Sunday, March 12, 2017

Using YouTube to Transform "Regular Life" into "Special Life"

In my last post, Two Podcasts Teachers Should Be Listening To, I openly admitted to being a total podcast junkie.  Part of this interest in podcasts developed because I often hear topics or discussions that spark ideas that could be implemented in the classroom.

Just this week I spent over 15 hours in the car for work and a weekend trip to visit a friend out-of-state.  Per usual, I kept myself entertained by catching up on my podcast queue.  One of the podcasts I really enjoy is NPR's Planet Money.  Typically I have little interest in economics, but this twice-weekly podcast makes a usually mundane and nuanced topic accessible, relatable, and even a bit funny.  One specific episode that caught my educator-related attention was "Episode 754: I'm So Happy For You."  In this episode, hosts of the show shared stories that others have done that the hosts themselves are jealous of and can't stop thinking about. 

(Take a listen here!)

Towards the end of the episode, the editor of Planet Money joins the podcast to talk about someone he has become quite jealous of.  He goes on to explain that his eleven-year old son has become obsessed with a popular YouTube channel created by a young man named Tanner Braungardt.  Tanner, a teenager from a small town in Kansas, has been chronicling his life on YouTube since he was about seven years old.  Most of his videos are just creative skits and and retellings of what there is to do in his town.  With this powerful tool, he has been able to transform what most people would consider to be a boring, small town into something over 2,000,000 people want to be a part of.  The podcast editor goes on to say, "I wish I had the sense of how to transform just regular life into special life..."

As I listened to this, I couldn't help but think about the students I used to teach in a rural Indiana town.  I thought about the many different small-town schools I work with now.  And I wondered, how many of the students who live in these towns and attend these schools feel like their town has great things to offer?  Do they have opportunities to share those things?  

As an educator, I can't help but think of the awesome power of using YouTube to help students tell their stories.  How might we use simple, everyday videos to help students see that their "regular lives" are actually quite special?  What an amazing, authentic project this could make!  

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Two Podcasts Educators Should Be Listening To

Educators are busy people.  They also, for the most part, are looking for ways to continue improving their practice and model the lifelong learning they hope their students will take part in.  Finding time to participate in professional learning can be time consuming, costly, and sometimes not very applicable or relevant to what is going on in their specific school or classroom.  So what's a teacher to do?  Enter: the wonderful world of podcasts! 

In the past year or so I've become a podcast junkie, and I find myself listening in my car as I'm driving to and from work, at the grocery store, while I'm cleaning the house, and walking the dog.  The best part about podcast listening is I can be entertained while still learning new and valuable ideas.  I can return to the parts that interest me and skip ahead when I'm not connecting to the content.  I get to choose when and where I listen and for how long.  Podcasts have become my on-demand personalized professional learning.  While my podcast palette is quite expansive and diverse, I've stumbled upon a few podcasts that are perfect for listeners in educational settings.  

The Google Teacher Tribe Podcast
This podcast has made it's way to the top of my list for a few reasons:
  1. I mean, it's hosted by Matt Miller, author of Ditch That Textbook, and Kasey Bell, creator of the Shake Up Learning website and blog. Duh.
  2. Each episode has an educator-centered theme that focuses on the effective use of Google tools in the classroom.  You can walk away with at least one new way to think about how you and your students can benefit from using GSuite (previously GAFE) in new, innovative ways.
  3. Matt Miller and Kasey Bell provide information about the latest updates to GSuite.  I mean, keeping up with all the changes Google implements could be a full-time job, so this helps keep you in the know without a lot of effort!
  4. The hosts' goal is to have a GSuite lesson plan hub that teachers can access and use in their classrooms.  Each guest on the show is asked to share a lesson they've done using Google tools, and educators will eventually be able to take these lessons and modify them to meet the needs of their students.  Time saver?  I think so!

My Bad

Listening to this podcast has made me appreciate all over again how challenging it is to be a educator.  A huge part of your day consists of making hundreds of split-second decisions.  Sometimes we don't always get them right.  I love this podcast because the host Jon Harper, an administrator of an elementary school in Maryland, openly shares the mistakes he has made in his role as an educator.  He also has different guests well-known in the education field join him each episode.  These guests also share their missteps, judgement errors, and reflections on how these decisions impacted the teachers and students they work with.  If that alone doesn't peak your interest, here are a few more reasons you should download a few episodes:
  1. The episodes are short.  And I mean less that 20 minutes short.
  2. The host and the guests share how they remedied most of their mistakes.  As an educator, I'd love to have a few of these ideas in the back of my mind to save me from making the same mistakes!
  3. It's totally relatable.  I've said to myself multiple times while listening, "I've done that too!"  It's nice to know you're not alone, and you don't have to be perfect all of the time.  
Let's be honest... one additional bonus to podcasts is they are FREE.  There is no cost or commitment; if you don't like it, stop listening and find another podcast that does peak your interest.  

