Have you seen end of year countdowns posted on blogs, Twitter, shared on websites and even hanging in classrooms? These posters, numbered post its, paper rings, or balloons are removed to signify another day closer to summer and are often found in classrooms. I've often wondered what service they provide and what positive (or negative) impact they have on learning. As an educator and now an Instructional Coach I believe every day that teachers spend teaching and learning with their students is precious, and should be celebrated. I think there's something to be said about the early elementary grades that count the days of school during calendar time and proclaim "We're ____ days smarter!" This shows students that their learning begins on day one, and to these young students there's no end in sight. Some educators may think I'm being too optimistic, while others think I'm crazy for not looking forward to summer. The fact of the matter is, I love learning, this is the mentality I would want to embrace and project to my students.
I'm sure some students, parents, and even teachers could tell me exactly how many days or even Mondays are left, but that's not what I'm keeping my sights on. So, while others may use countdowns and have the end in sight, I'll use formative assessments, student interests, and district curricular units to focus on the learning opportunities we still have, and need to use to our advantage, as we work to prepare students to become successful in college, career, or civic life. The only countdown in my head is reminding me I have ___ number of days left to make a difference.
Over the past few years I've made a conscious effort to push myself outside my comfort zone. I've written and published several pieces including my new Tech in Focus series, presented at local, regional, and national conferences, joined professional organization committees, connected with educators around the globe through social media, and used the connections and experiences to directly impact the teaching and learning occurring in my building. This year, my efforts have resulted in additional opportunities presenting themselves, some directly tied to what I am currently doing, while others take me in directions I had not thought of or planned for. Through pursuing these opportunities, I have experienced success, failure, and lots of rejection, all of which force me to grow and learn. No one likes to fail or be rejected, but both are inevitable. Rather than sulking, giving up, or being negative, I embrace my failures as First Attempts In Learning, and know that through each one I grow and become a better educator and person. Going forward, I look forward to continuing to grow, being sure to embrace and take on opportunities, whether they are in or out of my comfort zone, because when nothing's ventured, nothing's gained.
Earlier this month I shared an idea with our fifth grade teacher. The class was preparing to begin their persuasive writing unit, and because I know the importance of building in choice and authentic learning opportunities, I suggested she consider having the students choose a topic they were passionate about and create a Public Service Announcement (PSA). The PSA project would include their persuasive writing, research, spelling and conventions, and comprehension skills, all while motivating and engaging the students on a topic of their choice. Last week the PSA project was launched, and from the moment it started, the fifth graders have been captivated! Each time I visit the classroom I'm greeted with students wanting me to come check out their progress, share a new fact they learned, or inevitably help them troubleshoot a tech problem.
A few PSA Topics are:
The students have a few weeks left on their project, during which they will continue to build their informational website, research their cause, produce a video (PSA), and share their project with the goal of persuading others to join the cause. As an Instructional Coach, getting to see my ideas come to light and impact teaching and learning in my building is one of my favorite things! I look forward to seeing how the PSA project continues, as well as work with other teachers to incorporate student choice and authentic learning opportunities into their classrooms.
This year I have been encouraging teachers to consider using Passion Projects, or Genius Hour, as an option for their students. So far, few have taken me up on the idea, but I recently had one teacher willing to give Passion Projects a try. Last week I helped kick of the Projects with eight eager fourth graders. Their teacher had already told them that they would get to research a topic of their choice and create a project in a method they choose. As you can imagine, telling fourth graders they get to choose what they learn about, you're sure to hear squeals of excitement and see huge smiles. In the end, the fourth graders decided to team up and there are four projects being researched and produced. The passion project topics are:
Earlier in the school year our district's science coordinator brought several A World in Motion (AWIM) kits to my office so I could distribute them to classrooms in my building. As a former science teacher and lover of inquiry and student exploration, I was excited to bring these STEM opportunities to our students. I have already helped our 3rd grade teacher incorporate STEM into her science instruction, and they recently wrapped up another STEM unit using the AWIM Pinball Kit. Our Kindergarten teacher had approached me earlier this year wanting to add STEM lessons into her science and center time, and as soon as I saw the AWIM Rolling Things kit I knew it was a perfect fit!
When we started the unit, we told the kindergarteners they would get to be scientists and every one of them began cheering! In the Rolling Things unit, students explore how a vehicle's weight and ramp height affects the distance the vehicle and/or crash box travels. Currently, we are about half way through the Rolling Things explorations, and I am loving seeing the kindergarteners work together, share their thinking, and experience STEM and inquiry learning! I am in the classroom every afternoon either co-teaching whole group lessons, or facilitating explorations. The students have discovered that the higher the ramp, the further the vehicle will travel. They have also made connections that the weights of the vehicles (convertible, truck, and sedan) makes a difference in how far the crash box moves after impact. Beyond the science lessons, the kindergarteners are working on communication skills, being able to productively work with a partner, recording results, measuring, and being responsible for self directed tasks/learning.
I look forward to seeing how the remaining two weeks of the Kindergarten STEM unit goes! I will continue tweeting daily, and blogging about the experience as I can.
The next Tech in Focus title is out! This time I chose to focus on Thinglink, and share how you can use Thinglink in your elementary classroom. Head to the iBooks store now to download this title, and any others in the Tech in Focus series!
This morning I logged onto Twitter and was ecstatic to see the above notification from Popplet. A few days ago I had tweeted out a link to the Tech in Focus Popplet iBook that I released on the iBooks Store and saw that Popplet favorited my tweeted. I was happy to see that they favorited it, but that joy was nothing compared to the excitement that came from them highly recommending my book! I write to share my ideas and passions with others, and having an app like Popplet, that I have used in my teaching and that has thousands of followers, acknowledge and share my eBook was a huge moment! I look forward to continuing adding titles to the Tech in Focus series and writing for other publications. New opportunities and doors are constantly opening, and I look forward to continuing to share my passion with readers and educators around the world.
Today, the next book in the Tech in Focus series was released on the iBooks Store! This title focuses on how you can use Popplet in the Elementary English Language Arts (ELA) Classroom. Click here to download this free eBook.