Tuesday, February 12, 2019

"If I could learn about anything in the world, I would learn about...."

Walking into Mrs. Dwyer’s first grade classroom to find they were working on their passion projects, made my heart smile! First graders planning, researching, and creating a product to show off their learning about their self-selected passion is a dream come true. Passion projects are a way of investing in each child by naturally differentiating because the whole process and product is about them.

Read more to find out what Mrs. Dwyer, a teacher at Schluter Elementary had to say about launching passion projects in 1st grade:

I was determined to bring passion projects to life despite the differences in age and independence. It was important to me to engage them in relevant work that inspired them. I never want to limit my students, especially their beliefs about themselves. Back in October, I finally got brave enough to voice my vision aloud to one of my mentors, Liz Smith, GATES teacher. She came alongside me, helped me launch the project and pitch it to my kids to get their buy-in. We got down on the floor together and conferred with kids, to understand their passion, listen to them, and help them struggle to find their voice.
Time was always a constraint. I put two 15-30 minute blocks of time on the calendar each week to work on passion projects, and I accepted that life happens. If it didn’t work one day, one week or even one month, we just picked up where we left off when we could. Mrs. Smith pushed in the classroom when she could, and a few times we would divide and conquer. I would teach small groups while she conferred. Overall, we maintained flexibility.

In the planning process, students chose how they would share their learning and what product they would create. When we finally got to that stage, it got even more fun. It was also a dance, going back and forth between guiding and allowing student-independence. For example, one student would decide on making a video. The next student automatically wanted a video to be like a peer. We had to spend time talking about purpose and audience to help kids understand that a video may not be the best fit for every project. I thought I would get tears, but I did not. I think they felt so empowered, they would nod and say, “Maybe on my next project.”

There were a few projects where we had to get parent involvement in order for it to be a success for the student. Talk about engagement! I actually received an email from a parent, thanking me for the project because she saw her daughter light up in the process. Media was following her around with cameras thinking she was a big time YouTuber. I ran into another family at the indoor soccer fields, and it was awesome because I “caught” my student working on his passion. He was so proud! Another student, who wanted to learn all about ballet, came back to school in January excited because her mom agreed to sign her up for ballet class.

It fills me with so much joy to see how far my kids have come in this process. The difficult parts for me of managing 20 individual projects, scaffolding, and differentiating for each child, and mostly understanding exactly what they wanted to be the outcome of their work, were more than worth it. It was a definite growing experience for me as an educator. We can’t wait to share the finished products at EXPO and Open House. We are hopeful to get another project in before the end of the year now that we, as a class, have more skills and practice!

As you can see, Mrs. Dwyer and her students both gained substantial knowledge during this experience. Schluter Elementary set a goal at the beginning of the year as a campus for each student to take ownership of their learning process in planning, monitoring, and reflecting on individual and/or collective work in order to meet their highest potential. This learning definitely showcases the students ownership of their learning process and what high potential they each have. Check out all of Mrs. Dwyer’s students learning here.

Monday, February 4, 2019

"Hear" Me Out: Deaf Culture Experience/Experiment

Challenge: You are about to experience simulated deafness for a full 24 hour period to truly experience authentic ASL language usage as a hard of hearing individual. 

What a shock that must have been to the students in Mrs. Enfinger's American Sign Language I and II classes as Byron Nelson High School. While this teacher is able to somewhat mimic this experience in class by having full silent class days by which students must solely sign the language without speaking aloud or listening to said communication, this experiment provided a truly different take on removing sound from the equation. As a result of the experiment, deaf culture awareness was at an all time high at BNHS as students, parents, teachers, and administrators were talking about their opinions, accommodations, concerns, and perceptions which brought to light the need for true empathy and understanding for ALL types of students.

To begin, the following various stakeholders were informed about the experience.
  • Students who would be participating learned of their assignment expectations and details
  • Parents of those students in part that the experiment was expected to continue in full effort at home throughout the 24 hour time span
  • Teachers and all other school staff since they would have these ASL students in their classes as well as other staff members who would be witnessing the experiment in other roles
The most frequently asked question was "How am I supposed to teach?" or "How is my student supposed to learn?" The best part about these questions is that the eye-opening learning experiment would not solely be experienced by the direct participant, but so much learning and understanding would also occur with other responsible parties.

