5 Paragraph Essays & Newspaper Articles vs. Blog Posts & Copywriting

If I were to ask you to write a mission statement as a teacher, what would you write?  If it could only be one sentence, what are the things that would be most important for you to share in your beliefs about our students?  For most of us, I think somewhere in there we’d say something about preparing our students for the future.  That means we have to think about what the future may hold.  I know I’ve shared the quote below, but remember what Thomas Friedman says about today’s workers:

Daily Quotes (2)

While we may not know exactly what the future may hold, we know that there are some things that our students probably will not be doing much of in the future.  Stop and think for a minute – when was the last time you wrote a five paragraph essay?  ELA teacher please don’t hate me for saying this, but really, when was the last time you needed that skill?  I say all of this knowing that when I last taught ELA, we always had at least one research paper that was submitted in the five paragraph format.  Now, I agree that there are aspects of a five paragraph essay that are essential – being concise in our argument, having a clear structure for our writing, etc., but are there other formats of writing that could allow us to teach these same skills and at the same time be innovative?

What about another one of those writing activities that appears in many classrooms (including mine in the past) – the newspaper article.  Now, I will say that I have a subscription to the Indy Star, and while I can’t say that I ever read it cover to cover, and that there are some days that I don’t get to it at all, I do love having the option to sit down and read the paper.  However, the statistics on print media are noticeable.  I did a quick google search and found the charts below.  There’s less money coming into print media in the form of ad revenue, and the number of workers employed in newspaper publishing has been in pretty steady decline.

Now, I may be ruffling a few feathers here – and by no means am I saying that I think our students should never write a five paragraph essay or a newspaper article, but given the probable lack of a need for those skills in their future, what might be more valuable ways for our students to spend their time?  Two things that come to mind – blog posts and copy writing.

More and more, newspapers are trying to reach readers in formats other than print media.  I see IndyStar writers pop up in my Twitter feed sharing copy trying to get people to click the links and go the their site.  I see news articles online that are formatted more like a blog than a newspaper.  Two ways to help our students be able to reach the greater world would involve writing blog posts (like what you’re looking at right now), and learning a little about copywriting (the art and science of writing words used on web pages, ads, promotional materials, etc., that sells your product of service and convinces prospective customers to take action).  Now, I know that our students aren’t trying to sell things, but the skills of writing good copy will help our students be better overall writers.

HSE21 Best Practice Model
HSE21 Best Practice Model

Throughout the year you have heard us talk about the HSE21 best practice model.  You’ve also seen examples of the “Less of this, more of this” charts.  Again, I’m not saying we should throw out the five-paragraph essay or the newspaper article.  But we also need to think with an eye towards the future.  What types of writing will be the most valuable for our students when they leave school and move on to a career?

Think about it, a student in your class could write a blog post on something they have been learning about.  Other students (or teachers, parents, family members, or maybe even experts in a given field of study) would be able to read and respond in the comments to their thinking.  Students would be able to share their blog site with their friends and family members.  Parents wouldn’t have to ask the dreaded “What did you do at school today?” because they could have looked at the most recent blog post and say “I saw in the most recent post to the blog that you are learning about …, tell me more about that.”

It’s also been proven through study after study that ELA scores are impacted most by reading and writing across the curriculum (teaching reading and writing skills should not only be the job of the ELA teacher).  What a valuable expression of learning it would be for our students to write a blog post about their experiences in math, art, science, or gym (or any other subject!!!).  And another great thing about blog posts – they don’t have to be just words.  WordPress (and most other blog sites out there) will allow pictures, video, and audio, and if I really wanted to, I could create an entire post from my WordPress app on my cell phone or my iPad.

What are your thoughts on student created blogs?  Can you see a way that you could enrich the learning of the students in your class through writing about it?  What about copywriting?  Curious how it could fit into the writing activities you are already doing?  Wanna talk more about this?  Share your thought below.  We can find a structure to make it work in your classroom!

PLNs – Professional Learning Networks or Personal Learning Networks – you choose!

