Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Are You Innovating?

I recently had the opportunity to present at and attend the School Leaders Advancing Technology in Education Conference in Wisconsin. A high-energy, action-packed conference that brought many educators together to discuss all aspects of technology in the classroom. While some educators may grimace at the sound of technology in the classroom, this conference provided opportunities to listen, think, collaborate, and challenge the traditional way of thinking about a classroom as we know it.

Yet, the most profound impact for me came from closing keynote George Couros, author of the critically acclaimed book "Innovator's Mindset". George's charisma and presentation skills were only outdone by his passion for putting students first in each and every classroom. As the image denotes, curriculum only tells us WHAT to teach out students, not the HOW.

As I sat and listened to George for a solid hour, I couldn't help but continue to come back to this image and quote that George shared. Where have we gone wrong as an educational community that we place more emphasis on what we teach our students versus how we teach them. Yes, I know that all educators are asked to do more with less, to teach more students each day, and be held accountable to high-stakes standardized tests. However, somewhere along the way we forgot why we went into teaching - to help shape, mentor, and change the lives of students one day at a time. 

This week, I've also participated in the Ditch that Textbook virtual summit (http://ditchsummit.com/). One of the consistent messages coming out of the first five days is the need to get to know our students on a personal level. A willingness to spend time understanding who they are, what they like to do, what their strengths are, and using this information to help them navigate learning today. While technology plays a large role in their lives, it does not have to dictate each and every moment of their day at school. 



Jornea Erwin, the Savvy Educator, provided this incredible visual that can help us meet our students needs, while also making sure we stay true to our curriculum. As we get to know our students and what strengths and aspirations they hold, we can then push them to create, collaborate, critical think, and communicate their learning in ways we never thought even possible.

As I reflected over the past few weeks, I began to realize this is why I chose to use Flipped Learning. I really wanted to get to know my students, understand what their struggles were, and help them identify ways in which they could be successful. Innovation doesn't come from the technology we decide to throw at our students. Innovation doesn't come from trying something different. No, innovation comes from the willingness to cast aside doubt, fear, and history. Innovation comes from educators putting students first - knowing that HOW we teach students is often far more important than what we teach them.

As Joe Marquez says, "the greatest tool in any classroom will always be the TEACHER!"

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Let Your Students Drive

The demands on today's educators to meet the needs of ALL learners continue to evolve and change quicker than the rise of Twitter. When you examine the teacher workload that includes high-stakes testing, incorporation of technology, behavior plans, Individualized Educational Plans, intervention strategies/programs, performance-based pay, and coaching duties - it's no wonder lesson planning and high-quality instruction may take a back seat.

Yet, there is a very unique and humble solution - Let the Students Drive! Who knows their own learning style better than each and every student. Why must we continue to confine students to the same rigor and assessment style that has not worked for decades? As educators, we set the criteria for learning, but why not let the students choose how they show you what has been learned?

While a bit scary, and perhaps intimidating at first, allowing your students to drive their education will engage them in the learning process in ways you could have never imagine. Instead of asking students to recite a formula in math, why not let them create a rap or song to show off their artistic side? Rather than an old-fashioned Power Point, why not allow students to use a web tool to display their knowledge of the food chain? Better yet, instead of writing a paper about the Holocaust, why not allow students to complete Character Sketches through the use of a Blog to role play and interact with classmates?

You see, the more educators try to stay the same, the more students push back. Aren't we the content experts - don't we already know the answers? At some point, we need to teach students how to UNLEARN what they have already LEARNED about learning. Allow students to choose their vehicle of learning. Allow students to choose how to get to the destination. Allow students to fail and challenge our own thinking. Only then can we be the expert that helps guide them along the way and back on the right path when they are wrong. In doing so so, we can help students better develop critical thinking, problem solving, and analyzing skills.

If only we all taught like Pirates, as Dave Burgess would say. We need to teach with Passion, Immerse ourselves in our subjects, build Rapport with our students, Ask/Analyze our current practices, Transform our classroom practices, and be Enthusiastic.

