Flipping the Roles of Student and Teacher

A couple of weeks ago, a teacher asked if I would take over his 8th grade class to introduce iMovie and the features it has so that they can use them for a video project they will create over the next few days. At first I was pretty worried and I was ready to have a conversation with him about how it shouldn’t just be all about the app and that you must start with a curricular goal, then find the best tool to meet the learning objective in the most engaging way possible. I didn’t say that right away, instead I listened to what his objectives were, and I had to agree that using iMovie would be a very creative and unique way for students to demonstrate the learning he wanted. I then said I would be happy to lead a student training on the use of iMovie.

As I started to prepare to lead a lesson for 8th graders, which is pretty scary when you are used to working with seniors, I was inspired by a story told by Carl Hooker in his book, Mobile Learning Mindset: The Coach’s Guide to Implementation. He recounts going into a First Grade Classroom where the teacher had asked him to teach kids to use an app called Chalkboard. Carl had never used the app before this and had never even heard of the app. Nevertheless, he didn’t want to disappoint the teacher and the class, so he began with an “exploratory” period, where students just played around with the app. Pretty soon, there were some students who started “getting it” and began showing off the features of the app to their friends and neighbors. Some students were becoming frustrated because they didn’t understand, and soon they were being helped by the emerging student experts. Near the end of the exploring period, Carl started asking kids questions about Bats: what they looked like and where they lived. Kids were then encouraged to draw a bat and a cave, using the new app they just taught each other how to use. Carl describes,

In the period of 30 minutes, the class had gone from an exploratory lesson, to one with some direction, to one where the students were the lead learners (and teachers)
— p. 54

What Carl was demonstrating and describing was that,

Empowering learning moments happen for everyone when the roles of student and teacher become reversed.

This was the experience I wanted the kids to have while learning iMovie. Knowing that they would have enough class time to work on their project for the teacher later, I thought they would have more fun trying to learn something new, something most of them wouldn’t know how to do, juggle. I put 3 objectives on the board as we began: 1) Learn how to juggle, 2) Document your learning process using the iPad, and 3) Play around with the app, iMovie.

The students partnered off and began to work. I provided each pair with 3 kleenexes and instructed them to document their learning process by having a partner videotape them. Students played around with this for a good 10 minutes, taking turns behind and in front of the camera. They had a blast. They laughed, they struggled, and even one was able to conquer!

By the time 10 minutes was up, there was some frustration, so I asked students, where do you go for help when you don’t understand something. “A teacher” was the quick answer, but then I pressed for more. Eventually we got to YouTube and then searched for videos about learning how to juggle. Students were then sent off again for more exploration, more practicing, and more filming.

After about 10 more minutes we then had plenty of footage to begin playing around with to utilize the features of the app. I spent about 5 minutes demonstrating how to add clips, cut clips, trim clips, add voice-over audio, and add text titles. The final 20 minutes of class was spent editing their new videos documented how they learned, or failed to learn, how to juggle. I also encouraged students to continue exploring other features of the app and if they found something “new” to call myself or their teacher over to show us and explain how to use it. We would then announce it for the class and students then began checking that out too. My favorite one was when one girl called me over and said, “LOOK! It has FILTERS. It’s just like Instagram.”

Overall, it was really amazing to watch the students really get into it. After the class was over, the teacher came up to me and said, “This was perfect. I can’t believe how much I learned and how much the kids showed me what to do.”

Empowering learning moments happen for everyone when the roles of student and teacher become reversed.

Epilogue moment: I dropped in on the class today as they were beginning work on their actual project and 100% of the kids were not just engaged, but 100% of the kids were innovating in their own ways, ways I hadn’t even considered.

Creating the Class I Want to be a Student In

In the past I have written about two of the characteristics of the Innovator’s Mindset. Check out my post about What is Resiliency and How Collaborations Have Made Me a Better Teacher. Recently, I have been coming back to a third of those characteristics: Creation. The inspiration to write on this topic came from the Week 2 of Season 3 Innovator’s Mindset #IMMOOC blog post ideas.

Part of the 8 Characteristics of the Innovator's Mindset by George Couros

Part of the 8 Characteristics of the Innovator's Mindset by George Couros

Innovators design, they iterate, they build/experiment, they redesign, they iterate again, and they rebuild/re-experiment. It is an essential part of the learning process. We need to view ourselves and our students as Innovators, as people who want to create new and better learning experiences. These creations aren’t just physical products, but they can also be new and better ways of thinking, mental models, processes, systems, or a variety of other things.

As teachers, one thing we NEED to create is the type of classroom that we would like to a student in. This becomes a central theme for George Couros in his book, Innovator’s Mindset. Couros highlights a passage from the Center for Accelerated Learning, “Learning is creation, not consumption. Knowledge is not something a learner absorbs, but something a learner creates… Learning is literally a matter of creating new meanings…” These new meanings are created by making connections. Connecting previously learned material with new in ways that personalize learning for students fosters deeper learning.

