Personalized Summer Learning – For Kids

In my last post, I wrote about Personalized Professional Development for adults, which utilized Twitter, Blogging, Content Curation, and EdCamp Attendance.

But what about for kids?

When I was in junior high and high school, I had summer school, thanks to my parents who happened to be teachers (and my teachers in the summer).  Topics usually covered areas they found lacking in my public school education, so my sister and I studied anything from World History to Greek and Latin roots.  Class varied from direct instruction to a lot (at least I thought so at the time) of outside reading.  And of course there were tests.  During the summer of Greek and Latin, we had quizzes on the roots we were to memorize, and then a list of words whose definitions we had to divinate based on our new found knowledge.  For World History, I had essay exams on books I had to read.  I remember my dad returned one with the words “RE-DO” scrawled across the top with his official red Teacher Pen.  *Sigh*

A couple years later, I went off to college, became a teacher and married a teacher,  and now we have kids.  And now I understand.

Our kids are in junior high and need help with their writing.  The oldest is off to honors classes in High School next year, and I fear for her.  She is in for a rude awakening.

So….      enter Summer School: The New Generation.

At first I thought about having them read a certain number of pages each day on books my wife and I approve.  They could then journal about their daily readings. But then they are reading to fulfill my externally set objectives.  Then I thought that maybe they should be doing a book each week of their own choosing, since the objective is to read, not to do a mini American/World Lit course.  They could then complete one of several writing-based project options for each book.  Hmmm.  Nope.  Still too structured.  I have to think 21st century, and how do I learn best?  I learn using the same methods outlined in my last post, Personalized Professional Development.   So now, here’s my version for our kids’ summer (after all, who better to experiment on with new teaching techniques than your own kids?).   I think I’ll call it Authentic Summer School  Tricking My Kids Into Writing  Personalized Summer Collaboration  Personalized Summer Learning.

It will have two basic platforms:

1.  TWITTER:  By using kid-friendly hashtags such as #kidchat, or making our own, such as #summerchat or #kidchat12, my kids and your kids/students could learn from each other and share ideas just as we adults do.

2.  BLOG:  I don’t think my kids would want to have the responsibility of keeping up their blog and managing it, marketing it, etc.  I think they could really get into posting and commenting on others’ posts.  Therefore, the blog should be a communal one, with an adult officiating, and kids added on as authors upon request (and maybe the submission of a possible post).  As much as I’m into this contructivist mindset here, I do think there needs to be some guidelines:  1.  Posts must be well-written.  It’s OK if they are in a more conversational style (like this one), but they should still have proper spelling and properly punctuated, complete sentences which flow into paragraphs.  2.  Posts should be a complete piece of writing with a thesis/topic, support, and a conclusion.  3.  Comments should be constructive, and also use conventional English.

I see posts as full of pictures, descriptions of vacations, lives, books, food, video game reviews, pets, pet peeves, friends, family, local attractions, etc.  We could share our family trips to the zoo, the ocean, or to Grandma’s house in the mountains, and you could share your trip to … (fill in the blank).  I think it would be cool, relevant, and (dare I say it?) educational.

Who wants in?  Ideas?  Comments?

Personalized Professional Development

When I think of how I can make our school ‘bold’, I want to be able to transform something that is already in place, or introduce something we need.

FACT: We need Professional Development.  FACT: We have no money for it.

So, I need to think big, bold, and out-of-the-box.  Oh, and FREE.

As a result, I’ve come up with a four-step Personalized Professional Development Plan.  It’s free, it’s researched-based, and can be intimately customizable.  It’s what I use for myself, and I call it PPD.  Personalized Professional Development.  PD on steroids, because it includes that follow-up element that makes change of any kind stick.

The steps include:

1. TWITTER.  The ultimate social media that connects like-minded people from all over the world.  Everyone needs to join – as a professional – and start working to develop a Personal Learning Network.  Lurk around some hashtags in your area of teaching.  Follow some people whose tweets you find inspirational, motivational, interesting, or that you just agree with.  These people are the ones who will make up your PLN.  Then start tweeting, retweeting, and connecting with people from all over.  There are millions of teachers just like you!

2. CURATION.  After clicking on all those links that people pass along in twitter, your ‘favorites’ stream gets way too long.  You need a way to organize all those tidbits you saved for future reference.  There are many sites to use.  I would suggest LiveBinders for people new to technology, as they are organized like an actual binder.  There is also ScoopIt! Diigo, Symbaloo, and many others.  I use LiveBinders for topics I would share with others, or that I would definitely want to be able to find at a later date.  Symbaloo is my homepage, as it has all my favorites, my ‘bookmarks’ laid out with their logo in a nice, orderly, Scrabble board-like fashion.  ScoopIt! is used for articles I come across on topics I’m interested in.  Older copies will be relegated to the end of the page where no one goes, however, so some get cross-saved in a LiveBinder.

3.  BLOGGING.  Once their pet topics have been fleshed out with resources, it’s time to start reflecting on these ideas.  To make reflections relevant, they need an audience, or even the potential of one.  Maintaining a blog drives a person to analyze, evaluate, and produce something which can be shared with others.  It’s pretty exciting to have people from around the country (or world!) read and comment on your work, you ideas.

4.  ATTENDING AN EDCAMP.  This may only be possible in for people near a large, urban area which would hold an EdCamp, but truly the pièce de résistance of the whole PPD concept. One of the best experiences I’ve had in the last year (even counting my canoeing vacation!) was attending EdCamp St. Louis, and surrounding myself with energetic, forward-thinking educators.  Nothing energizes like real conversations about a topic in which we are truly invested.

Another hope is that once teachers start to see how an authentic means of educating oneself can be almost addictive, they will start to change how they teach.  Assignments will become individualized and authentic, and students will begin to really build their capacities as life-long learners.

What do you think?  What are the flaws?  What am I missing?  Please share!

Lessons from the Boston Marathon

Boston Marathon


Today marks the 2012 Boston Marathon, with Wesley Korir winning with a time of 2:12.40.  Just the idea of running that far seems insurmountable to me.  During our morning staff meeting today, I got the feeling that many of the teachers in my district felt as thought they had been signed up for today’s marathon with no advanced warning or training.

Today marked a big day in our district:  We handed out the new Certified Teacher Evaluation Instrument to our Certified Staff.  Responses varied from mad (legs crossed, arms folded with a scowl), to panicked (“I can tell you right now, I’m already losing sleep!”), to everywhere in between, including those teachers we all love who just roll with the flow and do what it takes to educate kids.

We moved from our old tool, which rated on two levels, Meets and Does Not Meet, to the Danielson Framework which includes a comprehensive, 4-column rubric in four domains.

I think what people are beginning to notice is that success with this framework requires a whole new way of thinking.  As someone on Twitter so succinctly tweeted, it’s not ‘this is what we’re going to do today!’ it’s ‘what do you want to learn today?’.

Making students responsible for their own learning is a huge paradigm shift in the teaching world.  But now that our district has been shown the big picture, and where we need to be as student-centered educators, it will just be a matter of breaking it down into little, bite-sized morsels.

We’ve been given our 26.2 mile route map, and we need to get from the starting point to the finish line. We can do this.  We NEED to do this.

Even a marathon starts with just one step.