Will you let your students drive the ship matey? Aaargghh

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Why I Still Flip

I'm often asked the question why..."Why did you decide to Flip your class?" And the answer has been and always will be the same. For me, I wanted more time to get to know my students, understand who they were individually, and find a better way to support each and every one of them as they grew older. The traditional method of teaching - welcome to class, sit down, correct homework, lecture on new lesson, homework with time remaining - just wasn't cutting it for me. There was little time to support students' educational needs, much less their emotional and social.



As I transitioned to Flipped Learning some eight years ago, I am reminded of the quote above by Alfie Kohn. The more time I had to get to know my students and understand their individual needs, the better equipped I was to provide the resources each student needed. The more I provided opportunities for students to collaborate and choose paths that would lead to their success, the harder they actually worked. The more students trusted that I valued who they were and treated them as an individual rather than a grade, the more they opened up and sought guidance and help - not always related to math.

I don't make the following statement to sound confident or arrogant, rather to show the power in seeing students for who they are. I very rarely have any behavioral issues in my classroom. Yes, I have the occasional student that is defiant and rebellious. However, that behavior and mindset dissipate after some long, intense conversations that get to the root cause of the issue. And the 'normal' defiant behavior that comes with teenage hormones rarely is present when students are given trust and respect to be who they are.

The intentional design of my Flipped Classroom promotes decision making at the student level. Where do you want to sit? What practice group do you want to participate in today? What extension activities do you wish to complete, and how would you like to share them with me and classmates? My transparency and honesty from day one about learning in math - that learning is not about knowing the answer but knowing what to do when you don't know the answer - helps students understand exactly what Brain Aspinall said in his Tweet. 

Some 8 years later, I still believe and practice putting students first. Giving students the freedom to use their personal devices freely, trusting they are using them appropriately. When 'issues' arise, they are always confronted with trying to understand WHY before we address the WHAT now. Students know when they are wrong and know how to correct behavior. They also understand their character and choices effect how many decisions they are able to make. After all, we are teaching them about to become an adult in our society.

As I continue to learn and grow as an educator, I know technology will play a major role in the landscape of education. Yet, I hold on to my core values and what I believe make a teacher great - compassion, honesty, respect, and love. As we examine who we are as teachers, let us not forget about what is at the core of each and every student - an individual looking for acceptance, individuality, and room to grow. As I hear from past students about their career endeavors, triumphs, and tribulations, I am encouraged to know I am making an impact, as are many of you!

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Day 1 - The Most Important Day...

The days are getting shorter and the street lights coming on sooner. That can only mean one thing - the start of school is right around the corner. Whether you are a teacher, administrator, parent, or student, the anticipation of the school year brings about many emotions. Amidst all of the anxiety and excitement, students wonder with curiosity about the type of teacher they will have and what fun things they will accomplish by the end of the year.

As a parent of three elementary age students, I love listening to their stories of the first day of school. Who they sat by. Whom they ate lunch with. What they got to do. Without question, their favorite part is always sharing the cool, unexpected fun they had on the first day. The glow in their eyes and big smile are infectious as they retell every detail of the activity and why they can't wait to do it again. Learning on Day 1 was...dare I say FUN!

As I reflect and prepare with teachers for the first day, I am reminded of three valuable lessons that helped me kick off each new year: Kindness starts with a clean slate, Growth Mindset through strengths and passions, and Wow them on Day 1.

Kindness Starts with a Clean Slate
Every student that walked through my door on the first day of school entered with a clean slate. While I understand the importance of having data days, and viewing student profiles, I rarely wanted to know any historical information on student behavior and home support. There are way too many factors that play into those elements and I wanted every student to believe he or she could make this year the best school year ever. If I wanted my class and students to model kindness toward one another, then it had better start with me toward each and every student. Whether it was a hand shake or high-five at the door, allowing students to pick their seat, or having music playing, I wanted students to know they were welcome in my class. Combined with gathering students' self identified profiles and wowing them on day 1, students needed to know they were going to be valued and an integral part of the look and feel their classroom was going to take.

