One of the things that I have always been frustrated with is my inability to express the passion I have for innovation in education. I can remember the first time my eyes were opened to new educational ideas while taking my Master’s Degree and taking a course by Alex Couros. I felt way beyond my comfort level but knew that I was getting into something that was very exciting and would benefit my staff and our students greatly.
When I first started my coursework for my Master’s Degree, I knew it would be hard and would take a lot of work, but I also thought it was going to be a bit dry. Boy, was I wrong! I was not prepared for my degree experience to totally change my outlook on education and what should be happening in classrooms.
At that time, I was so excited about the new things I was learning and decided to come back to my staff with my passionate message, only to have it fall flat and after our first staff meeting, I thought they would have thrown tomatoes at me if they had any.
One of our teachers though was immediately interested and agreed to help me, by working together on a class blog. letting her grade 5 students write about things they were interested in and giving them a broader audience for their writing.
Starting with one teacher sparked interest with other teachers and since that first staff meeting 8 years ago our school has made much progress in what I consider to be innovative teaching ideas and stretching to meet the needs of our students by being innovative with our classrooms design and instruction.
Yesterday I was out of the school at a meeting and had left a learning activity for my grade 6 students. We have just started The Global Read Aloud this week and are reading the book, “The Wild Robot.” I had left them an activity where they were discussing their ideas about robots-what they already knew, researching some ideas and adding to their knowledge. All the while they were recording their thinking using Padlet. Using Padlet allowed them see what the other students were thinking and I could also see their responses while I was at my meeting, which was an added bonus.
Now I could have easily had them working by themselves researching and recording their answers in their notebooks, but the richness of being a part of a collaborative think tank was a benefit to my students.
To get back to my original problem, which was how do I help others feel the passions I have and how do I continue to work towards innovative teaching and learning for all students? Part of what I have seen through the continued growth in our school since the “tomato throwing” incident and our very first blog has been amazing.
I guess I have already answered my own question; keep pushing, encouraging, learning, talking, praising, reflecting and spreading the word.
Progress may seem slow but perhaps it is not as slow as I think.
Hmmm! I am off to an administrators meeting today and I am in charge of welcoming and running the agenda. Seems like the perfect opportunity to spread the word!
I taught high school English in a smaller rural school for 20 years and enjoyed almost every minute of it. Throughout my time there I always wished that I could help my students understand my love for learning and especially my love of reading and how the two of them were related. I wanted them to be able to pick up and book and enjoy reading as much as I did.
It seems like everywhere I turn lately, we are focused on data…collecting data, reading data, acting on data. Now, don’t get me wrong, I definitely see the payoffs to correctly using data. I think data makes us much more focused on our goals and it also helps us see where we need to change out actions in order to improve the achievement of our students.
We have been closely focused on our reading data since last spring when we realized our early learning students were not progressing as fast as what we might have liked. We asked ourselves what we could do to support and promote continued improvement in our young students and we have put many things into place that are making a positive difference.
There are a couple of important things that I feel can happen if we get too focused on our data and forget that a data set is only one part of an important picture. Data in itself does not tell the whole story of a student, or a classroom, or a teacher or a school. Most teachers and administrators will be able to tell you a whole story of the achievements and progress of each of their students. The story is very different for each student and is filled with ups and downs, celebrations and reflections and corrections.
The other thing that might happen if we become too focused on our data and is a loss of the love of learning I was speaking of at the beginning of this post. I have been doing a lot of reading lately about the love of reading and how important it is for our students and their reading achievements to enjoy books, see a purpose for books and reading and have opportunities to read just for the love of reading.
It is important for them to choose books that are interesting to them and to read them for enjoyment and not just for the purpose of analyzing or taking the story apart bit by bit in a quest to check for comprehension. It is also important for them to realize there are many ways to read a book and it is okay to enjoy a picture book no matter what your age. Not everyone enjoys fiction or non-fiction equally, so choosing our own books to engage in, opens up the opportunity to discover what we know, what we want to learn and how we learn best.
