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!

 

It’s Election Day!

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last year, you’re probably pretty sick and tired of hearing about the U.S. Presidential Election. The good news is that it will all be over tomorrow! img_6350

Here at Sheridan Road, we have been harnessing the glut of information around the election to run a school-wide PBL unit. The driving question for the project has been “How can we use knowledge of the U.S. Presidential election to create a successful campaign for Sheridan Road STEM’s student council race?”

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Over the past two months, students have been engaged in researching and participating in how the election process works – fundraising to pay for commercials and campaign posters, interviewing “constituents” to see what issues are important, and working hard to make sure they lock up their votes. Additionally, students have learned about how the electoral college works, the popular vote, the issues that voters are working on, how and why we elect people to represent us, and what the civic responsibilities are in choosing a candidate.

There will be a president and vice president selected from each grade level – each 4th, 5th, and 6th grade have nominated a candidate. Those candidates have created posters, campaign videos, and have given speeches. Students have heard from local politicians about their own path to election and have had the opportunity to ask questions about the process.

One of the key components of a good PBL is that it is relevant and timely. Clearly capitalizing on the election has helped make this unit timely, but it is also relevant for the students because they are actually choosing candidates who will represent their grade level on the school’s student council. Sheridan Road has tried to model as much as possible the real election process. Once the nominees were chosen from each class, students divided into committees to help their candidate win the election. In order to air their commercials or hang their campaign posters, students had to fundraise and earn money to pay for their commercial slot. Candidates have had to give interviews about what their platform is. We have even had debates between the different candidates at each grade level. (Fourth Grade, Fifth Grade, and Sixth Grade)

Sixth grade students used the website I Side With to evaluate the issues that are important to them and what their positions are. Once they received their results and saw which of the 4 main candidates they sided with, they created a series of fake text messages between themselves and friend, telling their friend which candidate they sided the most with and why.

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Today is our election day since our schools are closed tomorrow for the election. On Wednesday, we will have the results and the losing candidates will give their concession speeches.

Permissions and Challenges

Something that’s been rumbling around in my brain the last couple of days after attending a training  and a recent update in privacy policy from Code.org – what responsibility do software and “web 2.0” companies have to schools and students in regard to student information and privacy?

There are literally thousands of websites and resources for students to create digital products, share their knowledge in different ways, or interact with the world at large. However, common among so many of them is the requirement of creating an account, which asks for some kind of information for students. Presumably, many of these companies keep this information to email students, market to them, sell their emails to other companies, etc. I know many websites have their privacy policies and terms of conditions labeled on their websites, but they often have a requirement for students to be 13 or older to use their sites.

Working with many K-6 teachers, it is often a big challenge to find good (free, or relatively cheap) sites, that do what teachers want, and is appropriate for younger learners. This got me thinking – what responsibilities do technology education companies have to the people they are claiming to serve?

I know this isn’t a black or white issue and there are probably a lot of things I’ve left out or haven’t fully unpacked, but I’m interested to hear your thoughts. What say you?

 

The Innovator’s Mindset – Week 4 (Chapters 4 & 5)

Sometimes life happens…and I have been buried in work! You can read about the first three weeks of the book study here, here, and here.

Chapter Four focuses on the importance of relationships in driving innovation in classrooms, buildings, and districts. My student teaching experience was in a 7th grade classroom, and I understood early on that having a relationship with them was crucial to being a successful teacher. This shouldn’t be mind-blowing knowledge; we tend to work better for people whom we respect and feel respected by. Too often, though, this important aspect of growth is overlooked in the name of getting stuff done.

George asks, “How do you create opportunities for your school community to have learning driven by their personal interests?” I try to keep this idea at the fore when designing learning opportunities for my teachers. Through the summer, I host open office hours for teachers to drop in and get individualized attention. Teachers really appreciate the chance to sit down one on one and discuss an idea or get some troubleshooting done on a tool or app. I have also begun doing these office hours with a couple of schools. They hire a floating sub and teachers sign up for a 45 minute session with me. Here, I can show a new tool or – even more effective – speak to the teacher about their content and curricular goals and brainstorm ways to utilize technology to modify student learning.

Adjacent to the idea of having relationships with your staff and learners is how to be an effective leader. My first principal was a person I respected and who I knew respected me. He was always ready to listen, offer support when necessary, asked deep, thought-provoking questions, and challenged some of my actions when he wanted me to see something from a different angle. He also was a great leader. He listened to staff concerns but also pushed us to take our teaching to the next level. He truly “got it.” Being an effective leader isn’t easy, and I’m sure all of us have worked for or with people who were ineffective at leading people.

I love this quote:

In a world where digital interaction is the norm, we crave human interaction more than ever. That’s why the three things you need to ensure innovation flourishes in your organization are relationships, relationships, and relationships. Fifty years ago, relationships were the most important thing in our schools, and fifty years from now, it will be no different.

Chapter Five lays out the eight characteristics of The Innovative Leader: Visionary, Empathetic, Models Learning, Open Risk-Taker, Networked, Observant, Team Builder, and Always Focused on Relationships. Being an Open Risk-Taker means you are taking risks “out in the open” so that others can see you doing it. I did this a lot with my students. Sometimes we forget that we ask kids to be uncomfortable a lot – and expect them to do it without complaint. But when we are asked to do something we don’t want to do or aren’t comfortable with, we resist. Sometimes a lot. Taking risks and being vulnerable in front of others isn’t always in our comfort zone. But by showing we trust those around us enough to be supportive of our risk-taking, we are able to grow as leaders and members of a community.
One of the areas I need to improve upon is being more Empathetic. I have such energy and passion for technology and how it can create connections among students, teachers, and others around the world, when others are hesitant to jump in  – or don’t quite see how it will all come together – I get frustrated. It’s hard to remember sometimes that not everyone is at my level of knowledge when it comes to technology tools or what’s available. Figuring out where people are and being able to move them from THEIR Point A to THEIR Point B (thanks for this idea, George!) is important rather than just pushing them to move from where they are to where I think they should be.

Discussion Questions: (Chapter 4)

  1. How do you build relationships with individuals in your district, school, and classroom?
  2. How do you empower others to take risks? Examples?
  3. How do you create opportunities for your school community to have learning driven by their personal interests?

Discussion Questions: (Chapter 5)

  1. What are some ways that you get in the “middle” of learning to understand the needs of those you serve?
  2. What is a new learning initiative that you would like to see in your school, and how do you model this learning yourself?
  3. Which characteristic of the innovative leader do you consider personal strengths? In which areas do you need to grow?

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?

 

 

 

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?

Tinkercad Tutorials

Several classrooms at Mt. Hope STEAM have been putting their creativity skills to the test and designing different types of buildings and cars for their moon colonies. I love this unit because it allows students to be so creative while still implementing design and engineering principles to make it a bit more challenging.

Last year students used Google Sketch-Up and created some really unique designs. Sketch-Up offers a lot of really advanced 3d Design software tools, some of which are a bit too challenging for 4th graders to master. So, we decided to try another tool this year – Tinkercad. Tinkercad is great because it’s so user friendly and easier to design in 3D than Sketchup (at least for younger students).

Once students create their house and cars on Tinkercad, we’re going to use our 3D printer to print them. For theme night next week, we will have our moon colonies set up. It should be really cool!

If you’re interested in using Tinkercad with your students, here are a couple of tutorial videos I created for teacher and students. It would be easy enough to post a link to the videos either on your teacher webpage or as an announcement on Google Classroom. Then students could access them as much as they want, pause when they need to, rewind, etc. I hope you find them helpful!

Aligning a Roof Shape
Creating a Window
Creating an Arched Doorway