Starting From Scratch

A Return to the Beginning

What ever happened to a blank, white piece of paper?  Why is it that every app or tech tool claiming to inspire creativity simply has the user fill in a template?

I’ve recently switched jobs, and in the process (thanks in part to @sadieclorinda), have become enamored of a couple of concepts, one of which is teaching students the design process with the end user in mind. Instead of simply assigning a PowerPoint project where the students choose a template and cram each slide with as many facts as possible, have them think first of the end user.  What will their experience be like? What types of presentations do they like to view, and why?

One of the first steps is to toss the word ‘project’ and replace it with ‘product’.

The next step is to have them go through the design process, and start with blank slides (or docs, or whatever), thinking about what mood they want to portray, the feelings they want to convey to the audience.  Then, they can match color scheme with fonts and layout to create a product that is pleasing to the end user.

As an example, here is how I would make a slide that would present my winter haiku

Step 1: Write Haiku

blizzards swirling ’round / erasing summer palettes / blinding I now see

The message I want to convey is confusion, cold, with limited color.

Step 2: Find my Palette

There are color palettes already chosen in just about every creative tool, but what’s the fun in that? My new favorite tech tools are the palette generators.  I use Adobe Capture for my phone, and coloors.co for my desktop.  Nature seems to do a bang up job of combining colors, so if you take a picture of something in Nature, the color combination should be a winner.  Today, I took a picture of the morning sky with its great cool colors, and put it in Adobe Capture:

WinterSky_Palette

Then, I thought about font.  I like the idea of pairing two contrasting fonts, one to show the swirling snow (a script font) and another to show the weight of blindness and the feeling of loss of control and color (a bold headline font).

Font_Pairings

Then, on a Google Slide, I can easily arrange all my elements (a GSlide is much easier for this than a GDoc!).  Normally, I would use Canva.com, but I’m using what a student would likely have as part of their Google Classroom toolbox.

Blizzards

In making this slide, I actually lightened the lights, and darkened the dark since I couldn’t alter the transparency of the photograph.

Looking at the finished product, I wouldn’t give myself a good grade for finding a photograph that illustrated the poem (or in this case, writing a poem that fit the photo!).  BUT, I started from scratch, and used the design process to visualize what I wanted the end user to view.

***LATER***

OK. So, I gave it back to myself and redid it – just as I would expect a student to do.

Blizzards (2)

 

Another perk to starting from scratch is that everything here is my own work, so I don’t have to worry about copyright!

 

 

 

 

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Unique Professional Development Program Launched

It’s been several years in the making, but I’ve finally finished the process of developing a unique approach to District-wide professional development.  It involves monthly challenges and microcredentials, both with the ultimate goal of enabling people to become a Connected Educator.

Four possible badges to earn

Four possible badges to earn

As I wrote to my District in an email this morning:

Certified Staff, Administrators, and Board Members,
With each new mandate and each new set of standards, it’s easy to become overwhelmed.  Some days I wonder why I’m still in this profession. 
But then I look to my amazing Professional Learning Network (PLN) of educators from around the world (literally) who are all so positive and see the good in what we do, that I’m recharged and remember why I finally chose education after drifting from job to job throughout my twenties.  It’s because we are the backbone of society – without education, a free democracy cannot exist. 
Since I am a ‘Connected Educator,’ I have access to thousands of teachers’ ideas and resources; I can’t imagine going back to working in the dark, by myself.
Some of you are also Connected Educators, but not very many. I would like to see everyone in this district reap the benefits of establishing your own PLN.  The trick is that, just like our students, every teacher has different needs and comes from a different place, so there is no one-size-fits-all model.  I first started thinking about this in 2012, and came up with the term Personalized Professional Development (PPD).  That blog post became one of my most-read entries, and culminated in a presentation at the Midwest Educational Technology Conference on the same topic.  
Just like in biological evolution when a certain characteristic can appear in completely unrelated populations (like fins for swimming), PPD sprang up all around that year – it’s now a ‘thing’, and a Google search brings up millions of entries.  I firmly believe it’s the best way to grow your professional self, and would like to invite you to a special community.
We are looking for 20 people from District 90 to take part in a Pilot of #OFD90Learns.  
#OFD90Learns is a program where you earn microcredentials. There are two paths:  badges and monthly challenges.  You can choose one or both to work on next year.  I think all your questions will be answered here.  
Remember, this is a Pilot Group of no more than 20.  If this sounds like something you would like to be a part of, click here to accept the invitation and register.  If not, the SIP Committee and I are still planning a great lineup of PD for next year’s SIP Days.  Stay tuned.
If, after you read the Program Description, you still have questions, be sure to ask!
I can’t wait to start.  This is gonna be great!
I welcome any feedback!  Thanks, too, to the many people who have already critiqued, written posts about their own experiences, and presented at #METC16 on their PD programs.  I appreciate you all.

