Wednesday, October 30, 2019

A Growth Mindset in #MakerEd

There are lots of people that talk about the Growth Mindset as way to approach learning with students. However, just saying that and then not providing any means for students to see what that means is a waste of time for everyone. One of the things that has been important to me in crafting a class to help students understand the design process and how to improve critical thinking and problem solving skills was making sure the students have an opportunity to see their growth over the course of the class.

It is one thing to say that #MakerEd is all about the Growth Mindset, but it is not without some amount of structure and support from teachers. Here are some things that I have used to support a Growth Mindset in my new Innovation and Design class for middle school students.

  • Reflection space and time - When of the parts that is important in a Growth Mindset is having the time to actually reflect on what went wrong and how the problem can be addressed differently the next time it is encountered. This reflection time can be through a conference with the teacher, but I really feel it is important to give students a space to write and internally reflect before conferencing with the teacher. It depends on the maturity of the students, but time to process and reflect is huge if we really want students to have a Growth Mindset. 
I have created little journals that will be given to students to do reflecting and sketching. Just giving students a box to write in on the assignment sheet to reflect would be a good start for any type of assignment. 

  • Do not grade - This is a tough one for some teachers because they may be required to give students grades at the end of the marking period or have to have a certain number of assessments that are graded and in a grade book. I would suggest looking for ways to create some projects that do not need to be graded. I have found that not grading the projects in my design class has led to much higher engagement and perseverance on the work done in class.
There was one student who had created 5 or 6 different versions of his device to place around a Sphero that would allow it to drive around. When I gave him an opportunity to just post about the failures and what he learned, he refused. He told me that he did not want to fail at completing the task. He felt he was so close and wanted to try one more thing. His mom, who is a teacher in the high school, came down to pick him up a little early and he refused to go until he finished his design. The mom was blown away at the commitment her son had for the assignment. It was a wonderful example that reinforced my belief that a class like this should not be graded because students will try so much harder and take risks because they do not have to fear letter grade failure.

  • Allow students to share their work - This is a big one for me because it is important for students to take pride in their work they are doing, but also see the work that other students are doing in the class as well. By using tools like Google Classroom, SeeSaw, or other portfolio based type programs, students can collect and showcase learning to others. I really like using SeeSaw because it is much easier for parents to jump in and see the work that students are doing and comment on it. It creates a much larger learning community for students to share their work in and that helps students overall. Learning from others who are tackling the same problems and seeing how they found a solution aids in the overall learning of a student.
  • Give students a voice and a choice - Giving students a voice and a choice in their work has a huge impact on their ability to truly embrace a Growth Mindset. To put it simply, the students are more engaged when they have a connection to the work they are doing. When they are more engaged, they will be more resilient when things do not go their way. If a student does not want to make a poster board for their project, but that is what is required in class, they will not put in the effort required and will give up easily if things get too complicated. Allowing students the ability to choose their approach to creating something to address the problem or assignment is a great way to encourage engagement and support a Growth Mindset. If the student cares, they will not give up. 
One of my Seniors is really into woodworking after having a taste of it for a class last year. She built her entire capstone project this year around learning to do basic woodworking and creating a class to propose to the school in the Spring. She is teaching herself different aspects of woodworking with some guidance from me and it not being held back by any roadblocks that pop up. She is currently working on a table top that she is routing out based a sketch she had. She wants to use epoxy and stain to make the tabletop really come to life. She also wants to use a stump as the base of the table because she thinks it will look very cool. Dried stumps can cost a couple hundreds of dollars. Instead of letting that keep her down, she spent hours researching how to dry her own stump in the basement of her house to use for the project. Now she is looking for a stump. She could have quit, but she chose to learn something new and tackle the problem a different way. That is exactly what we want to see from our students. 

When it comes to MakerEd and the Growth Mindset, it is important to make sure we are setting up a framework that will support our students as they design and fail. Those frameworks will help supporting learning that will last long beyond their years in school. 

If you are interested in Growth Mindset, MakerEd, PBL, and other fun and engaging practices with students, feel free to shoot me an email and we can connect and share ideas.  

Thursday, October 24, 2019

More @IAmKidPresident from @SoulPancake! #EdChat

I'm excited to share some more Kid President with all of you! There are two more videos that you have to watch that explore our connections with people all around us. Please take some time to see how you might be able to share these with students in your class to have important conversations about empathy, refugees, and so much more. 

