Making Progress! Leadership Day 2012

Today is Leadership Day 2012. Dr. Scott McLeod, Director of Innovation for Prairie Lakes Area Education Agency 8 in Iowa, has been calling people to write Leadership Day posts since 2007. (This year’s post is here.)

Last year I wrote my first Leadership Day post as an open letter to my administrator whom I had yet to met. I didn’t know anything about her. Now, I have had the joy of meeting her and working with her for one year.

As I re-read my post from last year, I am excited! A lot has happened since then, including some great professional development last year. We took a quick tour of the five Characteristics of Effective Instruction described in the Iowa Core. We also did some technology trainings. And, one of the best things, we bought two new laptop carts with Macs. One is housed in my room, with easy access for my students!

My class became more student-centered, due in part to our in-school PD, but even more as a result of my PLN and all I’m learning and sharing as a connected educator. This year I am excited to work more on rigor and relevance in my student-centered, genius classroom. We’ll be studying that characteristic in depth at school. I know I will grow yet again as an educator. I have appreciated our new administrator’s leadership.

And, bonus! On Monday I came into the office after the summer and she told me she was tweeting now. I was tickled! She is becoming a connected educator, and she’s already been tweeting out resources for others to benefit from! I’m looking forward to the new things we will learn together. Follow her at @LisaHamerlinck1

Tonight is open house at our school.

Lisa, I am planning to spend tonight and the first five days of school inspiring learning in my geniuses, not telling students what they can’t do. When they come into my room, this slideshow will be rolling.

Read more Leadership Day 2012 posts here.

Researcher’s Workshop

I have been trying to figure out how to make our daily experience at school more like genius hour. In my science and history classes I have wanted to experiment with “researcher’s workshop.” I want to allow students to choose their topics, based on the essential concepts and skills in the Core, and then let them loose, exploring and researching topics of their choice.

My idea is different than a typical research paper. Students have always had some topic choice when they write a research paper. So, what was different about my new idea?

I asked my students to find a topic ala Carl Rogers, who said:

“I am talking about any learning in which the experience of the learner progresses along this line: ‘No, no, that’s not what I want’; ‘Wait! This is closer to what I am interested in, what I need’; ‘Ah, here it is! Now I’m grasping and comprehending what I need and what I want to know!'”

My request was simple: Don’t start your research until you get to that third point–“Ah, here it is!” Then enjoy asking and answering questions about that topic.

They were then given three hours to research their self-generated essential questions. Not three hours to write a research paper. Three hours to immerse themselves in the learning that they assured me they really wanted and needed to know. I had to keep reminding them to not start their final project yet. “Just learn now. Become an expert.” “You may change your mind later.” “The game you are planning may take an unexpected turn during your research phase.”

I was really pleased with the level of engagement. They watched History Channel DVDs, Learning 360 clips, and an occasional YouTube video, taking notes. They moved from website to website, noting the URLs of their sources. They read children and adult nonfiction. They noted the conflicting information between sources they were reading and viewing. And perhaps the best part? As they learned something amazing, they spontaneously told someone sitting near them. (Or the most enthusiastic told the whole class!)

As I watched them work, I realized most people aren’t often given time (or for adults, take time) to do research just because they are passionate about the topic. Oh, to be sure, we all do research. When we or a loved one have a stake in the learning. When knowing it will get us what we want. For instance, years ago, prior to a job interview, I looked at the web site of the school. It seemed to me, they were overly-interested in reciprocal teaching. It was new to me, so I read everything I could about it before the interview. I just knew it would come up, and it did. I do research sometimes to help myself or another person, but less often for the pure joy of learning.  What I wanted for my students was joyful learning.

I told them the project at the end was less important than the research itself. I wanted them to have time to learn what they wanted to on a topic of interest. However, I did want them to use what they learned to be productive and creative (genius attributes), so there was a product due too. Some of the project ideas I floated:

  • a web site or wiki
  • a Fakebook page
  • a narrative or documentary movie
  • a poetry collection
  • a photographic essay
  • a Twitter account of a personality tweeting
  • an illustrated children’s book
  • other
One group made a slavery simulation that we participated in around the neighborhood.

