Tis’ the Season to Create Opportunity

Tis’ the season…

for true insanity!  The kind that comes in the form of 

gift brainstorming

decorating

celebrations

shopping til’ I drop

(let me toss in the excitement of presenting at my first conference)

and…. oh, yes…

planning engaging lessons that supersede that of the jolly ol’ man himself!

Now that last one is a dooooozy!  So how on earth can we as educators keep learning at the forefront of the holiday season.  Quite simple… just ask our students!

What would you like to do in math for the next couple of weeks? Their eyes were wide open to match their little voices that were going nonstop as they talked over one another to get their idea out.

We had just finished up celebrating our Chick-fil-A luncheon reward for embracing flexible seating in the classroom.  Our local Chick-fil-A in Robinson Twp. had closed one store to build a new and better establishment across town.  In turn, they offered out their used furniture to anyone interested.   My fellow colleague Olivia, who formally worked at their business, called me up to see if I was interested.

Interested? Ummmm… YES!  I brought home tables, chairs and stools that have added more awesome options to our already flexible classroom.  But the one thing that I felt would take our learning right over the edge was the ENTIRE LIGHT UP MENU BOARD!  You heard me!  Yes, I’m the one that looked over at the heap of metal stacked up, ready for the dumpster and said, “Any chance I could have those too?”  I remember the look on the manager’s face as if that was far from something that she envisioned we would desire.  “SURE!”, she said.  Oh yes, this was the game changer I was looking for… math would never be the same in the most exciting way possible!

Rewind… If I am being totally honest, the menus sat in a stack for almost 3 months.  They were huge and heavy.  The idea had gone from complete excitement to… what was I thinking?  Then the day came.  The reward luncheon was about to unfold and what better “decoration” to have than the menu boards, right?  I brought each one in with the intention of having a simple “REAL-WORLD” math lesson and then off to the stack they would go again.  I mean, come on… where on earth was I really going to put all of them?

But when the hype of Christmas came barreling in, and I found myself questioning my plan to move into a new unit so I had to ask the experts… the students themselves!

“Let’s run our own restaurant!”, one said.  WHAT? HOW? WHEN?  We haven’t even learned decimals yet… or money.  Wait, we don’t even know the first thing about running a business.  How will this take shape?  All these questions whirled though MY mind.

HOW WAS I GOING TO SOLVE THIS PROBLEM?

Crazy how I thought this was a PROBLEM that had too many hurdles to make happen.  In reality, it was an INCREDIBLE OPPORTUNITY with a personal invitation to authentic learning at its finest!  Even crazier to think I felt it was MY problem and not an opportunity to problem solve in the most authentic way possible.  A restaurant… WOW!

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A new space was created for the menu boards

Well my friends, that is exactly what we will do for the next 2 weeks of school.  I smiled and said, “Let’s get this plan in place.  Remember, we have to connect it to our learning goals… whose in?”

“WE ARE!”  And off they went.  The research began instantly.  They began talking about managers, shift managers, cost, employee responsibilities, resumes, interviews, and so much more.  We have reached out for a little more support from Chick-fil-A to donate bags and paper products to give our “business” life!  Students are ready to bring in their kid friendly cash registers, along with additional play-dough and other materials they have listed.  Over the next week, my students will be creating their own math journey.  One that I know will leave a lasting mark.  All of this excitement has unfolded because I simply asked one question.

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Tis’ the Season!

Student Mantra: Crushing Goals

CRUSHING GOALS has become our daily mantra in The Ingenious Lab.  When you walk in on any given day you will here the sounds of…

“YES, I did it!”

“Ahhhh, sooooo close”

“Look Mrs. Nan, I made it to the next level!”

or

“Can I have just another minute… I know I can do it?!”.

This is incredibly rewarding for me, but it didn’t happen over night.  These are the same students who despised math fluency in August and barely completed a set amount of math facts in under an hour.  These are the same students who found little to no value in the NWEA assessment and whizzed through it just to put their heads down.  These are the students who groaned at working on phonics when they felt they were past that skill even with gaps in their foundation.  They honed in on what came easy for them and snubbed the challenge of other skills and subjects.

Does this sound familiar?  Do you find that children have already predetermined what they are good at or not before you even get the chance to show them otherwise?  Do they simply push aside areas that require critical thinking, perseverance, or maybe a fresh mindset?

