Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Encouraging Risk Taking

A while back I asked my partner teacher, Tara Frederick to write a "Guest" blog post. She wondered what it should be about and thought like most, that she didn't have anything to share that people would want to read. I know that Tara is one of the best teachers I've ever seen. Her compassion for students and her knowledge of child development is incredible. She is the most thoughtful, kind, generous and insightful people I know. I'm lucky I get to share a classroom with her every day and you are lucky that you will have the opportunity to learn from her just from reading the blog post below. Enjoy! 


Encouraging risk-taking!
By, Tara Frederick


Kate and I are having an amazing time co teaching our 50 incredible students this year! She and I share the same passion for teaching and learning. We have encouraged each other throughout the years to share with the world what we do best and tell our story. I am honored to blog this week and share with you my thinking about taking risks in education! One thing Kate teases me about is that my “talent” is that I will try anything. And she is right!  I have been interested in creativity and the impact that creative teaching, or thinking can have on learning for some time. For me being creative or innovative is about trying new things and doing something differently….taking lots of educational risks!


Mandella QUote.jpg


One thing many people find surprising is that I have been teaching 3rd grade for 17 years. Yes, you heard correct. I know that seems to many of you like an incredibly long time in one grade level! For me, not one year has been the same as the next. It has been a 17 year journey, becoming an expert of 8 and 9 year old behavior and learning. A journey to discover the best ways that children learn and gather every amazing tool and trick along the way. Although my personality and teaching style remain the same, I am a continual risk-taker with my practice. When I learn about something that can change my students lives or the way that they learn, I am first to jump in and try!


Now don’t think for a second that I am jumping in without confidence in what I am about to start! I am committed to researching and seeking educational opportunity for my students that allows them to reach their fullest potential. I am well equipped and planned for launching a new idea! I teach my students that risk taking and failure is a part of learning, as I share with them my personal investment in our class goals. One thing that you may be wondering about is how parents in my classroom feel if I am continually risk-taking.  Well, the answer for me is in the response to my communication. Parents are a part of our learning community. With a continual open line of communication, my families never feel like they are a part of a series of failed experiments, but rather a part of an incredible educational endeavor in which their children are thriving. They are well informed and I can articulate the importance behind every new initiative we take. The payoff is that I am able to meet the complex needs of all students and form relationships that support our learning at school.


risktaking quote.png


How do I do it? How do I reach beyond the security of the standards and venture new places in education without feeling overwhelmed and alone? There are a few things that I would share with you that keep me excited, educated and willing to take new risks in the classroom. I do not do this alone and by all means, I am nervous every time I launch something new! Here are a few things I never forget...


Involve Your Students and Families:
Learning about my students and their families is the key to structuring our learning environment. My students are different each year, why should I approach each year the same? As my students begin living in my classroom, I refocus and change according to their needs. This may mean I need to completely redesign my classroom, change the way that reading groups are running or completely change the flow of our day. Instead of thinking that my ideas have failed I look at it as a learning experience I need to embrace. My students are guiding my teaching!  Their needs and learning is taking front seat and they are taking charge of their learning!


Surround Yourself With Positive Risk-Taking Colleagues:
I have been in and out of many classrooms as a District Lead Mentor and the classrooms that stand out, have one commonality: they all take risks. Not only do the students OR teachers take risks, they take them together. Many new ideas come and go but I have made it my mission to surround myself with colleagues who inspire me to take that leap. Those who I trust will help lead to the success of my classroom. I am surrounded with amazing educators and am passionate about not re-creating, but learning from others. I educate myself through professional reading and take risks in ways that I know whole heartedly can make a difference. I continually reflect and seek advice from those trusted educators.


Student Choice:
I’m a huge advocate for Genius Hour and student choice in the classroom. I believe inquiry-driven learning experiences and projects allow students to have a say in their learning path. I know it can be risky at first. You’ll feel like maybe you’ve abandoned the curriculum (is that such a bad thing?). You’ll feel like you’ve given up some control (is that such a bad thing either?). However, what you’ve really done is allowed the students to motivate their own learning. It’s a risk for sure….but it is one worth taking.


