Let’s Take Learning Off The Clock!

Our current education system focuses on clock time to measure learning. The current buzz around teacher evaluations is that students should have a years worth of growth during a school year. These leaves two critical questions:

  1. Who defines the growth?
  2. Are all students going to grow equally in the same time frame?

Looking at my children, I struggle with this concept. They have all grown but in so many different ways and at very different rates. My three children have all been completely different when it comes to hitting “growth milestones”. My two boys Griffin (10) and Gavin (6) we late walkers and talkers. On the other hand Grace (6) was early. Then again my boys are way ahead on the height and weight milestones where Grace is “just” average. Having watched Griffin grow academically over 6 years of school, I have noticed he excels in Math, Science and Social Studies but struggles as a reader and writer.

Don’t we all have different strengths and weaknesses? Shouldn’t school honor this, allowing us to move faster in areas where we can, while helping us continue moving forward in areas of need?

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Making Makers

“Can we play games when we are done?” Those are the most dreaded words a teacher can hear on a day working in the computer lab. Teachers know that with games on their mind learning is very far behind. The learning targets won’t be the focus instead getting done to experience the pleasures of gaming. Other students might be focused on music instead of games. How can we allow students to get their gaming and music fixes while also helping them focus on learning?

My solution is to create makers not have consumers in my classroom. My rule is that students can play games and music they make in class. Many of my colleagues ask how I do this? It started last year when my class completed the Hour of Code. My students enjoyed creating the Flappy Bird games. After going through the tutorial, students explored different tools like Tynker, Scratch, and Sploder. Students don’t realize how much they are learning by creating their own games. They learn how to code, follow directions, sequencing, and trouble shooting.

For music there are other online tools students can use to create cool sounds. My two favorite are Incredibox and VirtualPiano. Incedibox allows students to explore the world of acapella music trying out different beats. The Virtual Piano gives them an opportunity to dabble in the basics of playing a keyboard instrument.  Students learn about harmony and pitch while expressing themselves musically.

Students need to know there is more to games and music than consuming them. Students need to feel empowered to make their own. Make products that their friends will want to consume. Teachers need to inspire students to be the next Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mozart or Bono. Technology gives students so much power to create. Our job is to encourage and guide students to do so!

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Sometimes we need a PUSH!

This week I received an e-mail from a colleague asking for help with a technology in her classroom. Being in a small district without funding for any full time instruction technologists to assist teachers requests like this happen frequently. I am seen as a person who either knows how to use a tool or get find out quickly. I am always glad to help a fellow teacher use new tools in their classroom. During my next free prep, I headed down to my colleague’s classroom. She had received some Mobi Views last spring and wanted to know how to use them with he students.


I had seen the Mobi’s demonstrated a few years back. We together we turned the units on. It took a few attempts to figure out what we were doing. At first it was awkward, figuring out the new tool. I model how to fail using the tool at the first few attempts. Eventually, I had it figured out so I could explain how to use to the other teacher. She fumbled around for a minute like I did and then was able to complete some simple tasks. As the prep period ended she was feeling confident in the using the Mobi for simple tasks. She sent an e-mail thanking me for the help, also asking how I might integrate the tool into lessons for her special needs students.

I had a few ideas, but by no means am an expert. I took a quick search of YouTube, found a few quality examples of teachers using Mobi’s in their classroom to send back to her. The next day she responded:

“Why didn’t I think of checking YouTube? I guess I just needed a push. Thank you!”

Sometimes all we need is a push in the right direction to get moving. It might lead to greatness.

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Roads vs. Education

20141202-202020-73220699.jpgThis was the scene outside my car window on my drive home today, while on the radio voice talk about how about the horrid condition of Michigan roads. Roads in the mitten state are in dire need of repair. It seems they are always under construction but are never fixed. It seems like a similar cycle in education. We are constantly in a mode of repair that never seems to get done. Upon arrival at home I noticed a press release from the Michigan Association of School Boards urging schools to lobby against a bill that would shift gas sales tax from school to roads.

