I have been quiet on Twitter and my blogs lately because I have experienced major life changes that have taken all my energy. I’ve moved from the Midwest in the USA to the small island nation of Bahrain in the Middle East.
I’m eating new food, sleeping in a new bed, and walking across two parking lots and up an elevator (lift) to go home instead of driving past ten miles of corn and soybean fields.
I’ve also said goodbye to junior high land, and have taken on the daunting role of English teacher to two kindergarten classes. I have 50 students in all, and I see each class for 1.5 to 2.5 hours a day, depending on the day of the week. The students are beautiful, loving, fun, and I am fully charmed.
As I’ve always said, I am a lifelong learner. Since I have a million things to learn, that’s a good thing!
I’ve also been “eating my words” when it comes to some of the things I’ve espoused and commented about freedom and choice in the primary classroom. Right now, I have a seating chart and even a behavior chart! These are things I’ve definitely shied away from in the past. So much to learn!
I am in my second week. Actually, even though it’s only Tuesday morning right now in my old stomping grounds, I’m actually 3/5 of the way finished with my second week. The weekend is Friday and Saturday and I’m 9 hours ahead of Iowa, so I just finished teaching on Tuesday, the halfway day. To be sure, I have not gotten used to the days of the week here!
Right now I’m getting my tail whupped, but I’m trusting God to fill in the gap.
I’m moving soon. We are on the countdown, and it’s now 12 days to moving day.
This is a move of prodigious proportions. We have sold our house and furniture. We are going through all our additional belongings and saving only the most important. We have digitized VHS tapes, micro tapes, and even home movies on DVDs.
Today I went through all the saved school work from grades K-8 of Daughter #1.
AR certificates, math worksheets, spelling tests
So much of what I looked through was easy to decide what to do with. Into the trash can went high stakes test results, report cards, Accelerated Reader certificates, and worksheets.
It doesn’t matter if a student is a high achiever or a low achiever, no parent wants to have years worth of test scores and reports cards that give little information about who their child really is. Most of the report cards had meaningless letter grades with few heartfelt comments. Year after year of high stakes test results don’t show anything worth knowing about my daughter or her education.
Those A.R. certificates remind me of how teachers over the years required my children to read on their tested level. That’s one way to squelch the love of reading–telling a sixth grader she has to read books on a high school level. Really? What is the purpose of Accelerated Reader anyway? It doesn’t promote a love of lifelong reading.
Worksheets. We have stored hundreds of our daughter’s worksheets over the last two decades. Really, no child has ever been deeply invested in a worksheet, have they? Twenty years later and that is even more evident. These were easy to throw away. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for all the hours my daughter wasted on some of these activities.
This looked hopeful…
What was in the proud papers folder? More worksheets.
Ironically, I didn’t save one piece of paper from the Proud Papers Folder. This teacher didn’t understand that what makes a child proud is not papers marked with 100% or “Great Job.” Children are proud when they invest in authentic work and do an excellent job because they are passionately involved.
To be sure, there were many items to save. I now have half a tub of letters, science fair reports, artwork, proposals, (my favorite is a “professionally” written proposal to her dad and me for turning our pool house into a club house for her and her friends). Today, while looking through her things, I had fun reading her beautiful poetry and the personal experience narratives that made me laugh and remember.
Some she did all on her own, outside of class. Some were assigned by teachers, like this Pandora’s box made during a unit on ancient Greece.
But all are authentic and creative. That’s what I saved.
Horrible things in Pandora’s Box, like spinach and Brussels sprouts
In a few days, thousands of educators from various different countries are expected to attend a free 3 day virtual conference, The Reform Symposium, #RSCON4. RSCON4 will be held October 11th to 13th in conjunction with Connected Educator Month. The entire conference will be held online using the Blackboard Collaborate webinar platform. Participants can attend this online conference from the comfort of their homes or anywhere that has Internet access. This amazing conference provides educators new or currently active on social networks the opportunity to connect with educators and professionals in the field of education worldwide.
Three years ago, I joined in the world of connected educators and learned new ways to teach and learn—things I had not learned in 15 years from other educators around me. Everything changed (and is changing) for me. It wasn’t just about using technology in the classroom; I had always done that. This was much more significant—rubbing elbows with amazing educators in my PLN taught me a whole new set of skills, attitudes, and behaviors in the classroom. Five changes for me and my students include issues with choice, trust, learning, grading, and homework.
