As mentioned previously, I have facilitated SOLE (self organized learning environment) all school year and Genius Hour this past semester. I have learned a lot about myself and my views as an educator through these experiences. I have observed many moments that solidify why I became a teacher and many that have, quite frankly, frustrated me. A lot.
In these environments, students are able to use self direction and decide what they want to learn/research/do. They get to choose what they do with their time. For those who are self-motivated and know what they are passionate about, this time can be invigorating and life-affirming. For those who are the opposite or haven’t tapped into their strengths or passions yet, it can be a rather boring waste of time.
I’m struggling with watching students ‘youtube’ their free time away. In this kind of environment, as the facilitator, I’m not to overly push the students one way or the other. I don’t want to dictate anything to them. I have done my very best to see what the students are working on and try to bring their passions out, but I have noticed as soon as I am not pushing, many go back to watching random youtube videos. I give them their space while encouraging dialogue about what they like to do, things they are interested in, etc., but I find myself getting very frustrated when I can’t help light that fire. I feel like I am not doing my job as the facilitator when I’m watching students look up dunk contests or play game after game.
A few weeks ago, I was feeling particularly useless during one of these times so I decided to just start chatting with one of the students. We talked about all kinds of different things. While we were chatting, he was looking up basketball videos on youtube. I made my rounds to the other kids and jokingly talked about what they were doing on youtube and the one student I was talking to said, “I really like this class”. I jokingly replied that it was probably because you get to watch youtube videos. He said that it wasn’t that. It was because he was able to do what he wanted no matter what that was. He had control of this tiny part of his day.
I was perplexed by this because on the one hand, I was really happy that I could give him that freedom at school, but on the other hand, he was using that freedom to mindlessly look up youtube videos. I do believe that everyone needs a brain break, but I think it really goes back to not teaching the students how to ‘do’ free time. In Kindergarten, their free time was self-directed play where they would use their imagination to create worlds around them. Free time is completely taken out of the equation as they grow older so when they get opportunities like this, they just want to take a break from everything around them.
Who can blame them, right?
It’s hard for them to be intrinsically motivated when their isn’t a grade involved. They are so used to doing everything for a grade, they don’t see the point in doing something simply because they are passionate about it.
Part 2 Teaching Free Time
After watching the PBS documentary ‘Is School Enough?‘ (a must watch!), I was so inspired by what I saw and excited about the direction education is slowly going. I have always been passionate about giving students a choice in how they show their learning and even more passionate about giving them a voice in their world. As I said in my previous post, our corporation is moving towards personalized learning. When I was in the classroom, this is what I strived for for my students. It is very different from the traditional way of viewing the classroom so adjustments are going to be made as we continue on, but I think if our focus is solely on the students, the adjustments should be welcomed.
At the beginning of the year I asked teachers when they preferred to meet and the general consensus was during their preps so I implemented Teach It Tuesdays for the Intermediate School and Work It Wednesdays for the Junior High. We meet twice a month (when there aren’t a million snow days) and each time is themed around different topics. We also do learning walks throughout the school with the sole purpose being to observe what students are doing and what they will be able to do after that particular lesson.
After being so inspired by the documentary, the Let ‘Em Loose Challenge was born! With the support of the principals in both buildings, I challenged the teachers to take one lesson or unit, give the students the outcome or goal and let them get to that end point any way they choose. Here is what I gave them:
Let ‘Em Loose Challenge!
Due date: Friday, May 16th, 2014
Challenge: Pick one skill, tell the students they need to master that skill, but they have to do it in their own way. Class time would be dedicated to the students working however they need to. At the end of a designated time period, students would have to prove they understood the concept in whatever way they wanted to; a video, a presentation, whatever they come up with! You would have check-in meetings with each student (daily, every other day, weekly, etc.), but they would be driving their own learning. You may have them show you in three different ways that they mastered it.
***Note: It may take the students some time to get used to being in charge of their own learning. Some may not even get it the first time. An involved discussion would need to take place prior to this challenge, as well as, a follow-up reflection.