"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far it is possible to go." -- T.S. Eliot


I am not suggesting that you scratch that one lesson this week for a change. This is much bigger. These risks that I take aren’t really risks at all. Instead they are choices. Slowly at first…then more powerful. Do you want to keep doing things the same way with your class, or do you want to grow as a lead learner beside your students? Trust yourself as that amazing educator you are and go for it! Step out of your comfort zone and reach for greatness. I choose wisely and it has made a journey of 17 years in 3rd grade one that I will never forget.

If you want to know more about some of my risk-taking this year, check out Kate’s amazing documentation of our journey together!  She has been busy blogging about the most important risks we have been taking this year. Or you can check us out at the Ohio Educational Technology Conference in February!

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Problem Solving and Dreaming of the Future

This week was big for The Light Bulb Labs! We watched 8 and 9 year olds become expert problem solvers. We watched them learn collaboration and perseverance. We watched them believe in the impossible. We watched "wonder" happen right before our very eyes.


Let me ask you this...do you think a 3rd grader in a public school setting can write computer program in Java Script? How about Python or Ruby? Do you know what these even are (it's okay, I didn't either until this week)? This week we celebrated the Hour of Code. An event that is organized by code.org. Here is what they have to say:


"The Hour of Code is a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in 180+ countries. It is a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify code and show that anybody can learn the basics."



The thing is, the Hour of Code teaches so much more than computer science. When you walked into the Light Bulb Labs this week it was a total celebration of learning. Every day began with reading about a different computer language tied to a real life application and practice session. We used many resources from the Hour of Code to achieve this. The students worked in collaborative partnerships to debug and work through learning the new code language. The conversations that took place were incredible. For example, Caden shared: "At first our program totally didn't work. We had arms and bodies where we wanted the leg to go. We had to totally debug our program to figure out how to fix it but we got it! It was awesome!"


We had the opportunity to learn how our code skills can be used in real life by learning about the Raspberry Pi. This pocket size computer (around $35) could be HUGE in education. This small device comes with so many resources for the classroom. One of which, is the online tutorials for things like Making a Minecraft Photobooth. We were lucky enough to try this one out, with the help of one of our real life programmers on campus, Mr. Doug Jones. Do you know how excited students get when you use Minecraft in your classroom. If you have never tried it, you should. It allows you to see a whole different side of some of your students. Quiet kids become fearless leaders when they use a tool they are confident with. Check out this link to see even more resources for the Raspberry Pi. We are just beginning our journey with Raspberry Pi that kicked off this week, but our students were mesmerized!


We also had the opportunity to use our skills to show older students what we know. First, we taught fourth graders how to code. We looked at code.org tutorials, teaching them concepts like looping and debugging. We also looked at apps like Kodable, Hopscotch and Cargobot. We even played card games to learn about conditionals. One of the favorite activities though was creating Human Code, where partners would write programs for their buddies to put into action. Kids teaching to kids a skill is something magnificent to see. Not only were they applying their knowledge but they were growing their presentation, speaking and listening skills.

                       

It wasn't just our students who were learning this week. Students were asked to study famous computer scientists outside of the classroom with their families. They were also expected to explain what we were learning about and share that knowledge with their families. Here is some of their feedback.




As if our week couldn't get any better, we wrapped it all up by having the competitive HS Robotics team come and share their adventures with us. They brought with them two NAO robots and the robot they built and competed with last year. They talked to our classes and several others about computer programming. They even let our students drive their robot and try the task they were given for last years competition. It was incredible!



One reason this week was so special is because our third graders do something we call "Code Academy" every Wednesday afternoon. Tara Frederick and myself use the free K-5 curriculum from code.org as well as many other resources like Bitsbox, Hopscotch, Scratch, LEGO EV3 software, Cargo Bot and Kodable. Every week, we challenge our students to use code and all they have learned from it. During this time we also ask them to become Makers in our classroom Maker Spaces. Committing this valuable classroom time took considerable thought but both of us would tell you that it is the best decision we have ever made. So really, Hour of Code was kind of our Superbowl:)

Maybe you took part in Hour of Code and maybe you didn't. I encourage you to pick one thing from today's blog to try out in your classroom. Explicitly teaching skills like collaboration, creativity, communication and critical thinking are just as important as teaching Common Core standards. I can't list for you every standard I met this week by completing the Hour of Code, but I can tell you that my students couldn't wait to get to school every day and most of their Hour of Code reflections shared their disappointment that they week was over. So for me, that's what really matters!

