that it starts out with a short story about a teacher who left the classroom for a few years and upon her return was surprised at how much had changed. Not wanting to be left behind, she began reaching out and pushing herself out of her comfort zone to create new and meaningful opportunities for her students. Throughout the chapter, George returns to that teacher in applying one of the characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset.

The eight characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset are: Empathetic, Problem Finders (love this!), Risk-Takers, Networked, Observant, Creators, Resilient, and Reflective. The characteristic that stands out most to me is that of being a risk-taker. While for a lot of people standing in front of a group of kids and talking can be very risky, most teachers do not have a fear of public speaking. Rather, it is much riskier to open yourself up to something you’re not comfortable with. For me this involves asking for feedback from teachers and staff on my professional development offerings and training sessions. It can be challenging and a bit scary to ask for feedback, especially from teachers with whom you don’t have much of a relationship. Being split among several buildings makes it hard to really build a meaningful rapport with teachers and it can be scary to ask for feedback. Of course, this constructive feedback is crucial for our own personal growth and can push us to improve and change – to innovate. George asks at the end of the chapter: “What risk might you take to change learning experiences?” For me this includes asking for feedback at every session, not just a few select meetings. Beyond that, it’s important to evaluate the feedback with an objective eye and take it as a way to grow. It can be hard to listen to feedback without immediately getting defensive or trying to explain our decisions. While some of that is a natural response, it doesn’t do much to push me to grow or improve.

The other characteristic of the Innovator’s Mindset that really resonated with me was that of Resiliency. No one needs to tell teachers that their job is difficult. We know it better than anyone. And it can get really hard to continue to feel positive and excited about your work when you are pulled so thin and stretched in so many different directions. The focus on testing and data has made creativity and innovation feel more and more challenging and out of reach. Teachers must be resilient in the face of these difficulties. By embracing the amazing things are kids are doing and seeking out meaningful learning opportunities for our students, teachers can practice this characteristic.

What about you? Which characteristic(s) of The Innovator’s Mindset resonates with you? 

Questions for Discussion:

  1. What risk might you take to change learning experiences?
  2. How might you create an environment that fosters risk-taking?
  3. How do you exhibit the innovator’s mindset in the learning and work that you do currently?

If…

Reading through the #InnovatorsMindset hashtag on Twitter, I came across this post – If I Could Build a School. Created as part of the Ontario School and System Leaders Edtech MOOC, the post really got me thinking. It’s pretty easy to complain about the things that are wrong with schools, bemoan the many challenges facing teachers and schools, be frustrated with all the things that are seemingly out of our control, etc. However, when thinking about how to change schools, it can be a much more challenging conversation.

If you could design a school from scratch, what would it look like?

My school would be open and welcoming from the very moment you enter – bright colors, soft flooring, lots of seating options and areas for collaboration. There would be student work throughout the school, highlighting the unique learning and various student cultures present in our building.

Our building would not have specific areas for learning specific things – i.e., “technology lab”, “classroom”, etc. Rather, students and teachers would have many areas to take their students to immerse them in learning. When you walked into my school, you would see students working in collaborative spaces throughout the building. iPads and other technologies would be integrated seamlessly into instruction. Students would be documenting and sharing their learning on their personal blogs. There would be many opportunities for formalized sharing – Google Hangouts, Skype with other classrooms, presentations, small group discussion. Makerspaces and “studio” space would be available for students to create and share their learning in myriad ways.

Our focus would be on building relationships and fostering a culture of support and collaboration. Students would feel safe, welcomed, loved, and supported. They would be inspired to learn, to ask questions, to create, and to build. Our school would not have bells and our schedule would not be a strict structure. Inspiration doesn’t happen in neat, hour-long chunks, so why would we force our students to learn and create that way?

Your Turn: If you could design a school from scratch, what would it look like? 