As a Technology Integrationist, I believe tech will most definitely help students make these connections. If I were a student in my class, I would expect the teacher to effectively integrate technology in (almost) EVERY lesson. To leverage technology in meaningful ways however, teachers need to push themselves and their students to get beyond just consuming and regurgitating content they find online or in digital sources. Think of how many digital worksheets we have students complete. How is a student supposed to personalize this and create new and more meaningful learning? I’m just as guilty of using these digital worksheets as anyone. There is a time and place for such low-level SAMR substitution, but there needs to be the realization that it isn’t leveraging technology to its fullest possibilities to increase learning. These moments should be chosen carefully and cautiously. Would I want to be in a student that only used their technology for guided reading? NO.

If I were a student in my class, I would expect Voice and Choice. I would expect the teacher would create opportunities for me to find my own path toward learning. Allowing students the opportunities to choose their own ways to demonstrate and express learning in meaningful ways is accelerated through the use of technology. 1:1 devices (we currently use iPads in Milaca) are full of creation apps, video and photograph tools, and recording possibilities. These tools allow for students to express themselves in their own “voice.” Allowing students to choose the best ways to share their learning experience while also empowering them to work through the creative and innovative process of design, iterate, build/experiment, redesign, iterate again, and rebuild/re-experiment.

Would I want to be a student in a classroom where I am able to creatively express my learning and use it to spark new ways to #ChaseCuriosity? Most Definitely.

Brace Yourself, The Game of School is Coming... to an End?

It can be a devastating feeling when you become excited and passionate about something (a new idea, a new lesson, or a new activity you're certain with engage and empower students to learn) and to have someone, especially someone you respect, burst your bubble, try to knock you down a few pegs. Recently, I've been reading Carl Hooker's Mobile Learning Mindset: The Coach's Guide to Implementation. In the preface of the book, Carl describes a situation in which his director shot down an idea he was passionate about. It happened to be the belief that iPads could open up new and innovative pathways in education. Like Carl, I've had it happen to me too. I've been very inspired by new things I learn from workshops, PLN, or blogs or books I've read. When the first thing your colleague says about it is, "That will never work," you get this sinking pit feeling in your stomach. Your demeanor changes as you now feel defeated and dejected. Unfortunately, if I'm being truly honest, I know I am guilty of committing this sin with others: colleagues, friends, family, and students.

Recently, I was reading a post titled, How to Be a Difference Maker in Education by AJ Juliani that dealt with this topic. AJ says, "We are also surrounded by teachers, leaders, parents, and even students who are playing the game of school. It’s been set up this way for years and it is hard to break decades of doing things “the way they always have been done” (even when we know it isn’t best for kids)." Students in the Game of School try to accumulate as many points as possible. They rack them up by turning in completed assignments, getting as many questions as possible correct on tests and quizzes. They ask for extra credit opportunities to get more points if their grade isn't what they want. They use their accumulation of points to show their parents, their friends, their prospective college admissions officers, etc. that they have learned what was expected of them. Unfortunately, the game students have learned from their earliest years of their education does a poor job of preparing them with skills needed to be successful in life and career.

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AJ Juliani continues this train of thought by suggesting 3 ways to move away from playing this game in another post entitled, Stop Teaching Kids to Play the Game of School

  1. Give Students Choice in their Learning Experiences, and support them when they fail. I hope by now you've noticed the hashtag #ChaseCuriosity that I tag all of my blog posts with. This is becoming my "WHY" in education: Empower students with the ability access limitless knowledge and to utilize the best tools to find it (consumption) and make it their own (innovation).
  2. Teach Students to view Challenges as Opportunities. In other words, move kids toward a growth mindset. To jump off of what George Couros says, "Challenges are Opportunities to do something Amazing."
  3. Teach Students how to make their own game. Students become the Innovators of their own education. They no longer need to compete for points to show others they learned, instead they learn for learning's sake.

I don't think Carl's boss was intentionally trying to destroy Carl's passion for harnessing the power of tablets in education. I believe it is easy for teachers and administrators to also get caught up in the game of school by perpetuating the way it has always been done because it promotes the path of least resistance. I admit I've been caught up this game a time or two also. I admire Carl Hooker's resolve to stay true to what he believed was best for students, even if it meant taking risks, blazing new paths, and innovating new games. Games that will empower students to take control, #ChaseCuriosity, and be successful in life and career.