I used to read aloud to my students a lot. I didn’t really care if they were in grade 7 or in grade 12, I read aloud to my students frequently. I shared all the short stories that I loved because they had twisted endings, such as Shirley Jackson’s “Charles” or Roald Dahl’s, “The Landlady”. I shared my favorite authors and brought people in to read to my students often. I still enjoy reading to students any opportunity that I have. I start every year, as a principal, going into each of my kindergarten through grade 5 classrooms and read one of my favorite picture books. I have to admit that when a student asks me to sit and read to them or listen to them reading I can’t turn them down. It seems to me, like there is nothing else that should take priority in that moment and I can’t make myself miss the opportunity to connect with our student over a good book.
I was in one of our early years classrooms last week and they were just preparing for their first session of Daily 5 that morning. I watched one of our struggling readers grab his book bag with excitement and settle into a comfortable spot and begin to focus solely on his books. The funny thing was, he was not actually doing what the teacher had requested, but he didn’t even realize it because he was so focused on what was in front of him. For me it was a moment of triumph and made me very proud of his progress. Certainly a time to focus on the success and not the lack of listening.
I have distinct memories as a child being so excited about going to the school library. The rows and rows of books waiting to be read and sitting on the floor in front of Mrs. Walleen as she read aloud one of her favorite books. On some days when I walk into our school library and I am watching a class of students pick out new books, I can flash right back to those special moments I had as a young student.
My love of learning has a direct correlation to my father. He taught me from the time I was a very young child to love books and we would spend hours curled up together reading everything “Winnie the Pooh”. When I grew up and had children of my own, my father read to them and bought them many books. I carried on his habits by reading endlessly to my children, sharing all of those books from my childhood.
My father is in his eighties now and continues to make learning a priority, reading every day, sharing his love of learning with his grandchildren, searching out things to learn about on the internet, learning how to share using Facebook, following blogs and really the list would go on and on.
Since the beginning of September we have been doing reading groups with our grade 1 students every day. Our RTI teacher and the classroom teachers have divided them up into small groups of 4 or 5 students and every day at 10:30 they quickly grab their reading bags, find their leaders and excitingly go off for their reading. We have called it ROAR, which stands for, Really Excited About Reading and they are really excited. If for some reason we do not have ROAR, which is not very often, they are kind of miffed, and not very happy about it. They are reading for the love of reading and they do not even know it is improving their reading data. The other really exciting thing about ROAR is that we have been able to involve some of our parents and even some of our older students in leading our reading groups. It feels like a really community effort and I thank our RTI teacher who works endlessly to keep it going.
Even as I sit here right now writing this post I have a book that is calling out for me to continue reading. It is a joy in my life. I will always thank my father, my teachers and my librarians that instilled in me as a child, the love of reading.
There are countless things going on in a classrooms and schools everyday, but whatever we do…let’s not forgot to read for the love of reading.
One of the things that I introduced my students to last year, that I knew for sure I wanted to repeat again was Genius Hour. I was so amazed at the ideas my students had when they could be in charge of their learning and in a lot of cases, I was equally as amazed by the things they learned and shared with others.
In September when school started, my, now, grade 7 students were already asking if we would do Genius Hour again and when we could start. On the first day I asked my students to give me some feedback on what I had done last year that they really liked and what I had done that they hoped I would never ask them to do again. What the majority of them told me that they liked, was the opportunity to do Genius Hour and learn about things they were passionate about. I am not willing to share the things they hoped I would never do again, but you can bet I have taken their feedback to heart and will try to change my teaching to accommodate as many as possible.
So what is Genius Hour? To me Genius Hour is a set aside time dedicated to student driven and passion directed learning. Students choose what they would like to learn about and teachers get out-of-the-way, basically, and let them follow the path to creativity and discovery. It is learning from our mistakes, reflecting on how we could do things better, sharing and learning from each other in a culture of collaboration. It is my job as a teacher to coach and advise them as they move through the process. Some students require more support than others, but one thing is for sure…Learning is messy!
For our students to really learn, to learn vigorously, they need more than hypothetical questions, more than information, more than textbooks and tests. They need to know how to dig in and really answer tough questions they have about the world, they need to know that it is okay to make mistakes and learn from them, that we need to open up our ideas to others and learn how to listen and learn from each other. I was intrigued by a blog post I was reading the other day called What can I teach that a You Tube video can’t? It made me think about some of the things we spend time requiring students to learn and memorize that are easily at their fingertips. Is this really the best use of our time?