Many of you may know that one of my personal passions is cooking.  I learned to cook basic things when I was in elementary school.  When I was in 4-H I had multiple county fair champions, and sent a few things to the State Fair.  In our house now I do most of the cooking because it’s something I enjoy doing.  Over the years I have developed my “favorite” meals that I have found out there and adjusted to suit my tastes, or the tastes of my family.  Last fall however, I noticed that I had a series of 10-12 things that we were just cycling through.  It was hard to choose anything to cook because I was getting bored with the options I had.  I needed something new.  Then, I happened to be listening to an interview of J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, the author of The Food Lab, and I knew I had to get his cookbook.  The guy was a self-described science nerd who became a chef and uses the scientific method to perfect his recipes – sign me up!

The book is almost 1000 pages, includes awesome step by step pictures and instructions for hundreds of recipes, along with scientific descriptions of what happens during the cooking process, explanations of experiments to find the best option in preparing certain dishes, and suggestions for home cooks to be able to carry out techniques that normally are reserved for professional kitchens.  In the several months that I have had the book, we have upgraded our meals in the Behrman household.  The only complaint?  I think I need to run a few extra miles every week with the food we’ve been eating (it’s been hard not to have a second serving with most of these meals!).

Now, some of you may be wondering what this has with a PLN, but I promise, I’m going to try to make it connect.  When you think about what you need to grow as an educator, what comes to mind?  Jot down the top 3 things that you think of.  Really… Take a moment to jot down those top 3.  This post will still be here when you get it done.

Now, if I were to poll you, there would be a massive variety of choices that would make it impossible for any administrator to come up with a school PD plan that would meet the needs of all of you.  Instead, here’s what I suggest– think about your passions, your areas of continued growth, and get learning!  You could talk to your colleagues about things you’re interested in.  There are tons of experts within your building and throughout your district.  If you’re looking for someone to help you in a specific area, ask around.  Maybe your administrator can point you in the right direction.  By sharing our knowledge and sharing our curiosities, we can become an environment that encourages lifelong learning.

You know when you find something exciting!  You know when you have an idea that you just have to try out!  Just like I became excited about new cooking with The Food Lab cookbook, you can find your own ways to grow as an educator, and hopefully the rest of this post will help with that!

Our connections on social media allow us to connect with educators like never before! Matt Miller - https://www.flickr.com/photos/126588706@N08/14562418440/in/album-72157645530010989/
Our connections on social media allow us to connect with educators like never before!
Matt Miller – https://www.flickr.com/photos/126588706@N08/14562418440/in/album-72157645530010989/

A couple weeks ago I shared links to some education hashtags for Twitter (click here to go back to that post).  See if there are any that tie to your 3 things you jotted down earlier – want to learn more about standards based learning? #SblChat might be perfect for you!  Interested in educational technology? Check out #edtech!  For things specific to your grade level, you might want to check out #5thchat (5th grade chat) or #6thchat (6th grade chat).  If Twitter isn’t your thing, you might try a search on Pinterest (yes, even I have an account!).  You can also search Facebook, and often you can find great videos on YouTube that may help you learn.

If you aren’t quite sure what you want to learn about, then you might have to take some other steps to find a path – you could ask your students what you should learn next.  Find out what interests them, what learning methods work for them, or what they’d be excited to do.  You could also check the blogosphere.  You’ve heard me reference blogs in the past – blogs like Edutopia, A.J. Juliani, Cult of Pedagogy, and The Cornerstone for Teachers are a few that I like.  Most of the blogs I have found have been through links from blogs I already followed.  If you find a blog you like, subscribe, or use Feedly as a single place to keep track of them all!

I know that some of you may be thinking that it’s the end of the year and you don’t want to mix anything up.  Think about it though – wouldn’t it be better to try something totally new with a group of students you already know, as opposed to trying it with a new group of students you don’t know yet?  Isn’t it easier to make adjustments to your teaching when one of the variables – students – is a known quantity?  Don’t put the pressure of learning something new on your future self!  There is no better time to try something new than right now!

Finally, one suggestion that might make some of us a little uncomfortable – seek out people with beliefs that might be different than you.  Being brave enough to learn from those who challenge you can be one key to your continued growth.  Find someone who challenges you and talk with them with the purpose of understanding their thinking, not getting it to line up with yours – you might learn from them, and they might learn from you.

What things have you learned through your professional learning network?  Share with us in the comments below!  We’d love to hear about it!