I’ll tell my story and leave time for others to tell theirs. Please join us if you have a story to tell, or if you don’t yet and want to learn how to transform your teaching for the better.
I’ll also share a reading and viewing list of the resources that have been most significant for me.
Many friends in my PLN say this with me–we are better educators as a result of our connectedness. I hope you can join with me in this session to share how your teaching has been turned upside down! Stories shared will help others who have yet to experience these significant growth opportunities.
Useful links (click on any item for more information):
We would like to thank the incredible organizers- Shelly Sanchez Terrell, Steve Hargadon, Clive Elsmore, Chiew Pang, Kelly Tenkely, Chris Rogers, Paula White, Bruno Andrade, Cecilia Lemos, Greta Sandler, Peggy George, Marcia Lima, Jo Hart, Phil Hart, Dinah Hunt, Marisa Constantinides, Nancy Blair, Mark Barnes and Sara Hunter.
We hope you can join us for this incredible professional development experience!
“If you had $3000 to buy tech equipment for your genius hour program, what would you buy?” Thanks, Rhonda!
I just had to write a blog post to answer that question. To tell you the truth, I’m not sure this list is exhaustive or that I won’t think of something additional tomorrow, but for now a couple things immediately come to mind.
First, I hope you already have access to great Internet connectedness and laptops for your students. If not, I’d start there with extra bandwidth and a small set of laptops or Chromebooks or iPads.
If I had enough computers for at least part time access for students, then I would get:
A pro account on Edublogs and pro accounts for any other tools that you and/or your students love. They can each have their own snazzy blog and join a world-wide authentic community where they will grow in reading, writing, presenting, and 21st century skills.
Video recorders and editing software.
A huge collection of Legos Mindstorms robotics, software, and Legos for students to tinker and create.
How about you? What would you do with $3000 to buy tech equipment for your genius hour program?
Ouch…I just re-read Ewan McIntosh’s post, “20% Time and Schools: Not the Best of Bedfellows.” I must say, as much as I respect his work, I disagree with most of this post. Especially this bolded line, jumping out at us in his first paragraph: But in schools, [20% Time] often seems to fall short of our expectations of creative genius.
When I started genius hour with my students in 2011, I did not have expectations of their creative genius. I had expectations that they would learn to learn and become more creative. That’s all! To go in with set expectations of what creative genius looks like in our students is dangerous to the advancement of creativity and innovation. Every one of us who dares to become a teacher better acknowledge the fact that we will have students smarter and more creative than ourselves. (At any age!)
Giving students time for genius hour is tantamount to creating a climate of creativity. It’s not about EXPECTING students to create works of genius, that I would then set against my standard of what hits the mark of genius. My goal is always that they will grow in creativity. Big difference! Ewan said, “…there are moments of genius…but they are by a small proportion of students, with the vast majority of ideas failing to hit the mark.”
From The Passion-Driven Classroom by Amy Sandvold and Angela Maiers
Of course only a small percentage of students are going to produce amazing “genius” inventions in elementary or high school. Only a precious few 4-year-olds are going to spend hours begging the world, “Don’t kill animals,” like Hayley did as described in The Passion-Driven Classroom. Our students are not ALL going to be the next Albert Einsteins or Marie Curies or Steve Jobses or Grace Murray Hoppers. However, they can all grow more ingenious, inquisitive, original, flexible, adaptable, persistent, willing to take risks and live with ambiguity. If given enough time, they can become an expert in something they love, which leads to even more creativity, and possibly to genius inventions and problem-solving further down the road.
My goal in promoting genius hour is hopefully to help stop the insanity of coloring in the lines and getting candy for doing worksheets and lining up in straight rows and doing only what the teacher says. Remember, that’s dangerous, for many of our students will eventually out-think, out-learn, and out-perform their teachers. We have to encourage that to happen, not stifle it!
This fall I had the opportunity to talk to four new kindergarten students, all with different teachers. My standard question for them was, “Do you learn how to color in the lines in kindergarten?
“Oh, yes,” one said. “Some kids try to color too fast and just scribble to get done so they can do what the teacher said you could do after we finish coloring, like read a book, use the white boards, and stuff like that.” I heard something similar from all of these kindergarten friends.
Yes, kindergarten classrooms are full of amazing supplies and “stuff like that.” How about if we let them use these things, even before they color in the lines with colors that make sense? What would happen if we let them make some learning decisions about coloring or reading or writing on white boards or using Legos or making art or inventions or what have you? I know all the schools aren’t Montessori, but can’t we just let them have some time to have fun learning to learn what they want?
