Music teachers make it look easy.
A few weeks back, I conducted a coaching visit in an eighth grade orchestra classroom. The class was made up of students of different ability levels, different musical backgrounds, and get this...completely different instruments. But yet, at the end of the lesson, they all played together to perform the same piece of music.
Before starting my journey as a staff development coach, I taught middle school language arts for sixteen years. During this time, I encountered students from all walks of life and all walks of reading readiness. But, yet, they were all required to master the same skills and the same standards by year’s end. I can remember many a day where all of my efforts seemed fruitless. It was getting easier to place blame and harder to find the right balance between rigor and instruction that met the individual needs of my wide range of students.
Visiting this music classroom really made me think. How can an orchestra teacher ensure that all students, with such a broad range of abilities and needs, are ready for the same concert? How can she be confident that her miniature musicians are ready to play the same piece, at the same time, in front of the same audience? This is where the definition of differentiation truly comes alive. By considering the students’ ability levels and adjusting instruction to fit the needs of the different instruments, a middle school concert shines as a symphony of differentiated instruction.
And get this: in the music classroom, there is no period-long lecture. There is no “sage on the stage” playing for a passive audience. I watched as the music teacher literally took a step back and just let her students play. Of course, there were moments where she jumped in to give them corrective feedback and helped individual musicians refine their style, but that’s just it. The feedback was individualized. And relevant. And meaningful to each and every student. And yet, when class was over, all of the students were able to play the same piece. Yes, there were modifications. Yes, there were a few sour notes. Some students sparkled as soloists while others contributed to the overall rhythm of the piece. But they were all playing. Together. And they were successful.
All of our students come to our classrooms with different needs and different abilities. Maybe it is time that we embrace the music classroom metaphor and think about our students as individual musicians who all need to come together to contribute to the same piece of music. How can we adjust our instruction to help them showcase their true abilities? How can we be sure that our lessons meet the needs of the different instruments that our students bring to the table?
Just ask a music teacher. They make it look easy.
The variety pack of cereal. As a kid, there wasn’t a more exciting way to start my mornings. You see, on most days, my mom set out breakfast for my sister, brother, and me in the rushed minutes before the bus came, and I was forced to gulp down whatever was put in front of me.
But...on variety pack mornings, I was the master of my own breakfast destiny. I could choose what I wanted and wasn't forced to eat the bowlful of bran flakes that sat--soggy and listless--after being hastily poured from the family-sized box in the cabinet.
The variety pack had a little bit of everything for everybody. In need of a morning pep talk? Rice Krispies answered back with the snap, crackle and pop that you craved. Looking for a sugar boost? Frosted Flakes were g-r-r-reat. Feeling a bit wacky? Nothing said kooky like a colorful bowl of Froot Loops.
But...was the variety pack of cereal that much of a morning game changer?
We were still starting our morning together.
We were still eating breakfast.
It was just...different.
For once, I had an actual say in how I wanted to start my day. My voice mattered. And, I can’t imagine that I was the only kid in the world who felt this way. So, if we think about what the variety pack could do for breakfast--the variety, the choice, the fun--what could an actual variety pack philosophy bring to our classroom?
The Variety Pack Philosophy
Variety: The best part of the variety pack is the number of different cereals that make up the lineup. Offering a variety of ways for students to show their learning can help us to meet our students’ strengths and learning styles, while keeping them engaged and excited about what we are teaching. Think about it: when we give our students the same options, we get the same products. Variety can help to keep things fresh.
Choice: What would be the fun in having a variety pack if someone told you what cereal you had to eat? When creating assignments, we need to give our students the freedom to make some of their own decisions. By giving students a choice in how they want to show their learning, we are giving them a voice and helping to create independent thinkers.
Single Serving Size: In a variety pack, the cereal boxes are just the right size for a hassle-free breakfast. In the classroom, create assignments that are just the perfect portion for your students. Work shouldn’t require hours upon hours outside of the classroom to complete, nor should students be able to finish a task without much thought in a matter of minutes.
Nutrition Facts: On a box of cereal, the nutrition facts are printed as plain as day. Kids and parents know what’s on the inside of the box and can make decisions based on the information printed on the label. Think about your expectations like a nutrition label. There should be no surprises when it comes to grading.
Fun: While all variety packs include some nutritionally sound options, most kids would say that the too-sugary cereal choices are the best parts of the package. My mom never would have purchased an entire Costco-sized box of Froot Loops, but on occasion, she was OK with a frosted start to our day. Keep this in mind when planning new activities for your students. School should be fun. Don’t be afraid to bring in props, break out in song, or jump on a desk. Create experiences that students will remember. And create memories that (snap, crackle, and) pop.
