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...