The Innovator’s Mindset Book Study – Week 1 Reflections (Intro & Chapter 1)

As I read the introduction to this book, I had a hard time not underlining the entire section as George laid out the reasons behind creating this book. I think many educators can relate to feeling frustrated in a lot of ways by the state of schooling today. Overwhelmed by mandates that sometimes don’t make sense, standardized testing, and data collection, I felt so frustrated. From the very beginning of my formal teacher education program, I understood the importance of relationships with students. Creating a culture of caring, creativity, risk-taking, and safety was always at the fore of what I did as a teacher. As the years passed, I began to feel frustrated by the emphasis on the student as a set of data points instead of a person with ideas, fears, wonders, dreams, and interests beyond what tests could measure.

While I am not working with my own classroom of students any more, I now get to see entire buildings of students and see a bigger picture of what a school is – and what it could be. This quote in particular stuck out to me:

Inspiration is one of the chief needs of today’s students. Kids walk into schools full of wonder and questions, yet we often ask them to hold their questions for later so we can ‘get through’ the curriculum.[…] We forget that if students leave school less curious than when they started, then we have failed them. (emphasis mine)

Just adding a bunch of technology isn’t going to magically change the way students are being taught. It’s crucial for teachers to embrace technology as a way to connect students to the world “out there.” We always talk about when students get “in the real world” as if schools are a  little bubble and the real world never impinges on our students’ lives. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Our students are facing some very difficult realities, many that I – as a middle-class white woman – could never truly relate to. Our kids are connected to others in many parts of their daily lives – their cell phones, social media accounts, etc. It’s unrealistic to expect that our students won’t want to use technology in a way the fundamentally changes the way they learn. Technology has fundamentally changed the way almost all of US learn. How many of you memorize phone numbers? I don’t, because my phone does it for me! If I can’t remember a particular detail or fact, I can quickly Google when an event happened. Our students do these things too, and we should foster a culture of innovation – where the focus is not on the facts but on evaluating, analyzing, and sharing how those things have influenced or impacted our world.

In my current role as a tech integration specialist, something I hear from teachers all the time is “what if _______?” I totally understand not being comfortable with something, and, as the “expert” in the room, teachers want to feel like they have the answers before they introduce something to their students. However, I push back with asking, “What do you do when a student asks a question you don’t know?” I think it’s important to model for our students how adults solve problems and figure things out. Besides, students love to be the experts and if they can show a teacher how to do something, it makes that kid feel very empowered. Instead of trying to control everything and preparing for all of the “what ifs”, what if we let go a bit and let our students lead, puzzle, tinker, struggle, and figure things out on their own?

Aside from the technological know how, many teachers are worried that their students will use technology inappropriately – looking up things that are not appropriate, communicating with others instead of working on an assignment, etc. While these are legitimate fears, I don’t think they are really any different than normal classroom management challenges. How do you ensure students are staying on task and are engaged in a lesson. Obviously rules and procedures are important, but more so is the relationship piece. If students feel valued and loved, respected and inspired, they are far more likely to behave the way they are supposed to. While safety online is important, it can’t be the only thing we talk about. I loved this quote from page 7 of the book:

We are spending so much time telling our students what they can’t do that we have lost focus on what we can do. Imagine that if every time you talked about the ability to write with a pencil, you only focused on telling kids not to stab one another with the tool. What would you really inspire in your students? Creativity? Unlikely. Fear? Almost certainly.

In thinking about practices that I consider innovative, I think about the fashion service Stitch Fix. Obviously this example is not education related, but it is a service that seems very innovative to me. Here’s how it works:

  • Create an account and fill out a style profile
  • Schedule your first “Fix”
  • In a few weeks, a package of five hand-picked items arrives at your doorstep. Your stylist chooses items based on your style profile as well as personal requests like a pair of skinny jeans or a handbag.
  • You try everything on, keep what you want, and send back the pieces you don’t. You check out online, providing feedback for both the pieces you keep and the ones you send back. The more fixes you get, the better they become as your stylist really becomes able to understand your personal style.