Don’t deny the technology – permanently…

As most of you know, HSE21 has been a multi-year project in which administrators, teachers, parents, and students have been looking at how best to create a 21st century learning experience for our students.  Through the program the Best Practice Model was developed, and in time the decision was made to transition to a 1:1 environment as a way to enhance the Best Practice Model.  These decisions were made as a result of the changing world around us.  As teachers we have all seen more of our students, and possibly more of our own lives, occurring in a digital world.

HSE21 Best Practice Model
HSE21 Best Practice Model

For most of us, if we see that a child is engaged in a particular activity, we find ways to try to encourage that skill.  If your child is coloring on the wall, you may initially be upset, but you may also be tempted to put up a chalkboard, or get an easel that they can use to encourage that skill.  Who knows, that kid that started out painting on the wall may turn into the next Picasso or Van Gogh.  In your classroom that may mean allowing students to choose what product would best represent their learning.

Now think of our students.  The second they walk out of the building they are bombarded with digital options.  Smart-phones, tablets, computers, apps, websites, and more are competing for their attention.  If we don’t notice that and innovate towards that, we will lose some of our students.  The way I see it, more and more, technology is a right for our students in their learning.  Are there moments when it may not fit, or they may not use it?  Yes!  But it’s also important that we all recognize that devices and digital tools are becoming interconnected with our lives and with education.

FriedmanI have had many conversations with teachers who fear that we aren’t “preparing students for the real world.”  How can we accurately predict what that world will look like for our students?  I struggle to predict what next week might look like, let alone predicting what the world will be like in 10 years when our students either have entered, or are entering the workforce.  One thing I feel confident in telling you: they will need to know is how to use technology in appropriate and responsible ways.  If our only solution for poor decisions with technology is to try to permanently take technology away from our students, we are doing them a disservice.  Remember, our kids are 10, 11, and 12 year olds, and they are going to make mistakes, but going to the nuclear option of “you can’t use this anymore” doesn’t teach a child anything.  However, taking the device away for a period of time, and then having a conversation about the repercussions of their actions creates a learning opportunity for a child.

Sometimes drastic measures need to be taken to maintain the kind of classroom experiences that our students need – things like a temporary ban on technology – but we have to go back to the fundamentals.  To be relevant for our student we must use the best tools at our disposal.  By avoiding the technology permanently we are missing out on amazing teachable moments.

Thinking about your classroom, where are successes that you have had that would not have been possible without technology?  Have there been times that taking the technology out of a lesson has led to better engagement and learning?  Share with us some of your opinions!

The importance of failure (and a little about Elon Musk)

Last week I received an email from one of my favorite blogs directing me to a post titled “What Teachers Can Learn About Failure From Elon Musk” (you can click on the link if you’d like to see the original post).  The gist of the post is that as teachers and learners, we have to fail, and be willing to share those failures, as part of the learning process.  I thought of the saying “Fail Forward” as I read one of the early paragraphs.

elon-muskThe post then talked a lot about Elon Musk.  This is a guy I had heard of – I’ve seen his TED Talk, Tesla makes some pretty cool cars, and as a self described nerd, I have watched multiple SpaceX launches and attempts at landing with interest.  So as I was reading about Musk, I was curious to be directed to a series of posts about Elon Musk from the blog Wait But Why (Check it out here: Elon Musk: The World’s Raddest Man).  After going deep into some background on the history of fossil fuels, automotives, space travel, and a few other topics, I also walked away with a newfound interest in Elon Musk, as well as an understanding of why Tim Urban, the author of Wait But Why, describes Musk as such a rad dude.

As a college student what were you thinking about?  When Musk was in college, he asked himself “What will most affect the future of humanity?”  His list contained 5 things: “The internet; sustainable energy; space exploration with a goal of life beyond Earth; artificial intelligence; and reprogramming the human genetic code.”  I can tell you that as a college student, this is most certainly not what I was thinking about!

Whatever skeptics have said can't be done, Elon has gone out and made it real. Remember in the 1990s, when we would call strangers and give them our credit-card numbers- Elon dreamed upSo here’s a brief rundown of Musk’s career:

1995 – starts Zip2 – think Yelp and Google Maps in a pre-smartphone era – in 1999 at the age of 27 Zip2 sells for $307 million, and Musk’s take was $22 million.

