Sunday, April 5, 2020

Passion Projects and Basic Animation

Last school year I was amazed by my students as we learned together using passion projects. Here is what I wrote reflecting on the power of learning this way:

One of the reasons I love passion projects is because my students love them. There is real purpose behind reading, freedom for creativity, and students have the opportunity to publish their work for a large audience. They have so much to offer the world, not just later as adults but right now. Passion projects show students what they are capable of, and sometimes the greatest change we can make is inside of ourselves.

This year we began our first passion project together in November (long before Coronavirus was a concern). My students chose the topic: what causes people to get sick? Like last year, we used the LAUNCH design process to guide our research and project planning. 

Once our research was done, my students decided they wanted to make an informational video for others focused around health and sickness. Specifically, they wanted to create an animated video using their own artwork. 

I had never tried this type of project before, so I touched base with Manuel Herrera (@manuelherrera33), innovation coordinator and all-around great educator. He shared so many great ideas about transferring sketches to digital formats and creating basic animations. 

Here is how we accomplished our task:

We made a storyboard to map out our video. Students worked in pairs to draw, animate, and write a script for their part of our video. Student groups presented their plans to the class and received feedback to make our message clear. 

Creating digital art:
Students started with a sketch of the basic elements they wanted in their part of the video. I took a picture of each sketch and uploaded it to a Google folder. Student groups accessed their photo, inserted it into Google Drawings, and then used the tools there to trace over the objects. My students had not used Google Drawings before, so I created a couple of screencast videos (shape tool, polyline tool) they could refer back to. I've found supporting my students this way helps them build confidence in working independently.  

Animating art
Once students had their digital art, they followed this process:
  • Save the image as a PNG
  • Move the art a tiny bit
  • Save the image as a PNG
  • Move the art a tiny bit
  • Repeat
  • Upload all the screenshots to a shared Google folder

The general idea is similar to a paper flip book, so when all the screenshots are put together it creates a type of basic animation. I also created a screencast example for this part of our project for students to refer back to. 

Creating our video
I used Adobe Spark to compile all student screenshots into one project. Unfortunately, Adobe Spark only allows you to narrate slide by slide and each slide was only a second long. We needed another way to record our narration, so we used Screencast-o-Matic to create one fluid reading.

Reflecting on our project
Overall, this passion project left my students excited about the project they had created. They shared the video with their parents, and some students even began making paper flip books at home. 

After each round of passion projects, I like to debrief with my class. We talk about what we learned, what we would do differently next time, and what we feel proud of. One student made a comment that sums up my excitement behind this type of work. He said, “I didn’t know I could do that!” I love helping students realize their potential and greatness! 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Empathy Drives Design

One reason I love supporting my students through the design process, both with our new morning procedure and through passion projects, is because my students learn to think and care so far beyond themselves.

When I think about providing design opportunities in my classroom, I think about those moments when my students realize there is a problem they want to address or an opportunity to improve the current situation. When we design for other people, empathy is key to a good design. We recognize that another person or group has a need and we are moved to understand the issue and help in some way.

Two of our latest design projects connected directly to our reading unit focused around diversity. My students grew in empathy after reading a selection from Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper, a story about a young girl with cerebral palsy and her struggle to communicate with her teacher.

A group of students from the high school came to teach us more about the diverse ways they communicate. Upon seeing my students’ genuine curiosity and care about this topic, our high school cadet teacher told us about his brother who is also a fourth-grader. He explained how his brother is very much like each student in my class, except for his inability to communicate through speech. 

I waited quietly, hoping someone would suggest a design, and of course, my students didn’t disappoint. “Mrs. Moore, why don’t we design something so that he can communicate better, like the character in the story?” Her idea was met with excitement and so many initial ideas. My students were motivated by this project because it had the potential to immediately make a positive impact on someone else’s life. I loved watching the process as my students continually came back to considering the specific wants and needs of their new friend.

Eventually, we were able to create a communication board, and my students were so excited. They had created real work for a real-world problem for a real audience...all started by empathy.

A week later, my students began a project focused around researching inclusive playgrounds. When they realized that students with some physical disabilities would not be able to play on parts of our playground, they began designing. From their empathy, they created designs for various playground equipment and wrote letters to convince our principal that we need an inclusive playground.

My students have taught me so much this year as we have incorporated design into our daily schedule. I’ve learned the importance of offering opportunities to create and express new ideas. I’ve also been reminded that our students can solve real problems when given time and resources to do so.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Incorporating Daily Design

At the beginning of this school year, I reflected on this question posed in George Couros’s book, The Innovator’s Mindset. Would you want to be a student in your own classroom?

One part of our daily routine that I would dislike as a student is our morning procedure. So I changed it. A lot.

