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?