Growth Mindset through Strengths and Passions
In addition to starting with a clean slate, I always wanted to know what my students perceived as their strengths and self-identify who their friends are and support structures each has in place. As students grow from year-to-year, so do their strengths, passions, and support structures. I had been using a document to gather that information, however, I recently stumbled across this document from Kevin Honeycutt. Kevin talks about filling this out with each student to demonstrate collaboration between teacher and student, as well as building rapport with students on a different level. I always liked giving each student time to share who they are with me. It helped me to demonstrate that FAIL really meant First Attempt In Learning and that we were all going to experience a moment of failure throughout the year. The important part was learning from those moments and 'failing forward' as I described it.

Wow Them on Day 1
You may be wondering at this point, how did I fit all of this in at the beginning of the school year? Truth be told, I was more concerned with getting to know students, helping them feel welcomed and comfortable in their new class than I was with getting into content. I figured the more time I spent building rapport on the front end, the less time I needed to spend reminding students of the expectations and rules - and it always paid off. However, probably the most important thing I could do to set the tone for the school year was in attempting to make the first day the best day of the year. Aside from taking attendance, I wanted students to experience a high energy, face paced classroom that infused technology as part of the learning process. Whether it was an iPad station with math apps, a math table that students could write on, a coding station to build critical thinking and problem solving, or a mini Rube Goldberg station, I wanted students to see that learning in my class was going to be different than any learning they had ever experienced before.

Think carefully about the message you are sending students on day one this year. What do you want them to go home and tell their family and friends about? How do you want them to come back on day 2, day 50, and the rest of the year? You have the ability to paint a future for each student that may have never been painted before. Show them your kindness and passion - giving each one a chance to succeed.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Get The New School Year Started Right with Full Transparency

When talking about Flipped Learning, I'm often asked how I get students and parents to buy in to this 'new' approach to teaching math. My answer quite often shocks people - I am completely transparent and honest with them! I start the beginning of every school year not introducing Flipped Learning, but rather introducing learning as a growth process through which we are using math as the vehicle. We are simply using math to learn character, problem solving skills, critical thinking, grit, and collaboration - all skills necessary in any potential career choice for students. 

Perhaps the greatest moment comes when I share the following analogy with students and parents alike. Imagine I asked you to sit down at a piano and begin playing Mozart...you most likely could not do it right away. It would take time, maybe lots of time to learn many new skills related to the piano. Math is much the same. I am going to ask you to learn new skills that you may not have mastered in the past, or may even never been introduced to. Just like anything you've become good at, I'm asking that you give math a fair shake. I will most likely be teaching math in a way you've never been taught before - Flipped Learning!

After describing what Flipped Learning is, I reassure them that they are going to fail at some point in my class. They will fail at watching a video, completing a practice set, understanding a new concept, or any number of things I ask of them. Failure is inevitable...however, it's how you respond to that moment of failure that will define how good you become at math. Are you honest with yourself,  your group members, and your teacher? Are you willing to change habits that you developed? Will you make excuses or develop grit to persevere through the tough, challenging concepts? 

My goal is to really show them that learning is all in their control. That each one of them possesses a unique skill set that can be used in my class. It's through this transfer of learning and ownership that I establish a sense of growth through math...dare I say a growth mindset. I cannot tell you the number of parents that thank me after each initial open house, or first few weeks of school how appreciate they are of the approach to teaching and learning I have taken. Their sons/daughters don't dread math - they rather look forward to it! And why - all because I commit to complete transparency from day 1.

Friday, July 20, 2018

The Heart of Teaching

Photo Courtesy of: depedagogics.com

I'm often asked what makes a teacher great? Is it the way they can manage a classroom of 25 six-year olds? Or is it the way they can engage 20 sophomores in math class for 45 minutes? Perhaps it's the technology used by the middle school science teacher that encourages students' creativity and innovation? Yes, all of these aspects of teaching are important. However, what you often don't get to see in the greatest of teachers is their heart!