In past years, my students would quietly enter the classroom, unpack, get materials ready for the day, and start on the day’s morning work review while quietly eating breakfast.

It was quiet, calm, and all about compliance. That bothered me. I expected my students to enter and start work immediately. As an adult, my morning routine includes greeting my coworkers and thinking through my day.

Why were my expectations for my students so different?

So I completely threw out our morning work. I wanted to use our morning routine to set the pace for the day, so I needed something collaborative and creative. I also wanted to create a way to help my students transition from home to school, so our new routine needed to be motivating and exciting.

I decided to create morning design challenges. Now instead of compliance, it’s all about innovation, collaboration, and creative thinking. It’s not quiet or calm, and my students and I love it!

In an ideal week, student teams follow this pattern:

  • Monday: Discuss the needs of the intended audience. Independently sketch ideas.
  • Tuesday: Share ideas and sketch a final plan.
  • Wednesday: Create a prototype.
  • Thursday: Consider the needs of the intended audience, make improvements.
  • Friday: Share the prototype with the class.

Here are a few of the challenges I’ve given my students recently:

Create art to improve our playground or learning garden

Create a game for a child in a hospital

Design something to make watering crops easier

Improve a paper airplane design

Our classroom is much more lively in the morning, and my students enter with excitement about their tasks. We have had many opportunities to build communication and cooperation while learning about compromise and the value of out-of-the-box ideas. The tone in our classroom is positive and creative, allowing my students time to mentally shift into a great mindset to learn with. I can’t wait to see what they design next!

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Would you want to be a learner in your classroom?

This summer I had the pleasure of reading George Couros’s book, The Innovator’s Mindset, and it was wonderful! It was as if the author took my heart and passion for teaching and wrapped it up in his book. It left me inspired and reflective of my teaching practices. As the new school year is beginning, I’m continuing to consider a key question posed in the book:

Would you want to be a learner in your classroom?

This question made me pause to consider my own needs as a learner. Sure, I could sit in just about any classroom and comply by taking notes, completing assignments, and taking tests... but is that what I want for my learning experience? Not really.

As a learner, I value choice, inspiration, laughter, community, tasks with true purpose, and opportunities to express my creativity. I believe that our classrooms should be full of the curiosity and wonder that comes so naturally to children.

Unfortunately, we have lost that somewhere along the way- valuing compliance over curiosity and individuality. Perhaps we hold expectations for our students that we ourselves would dislike and find difficult to meet.

During our very first day of school, I asked my students about their ideal classroom. Their responses are captured in this word art.

Over the past three years I’ve made many changes to my classroom that I would love as a student. I plan to continue implementing these changes and expanding these aspects of my classroom:

Gamification with Classcraft
Avatars, point scoring, leveling up, collaboration, community building, and so much more. Classcraft has helped to transform my classroom community....and it’s so much fun!
Students explore their interests and help to direct their own learning while creating some pretty amazing projects. 
Students spend independent time learning online in connection with small group instruction. 
Students take on quite a bit of responsibility to self-assess and direct their own learning.

As the school year starts, what changes do I need to make in my classroom to ensure the learning experience I value so highly is also available for my learners? From implementing a new curriculum to seating charts and classroom procedures, I’m beginning to consider these decisions from a student’s perspective more than ever to ensure a student-centered classroom.

One area of my classroom that I would dislike as a student is our morning procedure. Of course, procedures help things run more smoothly, but my previous expectation of entering the classroom quietly and starting work right away with little social interaction is something I want to get away from. As an adult, I enjoy greeting my colleagues in the morning and catching up with them briefly. I’m currently searching for new ideas for this part of our day, and I welcome your suggestions!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Encouraging Change

I have been so encouraged to make so many new friends and grow my professional learning network at technology conferences in the last year. While attending these conferences, I usually ask to join someone for lunch who is sitting alone. I enjoy getting to know other teachers, and I always welcome new perspectives. One teacher I sat with reminded me of the struggle we often face when attempting to implement change. She was feeling both excited about what she had learned so far at the conference, and also concerned about how new teaching practices would be perceived by her colleagues and administrators.

For those of you reading and who feel the same way, I’d like to share a bit of encouragement from our conversation that day. 

Don’t Give Up

The possibility of what education could be excites me! I love dreaming up new ideas and applying them in my classroom. You don’t have to change everything all at once, just take a few steps and eventually you’ll get there. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy. It takes time. I can’t use all the same lessons and projects from year to year. But you know what? It’s worth don’t give up. 

Find Your Tribe

There is something to be said about having a group of teachers that have a similar mindset as you. Being part of a community of teachers interested in using technology in new ways inspires me to continue my efforts to redefine what education looks like in my classroom, school, and community.