To prepare for the "big day," students were tasked with researching ADA (American Deaf Association) requirements or accommodations available for all of the students' traditional daily activities including in the classroom such as enabling closed captioning on videos, live closed captioning on Google Slides, in addition to what needs may result for electives such as music or sports, and even church or other after school activities. They also gained an awareness of additional accommodations to accomplish other things they would want to do such as technology available including phone apps, interpreter and closed captioning services. Furthermore, research continued as students learned about Mandy Harvey and Nyle Dimarco to study deaf later in life vs. deaf from birth. Going into the experiment, students not only had a base understanding of the language they've so far learned through a traditional classroom setting, but they've also had a heightened interest in cultural aspects and legal accommodations as this research was authentic and immediately applied.

Students didn’t know the exact day they would go deaf in order to simulate adult deafness as it is usually gradual and don’t know it is happening. Instead, they showed up to class on a random day and were then told it would be their day to go deaf. The kids wore inner earplugs and outer ear muffs and on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being profoundly deaf) were a 3-4 to simulate an adult who was hard of hearing. Students had their choice of how they preferred to journal their experience from keeping an ongoing written blog via Google Doc, a vlog (video blog) for extra credit to later by shareable via YouTube, voice notes on a phone, other other digital presentation format.  

Alisa's full YouTube video blog (vlog)

Alisa's thoroughly detailed, insightful blog

Megan & Copelynn's Adobe Spark Page Experience Summary
These examples above show the passion and above-and-beyond-effort these students exhibited through being given an relevant, authentic experience coupled with the ability to share their story with a live, authentic audience. 

Mrs. Enfinger concluded that “The amazing thing about ASL is that I get to watch these kids fall in love with the culture and the people in a different way. They have a deep compassion and admiration for them, but it is difficult to teach them an understanding, empathy if you will. Not sympathy at all because what they learn over everything else is how empowered they felt- truly no fear! This experience was meant to educate them and those around them that the deaf can do anything the hearing can do except hear.”

This experience meets International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE)’s standard of a Knowledge Constructor in which “students plan and employ effective research strategies to locate information and other resources for their intellectual or creative pursuits” (3A) and “students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions” (3D). 

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Real World is In Your Classroom

Visualize a small group of kids huddled in a middle school flex space, Expo marker in hand and video camera staged in front of them, confidently drawing shapes and lines on the whiteboard as they explain the steps to solve an equation. Picture students, who otherwise avoid math, passionately debating the best place to ask a question: is it before or after an example? Can you hear them, animated, discussing the best way to teach someone about complementary and supplementary angles?

This was the scene in Jennifer White’s math class at Pike Middle School when she challenged her students to create Edpuzzles that teach other students new math concepts. Determined to engage her students in rigorous and authentic learning, she asked them to design video lessons that would be used as warm-ups and tutorials in other classes.

If you don’t know, EdPuzzle is a video platform that lets teachers turn any video into a lesson by embedding questions, comments, and/or audio. Teachers then assign their video lessons to students and collect formative data, like who watched the video and what they understood. Because the videos are self-paced, students can re-watch them as many times as they need, and even share them with others.

For this project, in teams of 2-3, students chose a topic from their next unit of study. Before creating their video lessons in EdPuzzle, they explored resources, researched their topics, and planned what comments and questions would best help their audience learn the concepts.

White gave students a choice to either find an existing video or create their own to use in the EdPuzzle. Some were excited to make their own videos using their Chromebooks. Giving choice helped her differentiate for students who needed more time during the ‘discovery phase’ and for those who needed an extra challenge.

Before publishing and sharing their work with their audience, students gave each other feedback (using Google Forms) about how they could improve their lessons. Mrs. White gave students time to apply the feedback they collected. This step also worked to expose students to all of the terms they needed to know, and to reinforce the concepts they would eventually see in class.

