Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Shadowing a Student: A Walk in their Shoes

Who are you?

You fill the seats of our classrooms every day.

I am told, you are “neurologically processing information in a fundamentally different way than the “older generations”.

I am “paper trained”
left to right,
top to bottom,
beginning to end.

You are "media trained"VISUALnonlinearTRANSFLUENTscrollingHYPERLINKED.

In the last year - as of today at about 1pm -  there were well over 300 BILLION mobile YouTube view

You were watching a lot of those --

Over 30 billion photos were added to Instagram

You posted a lot of those photos --

In the month of August alone there were almost 80 million of you playing Fortnite
And let’s not forget the videos you are watching about it
and the dances you were practicing from it
and the conversations you were having about it.

You love with your whole heart, so we see that we must protect it.

You put your everything into your day, and we push you beyond even that.
You want to feel accepted, and we try to listen.
You want to share your knowledge, and we are helping to build that platform.
You take risks that make our heart stop.
You will change the world.

Who are you? How can we discover you?

Any meaningful change begins with empathy: the ability to understand.

A Walk in their Shoes

On September 25, I ditched my cell phone and laptop and donned my Chuck Taylors and iPad and headed back to school. 5th grade to be exact. 

As part of the #FTPolaris19 Design Thinking process this year, I had challenged participants to shadow a student, and for my part, I knew I had to do it too. This year, I decided I wanted to find out what it felt like to be a 5th grader, and some 20 days later, I'm still processing the experience. 

Throughout my day shadowing a 5th grade boy, I discovered I was part of a a classroom culture that fostered empathy amongst students, a place where movement was built in to the day with students self selecting to stand if they needed to or sit in a direction that suited their needs. A place where energy was high as students eagerly and collaboratively worked together towards learning targets, and where they managed to hold it together and comply with respect during the times when they had to be on the receiving end of a lot of information. At the end of the day I felt a good tired and a positive energy that carried me into the evening.

As a group #FTPolaris19 found students to shadow from first to twelfth grades. There were striking similarities in our experiences and even more striking differences in the stories we told from our days as students.

As I have reflected on my personal experience and the discussion the #FTPolaris19 group had about the similarities and differences in our days as students, I keep coming back to a number of themes that I think will guide my work in the near future and might be interesting for teachers at every grade level to consider.

In no particular order, these are some of my persistent thoughts on my experience as a 5th grader:

1. Culture is Indeed King (or Queen depending on your preference)

Spending the time to build a positive classroom culture can completely influence the dynamic of a day. It is important to invest that time so that students know each other at deep levels and can show empathy towards one another. Investing time to build a place where the class is a family and where students know each other and include each other with respect is well worth it when it comes time to do group work. In this environment students are more likely to listen to the ideas of others, work effectively and take responsibility.

The "morning meeting" concept is a fantastic step towards developing this kind of culture. This video shows what the process might look like:

Imagine how powerful the school experience - at any grade level- would be if time was dedicated weekly for team building activities and for conversations that led to a deeper understanding of each other on a personal level. The 5th grade class I was part of used a similar approach to the one above and I loved the connections and genuine interest students showed for each others' lives.

2. Flexibility of Space Could be a Dynamic Process

Elementary students in particular have a lot of pent up energy, they fidget and tap their fingers and need to stand up and move - a lot. But our middle and high school students would benefit from more freedom to move. 

We see a lot of trends in flexible seating in classrooms today. These classrooms look to not only provide options when it comes to movement, but also look to improve a feeling of comfort that will lead to developing places where students can work in an environment that works for their needs. 

One thing I believe we should make an effort to build into our regular reflective practice is to ask students if the classroom (even the flexible ones) are meeting their needs. Asking students if furniture is placed in a way that allows them a quality learning experience, giving them permission to choose to stand if they need to, and asking them to identify things that might be distracting could go far in supporting a positive classroom culture. It's possible that are efforts to engage with heavy decorating, could actually be disrupting concentration, and that place we found to hang that cute anchor chart isn't actually in the most useful spot for students to view the information. 

Imagine what it would be like to pick a different area of the classroom each month an ask students to review for you or if you challenged students to provide you with suggestions that would improve their experience.

3. What if We Ditched that Textbook?

I shadowed one student, but the class took me on like I was their own (by that I mean I was starting to feel a bit like a class pet lol). One thing I heard from the 5th graders over and over is that they really - I mean really - dislike working straight from a textbook (or workbook). 

What if we Matt Miller-ed things every now and then and found a way to Ditch the Textbook and discovered new ways to, as Miller discusses, incorporate a "Different, Innovative, Tech-laden, Creative and Hands-on" experience for kids?

I'm not saying textbooks are bad - but maybe we don't always use them the way we could. 
It is funny to note that despite the 5th graders very vocal distaste for learning from a book, their favorite learning opportunity of the day had them up and moving and working in a group and hunting for answers in a - you guessed it - textbook. 

Which leads me to my next big aha moment...

4. The 4Cs Rock the Day

I cannot explain how the energy level in a class completely changed when they were engaged in work that incorporated the 4Cs (Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Communication). 

It's noticeable, and contagious. And I might want to drink that instead of coffee all day.