Update from 10/6/17:

Recently Kasey Bell in her blog Shake Up Learning also addressed this topic in her post, In the Game of School, We Change or Students Lose! Kasey reflects on the point of assigning points and grades based on those points to students,

At what point do grades actually reflect learning, and not just how well students play the game of school.
— Kasey Bell, Shake Up Learning

Kasey also suggests some other changes to help students and teachers break away from the Game of School. Start breaking those bad habits and routines we haven gotten ourselves into. Challenge the status quo - rock the boat if needed, try new things, create change that you believe in. I would add to that, find those colleagues that are will to take those risks with you. It will be a small group, but the support they provide will help you stay the course.

Students Presenting to Students: The Dragon Tech Summit Experience

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Congratulations to the students and staff at Pine City, MN High School for organizing and hosting the Dragon Student Tech Summit on Sept. 19. Thank you for inviting me to share BreakoutEDU with students and staff. A big shout out goes to Dihanna Fedder, Pine City's amazing Technology InteGREATionist (@DLFedder). 

I LOVE this idea and want to see it repeated at other schools. Check out the link to the Summit, to find out more about the event itself, but here is a run down from my perspective.

I arrived at 11:15 for a "Presenters" lunch. There were about 6-8 adult presenters (including me) and 20 students from Pine City that were there to present to their peers. We ate lunch together, had informal conversations between students and adults about what presenting would be like, a few tips on how to handle the unexpected situations that arise, and just getting to know one another. It was the perfect way to begin the day.

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Students then arrived to the auditorium where Ben Friesen (@benjaminfriesen), from EdTech Team, gave a humorous Keynote with an empowering message for students. After the Keynote, students were split in half. The first group stayed for a panel discussion dealing with use of technology in education and digital citizenship. The other group then went on their way to breakout sessions which they were able to choose, just like a professional conference. The groups then switched. The first went to the breakouts, the second to the panel discussion.

I presented the BreakoutEDU game "A Case of the Mondays" to 2 separate groups. First a junior high age group. They did well, but near the end started getting frustrated with each other and some bickering began. I ran out of time to do a full debrief in which we could have discussed some of the group dynamics that took place. Needless to say, they didn't breakout. The second group was  high school age kids. All but one student was really into it, and I think they had a lot of fun working through solutions to the clues and locks. They broke out with 10 seconds to spare. Well done!

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What a great opportunity to for the students who presented. I wish I would have been able to sit in on their presentations, but I was presenting my self. I love how they fed the student presenters, gave them swag and treated them like VIPs. I loved that students attendees had Choice in the sessions they wanted to attend = #ChaseCuriosity. I loved that they brought in a Keynote to fire up the crowd. I admire their admin for giving up "classroom" time to take a risk with holding a less structured event. I appreciate the Pine City Teaching staff for attending sessions with students to model learning and growth opportunity. I loved the innovation this conference showed and allowed the students to experience. It was not just engaging, but empowering.

There are few things, now that I've seen a Student Tech Summit that I would like to see different. First, I would like there to be an option for students to go to more than 1 breakout, perhaps shorten the presentation to 1/2 hour sessions instead of 1 hour. Second, I feel there should have been a culminating event at the end of the conference, perhaps with door prizes. Third, make it a possibility for presenters to attend other sessions, perhaps if more session times were offered, a presenter could present once and attend 2-3 others. Finally, I'd like to know if this is an annual event, or something to offer a couple times per year.

Next step. Bring the concept to Milaca and other schools. I'm going to begin trying to make this happen. Stay Tuned. I think I found my next curiosity to chase.

 

The Open House

So, it is probably cliche to write about an open house at the start of a school year and the new beginnings it brings, but I have to admit I am feeling especially excited for the start of this year. Several changes have taken place for me personally and professionally; changes to my philosophical approach to education and my physical teaching environment. It also helped that I had an amazing summer filled with the perfect amounts of vacation, travel, and leisure, but also balanced with just the right amount of professional development. Perhaps in a future post, I can draw connects with our family trip to Big Sky, Montana.

What can students expect to be different in my classes this year? And, what am I super-excited about?

The family stopped by #Room218 during open house for a selfie. Love them :)

The family stopped by #Room218 during open house for a selfie. Love them :)

  1. Physical Location. We expanded with a small addition to the high school, and I was fortunate enough to get one of the new classroom spaces. The room was designed as a 21st Century learning space, with moveable furniture, windows that open to the commons area with seating arrangements that both promote group study and collaboration, and also provide quite chillax opportunities.

  2. Room Name. This new class space is NOT going to be Mikla’s Room. It doesn’t belong to me. It belongs to the kids and to the school. This idea I picked up from reading Joy Kirr’s book, Shift This. In it she encourages teachers to make their classes, including the physical space more empowering for students. Part of that is shifting the focus of room ownership. Right now I am referring to this classroom as Room 218. Maybe that will change as the year unfolds. I want it to be natural and I want it to be something that the kids will feel the ownership of. One parent who walked in to check out the new room called it the “Fishbowl” because of all the interior windows. I kind of like it. We’ll see if the kids like it too.