In the end, this whole project took 3-4 days, provided a whole department with student-created peer tutorial resources, and gave students the chance to learn with a purpose. You can see examples of student work here: Example 1 & Example 2

It is hard to imagine what authentic learning looks like in practice because there isn’t a ‘single right way’ to approach it. John Lamar, with bie.org, put it simply, “In fully authentic work, students are doing work that is real to them... [it has] a direct impact on or use in the real world. (The “real world,” by the way, could still be school, which is a very real place for students.)”

It’s easy to get caught up in preparing kids for the future, but don’t forget: to our students, the real world is here and now. The real world is in your classroom as much as it is outside of it.

One of Mrs. White's biggest takeaways from this project was that students owned their learning throughout the entire process. That happened because she gave students a purpose and audience for their learning. Students were proud to contribute to their immediate environment and motivated knowing that other people would see and benefit from their work.

Ultimately, when educators design authentic learning opportunities they empower students in the present. Instead of hoping students will become leaders, creators, and good citizens one day, teachers can give students the chance to be those people today, to contribute to their real world in the here and now.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

"R"edefining Review

"R"edefining Review
          When creating another semester exam review seems like a daunting task, why not flip the script and allow for creativity and innovation to take over.  At least that is what Mrs. Ashley Anthony decided to try in her class at the end of the Fall Semester.  "I just want to try something different for this time around," Mrs. Anthony explained.  "My goal is to challenge my students to think out of the box to create a resource for all of my other students to be able to use to study for their semester exam."  Naturally, she knew that if students could explain a concept thoroughly, they had a true and deep level of understanding for that topic.

          Collaboration and communication were instrumental at getting this project off the ground.  From its inception, Mrs. Anthony knew that she wanted this project to be completely student-driven, even from the very beginning.  Any teacher would simply give their students a project description and a rubric to follow.  However, as an exemplary teacher, Mrs. Anthony had her students define the rubric themselves, rooting this project in a rich research-based best practice.  Giving them the basic expectations in the middle column of the rubric, students then were tasked, through small-group and whole-group discussion, to create their own exemplary and needs-improvement criteria to demonstrate success.          

          The time came for the students to begin creating their collaborative Google Site.  Students partnered together and self-selected the math topic that they felt most comfortable with explaining.  The directions were clear.  Keeping in mind the Math Workshop Model, students had to create a lesson that taught the concept in an opening, ask higher-level questions through a work period, and finally allow for students to reflect on what they learned through a student-created formative assessment.  The only parameters students were given were the project description and the rubric they created.  Then they were off.  Immediately there was a buzz about the classroom about which platform to use.  Rylan suggested, "We should make a self-paced Peardeck presentation because it is interactive, so students will be engaged, and they can continually review their work."  Kate's enthusiasm with embedding a Google Site in the review site was exemplified when she said, "This is the best way we thought to organize our topic of ordering fractions, decimals, and percentages."  Will quickly got busy combing videos into WeVideo to teach his topic.  He shared, "I loved this project so much because we each got to find our own way of sharing our learning through teaching others."  Other preferred methods of delivery were Google Slides, Powtoon, and Google Docs.

          The aspect of this project that stands out most is that Mrs. Anthony knew what her students were capable of and knew that she needed to differentiate for this class.  In having her students create this resource for all of the other students at Chisholm Trail Middle School, she exemplified the "R" in the SAMR model.  SAMR is an acronym standing for Substitution, Augmentation, Modification, and Redefinition.  This model is a way for educators to assess how effectively they are using technology in their classroom.  Redefinition is in the transformation range, and it is quite clear that this entire project, from beginning to end, screams just that.  A transformation of a tried and true method of reviewing for a semester exam to one that is student-led, student-created, and serves as a method of instruction that reaches beyond their own classroom.  When asking Mrs. Anthony what her thoughts were on the entire process, she said, "I can't believe that it has taken me this long to try this with my students.  Every class is different and you have to know what they are capable of, but when you let them take the lead, they can produce great things.  This entire project seemed to transform the process of review and was an exciting way to do it."

Check out the 6th-Grade Compacted Math student-led semester review from Chisholm Trail Middle School by clicking the link below.