1999 – Musk takes three quarters of his personal net worth to start X.com – an online bank (before those really existed).  X.com merged with Confinity to create a money-transfer service that we now know of as PayPal.

2000 – Musk is replaced as CEO of PayPal, but stays on the team in a senior role.

2002 – eBay bought PayPal for $1.5 billion, and Musk walked away this time with $180 million.  He was 34 years old.

Also in 2002 – Musk begins researching rocket technology and after the finalization of the sale of PayPal, he invests $100 million of his own money in a rocket company called SpaceX.  The stated goal of the company was to revolutionize the cost of space travel in order to make humans a multi-planetary species by colonizing Mars with at least a million people over the next century.

SpaceX Logo

Let that sink in for a minute…  In the span of 7 years he went from dropping out of a Stanford PhD program to starting SpaceX.

And he wasn’t done yet…


2004 – still in the middle of the SpaceX experiment, Musk personally invested $70 million into an electric car company called Tesla.  The last successful US car startup was Chrysler in 1925.

2006 – invests $10 million to found another company – SolarCity with the goal of revolutionizing energy production by creating a large distributed utility that would install solar panel systems on millions of people’s homes and reducing their consumption of fossil fuel generated electricity. Because, I mean, what else did he have to do?!!

Side note: As I was reading through this, especially in reading about what Musk has done since 2002, I couldn’t help thinking of someone winning the PowerBall and deciding that they are going to use their money to feed the people of Africa, only to go bankrupt before they send anything across the Atlantic!  I wonder what I would have done if I was in his shoes when PayPal sold to eBay – it would be so tempting to take that money and go live on a tropical island for the rest of my days!

So, what does this have to do with failing forward you might ask.  Looking over the list of accomplishments above, it might be hard to find the failure.  During a 2005 interview with Fast Company, Musk was quoted as saying “Failure is an option here.  If things are not failing, you are not innovating enough.”  He was speaking about the culture of business at SpaceX.

Let’s look at some of the failures in his time at SpaceX:

I'll admit - this isn't a picture of one of the failed launches, but look at it! How cool is that???
I’ll admit – this isn’t a picture of one of the failed launches, but look at it! How cool is that???

2006: First launch – failure

2007: Second launch – failure

2008: Third launch – failure

At this point, it was easy to have doubts in the likelihood of success for SpaceX.  They had yet to prove that they had the ability to be successful.  And yet, those who worked at SpaceX, Musk included, were supremely confident.  With each of the failures, that had been livestreamed to the world, the company had learned and made improvements.  The engineers and scientists at SpaceX would go back to the drawing board and try to improve.

In the fall of 2008 SpaceX only had enough money to try one more launch.  Failure here would mean failure to the entire company.  But on the fourth launch they achieved complete success.  With it came new funding in the form of funds from NASA to make multiple deliveries to the International Space Station.  So what does this have to do with education?

In reading about SpaceX, Tesla, and other companies that Musk has been involved in, the key to their success is the feedback that the company seeks from it’s failure.  They are working in fields where there has been little to no success, so there isn’t a blueprint of how to succeed.  Failure is part of the process, whether they are building a rocket, a car, a battery for the car, or some other component in the process.

We can all agree that failure is an important part of the learning process.  But for it to be a learning experience, failure can’t be the end point for our students.  We can’t just put a failing grade in the grade book and move on.  Instead we mark that section at ‘needs improvement’ and we get back to work through meaningful feedback.  At SpaceX and Tesla, that feedback is an important part of the process to innovate.

Check out this video of a launch in June of this year.  It will pick up about 10 seconds before launch.  If you watch until about 2 minutes after lift-off, you’ll see the result:

As you can see, SpaceX still has failure.  But those failures continue to result in innovation!

We need to be providing that same type of feedback for our students.  There should be a two-way feedback loop between a teacher and student.  You have to provide your students feedback on the work that they are submitting.  It must be specific and lead to action that your students can take in their learning.  At the same time, your students have to be able to provide you feedback about their learning.  They need opportunities to make choices – in what they are learning, how they are learning it, how they are showing their learning.

Students can feel defeated when they try something new and things don’t go as they hope.  We have to continue to help them to understand that the journey is just as important, if not more so, than the end point.  We all learn from our failures, and getting up and trying it again shows that we are truly working for something better.