  3. Innovation. My personal professional development plan since last spring has been centered around the idea of innovation in education. It started while reading George Curous’s book, Innovator’s Mindset, which hooked me and encouraged me to enroll into A.J Juliani’s online Innovative Teaching Academy, and taking part in a cohort called Digital Learning Leaders at TIES (Technology and Information Education Services). Milaca High School has been a 1:1 iPad school for the past 5 or 6 years. In that time, I have spent part of my day as a technology integrationist. The staff here is incredibly proficient at using an iPad with kids in the classroom, however, I we have stagnated. We have nailed the consuming part of technology, not it is time to allow for creation, and innovation. My goal this year is to work my way out of being a “technology integration specialist” and become an “innovation integration coach.” Technology will still play a huge role in that, but technology and teaching should just go together. You shouldn’t need to separate them. We need to progress to the next stages of preparing our students for college and career by sparking independent curiosity in learning.

  4. Personalized Professional Development. The goal for each of us teachers should be to continue to learn and grow along with all of our students. Students and Teachers each have their individual strengths and areas in need of further growth. I have yet to meet a person who has reached their learning and curiosity levels. Planning for growth needs to be a personal endeavor. I realize I need that for myself. I need to keep chasing curiosity. I need to keep learning. I know there are many others, both teachers and students, that feel the same way. I want to be able to help them take risks and step outside their zones of comfort to find the things that make them curious. Students need the chance for PD as much as teachers.

Open House is a chance for new beginnings. It is a chance to begin and renew relationships . It is a chance to step out of our comfort zone, put our best foot forward and begin to #ChaseCuriosity in our learning journey. Wishing everyone the best in the 2017-2018 school year.

Busy ≠ Important. Important = Important.

Let me begin with an admission of guilt. I am one of those people who has felt being busy was a badge of honor. It made me feel important to share with others how busy I was.

“Let’s see, I’m a really busy person. I can’t make it at 2:00 because I have another really important meeting. 3:00 doesn’t work either because I must take my daughter to swimming. How about tomorrow? It looks like I can fit you in at 6:30 - in the morning.”

It made me feel superior to know I was more involved than others.

“You know, I am on that committee, so I have some inside knowledge you aren’t aware of. What do you mean you aren’t serving on the Youth Committee at Church. Don’t you realize how important it is?”

What I was really saying was "I’m more important than you. My time is more valuable. My opinions should count more." These weren’t the messages I was intending to send, but they were the meanings that were received. Being busy does not mean what you are doing is more important than someone else. Being busy does not make you more valuable than someone else. I’m really not that arrogant of a person. So why was I feeling so busy all the time? The truth is, I was simply using “Busy” as an excuse to avoid and resist working toward the more important goals in my life. I was allowing the “busy” to be the important.

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One of the ways I had learned about to deal with being busy was to do fewer things, but do them better. This is something I am now conscious of. I have weeded out a few things from my “busy” schedule, which has definitely helped. However, there are still some that I am not ready to give up on, that still compete for my time. I believe in making my school, my community, and the society in which I live a better place. It is important to me. I don’t want to be someone who sits on the sideline while others work to make things happen. I want to be there in the trenches. This is the reason why I participate in, and often lead, many committees, boards, councils, and other groups. I know being involved in many of these groups makes me busy and distract me from other important goals. However, having a singular, narrow minded focus on one goal is not what I want either. Simply eliminating all distractions that pull me away from some goals may cause me miss out on opportunities or other experiences that may be equally fulfilling - being present and soaking up the journey, not just the destination.

Being important to me, makes it important. Working towards goals I am passionate about, makes it important, not being busy. I want to stop being “busy” by focusing on two ways to rid myself of that “badge of honor.” The first is a mindset shift. Stop using the word "busy" to describe my life and actions. When someone says to me, "I can't believe how busy you are and how you are always on the go," I want my reply to be, "I am very passionate toward the things I care about and generously use my time for them." Secondly, play more. In his article, How to Turn Uninspiring Goals Into an Epic Adventure, Benjamin Hardy says, "The more your life pursuits can become a playful adventure, the more enjoyable - and likely more successful - they will be." Playing helps to reframe goals as quests and takes the emphasis off of "busy."

It is now time to stop writing and take my daughter to swimming. Important or Busy? I know the answer for me. What's the answer for you?

Level Up! Bring your Tech Integration to the Next Level.

One name keeps coming up every where I turn this summer: John Spencer. If you are not following his blog posts, youtube videos, or social media, you are missing out. AJ Juliani and other members of the Innovative Teaching Academy reference him, or his work, often. Three of the four sessions I went to at the recent EdCampMidMN shared his ideas about design thinking, genius hour, personalized learning, and empowering students. He is also often shared on Twitter. It is incredible, but there is a great reason for it all - he is an innovator.