Wait, so when the roads fall apart we throw money at the problem and blame the weather, when the schools fall apart we cut funding and blame the teachers? Lovely Paradox. Schools are in constant change, looking for new and inventive ways to improve instruction. Thinking over my 15 years as a middle school teacher, my instructional techniques have totally changed to improve learning in my classroom. Formative assessment training has taught me to constantly monitor my instruction and know where my students need help. I use many different technology tools to deliver timely instruction.

Do I notice new innovations in road technology? Well the cold patch pictured to fill pot holes has been around since the first pot hole.The holes are filled one day and then back the next. Is the press attacking highway construction crews with desire to end their careers? Are contractors paid based on their performance? (Seems only if the job is done ahead of time not on quality).

Funding needs to go where it is needed most, in our schools for our future. Challenge the highway contractors to cut costs and find innovation in the same ways schools have over the past 10 years.

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2 Sides to the Education coin…

It is the best of times and the worst of times to be in education. If you read a newspaper you might be hearing many stories about the worst of times. Budget and program cuts, poor school performance, bullying issues and a glut of standardized tests. When you dig deeper beyond the headlines, glimpses of the best of times are evident with stories about Genius Hour, Hour of Code, Edcamp, Maker Movement, and connected educators. Where should the media focus?

It seems the negative stories seem to catch the media’s eye more often than the positive. Many educators tend to dwell in the worst of times world. Our minds like to complain and get drawn in by the negative. It sure can seem like the worst of times. Just walk in to a teachers lounge, complaining about the “Kids today” seems to come up.

Walk into an Edcamp or spend some time on twitter and the education story changes quickly. Hearing the positives starting a day with #BFC530 , a spark chat, starts the day with 1 question for you to ponder. Every day of the week an educator can see the wonderful positives that exist in education. On weekends educators can attend professional development for teachers by teachers in the form of Edcamps.  Edcamps bring the positives from twitter to life in face to face meetings where teachers share what is working in their classrooms. At these events you can often overhear teachers explain how incredible “Kids today” can be!

Both of these worlds exist in education today. Teachers have to make a choice. Do we want to be a part of the negative or the positive story about education? Ultimately educators need to help each other realize that our story has two sides. If we spend too much time focusing on one side we forget the other exists. Our students need us to be balanced. Teachers need to advocate for less testing and more funding for student programs. Teachers also need to share the success stories. Our students do incredible things in the classrooms. It is the teachers job to share these stories for all to see. If we share enough, loud enough the positive stories will hit the mainstream.

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From me to you THANK YOU!!

As I wake this Thanksgiving morning to the wonderful sounds of my children excited for the morning parades. I want to thank so many people who make my life more enjoyable.

1. My students: Thank you for being such a wonderfully diverse group. Making everyday different. Sure we have many challenges in the classroom but we conquer them together with a growth mindset. You make my job rewarding and fresh.

2. My co-workers: You are there to challenge my thinking and give words or encouragement when I am down. I thrive on the small conversations we have in the hallways. Thanks for listening to me, hearing my concerns and helping me move forward. I hope I am as valuable to your teaching as you are to mine.

3. My #PLN- This pass year has been incredible. I have learned so much from you ALL from twitter and face to face meetings at all the Edcamps and conferences I have attended. I value each of you. Please keep being awesome. You are there to pick me up and balance my thinking. From #michED to #COLchat our interactions have been a valuable part of my growth. Especially my #mschat community, you have provided so much support in my instruction.

4. AMLE- It is so great having a national organization that supports teachers in the middle. SO much passion found in everything you do. I feel so supported knowing that when I need help, AMLE is present to provide it!

5. Free Technology for Teachers – Being a teacher today has a few drawback but the positives far out-weight them. So many great technology companies are supporting us in our classrooms. From the larger Google to the small Remind from Twitter to Edshelf these tools provide teachers with powerful ways to connect to students.

I especially want to thank TechSmith for being ever present in the state of Michigan. Helping sponsor just about every conference and #edcamp in the state. Without all of these wonderful companies supporting classroom learning, my job would be so much more difficult!

Have a wonderful day to ALL. I am grateful to have you in my life!

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MSU College of ED 31st Technology Conference 11-15-14

I will be presenting tomorrow at MSU college of Education 31st Technology in Education Conference. The full schedule can be found here. My presentation will focus on being a connected educator, the #michED community and how twitter has transformed my teaching practice.
The slides for the presentation are below.

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