As we finished this two-week unit and the presentations began, there was quite a variety. We had an iMovie with music created on Garage Band and a web page. We had a simulation activity, a board game, and a Fakebook page, which really showed her learning. There were two paper posters and one of my favorites, an animap of Sherman’s March to the Sea. In addition, there were several Google Presentations. For the most part, students were creative. I’m sorry to say, though, given the excellent experience with the research, I was a bit disappointed in the quality of some of the products.  Some were exceptional, but many were mediocre. (Maybe part of that is the fact that school is out for summer in three days!)

The exciting part for me, though, is that I can honestly say during the research time, 100% of the students were engaged for the majority of the time.

In addition to the Social Studies standards we were working on, there were many English Language Arts Common Core Standards introduced or practiced:

  • RI.8.1. Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
  • RI.8.2. Determine a central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text, including its relationship to supporting ideas; provide an objective summary of the text.
  • RI.8.8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; recognize when irrelevant evidence is introduced.
  • RI.8.9. Analyze a case in which two or more texts provide conflicting information on the same topic and identify where the texts disagree on matters of fact or interpretation.
  • W.8.6. Use technology, including the Internet, to produce and publish writing and present the relationships between information and ideas efficiently as well as to interact and collaborate with others.
  • W.8.7. Conduct short research projects to answer a question (including a self-generated question), drawing on several sources and generating additional related, focused questions that allow for multiple avenues of exploration.
  • W.8.8. Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, using search terms effectively; assess the credibility and accuracy of each source; and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and following a standard format for citation.
  • W.8.9. Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
      • Apply grade 8 Reading standards to literary nonfiction (e.g., “Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; recognize when irrelevant evidence is introduced”).

A Need for Researcher’s Workshop

Come with me to genius hour last week. Here is the scenario I came upon.

Two students and two computers – one working on an iMovie, one looking up information. On the iMovie, they were adding slides that asked interesting questions about Camaros. When I arrived, the question on the iMovie screen was: What is the Camaro’s body made of?

On the other computer, the “researcher” had typed in this question in a Google search: “What are car bodies made of?” He clicked on the first link and got to this site:

He began reading/summarizing aloud, “Car bodies ‘…are made out of sheet metal (steel)…’ Yep, they are made out of steel.” The iMovie guy began typing.

Hmmm…I saw many things wrong here, and I couldn’t stay quiet very long. When I saw that he didn’t even finish reading the first paragraph, I stepped in. “What else are they made of, according to this source?” I asked, pointing to the screen.

Based on that first paragraph, car bodies could be made of steel, aluminum, a variety of mixtures of those, carbon-fiber, or fiber glass.

I also pointed out the difference in the two questions on the two computers. One asked about Camaros and the other about cars in general. Do you know the answer to your question yet?

I stayed with them awhile, not wanting to stifle their enthusiasm, but I also wanted to see how they chose their sources, and which ones they liked. The way they were searching by question reminded me of the olden days when we used the then cutting-edge “Ask Jeeves” search engine. We would type in a question, and a nice butler would magically send you to the answer. (Now it’s at

Search engines and Q & A sites have continually developed over the past decade. The “answers” they give, as well as the pool of contributors doing the answering, have grown exponentially in that time. Maybe, I thought, I need to teach students a different way of searching than I used in the 90s.

When the Camaro boys typed the question in a Google search, they were given many answers to choose from — with a great range in the quality of the answers. You can see them here:,, and the Q&A Community of, and

Although it didn’t come up in a search for this question, another site they said they like to use is (Tell me, do people still think Wikipedia is an unreliable source?)

As I finished up with these boys, I was struck with some things I have not been paying enough attention to. I need to directly teach more about researching, especially online. In addition, I took away some more advice to self:

  1. Teach critical reading. It’s more important now than ever.
  2. Figure out how I decide if a site is reliable. And how do I teach that to seventh graders?
  3. Encourage the good questioning that was going on, but help students learn to be unsatisfied with shallow answers plucked out of their reading.

This happened a week ago Wednesday. The same evening I participated in #geniushour chat, where I heard about something new: researcher’s workshop. I didn’t get the details, but I imagined that it was a cross between genius hour and an assigned research paper.

After seeing the Camaro research, and other similar researching events during genius hour and my science and history classes, I need to do more research and find out more about research workshop.

This week, we just finished an experimental version of the researcher’s workshop in history. (I’ll write about my attempt this week in a later post, but before they started I gave them the advice in the picture below.)

How do you teach researching?
Do you have any suggestions for what should be in a researcher’s workshop?