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Recently, I viewed his presentation, The Seven Stages in the Technology Journey. In it, John discussing the 7 stages a teacher goes through when working to integrate technology in education. When viewing this presentation, I imagined myself as going through these stages as if they were levels in a computer game. I envisioned The Legend of Zelda (original Nintendo version - that makes me feel old). Here are the "Gamified" Levels (mine) and the bulleted stages of John Spencer's presentation.

 

Level 1: The hero of our game is isolated in a room with 25-30+ creatures and must keep them all in line. Their focus is preventing them from being distracted, because that when problem occur.

  • Isolationism - Teacher believes technology gets in the way of real learning. "Put your device away. It is distracting you and the rest of the class."

Level 2: The hero of our game finds a secret weapon and begins to use it to help maintain control of the creatures.

  • Awareness - Teacher believes that maybe technology can help with a few things. "You know that spell checker is a good idea to use."

Level 3: The hero of our game discovers their is a world outside of the room where the creatures are confined and that while it is a scary beyond the walls, there are adventures awaiting them if they are willing to explore.

  • Tourism - Teacher believes technology is a learning event or reward. "Great work today everyone! We are going to go to the Computer Lab now to play (educational) games."

Level 4: The hero of our game discovers that having adventures outside the room are fun and reward and begins to spend more and more time there, saving more and more creatures along the way.

  • Assimilation - Teacher buys in completely integrating technology into every aspect of learning. "I'm going completely paperless this year!"

Level 5: The hero of our game discovers there are road blocks and challenges along the way. Those challenges become more difficult to manage and defeat all the time. They win some battles, lose others, have to hit the reset button a few times.

  • Culture Shock - Teacher realizes technology failed to change every aspect of learning. "Everything is taking way too long. Students aren't the Digital Natives I thought they were."

Level 6: The hero of our game refuses to give up and begins seeking advice from other gamers who have been through these experience before. While our hero doesn't have all the answers, they are willing to keep trying new things to find out what works, or what works better.

  • Integration - Teacher is effectively integrating technology to match learning goals. "What kind of learning do I want to see? Will technology help students learn this? What technology tool(s) will best help this learning?"

Level 7: The hero of our game has become an innovator. They learn alongside their creatures and fellow gamers as they advance through new, and ever-change game situations.

  • Citizenship - Teacher and Students choose to use technology wisely. "How is technology reshaping what we learn and how? How can we innovate and share our learning to improve the world we live in?"

If you are being honest, where do you see yourself in this game? Where do you want to be? How are you going to get there?

I'm pretty sure I skipped level 1 all together. I don't remember a time where I thought that all distraction from technology must be eliminated, or that I was there to shelter my students from the world.

I do remember Level 2 however. When overhead projector was replaced with an LCD projector. I thought, "Cool, now I can project my notes from my computer instead of on transparencies!"

Level 3 was when our school got a cart with 30 laptops. I created a project (actually a recipe) so that my students could use these new laptops, because they were cool, not the content.

Level 4 engulfed me for a long time. I was the first to buy in that technology was going to fix education. 1:1 iPads were going to make it so that students would have the world available to them with one click. They would innately be creative digital natives, who with just a little push were going to revolutionize the world. Everything in my class had to be done on the iPad, I didn't use paper for anything. While there were many incredible moments, there were also many challenges I hadn't anticipated and the results on learning and student achievement weren't as drastic as I'd hope.

~ John Spencer

~ John Spencer

It is then I realized that I had entered Level 5. "Technology won't fix education." I was growing more frustrated by the day. I wasn't ready to give up on the use of technology, instead I started thinking about why technology was used, how it was being used, and what it was being used for. Can you tell this was about the time I read Start With Why by Simon Sinek?

I had entered Level 6. My current challenges and battles are testing me at this level. But the great thing is that I find it extremely rewarding to take the risks because, even though set backs may occur, I understand and desire the rewards they will bring. "What is the best way to use this tool?" "What kind of learning do I want to see?"

Each day I get closer to Level 7. I know what I want from my teaching. I want learning that is personalized for students and for them to feel empowered to pursue that path. There are still obstacles and challenges standing in my way. What do I think will help me reach this next level? Like in the Legend of Zelda game, the map is hidden from me. I haven't found it yet, but maybe it is because it doesn't yet exist. It is a map I am continually making for myself. Maybe it will never be finished, but, the journey of creating it will be the best part.

There is no guidebook or instruction manual or how-to video for how to be a great teacher. There is no secret formula or codified list of best practices that will guarantee success in your classroom....
There’s no point where you “have arrived.” You are always arriving at new places and new ideas and new insights. As a creative teacher, you’re always exploring, always experimenting, always innovating. That’s what makes the journey so amazing.
— "Teachers Need a Roadmap, Not an Instruction Manual." John Spencer. 22 June 2017. Web. 23 June 2017.