The Variety Pack Sketchnote
Every Monday, my week begins with a Weekly Thought Starter from Think with Google. Some of these ideas are motivational in nature, some challenge me to look at things in new ways, and some just get my mind racing about the great things that can happen in our schools if we just give our students a chance to think differently.
This week's thought starter described what happened when, as part of a YouTube challenge, Google asked seven agency creatives and filmmakers to tell a video story in 6 seconds. 6. Seconds. The result? Seven thought-provoking, boundary-pushing videos that told a story in, you guessed it... 6 seconds.
So, here's my own thought starter: How can we take the same idea, and challenge our students to tell their stories? What will happen if we give our students six seconds? Will they change a mind? Change a perspective? Change the world?
Six seconds is all it takes.
Six seconds to share.
Six seconds to inspire.
Six seconds to be heard.
Share your students’ stories using the hashtag #6SecStory.
Trapper Keepers. They answered the prayers of the ‘80s most disorganized students. Style. Organization. Velcro. Trapper Keepers had it all. Let’s be honest, there was a time not so long ago when you couldn’t walk down a school hallway without seeing these colorful three-ring binders and their super-stylish plastic flaps. Add to that the personal stylings of a pegasus, a Lamborghini, or a Care Bear. It was enough to make a kid stand up and shout, “Yea, see that Care Bear sliding down that rainbow? Yea, that’s my stuff.”
Never before was a school supply considered this cool.
Now a lot can be said about the advances of modern technology. Even more about the 1:1 initiative that’s taking most schools by storm. You can’t argue the benefits of technology in the classroom. You just can’t. And while we love (with devotion) all that Google Classroom has to offer, searching through Google Drive just leaves us wanting more. Color-coded folders? Sure, that’s a help… but still everything seems so… same. It’s hard to harness the excitement and hype of 1980’s school supplies when there is no individuality. No personality. No fun.
When we think about student achievement in the classroom, and compare it to what the digital generation students “get” to the students of years past, again, it leaves us wanting more. The content is the same. The kids’ desire to achieve, also the same. The things is, it’s become difficult for kids to stay organized, to easily locate important notes and documents. Here’s why: Google Classroom has allowed the teacher the control to organize their drives for them, to literally label every document for them, to push it into their drive for them. And that’s the problem: for them. They have little ownership. And when you don’t create it, everything just looks, well, the same.
Now, imagine the ability to take all that modern technology (eh-hem, Google) has to offer, but add to it individuality, ownership, and personality. Imagine taking the best of the Trapper Keeper and bringing it into 2017. Imagine adding fun.
Enter the DigiKeeper.
Using the power of Google Sites, DigiKeeper takes what made the Trapper Keeper great and...get this...brings the features into the digital world. The best part(s)?
DigiKeeper. The best of 1980’s school supplies. Without the velcro.
With every new January comes new hopes, new resolutions, and new cars in my gym parking lot. Seriously. One gym I belonged to actually had valet parking to accommodate the rush of eager exercisers after the new year hit.
This weekend, as I tried to stick with to my own fitness goals for 2017, I was struck with just how much the gym actually mirrors what we do in the classroom. Every day we walk through the door, we push ourselves to be the best that we can be in order to see results. But, in the classroom, gains are not measured on a scale or in a gym selfie. They’re measured in the smiles of our students.
So, here’s my thought. For the rest of the year, let’s all be like a gym in January. Let’s catch the excitement that a new year brings and generate the same enthusiasm in our students. Let’s harness the promise of possibility and apply it to our lessons. In other words... let’s take what we do in the weight room and make it work in the classroom.
10 Lessons from the Gym We Can Bring to Our Classrooms:
My First SketchNotE!
I’m an avid reader. In fact, I read so much that there are times when I pick up a book to read only to realize I’ve read it before. It’s like deja vu. Only with books. Deja book.
So earlier this year, I started a note in Google Keep and started adding the books that I finished. A couple of my teacher-friends were interested in the list, so I shared the note with them, and they started adding their own books. Now, we have a pretty big list of books we can refer to when it comes to choosing the next title or when recommending favorites to fellow readers.
I guess you could say that I am a fan of one-stop-shopping. (Amazon Prime--I’m looking at you.)