As always, I'm happy to share anything you read about or answer questions. A huge thank you to code.org for such an amazing week! Can't wait for #HourofCode next year!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

I'll say it again and again...It's About Relationships


We are fresh off two intense weeks of Parent Teacher conferences and I can't help but smile when I think about it. That's right, I'm grinning from ear to ear. Not what you expected to hear? I'm not sure where these critical conversations got a bad wrap. Yes, we stay late...very late.  And yes, it is tiring (like having a newborn baby at home tiring). The thing is, these moments are crucial to developing strong relationships with the families of our students. It shouldn't be the first time you meet these special people. Remember, their babies visit our classrooms every single day. To have a successful school year, we need to be the best of partners. We don't have to see eye to eye on every topic but we need to keep the child as the focus of the conversation. So here are a few takeaways that I want to remember from this year's conferences:

1. Give more time than you are supposed to. No, it won't be easy and you will miss your own family like crazy. But...not feeling rushed gives both the teacher and the parents the chance to actually communicate with each other. Stay on schedule, but give more time...it will be worth it. At the end of each late night, my co-teacher Tara Frederick and I would look at each other and comment about how nice it was not to feel so incredibly rushed. It wasn't just us that felt that way, many of our families commented on how nice it was to be able to talk back and forth rather than rushing in for 15 minutes to have information spewed at you with no real dialogue.

2. Start the conference by honoring what the parents concerns are. We chose to start every conference by saying something like, "Tonight's time together is a chance for us to talk about your child. Any concerns, questions or general wonderings are welcome. I have a lot of information to share with you, but, you know most if not all of it already. So, let's just talk...about how amazing your child is." Many times the parents didn't have concerns and so we lead with their work samples and eventually the parent struck up a conversation. There were many though that had something specific they wanted to tell us. While most of those precious moments remain with Tara and I, it was so reaffirming to hear feedback from our parents that supported the work we are doing.

3. Tell your student how much you loved talking with their family.  Most students get really nervous for parent teacher conferences. Sometimes rightfully so, but most of the time there is no reason for the student to be nervous. I loved the face students gave me when I told them how much I loved talking with their parents. You could see their pride from ear to ear. I would give some kind of connection or compliment about the students family and you could see the school home connection strengthening.


There were so many special moments during the last two weeks. So many great conversations, so much relationship building and so much support for our students. So I'll say it again...relationships matter-how are you building relationships that support student learning?


Saturday, November 7, 2015

A Night of Genius!

Last night was incredible! I had so much fun! Are you wondering yet what I was up too? Well...I was at school....on a Friday night. And I had one of the best nights ever! That is because last night we held, "A Night of Genius". Students stayed after school, to share with their whole families and friends of their families and anyone else they wanted to invite, all of their amazing work on Genius Hour. It was a HUGE turnout and a definite success!

But telling you that, is only half the 'wonderfulness' that took place. You see, we started this genius work the first week of school...in August.  We've been working that long on these topics. We have Genius Hour every Wednesday for a full hour, sometimes a little more when we are so close to finishing something, or so into what we are researching. If you are a teacher, you must and I repeat, must find a way to take on this movement and get it going in YOUR classroom. Don't make anymore excuses, there is time, it is important and it does meet the standards! More importantly, regardless of what age or subject you teach, your students CAN do it!

With that in mind, let me help you get started. In the Light Bulb Labs, we introduced Genius Hour by sharing stories of Google's 20% time. We discussed and honored the fact that students spend more time at school during the week than at home. As a group we talked about the idea of studying anything. Our students were flabbergasted at the idea of studying anything. I wish I would have captured their faces while they wrestled with the idea they could study something they wanted. After introducing the concept of Genius Hour we watched this video and took notes.


Then came the fun part! Using tools we had learned from our "Collaboration Toolbox" we ideated as many ideas as we could think of:


We talked with our classmates about how their ideas were the same or different and we kept brainstorming using some of IDEO's brainstorming rules (which are illustrated and hung in our classroom): go for volume, encourage wild ideas, build on the ideas of others and headline. Using my example, figure skating we decided that figure skating was a huge topic and we had to narrow it down.  So they asked me questions like, "What is it with figure skating that you want to know more about?", and "What confuses you about your topic?". So after all that brainstorming we came up with two to three really deep questions, mine were: "How is figured skating judged today and how has that changed over time?"

