#IMMOOC Week One – Opportunities

So, I’m super excited to be participating in this awesome MOOC with lots of amazing and brilliant folks on the book The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros. One of the biggest challenges for me in my role as an Instructional Technologist is letting go of some of my own ideas about what technology integration SHOULD look like, and being more open to hearing other teachers sharing what their visions are. While many of the teachers I work with are eager to utilize technology in more meaningful ways, they aren’t sure how to make that happen. At the core of any real systematic change is the ability to listen to and understand one another. Sometimes in the busyness of the day, teachers and I aren’t always speaking the same language.

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Photo courtesy of George Couros: gcouros.ca

One of the prompts for this week is: “‘Change is an opportunity to do something amazing’ How are you embracing change to spur innovation?”

So one of my big goals for this MOOC is to change the way I “do business” to generate some innovative ideas. Spend more time listening and asking questions (of both teachers AND students) and less time talking and trying to provide solutions. I feel stretched in a billion different directions and, when I walk out of a teacher’s classroom, I want to feel like I have helped him or her, so I often feel pressure to give him or her a quick answer or a solution. Rather, I want to embrace the opportunity to do something amazing by CHANGING the way I communicate. Asking questions and really thinking deeply will help me to provide more meaningful supports for the teachers I am working with.

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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!

Sphero

Our programming club has been progressing steadily through the lessons on Code.org. We enrolled our students in Course 1, which is appropriate for students who have basic reading skills and no prior coding experience. In this first course, students have been introduced to computational thinking as they work their way logically through problems and try to solve challenges. Students have also learned about looping through a series of fun activities like Getting Loopy and dancing games.

As students are beginning to have a deeper understanding of computer science and programming, we wanted to bring in some other science and robotics elements into our programming club. Enter our Spheros! Sphero is a robotic ball that students program using an app. They can write a basic program that simply makes their Sphero roll a direction or change color, or students can write a very complex program that will allow the Sphero to navigate a maze. You can see Sphero in action in this video.

We started off pretty basic because we wanted our second and third graders to feel successful and excited about using the Spheros. The first app we used was the basic Sphero app for the iPad. Through this app, students can change the color of the Sphero, change the speed of the Sphero, and navigate it using a simple joystick . IMG_4785IMG_4783

We had students work in partners because we find pairing always helps kids work better, are more creative, and can help each other with problem solving. Pair programming is a popular model with big tech companies you may have heard of – like Google.

Once kids had a basic understanding of how to navigate the Sphero, how adjusting the speed affected the control they had, and how to “calibrate” the Sphero so it understood what direction you meant when you pushed the joystick forward, we moved on a to more robust app.Sphero is somewhat similar to a toy car in that you are controlling the movements of the ball, but it’s much more challenging because students have to write the program to make their Sphero act in a particular way. We used the SPRK Lighting Labs app which uses drag-and-drop blocks, just like students are used to with Code.org. Screen Shot 2016-01-13 at 8.55.08 AM.png

Mr. Stalter walked the students through the basic commands – Roll, set heading, change color – and then we wrote a program. Each student got to choose either a color, or how long the ball would roll and in what direction. That was a challenging part for our students was figuring out the direction of the roll. It’s not a simple forward, left, right, back, but rather measured in degrees based on a circle. So we had to figure out what direction rolling 180 degrees was and then we stuck to basic degrees – 360, 180, and 90.

This was a really fun activity and kids loved being able to write a program and see it actually “happen” in front of them. One of the students mentioned how long it took to write a program to get the Sphero from one side of the room to the other, turn, and knock over a cup. We talked about how long it must take – and how many people – to write a computer program for a video game. I love that kids are  making real world connections and getting excited by the opportunity to create something of their own. It’s so incredible!

Your Turn: How have you used Spheros or other robots with your students?

The Hour of Code

Last month, students across the Lansing School District participated in The Hour of Code. Put on annually by the amazing people at Code.org, the goal of this international movement is to get students around the world writing computer code for at least an hour during that week. This year, Hour of Code was scheduled December 7-13th. Ideally, this sparks interest in computer science, spurring more students to demand access to computer science courses. In addition, it’s important for students to be exposed to computer programming at a young age since so much of their lives center around technology. Students also learn valuable collaboration and problem-solving skills as they go through the puzzles.

Throughout the district, various schools participated at different levels. In some schools, a couple of classrooms participated. In other schools, the entire building took part in various events. Regardless, all students had a blast and teachers loved seeing their students so engaged.

At Sheridan Road STEM, the 6th grade students did the Star Wars Hour of Code puzzles.

Ms. Rubio also brought in a guest speaker from Leigh Kunz & Associates (a software development firm) who spoke to students about how learning computer science has impacted his career. Students were super impressed with the thought of making close to $70,000 right out of college. Gary explained to students that they were uniquely situated in Michigan, because there is a huge need for computer science experts and not enough people to fill those jobs. He talked to students about how having those skills makes them more valuable and able to ask for more things to get employed. They loved the idea of folks competing for their skills! Gary commented to me that if he had learned coding this way, he would have found it MUCH more enjoyable and engaging. He talked to students about how he learned – big, thick books, and pages of notes to memorize the various codes to make “things happen.” Students also prefer learning computer science this way!

