Update on my plans to integrate Hope Theory into my Design Lab classes: it was a really great way to wrap up our difficult year on Zoom. You can read about it here on Edutopia:
Usually I’m a planner. I like to-do lists and calendars and vision boards and check boxes. But I’m also fond of those lightbulb moments when an idea pops into my head and I can see an entire project unfold that my students could start tomorrow. And that’s what happened when I read this article from Edutopia: In Schools, Finding Hope in a Hopeless Time, by Nora Fleming.
I have worried so much this year about my students, 7th and 8th graders I have never met face-to-face. We have been learning on Zoom all year, and while I have seen lots of growth, creativity and community in our Zoom classes, I know there has been plenty of pain and struggle that I haven’t been able to see or respond to online.
But now we are on Spring Break, and in a couple weeks we will return to a campus that will be brand new for most of my students. We will finally see each other in person! The sun is out, the days are warmer, flowers are blooming and the cold, rainy weather is fading. Hope is in the air.
But when we do meet in person on campus, with only seven weeks left in the semester, how will I engage my students in a positive way to wrap up this really hard year? How will I motivate and inspire students who may have struggled throughout these past months of isolation and distance learning? How can I give them hope, not only for our immediate situation, but also hope for their futures?
And why hope? Why bother to weave hope throughout my curriculum? I love what the research tells us about hope:
“…people who are hopeful aren’t simply optimists or Pollyannas but are able to think proactively about the future and plan ahead to get there. Research shows that hope is a learnable, measurable skill, and one that has a sizable impact on students’ success and persistence in school. Children who are hopeful are also found to have higher self-esteem and social skills, are more likely to set and achieve goals, and can more easily bounce back from adversity.”https://www.edutopia.org/article/schools-finding-hope-hopeless-time
While middle school students tend to get stuck in the present, there are ways we can shift their focus to the future and help them be strategic about defining and pursuing their own hopes and dreams. The Edutopia article includes a project from high school teacher Allison Berryhill, who had her students choose a hope they had for their future, and then work backwards to figure out how to make that hope a reality. Thinking about what that might look like in my middle school Design Lab class, my mind went to one of our favorite mediums: computer games. Since games revolve around a character trying to reach a goal, they are a natural for representing one’s own hopes and dreams.
What if my students created a game that took a character through potential obstacles on the way to reaching something they hope for in their own futures? Thanks to Scratch coding, my students will be able to not only design their games, but even code them and share the link with their friends so they can all play. And with remove.bg, my students can use a picture of themselves as the main character in their games. They will be able to literally move themselves past obstacles on their way to seeing their hopes realized. Thinking of the fun they will have as they code toward their dreams fills me with hope. I can’t wait.
There’s nothing quite like the intensity, the chaos, the one-crisis-after-another, the sorry-I-can’t-help-you-go-find-someone-who-can, the exhilaration, jubilation and exhaustion of the first day of production in a middle school broadcast media class.
My brand new group of 7th and 8th graders had met six times in the first couple weeks of school (90 minutes, every other day) and our audience was antsy for a show. Our news program delivers the daily announcements to the staff and students, and at the start of the school year there is a lot of information that students need.
So after just six class periods of training 12- and 13-year-olds to write scripts, create graphics, film and edit video shorts, set up cameras and lights, read from (and pace) tele-prompters, load media onto a TriCaster, manage the audio, direct the anchors, and operate a video bus and TriCaster during filming (which includes green screen technology, switching between four cameras and four student anchors, and incorporating graphics and videos during filming), it was time to get our first show on the air.