The following week we made a tool that would help us with researching. In third grade, researching is REALLY difficult. Our students wanted to just click this, scroll here and move on without digesting what they were reading. In addition much of the work online is not at their reading level. So before we sent them out to research, we talked as a class about where we go to learn new things and created an anchor chart of these resources. It listed things like books, Ranger Rick, Time for Kids, Kidrex, Yahooligans, Infohio, Pebble Go, National Geographic Kids and more! We made sure we had specific resources for the kids and also encouraged them to check books out from our local library. Next, with our fingers crossed, we let the kids research...and research...and research. They used this to guide their work:


Now, since this was the first time we had done a project like this, it wasn't always perfect. I didn't have students fill out the research log as often as I should have. We reflected each week about how we had done, what we had accomplished and where we needed to go next. The research I had read on Genius Hour suggested having project plans and that may be the route to go in the future. I think we could have done fewer weeks of research if the students had a little more clear path for research, but it was a great start and I learned a lot from what we did with our students.

Once students started telling us they were finished with research, we started talking about sharing their information with an audience. Any audience, they just had to share all this awesome knowledge. Many of the students immediately wanted to do a poster. This was difficult for me. You see, I'm fresh of three years as a technology learning coach so of course, I was pushing for digital tools. But so many of our students don't yet have any other method of sharing their work. This concept of choice and trying new things even if you fail, it's a new mindset. So, we let the kids choose what they wanted and I pushed more on how they could still make their presentation interactive even if they chose to do a poster. Slowly, our Genius Hour work turned from research to project work. 

In just a few weeks, we had full blown presentations including posters, full size hand painted cutouts, dioramas, iMovies, puppet shows, robots, Haiku Deck, Google slides and more! We decided to have an evening event where whole families could come and walk around (almost like a museum) and learn from our students. My co-teacher, Tara Frederick came up with the idea to have visitors use compliment cards which made this event even more special for our students. So...12 weeks later, 46 different topics, 50 happy students, too many to count content standards met, and three proud teachers later, one amazing night proved that Genius Hour is totally the right step to change how we "do school"! Can't wait to tell you about our next round of Genius Hour but until then, enjoy some of our work:







Sunday, October 25, 2015

Reflections on "What Great Educators Do Differently"

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend a conference in Deerfield, IL titled, "What Great Educators Do Differently". As with most conferences, my head was filled with new ideas, thought provoking insights and many calls to action. I was able hear from some of my favorite authors and educators like Paul Solarz (@PaulSolarz ) and Angela Maiers (@AngelaMaiers). My first action step is to share knowledge with other great educators..which led to today's blog entry. I will attempt to share my major take aways and hope that they inspire other great educators...

Great Educators...
-Build culture first in their schools, this can be done in 30 secs.
-Do what they're comfortable with, and make it a new normal.
-Recognize that today's youth is not anti-social...they are "different social" than us.

-Know that pictures help tell the story, always try to include a picture to assist in telling your story.
-Know that these pictures give parents a connection to what their kids are doing (instead of what did you do today, it’s could be "tell me about the picture I saw of you building a ________")
-Never give up an opportunity to say something great about their school...CELEBRATE KIDS EVERYDAY!

*Thanks to @Joesanfelippofc for sharing your knowledge, ideas and passion for storytelling, branding and social media!

Great Educators...
-"Keep reacting to things or make them better. You have a choice.”
-"Praise, praise, praise somebody, it starts there. Both people benefit." 
-"Don’t play defense...play offense...support, support, support."
-"Care and try every day!"

*Thank you @ToddWhitaker for reminding me that the life of a great educator is not always paved in gold, it takes a lot of hard work to be great...you can be good, anyone can be good...being GREAT is something to aspire to!

Great Educators...

-Have an Innovator's Mindset: the Belief that abilities, intelligence and talents are developed leading to the creation of new and better ideas.
-Know that "isolation is now a choice educators make"
-Know that "Innovation often begins and ends with empathy"
-Recognize and model that "things change over time, but the ability to learn is forever"

@gcouros gave one of the best presentations I've ever seen. Laughing one minute, crying the next, it was remarkable the way he moved through his presentation. One major takeaway from this presentation is to always remember to make your presentations personal...it matters! 