My students needed a fire lit under them and I was determined to do it!  They needed a purpose to tie into their learning.  They needed to be passionate about their learning.  They needed to take pride in their work and the journey they would go on to achieve success.   I was committed to making that happen and you can too!

Ways To Make Goal Crushing Achievement Happen:

  1. Kids need to have fun… it makes them tick!  Find their joy and tie it in to the purpose of what they need to learn.  For my students their joy stemmed around creating and making, spending time with friends, and having options to choose from that would fit into their current world of interests.
  2. Find out what they want to be or what they enjoy outside of school that could connect to a profession.  They are never too young to visualize their future.  This may be a moment of hope for a child.  Hope that they can be what they want through determination and hard work.  That their future does not have to be defined by their current situation.  This is about building a relationship with them beyond the skill, yet listening to their passions to bring relevance to what they are learning.
  3. Give options for seating.  How they learn is a major factor in how much they learn.  Flexible seating has been at the forefront of education for a few years and we as educators owe it to every child to jump on board.  No two students are alike and we need to help them learn their strengths and weaknesses and then empower them to know what they need to succeed.  Do they need to stand?  Do they need an outlet for their fidgeting?  Do they need to bounce?  Do they need to stretch out and put on music?  Most do not know.  Most students have been told how to learn and now they simply want to sit by a friend to get through the day.  Is this really how we want to define learning for them?
  4. Celebrate their successes… you may be the only one who does!  No “buts” involved.  They don’t need to hear “you did great, but…” what they did wrong or that they could have done even better.  They need to wrap themselves in that moment and celebrate!  HUG them, high-five them, do a dance, shout it from the desktop, just make that child relish the moment of success.  Believe it or not once they become self-motivated they will no longer hinge their successes on your personal feelings, but instead on their own!
  5. Have student conferences!  These can be as little as 2-3 minutes in length.  You must take the time to speak with love and care for their well-being and growth.  They are not able to create goals if they do not know where they are at in their learning.  They need concrete examples and then an opportunity to create a plan with you.  Make this happen for every child!

Be a GOAL CRUSHER for and with every child!  Their learning depends on it!

 

The Championship Game

Opportunity lies ahead with PSSA’s!  A challenge is knocking on our door AND the anxiety decreases as we talk about the opportunity it provides.

change.pngIt paves the way to our learning.  It is a road map to each child’s knowledge and ability.  It is the compass for future teachers to find the direction to each child’s learning.

PSSAs are not as closed minded as we make them out to be.  Hands on?  No.  But they do allow for voice and choice if we see the opportunity behind each question.  This is our championship game!  We got this!  How?  We need to Innovate Inside The Box

Flip The Mindset

Each child gets to choose which strategy works best for them.  Do they prefer the traditional method?  Drawing pictures?  Counting on their fingers? Partial products? Trade-first?  These are simply methods that each child may choose from… their choice to show their voice on how they know the concept.

Are they curious as to why they need to read the article, passage, or summary?  Each child has the choice to read the questions before they read the passage.  This does not have to be such a mystery to them if they truly want to switch things up.  What if they get to a question and the problem is that they cannot remember what they just read?  No worries!  Their choice… they can simply go back into the passage and find what it is they are looking for to complete the question.

Take Action

However, if never given the opportunity to use their voice to choose their learning how will they see it so clearly when it lies in their path?  Time to hit it out of the park and empower every child with opportunity!

Batter Up!

Beyond Flexible

I am a huge fan of flexible seating.  Why?  Because it speaks to me… to every child.  It is a language all on its own.  It says … come in and choose what works for you!  Choose what is best for your learning.  To me “beyond flexible” is a respect to all languages of learning…. it builds a culture of value, trust, and respect.

Respect for differences. 

Respect for prior knowledge.

Respect for one’s strengths… because everyone has them! 

By providing flexible seating I am “speaking and interpreting many languages to learning.”  It is the “multilingual approach to learning”… each child’s own personal language.  I am letting each child know that I am privileged to learn with them and I cannot wait to see what they have to offer in their own way27C9FC8A-82E4-4FD5-87A4-F31C751D79DEBut why stop with seating?  Why not go beyond and have flexible learning too?

