Hypothetically Speaking…

At last week’s Education Innovation Lab presented by BEST NC, a question was posed that got me thinking —

What do you want education in North Carolina to look like?

I sit and ponder this question with great intentionality.

There would be more technological resources, as well as old school resources (because honestly, children basically eat at least one glue stick a day and take the markers home for snacks). There would be more human capital in schools to work with students, such as social workers or therapists, in order to meet the mental health needs of all students. There would also be human capital like TAs to help with daily tasks so teachers can focus on actually doing their job (which is teaching in case anyone forgot). Standards wouldn’t be so constraining and there would be a huge focus on soft skills/people skills in curriculum.

(Side note: do we even need science and social studies standards, anyway? I understand language arts and math standards need to be a little tighter based on developmental needs, but why can’t we just let kids choose which topics within science and social studies they want to learn about? This would allow for deeper content knowledge and the opportunity to put that knowledge into practice somehow with an application phase of coursework perhaps. Just thinking “out loud” here and would love to hear some of your ideas with this, too!)

Essentially, everything would be centered around a problem. Students would have to find solutions to real world problems in a PBL setting in their classrooms. Everything would be framed around relevance for students, with an emphasis on current events, too.

I’ve always been a believer that I want my students to leave my classroom better people, not just better students. I care more about them learning how to collaborate with one another than whether or not they remember how earthquakes occur — that’s why all of my projects are in a group/partnership setting.

There are studies showing that many high schoolers don’t feel prepared for ‘adulthood’ when they graduate because school didn’t prepare them for the real world. That, to me, is an extreme disservice. Our schools should absolutely be preparing students for what’s to come down the road, whether that’s college or instant career experience.

Needless to say, you can bet that I’ll ask my students this question upon our return from fall break next week.

So now I ask you, friends, both in and out of North Carolina: what do you want the future of education to look like?

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Innovation.

This post brought to you by the #flipclass #flashblog all about innovation and how I use it in the classroom. Enjoy!

To innovate is to make changes to something that is already established. It’s introducing new methods or ideas to something that is currently in place. This concept of innovation is something that really resonates with me, because I feel like it’s something I try to do every day. Innovating is when I’m adapting lessons and projects for my students because I know what they need.

A teaching model that has already been established and widely-promoted in my district is Reader’s Workshop. I’ve taken this model, pieced together aspects of it that I enjoy and that work well with my students, and have turned it into a blended learning model so that I can reach every student on a daily basis. I analyze the data, put students together based on their needs, and groups are born. They rotate to me or my ESL co-teacher, an online reading program (KidBiz3000) on the Chromebook, or engage in book clubs (either reading independently to meet their self-selected goals, writing about their reading, or discussing the text).

This has been a highly effective model for my classroom, and I’ve seen higher student results from switching my class to a blended model. I spent a quarter doing blended learning with one of my classes and kept the traditional Reader’s Workshop model the district promotes in my other class. I looked at the data last week with my co-teacher and the literacy coach, and we saw greater gains in the blended learning block, which was amazing! Student engagement is higher and the teaching points are more targeted than a broad-strokes mini-lesson. I allot time for my students to go to the library one day a week while I progress monitor them, and one day is spent as a whole group doing a rigorous text discussion (RTD). We use the RTD in our weekly group lessons, which has been great since all students have a deep understanding of the text.

If you’re looking for an innovative way to spin your reading block (or any block for that matter!), definitely check out blended learning! What innovative practices have you started using in your classroom this year?

The Benefits of a Break.

Teacher friends, we’ve done it: we’ve made it to another winter break. The days were long and the kids were crazy, but we did it!

I enjoy winter break for many reasons. It’s nice staying up late at night watching movies or binge watching the TV you missed all semester because you were busy grading papers or attending student basketball games. I love not having to set my alarm for 5:45am (does anyone actually truly enjoy that?). Spending time with people I care about is probably at the top of my priority list of things to do when I’m not in school (sleep is a close second), and I really like having the time flexibility to do anything whenever I want.

There have been multiple people in my life who tell me I can’t turn off work. I admit that I have my workaholic tendencies (like that time I went to a Mipso show and brought letters to write to my kids), and I promise that I can engage in a conversation that is about something other than education and its current policies or “my kids.” The catch for me is this: why would I want to turn something off that I love so much?

I’m a firm believer that teaching is a calling and so much more than simply a career. A huge benefit of break for me is that I have the time to really process things. For me, break is a time of reflection and a time where I can finally develop myself professionally by reading books (my favorite books right now are about smart kids and teacher brains and young educator encouragement) and articles (hopefully those articles are still wildly innovative after being on my “Read Later” Google list for months) so I can harvest new ideas to test in my classroom; because of this, I’ve compiled a little list of things that we can look forward to in 2015 from Room 40:

  • Blended Learning: In one of my reading classes (I teach two sections), I am going to engage in a blended learning project. I’m collaborating with the literacy coach, media specialist, technology specialist, AIG teacher, and my ESL co-teacher on this one and I couldn’t be more thrilled to get the ball rolling with this at the end of January to kick off third quarter! We’re looking at thematic book clubs for every child, constant small group instruction, and lots of informational reading practice in both English and Spanish. We’re taking the traditional Reading Workshop and putting it on its head!
  • Genius Hour: This thrills me to no end. If you don’t know about Genius Hour, I encourage you to find some resources and be prepared to be blown away (why don’t you start here?)! I haven’t quite worked out all my logistics, but I’m trying it in my PBL blocks. We already have a social studies Wax Museum/Biography project set up for when we get back from break, but our Plants unit after that shows great Genius Hour potential!
  • Flipped Classroom Elements: I plan on flipping a bit in my aforementioned blended learning project. Since I’ll be pushing out a lot of assignments using Google Classroom and I’ll be 1:1 with ChromeBooks in my class, it makes sense to give this a shot. Ideally, I’d love to look at my literacy data from state-mandated benchmarks and do some videos on how to write about what we read. It’s small, but it’s a start!

What are your ideas and goals for your classroom in 2015?!