Tips and thoughts for implementing this idea:
As a class, come up with rubric of sorts so they feel ownership in how the results will be evaluate
Let students figure out what works for them
Let the chaos happen (and watch it, it’s really cool when it works itself out!)
It will seem like a disaster for the first few days, but everyone’s figuring out how to do this
The students assume you are going to give them every step and when you don’t it will be very hard for some
Let students decide how they will show you they’ve mastered this, but brainstorm different ways prior to letting them loose
Ask questions to get the students to clarify why they are doing what they are doing
I then created a GoogleDoc that I shared with both schools where they had a chance to reflect on how the experience went for them. I encouraged them to have their students reflect as well! I’ve had conversations with some of the teachers who have already implemented this idea and it was so cool to hear what they had to say. One teacher said she asked her students what they thought of it once it was completed. She said many liked it, but there were some that hated it. Those students told her they would rather just be told what to do. That makes sense because that is how they have ‘done school’ thus far.
Another teacher said they didn’t know what to do while their kids were working; they felt useless. I completely understand that sentiment and explained that this is your opportunity to really get to know each of your students. Check in with them to see how they are doing. Have them explain what they are learning.
It can be frustrating because it’s a shift from the ‘normal’ way of teaching. The teacher should no longer be the center of the learning.
I encourage you to give this challenge a shot! Let me know how it goes!
I used to think it was ridiculous for a 6th grader to be thinking about creating or even publishing their own anime! Ever since I joined SOLE, my mind has completely changed. I’ve actually taken action to achieving my dream now and I think other students who join SOLE will too.
Our school district started a personalized learning initiative after receiving a grant last spring. There are many elements involved and it is definitely a work in progress. One part that I have been able to be a part of is facilitating a SOLE class for 6th grade students. I jumped at the chance to lead in this way!
What is SOLE?
SOLE stands for Self-Organized Learning Environment. The idea was created by Sugata Mitra with the mindset that students anywhere can learn and research as long as they have the tools to do so. I would highly suggest watching his TED talk if you haven’t already.
When we started this class at the beginning of the school year, the kids had a tough time understanding what it meant to ask real questions; questions that can’t be googled. The first few weeks we just worked on what a solid question looks like and what kinds of questions they want answered. Since those first few weeks, our group has morphed into answering questions while following their passions. Because of the grant we received, we’ve been able to purchase various equipment and software that the students have requested.
The projects that have come out of this group have been absolutely amazing. There are, of course, projects that don’t pan out or that flop, but that’s the best part about this kind of environment; failure is ok! It’s a place where the students know they can fail with ease and not worry about any repercussions. They are so much more willing to try something new when they know they can scratch it at any time and move on to something else.
I’m going to brag on my students now. Hope you don’t mind!
- Hannah who is extremely passionate about Anime is creating her very own Anime series! When she first joined SOLE, she really wanted a software program where she could create real animation. She researched different programs and because of the grant we were able to purchase one for her! She’s currently auditioning voices for her various characters!
- Griffin and Harold saw an example of a school-wide lipdub and immediately wanted to do something like that for our school! It went from wanting to show school spirit to, because our school is doing Relay for Life, wanting it to be a gift for those fighting cancer. They just filmed it last week and are editing it this week. It. is. awesome. I will definitely share the final product!
- Ian knew from the very beginning that he wanted to create an app. We purchased an App Developers license and different software and he’s been plugging away ever since! He’s currently working on learning more about coding to help him with his app.
- Grace and Hailey’s current project is making people happy. They’ve created a website where they share the good things people are doing. They are also making notebooks and wallets out of cardboard and duct tape and will sell them to raise money for a kindergarten student at one of the elementary schools who is fighting cancer.
- Harold and Brady are creating their very own lego movie using our GoPro! They’ve created the town and are now working on the script!