Next stop: the beach! Robby and Brad find themselves at a retreat for families who have a child that’s been diagnosed with cancer. Robby immediately befriends a group of kids to jump in the pool with, play ultimate frisbee on the beach, and launch into fierce card games. Yet, underneath all the joy, is the discovery that they’ve all been closely affected by cancer — either themselves or a sibling. Two sisters share their story of remaining hopeful and keeping each other strong, in spite of all that’s come their way. Archival clips include moments from ’Letter To a Person on their First Day Here’, the parade thrown for a postal worker, and the oft-quoted Kid President phrase “Treat Everybody Like It’s Their Birthday”. Brad and Robby are part of throwing a huge birthday party for every kid there with cake, music, and of course dancing. Brad even pulls out his ‘karaoke backpack’ to help celebrate.

Robby and Brad visit a town that’s been called ‘the Ellis Island of the South’. For more than 20 years, Clarkston, GA has served as a place of peace, community, and healing for refugees from all walks of life. They visit the Fugees Academy where they meet Luma Mufleh, who founded the organization shortly after fleeing to the United States from Jordan when she was 19. Three young refugees from completely different cultures are highlighted. Though they’re from entirely different backgrounds they’re all best friends and they don’t refer to it as ‘Fugees Academy’ but as the Fugees Family. Archival video includes the Pep Talk from Kid President To You, Kid President playing baseball with a young Muslim girl, and other select clips focused on unity, teamwork, and Robby’s love of athletics. Robby joins the Fugees Family on the field for one of their practices.


The Pressure of Failing #PBLChat #EdChat

One of the things I have learned over the years with project based learning is that some students are willing to take a risk and try something new to demonstrate their understanding of a topic and others will play it safe and stick to tools and resources they are comfortable using. There were many factors that contribute to playing it safe or taking a risk, but in school, being graded has a large influence on these decisions. Since removing grades from my new elective, Innovation and Design, I'm starting to see how much an impact grades were having on trying new things.

Students have been working to create prototypes of objects from the story, "There Will Come Soft Rains" by Ray Bradbury. A student was very frustrated over the amount of time it has taken him to craft some type of cover for a Sphero so it could drive around easily and look like a mouse from the story. Time and time again, the student has failed, but gets back to the design and tries again. At the start of class I asked the students why they are willing to keep trying over and over again and they simply said because it wasn't going to hurt their grade if they tried something and it didn't work. They still have a deadline, but they can try crazy ideas that might work without fear of getting bad grades.

Giving students a space to try and fail without punishment is so important for students. They are given the opportunity to push themselves, explore new concepts, and see what they are capable of at the end of the day. A 6th grade student spent five 75-minute class periods figuring out how to use to design 2D images for the laser cutter to create a windows that could stay opened. After 5 or 6 failed prototypes, she was able to get the right size for everything she needed and then decided to add acrylic windows. Here is a shot of her work.

Kalie expressed some frustration that it took her 5 class periods to design something and cut it on the laser cutter in one day, but I told her she spent those days learning how to do something and then she did it. That's exactly what school is supposed to be about. As a 6th grader, she is now able to design to use the laser cutter and then set up the machine and cut on her own. This was all driven by her want to design the windows from the story. She was not chasing a grade and probably would not have chosen to learn an entire new program if there was a grade at the end of the project. This is the example, along with many of the other projects in the class so far, that shows me the extended value of Project Based Learning and a grade free environment. 

My new class still needs some fine-tuning, but I am confident the basic structure of PBL and no grades is going to create some amazing opportunities for student learning moving forward. 

If you are interested in connecting about bringing PBL, Design Thinking, and more to your school, please feel free to reach out to me at

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

@iamkidpresident visits Selma in new episode of Are We There Yet

I'm excited to see another episode live on YouTube from my buddy Brad and Kid President. In this episode they are visiting Selma, AL to see some kids doing awesome things in their community and to chat with Joanne Bland. She was active in the Civil Rights Movement and was arrested 3 times by the age of 11 when she marched to Montgomery with Dr. King.

I think this video is important to show students because there is this belief that you need to be an adult to make change in the world and we are seeing that is not true today with Greta Thunberg, but child activists have a long history and I love that Brad and Robby are recognizing someone that many people never learned about in History classes.

Check out this video and consider sharing with your students.