How Collaborations Have Made Me a Better Teacher

Do connections fuel innovation in education?

Connections on their own, don't fuel innovation - Collaborations do. I am connected with many people via Twitter, and other platforms. I also work with many other SUPERSTAR educators. I steal many great ideas from those fantastic educators. Sometimes I use them as is, sometimes I make modifications to suit my own needs. Those connections help to share ideas to a large audience, which is amazing. However great these connections are, they don’t hold a candle to the brightness that can be achieved through collaboration. Two or more brains working together to create and support new ideas that work. Wonderful things happen when educators are given, or take for themselves, the opportunity to collaborate.

Connections on their own, don’t fuel innovation - Collaborations do.
— Jeremy Mikla

I remember being a first year teacher 18 years ago. I taught 8th grade Civics along with 2 other new teachers, Patti and Erin. None of us had taught the class before, so we collaborated every day with one another to create a course which was engaging and purposeful for our students. Erin has since moved on, but I still find myself collaborating with Patti at least on a weekly basis; still working on ways to be innovative. This was the first time that I realized it is better to teach in a school of openness, rather than behind a closed door, isolated to my own thoughts, beliefs, and biases. Individually, we affect the students in our own classrooms, but collectively the impacts grow exponentially.

Join us for the 4th Annual Lake ECMECC Conference at Cambridge-Isanti High School on August 9. Register at:  http://lake.ecmecc.org/home/registration-1

Join us for the 4th Annual Lake ECMECC Conference at Cambridge-Isanti High School on August 9. Register at:  http://lake.ecmecc.org/home/registration-1

About 5 or 6 years ago, I was asked by my principal to start attending a monthly meeting of technology integrationists from other schools in our East Central Region of Minnesota. The meetings of this group for the first year were a little strained, conversations were reserved, and people generally felt uncomfortable. The second year, things became easier, ideas shared more freely, and connections that were made the year before became solidified. The third year, we took the connections to the next level - we collaborated to create a local technology in education conference for teachers from all 13 schools represented by our small group. These connections and collaborations have led to an even bigger and better network of educators that we can all turn to when we have questions or problems. Now when we get together, I feel like it is a chance to work with my friends, not just colleagues. 

Working with all these great people, either face-to-face, or virtually, through twitter chats or google hangouts has kept me on top of game. It’s not that I’m trying to impress others with what I know, but rather it is about chasing my own curiosity, and continually trying to improve. It is knowing that my own growth will lead to gains in learning for students. After all, Learning Matters Most.

9 Myths Uncovered about Flexible PD

Beginning in the 2017-2018 school year, 15 hours of Flexible Professional Development is coming to ISD 912 in Milaca, MN and perhaps a school near you. If your school is anything like mine, what starts out as a beautiful plan meets initial push back and opposition.

Here are 9 Myths uncovered about Flexible PD (at least in Milaca).

Myth #1: Teachers don’t have time for Flexible PD. 

Flexible means you can structure your professional development during times that fit your needs. By definition, flexible means you schedule your opportunities for growth and strength building during the times that work for you. It also means that it can change or modify the time of your PD based on ever changing demands on your time.

Myth #2: Flexible PD must be done after school, in the building.

Flexible means that locations of learning are varied. Some staff work/learn best in school, others learn best at workshops, others learn best in their PJ’s on the couch with a cup of coffee. Flexible PD allows the teacher-learner to choose the setting that works best for them. I know the visualization of some of us in our PJ’s can be scary, but the opportunities that can be unlocked are not.

Myth #3: Flexible PD topics are chosen by principals; teachers won’t have a choice.

Flexible means that PD opportunities are varied and versatile. The best PD is that which is most relevant to the teacher and to improving learning in the classroom. That means individual choice is essential. Cindy Helmers, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction at Bloomington School District 87 in Bloomington, IL describes what teachers should look for in choosing their own PD, “Pick professional development to follow your passion or remediate a challenge area.” Flexible PD opens opportunities to try new things. It gives you a chance to work on areas of strength and develop in areas of needed growth.

Myth #4: Flexible PD must happen all at one time.

The idea here is that if you are really going to set aside time for growth and development, that it should be meaningful and significant amount. A half hour here and there spread apart by great periods of time will not allow for sustainable professional development. Delving deep for even two hours at a time helps to make the PD more relevant to you and as a result to your students. Perhaps it doesn’t need to be two consecutive hours, but 2 hours should be dedicated to the same topic. For example, if I am going to watch a 1 hour webinar on a math instructional practice and then meet with other math teachers for 1 hour a week later, I’ve just completed a 2 hour block. Think of the amount of learning which could take place if these routine was completed over the course of a semester, or even a school year.