And just to show that success in one place doesn’t mean an endpoint, it’s important to think about what Musk and SpaceX are up to now.  They’ve shown they can successfully launch a rocket a get a payload to the ISS, but now they are trying to learn how to land a rocket that has just been in orbit onto a landing pad in the ocean.  Because, duh!  Why not???

There is no such thing as a quantum leap. There is only dogged persistence - and in the end you make it look like a quantum leap.So far, no success.  All four attempts have been failures.  But think back to Musk’s earlier quote – failure is an option.  I’m guessing that before too long, we’ll see a successful landing by SpaceX on a launch pad in the middle of the ocean.  When you see that landing, remember that it didn’t just happen.  It took tons of man-hours to get the feedback necessary to learn and adapt.  In the same way, our students need our feedback in order to continue to learn and grow.

Think back to a time that you learned something from a failure.  What steps did you take to improve?  Did you eventually find success?  Share with us in the comments below.  Or share your own example of a person who has show you what it means to “fail forward.”

Be a Connected Educator (Part 2)


In last week’s post I shared a little about the value that connectedness can provide to educators.  This week I want to share some of the ways that you can use social media for personalized PD.  As I shared last week, online educator communities provide you with 24/7 access to people, ideas, resources, philosophies, and opportunities that can expand your world (and the world of our students).  So here are some of the reasons I get excited to connect online:

  • Inspiration: Many of the new things that I try here at school are because of something I have learned through a tweet, blog post, or somewhere online.
  • Motivation: Several of the twitter accounts I follow are educators who love to tweet out pictures and quotes that motivate me to try to be better. That little bit of motivation can be such an awesome help!
  • Challenge: I intentionally follow some people because they have different opinions than me. I do this because I want to have a full background.  Every once in a while something that someone shares truly challenges my thinking in a way that makes me reflect on my beliefs.
  • Camaraderie: I have been able to find connections with many other teachers and administrators all over the country/world!
  • Apps: You can use your digital connections to learn about new apps for a specific purpose, or ideas for better ways to use the apps you already have.
  • Humor: Just like our Friday funnies, there are funny things that happen in schools every day. Some of those things show up in my timeline and give me the opportunity to laugh.
  • Collaboration: Through online connections you can work with almost anyone in the world. You can find teachers all over the world teaching the same material, and create connections that allow you to learn from them, and they can learn from you.

So how do we connect?  And how do we find the time?  That’s total up to you, but there are a couple of options that you could try, and the amount of effort you put into them is totally up to you!

Our connections on social media allow us to connect with educators like never before!  Matt Miller - https://www.flickr.com/photos/126588706@N08/14562418440/in/album-72157645530010989/
Our connections on social media allow us to connect with educators like never before!
Matt Miller – https://www.flickr.com/photos/126588706@N08/14562418440/in/album-72157645530010989/

Social Media: For me, this is the best way to connect.  Twitter is my favorite choice, but Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest are good ones as well.  My favorite thing about Twitter is that every post is 140 characters or less.  It’s amazing how much info can be packed into such a short amount of space.  The biggest thing to know on Twitter is how to use a hashtag.  A couple of my favorites are #edchat and #edtech.  Tons of great ideas get shared, and if you post something with one of those hashtags, you will get a ton of people to see your post.  (For more education hashtags, take a look at the links in last week’s post)

Blogs: There are thousands of blogs about education out there!  Most of my favorite blogs that I follow are because of connections I have made on Twitter.  I use Feedly.com as an RSS aggregator that keeps all my blogs in one place.  Each time a new blog that I follow posts, it shows up in my feed.  When I have time, I’ll peek at it.  If my day is too busy, I’ll skip it.  Feedly can also help you find other blogs based on topics you are interested in.  In addition to reading blogs, you can also start writing a blog.  Share the things you know – creation is one of the highest levels of thinking.  It can also be a huge time commitment – these posts don’t write themselves!  Some post daily, some are a few days a week, some are less regular than that.

Being a connected educator will make it easier to transform education in your classroom.  You will find new ideas, you will be able to ask questions, and you will be able to share your own thinking and give back to the community!  Invest the time that makes sense to you.  There are days I don’t get on Twitter at all, and there are days where I have extra time and might spend an hour or two reading, adding, and building connections.