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

No Grades and The World Did Not End #MakerEd

I started a new class this year in the middle school. It is a design and innovation class that is supposed to help students explore problem solving and critical thinking skills. One of the things that I wanted to really explore was a class free of grades. I was nervous about how this might look because I have never done this before and I was scared about how students and parents would react, but I was surprised to find that the world did not end.

We have completed two projects in the class and are starting our third project this week. The main reason I wanted to avoid grades was because they can be a hinderance to students who are afraid of trying something new or risky because it could hurt their grade. Even though I assured kids no grades would be coming, some were still very hesitant to "go for it" on the first project. Using Design Thinking to create a home for a friend in Minecraft was something I hoped would ease students into the process of designing and building with a sense of freedom. Some students pushed themselves and others took the path of least resistance. I was worried that these students would always just do what they had to and try to get by with minimal effort. I decided to use the 2nd project to really push those students on their design and builds.

Students were asked to design a shoe using 4 pieces of newspaper, 1 foot of duct tape, and 1 foot of yarn. Once it was designed, they needed to create an ad for their creation. Some students really went for it and created some amazing, functional footwear, while others settled on a slip on shoe for their first design. I could have let it go, but I really wanted to push them to think bigger. I let those groups have a chance to redesign their entire shoe with new supplies if they wanted. I told them to just go for it because they are not getting a grade on this project or for the class overall. Every single one of them chose to go at it again instead of just sitting and "being done". It was awesome.

I could see that students have started to become more comfortable in trying new things and are not letting the idea of grade impact their choices. The next project students are going to design elements from Ray Bradbury's short story "There Will Come Soft Rains". I think I have built the capacity to try the tough things and learn without the fear of failing grades. 

Friday, October 4, 2019

Science Fiction, ELA, and #MakerEd #NCTEVilliage

I'm super excited about the next project in my Design class. I will always be an ELA teacher at heart and really wanted to find a way to incorporate reading fiction into my class. I believe that all teachers are teachers of reading and writing, so I wanted to make sure I have reading and writing elements in my new class. I think I found an awesome project to accomplish this task.

Students will be reading the short story "There Will Come Soft Rains" by Ray Bradbury. After a close reading as a class, we will discuss the different futuristic items written about by Bradbury and students will be challenged to create a prototype of one of the items from the story. Students will be following an Engineering Design Model. I created my own template in Adobe Illustrator for students to follow based on the one found on Link Engineering.

Students will spend the next few weeks researching, designing, and building their prototype. They will need to use the text as a guide to their build and focus on what is described in the text and infer what other parts are needed for their design based on the context surrounding the description. Once students create their prototypes, they will need to write a paragraph explaining what they based their build on in the story. 

I chose "There Will Come Soft Rains" because it is a favorite of mine that has lots of great examples to pull from, but I look forward to exploring and finding more diverse texts that can be used to accomplish the same task. Eventually, I hope to get comfortable with the process to allow students to choose their texts for the project. 

I'd love to hear any suggestions on how you might approach the project. Feel free to leave a message in the comments or send me a message. Until then, here is Leonard Nimoy reading "There Will Come Soft Rains".

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Attention! @iamkidpresident is back on @Soulpancake!

Adults might not realize it, but we need Kid President more than ever and I could not be happier to have him back. Brad and Robby are back in a new series of videos entitled Are We There Yet. They are going to travel the country in Brad's minivan and visit kids doing amazing things. I have always appreciated the honest and compassionate approach of Brad and Robby as they travelled the world sharing their awesomeness and shining a light on the awesomeness of others.

Children of all ages are demanding change. Many of decided they are not going to wait until they grow up to act. The time is now and I love that Brad and Robby are going to showcase the stories of others that are making a difference in their communities.

I was lucky to meet Robby and Brad when they visited my former school and connected with my students. They shared some amazing stories and had lunch with my anonymous guerrilla kindness group, Project Smile. (Not so anonymous any more, but they have long graduated.)

Kid President with Project Smile

Kid President and Brad Montague with my American Literature Class

Just a little 2v2 after speaking to our elementary school.
I can't wait to see all of the amazing stories that Robby and Brad are going to share and I know that they are going to inspire another generation of children to do good, and most importantly, be awesome. Here is the first video. Enjoy!