It makes me think of how I choose my shopping experience.  I am in the moment.  My moment looks different based on my day… my mood… my energy.  I am the one who likes to walk in to a store that offers a variety.  I want different.  I don’t want a carbon copy of someone else.  I don’t want everyone to know where I bought it just by glancing at a “label.”  I am different and I embrace it, just like I embrace the different learners in my classroom each day!

George Couros, author of Innovator’s Mindset,  made a strong point this week (during the IMMOOC YouTube live session)… one that resonated with me.  He mentioned that when leading there are times “I am literally trying to figure this out right now.”

Thanks George…  that is me!  That is my shopping style!  My life style!  My learning style!  I am wrestling with what I want… what I want to wear.  I may not even know until I see it.  I feel my shopping is similar to students’ learning.  I feel they wrestle with their own learning and it may change from subject to subject like brand to brand.  They may not even be in touch with their own likes or dislikes, yet they are trying to win at the “game of school” through one experience.  Shouldn’t they come out with an amazing outfit of learning designed just for them?  Shouldn’t their learning be flexible too… the kind that goes beyond differentiation?  Isn’t it their own learning language?

“It’s more than just a skill level.  Each student has a different set of interests and passions and prior knowledge.  Each student has a different set of questions.  Each student has a different system that works for them.” –A.J. Juliani and John Spencer, authors of Empower

 

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Hidden Faces Behind Innovation

Innovation is magical!  It is the face of change!   As George Couros , author of Innovator’s Mindset would say, “An opportunity to do something AMAZING!”  It comes in many forms and around many bends in life.  Do you see it?  Do you hear it?  I do!

Where are you looking when you are trying to make change?  When you are trying to move forward in an EDUworld that thrives on comfort and consistency.   Sometimes it is hidden in the conversations I have with my own children.  Other times it is hidden in a sidebar conversation with friends.  Often, it is there…  hidden behind the faces right in front of me.  The question is am I looking?

Look right into the eyes of a child… and like a switch that flips, your ears will perk up to the words they are speaking.

Did you ever notice that eyes sparkle and dance when change is for the better?   I love to see dancing in my children’s eyes.  

change by george

My 15 year old son Trent sat down with me to have small talk. That talk ended up changing everything for me as a mom and an  educator.  “Mom, I love Mrs. Steff.” (His former ELA teacher in Junior High).  I said, “Wow, that is pretty awesome… tell me why?”  He went on to tell me she fought for him (tears as I type).  When he wasn’t interested in the required readings she had given,  she did everything in her power to open up the rubric so that he could connect to his passions of fishing and the outdoors.  It was a game changer.   His attitude towards work looked different.  He was  enjoying the game of learning.  Yes, this is powerful!  Change for the better… behind the scenes, yet not forgotten by my son.

My 11 year old son Jack said, “Mom, I love Mrs. Shadish (His former 5th grade teacher).”  “I see that Jack… tell me why?” He went on to tell me “she got him.”  She understood what made him tick.  He needed to move about the room and she let him.  He needed to be trusted and she did.  He needed options and she was willing to make this happen.  She built a relationship with him that fostered learning.  His growth was outstanding.  He went from proficient to advanced in his area of “weakness” on the state assessment.   The response that came from him when he received his scores shattered my heart… “See mom, I’m not dumb.”  Mind you he is an intelligent little guy that qualified for gifted and special education (for a “thought to be” learning disability in reading) all in the same evaluation.

We are creating our own legacy with the children we share our lives with… yes, sharing our lives!  Making a lifetime impact that gives a child reason to believe in themselves and in learning.  Innovator’s make this happen every day.  As Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like A Pirate and President of DBC, INC, would say… “hook them”

How do innovators make this happen? They…

  1. Build Relationships
  2. Dig Deeper
  3. Trust and gift it
  4. Are Passionate
  5. Create Experiences
  6. Empower
  7. Sell Dreams, not products“, as Steve Jobs’ said.

What hidden faces can you bring to the forefront so others can be inspired?  Here are a few magical innovator’s that have impacted my life and the life of my students:

Spread the wealth… Share this post and tag a few hidden faces of innovation that have inspired you!