(Wûrk’ shēt)

Wassup With the Worksheets?!

It is time for the 2nd annual No Worksheet Week! This movement started as a blog post, and quickly went global, thanks to the help of Rae Fearing in California.  To read more about the development of the No Worksheet Week Teacher Challenge you can read here, here or here. Rae and I are collaborating on this post so we can help teachers interested in taking the challenge learn how to to go worksheet free and discover the benefits for their students as well as providing support and new ideas for past participants.

 

What is a Worksheet?

 

Going worksheet free is about much more than not using paper.  A worksheet-free week is not necessarily paper-free.  Remember that both technology and paper are tools for learning.  What we are working toward is real learning, and worksheets do not promote real learning. Think about the last time you learned something.  Did you have to answer a bunch of true/false questions, or did you have to DO it – demonstrate mastery – in order to prove your learning? In order to move away from the dreaded worksheet, we first need a common definition:

  • Worksheets are mass-printed, either by the teacher at the copier, or by a publisher in a workbook.
  • Worksheets are given to every student in the classroom.
  • Worksheets contain questions with black & white, right or wrong answers.  For example, they may be fill-in-the-blank, true/false, multiple choice, or math computational problems.

 

Why Do We Need No Worksheet Week?

 

Worksheets do not support deep thinking or reflection.  If the answer to a problem is only found in the textbook and must be copied or paraphrased on a worksheet, it only demonstrates the student’s ability to copy down information.  A completed worksheet, or getting an answer right on a worksheet, does not demonstrate understanding of the material. When I was in the classroom I used to ask my students three open ended questions about a topic; if they could answer those questions verbally and discuss the topic with me then I knew they were ready for assessment.  Try asking a student to explain and discuss material after completing a worksheet, and you will be surprised by the lack of understanding they have obtained.  According to Best Practice (Zemelman, Daniels & Hyde, 2012) meaningful and useful assessment “involves students in developing meaningful responses, and calls on them to keep track of and judge their own work.” To achieve this, we need to change the way classrooms work and we also need to involve students in activities and collaborative projects that foster discussion and deeper thinking.

 

There are many ways to guide students to deeper learning as you ditch those worksheets.  Take a look at Matt’s Autopsy of a Worksheet post or Rae’s Thinglink image that takes on a 4th grade worksheet about sentence rules. You can see more examples of #NoWorksheetWeek ideas or share your own on our collaborative Padlet wall.

The Two Big Ideas of #NoWorksheetWeek

 

  1. Increase the 4C’s – Creativity, Critical thinking, Collaboration and Communication in the classroom.
  2. Bring relevance to learning through real world applications of learning and authentic assessment.

What Does a Worksheet-Free Classroom Look Like?

 

Do more of this Do less of this
communicate thinking busy work (work that’s required but which doesn’t advance learning)
sharing ideas learning about other people’s ideas
discover answers trying to put down the ‘right’ answer instead of the best one.
communicating understanding showing the teacher you can provide the answer they like/are expecting
creating authentic learning products using technology as a substitute for a worksheet
engaging students in meaningful, academic conversations asking students for the ‘right’ answer

Please participate in the No Worksheet Week Teacher Challenge and share your experiences using the hashtag #NoWorksheetWeek.  We will be sharing some of your best ideas on our blogs, so get creative!

