This is my response to the reflection questions at the end of Chapter 3- "Creating Empowered Learning Experiences" from the book "Innovate Inside the Box" by George Couros and Katie Novak.
1. Growth is essential to our work as educators. What is something you used to do as an educator that you no longer do? Why did you stop doing it?
Check homework every single day. I stopped doing this a few years ago. When I first started teaching, I was very religious in checking homework for completion (not correctness) each and every day and entering it as a grade. That is what (almost) every single teacher had ever done for me, so that's what I thought had to happen. As I taught longer, I realized two main things:
I learn the most about my students when I am able to have conversations with them in non-academic times. Sometimes that is before or after class, sometimes it is during "Flex periods", sometimes it is in the hallway. Whenever it is, simply having a conversation with students about what they do outside of the classroom and outside of school goes a long way to showing that you are interested in them as a person, not just as a student. And if students think you care about them as a person, they are more likely to be engaged and empowered in your classroom, which allows you to shift your practice from "teaching to students" to "learning with students".
3. Share an area where you received feedback and used it to improve. What was beneficial about the feedback and how did it spark your growth?
I'm going to go all the way back to my student-teaching days. About halfway through my placement, my cooperating teacher told me, "You have a great grasp on the content, but you are not developing relationships with your students as deeply as you should at this point in the year." This is really the first time that I thought about how much relationships with students truly mean. I couldn't just be a great "explainer" of math; that wouldn't mean anything to my students if they didn't think I cared about them. Ever since that more, I am more aware of how I am building relationships with my students. I am still not perfect at it, but I am much better than I was at that point and I continue to get better every year.
This is my response to the reflection questions at the end of Chapter 3- "Creating Empowered Learning Experiences" from the book "Innovate Inside the Box" by George Couros and Katie Novak.
1. If we look at what students are doing in the classroom as a sign of the effectiveness of their teacher, what are some examples of things you would look for from students to signify great learning?
To me, great learning is signified by students being collaborative and creative in the classroom. I want to see students communicating with each other, working toward collaborative solutions, debating ideas and supporting their opinions, and giving genuine feedback to each other. I like to have "structured chaos" in my classroom - students constantly in motion and action, but all with a specific purpose and structure.
2. What are some examples of "empowering learning" in your classrooms for students and in your school/organization as professionals? How are you empowered as an educator, and how does that empower students in learning?
One of the awesome examples of empowering learning that has happened in my school is the social cause project that 7th grade students complete in ELA class. In this project, students research a social topic of their choice that is meaningful to them and develop a a presentation to educate their peers and convince others to support their social cause. This project still addresses the standards, but also gives students autonomy to explore a topic that is close to them. This always brings out the best in students, and every year I watch the presentations and think, "wow, I never knew that about that student" or, "oh my gosh, I never thought I would hear them speak so many words at once." It is awesome to see how this project empowers learners.
As an educator, I am empowered by always being given the opportunity to try new things in my classroom. Without the fear of thinking that I will "fail", I am not afraid to try new things. This in turn leads to new learning opportunities that give my students more chance to develop a voice and express choice in their learning.
3. Curiosity and questioning are keys to empowered learning. What are some ways you can help students develop powerful questions to spark their curiosity?
In my "Design Tank" project that my 8th grade students are working through, they are creating solutions to problems they have identified at school. Each of their problems started as a "How Might We...?" statement. In order to get to this driving question, I had students list their "dreams and gripes" at school. I gave them sentence starters such as, "At school, I wish I could..." (dreams) or, "At school, it annoys me when ..." (gripes). By starting with these sentence starters, students can see themes in their dreams and gripes and use them to create deep-diving questions. Some questions students have developed are:
This is my response to the reflection questions at the end of Chapter 2 - "Learner-Driven, Evidence-Informed" from the book "Innovate Inside the Box" by George Couros and Katie Novak.
1. What might a wider definition of success be for your students or your community? How can you get your students involved in defining success for themselves in short- and long-term planning.
I am teaching a completely, brand-new class this year. Most of my students have never even heard the terms "design thinking" or "computational thinking", so I have an advantage in the fact they don't have a sense of "grading" in my subject. At the beginning of the course, I state the goals I have for my students throughout the class, however I did not ask them to reflect on their previous experiences and set goals for themselves. For my, I think wider success for my students would be feeling comfortable stepping outside "their box" and challenging themselves to be more creative, open-minded problem solvers. This is especially true for my 8th grade students who are really diving into gaining empathy for others in terms of addressing an issue they see in school. For them, success take the form of better understanding their classmates and peers in some way or another. I definitely want to focus on goal-setting in my class and already have some ideas for my next rotation.
