Category Archives: motivation

Anticipating the genius

You are a genius and the world needs your contribution. –Angela Maiers

It all started this summer on twitter.  I was looking through my feed, and something caught my eye.  I kept on seeing “genius hour” being spoken about.  Naturally, I was curious and decided to find out more.  The more I found out, the more I loved the idea.  This was a concept I could get excited about!  My students could pursue their passions in my classroom and really own the experience.  They will impact themselves, their classmates, and even the world.  

I just finished up my first week of school, three days with my new students, and it was quite an experience.  We started by getting to know each other, exploring our learning environment, discovering how we would find success, and even had some fun!  Monday begins our journey with genius hour, and I can’t wait.

I am looking forward to next week so much – eagerly anticipating what passions my students will pursue.  We are going to start our first session with an explanation of the genius hour concept and then have a brainstorming session.  I am going to provide different prompts for my students on large paper throughout the classroom.  They can add as many ideas as they want, and we will narrow it down later on.  Here are my ideas for the brainstorming posters:

  • What are you passionate about?
  • What do you wonder about?
  • How can you change the world?
  • What breaks your heart?
  • What bothers you?

Once I feel we have exhausted our ideas, it will be time to collaborate and begin to make decisions about topics.  Students will be encouraged to work in small groups, but if there is an individual that would like to work alone that is acceptable.  Throughout the first semester, the focus will be learning about our topics in the realm of Spanish language and/or culture.  We will share out in December our findings and new learning.  The students can choose how to present the information they have learned.  Second semester, I will ask them to take their new learning and figure out how they can change the world with it.

I hope Mondays take on an entirely new reputation in my classroom and become something we look forward to.  I will be blogging about our journey as we make new discoveries, learn language, and explore different cultures.  I will let you know next week how it goes!

A glimpse into their world

Wow, what a day!

Today was my first day of the 2013-14 school year and it was a game changer for me.  I began today with my message clear.  I wanted to get to know a little about my students, let them know this class would be different than others, and tell them a bit about me in the process.

I opened by talking to them briefly about the class, but not in the traditional manner.  Here is what I said.

Get ready for the experience of a lifetime!  Welcome to your Spanish travel adventure.   I will be your tour guide and if you think this is going to be one of those boring, documentary style trips…think again!  We are going to have fun, get experiential, and hopefully learn along the way.  We will do everything in our power to make learning Spanish relevant, meaningful, fun, and easy.  Wait a minute…did she just say easy?  Yes, we will work with your brain, learning style and preferences to make learning Spanish as easy as possible this year.  You will work with your travel mates (take a look around…see the wonderful group we are travelling with?) to develop language, communicate in an entirely different way, and build a community of learners.

You will pursue your passions in this classroom through a concept called genius hour…To be continued next week.

We will focus on learning.  There are no points in this class, only standards, feedback (from me, your classmates, and yourselves), and assessment.  The word homework is not used here, only practice.

We will embark on  our journey soon, but there are some  housekeeping details we must attend to before departure.

_____

After this, we took attendance and took care of any misplaced students.  Our next activity was to figure out Spanish names.  I let my students decide what they would like to be called in my room, as long as it is in Spanish.  I know this is not reality when they step outside my room, but they really enjoy choosing an identity for class, and we always seem to learn some new words along the way! (I had a student today that chose Sacapuntas as his name – Pencil Sharpener)

The final activity for the day was to take pipe cleaners and create something that tells about them.  Here are a few examples:

Fish
Swimmer
Musical note

We closed by introducing ourselves and the pipe cleaner creations we made.

The moment of the day was when one student approached me on his way out the door. “It was nice to meet you.  I can tell I am really going to enjoy your class.”

Edu-Win.

To open the year

The first few days of school are crucial to set the stage for the year. I have spent significant time thinking about how I want to open the year and what I would like my students to leave either saying or thinking about my class. Here are my thoughts…

  • This is going to be fun!
  • She actually knows my name and wants to learn about me.
  • I wonder what we are going to do tomorrow?
  • Is she that way everyday?
  • I will find success in this class.

Fun is first on the list because I want my kids to look forward to coming to class. We can absolutely accomplish our goals for the year while having a great time in the process. There will be smiles starting the first day and every day following (can you tell I am not one of those don’t smile until after Christmas people?). Not everything will be easy, but stress levels can be reduced for a difficult task by making the learning environment an enjoyable, fun place to be. Each day will start with music not only because I love it, but because music is such an important part of the adolescent life. I started this last year and my kids would tell me how it was like entering another world when they came in.