Monday, January 14, 2019

4th Grade Natural Disasters Project: Making IT Personal

Many educators today are making the shift from teacher centered to student-centered learning experiences.  Fourth grade English Language Arts and Social Studies teacher Deanna McCabe in partnership with her teammate Charlotte DeRossett, GATES teacher Cindy Ford, and Library Media Specialist Jamie Jensen at Cox Elementary were able to design a personalized learning experience that challenged students to use nonfiction text features to create an interactive project that will teach others about natural disasters. 

Originally the project began as students simply making posters using nonfiction text features to showcase the information they had researched about natural disasters. Mrs. McCabe and Mrs. DeRossett felt that this project was a great opportunity to dive into personalized learning and integrated many technology tools that would support and enhance the learning process. Mrs. McCabe said, “In the beginning there was a lot of brainstorming involved - a lot of collaboration, investigating, researching, and learning in order to figure out how to make this project happen!” She and Mrs. DeRossett worked hard to tier their students' abilities, as well as group them by their interests”. Once Mrs. McCabe and Mrs. DeRossett figured out that they wanted students to have the opportunity to present their final project “expo-style” for K-5 students at Cox Elementary, they were able to put the instructional pieces together.  Mrs. McCabe described the planning process as the most time-consuming portion of this project. She feels like the key to their planning success was determining what they wanted the final product to look like, collaborating with others to push their students beyond what they knew, and being open to productive struggle for themselves and their students.

Mrs. McCabe created an  interest survey  using Google Forms so she and Mrs. DeRossett could find out more about their students’ interests in natural disasters.  Then students were strategically grouped in Google Sheets based on their ability levels and interests.  Students were given a research template to guide their investigations about natural disasters.  Each student was responsible for teaching a specific topic related to their natural disaster which helped hold them accountable for contributing to the “expo-style” presentation. Mrs. McCabe believes this strategic grouping expectation took some pressure off group members because they were able to work on their own projects independently, but also had the opportunity to collaborate as a group to present their information to other students at Cox Elementary. 

Students were also provided differentiated project menus with a multitude of options, rubrics, and clear expectations for designing their project. The students loved having a choice for how they would engage their learners based off of how they themselves love to learn. Mrs. McCabe and Mrs. DeRossett introduced their students to a variety of apps, websites, and experiences that they had never used before.   Using technology was critical in the planning, research, implementation, and reflections for this entire project. Mrs. McCabe and Mrs. DeRossett used many different technology tools such as: Google Apps for Education (Slides, Docs, Forms, Sheets, Sites), Metaverse (augmented reality), VR tours, digital breakouts, and green screens (DoInk and WeVideo) that supported the learning process and product for this project.  These technology tools increased student's excitement, participation, and enjoyment of the learning process. These tools were also easily differentiated based on individual students' needs. The students were able to manipulate the tools so that they could successfully teach other students as young as kindergarten or as old as 5th grade. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

"IT'S ALIVE!" Bringing Critical Thought to Life with Mary Shelley's Frankenstein

Victor was a learner. He had a passion for acquiring new information and using it to innovate and create. In Mary Shelley’s famous novel, Frankenstein, the title character, Victor Frankenstein, stated that “It was the secrets of heaven and earth that I desired to learn...” In the story, Victor exposed an unchecked curiosity for learning as well as his own tragic flaw. Although learning is generally a positive process, understanding how acquisition of valuable information goes together with personal and societal ethics is something that a learner must fully grasp when encountering content, if they intend to apply it successfully. Through critical thinking and discourse, fostered by student choice and individualized learning opportunities, students are able to think differently about a text and draw conclusions about its relevance to their current world.

The type of critical thinking required to comprehend and analyze encountered information and its connection to real life areas of advancement is an absolute necessity that ninth grade ELA students experience as they encounter Shelley’s text in Pre-AP/GT English courses at Eaton High School. These students explore, consider, and discuss the “moral liability” of “knowledge” and “progress” as a part of a problem based learning opportunity that allows for student choice while also facilitating real world connections to the text. As part of this project, students in ninth grade Pre-AP/GT English are presented with the driving question of “Does knowledge or progress ever become a moral liability?” They are asked to utilize resources and processes of their choosing to explore both sides of an area of advancement and then choose varied platforms and tools in which to communicate their findings in ways that answer that driving question. The findings are curated into a “Live Binder” that is shared with peers and other school and community members.