If you don’t have teachers in your building, find some online. In fact, let’s be friends! I’m serious- be my tribe! You may feel like you are one of only a few teachers with this mindset, but there are more of us than you might think. In his book Innovator's Mindset, George Couros writes, "Sometimes, the most valuable thing you get from the network isn’t an idea, but the inspiration or courage to try something new." Connect. Life is a bit easier and a whole lot more fun with a tribe.

Bring Someone with You

If you are willing to take risks in your classroom, you are a leader. Use your sphere of influence. Share your ideas with a trusted colleague at school. Ask for their advice, share a favorite web tool, include them in your planning, share a favorite blog post or book. By inviting others along with you, you will initiate change in your building. 

Monday, March 11, 2019

How I empowered my students to love learning

Metal detectors, panic alarms, and active school shooter drills are often what comes to mind when the education community first thinks of school safety. However, addressing this issue reaches far beyond the secure doors of our schools, taking into consideration factors such as school and classroom climate, positive discipline measures, and wellness promotion, according to A Framework for Safe and Successful Schools.

When we consider the studies showing the relationship between bullying, personal failure, and anger to school violence, we must pause and reflect on our own schools and classrooms. How can we make education a positive experience for all of our students? So many students who have acted out in violence were angry or bullied. And after violent acts occur, we hear stories about students who didn’t belong and missed that feeling of acceptance, making their school experience more than a little tough.

But what if...

What if they loved learning?

When was the last time you felt excited when you were learning something new? As adults, I think we take for granted this spark for learning. How many of our students feel excited to learn in our schools today? Most days, students walk through our doors and read the texts we have selected, participate in the activities we have planned, and complete the projects we have thought up. They comply and learn, but do they love it? Probably not.

In an effort to ignite a passion for learning, I took inspiration from John Spencer and AJ Juliani and implemented passion projects. Passion projects are akin to genius hour or Google’s 20% time. Essentially, students pursue topics they are interested in and develop their own projects to demonstrate their learning. As a teacher, I facilitate learning and provide just-in-time instruction for my students.

This year, my students chose to research topics including homelessness, modern slavery, home construction, and video game design. Projects ranged from writing songs and developing websites to creating artwork with poetry and coding video games. During these projects, I taught students nonfiction reading comprehension skills like summarizing, synthesizing across texts, and drawing conclusions.

Passion projects allow for a real purpose for learning, freedom for creativity, and opportunities to publish work for a large audience. My students showed a genuine interest in their research, they were invested in their own learning, and they made comments like, “Do we get to read more for our project today?” Toward the end of our unit, more than a few students came to school with huge smiles saying, “I can’t wait to do our project today!”

When students are excited to learn, a positive environment and culture forms. Learning doesn’t have to be boring, and challenges don’t have to lead to anger and frustration. If we can help students to realize their interests and develop their passions, they will want to learn. Empowered students have confidence and believe they can contribute to the school community in positive ways.

What if they loved their classroom community?

Building a positive classroom community where all children are accepted and included can be one of the most challenging aspects of teaching, yet it is essential for students to feel safe. Winning over students who feel compelled to pick on others for control and power is a critical first step. This kind of antisocial behavior hurts the individuals who are harassed and creates an environment where no one feels safe. All students need a sense of belonging, and they want to be accepted by teachers and, even more so, peers.

I initially gamified my classroom with Classcraft to increase engagement and motivation. What I didn’t expect was the impact it would have on our classroom community. Classcraft is a gamification platform that allows me to promote social-emotional learning skills by reinforcing positive and pro-social behaviors like teamwork, communication, kindness, and respecting others. The collaborative nature of Classcraft requires students to work together, thereby fostering relationships that might not have otherwise formed. Students are eager to help teammates with learning tasks, and friends celebrate together as they level up.

Just the other day I saw a student finish her independent learning task and immediately check in with a teammate who struggles with reading. I watched as they sat together, one student reading directions to the other and explaining the task. When they finished they gave one another a high five and then went about the rest of the day. Later on, I asked the early-finisher why she took the initiative to help her teammate and this is what she said, “Well, I know reading is hard for her. She’s really smart, and I want to help her level up. Soon we will be the same level and we can have matching outfits!” Talk about a positive class culture!

Gamifying my classroom has also helped me to build better relationships with my students. I have found that playing together breaks down barriers and builds trust. That trust goes a long way in helping my students to feel that they belong. Our classroom community is thriving, and students know they play a critical role in our success.

What if they loved themselves?