I consider this practice innovative because, as a busy professional, I don’t always have time to shop and look for things that are fashion-forward. This service makes shopping more fun because the items come to me! My stylist chooses items that are within my style, but sometimes pushes me outside of my fashion comfort zone.

The big question at the end of the Introduction is: Why do you believe schools need to change and what are the opportunities that lay in front of us? 
I believe schools need to change because our world has changed. The types of skills our students will need to be successful – nay they ALREADY need – cannot be taught through compliance and completing worksheets. Researching, analyzing, collaborating – those are the skills our kids need. Creating their own meaning through the guidance of curricular experts (i.e., the teacher, guest speakers, etc.) will create far more nuanced and thoughtful students. The ability to connect to the world around them is so powerful for students. We, the leaders of our classrooms and our schools, need to provide those opportunities for our students and guide them so they learn how to communicate in a digital environment.

 

What are your thoughts? Feel free to add them in the comments here. Questions to guide your thinking:

  1. Why do you believe schools need to change and what are the opportunities that lay in front of us?
  2. What is an example of a practice that you would consider to be innovative? How is it new or better than what you had before?
  3. How do you create opportunities for innovation in your leadership? In your teaching? In your learning? 
  4. What has changed in our world today that not only makes innovation easier to do, but necessary for our students?

 

 

 

The Innovator’s Mindset Book Study

Perhaps you’ve heard of George Couros. Maybe you heard him speak at ISTE. My Michigan friends had the pleasure of hearing George as the Keynote speaker at MACUL 2015. If you haven’t heard George speak, you’re missing out! Check out what people say about him here. 

As a teacher, building relationships with my students was always a key part of how I built community in my classroom. Providing students a safe space to share, learn, grow, challenge, and engage with the world is crucial to developing students who are thoughtful and prepared to solve problems in our world. George refers to this set of skills as The Innovator’s Mindset – a way to “empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity.” By reading his book, teachers and administrators can begin a discussion about how to create this culture in their classrooms and buildings.

I finally purchased a copy of the book and am so excited to start reading and sharing my thoughts. Would you like to join me? You can purchase The Innovator’s Mindset on Amazon. This will be a very informal “book club”, but each week I will post my thoughts and reflections on a few chapters and invite you to add to the conversation – in the blog comments and on Twitter using #InnovatorsMindset. Want to join? Sign up here.

I hope you will consider joining me! I’m planning to start posting my thoughts on the first couple of chapters next week.

P.S. I have a FREE copy of the book to giveaway to one lucky winner!

Social Media and Students

If you’re reading this blog, chances are pretty good you find value in connecting with and learning from others on the Internet. One of the easiest ways to do that is through social media channels. As an avid Tweeter, I cannot express how much Twitter has changed the way I learn and grow professionally. Through a variety of educational chats like #miched, I have connected with teachers and administrators throughout the country. Nothing is more powerful than posting a question and getting many responses within a few minutes. It’s so great to quickly see what kinds of learning and professional growth is happening in other places as well.

While many teachers utilize social media in their personal lives, many are reluctant or hesitant to include it in their instruction. Even though it’s one of the main ways our students connect with one another, teachers and schools often ban social media, blocking the sites at the server level, and monitoring students’ cell phone usage. Just like any distraction, students need guidelines and scaffolding to recognize how and when to use any tool. Kiddos can be distracted with a pencil – tapping out a rhythm, drawing or doodling when they’re supposed to be taking notes, writing to a friend instead of working on their math practice. As teachers, our job is to help students learn how to use technology as a tool and a support rather than just a passive distraction.

There are many great pockets of examples of how Twitter and Instagram are being used in classrooms across the country. Just recently, George Couros wrote a blog post about how Twitter allowed him to make a connection between a student, a teacher, and himself. It’s hard to imagine how this connection would have been possible without technology. Kindergarten students are engaged in learning on Twitter with help from their classroom teacher – and getting incredibly excited to connect with another classroom. This makes their learning so much more meaningful and personal.