Friday, September 27, 2019

No Homework: Easier Said Than Done

One of the things that I wanted to make part of my new design class was a strict no homework policy. I wanted students to use the time in class to complete their work and not stress over completing things at home. If they wanted to work on their project at home, they could, but only if they really wanted to. Students loved this idea and parents were on board. I was excited to get rolling and I just realized that I failed on the first assignment I gave in class.

The first unit was exploring Deign Thinking and creating in Minecraft. We spent two weeks interviewing and building in Minecraft. When the students were done, they were suppose to post snapshots of their creations with some captions to SeeSaw. I walked students through the process and some students struggled to get the process done correctly or they forgot to add captions as was required for the assignment. Typical student behavior. The problem was that I had a schedule I was intent on following and felt I needed get ready for the next project.

I simply told the students that could not finish the upload in class to complete the work at home by the time we met in class next. That was a Friday and we met next on a Tuesday due to our block schedule format. My traditional thinking was that the students would have four nights to upload the work. I even created a video to help them with the process. I thought everything was great. Until I reflected on the assignment.

I make it a habit to reflect on my lessons, especially new ones, to see how things went and what I would change for the next time. For these new reflections for a new class, I really wanted to make sure I was sticking to the basic tenets of the class of no homework, no grades, and student choice and voice. The very first thing, no homework, stood out to me right away. Are students being required to do work for class outside of class time. The answer was an easy yes and I felt very defeated. The first lesson and I managed to give homework. I needed to fix this right away.

The next class I started with an apology to the students about dropping the ball and promised that I would fix the issue by setting aside class time for us to all work together and post what needs to be posted. The kids were very understanding and bit surprised that I was apologizing for making the mistake. The kids are just so used to being given homework that they did not really think much about it.

Breaking old habits is something that is very hard to do. I was surprised at how quickly I fell back into giving homework when not doing that is a core part of the class. I am glad I noticed it early and the only thing I can do is be more mindful of this for each assignment. 

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Using @PlayCraftLearn and @SeeSaw to showcase Design Thinking #MakerEd

I'm excited to showcase some student examples from the project that I created for my design class. These examples come from students in grades 6-8. First, I'd like to share the steps that were taken to get to this point in case anyone would like to mirror the project. Note: We are on a block schedule, so I see students for 75 minutes every other day, so feel free to adjust the timing to meet your needs.

Step 1:

I ask students to build be a house in Minecraft. They are not allowed to ask me questions or work in groups. They have 20 minutes to build me the best house I could ever have.

Step 2:

Students showcase their builds and I provide honest feedback on what I do like and what is not for me.

Step 3:

I asked students if they could do a better job if they asked me questions and they said they could. I gave them about 10 minutes as a class to ask questions to help them better understand what I would like in a house. Then they were allowed to build another house or edit the one they had already built.

Step 4:

Once students have built the second house, I pass out a form similar to the one created by the Stanford d. School for the Wallet Design Thinking Challenge. You can find it here. I go over the full design thinking process with students and we discuss how creating something for someone without asking them is a terrible way to create. We walked through the full process to understand each part of the design thinking path.

Step 5:

Once the students have a strong understanding of the Design Thinking pathway, I give them the Vacation Home assignment. They are asked to pair up and design a vacation home that is perfect for their partner. They need to use a copy of the Design Thinking handout to guide their process.

Step 6:

After completing the interviews and drawn rough drafts, students can use Minecraft to create the vacation home.

Step 7:

Once the students have built a vacation home they like after a couple of days, they present it to their partner and get feedback. They have half a class to change anything they want and share with their partner for one last time.

Step 8:

Once the final piece has been shared, students are requested to take at least 3 photos of their build and write a minimum of three sentences in a caption that explains what was built and why it is was built of their partner.

Step 9:

I provide feedback on the private SeeSaw posts in the comment section where we can have a dialogue on what they created and how it might be improved. (I have shared with SeeSaw that I wish the projects could be shared publicly for other students and the exchange between student and teacher would remain outside of the public view for our eyes, and parents eyes, only.)

That is the process of using Design Thinking and Minecraft to build a vacation home for a peer. Here are just a few examples of what students have submitted.

These are just a few of the builds that students have created for this project. Not having grades did not mean students were not going to try. Not having homework did not mean that the students would not work on this at home. Students put in more effort because they were free of grades and worked on the project at home because they were engaged in the creative process. 