 Edited image by mrsdkrebs; original CC image by @sandymillin and #eltpics.

Agents of Change vs. Status Quo

Here’s my report back after a few days of history class where students OWNED this standard:

Understand the role of individuals and groups within a society as promoters of change or the status quo.

  • Understand that specific individuals and the values those individuals held had an impact on history.
  • Understand significant events and people, including women and minorities, in the major eras of history.

They came up with presentations, movies, and blog posts to show how they understood this Iowa Core standard. You can find links to their projects here.

However, when I read this quote from Becca’s blog post, it made me realize this unit was a success:

When we had to present, I saw all the other topics and I saw how hard the people [in history] tried to change the status quo. It makes me want to change things that are important. When you look at how hard they tried to make a change in history, and they didn’t do it just for them–it was for other people who wanted what they wanted.

Related posts:

First Post SBAR and Making the Perfect Cremé Brulee

Second Post Day 2 – Promoters of Change or the Status Quo

SBAR and Making the Perfect Cremé Brulee

Today I experimented. I do this often, but today was a success.

I am enthralled with learning about Standards Based Assessment and Reporting (SBAR). Recently, I was inspired by a tweet from a former colleague who visited Shawn Cornally in his SBAR higher-level math and science courses. I love Shawn’s blog Think, Thank, Thunk and I’ve been reading of his challenges and successes with SBAR. Today I gave my history students a copy of just five pages of the social studies Iowa Core standards for grades 6-8.

First, I apologized because we only have 4.5 weeks left of school, and I have not taught them all these things.

Second, we began to look through them, and when we hit one that we all slightly understood, I said, “OK, that’s the one. We’ll stop right on this one.” Here it is:

Understand the role of individuals and groups within a society as promoters of change or the status quo.

  • Understand that specific individuals and the values those individuals held had an impact on history.
  • Understand significant events and people, including women and minorities, in the major eras of history.

We talked about it for a while. The Civil Rights Movement came up. Connections were made. The Ku Klux Klan and Martin Luther King, Jr., were mentioned. Students were discussing. I didn’t have an assignment or worksheets. Status quo was a needed vocab word for many of the students, and Jaci saved the day by breaking into song, “Stick to the Status Quo”:

No, no, no, nooooooooooo
No, no, no
Stick to the stuff you know
If you wanna be cool
Follow one simple rule
Don’t mess with the flow, no no
Stick to the status quoooooooo

She explained how students in High School Musical wanted to bake, make the perfect cremé brulee, do hip hop and more, but they kept being put down and told:

No, no, no
stick to the stuff you know
It is better by far
To keep things as they are
Don’t mess with the flow, no no
Stick to the status quo

OK, this is a fun way to talk about vocabulary during history class, I thought.

That was yesterday. For today’s class, I sent this “assignment” in an email:

Work hard today! We have much to learn and do! Much to create and experience! You are a genius and the world demands your contribution! For instance, check out how many people have been enjoying your book spine poems:

Today, we are doing this…

Essential Concept and/or Skill: Understand the role of individuals and groups within a society as promoters of change or the status quo.
Understand that specific individuals and the values those individuals held had an impact on history.
• Understand significant events and people, including women and minorities, in the major eras of history.

How will you show that you UNDERSTAND this? First, choose an individual or group that you are passionate about, someone who was a promoter of change or the status quo. Then go crazy! How can you show your understanding? Be creative. Be genius.

Love you all! I really do!
Mrs. Krebs

Thoughts were flying. Women’s suffrage movement, the Holocaust, Civil Rights, the Civil War, and Kenneth James Weishuhn.

Hmmm. Maybe we CAN all be working on different projects at the same time as my colleague said he saw in Shawn’s classroom.

We’re trying it this week. Unlike Shawn’s class, we’re on the same standard today, but students are working on their own plan for understanding it.

I didn’t really create an assignment. There is no rubric. It’s student-centered. As the teacher, I was running around suggesting websites, finding books, answering questions, and trying to help them narrow their topics. Students were all energized and engaged in learning. It was fun, and the period when by fast. Mostly students were doing research today, but there was talk of blog posts, presentations, and videos.  We’re sharing on Friday. I’ll publish their products later.

But, for today, I am satisfied. My students and I are being promoters of change.

Later Posts
Part 2 Day 2 – Promoters of Change or the Status Quo
Part 3 Agents of Change vs. Status Quo