2. What evidence can be used to inform student goals and progress beyond standardized test scores. Share with others how you use this evidence to create better learning opportunities for you students.
Giving students hands-on, real-life experiences and being able to showcase that to a broader audience is a great way to show progress. In my 8th grade course, students are working in teams to identify an issue in our school setting, interview other users about their issue, and design a solution. They then are going to present their solution to an authentic audience (their classmates and other teachers/administrators) and reflect on their process. The reflection piece, for me, is absolutely key in showing progress. If students can identify their areas of strength, future areas for improvement, and adjustments they would make, then I can very clearly see the progress they've made, even more than I would on a standardized test.
3. How do you leverage the strengths of the learners you serve in your classroom, school, or organization?
I think you have to allow students the freedom and opportunity to use those strengths. In a classroom setting, I think it is vital to pair students with different strengths so they can build off of and learn from each other. This also allows them to share their passions and explore multiple areas of interest. I am also the adviser of the TV studio at my school. This year, due to a schedule change, I was able to find time to see my students each day to allow them to pursue passion projects related to our TV studio. Some students will work on creating graphics and content for social media, some will learn to create and edit short promotional videos, and some will work on learning the behind-the-scenes aspect of a TV studio. In this case, each student gets to showcase their own strength and pursue their passions to benefit the larger school community.
This is my responses to the reflection questions at the end of Chapter 1 - "Relationships" from the book "Innovate Inside the Box" by George Couros and Katie Novak.
1. How do you build relationships and know your students as individuals inside and outside of your classroom?
I'm not afraid to admit that this has always been one my biggest area for improvements. Going all the way back to student teaching, I can very clearly remember my cooperating teacher writing in one of my "evaluations" that I had a great grasp of the content, but had taken more time to start to develop relationships with the students than most. And as I have dived deeper into design thinking and reflected on the mindsets of design thinking, I consistently identify empathy as one of my biggest areas for improvement. Now, that's not to say that I don't think I have developed relationships with my students - I do. But I think I could do better to develop more and deeper connections with my students.
Over the past few years, I have spent the first week of class not focusing on content, but rather engaging my students in design thinking challenges and other team-building exercises to try to bust the stigma that math classes often get. However, I realize that there are many other things I could have been doing to help build relationships at the same time. Now that I teach a course that only lasts for 26 days, building relationships is even more important. Moving forward, I am planning to take inspiration from some of my awesome colleagues and friends and run some relationship-focused station activities on the first day of my rotation to get to know my students better and address some of the "housekeeping" items that need to be taken care of. By doing this, I'm hoping that I'll be able to start to develop relationships earlier in my class rotation and I will guarantee that I will have a conversation with each and every student on day #1.
2. Think of two or three teachers who influenced you as a student, either positively or negatively. How has that made an impact on you today?
When I think back to the most positive and most negative experiences I had in school, they all come down to the relationships I had with the teachers. Last week I shared the story of my 8th grade science teacher who most influenced me in education and empowered me to be the student I was. This was 100% because he cared for every single one of his students and realized that knowing his students as a person first would make them more successful, engaged, and motivated in his classroom.
I am lucky in the fact that as I write this reflection, I can't recall one teacher that I sincerely despised. I have negative memories of some teachers, and those memories always come back to teachers who made it seem that their students were annoyances and never seemed to have a smile. George's quote from chapter 1 really stuck with me: "Students are always watching: what do you want them to see?" As I reflect back to these negative experiences, I realize that I am sure I do things that make students think they are not the most important thing to me in that minute - as they should be when they are in my class. My goal for this week is to focus on making sure that students see me always focusing on them and to save the "other stuff" for other times.
3. Share a story on social media about a time that you saw an impact of "relationships" as a learner or teacher.
I started the post discussing how I feel I have struggled with building relationships to a deep level, but also acknowledging that I do know I have had an impact with creating relationships. Just last year, I had a student who hardly said a word when she walked into class each day. She had a great group of friends she worked with in class, but never said much. Throughout the year, as I got to know her more, she started to open up, so that by the end of the year she was always talking and striking up conversations. To go along with that, I saw her confidence in her math abilities rise, and she showed great improvement. She always had the ability, but she believed in herself more. This year at back to school night, she came up and we talked about her summer. I have her in class again to start this year and every day she comes to class with a big smile and a welcoming, " Hi Mr. Barge!" Seeing students break out of their shell and become more comfortable interacting with their peers, adults, and being more confident students are always the highlights of my year and remind me why I really entered education.