The idea of Genius Hour was developed through many ideas from many people, but one of them was Google’s 20% time. Many of Google’s products and innovations, such as Gmail came from the 20% time their employees have to work on their own ideas. It goes to show that learning and working do not always have to be directed from above. Many good things come out of times when we are allowed to be creative and pursue our own thinking. One could argue and prove through looking at history that we would not be where we are today without the opportunity for innovation.
Some of the ideas my students are working on right now are:
What role could Mind Craft play in the classroom?
Why do teenagers need sleep and have such a hard time waking up in the morning? (Stemming from a discussion we had in class about teenage brain development)
What are the origins of Halloween?
How does a bullet proof vest actually work? (Stemming from our recent tragedy in Ottawa)
What are optical illusions and how do they affect the brain?
As their teacher, I cannot argue the learning that is going on around me and I cannot deny the level of engagement in that learning. I continue to think of ways to help them make the most of their time, help them dig deep and really find things out, help them know how to spread their knowledge and learning to others and use not only the experts in our classroom, but more importantly beyond our classroom walls to help them with their learning.
I can’t wait to see how many things I learn with my students this year. I look forward to our Journey into Genius.
Late last night as I was watching TV my son appeared from outside. When I questioned him as to where he had been, he replied, “I was building stuff.” He then proceeded to show me an elaborate potato gun he had constructed and explain to me how it would work. He also made sure I knew that he did the best with the materials he could find in our shed. (Not his ideal materials apparently) The potato gun was something that he had seen at a conservation camp he had attended recently sponsored by the Estevan Wildlife Association.
Many times I have been amazed at the learning attitude that my son Nate has. He sees himself capable of many things. He can picture how something will go together, how he can make things, even how he can mix chemicals to create elaborate fireworks displays for friends and family. (I know, I know… who lets their 15-year-old do that?) If he does not know how to do something, he will “Google it” or “You Tube it” to clarify. He never sees limits in what he can learn and accomplish when he is busy with his passions. He will construct, test, and reconstruct, test over and over again to create the exact chemical reaction he is seeking in a firework.
I am amazed by him.
The flip side of this story though, is that my son has struggled in school since he started kindergarten. He had trouble learning his letters, then he did not learn to read until after most of his classmates were well on their way. He still struggles to find the motivation to memorize things and apply them in the school setting. He hates chemistry, not because he does not understand chemicals and their reactions, but because he is put off by the need to memorize the periodic table and the lack of hands on learning experiences. He is struggling to complete his high school in a setting that does not allow for much flexibility or creativity.
I do not worry about Nate’s success in life, but I do worry about his success in the school setting.
Last night I was watching a video of Tony Wagner speaking on “Play, Passion, Purpose” thinking about my son and other students surviving their education. Dr. Wagner speaks of the antiquated education system and gives many examples and reasons why we need to change our teaching and learning. He talks about allowing students to play, to explore their passions and to find purpose for their learning.
At times, change in our educational system seems so slow it is hard to recognize. I realize I need to be part of that change. Meeting the needs of today’s learner is something I am very passionate about and spend quite a bit of time learning and collaborating with others about. Last year I had the opportunity to go back into the classroom after spending 5 years as a Learning Support Teacher and school administrator. It was such a learning experience for me to be “walking my talk” with my staff. One of the things I tried with my grade 6 and 8 students was Genius Hour. It was fun to allow time for students to pursue passions and work together to learn new things and it was such an excellent way to get to know them. When I reflect back on this experience there were many positives, some negatives and, of course, many things I would change.
This summer I read the book “Inquiry and Innovation in the Classroom” by A.J. Juliani and have been participating in a book chat on Friday mornings #2k14reads. We will be meeting for two more weeks, so please join us. I plan to do Genius Hour with my students again this year, using some ideas from the book and things that were shared by the many wise teachers in the book chat. One of the things I realized last year was that I did not front load my students enough about what passions really are. Students are not used to having free time to pursue the types of learning they do outside of the school day. They need to see themselves as learners and realize that learning does not have to be teacher driven.
I hope that I can encourage others to work toward project based learning, driven by students. We need our young people to have the intrinsic motivation to learn from mistakes, such as the learning I see in my son when he is chasing his passions.