While success in a classroom is often measured by grades and attendance, the heart of teaching isn't quite measured for years, even decades later. Students will enter our classroom doors daily, bringing with them a wide variety of hopes, skills, dreams, passions, strengths, troubles, fears, and history. The greatest of teachers embrace all of these attributes and find a way to encourage each and every student to use them to their advantage. There is an understanding of mutual respect that is built upon the foundation of trust between student and teacher.

The greatest of teachers understand their classrooms might be a safe haven, a place of escape for some students. They know when to push and when to be the ear to listen. They see their students as individuals with a variety of skills and talents, waiting to bloom when given the right environment to succeed. They understand the various hats they may wear and how each hat supports students differently. They willingly come in early and stay late to prepare their classrooms and content for all levels of learners they will encounter.

These teachers look at change not as a hurdle to overcome, but an opportunity to be unique. Opportunities to help all students succeed in a world that often pushes them aside. Opportunities to help other teachers see students for who they are today, not who they were last year. Opportunities of hope for a future that is vastly different than the world of education we often witness. Opportunities to collaborate and share across a multitude of platforms. Opportunities to listen to suggestions, offer input, and stand up for students that are under served. 

All of us have that one teacher that simply stood out from everyone else. They seemed to understand us on a different level and we could just relate to them. The heart of teaching doesn't simply happen over night. It takes years of practice, years of observing, and a noble effort to truly put students first. The greatest of teachers don't often know the impact they are having because it isn't until years later that students come back and thank them for their passion, joy, and love for teaching and treating them with respect. Ironically, they often don't want to, or need to be, recognized for the work they do because they believe it's simply the right thing to do!

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Student Voice as Assessment

I am often asked by faculty on our campus how to better support engagement in an online class. While many know the question has multiple layers, it is often easiest answered by asking faculty what they are doing to model engagement? If we pretend students will engage themselves in content I provide as an instructor, we are sadly mistaken. Engagement takes intentional action by an instructor, and modeling, so that students feel safe and welcome to share thoughts, ideas, questions, and concerns. What does this mean for an instructor? Honestly, it means more work than a traditional in-person class, as well as risk-taking in the form of putting yourself out there as an instructor.

Like any class, the tone you set from day 1 goes a long way in establishing your class norms. Why not start an online class with a self-made video that shares who you are, why you teach, and what you are passionate about. Putting a face to the instructor of the class helps to open the door for engagement to begin. The more you are willing to model engagement as an instructor, the more likely students are willing to step out of their own comfort zone. And as students begin to explore the class content with you, the level of engagement will increase, allowing you to use student voice as an assessment tool.

Interactive tools, such as Flipgrid, have changed the way classroom discussions and student engagement can be shared and assessed. In an effort to replace dry, text based discussions, Flipgrid is giving students the opportunity to share their reflections and questions via VIDEO! Instructors provide question prompts, web resources, video links, and more for the students to react to. Students create 90 second - 5 minute video reflections. Advanced features allow students to respond, react, and create video responses to classmates' posts. In an online class where students rarely 'see' each other, Flipgrid has provided the opportunity for an online class to come to life.


Instructors can assess student responses, engagement time, and content by reviewing videos as well. The once in-class discussion can now take place in the online environment with all students participating. Mix in an instructor response or funny video clip and students begin to feel like they belong to a community of learning. Mix in the ease of use and Flipgrid brings engagement and assessment to a whole new level for online learning.

While there are numerous tools that exist for video discussion and engagement (VoiceThread is another excellent example!), the responsibility of engagement falls at the feet of every instructor. We cannot expect students to continue to learn and be engaged using the same resources we have for the last 10-15 years. We must be willing to explore, adapt, and listen to what our students are saying. We must be willing to model the way, encourage our students throughout the process, and empower them to understand that learning is not always about knowing an answer - it's about knowing what to do when they don't know the answer!