This is my responses to the reflection questions at the end of the Introduction - "Because of a Teacher" from the book "Innovate Inside the Box" by George Couros and Katie Novak.
1. Think of one educator who had an impact on you as a student in a positive way. What did they do that made an impact?
Mr. Bodley - 8th grade science. If you want to talk about a teacher that knows how to create relationships with his students, I can't think of a teacher I had in school that was better at it than Steve. He had a way of motivating us to be the best version of ourselves not only in his classroom, but all the time. He made his content engaging and empowered his students to explore their passions. I distinctly remember having his class when the tsunami hit Indonesia in late 2004. When we returned from Christmas break, a few friends and I wanted to do some type of fundraiser to help support the rebuilding cause. We approached him to help us because we knew he supported us in every way, not just in science class. I was fortunate enough to be able to spend time in his classroom as a pre-service teacher, and saw even more evidently the power of building relationships with students. When I am struggling for inspiration or looking for a way to connect with a student, I often think back to how Mr. Bodley treated his students with compassion and respect and try to emulate those actions.
2. Think of a challenge in your lifetime, be it personal or professional. How did you learn and grow from that experience.
My first year teaching was perhaps the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. I loved the people I worked with - students and adults - but I was not ready for the challenges that faced me in a school and social environment that was much different than anything I was used to. I quickly learned many lessons that stick with me today; here are the top two:
I was fortunate to be able to be part of a year-long cohort that focused on experiencing the design thinking process and using that to address a need in our school building. (This is also where I first heard George speak.) After that program, I realized that Design Thinking was something I needed to be using in my math classroom. I had always struggled with how to connect my math concepts to real-life and how to make my class more "problem-based", and I saw Design Thinking as a great solution. I started by replacing one test with a Design Thinking project. My students tackled the challenge, 'How Might We Show Our Knowledge of Operations with Rational Numbers?' The projects I got back were more than I could have imagined! In one of my proudest teaching memories, one of my groups decided to hold a bake-sale fundraiser and show how they used operations with fractions and decimals in their budget and record keeping. They held the fundraiser at the workplace of one of their parents, and I stopped by after school to get my baked good! At the end of the project, the donated almost $150 to a local charity. Through that process, I learned that when you give students control, they will amaze you. From then on, I've tried to find any way possible to incorporate design thinking, and I'm thrilled to now be teaching a course where half of the focus is specifically design thinking. I can't wait to see what my kids accomplish!
When I saw that George Couros was coming out with a follow-up book to “The Innovator’s Mindset”, I couldn’t wait to get my copy. I had the opportunity to attend a workshop in the spring of 2017 where George spoke, and I was instantly struck by the passion he had for creating positive learning experiences for students through the Innovator’s Mindset. I read his book not long after, and have re-read it each school year since as a source of inspiration and a reminder to myself of the experiences that I can and should be providing for my students. This past summer, I revisited his book again from a different perspective, as I ran a professional development workshop to spread the message of the Innovator’s Mindset to other teachers in my district.
I started reading George’s new book tonight, which he wrote with Katie Novak. The book, “Innovate Inside the Box”, begins with a forward from Katie Martin. She shared her experience with meeting George for the first time and how he challenged her to share what she had learned with other educators, knowing that others could benefit from what she had to share and that she could benefit from the feedback from others. This is a message I have heard from George multiple times - as educators, it is important that we share our learning with others. I always enjoy watching the Twitter videos that George posts with attendees where he speaks sharing their learning and reading his blog posts.
So, I decided to challenge myself to share my learning as I read “Innovate Inside the Box”. After each chapter, I have challenged myself to write a blog post - even a short one - reflecting on what I learned. I don’t kid myself thinking that it will be easy - I have tried blogging in the past, but never make it stick. But as I start the new school year in a new role teaching Computational and Design Thinking, I knew there was no better time to do it. I’m going to be asking my students to take risks, and I need to model that myself. I need to embrace the Innovator’s Mindset; I truly believe that this journey will lead to
something new and better for me, and I embrace that.