By bringing Minecraft Education Edition and SeeSaw together, students were able to engage in the Design Thinking process and showcase their work in a space that allows to have a dialogue about their work and document that for their portfolio. The focus is always on growth and learning. Using Minecraft and SeeSaw together help make that possible 

If you have any questions, please feel free to drop me a line on Twitter @TheNerdyTeacher and check out my Instagram for more creations from students. 

Friday, September 13, 2019

Minecraft and Design Thinking #MakerEd @PlayCraftLearn

My first lesson for my Design and Innovation class needed to be something that would engage the students immediately. Minecraft is huge in our Middle School and I thought that would be a wonderful way to get students thinking about design. Luckily, we have Minecraft Education Edition rolled out for every student in our Middle School.

The goal of the fist design challenge was to design a house for me. The students were not allowed to ask me any questions. They just had to build me a house based on what they think I might like. They were given 20 minutes to put together a prototype. The kids were understandably frustrated, but they all worked very hard to create something that they hoped I would enjoy.

We discussed the mostly completed houses and I would tell them what I did and did not like. Next, I allowed them time to ask me questions and dive deep into what I do like and what I need in a house. The reason they had to build the first house without the questions was to show them the value of listening and asking questions.

In design thinking, you want students to have empathy for the person they are designing and you can do that with the help of asking the right questions. Having the students see the value of asking questions allowed them to embrace this part of the design process. Kids love to jump to the ideation portion of design thinking because it is more fun, but they really need to spend time focusing on empathy.

The kids asked so many amazing questions and really focused on what I liked to do with my spare time and how I move about my own house. I could see they really were looking for questions that didn't just give them one answer (Do you like carpet?), but for questions that could provide a multitude of information (What do you do when you are bored at home?).

Minecraft is a wonderful tool for this intro to design thinking for students because it was so easy for them to log in and start crafting. Students were put up houses of all different shapes and sizes in a matter of minutes. That is what I was really hoping was going to happen and it was awesome to see them all working and helping one another. No grades really seems to help them take their time and try different things. One student built a red stone operated door that was protected by a golem. Ya, that was a weird sentence to write.

After their second version of the house, I walked the students through the rest of the design thinking process following the handout created by the Stanford d. School. I modified their handout that can be found here.  Next week, students will pair up and go through the design process with a partner and try to create the perfect vacation experience in Minecraft. This is their chance to really stretch and see if they can find empathy for their partner and really build something amazing for their partner.

Here is a quick example of using SeeSaw to post images taken from Minecraft to demonstrate what was built.

Stay tuned for more exciting adventures in the design class!


Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Back to work #DesignThinking #PBL

Today I go back to the proverbial front of the classroom.

Over the past two years, I have been working with teachers and building a makerspace for our school. It has been a fun experience, but I have always missed out on having "my" class and the challenges that come with it. Today, I will be teaching a class I will be building from the ground up.

Since I started at University Liggett School, there has been talk about creating a class for the 6th graders that would focus on problem solving and critical thinking. There was talk about a Makerspace class, but I did not want to teach a class on how to use 3D printers. However, teaching students how to approach problems and use different tools to create solutions sounded amazing.

I spent the past 6 months diving into what a class that is a trimester long might look like and I found myself drawn to the Design Thinking model of problem solving to create a base for the class and using that to jump to other design ideas. As a trained ELA and Social Studies teacher, I feel a bit out of my element, but excited to learn with the students and see what happens. I'm also excited to implement things I have always dreamed of doing in a class.

  • Mindfulness - I will be starting each class with a few minutes of mindfulness. I am using the Calm app on my phone. My class is after lunch, so I want to take a few moments to calm the bodies and mind before asking them to dive into problem solving and critical thinking. I'm nervous to as Middle Schoolers to sit quietly and look inward for relaxation, but I feel it is important and I'm going to give it a try. 
  • Portfolio/Project Based - This class is going to be based on what they create. Everything will be stored in SeeSaw and that is where my feedback will live as well. Students and I will be able to have an ongoing dialogue about their work and how it evolves over the course of the trimester. 
  • No Homework - I will not assign anything that requires students to work at home. My goal is to create an environment where students are excited about their projects and want to work at home and share with their family. I refuse to add more work to their busy schedule at home. 
  • No Grades - I will not be giving grades for this class. Students will have a 1 under the assignment if it is completed and we have met to discuss it or a 0 is the project has not been completed and we have not conferenced about it. I feel like giving a grade to a student who solves a problem one way and a different grade to a student who solves it another way is just not what this class is about. I also think by getting rid of the grades, students will be more likely to try big ideas and embrace failure instead of taking the easy route to finish the work. I could be way off here, but I love that I get to try. 
I have some ideas for projects that might be super fun, but I will have to roll them out and see what the kids think. I will be starting with the Wallet Challenge from the Stanford and then moving to a Minecraft for Education challenge to create the perfect vacation destination for a partner. I will be trying Chindogu with my students to bring a fun, light approach to design and I'll see how students might repurpose underutilized areas of the school. I also have an idea for students to create a small line of products that people might want to buy and setting up an Etsy shop to see how that goes. IDK. Lots of ideas and I can't wait to see how much of it works and how much of it blows up in my face. If it does, than I'm modeling exactly what I want to see from the students. 