I'd love to hear what other podcasts you're listening to (education related and otherwise).  Or if you're new to podcast listening, I'd love to chat about a few others of my favorites.  In any case, happy learning and happy listening!

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Why School Should Be More Like Project Runway Junior

So I have to admit that I've become a little obsessed with the TV show Project Runway Junior.  This show airs on Lifetime, and it is a spinoff of the original adult version Project Runway.  Instead of aspiring adult fashion designers, participants now range in age from thirteen to seventeen.  While I occasionally would watch an episode here and there of the original if nothing else was on, my interest in this new version has become somewhat obsessive though not for obvious reasons.  Many people who watch this show are into design and fashion (don't get me wrong, I like trendy clothing), but I've taken an interest in this show because I see real teenagers following their passions and taking part in real-world learning opportunities.  Every time I watch this show I think, "This is how school should be!"

If you haven't seen the show, let me break down exactly what I mean.  

1.  Open-ended tasks require participants to tap into their passion, creativity, and critical thinking.
Each week there is a new design challenge presented to the teenage designers.  The tasks are presented in such a way that no two of the final fashion designs turn out the same or even resemble each other, unlike the projects that are often assigned to students at school.  In order to complete the weekly challenge, each participant must really tap into their own passions and creativity to create a unique end product.  Inevitably, as with any challenge, issues arise and the teens must rely on their critical thinking and problem-solving skills to design something that truly resembles them as a designer.  

2.  The "designers" receive honest and useful formative assessment feedback throughout the process.
As the participants work to create their designs for the weekly challenge, Tim Gunn, a fashion consultant for both versions of the show, checks in with each and every teen.  When meeting with them, he asks guiding questions and provides them with feedback to help them improve their work so they we be as successful as possible when their models take the runway wearing their design.  All participants, adults and teens, seem to really love Tim Gunn and take his feedback to heart; I suspect it's because he truly care about their work, their growth, and their success.   

3. Each challenge is assessed by an authentic audience.
At the end of every challenge, the teenage participants must send their designs down the runway on a model.  Unlike school where most student work is just assessed by the teacher, on this show celebrity judges who are well-known in the fashion industry critique and evaluate the final products.  It is their decisions that allow the teens to stay on and compete for another week.  Knowing they have real-world experts assessing their designs pushes the participants to create and work to the best of their ability.  

4.  The show provides real-world learning and application.
These teenagers are not just creating drawings or discussing their design ideas.  They actually have to brainstorm, draw, shop for fabric and materials, sew and create a final product worthy of walking down a runway.  As each week progresses, the designers get closer to the show's prize which is a scholarship to a highly-regarded fashion school, opportunities to have their work displayed in a popular teen magazine, top-of-the-line crafting studio, and $25,000 to help launch their own fashion line. Because of this, the teens must take on the role of expert fashion designers; they are doing the work of people who work in this field.  

5.  If the participants are to be successful, they will need to embrace a growth mindset.  
Each week becomes more challenging for the individual participants.  In order for them to keep moving on in the show, they must take to heart the feedback of Tim Gunn and the judges so they can continue to learn and grow as designers.  Some teens struggle with specific challenges, and must learn from their mistakes or blunders in order to improve their overall design sense.  Usually, it is the participant who does not use their mistakes as learning opportunities that will be voted off the show.  Without a growth-mindset, these teens (and real-life designers) wouldn't make it very far in such a competitive industry.  

Ideally, schools today should be asking students to take part in learning opportunities like those provided in Project Runway Junior.  All students should have a chance to engage in passion-driven learning, engage in creative problem-solving and critical thinking, and be given opportunities to learn and grow from their mistakes.  As educators, we are doing students a disservice by not providing more authentic and meaningful real-world applications.  I can't help but wonder, how can we be more like Project Runway Junior in our own approach to education? 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

#IMMOOC Part 1 Reflection: Would I want to be in my own PD?

#IMMOOC Part Reflection: Would I want to be a participant in my own PD?

I recently attended and presented at an educational conference with a focus to "meet the needs of young adolescents as [we] prepare them to become successful global citizens of the world."  The expectation was that attendees would learn from, collaborate with, and network with colleagues from all over the state.  Unfortunately, like so many educator professional development opportunities, the majority of sessions I attended were the traditional "sit-and-get." In my mind, this was not the collaborative, participatory networking I assumed would be taking place.  Bummer.