Myth #5: Flexible PD must be completed with people you already know.

These 2 have Flexible down to an art form.

These 2 have Flexible down to an art form.

Flexible PD will work best when you have someone to collaborate and share with. You can hold each other accountable and can debrief more deeply when you have someone to bounce ideas off of. However, Flexible PD offers a great opportunity to grow you Personal Learning Network (PLN). Many social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, provide a great outlet for this. Experts in many areas of education routinely share amazing ideas and opportunities and routinely make themselves available for teachers who are trying to improve their craft.

Myth #6: Flexible PD time must only be completed during the school year.

Flexible means it is available to you anytime you are ready for it. Even during the summer. Even as you dip your toes into the lake or want to connect while sunning on the beach. Many great workshops/conferences are offered during the summer because teacher schedules become more open. These give teachers not just the opportunity to learn new things, but also to make connections with other teachers and grow your PLN.

Myth #7: Workshops can't be counted as Flexible PD

Flexible PD can be done at any time, but to avoid contractual issues of “double dipping” you are probably not going to be able to count any workshops you go to that take place during normal school hours. You may be able to count any of the hours that you are at a conference or workshop that fall outside of the normal school day. If a group of you go to a conference and then spend 2 hours afterward debriefing and discussing what was learned, you can probably count those hours

Myth #8: Reflecting on Flexible PD is unnecessary.

At Milaca, 1 of the 15 hours of Flexible PD must be used for reflection. It is a minimum as it reflects only 1/2 hour per semester. As education and learning pioneer John Dewey once said, “We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience.” Reflection is where connections can be made from what was learned by the teacher to how it can be directly impactful for students in the classroom. While reflection might be slightly uncomfortable to start with, it will actually be a beneficial and worthwhile endeavor.

Myth #9: Flexible PD is personal and only matters to the individual teacher. It doesn't need to be shared.

What you learn matters a great deal to your students, especially if it is going to lead to new and better ways of teaching and learning. What you learn can also make an impact on other teachers who may have a similar passion or growth area. You won’t ever know unless you share it with others.

What other myths about Flexible PD exist? As you start to make your Flexible PD plans for next year, ignore the myths and focus on what matters most: Learning!

What is innovation?

Recently, I began an online course from AJ Juliani called the Innovative Teaching Academy. Several of my posts in the near future will be inspired, or as a result of questions posed in the course. This week's question for the participants in the course is, What does Innovation Mean to You?

Innovation is a mindset. It is grown and developed when we engage in the pursuit for new and better: new products, new uses for old products, new ideas, new ways of thinking. Most people do not possess innate abilities for creativity and innovation. Instead, they are skills that can be developed. As with other skills intentional practice at them leads to overall improvement. As a track coach, I have witnessed countless times how improving running/jumping/throwing mechanics through drill and repetition have lead to better performances. As a social studies teacher, I have witnessed countless times how having students practice good study habits has led to better test scores and grades (Don't get me wrong. I do not get hung up on test scores). The key here is that the practice is intentional. The same thing is true with innovation. Students, and ourselves, can grow in our capacity for innovation if we work at the skills of innovation. George Couros outlines many of these skills in his 8 Characteristics of the Innovator's Mindset: empathetic, problem-finders, risk takers, networked, observant, creators, resilient, and reflective. This is why I think most of us found our way to #ita17. We have a desire to grow in these areas for ourselves, but even more so, we desire something that is new and better for our students.

Keep Working that Innovation!

Keep Working that Innovation!

Measuring Innovation With Curiosity

How do you measure the impact of innovation in the classroom? I don't believe innovation is something that can be measured on a standard test. Innovation requires moving forward from a Point A, where a student starts their knowledge and understanding, to a Point B, that place in the distance, in the general direction of where the student is heading. The goal is for the student/learner to see that growth has been made and will continue to be made. Let me elaborate on what I mean.

In the learning process, we all begin at our own point A. Call it your starting point. Depending on the topic, content area, and interest level of the student, this point will be in different places for different students. However, each point A represents where students are in a particular point in time. Point B is somewhere off in the distance. It sets the direction toward where you want your learning to go. Many factors will influence a student's ability to head in that direction, toward Point B: resiliency of the student, interest in the area of learning, passion of the teacher, sense of empowerment over their own learning, life stresses, and many more. This means that the learning journey a student embarks upon will rarely be a straight line. Rarely will it be the case that answering one question is the end-all of their learning on the topic. Most often answering one question will lead to the asking of another and the process continues with a new point A and a point B that might be closer, further away, or in a different direction all together.