When I first started teaching, I thought second grade was about the age students began to lose some of the joy of school. It got too hard or too demanding or they fell behind in reading. Now it seems to be happening with more kindergarteners. All of a sudden, after two years of lining up to teacher expectations in preschool, they are already finished with the joy and now don’t like school in kindergarten! (Speaking of kindergarten, watch this great video about Lifelong Kindergarten.)
We need genius hour, not because Google or 3M does it. It’s not about taking products to market, as it is for these companies. Ewan suggests that 99% of the products that come from the business world’s 20% time are mediocre, but I disagree that you can transfer that statistic to schools. Student 20% time projects that “miss the mark” or fail to meet “OUR expectations of creative genius” are not chaff, but rather the good seeds of creation.
We are making citizens who can contribute and make a difference in the world. Genius hour gives students and teachers the gift of time to learn to be creative and remember their earlier love for learning.
Give students a class period, an hour, or 20% of their time to learn like this and watch the learning in the other 80%-95% of your week grow and blossom.
What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.
May God bless us with discomfort
At easy answers, half-truths,
And superficial relationships
So that we may live from deep
Within our hearts.
May God bless us with anger
At injustice, oppression,
And exploitation of people
So that we may work for justice,
Freedom, and peace.
May God bless us with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain,
Rejection, hunger, and war,
So that we may reach out our
Hands to comfort them and
To turn their pain into joy.
And may God bless us with
Just enough foolishness
To believe that we can make
A difference in the world,
So that we can do what others
Claim cannot be done:
To bring justice and kindness to
All our children and
All our neighbors who are poor.
I am a lifelong learner. I’m always saying, “I learn something new every day.”
This summer has been no exception. However, I only wrote one blog post here this summer. That’s unusual. Typically in June and July I’m busy learning professionally–blogging, vlogging, participating in moocs, attending webinars, tweeting resources on Twitter, posting Flickr pictures and more. This summer I really didn’t. I was sad I didn’t participate in the 20TimeAcademy mooc, Google+ Maker Camp or #clmooc, or submit a proposal for the 2013 K-12 Online Conference. I have totally neglected my #bookaday goal and my friends in the Open Spokes Fellowship.
This summer my learning has been different.
For the past few months, I have been learning DIFFERENT new things every day. I’ve begun a brand new chapter, a major-life-changing chapter.
My husband and I will be moving to Bahrain. He will be a chaplain in a hospital and a pastor at an English language congregation. After I settle in and when there is an opening, I will be able to teach there too.
We have little international experience. (OK, actually, make that LITTLE.) We’ve never left our continent. I have traveled to Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana in Mexico and Thunder Bay, Mississauga, Surrey, and Vancouver in Canada. In other words, I’ve driven to Mexican and Canadian border towns.
In February, my husband and I secured our first-ever passports so we could go to Surrey, British Columbia. At the time I thought, Hmmm, now that we have passports, maybe we’ll get to use them again before they expire.
Little did we know, God had a plan for us to use them. You can read more about our story on our new blog, KrebsFollow.org.
I just finished a two-week road trip, where I saw special people in my life — my daughter — first time I’ve visited her in her new city; a pastor/mentor who married my husband and me and his sweet wife; a nephew and his wonderful bride and young son; and twelve members of my online professional learning network, including two spouses.
It was amazing to me how community happened so quickly when I was with these friends and family. I thought it was interesting, though, of all the people above — 20 are listed — only three of them had I previously met face-to-face.
As a result of that observation, I’ve had many thoughts about connections and community.
Yesterday, when we drove by the turnoff for Kalispell, Montana, I thought of a young woman from that town. I had connected with her and other new friends on a ferry ride through the inside passage of Alaska over 30 years ago. We had an amazing time with this little group of twenty-somethings from Rhode Island, Montana, and California, connecting as young people have always done. We shared meals, slept under the stars on the deck of the ship, took pictures, played games, and shared rich conversation for hours. They even had a birthday party for me with a candle on a slice of banana bread. After three glorious days on our poor man cruise ship, we said goodbye and parted ways. I believe we did exchange addresses, but we were young and transient, and the connections were lost.
Then I thought of fast-forwarding that experience thirty years. If my children took that same ferry boat ride, they would spend three days doing the same things we did. However, they would also make online connections, following each other on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat or the social-medium-du-jour before the ferry traveled very far down the passage. Then, when they said goodbye, if they so chose, they would be able to maintain and even grow those relationships at the click of a button.