Driving home from this conference is when I really made a deep connection between the "Critical Questions for the Innovative Educator" and the importance of applying these in all educational settings... not just for students, but also for teachers.  
via @CBangsund

Out of these five questions, I believe the first is most important.  In my case, teachers are now my "students," so I typically reword the question:

Would I want to be a participant in my own professional development sessions?

In asking this one initial question, I feel like I am prompting myself to create new and better trainings for the schools and teachers I serve; I am reminding myself to take on the characteristics of someone who has an innovator's mindset.

The conference session I presented was scheduled for the very last session of the day.  I, and many other attendees, had been sitting, listening, and not doing a lot of collaborating and participating for most of the day.  So when it came time for me to present, I was ecstatic... this would NOT be a "sit-and-get" session!

Typically when I design professional development training sessions (and this conference presentation was no different), these are the elements I almost always include:
  • Interactive hyperdoc with training agenda, resources, and collaborative activities vs. static presentation slides (I've really come to despise the use of slides during PD sessions)
  • At least one discussion protocol to foster participant thinking, sharing, and ownership of their learning
  • Multiple opportunities for participants to make their learning visible
  • Opportunities to get out of your seat and move! 
  • A specific protocol asking participants to reflect on their thinking and learning 
By designing my training sessions using these elements, I feel like I can almost answer "YES!" to the question of would I myself want to participate in this type of PD or not.  One other question I almost always ask myself is: What are some ways I can create a true learning community in my PD sessions?

So often the educators who attend my sessions and trainings look to me to have all the answers, examples, and ideas.  Again, that's the traditional way of thinking about teachers in their classrooms and presenters at conferences/PD sessions.  But like George Couros says in Chapter 2, "What would be beneficial for our students and ourselves is to have them tap into one another's expertise... By embracing the idea that everyone in the classroom is a teacher and a learner, we can create a community that learns from and teaches one another."  By asking this question, I am reminded to build in specific opportunities to share, collaborate, and learn not just from me, but from all of the other "experts" in the room.  There's no way I can have all the answers, ideas, and examples for every grade-level and every subject area, but someone in the room might!

Moving forward, I hope to continue asking myself these critical questions, and designing trainings that are best for the schools and teachers that I serve.  What works for one school and set of teachers, may not be what's best for another.

If I'm able to model these qualities for those who attend my trainings, then hopefully this will become what teachers model for students in their classrooms.  Here's to the future of better thinking, learning, and innovation when it comes to teacher PD!  

Sunday, September 18, 2016

#IMMOOC Introduction: Education ≠ School

#IMMOOC Introduction Reflection: Honest Answers, Insecurities Included

If you asked people you knew to define "education," I would bet many would say it has something (or a lot of things) to do with "school."  It's a reasonable expectation that education and school go together.  Maybe 10 years ago (5 years ago?), this would have been true, but in a 21st Century world, I just can't believe these two words are synonymous anymore.  Loosely tied, yes, but they are no longer each others' equals.  Dan Brown talks a lot about this distinction in his video, "An Open Letter to Educators."

But really though: Education ≠ School.

What do you see as the purpose of education?  Why might innovation be crucial in education?

In this world our students live in now, education has an entirely different meaning and purpose.  Education is now the way in which we empower the next generation to seek out problems and solve them through messy trial, error, and eventually collaborative efforts of crazy-hard critical thinking.  The purpose of education, of us as educators is to create thinkers, questioners, leaders, doers, and problem solvers.  Unfortunately, in many places that's not quite what education is; in many places education creates memorizers, test-takers, followers, and uninspired citizens who accept things for how they appear to be.  That's why innovation in education is crucial.  We need more of the first rather than the latter.  

In my last blog post, Innovation Through the Lens of 9/11, I talked about the unintended job requirements of teachers now.  As educators, we have to provide new and different opportunities for students to receive an "education" vs. "schooling" if we ever hope equip them with the "most powerful weapon" we possibly can.  Curiosity, change, innovation: these are all elements of what education really is.

So how am I contributing to this changing definition of education... well, I'm working on it.  And I'll keep working on it, until I have an answer to the question below. Thanks to George, I also know I may never a complete answer because "there is no end to growth and learning."

“Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.”  How are you embracing change to spur innovation in your own context?

My job title: "Innovative Learning Specialist."  This implies to people that I specialize in innovative learning. (I sometimes secretly freak out that my title is bigger than my capabilities! Eek!)  For the most part, I would say this is true, especially looking back on my days in the classroom.  But now my challenges have shifted; how can I change the way teacher professional development looks and feels to inspire innovation in MANY classrooms instead of just my own?