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Chindogu and #MakerEd

I spend too much time on the Internets. I have accumulated vast amounts of useless knowledge. Sometimes, I uncover something that is simply amazing and it has to be brought into the classroom. While this might not be new to others, the term was new to me and I'm happy to share it with all of you. 


Chindogu was created by Japanese artist Kenji Kawakami in the 1990s, who describes these inventions as "un-useless." He coined the term chindogu using a combination of the Japanese words chin, meaning "strange" or "odd," and dougu, which means "device" or "tool." But chindogu is more than a mashup of words (a portmanteau, if you will); it's a philosophy. There are 10 tenets of chindogu, according to the chindogu society:
  • A chindogu cannot be for real use. If you end up using your invention on the regular, you have failed.
  • A chindogu must exist. No thought experiments allowed.
  • There must be the spirit of anarchy. Build your invention free from the constraints of utility or cultural expectations.
  • Chindogu are tools for everyday life. Everyone everywhere must be able to understand how it works without any special technical or professional background info.
  • Chindogu are not tradeable commodities. Finally, something in your life that you just can't turn into a side hustle.
  • Humor must be the sole reason for creating chindogu. Creating an elaborate way to solve a tiny problem is just funny. Roll with it.
  • Chindogu is not propaganda. This is not the place for your clever commentary on the dumpster fire that is the current state of the world. As the tenet makes clear: "Make them instead with the best intentions."
  • Chindogu are never taboo. If you demand sexual innuendo, cruel jokes and sick humor, the International 
  • Chindogu Society would ask that you find it literally anywhere else on the internet. That's not chindogu's jam.
  • Chindogu cannot be patented. Consider chindogu the openest of open source. They're meant to be shared and delighted in, not owned and collected.
  • Chindogu are without prejudice. Race, religion, gender, age, ability — none of these matter to chindogu. These inventions should be equally (almost) useless to everyone who sees them.
I'm starting my new Design Class this Fall and I'm equal parts excited and terrified. It is a Trimester class in a block schedule. Lots of very new things for me. I will have students for about 27 class meetings and I need to come up with different types of projects for students to create and Chindogu is an amazing project for students. 

I believe that making should be fun and silly. Designing should have its serious and crazy moments. Chindogu teaches so much about the process of design, it doesn't matter if the final product is as useful as we hoped. Too much pressure can be felt by students who just want to make things and learn along the way. 

Here is a great TED talk from Simone Giertz. She is known for making terrible robots on her YouTube channel. (Warning: Her videos are not safe for children due to course language, but they are hilarious for adults. She does kid friendly videos on the GoldieBlox channel if you want to share some with young makers.)

As an added element, I will have students user Adobe Spark to create promo pages for their products to encourage people to buy them or show other how to make their own. I think Chindogu is a wonderful project for a Makerspace and classrooms looking to explore design. Even if it is designing Un-useless Inventions. 

If you have students doing this, please share with me on Instagram or Twitter @TheNerdyTeacher. 

Hugs and High Fives, 


Saturday, August 24, 2019

Why Project Based Learning? #EdChat

Schools are starting up all around the country and teachers are starting to get into the swing of lesson planning and exploring their own pedagogy. I was lucky to spend part of my Summer working with teachers from coast to coast on implementing Project Based Learning into their curriculum. For those who have never used PBL in their classroom, the change can feel a bit overwhelming. I understand  this because I know I was overwhelmed when I made the switch myself many years ago. One of the biggest questions I get from people is the simplest one. Why?