Relationships are of utmost importance  I get to know my kids names within the first couple of days but I must not stop there. The primary focus during the first week is to form those critical relationships. I need to get to know my students as fast as humanly possible and let them know that I am a person as well. I am not some entity that lives at school, but a mother, wife, reader, learner, runner, and more. If I can give them a window into my passions, hopefully they will give me a glimpse of theirs.

Keep ’em coming back for more! One thing I am trying for the first time this year is to leave them hanging a bit at the end of each day.  This has worked countless times in books, television shows, etc. Why not use a little anticipation in the classroom? I have seen my children in the days leading up to Christmas and the excitement is palpable. Now, I don’t expect that this will be to the same level, but the same principle applies.  I want my class to be engaging, interactive, and a little different each day. Do you remember from your school experiences the class that was the exact same each day? Was it your favorite?
  
I want my students to wonder if I can possibly keep my enthusiasm level up for 180 school days. I love teaching and this should be present in everything I do. I also love Spanish and can’t wait to introduce them to a new language, new cultures, and a more global perspective. Enthusiasm is contagious, and I am ready to let it spread and grow in my classroom  And on the days when my enthusiasm wanes? If I have worked this out correctly, my students will bring enough to share with me.

Success will need to be loosely defined in my class before we pursue it. I will give my students the standards and let them determine the path to achieve mastery. I say loosely because I don’t want to stifle my students creativity or achievement by setting the bar and just waiting for them to get there. I want to encourage them to go beyond, the possibilities are endless. There are only so many things that I can imagine for them, but they can go much farther.  I tell my students that we will find success no matter the struggle and that it is worth all their effort.

So, as I am planning the specific activities for the first few days of class, this is what I am going to keep in mind.

What do you want your students to say and think after your first week?

It’s not the destination, but the journey

As my family and I get going on our cross country minivan tour to Yellowstone, I am reminded that vacation is a great time to let your brain relax a bit, reflect, and let the creativity shine through.

We are taking this trip with my parents and my brother and his family, and I cannot help but notice the uncanny comparison to teaching.
We are all starting from different places, various parts of Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, even New York.  We are all going to end up at the same destination…hmmm, sound familiar?
What a great analogy to the differentiated classroom!  I will find out your starting place, and help you find your best route to the learning destination.  Each student will have a different path, which makes the process messy but fun.
How to travel?  That is an individual choice as well.  My parents are flying, we are driving our minivan, and my brother’s family is renting a 15 passenger van.  We are headed west first, then will head north.  Others will head north first, and I am not sure of the flight pattern the airplane will take!  The routes and means of travel mean nothing, all have chosen the best way to arrive at the destination.
There are various stops along the way for my family, but they are different for the other parts of the group.  We all take our own journey, taking care of individual needs whenever necessary.  I couldn’t be happy making all the stops that other pieces of our family are taking, and I am sure they wouldn’t be pleased with all our stops either.  We again must keep the end goal in mind while making the best individual decisions possible.
And when we all finally end up together, we can share our individual travels and reflect upon the journey.  It will be that much sweeter to reminisce together, much like it is for our students once a major learning target has been conquered.
This is something I will definitely share with my students as we get started this year.  What a great analogy of what their year should be like in my class.

Why standards based grading?

Standards based grading is something that has transformed my classroom into a true learning environment. Points have disappeared, as well as grades on formative assessment.  We simply learn, practice, apply, connect, assess, rework, revise, and reassess.

This may sound wonderful, and it is a huge improvement over what I had previously done with grading, but let me be clear…this was not an easy road!

But despite the challenges of writing standards, developing scales, working with (and at times against) our computerized gradebook program there was this excitement.  I felt that this new system would be a game changer for my students, and I was right.

No longer did my students and I discuss points, extra credit, homework, or the value of assignments.  The conversations were centered about learning – where they were in the process, what our goals were, and how to achieve those goals.  We replaced percentages, numbers, and letters with meaningful feedback for growth.

Sometimes my students struggled with the new system, having spent their elementary school years with a traditional grading program.  In the beginning of the year there were a lot of questions and some push back.  But when we got to the end of the year, I read my students reflections and talked with them during the last weeks of school.  Things had changed!  They enjoyed a year without the high stakes of grades infiltrating every assignment and assessment.  They sought learning over grades, with the assurance that once you achieve the former, the latter will follow.

Why standards based grading?  I believe it is imperative for the future of our children.  It teaches them perseverance, responsibility, and to focus on learning.  We are in this business to create lifelong learners, right?  Then the time is now, we cannot wait.  Our students deserve more than just a letter or a number.