How do we know if we are headed in the right direction? I believe what makes this possible is curiosity. It is wonder. It is I care enough to want to know more. It is when there are more questions than there are answers. It is I have a desire to cure my ignorance and add to my understanding of the world around me. It is wanting to innovate; to make something new and better.  Vicki Den Ouden in her blog post, Curious George, explores the etymology of the word "curious." At it's roots it means to both care and cure. Vicki describes how this applies to teachers, "To be curious then is to care about what and how we teach and learn, and to care about the learning of our students. In addition to that, it means to cure or to remedy. Cure who? From what? Perhaps it means to cure ourselves and our students of boredom, apathy, or the dislike of school systems and to find a remedy for the drudgery of schedules, homework, worksheets, committees, marking, detentions, and so on."

Note: Post originally appeared on my old blog site on 3/30/17

Chasing Curiosity

Time to celebrate success. This is the 3rd blog post I've made this week and I feel the reflection process has been excellent. I find myself just starting to type with only a vague direction of what I want to say, but then the words and the lines just seem to fill themselves in. But in saying so, I am probably digressing (by the way, if anyone continues to read the posts I make, I'm sure this will be a theme you notice: I am a random thinking person. I don't apologize for that, but consider it a warning).

I have been very inspired by several things in the #IMMOOC community, but a couple of items stand out for me and are shaping my vision for education. 

The first thing is the concept of Design Thinking. I was captivated by the discussion with AJ Juliani and John Spencer and their book LAUNCH. I haven't read their book yet, but it is next on my list. I have some other book that I need to finish reading first.... (huh?!). 

The second thing was a comment, from either the conversation with AJ and John, or the first twitter chat. The comment was only two words, but they have stuck with me and resonated so that I've been thinking a lot about it lately. It is "Chase Curiosity." This is my vision for education. Spark the wonder that not just students, but teachers, adults, everyone need to continue to learn, even outside of the school doors. 

Finally, I was inspired by a tweet from Laurie Storm @LaurieStorm1 during the 3rd Twitter Chat. She said, 

Celebrate curiosity. Expect it. Demand it. Reward it. It leads to questions and questions lead to voice.

 It was so great to know that someone was on the same wave length about curiosity as I was. I innovated this in my reply to her: Chase It.

Note: Post originally appeared on my old blog site on 3/17/17.

What is Resiliency?

What is resiliency?

"the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness" (google)

For the last couple of months I have been spending much time wrestling with the topic of failure. I applied for a coaching position at the school I am at and didn't get the job. Was that a failure on my part? Did I let myself down? Did I let my student-athletes down? Did I let my family down? All these thoughts went through my head for about 2 days. After that I decided I had enough of that thinking.

I made the conscious choice that I wasn't moving on from coaching a sport I love; I was moving FORWARD. I was going to be RESILIENT! I am not a person with just one passion. I have many. I put my energies into other areas and have been even more excited and invigorated in those pursuits than I was coaching. That's why I am participating in the #IMMOOC group.

This failure also caused me to stop and think. How many times have I failed in my life, my career, my relationships, my choices? Too many times to count. In fact so many times that I probably should have just quit them all years ago, but why haven't I? RESILIENCY!

As a teacher I must model this to my students; I must show them how to take failure, reflect on it, learn from it and move forward to something NEW and BETTER. Move forward to something INNOVATIVE. As a technology inteGREATionist in my district, I must also demonstrate that for other teachers I work with and encourage them to keep taking risks with their teaching.

Let me close with my current favorite quote about failure by Eric Zorn:

Image Credit: "Eric Zorn Quote." A-Z Quotes. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.

Note: This post originally appeared on my old blog site on 3/10/17

The New Rules

Hard to believe, but this is already my 18th year of teaching. When you have been doing something for many years that seems to work, there is little incentive to change it. For the past 15 years, I know my syllabus that I hand out to every student always had the same rules it. They were very Harry Wong inspired, as in there were exactly 5 rules: Be respectful to others, Be respectful to things, Be responsible, Do your own work, Be on Time. I think Dr. Wong would even be impressed that I also identified for students procedures and expectations. 

Last summer, as my family was having dinner, and a couple of brews, at Surley in Minneapolis, I was perusing the beer menu and I came across this at the top of their menu. It says at the top "The Beer is what matters most, above everything else." Their philosophy states: "Make great beer. Have fun. Give a damn about your community. Be independent. Don't be a dick."

This philosophy really resonated with me and I was inspired to rethink my classroom rules. Here is what I came up, of course I had to change some of the words/topics to fit a classroom, but I think they work well. I even posted them on 3 of the 4 walls in my room. I haven't posted them in quite some time. I know... I could hear Dr. Wong saying they needed to be posted. So, Here they are:

Learning matters most, above everything else!

  1. 1. Be open to, and ready for, learning every day.
  2. 2. Have fun.
  3. 3. Care about your school and community.
  4. 4. Be independent.
  5. 5. Don't be rude.

Note: This blog post was my first attempt at blogging and appeared on my old blog site on 9/6/16. Blogging didn't stick right away.