There is some great research on the impact of PBL in the classroom that Edutopia as collected. Check out those articles and share them with others who wonder about the value of PBL in the classroom. I've taken a look at the research and have taken my years of experience using PBL in the classroom and come up with 5 major aspects of PBL that I feel make PBL so great for the classroom.

1. OWNERSHIP is key. When students have a sense of ownership over any assignment, they tend to work much harder. Students know that the work will be represented of their own ideas instead of just following the directions word for word that the teacher has provided. When the students understand that they have control over the work that is going to be completed, they are also more likely to take risks and push themselves. It is important for teachers to let students know the value of ownership and how it can impact the work they are doing. This is a scary part of PBL because the traditional dynamic has teachers in control of everything. Letting go of that control leads to amazing leaps in learning for the students. OWNERSHIP is a major factor in the value of PBL.

2. CREATIVITY is the another major part of the PBL and is closely linked with OWNERSHIP. When students are free to explore learning in ways that are meaning to them, it opens a world of creativity that they have not previously known in class. My move to PBL allowed for students to really express themselves in creative ways I had not expected. Students have created movies, graphic novels. written and performed songs, created amazing photography pieces, coded games, and even performed interpretive dance! The students were given the time and respect to create something that demonstrated understanding of the curriculum and they did not disappoint. Allowing the students to create gives them a bigger sense of OWNERSHIP.

3. Another part of the PBL is COLLABORATION. While not all examples of PBL in the classroom will have collaboration, the projects that allow for it are amazing to watch. Students coming together to collaborate on a variety of projects is an awesome thing to see because they are strengthening their collaboration skills. There is a give and take between students as the work to create their project. Students are allowed to work with their strengths and support their peers who might need help in other areas. Students will learn from one another as the build a project that is best for everyone in the group.

4. Depending on how you set up your project, CRITICAL THINKING, is also an important part of PBL. Some people just assume that drawing a picture is to showcase something a student learned is all PBL really is and not much is truly done by the student. This could not be further from the truth. The best assignments for PBL are the ones that have driving questions that push students to dive deeper into the content than one covered in class to find the things they want to explore the most. The analysis by students done on their own is some of the best I have ever seen when it occurs during PBL. Class discussions are a great starting point for understanding and analysis, but PBL allows students to choose areas that were not covered in depth in class and show why they are still important to the overall concepts that are being discussed. It takes so much critical thinking and analysis to do this correctly and that is what students learn over a full year of PBL in a class.

5. Lastly, Project Based Learning can be FUN! It seems obvious, but I have seen many projects that are very tedious. They have kids go through the motions and leave very little room for FUN or CREATIVITY. Projects are a chance for students to break the regular routine of reading and writing in some classes. Most kids are excited to do a project because they finally see it as a chance to express themselves in a format other than a test or essay. The FUN comes from the freedom students feel. Working with their friends (COLLABORATION), taking charge of their learning (OWNERSHIP), solving real problems (CRITICAL THINKING) and allowing students to create (CREATIVITY) all lead to the students learning in a FUN environment.

It is great to work with teachers and help them go through the process of creating PBL experiences for their students. Just in a small group of teachers across the curriculum, ideas started to generate about possible cross-curricular projects and how students can be more engaged with long and short term projects. PBL not only sparks the creativity of students, but of their teachers as well. I encourage everyone to consider exploring PBL and maybe introduce it a spot for students this semester and see how it goes. It's the start of the year, so let's try something new.

If you have any questions about implementing Project Based Learning in your classroom or across a building or district, please do not hesitate to reach out to me. I'd love to see how I can help make it happen for you and your students.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Can you teach creativity and innovation? #EdChat

I random thought went through my head the other day and I shared it on Twitter. Here is the tweet.

There have been some great responses to the thought and I was very curious about what other people think about this.

For me, I do believe all people have the capacity to be creative and innovative. What that creativity or innovation looks like will be different for all people.  I just do not think you can "make" someone creative or innovative. You can create an environment where their natural creativity can flourish. Teaching skills like painting, drawing, pottery, etc, are create skills, but that's not teaching creativity. It's teaching people how to express their creativity. Exposing people to different ideas, cultures, experiences, etc. can enhance their creative minds, but it doesn't create creativity from nothing.

It is very likely that I'm wrong about all of this, but I would love to hear from other people on this. Feel free to leave a comment below and share far and wide. I'm open to having my mind changed on this.