This quote that Katie Martin shared in her foreword really stuck out to me:
It all starts with being vulnerable, so I’m going to try. So, that being said - look for my first reflection tomorrow (hopefully) on the intro - “Because of a Teacher”.
Empower Foreward and Introduction
As an educational system, we need to pay closer attention to how we are using the time our students have with us. We need to rethink what we want our students to get out of this time. Do we want them to spend 6.5 hours per day copying notes, filling out worksheets, listening to others talk, and being compliant? Or would we rather them spend much of that time exploring their interests, taking charge of their learning, creating meaningful projects and artifacts, interacting with their peers, and developing life-long skills that permeate outside the walls of their 7th grade math classroom (my subject)? For me, the answer is simple.
Don't be fooled - I'm not saying this is easy. But there are always ways that we can inspire our students to be creative and innovative. For me, I'm currently having my students design their own project to demonstrate their knowledge of Ratios and Proportional Reasoning. I started my project by leading my students through the design thinking process, where I forced them to think deeply not about the mathematical content, but about their experiences with projects. I wanted them to think about what they feel makes a good project and what doesn't. I want them to think about ways they can express their learning that go "outside the box". And then I give them the time to do so.
This is the second time I've run a project like this. When I first did it in the fall of 2017, I was worried. I was worried that my students wouldn't be interested. I was worried by students would miss the mark. I was worried the project would fail. But I tried anyways. And guess what - it worked; somewhat. I had some groups that took the "easy" way out and created a Kahoot or Quizizz to play with the class. I had some groups create comics and music videos or scavenger hunts. I had some groups that did a great job at demonstrating their mathematical knowledge, and some groups that focused too much on the "flash" and not enough on the content. But the bottom line is that we all learned something. We learned how to integrate real-life experiences and mathematical content. We learned how to manage our time. We learned how to self-evaluate. We learned skills that transfer outside of the walls of our math classroom and into all aspects of life. And the best part? Now that we're into the second project of this type, I haven't had one student ask me, "how is this graded?" It isn't their focus. The learning and the authentic demonstration of knowledge is.
Easily the proudest moment I had with this project - and maybe in my teaching career - was with my group that made their own "business". They decided to have a bake sale and to present on the math needed to run their "bakery". At first I thought they were going to create a fake business. But then they shared with me their plans to have an actual bake sale. Outside of school. All of their own organizing. To be clear, I had no involvement in the planning of this bake sale. That credit goes these students and their very dedicated and supportive parents who did whatever they could to help their children take charge of their own learning. The ran the bake sale at a local business on a Friday afternoon and raised $150 profit, and donated it all to the local animal shelter.
If you want to talk about students being empowered and applying their interests, I don't think you can get much better than this. Did they have the perfect project? No. They could have explained their math better. But did they learn something? Yes, absolutely. And to me, that's all that matters. They took their interests and applied it to their learning. To me, that's empowerment. (Side note: this same group is currently working on another interest problem where they're surveying classmates about their choices in soda and chocolate to demonstrate knowledge with proportional reasoning. I'm excited to see how this turns out!)
Empowering your students isn't easy, and it doesn't happen overnight. I still have a long way to go in working out more and better ways to empower my students. But the important part is that you try. It doesn't have to be perfect to start. Just try, and see where it takes you. I promise, you won't be disappointed.
I'm at it again. In the fall, I (tried to) participate in the Innovator's Mindset Massive Open Online Course, and I did, to some degree. I got read The Innovator's Mindset in it's entirety, attended/viewed the recordings of multiple live sessions, and participated in some of the Twitter chats. What I didn't do very well was keep up with the blog postings. So, that's my goal this time around - one blog post per week.
I'm participating in season 4 by (re)reading Empower by John Spencer and A.J. Juliani. For me, this was one of the best educational books I've had the opportunity to read, and many of my colleagues said the same. The brilliance in Empower is it's simplicity. It isn't filled with theory, jargon, or expansive text. Instead, it's filled with success stories, tangible ideas, and positivity. I read it over the course of a few days, most of the reading taking place on the plane ride on the way to a conference. I've been able to take some of those ideas and implement them in my classroom this year. I'm looking forward to re-experiencing the message of this book and gaining some motivation for the remainder of the school year.
I'm extremely excited to go through #IMMOOC again and connect with educators across the country. This has been one of the best professional learning opportunities for me and has helped me to greatly expand my PLN, and I can't wait to see all the amazing ideas and thoughts that come out of season 4.