On page 4 of Innovator's Mindset, George Couros says that our job as educators is to "... spark a curiosity that empowers students to learn on their own."  This was always my goal as a middle school teacher, and still is a goal of mine now as I provide professional development for teachers all over northern Indiana.  But the struggle is real.  I talk a little about it in my #IMMOOC Twitter reflection. 

I am always trying to think about ways I can flip teacher PD on its traditional "sit-and-get" head.  How can I move past the specific spoon-fed trainings that many teachers think they want and need, and empower them to learn those things on their own once they realize the power of new (but different) learning opportunities?

My goal moving forward with this book study is to find ways I can more effectively MODEL my specialization in innovative learning vs. TELLING about how to create innovative learning opportunities in education. 

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Add Audio Directions in Google Classroom

Here's a Solution To...
"My students can't read, so they can't use Google Classroom."

Working with teachers who use Google Classroom as their LMS, I often hear that Classroom isn't kid-friendly for the lower grades.  One of the frustrations leading to this claim has to deal with the fact that students can't read yet, so therefore they can't understand the announcements or follow the directions in an assignment or discussion question.  This is also a concern for older students who struggle with reading comprehension as well.

Fret no longer because I have a solution for you!
One simple way to support your non-readers and/or struggling readers is to add an audio version of your directions in Google Classroom.   To do this, I make a quick recording using Vocaroo.  Vocaroo is a quick and easy way to record your voice; no account or fancy recording equipment needed!  All you have to do is click the red dot to start recording!
Once you are finished recording, you have many options on how you could share your recording.  The best options for Google Classroom are to copy/paste the link or download/upload the .mp3 version of the recording. 

As a teacher of a course in Google Classroom, you have the ability to add links or attachments to Announcements, Assignments, and Discussion Questions.  You can see an example of what the recording looks in Classroom as a link and as the uploaded .mp3 version.  Now, students could click the link or play the .mp3 and follow along with the directions/question you had posted.  Voila, student-friendly audio directions!  

You can listen to my sample recording of the directions HERE.  

One really important thing to note:  If you link to your recording, there will be ads on the side of the recording.  This may be distracting and/or not age-appropriate for your students.  If this is a concern, skip adding the link altogether, and just upload the .mp3 version of the recording.  

Have questions?  Other ideas on how to support all of our students' needs in Google Classroom?  I'd love to hear from you in the comments!

Sunday, September 11, 2016

#IMMOOC: Innovation Through the Lens of a 9/11 Reflection

Why is “innovation” so crucial in education? 
What impact do you see it having on our students and ourselves long term?
via Dr. Justin Tarte

15 years ago today I was a junior in high school.  I was in French class.  I was shocked, silenced, angry, and forever changed.  Like most other people old enough to remember, they know exactly where they were and what they were doing on September 11, 2001.  

After high school, I went on to college to fulfill my passion for learning and teaching.  As cliche and predictable as it may sound, I wanted to be a teacher because I wanted to make a difference.  I wanted to give students a chance to be the very best they could be.  I wanted to share my love of reading, writing, and learning about the world around me with children who would grow into productive citizens of the world.  I believed and deeply felt what is expressed in the image above.

On the 15th anniversary of 9/11, it seems like my answer to these questions about the importance and impact of innovation in the classroom are more pertinent than ever.  The impact educators can [and must!] have on students now carries more weight and meaning.  Teachers of today have the potential to prevent violence, wars, hatred.  Educators of today have a responsibility to show students how to make a positive impact on their schools, their communities, and the world.

So why is "innovation" so critical in education?  Because our students are living in a world that is constantly changing and evolving.  It's no longer an option to have our students exist in their own little world.  If we do not make changes in the way we teach and the way our students learn, we will have failed them.

With the advancements in technology, we as educators now have the ability to bring the world to our students.  We can connect them to other students all around the world.  We can foster understanding, empathy, and friendships.  Worksheets, textbooks, and teacher-centered instruction cannot do the same.   

Making major changes in education can impact not only our students and ourselves, but eventually the work we do as educators could impact the future of our world.  Now more than ever, it's crucial we innovate to make a difference, an impact, and reject the status quo. 


Getting Prepped for #IMMOOC

Here We Go! 

While I have blogged before, it's been a while.  My past blogs were often more for my college courses and  used as models for my students.  As I move forward with my professional learning and growth, I couldn't be more excited to return to writing as reflection.  

This blog has initially been created so I could take part in The Innovator's Mindset MOOC (#IMMOOC) created by George Courous.  I hope to continue the practice of blogging for reflection, sharing, and collaboration in the world of education, technology, and awesome learning opportunities for students. 

I am so excited to start this learning process with so many other educators all around the world!