Great Educators...
-Network to meet like minded individual who will help them become better educators.

It is not surprising that at the top of @casas_jimmy's blog is the quote that we teach our students every day in the Light Bulb Labs. It was a pleasure meeting and learning from Jimmy. I look forward to following his blog a little closer and continuing to learn from him through my PLN.

A huge thank you to @Dwight_Carter for helping me get to this conference and for giving me the "push" I needed to get outside of my comfort zone during the un-conference. 



Sunday, October 11, 2015

Now Making...

This year I've implemented a very exciting addition to our learning studio. I've been following the "Maker Movement" for some time. Like many people, it seemed like a great way to implement a more dedicated approach to creativity in a learning environment. But what would that look like in a 3rd grade classroom? How would I use this to enhance the learning of our students? Like most things I try, I jumped in feet first and figured I could answer all those questions later. Lucky for me, I'm co-teaching in an open classroom so I had a great partner, Tara Frederick, to try adding this concept to our learning studio.

Our "Maker Space" at the start of school!
We built a "Maker Space" (thanks to Pinterest) with two pieces of pegboard and many hooks and baskets. We filled this with all kinds of prototyping materials (paper, tape, pipe cleaners, beads, cardboard, index cards, straws, toothpicks, etc.). We were set! For the first two weeks of school, every day our students asked us when we were going to use this unique space. They had so many great questions about what is was, how we would use it and what they could and could not do with the materials in this spot. We had no answers...remember, I said I jumped in with no idea how I was going to use it. So, for two weeks, it sat there while Tara and I struggled to come up with how to use this space.
Now Making...the tallest tower!


That's when Tara and I decided to devote our Wednesdays to bringing the 4C's to life in our learning studios. I reflected back to a conversation I had had a few months prior in my Foundations of Innovation course. The teachers in that course and myself had this vibrant discussion about how we need to explicit teach and provide opportunities for students to practice creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication. That's when the light bulb went off, we needed to explicitly offer these opportunities to our students and our Maker Space was one way we could do this. 

Now Making...a Musical Instrument
That's one reason we've switched up our schedule this year. Every Wednesday, Tara and I start our day with Genius Hour (I'll do a future post about what that looks like). In the afternoon we are doing something we've been calling "Code Academy" (I'll do a future post about this as well). During Code Academy, the students rotate through 6 stations. One of the stations is at our Maker Space. We give them a challenge and they have to use the materials in this space to create a solution. We started with, "Now Making...the tallest tower". We always use the phrase "Now Making" to help them focus their thoughts and actions on the idea that they have to make something during their time at that station. Below are some videos of "Now Making...a musical instrument". 


Our Vine Rock Videos


Our Vine Rock Videos

We've also introduced the concept of refining and improving prototypes. For example, the musical instruments was a three week build. We asked them to create, then reflect and improve their designs. We take photographs of each student with their prototype and then send their work home. We plan to designated a wall in the room to hanging their photos so that by the end of the year the students will have made several prototypes and we hope to compare and contrast their early designs to the work done at the end of the year. 

Since we have a better idea of how this is going, we will also be opening our Maker Space during our daily brain break time, allowing students to have more free choice in what they are making. For now, we'll keep the weekly challenge because there is beauty is seeing how students create the same
concept but in such unique ways. We are loving the addition of a Maker Space and are very proud of ourselves for taking this risk. Feel free to contact either of us to share ideas or ask questions. Until then..."Now Making...Creative Geniuses"!

@MrsKateThoma
thoma.1@napls.us
@TCM_F
frederick.1@napls.us

Classroom Twitter: @NAlightbulbs




Friday, October 2, 2015

Reflection is the Most Powerful Learning Tool

This past week I had the opportunity to speak about the "Exceptional Teaching" that takes place within our school district. What an honor! What a challenge! What a great opportunity to look back on the work our district has done. It's impossible to prepare for something so important without revisiting and reflecting on where you were, where you are and where you are heading. Preparing for this important presentation gave me the perfect opportunity for a "full career" reflection.

I began by thinking back to the early years where I was a special education teacher. If I knew now what I didn't know then! Those first three years were extremely difficult, but they were very rewarding at the same time. I credit those years for teaching me the skill of perseverance. There were so many days where I felt like such a failure because I couldn't teach the way my students needed to learn. But I was young and determined to meet their needs and so I did. Through hard work and perseverance I met my students needs and pushed them, and myself, to believe more is possible than we ever believed.