This year, I’ve challenged myself to fully participate in the Innovator’s Mindset Massive Open Online Course, so here we go! I was fortunate enough to attend a presentation last spring by the Innovator’s Mindset author, George Couros, and was deeply inspired by the message that he shared. I’m hoping that through this IMMOOC, I’ll be able to dig deeper into what innovation in the classroom really means and looks like.
Each week I’ll be blogging along with thousands of other educators about a specific part of the book. This week, the intro week, we’re taking a look at the publisher’s forward and the introduction. Additionally, I’ll be participating in a weekly Twitter chat to go along with this course. Follow me on Twitter (@bargeintoclass), and I’ll be sure to follow you back!
Why Is Innovation in Education So Crucial Today?
Innovation is one of those buzz words that is all so often thrown around in education, and it is one that can be taken in so many different ways. When I think of “innovation”, I think of making a positive change that makes something that we already do even better. For me, innovation in education means finding different and better ways to engage my students in real-life, meaningful learning experiences. Our traditional system is set up so that students learn in silos – one period of math, one period of language arts, one period of science, one period of social studies, and so on. And while we sometimes do great things that are “cross-curricular”, they’re still never requiring the students to think differently. We need to get our students to start thinking and interacting in ways that will solve problems. They need to collaborate. They need to communicate, both digitally, orally, and in written form. They need to think outside the box.
To accomplish this, we need to be innovative in the ways that students “do school”. Yes, standards are still important. But we can teach these standards AND teach collaboration, communication, and problem-solving at the same time. If we don’t innovate, our students are going to be less and less prepared for life after high school. High-paying jobs will go unfilled because we didn’t teach our students to think differently about problems and not just say, “what do I need to do to get an A”? Without innovation, we will never accomplish this.
Recently, I collaborated with another math teacher in my grade to develop a problem-based unit for our students to investigate volume and surface area of polygonal prisms and cylinders. We presented our students with this task: you own a company that has makes packaging materials to be sold in stores, and decide to bid on a project for a new company that makes edible play-doh. Design at least 3 different containers that would hold around 150 cubic centimeters of play-doh.
We gave our students a few stipulations for their project:
After completing this project, I have a few takeaways and thoughts from my first in-depth attempt at using Project-Based Learning.
ONE THING I LIKED: USE OF LEARNING MANAGEMENT SYSTEMWe used our school’s learning management system (itslearning) to organize materials for students to access. For me, this was invaluable. I didn’t have to direct students to multiple different websites, didn’t have to print out direction sheets or worksheets, and I was able to easily access my data from one, convenient location. To me, using an LMS is a necessity in project-based and personalized learning environments.
One Thing I Would Change: Clearer Expectations for Presentations
By far, the biggest let-down for me in this project was the presentations that my students gave, and I know that’s 100% my own fault. Students are used to simply standing in front of the class and reciting information, but this is not what I wanted. Instead, I wanted students to give a business pitch, similar to what you would see on the TV show Shark Tank. But I never showed them any examples. I made one of the classic mistakes and assumed my students would know what I wanted. In the future, I will definitely give an example of the type of presentation I am looking for
One Thing I Was Impressed By: My Students’ Creativity and Risk-Taking
One of the favorite parts of this project for many of my students was creating the actual prototypes. Some of my students took the “easy route” and simply inserted an image from Google. Some students went with a more traditional style and folded paper to make models. Perhaps the neatest method I saw, though, was from my students who applied their skills from Technology Education class to create sketches using TinkerCad (and online drafting tool). And even neater was the students who took those designs to our Multi-Media Center and printed them on our 3-D printer. Awesome stuff, and a big shout-out to our Tech Ed teachers and Librarian for their help (even if they didn’t know it!)
One Thing I’m Not Sure About: Did I Really Assess All of My Students?
My students got to work in groups, so how do I know if all students truly understand how to find volume and surface area? One thing I definitely to think more about in the future is my assessment practices through the unit. Are formative assessments enough? Are group project results enough?
Final Takeaways: Overall, I really enjoyed this project and will definitely use it again in the future – with some modifications. I certainly feel that my students got value out of the activity, and look forward to how it can be improved in the future.
(Ohh, and I’d love to hear your thoughts about my project. What suggestions do you have? What do you think I could change? I’m always open to suggestions and comments from others!)