The struggle to reach them all

My battle to effectively facilitate the learning of a second (or third for some of my students) language is waged each and every day in my classroom.  But the battle always starts with a greeting and a smile.  It is so important for students to feel safe and welcomed in my learning environment, so I wait at the door for each of them, greet them by name and try to make them feel at home.  This greeting always seems to give me an insight into their day thus far.  They communicate so much to me in the way they respond and their body language.  Every piece of information helps as I figure out how to proceed with the next 45 minute class period.  A sincere greeting also communicates to my students that the battle to learn is shared amongst us, not something that divides us.  

We do a variety of different activities in class, but more important than what we do is why we do it.  I need to plan for and think about each of my classes a little differently.  Even though I teach several sections of the same class, so many things can change my instruction.  Class size, learning preferences, interests, time of day, etc. all affect our students and our ability to connect with them and facilitate learning.  I need to be able to explain why I chose each activity we did in class to my students, my parents, and my administration.  And because it is an activity mandated by a curriculum guide, or it was fun last year, or it is in the textbook are not acceptable answers.  This experience is about learning and the kids.  It is not about me.  It is not about what I like or what is easy.  It is not about making sure each kid gets the exact same thing.  It is about getting each individual what they need.

This is a battle that I never fully feel I win, but that is fine with me.  If I ever feel like there is nothing more to pursue and find out about my students to better their learning, I have lost.  It is about the struggle to learn after all, not about winning or losing.  At times this struggle is very tiresome, messy, and unnerving but when you connect with a student, elicit a smile when they are having a bad day, or watch the light bulb turn on at last, you know it was worth it.

My journey of change

You must be the change you wish to see in the world. – Mahatma Gandhi
When I started teaching, I was taught that you do a bell ringer, check in homework, take attendance, go over the homework, teach the lesson via a lecture, do a whole class guided practice, and then assign homework for the next day. Repeat 170ish times (to account for exams and such) and that equalled successful teaching.  This way all students stayed in their seats (in nice clean rows of course), kept quiet, stayed at the exact right point in the curriculum (which was basically prescribed per day), etc.  The textbook dictated the curriculum, so that we could all teach the exact same vocabulary and grammatical constructions and turn out little Spanish language robots.
Robots for so many reasons.  I didn’t know who these kids were.  I never fully found out, either.  I knew little about their previous experiences.  I didn’t know much about what they were involved with at school or outside of those walls.  I didn’t know them as learners.  And quite frankly, I was never taught or shown that this was important information whatsoever.  It was safe…much safer than getting to know those 150 kids who graced my presence.  Much safer than discovering the hardships that so many of them bring to school each day.  Much safer than knowing how my kids were truly gifted and when they needed more from me as their instructor.  Robots because the curriculum was predetermined and I never challenged it.  Everything was set, easy (although beginning teaching is never really easy), and safe.  
I did this and received good, even great evaluations of my teaching.  Things were going swimmingly!  Or so I thought…
About 5 years ago, my teaching world was turned upside down.  I had been feeling restless lately, why?  I was a tenured teacher, doing what I was supposed to be doing, following all the preset plans and assessments, and getting good results on them.  I had been evaluated time and time again with the same stellar results.  What could be wrong?
I felt like there was a huge hole in my teaching.  There were so many reasons that I chose teaching as my profession, but what were they again?  Oh yeah, I wanted kids to become lifelong learners.  I wanted kids to go out and be productive citizens.  I wanted the kids that moved on to post secondary education to be prepared and succeed in their endeavors.  Was I doing any of this anymore?  Was presenting the prescribed teacher centered lessons on the right day and keeping my kids in strict seating assignments teaching them anything about the real world or encouraging sustained lifelong learning?  Nope.  I was missing it in a big way.  It was my midlife teaching crisis, time for a change.
Luckily for me, I had an administrator in my district that was always looking for what we could be doing better, a true instructional leader.  He gave me the opportunity of my educational lifetime, even if I didn’t recognize it at the moment.
I am not going to say that the workshop I attended was so mind blowing or wonderful, it was good.  What was life changing was the fact that it challenged the way I was doing things, the way that had been previously celebrated and promoted.  It made me think.  It was a spark in my teaching world.
I was challenged to get to know my students on all levels.  To plan my lessons for them instead of the curriculum pacing guides and quarterly assessments.  To RESPECT them.  That was my biggest revelation.  Over the first few years of my teaching career I had unknowingly disrespected my students.  I had disrespected their individuality, their interests, their backgrounds, and most importantly their ability to contribute to my classroom.
From that point on, I vowed to make changes in my teaching.  I knew it would be difficult, chaotic, and that I would make many mistakes along the way.  However, I also knew that my students deserved better.  Here began my adventures into differentiated instruction, formative and summative assessments, a student centered classroom, standards based learning and grading, and technology integration.  It has been a crazy ride so far, but if I could go back I wouldn’t change a thing…well, I wouldn’t change much.
It has been (thus far) a journey of extreme highs and lows, of success and failure, of support and collaboration along with distrust and solitude.  I have taken this journey with my students, their parents, my administration, my colleagues, and even my family at home.  But to this day it has been worth it, and I will continue to look for new, better ways to reach my students.  I will be the lead learner in my classroom, constantly growing with my students.