Not all projects are that time-consuming and involved. There is a flexibility that is generally not found the normal classroom. If a student starts a project then realizes they don’t really want to do it anymore, they have the freedom to choose something else. There are definite challenges to this that I will discuss that in a later post, but generally, when students are able to choose what they want and can follow their passions, they become extremely self-motivated and accomplish just what they set out to do!
Is your school/class doing anything like this? Please share!
I haven’t written a post in a very LONG time. There are many reasons for that, one being, I found myself writing a blogpost for the sake of writing a blogpost or because I felt like all the cool kids were blogging so I should be, too. My entire mindset and focus has changed from last year to this year and I feel that I am a stronger educator because of it. I’ve also struggled with the idea of self-promotion. I’m not saying that all blogs are about self-promotion, but I personally got caught up with the numbers last year; how many views, how many likes, how many retweets, how many comments, etc.
And to be completely honest, I haven’t had the desire to write a blogpost this year. No need to force something that isn’t there.
Last year, I struggled with getting to know a brand new school and a set of teachers, adjusting to a job that was just created that year and being pushed into a semi administrative role that gave me a platform to share my educational views. A platform that I hadn’t previously experienced.
And staying with my completely honest theme here, it went straight to my head.
I’ve done a lot of reflecting on who I am as an educator and really who I am as a person and I gotta say, I am so much happier this year than I have ever been in education. The people in my life deserve my undivided attention when I am with them. I love social media and all of the outlets we now have, but it can definitely hurt the real relationships in your life.
When you focus on what is most important, all the little things that used to bother you don’t have as much meaning.
With all of that said, I am hoping to start posting again! I want to share the things I have learned in my new role as Instructional Coach and some awesome things the kids I work with are doing as well!
***Honored to have been a guest blogger for A Platform for Good! Here’s my post!
What To Do When Your Students Are More Tech Savvy Than You
This is the first year 5th and 6th graders at Riverside Intermediate School are 1:1 with MacBooks. The excitement at the beginning of the year was electric! Students were so excited to have a computer where they could do school work, homework and projects. And the best part: they automatically understood that the computer was not their own and that they needed to follow all of the school’s rules when using it…Do you believe me?
Many of them were very excited, of course, but those first few months we had so many issues with students hacking into accounts, deactivating the administrative codes on their machines, illegally downloading games and music, and on and on and on. Students’ computers were being re-imaged (wiped clean) left and right. This created a lot of hesitation for the teachers to even want to use the computers in class.
I have always been an advocate for just coming out and saying what needs to be said. Those first few months, I went into many classrooms and just told the students what I knew. I walked in and said “I’m going to shoot straight you guys. I know you know a lot about computers. I know you have things on them right now that you shouldn’t. I also know you are sharing your knowledge with each other. It is time to use your powers for good and not evil”. After this happened I wrote a post called “They don’t know we know they know we know” where I outlined just what happened.
It can be very difficult for teachers when their students are more tech savvy. This can create a strange dynamic in the classroom, andis really changing the way we look at education, student learning and the approach teachers take in their lessons.
To me, this is the perfect opportunity to empower your students. When they are gifted in the area of technology, let them show it off!
Here are some tips for letting that dynamic shift create a more welcoming and open vibe in your classroom:
● Have open and honest conversations with your students. They need to know you are aware of what is going on, even if you aren’t completely sure.
● Have a modern-day ‘Show and Tell’ where the students share techie tools, websites or tricks they’ve learned with the class.
● Ask your students for help! They will feel so empowered that their teacher came to them that they will respect you so much more.
● Let students lead lessons. Often times, students learn best from other students!
My best advice would be to give your students a voice in your classroom. Students need to have a say in how they learn. By giving them the opportunity to choose how they complete a project or assignment, you are giving them ownership of their work. Celebrate what your students are good at and build them up! The great thing about technology is that it provides plenty of opportunities for creativity and ownership. Don’t shy away from it - embrace it and prepare to be humbled by your student’s knowledge!
Change how you show videos!