Next, I reflected on who I was when I started teaching third grade. More importantly, I reflected on where I was when I left third grade. You see, I thought I was a great teacher...but there was still so much I didn't know. Teaching third grade taught me the importance of teaching curriculum. It taught me the power of integration. Learning shouldn't be segmented into hour long sessions of subjects, but weaved together like the threads in a blanket. When I taught third grade I switched from a clock watcher who got the content in, to a time manager who realized that learning wasn't divided into exact hour blocks, it's a craft, not a science. I realized though, after several years in third grade that I was missing something. I was missing the skill of collaboration. I shut my door, I went in and changed the world for 25 kids every year but that was it. It ended there...I wanted more.

So when the opportunity to become a technology learning coach for grades K-5 became available, I took it. I felt excited and terrified and constantly wondered if I had made the right choice. I made that change because I thought I could share my love for project based learning and integrated curriculum through the lens of technology. If I was sharing, I was collaborating right? Well...maybe, but maybe not. In that first year of my technology coaching position, I really was learning technology. I learned about our systems, what an LMS system was, the difference between public and private networks what a server actually was and where in the heck the "cloud" is...it was all foreign and new and gave me a different view on learning. I had so many things to learn and no matter how many times people on my team stopped to explain something to me, it really came down to me learning as much as I could through experience and practice to really learn "technology". Which of course made me stop and reflect. How are students learning in our classrooms? Are they with someone who is trying so hard but despite hours of work hasn't really met their needs yet? Are they sitting in the classroom of a clock watcher or a curriculum dictator? Or...are they knee deep in rich, hands on, inquiry based learning? Learning that ebbs and flows with their needs. Learning that matters to them because they know "why" it's important. Is their enough interest to make them curious...to think...to fall in love with wondering and wanting to always know more?

With all these powerful reflections, I sat down and thought about my classroom now. After three years of constant learning. Learning how to integrate technology in the classroom, learning how to collaborate on projects, learning how to show others that school can and should be different than what it was 12 years ago when I started in education. I learned that reflection is the really powerful tool that is missing in many of our classrooms. How are we teaching our students to reflect and know how to apply their insights to how to move forward? I have many ideas...and I can't wait to share them. This blog will start to look a little different from here on out. I'm hoping to use this as a tool to share ideas of ways that I think classrooms and schools could move forward. I hope you'll join me!

A special thanks to Dwight Carter, my co presenter for our State of the Schools presentation. Dwight was such a great reminder this week that the work of innovation, of changing the way we "do" school and of following your dreams is really key if you want to change the world. I'm looking forward to our next presentation...

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

That's a Wrap Folks!

Tonight we wrapped up our last Foundations of Innovation 2.0 session. These amazing colleagues have spent the last year studying innovation, collaboration, flexible spaces, design thinking, project based learning and so much more. As a group we have traveled "virtually" to schools, we have wrestled with difficult conversations including why it's so hard to take feedback, and we have held back tears (well I didn't always do so great at the holding back part) as we celebrated the successes and the almost successes of so many risk taking adventures from our group. I designed the course originally to provide a way to share the things I was learning during my principal internship about flexible classroom design. I had no idea the impact the course would have on myself and my colleagues.


What if all teachers and administrators took this course and came together the way this group did? What if veteran and rookie teachers were able to learn from each other in a safe environment, where each challenged the other? What if there was a space to really dream about what school could look like and fear no judgement? Better yet, what if you developed action steps and started changing the way school looks? This group did all of these...and more.


So as I reflect on the work I've done over the last year to prepare for the amazing work sessions, it pales in comparison to the work these teachers did in their classrooms. Here's to the risk takers, the go getters, the empathic change agents, the innovators I have had the privilege to travel with on our learning journey. Thank you for bringing a dream of mine to life that I never knew existed. Thank you for working so hard and believing in the idea that school could be more... not just for students, but for teachers as well. Thank you...for leaving a mark on my heart and a fire in my soul to keep sharing our message. Now...get back to work and share your stories, revisit your "I commit" lists, and keep innovating!




Sunday, February 22, 2015

Professional Development Can Be Fun!