What tools have allowed you to connect and change the way you teach?  Share with the rest of us below!

Be a connected educator (Part 1)

How often have you felt that you were “alone” in your classroom?  You plan for your students – nobody else’s class is quite like yours.  You plan for your content – nobody else is at quite the same place as you.  It’s easy to build up walls and confine yourself to them.  But think for a second…  Is that what’s best for you?  Is that what’s best for the kids in your class?

When we provide more students the opportunities to share in the classroom, we are building bridges to the world instead of placing them in a silo. https://www.flickr.com/photos/126588706@N08/14749002232/in/album-72157645530010989/
When we provide more students the opportunities to share in the classroom, we are building bridges to the world instead of placing them in a silo.

If the answer you find yourself coming to is no, then it’s time to think about how to connect beyond the walls of you classroom.  I think we all know that there is a wealth of information out there on the internet.  Can you imagine what teaching was like before Google? (I’m sure some of you are saying “Yes!  I lived it!”).  I think we all know that we can find great resources with a simple web search, but sometimes we find a lot of junk too!  Taking the time to sift through it all can be time consuming!  What if there was a way to connect with others who did have students similar to ours, or who were sharing something that was just right for your class to do as well.

One of the best ways to connect with other educators is through Twitter! Matt Miller: https://www.flickr.com/photos/126588706@N08/14746748124/in/album-72157645530010989/

In addition to websites, there are also other educators out there waiting and eager to help you!  Or they might be looking for the help that you can provide them.  The community of educators on Twitter grows every week.  According to one report from Twitter, about 1 in every 100 tweets are related to education, and there are about a half-billion tweets a day!  You can tweet at someone, or just to a hashtag, and get a response in moments.  For an overwhelmingly long list of education hashtags, check out this link: http://cybraryman.com/edhashtags.html.  Some of those hashtags are related to education twitter chats – you can see a calendar of what’s out there here: Education Chat Calendar.

You can also connect with other schools and teachers for your students benefit.  Earlier this year, my daughter’s first grade class did a Skype session with a class in New Hampshire to learn about geography and discuss a book from the Global Read Aloud.  This was the third Skype session (that I’m aware of).  Their online connections included chatting with the author of a book they read, and talking with another class in Colorado.

Last week Barbara tried out a Mystery Skype with her class (she can tell you more about how it went), and once the technology was working correctly, it was a cool experience for the kids in her class.  All over HSE, there are elementary classrooms participating in mystery Skype’s to learn about new places and things.  Want to know more about the idea behind a Mystery Skype, click here!

It’s also important to point out that here at RSI, we have several staff members who already use Twitter from their classroom.  If you want to know more about it, just ask Jenna, Mary Lynn, Barbara, Christian, Samantha, Mary, or Krista and Jennifer (you can also click on their name to go to their Twitter page) about how they use Twitter to connect with the world beyond our walls.  As a parent I also feel that Twitter enriches my understanding of what is happening in my daughter’s class.  I have followed and subscribed to Lainey’s teacher, Courtney Gibson, and I get alerts whenever she posts a tweet (typically just once or twice a week).  Sometimes she shares what they are doing, sometimes there is a picture, but always it tells me something about what the class has been doing which in turn allows me to have a conversation with Lainey about her learning.  If you want to see how it’s used by her teacher, click here.

Online educator communities provide you with 24/7 access to people, ideas, resources, philosophies, and opportunities that can expand your world (and the world of our students).  In next week’s post, I’ll talk a little more about some of the benefits of an online presence.

How have you used digital connections to improve learning opportunities for your students?  What new things have you learned or tried?  Share with us below!

Enhancement or Transformation?

Avoid the $1000 Pencil
Avoid the $1000 Pencil

Being that we are in the second year of a 1:1 program, we all know that adding technology to education comes at a cost – money, time, and effort.  If it’s done well, technology can transform teaching and learning.  If it’s done poorly, our students are left holding a “$1,000 pencil” according to George Couros (@gcouros), a Canadian principal and education speaker.  As I said last week, our pedagogy must drive our technology.  Don’t use tech just because our kids have an iPad; instead use tech to create a learning experience that would not have been possible otherwise.  Remember, we want to integrate tech where it works.  Hopefully the rest of this post will provide some ideas about how to transform education for our students.