Recently, I read an article from EdSurge – “Three Reasons Students Should Own Your Classroom’s Twitter and Instagram Accounts.” The author discussed three big ways that posting on these social media channels has changed her students and their learning. We know students must be good digital citizens, since they will have almost their entire lives captured and documented online. We must make learning meaningful and relatable, not just “Don’t post personal information because it’s bad!” Students need to learn about digital citizenship in an embedded, purposeful way. What better way to model, demonstrate, practice, and learn how to be good digital citizens than through a classroom Twitter or Instagram account?

In Michigan, there currently isn’t a law regarding the use of social media in schools. But, Representative Adam Zemke has proposed HB 4791 which would require districts to “adopt and implement a policy regulating social media interactions between students and school personnel.” While I believe this is forward-thinking in being realistic that social media channels are an integral part of how students today connect and communicate, the fear is that this type of policy may cause an undue financial burdens on schools. For example, if each district is allowed to set its own policy, each district will need to meet with legal experts to determine appropriate language, implications, etc. and this could cost a lot of money in legal fees. For cash-strapped districts, many might look at this and decide to ban social media interactions altogether. Schools across the state – not just those in struggling urban and rural areas – are being asked to do more with less. Penny pinching and belt-tightening has become a way of life throughout the state. I can envision an administrator who doesn’t understand the power of social media in empowering and engaging our students looking at the potential costs involved and deciding it’s not worth it.

Your Turn: What do you think? Should schools have a social media policy? What would yours include?

Family STEAM Night

Students and teachers at Mt. Hope STEAM had an awesome and successful family STEAM night last week! Our Magnet schools throughout the district hold theme nights several times a year to open their buildings up to parents and the community at large to show off all the great learning that’s happening in our buildings. It’s also important for parents to see just how much education and schooling has shifted since they were in school.

Throughout the building, it’s clear that Mt. Hope STEAM is a different kind of school. The walls are painted bright colors, a beautiful mural dons the walls on the front entrance showing the cityscape of Lansing and elements of the STEAM theme – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math.

It was easy to see the STEAM theme throughout the building. In the Technology Lab, students and parents used VEX Robots to race each other and complete challenges.

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VEX Robotics

A fifth grade teacher used latex to create rubber bands. Parents and students got to participate and use scientific principles to make their rubber bands.

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Making rubber bands.

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Finished products!

In another classroom, students showed their parents what they have been learning about computer programming using puzzles on Code.org.

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She completed all 10 puzzles! 

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Even parents like Code.org! 

Another teacher set up the Lego robotics kits and parents and students worked on programming their Lego builds. Parents commented on how different these Legos were from the ones they used growing up!

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Lego Robotics

One of the tastiest activities was in a 6th grade classroom. Using Nerds and Starbursts, students created different types of rocks to explain the rock cycle. At the end, they got to eat their creations – like lava melting rocks!

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Creating sedimentary rocks with Starbursts and Nerds

The fourth grade showcased their 3D printed houses, buildings, and cars on their moon colonies. This was such a fun project and the kids loved seeing their designs printed in tangible objects.

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Moon Colony

Of course, we had some time for fun, too!

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Some dedicated teachers! Thank you for all you do!

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Pizza! Yum!

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Our fabulous MSU Interns making sure everyone gets fed.

We even had our local school district press present. Teachers and students explained what learning is like at Mt. Hope STEAM and shared what they love most about their school. It’s always so powerful to hear students share what they are learning and how they are engaging with new content and ideas.

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Students sharing why Mt. Hope STEAM is a great place to learn.

Too many times we hear about all the problems and issues with public schools. I love sharing events like this that help to showcase all the efforts teachers and staff go to in order to create positive experiences for our students and community.