Monday, August 12, 2019

Back to School Blues #EdChat

I wanted to take a moment and let the teachers of the world that are feeling guilty about the small amount of dread they are feeling about going back to school know that it is ok to have that feeling and you should NOT feel guilty about it. 

This does not make you a bad teacher or a horrible person. It does not mean you are ready to leave the classroom and retire. It means you love spending time with your family. You love having the time to take care of yourself and spend time on things you love. As teachers, we do not get this time throughout the year and we relish the time we get in the Summer. 

That small twinge you feel in your gut doesn't mean you hate your students, it means you love your family. Do not let reading tweets about how everyone is so excited about be back to school and how they can't wait to dive in and make the most amazing bulletin boards. It's cook if that is what they are excited about for the new year. Take your time and get in the zone in the way that works for you. 

I'm excited and nervous to start the school year. New students and new responsibilities await me and that can make my butterflies flutter in the belly. One thing that makes dealing with these bits of anxiety is my crew of friends that I can text or call to help me talk through the feelings. I suggest you do the same if you can. 

I know once the school year starts, you will be happy to be there and the students will love seeing your smiling face as they walk into the classroom on the first day. Don't let the small feeling of tread overtake your overall amazingness. You got this. 

Let's make 2019-2020 amazing for all of our students and ourselves. 

Hugs and High-fives,


Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Don't Forget the Introverts #EdChat

I've been seeing lots of tweets flood EduTwitter about reaching out to the shy students and engaging every single child because they just need that one teacher to be the one to save them from their silence. The savior complex is just gross at this point.

What I'm about to say is not revolutionary, but I guess it needs to be said again,

It's ok to leave the silent students alone.

Some people think that this means to ignore them. That is not what it means at all. It means give them the space they deserve to feel comfortable in the classroom. Not every kid is silent because they classroom is not a safe place. On the contrary, the student might be silent because it is the only place where they don't have someone asking something of them. It's a chance to just sit and take in the information. Kids can just sit, listen, and learn and be ok with it.

Many will find this hard to believe, but I am actually an introvert. I'm really good at hiding it in public, but my closest friends know that I'm an introvert. I would drive my teachers nuts because I would selectively participate in class. They would try to catch me "not engaged" because I was not taking notes. I would reply with whatever answer they were looking for and go back to listening. Sometimes I sat and listened because I did not have the time to do the reading, so I was trying to find out what happened and learn from others.

I'm also dyslexic, so being asked to read out loud was a nightmare. I would hide as much as possible on reading aloud days. I didn't need someone to save me and get me out of my shell, I needed people to leave me the hell alone for that day and let me be me.

All of this talk about getting every student up and engaged is forgetting the vulnerable introverts. Let those students do their own thing when they need it. Don't ignore them. Let them know they are seen every day and that you respect the fact they are not feeling it today. Not every silent students needs to be saved.

So, if you see those tweets from people telling teachers to save all of these students, please do not RT it. Offer a reminder there are other students in the class that deserve their quiet space and do not need to be saved. Especially from people that are not even in the classroom anymore.  

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Power of Student Agency @UniLiggett #EdChat #PBL

I've just finished my second year at University Liggett School. Seniors shared their amazing ARP projects last week and I was blown away. ARP is our version of Senior Capstone projects. I showcased some of the ones that I helped students finish in my last post, but I wanted to make sure I shared another project that is simply amazing.

Katriel Tolin wrote and illustrated a book about mental health in the black community and it is amazing. The book is available on Amazon right now. People always wonder about the types of things that students can produce when they are given time and provided guidance. This is just one of many different examples I have seen over the past two years working in the Makerspace and teaching at University Liggett School.

This book is a powerful reminder of students are capable of doing if teachers just let them. They have stories to tell, messages to share, and ideas to grow if educators can move past the "sage on the stage" approach to education and give more time to student agency. It is not easy. Students are going to resist it because they have never had it before, but that doesn't mean we do not try. Not every student is going to publish a book, invent an app, or solve a world problem, but we will never know if we do not give them a chance to explore what is important to them and give them the time and means to share.

I encourage you to pick up this book, especially if you teach African American students who deal with mental health issues. A student wrote this book and I hope it serves as a way to help other children dealing with mental health issues and I also hope it serves to inspire students to write, draw, and pursue the things that interest them. Ms. Tolin's book, "It's Not a Big Deal!" But It Feels Like Oneis just one example of the amazing things that students are creating at University Liggett School because we have embraced Project Based Learning and Student Agency.