SAMR Model
SAMR Model

Most of us have seen the SAMR model (to the left) as a framework to help you evaluate the best technology in your classroom.  This framework is developed from the bottom up.  As you see in the graphic, the creator of SAMR places Substitution and Augmentation in the Enhancement group (think of enhancement as the most basic change – it may improve the lesson, but maybe not the thinking).  Then there is a dashed line before you get to Modification and Redefinition which fall in the Transformation group (think of transformation as a thorough change in the form of education – it will improve the lesson and the thinking).  Many teachers find that dashed line to be a tall fence to climb.  In essence, to get over that fence, teachers sometimes have to throw previous activities out the window and create something new, and other times it requires a complete redesign of the activity.  In order to make that jump from augmentation to modification, here are some ideas:

  1. Know your goals – don’t think task or app, think learning outcome.
  2. Think about things you’ve done in the past and identify their strengths – what experiences were important for students, and what were the areas of growth from those experiences?
  3. Find a tool that can meet your goals and has similar strengths – with a quick Google search you can find websites and apps that might work. Scan their features to see if something does what you need it to do.
  4. Keep an open mind – don’t eliminate a tool just because you’ve never used it before.
  5. Generate several ideas for activities – make a list of possible tools. Cross out the ones that you don’t think will work.
  6. Put the plan into action – remember that the best way to learn new tech is to play with it. If you don’t know a tool yet, don’t feel like you can’t let students use it.  I have yet to have a student tell me “I can’t use this, we haven’t had PD on it!”  Students are just as capable of playing with an app or website to figure out what it can do, and if they’re really stuck, they’ll use Google or YouTube to help them figure it out.  Plus, if it’s new, students will be more excited and engaged!
  7. Be ready to adjust on the fly – remember, failure is part of the learning process. If something doesn’t work, go back to the drawing board.  Sometimes our willingness to model failure will help our students accept the idea that we learn and grow in times of failure.

One other idea that may help you to transform education for your students is through collaboration.  Don’t feel like you have to redevelop everything you are doing on your own.  Get together with others who teach the same subject as you and pick a topic.  Bring some of your favorite activities that fit that topic, and collaborate to find a way to make the jump from enhancement to transformation.  Then, after you try something, come back together to talk about what worked well, what didn’t, and what you would do next.  And if meeting together is not possible, use tech to collaborate – create a shared planning document in Office 365, or Facetime with your colleagues to plan when you both are free but cannot be together.

On Matt Miller’s website there is an excellent article titled 10 ways to reach SAMR’s redefinition level.  Follow the hyperlink for some great ways to take it up a notch!

Where are you in terms of the SAMR model with the tech you are using in your room?  Do you feel you are sticking to the enhancement zone, or have you jumped the fence into the transformation zone?

Sometimes it’s ok to ditch the tech too!

WritingIn a previous post I talked about the misconception that some have about HSE21 being all about the device.  Just a reminder here – IT’S NOT!  Technology can allow us to do some really cool things, it can help us be more efficient, we can collaborate more easily, you can create and carry out awesome formative assessments, and you can use technology to help you grade papers more quickly.  There are many more things that technology can help us with, but there are also times it gets in the way.  Remember that the HSE21 best practice model is about so much more than an iPad.  It’s also important to remember that just because you are using an iPad for an activity, it doesn’t mean you are “doing” HSE21.

Sometimes an app doesn’t work the way we expect it to.  Sometimes wifi issues prevent our students from being able to access what we need them to get to.  If you’re using a computer in the lab, the amount of time it takes for a student to log in can take away from their ability to be productive.

Ultimately, our pedagogy must drive our technology, not the other way around.  Good teaching will always trump a good tool.  Someone could put me in a wood shop with every imaginable tool, but without the knowledge of how to use those tools, anything I built would not be something I would want to put into my room (except maybe in the back corner of the garage!).