 

You can also join our Google+ Community

Great Example of Kindergarten Math

 

 

 

 

In Kindergarten math today during #noworksheetweek, the kids had to solve a problem.  It seems that the farmyard cat made the animals mad.  They chased him, and, in the process, ruined all their pens!

FarmyardMath1

 

Students estimated how much building material would be needed to make new pens.

FarmyardMath2

 

The kids then charted their estimations, and then checked them by building new pens.

FarmyardMath3

 

Then they reviewed, charted, and discussed their findings, and fixed the farmyard!

FarmyardMath4

…and the teacher was told that her students never want to see their math workbook ever again!

***

Brilliant!

 

Bloom’s (Revised) Taxonomy with Apps

Today, I came across a fantastic graphic combining 21st century learning skills, Bloom’s Taxonomy, and the SAMR Model.  I wanted to press print to share it with my teachers next fall, but then I noticed that my elementary district shared just a couple of the apps listed on his wheel.  So, I decided to make a similar graphic using the apps on our teachers’ iPads – only the apps assigned to all teachers, no matter what grade they teach.

Bloom's_Tax_w_Apps

Changing Teachers’ Expectations of Teaching

If we are going to rethink/re-imagine/reform schools, we need to start by changing what teachers expect out of education.  And by ‘education’ I mean teaching: its impacts, its pedagogy, and itself as a career choice.  The public has new expectations, the students have the ability to develop expectations, lawmakers have new expectations, lead-learners in schools have a new vision, but the vast majority of teachers need to re-examine what they expect out of their chosen career.  Education as a commodity and as a profession is evolving, but the practitioners themselves are holding it back.

  • teacher tenure is out of date and should never be an expectation.
  • teachers should expect a fair salary, but not a guaranteed raise every year.
  • teachers should always want to improve and learn.  Ask questions.  “I haven’t received training on {insert variable}” or “I’m too old” is NEVER an excuse for not doing.
  • Schools should be on the frontier of innovation.  People who do not like change should choose another profession.
  • Teaching is a difficult profession that should prepare people for such.  Teacher training should be longer and more intense/immersive, should only happen at the beginning of the school year, and only with cooperating teachers who are good role models.

If we can develop a strong cadre of teaching professionals who will constantly work to better the profession as a whole, high-stakes testing will not hold schools captive for a month because real, authentic learning will happen every day.  Ineffective teachers will not be allowed to stay in the classroom.  And most importantly, American Public Education will once again have a leadership position in advancing global citizenship.

 

Our Future in Their Hands

I wrote this post as a short article to be included in our school’s monthly PTO Newsletter:

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21st Century Learners

Today’s kindergarteners will retire in 2071.  Most likely they will have several careers in their lifetime, most of which haven’t even been imagined yet.  What our students do have in common, however, is that they are 21st century learners.  While there may be some controversy as to exactly what this phrase means, most of us in the educational field understand it to mean that in order to succeed in school, career, and life, students must take the 3 R’s of the 20th century and be able to apply them using the 3 C’s: creatively, collaboratively, and with excellent communication.  Gone are the days when students will learn a little about a lot.  It’s imperative that they now delve deeper into subjects, learning how to evaluate information, synthesize it into something unique, and communicate their findings to peers and colleagues.   Education is shifting to emphasize skill over content, with teachers and parents moving from the role of disseminator of knowledge to facilitator of learning.  With so much information so readily available, it is our responsibility to teach our kids how to find what they need, ensure that it’s reliable, and most importantly, to stay curious.  The world is only going to keep moving faster.  In order to keep up and to develop into productive citizens of the 21st century, our kids must become lifelong learners, able to handle large amounts of information in a responsible manner.

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Further Reading/Watching:

Education Week article

YouTube Video

Are you ready?  We’re going – with or without you!