Suffice it to say, chaos reigned. The script team struggled with the language of dates (“If I’m writing the script today for a show that airs tomorrow, which day is “today,” which is “tomorrow” and what is “next week”?); the graphics team spent far too much time looking for just the right “labeled for reuse” image for the Icebreaker Dance announcement; the producer couldn’t find camera angles that worked for students under five feet tall and those well over six feet; the floor manager nearly fried her Fitbit chasing down graphics and videos from computers all over the classroom and delivering them to the tech team; the audio team assured us the audio was fine (but, par for the course, it was not fine at all); the bus operator kept switching to the wrong camera at the wrong time; and the TriCaster team fought the never-ending battle of green fuzz around the anchors’ heads.
But when the bell rang for lunch, our first show was finished, uploaded to YouTube and tweeted out on Twitter. And the best part? The kids applauded, slapped high fives, and walked out of the classroom taller, prouder and more confident than they had felt that morning. That show was theirs, warts and all, and they knew that they had a part in its production. (Click below to watch our first show of the 2018-19 school year.)
In my 25+ years as a middle school teacher, I have never seen a class that inspires students to take responsibility, invest in their work, own their efforts and develop confidence like I see in this broadcast media class. And I’m pretty sure this happens in large part because I can’t answer all their questions and I can’t solve all their problems. There are far too many tasks and far too many crises for a teacher to be in charge. No, the smartest move I made in that class was to tell them from day 1, “I will not be able to solve all the problems, so don’t ask. Find someone who can help you.”
It’s not easy to let students struggle, to watch them fail, but when I don’t step in to help, they collaborate, communicate and problem-solve to get that show produced. As their “teacher,” it is an honor and inspiration to step back and watch them take charge.
(For more information on our award-winning broadcast media program, see this post that I wrote for KQED; this series on EducatorInnovator’s The Current; and this video from our 2016 Jack London Award for Innovation in Education from Sonoma State University.)
Oh, these crazy days of May! As sure as the weather gets warmer, our students get antsy, lose their focus and challenge our well established rules and expectations. Attention spans wither and distractions bloom. But thanks to the engaging nature of PBL and student choice, I love my classroom in May.
Although my students know the year is almost over, they are (for the most part) fully engaged in meaningful work. They have invested weeks (even months) into final projects, and they know that due dates are right around the corner. They are proud of the work they have done and eager to see it all come to fruition in a completed, published form.
So instead of battling distracted students and misbehavior in May, I have the pleasure of circulating as they work, answering questions, admiring their progress, and enjoying the beauty of students blushing with pride as they show off their best work.
My 8th grade English students are putting the final touches on their magazines, a project that allows them to pursue a topic of interest to them, while also building their skills in essay writing, graphic design, media, advertising, target audience, and long-term project completion.
Overlapping with the publication of their magazines is the completion of their digital portfolios, where they reflect on the work they have done this year, highlight their best pieces, and add symbolic images. Students spend the final class days presenting their portfolios to the class.
My favorite part of their portfolios is the final piece: a gratitude slide, where students represent their journey with one final symbolic image and thank an adult on campus for their impact on their lives. Middle schoolers can be a bit self-absorbed, but with just a little prompting, they can see and appreciate how the adults in their lives have affected them. And it is through these final slides that we see not just the appreciation of teachers, but also counselors, administrators, campus supervisors, coaches, office and cafeteria staff. My students are fortunate to have so many inspirational role models across our campus:
How do you keep your students engaged in meaningful work during these final, crazy days of May?
I am braving the cold of Minnesota to deliver a follow-up report to the National Writing Project on the $20,000 No Bells, No Walls Innovation LRNG Challenge grant that has helped fund our KTV Broadcast Media program at my middle school. The grant has contributed to the creation of our new media classroom after we moved our student-produced TV show from a before-school club (of about a dozen students) to a dedicated elective classroom. Now we have 64 students participating in the production of a daily, multi-media news show that is broadcast across our campus and archived on YouTube for the community to enjoy.