At Cavanaugh STEAM, our 3rd grade students spent a few minutes talking about how computers communicate. I started out by asking students what language we speak. Then, we talked about what language computer speak. That was a bit trickier. Students learned how computers talk by “programming” me to get from one area of the classroom to another. I then made the connection to students that what they were doing when they dragged blocks over to the work space was “talking” to the computer and when the computer followed the commands, it was “listening” to what the student had told them.

Kids had a blast and were SOOO excited when they finished. Prior to our lesson that day, we printed Hour of Code certificates for each student. They loved getting a certificate that showed they had completed their Hour of Code.

Our second grade students at Fairview STEM were super geeked to participate in the Hour of Code using Minecraft. Mrs. Norris had been talking it up to her students and boy were they excited to start! We have been doing pieces of coding using some other resources from Code.org, but when Minecraft was announced, students were so excited. It was a challenging puzzle in some ways – mostly for me! – but kids persevered through it.

That was one of the highlights of the entire week for me – seeing the kids working through challenges and problem solving with one another. Students don’t always love having to solve a problem on their own, so seeing them WANT to try to figure it out and then show others how they did it was awesome.

At Mt. Hope STEAM, the entire school participated! They took one afternoon and created two hour-long sessions. Teachers led a combination of plugged (computer-based) and unplugged activities. Students then rotated to another activity after the hour was up. It was a great way to mix students from various grade levels up, and to allow the teachers some creativity in teaching different groups of students than the ones they see on a day-to-day basis. We often have wifi issues, so collaborating with only a couple of plugged activities helped alleviate any issues we might have had. One of the computer-based lessons was housed in the computer lab (with wired internet connection!) and the other was on iPads on the other end of the building. Overall, teachers and students praised the activities and the planning. We provided a variety of unplugged lessons including Binary Bracelets, Building a Foundation, and Graph Paper Programming. It was a fun and successful day!

Your Turn: Did you participate in the Hour of Code this year? What activities did you do? 

Global Read Aloud

I first heard about the Global Read Aloud movement at ISTE. Josh Stumpenhorst showcased Pernille Ripp in his Keynote address. You can read more about the history of the Global Read Aloud here, but the jist is for classrooms to read a book and find another classroom to connect with. Teachers have the opportunity to recommend a book and then they vote on their top choices. There are generally several books to choose from at each grade level. For younger learners, there is often an author study with the option to read several picture books by the same author. Using Edmodo, Twitter, Skype, Google Hangouts, Padlet, and blogs, teachers find classrooms to connect with. It’s an awesome way to engage students in a read aloud that goes beyond your normal classroom discussion. Plus, students love seeing other kids in another part of the world and connecting with them.

This year, motivated by the awesome Keynote address Pernille gave at the Michigan Google Fest in September, I reached out to teachers at Lewton Elementary, a magnet school whose focus is on Global Studies and Spanish Immersion, to see if they would be interested in getting on board. As an incentive, I offered to purchase the books for the teachers. It was a small investment for a really valuable experience for kids. All three teachers who participated chose the book Fish in a Tree.

The author of the beloved One for the Murphys gives readers an emotionally-charged, uplifting novel that will speak to anyone who’s ever thought there was something wrong with them because they didn’t fit in.

“Everybody is smart in different ways. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its life believing it is stupid.”

Ally has been smart enough to fool a lot of smart people. Every time she lands in a new school, she is able to hide her inability to read by creating clever yet disruptive distractions.  She is afraid to ask for help; after all, how can you cure dumb? However, her newest teacher Mr. Daniels sees the bright, creative kid underneath the trouble maker. With his help, Ally learns not to be so hard on herself and that dyslexia is nothing to be ashamed of. As her confidence grows, Ally feels free to be herself and the world starts opening up with possibilities. She discovers that there’s a lot more to her—and to everyone—than a label, and that great minds don’t always think alike.

Source: http://www.amazon.com/Fish-Tree-Lynda-Mullaly-Hunt/dp/0399162593

So far, we have connected using Padlet with two classrooms – one in Australia and one in California. It has been really neat to have students learn from other students in other parts of the world. This week, we used Swivl to record students talking about their favorite part of Fish in a Tree so far. We will be sharing these video reflections with our friends in California and Australia. You can check out their reflections on our YouTube page.

We also have plans to connect via Skype with a 4th grade classroom in Colorado. I cannot wait for this! Last year, our 2nd graders Mystery Skyped with a classroom in Iowa, and it was a blast. I’m looking forward to seeing our older kiddos connecting over a shared experience.

Your Turn: Have you participated in the Global Read Aloud? How?