Just working in the area of critical thinking was not enough to engage students. Pair that critical thinking with a creative aspect or with collaboration and it took things to a whole new level. I participated and felt the energy as students enthusiastically tested their claims about materials and boat design in tubs of water, as they engaged in an online discussion for the first time and tested out their communication skills, and as they talked about a novel they were studying with great detail. I also saw the times where we only focused on critical thinking how the energy faded, how the students looked like they were checking out some - I felt myself struggle to hold on and not think about what I was missing on my email. 

I should note: It wasn't that those lessons or moments were "bad", or that they weren't absolutely necessary (I learned a TON from those lessons) - it's just that the way the students approached the learning changed. 

I see why our teachers spend so much time carefully constructing the time in class to keep kids moving, working together when possible and communicating. 

When the kids have their energy up - everything feels like it moves at a pace that means something more, the senses are more engaged distractions face away and the colors in the room seem brighter. 

5. The Impact of Technology is Profound

I think this is why we see students gravitate towards the video product. But what if we also taught them how to engage an audience in a TED style talk with well chosen images and a succinct message about content? What if we delivered the occasional TED style talk to our class to hook them and model for them good speaking skills? What if they created their own Digital Breakouts around traditional content that their classmates got to figure out?

In our reflective discussion the #FTPolaris19 group shared lots of different opinions about the use of technology and the impact it had on the classroom student experience. Technology can be a major distractor, it can be boring, it can also be the vehicle to helping achieve authenticity.

For my part, I can see that I have a duty to help educate our staff and students about the use of technology as a way to measure self worth - and the danger in that. In one activity students were more interested in getting "likes" on their discussion post than they were in actually sharing quality ideas. How might we create an environment where a student's sense of self worth isn't elevated or destroyed by a "Like" button?

How do we leverage the use of technology to help students create real-world products? Research tells us that students today are visual learners. They learn first from images and video and then supplement with text, they prefer instant gratification and gamification - which is polar opposite of how I learned (Reinventing Learning for the Always On Generation). 

Students also expressed wanting choice and control. In discussion with 5th graders I asked them if they liked taking hand written notes or if they wanted to type. It was totally based on individual preference. Many students said they felt they needed to write to remember, but many others said they would like the option to type so that they would be able to read it later and stay organized. 

This particular group also discussed how if given the choice, they would pick a tool that gave them more variety in options and was maybe harder to use, than the one that was easier with fewer choices. 

Today, we can use technology to empower students with a pause button. The absolute, most calm students were all day was when they put their earbuds in and watched a video. I couldn't believe how they went from fidgeting and tapping and bouncing to absolutely still with the press of a play button. They were watching, taking notes, pausing, rewinding, scrubbing forward, they were in absolute control of the content. What if these types of videos were assigned for homework (to avoid the inevitable bandwidth drain) and students were able to come to class ready for that hands on activity? There is indeed something to that Flipped Classroom concept.

Not the End of the Exercise

As I continue my work this year, I plan to use the feedback I received and the experience I had to help guide my own work. I want to make sure that I share those important observations and continue to look at learning from the point of view of a student as I consider best ideas and strategies to share with teachers. When I walk into a classroom, I want to make sure I'm getting down into the seats with the kids and understanding what they are interested in and what they dislike, in addition to what they find easy or what they are struggling with so that I can better help them.

With certainty I can say that being a student is hard work, BUT I am fortunate to work with some of the most talented, caring, amazing educators in the world - and I am not even being bias.
I highly encourage shadowing a student as a professional learning opportunity. If you want to learn more, the resources at Shadow a Student Challenge are incredibly helpful. When we find ourselves empathizing with our students and understanding the perspective of school from their point of view, then we can begin to identify and define quality areas of change and work towards improvements at a deep and meaningful level.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Inspiring Creativity with Animated Sketchnotes in Keynote

Post also appears on FTISEdTech

Last night I participated in an #AppleEDUChat for Animated Sketchnoting and the learning was too good not to share right away.

I have long seen the value in using Sketchnoting as a strategy for engaging learners in summarizing, visualizing and remembering content. There are lots of apps you might use with your class to encourage this activity including: Jamboard, Paper 53, most of our Microsoft Apps (PowerPoint, Word, OneNote) include a drawing tab, and Sketches for School shows some promise. 

Last night, however, I was completely blown away by the use of Keynote as a sketchnoting and animation tool. What on the surface looks like just another presentation tool, is in reality a seriously robust application that we have not been using to its potential. at all.

In just a few minutes I was playing and learning new strategies as the chat happened.

How It's Done

Challenge to 3-5th grade students

I was so inspired by my own learning last night, I threw out a Fall Break Curious and Critical Thinking challenge to 3-5th graders on Schoology. The first three students to share an animated sketchnote using Keynote on Schoology will receive a small prize, with bonus for kids who share a "How To". I encouraged them to do what I do, Google directions. 

When we get back from break, you might encourage your class to try this and show them the video - or better yet, let them discover the strategies for themselves by googling, playing and sharing with each other. 

I'm also available to come and help your students learn this fascinating skill!

Twitter Chats

You can learn so much from joining in on a Twitter chat like last night's #AppleEDUChat. If you would like to learn more about participating in a chat like that, let me know, I can help you out. 

Here are some of my favorite tweets from last night!