 

 

Beyond The 5 Day Death March

(Note to readers: this was the reality of a 3rd grade classroom… where readers go from learning to read (K-2) to reading to learn (grades 3+).  From the viewpoint of one who has walked the walk and talked the talk… yes, this WAS my story, both as a teacher and a parent)

It started something like this… OK kids, lets open up to our new story (that is for those of you who have never read it before).  We are about to read to self, read to someone, listen to, word work, write about, and then regurgitate all the facts after 5 repetitive days of this same story.  We do this so that we can show “mastery” of all concepts that we didn’t have to use, let alone master, because we have now memorized the entire story.  (all in one breath, ha!)

Monday-Friday… left, left, left, right, left…

The weekly reading story that was pulled from the Anthology… the one attempting to serve all students of all abilities and passions, as the one and only focus for reading.  This went on for the duration of 5 solid days for years and years and years.

AKA… The 5 Day Death March!

Then I would say… Did I mention that there will only be 5 questions on your assessment.  They will be super similar to what we have reviewed and discussed in length over the last 5 days.  Let’s not forget the 8 vocabulary words that you may already know, but I still need to see if you can pick out the definition from 4 options.  No worries… I won’t ask you to put them into context.  Just memorize the meaning and you will be fine (DOK 1).

Oh, then I’m going to give you a cold read to show that you now know how to use all the skills that you didn’t need to master in order to memorize the story.  I know you practiced them on a worksheet and excelled, but I have to say that I am a little concerned you can’t carry that over into other work.

Drum roll please… Take home the GRADE!Image result for quotes about grades

Scenario 1: “Let’s put that A on the fridge”, says that proud parent that does not realize their child put forth no more than DOK 1 to earn the grade that they put so much worth on… ugh! (false sense of confidence for child, parent, and teacher)

Scenario 2: “Oh no, what happened on this test?”, says the student, parent and teacher who sees the GRADE.  How did you get an A on one reading test after reading it for 5 DAYS and yet you cannot do well on these weekly cold reads!  (confidence plummets for child and now ____________ fill in a response)

Scenario 3: Oh, another “A”… I need to talk to your teacher to see if you can be challenged a bit more.

Scenario 4: “Did you just fail that test after we to read to self, read to someone, listened to, word worked, wrote about, and so much more?  What do you mean you don’t like that story?  It’s not your kind of genre?  You were bored and checked out?”, says the teacher continuing to teach the 5 Day Death March!

Join Me… Push On!  Be the Million Dollar Decision for every child!  To know better is to do better… right?

I am a BELIEVER that all children should learn the skills to read and comprehend all text placed in front of them.

Focus in on student need with:

I am a BELIEVER in possibilities… the kind that can relate to all scenarios listed above!

So let’s switch up the scenario!  Let’s level up the learning for all students.  I know it can happen with a simple shift.  Why isolate reading to an Anthology?  Consider mixing together your resources.  Blend together Science, Social Studies, and Math with reading skills through Project Based Learning (PBL)  PBL shines the light on:

Let students march to their own beat.  One day full of passion far surpasses 5 days of…

left, left, left, right left.

IMMOOC Week 4 Sum It Up

Let’s Sum It Up this week… refocusing our lens on “Empowered Environments

How do you view assessment?  Is it a tool? A grade? An outcome? Is it yours to fulfill? To steer? or is it your studentsdownload

Let me be blunt with the help of A.J. Juliani and John Spencer, authors of EMPOWER (paraphrasing their points)…

In place of being committed to your curriculum, are you committed to student interest?  

Do you create plans based on choice or are you inspiring possibilities? 

Bottom line is that my professional responsibility is to teach the skill… many skills to many different types of learners.  I don’t take that lightly.  My professional responsibility is to also create an environment to which every learner is opening doors to their learning… to their interest.  This is not about just differentiating their learning, it is about lighting a fire under each of them so that they in turn can choose how they want to show me that they mastered the skill.  I am turning “the possible” into “possibilities” just by shifting the focus from me to them!

When I taught internal conflict during my most recent novel study, students had to choose a quote and create a way for me to assess their understanding.   I had students creating on Scratch, i Movie, Squishy Circuits, Design and Challenge in Maker-space, Bloxels and more.  I wasn’t flustered about the variations in creativity.  I wasn’t concerned about how I was going to put a grade in the grade book.

I knew the skill they needed to master… and so did my students!