This past week I had the chance to co-facilitate a 90 minute professional development session on Design Thinking. I laughed as I watched the teachers get into character roles to design chairs for their partners. To say it was a blast is an understatement. In fact, my cheeks hurt so bad from laughing and smiling that I think it took me a day to recover!

When asked by Mr. Emery to co-facilitate this session I knew it had to be fun, exciting, and applicable to K-1 learners. So the challenge was to figure out an imaginative way to bring Design Thinking to life. Shelley Cervantes and I looked at a few Design Thinking challenges available on the d.school's Design Thinking wiki (https://dschool.stanford.edu/groups/k12/). I also posed the question to the #dtk12chat group on Twitter to see what ideas they would throw out there. We decided to do the Chair Challenge but with a slight twist. Participants in the session would take on the roles of some famous characters from both books and movies. Here are some samples of the character cards that were given at the beginning:


Teachers got a quick overview of what Design Thinking is and a little of the research behind it. Then we moved them right into a rapid cycle Design Challenge. Rapid Cycle design challenges are intended to be finished in an hour...I haven't been successful with that yet but I'll keep trying. They went through each of the stages of the Design Cycle: Empathy, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test, Reflect. Here are a few pics from the empathy and brainstorming portions:


The best part was when we told them about the prototyping portion. We set all the materials for prototyping on the floor in front of them and gave them 7 minutes to build a prototype. Maybe one of the best parts was watching the initial lunge for materials after telling them they had 7 minutes only to build their prototype. Here are a few photos in an attempt to capture the fun!


It was amazing to see the creativity behind their prototypes. From Mrs. Joseph's multi purpose chair to Miss Diddle's hover craft and soundtrack for Frog and Toad. Coach Braund's design for Coach Hick's (who was Pinkalicious for his character) was spot on and super crafty! Below are pictures of the prototypes created by the K-1 teaching staff.


Shelley did a wonderful job wrapping up the session by giving examples of Design Thinking that she has implemented this year. She shared what has gone well and what has been a struggle. If you want to read more about her first grade experiences with Design Thinking, check out her blog:

Or click on the links in our presentation below that direct you to Shelley's posts about DT.

Want a glance at our presentation...enjoy!
*Some slides did not upload properly, email thoma.1@napls.us for a copy of the actual presentation.


To make my day even better, I rushed from the K-1 to the 1-8 building to present about PBL. This is a HUGE passion of mine as well. I was able to move through a quick Professional Development session on this topic with some help from Stephanie Brewster who talked about Engineering is Elementary (http://eie.org/). Below is the presentation I created for that if you are interested in learning more.

*Some slides did not upload properly, email thoma.1@napls.us for a copy of the actual presentation.

Being given the chance to present about two topics I'm extremely passionate about left me smiling and excited about what's to come in my future. I've learned so much in the last three years as a technology learning coach, and I have a lot of people to thank for opportunities like these that inspire and ignite all the things I love about being an educator!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

What should school LOOK like? Let me show you...

It's finished...well, almost! Our last building on our beautiful campus is almost finished. To say that it is amazing is the understatement of the century. I remember watching the McCoy Center being built dreaming of the opportunities that would exist for our students. This project was much more real to me because I toured it throughout the building process. It's been so exciting watching it come together. If I think back to all I've been studying on flexible learning spaces I can't get one quote out of my head. I've used it a lot. "Space is the body language of an organization". It is from the book Make Space. If you haven't read that book, you need to check it out. It has me wondering what does our space say about what we believe learning looks like? Take a look at the pictures below, they are from all over our campus. On the outside our school district is beautiful, but it's what's on the inside that will shape and define us. What do you see? I see never ending potential...everywhere.

I read this statement often:

Our Vision: To become the leader in reinventing education.

Our Mission: To ensure the development of high-achieving, ethical, self-directed, and intellectually curious citizens of the world.

Our Promise: To provide a culture that encourages students to pursue and realize their dreams and aspirations through passionate, inspired teaching and learning and personalized programs and services accomplished in collaboration with our entire community.


I keep these words in everything I do because it's what I want for all children. I want them to walk on our campus and instantly be invigorated, curious, excited, and happy to be there. I am...everyday! Let our space tell the story of what we believe.



I challenge all educators to look at your space through a new lens. What does it say about you? Is your learning environment for you...or your students?