Like all people who grew up in the 90s, the most exciting time at school was when the VCR cart was rolled into the room. We knew there would be no work and we could basically shut our brains off for the afternoon. It was magical.
As an educator now, I understand the importance of not showing a meaningless movie for the afternoon. We don’t want to waste valuable learning time.
A teacher friend of mine shared Vialogue with me and I knew I had to try it right away! I am all about utilizing media in the classroom, but not just showing a movie and calling it a day. Vialogues makes video clips interactive! Once you create an account, it’s very simple to make your vialogue! The great thing is that you can ask questions and the viewer can answer them as they watch. When you comment or add a question, it will put the time in the video that the question/comment was posted. It draws you into a certain place of the video. Students can even comment and make their own questions! It does a great job of making the viewer pay attention which then increases the chance that they will retain the information.
Here is an example of one I threw together!
Ideas for the classroom!
- Pre-lesson, whole group activity
- Center activity
- Beginning of class activity (Do Now)
- Student project option
Even though the glorious VCR cart is a thing of the past, students can still get excited and learn a lot from educational media. Vialogue is a great option to engage your students!
Try it out and let me know what you think!
I had the pleasure of visiting a local (ish) Indiana school yesterday. Danville Community School Corporation is piloting a self-paced math program for their 5th and 6th grade students. We met with the Danville Middle School Principal, Matt Vandermak and were able to ask him questions and really understand his thoughts behind this transition. One thing he said and something that I have been feeling for awhile is “We have to get school out of the way of school“. That seemingly doesn’t make any sense, but for any educator invested in changing what the world understands schools to be, it is all too clear.
On the way down to the school, I had a conversation with the principal, Reid Gault, and assistant principal, Craig Hopple, of the middle school I work for, about the ideal school. Reid mentioned that in the book, Off The Clock by Fredrick J. Bramante and Rose L. Colby (which I’m going to read as soon as I can get a copy), New Hampshire Schools are highlighted for their competency-based approach where students truly dictate what their education looks like. (I promise, there will be another post or two after I read the book, but I can tell already that I’m going to love it!). The three of us talked about what this kind of approach would do for education as a whole. The idea of crushing the current constraints of schools is not a new or unique idea, but it’s something, I believe, needs to start happening in more schools.
Here is why I believe this needs to happen:
I spoke with two fifth grade students who attend Danville Middle School. Because this is the pilot year for the self-paced math program, these students have not seen anything like this prior. We walked into a room where each student was working on something different. Some students even had headphones on listening to music. We later learned this helped with their concentration and kept the conversations down. And as someone who constantly has music playing, I can appreciate this!
Our group asked the students all kinds of different questions and they were very open and honest with us. I was privileged enough to chat with two sweet girls while they worked. The first thing that struck me was how articulate they were when asked what they were learning. They knew exactly what lesson they were on and could explain the steps it took them to get to that point and where they were headed next. They explained that each student dictates what they do for the day and what/how much homework they have each night.
I asked the girls what they liked about this program. They both said they loved it and their competitiveness kept them going. I then asked them if there was anything that didn’t work.
One girl said “It’s hard to convince the parents that this works. My dad said that this isn’t how he went to school”.
She said she tries to explain how well it’s working for her, but her parents don’t really understand. The other students around said this was a problem for them, too. I felt like I was having a conversation with adults over how to change education. I was blown away with how black and white it was to them.
“This is the best way we learn. It just makes sense”.
Some Danville High School teachers created a program called “Algebra That Works” a few years ago and their results are phenomenal. We spoke with the principal, PJ Hamann, as well and he mentioned that the growth data proves that self-paced learning works. He said that the key to the success of this program was having support for the students. They offer tutoring every morning for an hour before school.
This is just one example of radically changing the perception of what school should look like. I, for one, am a rebel and am not afraid to buck the system if I know it’s not working. The idea of letting students choose how, where and when they learn sounds very scary, but when done correctly and with the correct support in place, authentic learning can finally occur.
Whether you agree or disagree, I’d love to hear what you think!