Avoid the $1000 Pencil
Avoid the $1000 Pencil

You all know that I love technology.  I consider myself an early adopter of most types of technology, quick to try things out to see if it can fit into my life.  Anymore I can’t go for a run, bike ride, or sometimes even a walk, without my GPS enabled device to tell me how far I went, what my average heart rate was, and the average speed or pace I was traveling.  However, when we look at the classroom, learning has to be the focus.  While I would love to see a classroom where everything is being done digitally, sometimes due to challenges that method is not efficient.  There is nothing wrong with an exit slip that is actually on paper, or a quick formative assessment of thumbs up or down.  Don’t be afraid to try to integrate tech where it works, but don’t do it at the sacrifice of helping our students to learn and grow into the best they can be.

What are some times you have chosen to ditch your tech and had a positive outcome?  Share a few of your experiences in the comment section below!

Make it fun

What makes one professional development opportunity great, while another may be bland and boring?  Some of the best PD that I’ve had felt that way because the presenter somehow made things fun.  In your classroom, the students are the audience, and while making sure they are having fun is not your primary goal, we all know they are going to pay a lot more attention if the activities that we are doing are more fun.  What are some ways we can incorporate fun into our classrooms?

Kevin Jarret - https://www.flickr.com/photos/kjarrett/7070563247
Kevin Jarret – https://www.flickr.com/photos/kjarrett/7070563247
Scott West
Scott West
  • STICKERS – I am continually amazed by what a fifth or sixth grader will do for a sticker (haven’t you noticed the Ham & Cheese stickers that end up on our students foreheads?). Want some more participation?  Pull our the foil stars, ask a question, and give out a star for good answers, or to integrate tech, give a foil star to the best response or question on Today’s Meet (see the post on Getting ALL our students to participate in the classroom).
  • Make it silly – before students hand in a paper, have them do something silly, make a sound like a pirate, do a little dance, etc. Adding a little silliness will up the fun factor by at least 10% (and even more important – if you are being silly with them, they will be even more engaged!).
  • In a content area, retell a story and make your students the stars of the story (think about last week’s post on titled Put your students into your materials).

When kids walk out of this building, the fun they want is pretty much on demand.  Between social media, streaming video and music, video games, and more, our students have tons of ways to do something fun.  If we want them to be as engaged in our room as they are with their Minecraft world, we have to be willing to bring in some of the fun.

Matt Miller: https://www.flickr.com/photos/126588706@N08/14562457739/in/album-72157645530010989/
Matt Miller: https://www.flickr.com/photos/126588706@N08/14562457739/in/album-72157645530010989/

Think of some lesson you have done in the past that was a bust (even the best of us have had one!).  How could you add some fun and silliness to help the students be more engaged?  What things have you included that were fun and did help students remain engaged?  Share some of your ideas in the comments section below.

Preparing our Students for the Great Unknown

lennon-quote-with-photoWhen you were in 6th grade, what did you want to be?  When you talk to our students, what jobs do they want to have some day?  The amazing thing is that some of the jobs that my classmates are in did not exist when I was in 6th grade.  How many jobs that our students will end up doing don’t even exist yet?  In a previous post I shared the following quote from Thomas Friedman:

“Today’s workers need to approach the workplace much like athletes preparing for the Olympics, with one difference. They have to prepare like someone who is training for the Olympics but doesn’t know what sport they are going to enter.”

Matt Miller - http://ditchthattextbook.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/jobs-that-didnt-exist.jpg
Matt Miller – http://ditchthattextbook.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/jobs-that-didnt-exist.jpg

A quick search of the top jobs for 2015 lists things like computer systems analyst, software/app developer, information security analyst, and IT manager.  These are all relatively new jobs.  A couple weeks ago, I talked about the importance of being able to learn, unlearn, and relearn.  What does this look like when we don’t even know what jobs may exist when our students enter the job market?

To me, there are a few skills that will always be valuable.  These are the skills that are most important for our students to learn.  Here is a list that Matt Miller shared of a few skills that will help our students be better prepared for the real world when they get there:

  • Adding value
  • Creating content online
  • Continuously listening and watching for new ideas
  • Glamorizing hard work
  • Turning wasted time into productive time
  • Cultivating relationships
  • Being financially responsible
  • Staying on the cutting edge
  • Maintaining a balance between professionalism and being a real person
  • Becoming a twenty-four-hour worker

Some of these may be hard to visualize in practice in the school building.  If you’re looking for further description on any of these skills, let me know and I can share a more detailed explanation.Peanuts-happy

Are there any skills that you feel are left off of the list above?  What would you add?  Share in the comments below!