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!)
This year, I was lucky enough to be chosen as a participant in the first York County Innovation Lab run through the Lincoln Intermediate Unit. This program, funded through the York County Community Foundation’s Doris E. Schwartz Education Fund, is designed to “inspire and empower educators and children to become creative problem-solvers.” Since being asked to participate in this program, I’ve been looking forward to getting started and learning what it is all about.
Our opening session today was keynoted by George Couros, author of the book The Innovator’s Mindset and a leader in innovation in education. Simply put, there was no better way to start kick-start this program than by engaging in a keynote like this. While there were many great takeaways from the presentation (check out my Twitter and #YCIL to see them all), there’s one that jumps out: Innovation begins and ends with empathy. You can have the greatest, most innovative solution imaginable, but if is not meaningful to your audience, it is pointless.
Before we (as educators) decide to dive into design thinking and find ways to innovate in our classroom, we need to start by building empathy. There are many questions you can ask of yourself and of your students to begin building empathy, but asking the right question is key. Try to avoid yes or no answers; instead, provide students the ability to respond freely and without judgement. Yes, this means that you may need to make an anonymous survey, which sounds crazy; who knows what your kids will say about you, right? Sure, you may receive some off-the-cuff remarks (I can tell you this from experience). But you’ll also be blown away by what your students tell you, and you’ll gain a much greater perspective for your students’ feelings towards education and their learning environment.
I’m making it my professional goal to blog about my journey through the innovation process and the design thinking experience over the next year. I hope you’ll follow along and interact, so I can learn and grow from your support. Be on the lookout for an upcoming post about my first experience with the design thinking process!
Image from http://georgecouros.ca/blog/presentation-resources/posts-related-to-the-innovators-mindset