Fourteen different teacher-teams were awarded a $20,000 LRNG grant, and thirteen of them shared their work today in roundtable sessions at NWP‘s annual meeting. The room was abuzz with stories of innovative, exciting work that is engaging students across the country: from STEM labs to action research; maker rings to passion projects; game design to digital storytelling. As the conversations moved from one table to another, a common theme emerged: one of the most powerful ways we are engaging our students in meaningful learning is by giving them a chance to find their voices, to follow what interests them, and produce new work that comes from their own passions.
As an English and Digital Media teacher, I think it’s pretty easy to give my students opportunities to find their voices: they choose what to write about; they choose what digital projects to pursue; they plan, film and produce their own movie projects. But what about other subject areas? The one that stumps me the most is math. How do math teachers ignite passionate learning and help students find their voices in math class? I would love to hear from any teachers out there who are actively trying to give students unique opportunities to find their passions and voices within their academic work.
Also: now’s the time to apply for the next round of $20,000 grants! Check it out here.
I’ve learned that when attending an education conference, it’s a success if I come away with two, maybe three great new ideas to try in my classroom. The conference experience is so overwhelming, both inspirational and exhausting, that it’s easy to get lost in the flood of creativity, innovation and enthusiasm from all those amazing presenters.
I’m not sure how that sage advice applies to a weeklong innovation immersion experience at the heart of America’s own history of innovation: The Henry Ford Museum in Detroit, Michigan. I am one of ten educators enjoying a week of tours, workshops and innovation challenges, and I’m afraid I’ll be so overwhelmed that I won’t remember any of it when it’s over.
But after just 24 hours with the other nine teachers, I can tell you this: put the ten of us in a room together for a week, and the innovation and creativity will fly so fast and furious that we’ll all be renewed and inspired no matter what was outside that room. These are some amazing educators! Like Saba Ghole and her innovative NuVu Studio School in Cambridge, MA. Or Texas teachers Lyle Crossley and Joe Morris, whose high school students have designed, built and raced solar cars in competitions across the country. Or Mark Suter, who has turned his students’ budding interests in technology into an entrepreneurial club that creates film promotions for local businesses in Ohio, generating donations that are reinvested back into their work.
Just give me a couple hours with Hawaii educator Wrayna Fairchild, so I can hear all about her fellowship in New Zealand and her work aboard a research ship. Or an afternoon with Donna Gradel, whose environmental science students from Oklahoma designed, built and delivered aquaponics units — sustainable food production systems used to raise fish and cultivate plants — to a remote district in Kenya.
Elementary school teachers Jamie Ewing (Seattle, WA) and Melissa Collins (Memphis, TN) have earned so many awards and recognitions that I feel like I’ve been dropped into the who’s who of Olympic educators. While early elementary teachers are told to focus on raising their students’ reading and math scores, Melissa’s students wear lab coats, answer to the title “junior scientists,” and engage in experiments that turn them into critical thinkers and problem solvers. Jamie has turned the traditional science fair on its ear, moving his students’ projects to a digital science fair space where they can share and view projects from other students around the country.
We even have a preschool teacher among us, and she is leading the pack in pushing back against the academic pressures that have trickled all the way down to our precious toddlers. Linda Reimond’s students thrive in an environment that encourages art, play and exploration, and we know those students move into the K-12 system well prepared for an authentic, productive education.
Yes, the immersion in history and innovation at The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village is going to be an incredibly powerful experience, both professionally and personally, but the nine extraordinary teachers I’m hanging out with will surely give ol’ Henry a run for his innovative money.
After just one day with our new furniture, I experienced one of those “ah-ha” moments that I’m sure resulted in a light bulb exploding over my head. OK, maybe no visible light bulb, but certainly there were flashes of light in my eyes. As I had predicted when our new furniture first arrived, my students were most enthusiastic about the chairs on wheels, which not only could be maneuvered around the classroom with a light push of the foot, but which also swiveled in place, making it so easy (and fun) to turn to different areas of the classroom, depending on the task. The rolling chairs also have an attached desktop (that swivels, of course!) allowing students to work wherever their rolling takes them.