More and more students today are exhibiting signs of stress, anxiety, and depression. As teachers, we know that students often have underlying issues we don’t know about, and emotional outbursts or anger can be a response to multiple contributing factors. Worry about relationships, grades, fitting in, and too much homework are just a few stressors students face at school. Coupled with family expectations, lack of sleep, and even trauma, many of today’s students are struggling to cope with difficult situations and manage their thoughts and emotions.

Mental health is becoming a popular topic for discussion in the education community. It’s not uncommon for some schools to practice mindfulness as part of their morning routine. This Boston school has replaced detention with meditation, and England is moving to include mindfulness as part of students’ regular instruction.

Students in my school have access to a student support room, where they can go to calm down and refocus before returning to class. They can do physical activity, sit calmly, talk to an adult, and even swing for sensory purposes. Some of my colleagues are taking a more direct approach by teaching their whole class mindfulness techniques using resources like Mind Yeti and Smiling Mind to guide meditations and support students’ mental health. Spark also has great resources for teachers and parents as they help their children navigate tough situations and build resilience.

Students can experience so many benefits from practicing mindfulness techniques including increasing attention, reducing worries, and regulating emotions. Less stress and better attention lead to more engaged learning, better grades, and confident students. When students learn to accept themselves for who they are, they are left feeling in control of their minds and bodies and are able to make positive choices.

Reimagining the Student Experience

We can empower students to take an active role in their learning, building confidence and ownership. Finding their passions and belonging to a supportive and positive community is a great first step in helping students to have a positive school experience, where bullying and antisocial behaviors are minimized and students are proud of their learning. When we teach students how to manage their emotions and deal with day-to-day stress, we are not only helping them build skills for life, but we are also working to create a safer school environment. The skills they learn related to personal care, collaboration, and taking part in a community will stay with them long after they leave our schools.

Note: This article was also published on eSchool News

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Failure Isn't Final

At the beginning of the school year, I identified four ways to increase personalized learning in my classroom. My overall goal this year is to empower students to take an active role in their learning.

I planned to increase personal learning through:
  1. Geek out blogs
  2. Personalized learning paths
  3. Passion projects
  4. Wonder day
The school year is halfway done, and I’m so excited to celebrate some success. At the same time, some of my plans haven’t worked out so well. I hesitate to call those moments failure because that seems so final, doesn’t it? And if I’ve learned anything in the last few years of my professional growth, it’s the value of continually learning from both positive risks and unfortunate mistakes. Failure doesn't have to be final.

Last Year’s Successes Are Not Guaranteed...

Perhaps my biggest failure so far this year has been expecting my students to excel in the same ways as my class did last year. As teachers, we comment all the time on the stark differences from one class of learners to another, but for some reason I naively expected my students to display the same maturity and skills as my students last year.

This year we have struggled with remaining on-task and displaying a willingness to try to solve one’s own problems. I’ve been disappointed, and sometimes discouraged. My students have also had the tendency to rush through work to be done rather than focusing on producing their best work. For this reason, I put our blogs on hold. I started using a few new accountability measures to encourage on-task behaviors and hard work for this next quarter, and I plan to use student blogs as a place to publish bigger projects so that students realize published work should be a reflection of our best efforts.

...This Year's Successes Are More Than I Anticipated

If I only measured success based on last year's experience, we would have missed out on some amazing learning. Success this year looks different, but it's still great! My students have amazed me with their deep empathy during our passion projects. They chose to research topics including homelessness, animal cruelty, modern slavery, girls' education, PTSD, and brain injuries. Later they created websites, video games, presentations, care packages, videos, websites, and original art to demonstrate their learning. Their work moves me! They see problems in the world and show genuine concern. I've taught them that their voice matters, and they have what it takes to change our world; they have taught me to stop underestimating their possibilities!

Looking Forward

I will begin implementing personalized learning paths for our gamified blended learning in the next few weeks. I’m fairly confident my students will do well with choosing which resources they will need because during the first half of the year, I provided many opportunities for my students to self-assess their learning progress and choose how much/what kind of support they needed to move forward. I’m anticipating that my students will need help tracking their paths, so I will create a paper path tracker so that my students can easily visualize their learning route.

I’ve planned our Wonder Day for the end of this quarter. I’m looking forward to this experience because my students have had such great success with passion projects! I’d like is to have my students help me plan this day. I think allowing student leadership and voice during the planning stage will increase buy-in and motivation.

Larger Lessons

As an educator, I’ve come to realize the value in all types of lessons. I don’t want to miss the opportunity to teach my students how to embrace failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. It’s what happens sometimes when we take risks. My own failures are great opportunities for me to learn; they are also a chance to model the mindset of perseverance. I took a few minutes at the start of the semester to talk with my students about my failures and what I was going to do about it. I guided them to reflect on their own progress so that they can make changes, set goals, and move forward. I want them to learn that failure isn’t final.