A true professional learning experience

Mind blown…period.  I have just experienced what professional learning is all about.  I am motivated, inspired, and excited to try something new in my classroom.

A couple of weeks ago, I participated in a #patue (Pedagogy and Technology) chat about something called augmented reality.  I had no idea what it was, had only heard about it sporadically via Twitter.  But, I wanted to figure out what it was so I joined the conversation.  From that chat, I made some connections, found some resources, and set out on my journey.
For anyone who is unfamiliar with the idea of augmented reality, the easiest way for me to understand the idea is the yellow line on the football field during television broadcasts.  Obviously, the field is real, but the line is not.  Augmented reality allows us to overlay a video on an image of an object using an app.
I spent some time over the next few days reading more about augmented reality and watching some videos.  I downloaded an app, Aurasma, and tried to look at some auras that were already made.  I tried to make my first one, but I wasn’t ready yet…it failed.
So, back to reading a little bit more and thinking a bit more about classroom application.  Then, I tried again, and guess what? IT WORKED! It was very cool to run the camera over my computer and then my face popped up and gave the Spanish equivalent, la computadora.  This is the most basic of uses for augmented reality, but at this point, I just wanted it to work!
I then went to my kids, age 7 and 9, and showed them.  They of course wanted to make one.  So, they shot a quick video of one of them saying this is my iPod, and then did the overlay with the image…and presto!  My kids were so enthused, I can only imagine how my high schoolers will react.
So, we come up on the present day…yet another #patue chat with wonderful gurus on the topic of augmented reality.  This time, I had formed some ideas and was ready to share.  I actively participated in the discussion and got even more wonderful examples about how to use augmented reality in my classroom next year.  What I would really like to do is have my students write about themselves in Spanish and then record themselves in English for the video.  Their parents could use the app to see the video of their child at curriculum night.
Research, attempts, failure, more research, more attempts, success…I am definitely going to share this experience with my students in the fall to show them that I am always learning along with them, trying, failing, trying again, and eventually succeeding.

This is the learning process, and it is wonderful.

Sharing is caring

Around six months ago, I jumped into the sometimes crazy, truly educational, definitely addictive, wonderful learning community that is Twitter.  I had opened an account a few months prior, but didn’t do much with it at first.  I am forever grateful to the everyone I have met, for they have challenged my thinking and helped me grow in countless ways.  Here are a few things that I have learned more about thanks to Twitter:

  • genius hour
  • flipped learning
  • technology integration
  • edcamp
  • augmented reality
  • standards based grading
  • motivation
  • engagement
  • blogging
  • great books to read
and the list goes on…
But one of the biggest lessons that Twitter has taught me is the importance of sharing.  All of these people that I follow selflessly share everyday.  They share their thoughts, ideas, successes, and inspirations.  They share their frustrations, problems, and failures.  At first, I was not eager to be so open about my world.  I was not confident that my ideas could possibly help anyone else.
Then it happened and my world changed.  I had been lurking in several edchats and finally (with a nudge from my husband) jumped into the conversation.  I not only realized that I could learn more from being part of the conversation but also that I could contribute in a positive way.  There are times that I feel underwater because the conversations are flying so quickly, and times that I am uncomfortable because the topic is something new to me.  But the discomfort is paired with an excitement that cannot be matched.  It is the excitement of expanding my world, learning something new, and the prospect of using it in my classroom.  And then there is a calm…because I know if I need any support, my PLN will be there with answers, examples, and a helping hand.  The more I give, the more I get back.
Sharing is caring about others, your students, your school, and your personal learning!  I can’t wait to look back at the list I created above a year from now and see what new wonderful things are on the horizon.  Here’s to new adventures, trial and error, and sharing about it so we can grow!

What’s on your list of new learning?  Share and we will all learn!