But we all know that relying on something trendy and cool, like futuristic furniture, won’t bring any kind of long-term change to education. After all, how much would this new furniture affect my students’ learning if I just lined them up in rows, all students facing front, and taught my class in traditional lecture format (interrupted often with pleas of, “Stop spinning your chairs!”)?
No, if our investment in 21st century learning spaces is going to result in meaningful changes for students, we need to pay attention to how new furniture and its arrangement can shake up our expectations of how students should work and what collaboration looks like.
The ah-ha moment came after I had given my students directions for an essay outline they were going to work on that day. I had them all face (or swivel to) the front, and I went over the directions projected on the screen. After a quick check-in, I told them to get to work, and to collaborate with each other if they wanted to. And then the magic happened.
I watched as students started rolling into configurations that appealed to them: partners like Cittlaly and Sara, best friends and a predictable pairing; trios like Matt, Carlos and Eddie, all athletes working on sports-themed essays; mixed-gender groups of kids, like one from the leadership class working on social justice pieces; and a few students who chose to slide off for some solo work. After experimenting a little with the rolling, swiveling and grouping, they settled in to their work.
But it wasn’t long before some students started rolling again. Cittlaly swiveled around to slide next to Ellie to ask for help on her outline, then she rolled back to Sara. The leadership kids, chatting longer than the others, started to pull away from their big group to make smaller collaborative groupings. Aaron, working alone in the corner, looked up to find Carlos rolling toward him. Heads together for a few minutes, they exchanged ideas on their essays, and then Carlos slid back over to his group.
And this is when the lightbulb went off: we’ve been doing collaboration all wrong! All these years, school-style collaboration has gone something like this:
“You four students sitting in these four chairs around this table will collaborate on this particular project from now until the due date. And then you will be done collaborating.”
But how much of our adult-world collaboration looks like that? When I collaborate with
colleagues, it looks more like this:
Scrolling through my Twitter feed one evening, I find a new app, strategy or project that I’d like to try with my students. I might start by collaborating online with someone on Twitter or Edutopia. Then I’ll probably try it out with my students on my own (that’s the Lone Ranger in me). At some point I’ll bring the idea to a department meeting, where we might collaborate as a group to fine tune it. Or I might talk with just one colleague who has expertise in a certain area. Often I will work with my grade-level teachers in our PLN on a project for all 8th grade students.
In other words, real-world collaboration means that we go to the people we know are the right fit for a particular issue we are facing. And sometimes we work alone. And then we find someone or some people who can help us past the next phase of the project. And we aren’t bound by artificial parameters like space or time or numbers of people. And we can work alone when it works for us to work alone.
Since my students are piloting a variety of furniture types, we also have tables and chairs in the classroom, which are grouped in sets of four. I watched those students stay in their groups and collaborate with one another, talking easily around their tables; or some working alone, eyes down, possibly avoiding eye contact with their table peers. Their chairs don’t have wheels, which seemed to mean that they weren’t allowed to move from their table group to work with other students. While this worked fine for four friends who happened to grab a table together, there was less collaboration going on at the missed-out-on-the-wheelie-chairs and too-late-to-sit-with-friends groups.
Those students at the tables missed out on the real-world fluidity of collaboration. If the students in their group weren’t a good match for what they were working on, they worked alone. They watched with envy as their classmates rolled over to work with a variety of students, and it didn’t even occur to them to ask me if they could get up out of their stationary chairs and work outside of their table group. You can bet they are counting down the days to their turn to pilot the rolling chairs!
So this past week I have come face-to-face with the pseudo-collaboration that I have been foisting on my students all these years. And it makes me wonder: how can we give our students real-world collaboration opportunities? While the rolling chairs are a huge step in that direction, there’s got to be other ways to create the kind of fluid, collaboration-friendly environment for our students that so many of us have in our adult work places. How do you inspire and provide for meaningful collaboration opportunities for your students?
(Originally posted on Edutopia.)