These last two weeks have confirmed what I believe about online connections. Contrary to the opinion of some, the Internet does not ruin real relationships, for me it is bringing me closer to people.
Gallit & Hugh
I had butterflies in my stomach just before we arrived. I began giving my daughter and husband a little background about Gallit and my friendship. I reminded them about how I had come to know her. I think my family was nervous because they didn’t have the benefit of knowing Gallit for two years in online collaboration, Facetime, Google Hangouts, Open Spokes, Genius Hour, and so much more.
As soon as we walked into their beautiful home, Gallit and Johnny made us feel like friends. The butterflies went away, and the friendship and laughter took over. They were amazing hosts!
Gallit, Denise, and Hugh
The next day I got to go with Gallit to her Grade 6/7 room at Georges Vanier Elementary School. The staff was amazing. I met Gallit’s teaching partner, Hugh McDonald, in the office. Hugh is one of the very first people I started connecting with on Twitter. Their 48 students, though dangerously close to a summer break, were engaged, polite, creative, and fun to be around. They were amazing!
It was a great day to visit, as two students completed their genius hour project before school by “making peoples’ day.” Simran, Blea, and a dozen classmates held up signs that made many people smile, laugh, and honk their horns. It was definitely a great start to my day. Watch more here:
I also learned about Nigeria from a student who was doing his genius hour presentation, watched a math lesson, and enjoyed (and added to) the pandemonium of students finishing the task of taking ten digital photographs for fine arts.
The best part of the morning was seeing the students and teachers interact. Hugh and Gallit are co-learners with their students. Children and teachers can make mistakes together in this safe place. Students were trusted to make good learning choices, and they did. It was a delightful place to be.
Did you know Hugh and Gallit teach their grade 6/7 students every subject except music and French? That is, they teach ALL content areas, P.E., technology, AND fine arts. Maybe more. Amazing! They get two prep periods in a week — 100 minutes total. Those were just a couple of the differences I noticed. (I may have to write another blog post about that!)
Another delight was watching the principal, Antonio Vendramin, interact with students and staff. The first thing in the morning, he was out directing traffic and supervising the crosswalk. Then he took photos for Hugh and RT’ed about the “Honk If You Love Someone” event.
Later he was photographing all the Grade 7′s for their graduation ceremony slide show. Then I saw him in the hallway reading with a small circle of young learners. After school he was again on duty in the crosswalk as students were picked up. Next, he helped a teacher tape her portion for a music video the staff was making. I was not even there all day, but I saw so many hands-on interactions with parents, staff, and children. He is great.
When I drove down the road after lunch (borrowing Gallit’s car) to Robyn’s school, I went right to the office, but I couldn’t help but notice Robyn, pretty in pink, standing near the doorway of her classroom. She came out and gave me a big hug. No need for introductions. We were already friends–just hadn’t seen each other in person yet.
I had a great afternoon learning from Robyn and her amazing grade 3 and 4s. They went outside to read some good books, played Yahtzee, Skyped with author Howard Binkow, responded to comments from Mr. Binkow on their blogs, enjoyed a surprise–the video they made was featured on #92 Wonderopolis–and more. They are amazing kids!
A dozen educators met up after school at Big Ridge in Surrey. I met all of these folks for the first time this week. What fun to meet people I have been tweeting with, following their classrooms, reading their blogs, vlogging with, and more! Karen, Valerie, Antonio, Hugh, Tia, Jas, Robyn, Anne-Marie, Jodi, Linda, and Gallit all work in School District 36 in Surrey, British Columbia. With over 5,000 teachers and 120 schools, you may not be surprised to learn that some of them were actually meeting face-to-face for the first time too.
We drove up to one of my favorite poet’s house in the rain. Below the dam, behind the Chevron, past the green building, blue house on the corner, and there was Sheri, tiptoeing through the rain and wet grass to greet us.
She took us on a tour of her community, her school, her inspiring classroom, and the giant dam practically in her front yard.
Scott and Sheri fed and lodged us. They fed us some more. More food, but, perhaps even better, they fed us with beautiful conversation and artistic eyefuls around their lovely home. It was great to finally see my friend in person.
As we drove back to Iowa, Keith and I couldn’t help but reflect on the rich times we had with so many people. Not only did we get to spend time with our daughter, a significant mentor, and a nephew and his family, but we connected in community with wonderful people who we never would have known without Internet connections.