Students are given a wide variety of options for how to present up to date research in ways that not only answer the given problem but also present both sides or an issue and advocate for a perspective that has been developed through meticulous research and and discussion. Some students choose to use WeVideo or YouTube to help create and edit videos in the format of interviews or commercials, while others use similar tools to create podcasts or radio shows. Some prefer approaching their topics through graphic design with visual advertisements in Canva, or written argument in journal or blog entries using Blogger or Smore. Whatever the platform, a truly beneficial part of this experience comes in when a student is given the freedom to choose a tool or resource that they are confident in using and that communicates their voice effectively while helping to share their knowledge with the community around them.

As students develop argumentation, research, and independent communication skills throughout this project, they are able to display those over the course of a week set aside for formally sharing findings with the school community. While presenting their inventive and relevant creations, these students confidently defend their research and conclusions in a dissertation style setting, which is not only challenging but truly impressive to witness. It is in a forum such as this where it becomes apparent that our students are not only being given the freedom to explore content and required texts but they are also being provided opportunities to develop their own viewpoints on critical societal issues while shaping an ethical compass of their own, all while being able to connect it to their reading.

Victor Frankenstein also said, “I will pioneer a new way, explore unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation.” However, what Victor was lacking was a true understanding of what to do with that information, which students in our freshman Pre-AP/GT English classes are acquiring and applying through research into their own opinions, in-depth analysis, and critical discourse. These invaluable learning experiences are things that will help to not only develop lifelong learners but also facilitate learning that encourages an approach to new discoveries with a critical eye and solid ethical grounding.

Monday, December 17, 2018

Eroding Away: A Weathering Tour

The Foundation
Study after study shows students learn best when they’re able to engage in authentic and interactive
learning experiences. But, how can teachers provide this when students are studying a process that
can take years and isn’t easily visible in their own neighborhood? That’s the question fifth grade
Math/Science teachers at Nance Elementary worked to solve. The weathering tour activity was
developed as a collaborative effort between, Mrs. Jamie Robinson and Mrs. Heather Morgan, along
with the campus librarian, Mrs. April Scott.

Thanks to proper city and community planning, most students today live in communities and
urban areas that actually see little to no deposition or erosion. Since students often lack real world
experience with the area of study, teachers were on the hunt for a digital learning tool that could
provide a way to make connections.
Google Earth Tour Builder proved to be the perfect tool for the task! Students were able to virtually
explore a variety of locations and see real life examples of what they were studying in science.
“It is hard to appreciate and understand the beauty of what is created through nature by just looking
pre-selected pictures in a textbook,” stated Mrs. Robinson. She also described, “This activity
gave them a chance to explore the locations that were assigned, as well as locations they were
curious about.” Students were actively engaged as they surveyed a few of their own favorite spots.
The Standard
The standard for this assignment was Science TEK 5.7 B: students should recognize how
landforms such as deltas, canyons, and sand dunes are the result of changes to Earth’s surface
by wind, water, and ice.
The Student Driven Process
“Tour Builder is a Beta Google Experiment that I came across recently”, said Mrs. April Scott.
“I was impressed with how easy it is to use and the students were able to easily present their
information to other classes.” Mrs. Scott explained how to use the tool for learning and because it
was so intuitive, the students went right to work.  Mrs. Morgan liked how she could check students
understanding when they added images and videos with each additional stop on their tour.

 WS          HH

Students Hayden H. and Veronika C. said, “We love science and weathering and erosion are
interesting, but the best part of the project was working with the third graders.”  

 vk3-5, Google Earth, Tour Builder, Science, Connections, Weathering, Erosion, Nance Elementary, Mrs. April Scott, Mrs. Robinson, Mrs. Morgan, Digital Design, Digital Learning, Fifth Grade, Rene' Egle

"What I liked about this project was the fact that you could actually visit the place just like you
would in real life." "I also like the fact that you can share it so that people can visit places and
discover the place if they haven't been there before," said Queen T.
Students spent a majority of their time working on their tours in class, however they were able to
go to the library for any assistance that they needed along the way.

Following this, students were given the task to prepare a presentation documenting their findings
and tours to the third grade students who were also completing their unit on land forms.