Tuesday, February 18, 2014

#GeniusHour Update #1

Last week, I joined two teachers in the pursuit of this idea called "Genius Hour."  It's basically the same concept as Google's 20% time that allow students the freedom to make/do something based on their own ideas.  It's a risky endeavor in the world of public education because it puts "standards" in the backseat of a learning car being driven by students.  But don't worry, the teachers make sure everyone wears a seat belt!

So how does this look in the classroom?  Logistically, we are working with a class of about twenty 5th graders for one hour every Tuesday and Thursday morning, until further notice.  Undoubtedly, we will miss a day or student here and there but we will all stay connected using a group in Edmodo.  Students will be asked to submit project updates periodically using a Google Doc or posting on Edmodo.

We began our class with an introduction to this idea and then facilitated a whole class and small group brainstorm to collect ideas for student interest projects.  Some of the ideas were what you might expect from ten and eleven year olds.  Others were so off the wall, it seemed impossible to realize but that's okay!  We wrote the ideas on the board and then picked one to "flesh out."  We used a movie as our example and divided it into the major components we thought went into a movie.  We are NOT professional cinematographers but we did our best to use what we already know and prepare for the process.  (As a teacher, I know there will be a tremendous amount of learning in the execution of a movie project.  The details of that learning will be uncovered as we go.)  After that, students divided themselves into groups and began "fleshing out" their ideas.

Initial brainstorm and "fleshing out" of the movie project idea.
And here we are today, Day 2, and the students have already made big steps in their projects.  I, as the teacher, spent about 15 minutes talking with the class about expectations and told them I am here to support their ideas and learning.  I spent too much time talking to the whole group today but I wanted them to know how eager I am to be a co-learner in their space and want to help anyway I can.  The kids spent the next 45 minutes researching, discussion, writing, sketching, collaborating, and moving further down their project/learning path.  

As of right now, we have six/seven-ish groups working on the following ideas/prompts:
  • potato energy to power an appliance
  • rocket that goes 400-600 vertical feet
  • [traditional] movie
  • claymation video
  • video game (platform TBD)
  • fantasy NHL 
  • YouTube Channel
These ideas and projects will challenge thinking, provoke natural problem solving opportunities, require collaboration, and engage students in their learning.  More updates to come...

Student with a smile after he (and group) figured out how to wire and boot a Raspberry Pi.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Thoughts on Professional Learning from EduCon

It can be challenging as a teacher to find time for your own learning but it is an essential component of being a "lifelong" learner. I put "lifelong" in quotes because I think being a learner is an attitude and outlook that one either has or doesn't. If it sounds like I'm over simplifying the thought, then I'm making my point. And I will continue to do so throughout this post.

I'm attending EduCon for the third time in my young career and continue coming back because this "unconference" is an opportunity to connect with passionate, like-minded educators in a face-to-face, no pressure environment. For the sake of learning, there are so many reasons this kind of experience is important for all learners.

Let's start with context. Traveling to a city like Philadelphia offers an impossible to replicate platform for learning about American history; people, places and events. One of my conference colleagues remarked to me after seeing the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall that they had forgotten how exciting it can be to learn about history. I think it's a lot easier to learn about the origin of the Declaration of Independence when you're standing in the room where it was signed, hearing the story from an expert that takes pride in telling it.  Today, teachers and students have the ability to create immersive learning environments with various technology tools that can inspire meaningful learning. Altering the physical environment for learning is a very simple way to encourage people to see things differently than they did before.

Now let's talk about standards and expectations. It's easy to tell when someone cares about what they say and do. Actions speak louder than words but when words and actions are consistent, it sends an even stronger message, one that exudes integrity and passion. At EduCon, the expectation is that you engage yourself and others in conversation, challenge people and ideas, and contribute to the learning process for yourself and others. No one person, or group of people for that matter, is an expert. Knowledge is now accessible to everyone with the internet but experience is something that can only be gained one way. Engage, interact, debate, and respect are all verbs that describe some of the ways in which learning can happen and must be initiated by the learner.  Learning with and from others is a valuable skill that every person should have and be able to do.

Finally, and for the sake of making a point I'll say most importantly, is the opportunity to converse with other incredibly passionate, knowledgeable, and committed human beings.  Being connected to other people online thru social media, forums and the like, is all fine and good but has a limit. Understanding the dynamics of social behavior, cultural norms, and human interactions can be challenging and requires practice. I overheard two people talking about someone's Twitter handle and one said to the other that they really wanted to meet the person behind their handle so they could "get to know their personality, ya know what I mean?" I know exactly what she meant and I think you do too. There is a degree to which you can develop a relationship with someone you've never physically met.  There is a deeper level to which humans can connect when they are emotionally, mentally, and physically present in a conversation or experience. EduCon is an awesome platform for doing just that.  I think interpersonal skills will prove invaluable in our increasing connected world.