So, on Day 2 of the ISTE #ETCoaches Winter 2017 Book Study, it was easy to see why I became overwhelmed with the sheer number of blogs and websites that were shared by my fellow edtech coaches. I tried to keep up (come on, it was supposed to be a slow Twitter chat after all), but the posts were coming at me fast and I felt like I was missing out on some great resources by some great educators. (I should probably mention that, in addition to having a love of one-stop-shopping, I also have a major Fear of Missing Out. Yes, my name is Jennifer, and I have FOMO. More on that in a later post.)
With my FOMO in full gear, I decided to put together a Google Sheet as a way to collect all of the amazing blogs and websites that were being shared by my fellow edtech coaches. The result? A one-stop shop of #EdTech Awesomeness. And the best part? You can revisit it again and again. It’s like deja vu. Only better.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, what do you think a video is worth? I’m no math teacher, but I’m pretty sure that it would be a really big number.
But, honestly, the answer is even greater than numbers. Think about it. Imagine having the power to listen--really listen--to the thoughts and ideas of every student in your classroom. Imagine empowering even your shyest student to share his thinking without the fear of taking center stage. Imagine giving each and every student the chance to know that his or her voice really matters.
That’s the worth of Flipgrid.
Flipgrid allows teachers to create simple grids, post a prompt, and empower students to share their ideas with the power of VIDEO. But the magic doesn't stop there. Once a student posts a video, other students in the class can respond to the video reflections--get this--using video. Think about the virtual conversations that can be opened beyond the four walls of the classrooms. Flipgrid can give students a voice across grade levels, across buildings, heck, even across countries. (Check out Flipgrid’s Voices with Antarctica if you don’t believe me.)
With Flipgrid, we get to meet our students where they are. Hey, I have a twelve year old son. When he’s not on YouTube watching epic fail compilations, he is outside with his buddies recording videos of their trick shots, bottle flips (I cannot wait until this fad is over), and wipe-outs. Creating videos is just a natural part of what our kids and our students do. With Flipgrid, we get the chance to bring this same excitement into our classrooms by putting the power of video into their hands. And, we get to do it in a way that is fun, meaningful, and relevant.
Now you tell me. What is a video worth? Why not give your students the chance to show you.
You probably won’t believe me when I tell you this, but Public Enemy has guided many of the major decisions in my life. It’s true. Their mantra, “Don’t Believe the Hype,” is one of the main reasons that I have steered clear of embarrassing fashion trends and questionable choices throughout my adult life. All that I need to do is close my eyes, channel my inner Chuck D, and I know that I will make the right decision. Here’s how it works:
MySpace? Don’t believe the hype.
Crocs? Don’t believe the hype.
Hatchimals? Don’t believe the hype.
Hyperdocs? Don’t...well.. wait a minute.
Sorry, Mr. Flav. This is the exception to the rule. Believe the hype. And believe it now.
I first happened across Hyperdocs while reading Alice Keeler’s latest book, 50 Things to go Further with Google Classroom. From there, my eyes were opened to the work of the Hyperdoc Girls and...BOOM. I was hooked. (If you haven’t checked out their amazing resources, click HERE. You’re welcome.)
These hyperdocs have helped to change the way I approach learning and...ready for this? They have actually changed the way I approach professional development in my district. Rather than approaching PD as a one-size-fits-all session, Hyperdocs allow me to customize an experience that is right for everyone. Here’s why: by putting all of the resources needed in one place, I am able to get learners to investigate, connect, discover, and create at a pace that’s just right for them. With a Hyperdoc-driven professional development session, I am able to move beyond slideshows and truly become more of a facilitator of fun. That's because Hyperdocs allow me to:
And the best part? Hyperdocs allow me to do all of this and more, in a way that is fun, innovative, and pleasing to the eye. It’s like creating a perfect one-stop-shop for all of your learner’s needs. Want to see more about how I have used Hyperdocs to anchor my professional development sessions? Check out some of my latest resources (Thank you to the HyperDoc Girls for sharing the templates!)
Sorry, PE. This time is different.
For the past few months, every time I log onto Facebook or Instagram, I find myself staring at photos of my friends escaping. And before you jump to any colorful conclusions about my inner circle, no, my friends are not felons. (Well...most aren’t, anyway.) Instead, it seems like many people featured in my social media world have bought-into the whole Escape Room craze that is sweeping trendy towns all around the region. (Red Bank, New Jersey, I’m looking at you!) In a nutshell, Escape Rooms happen when a team of people willingly signs up to be locked in a room in order to find clues and solve puzzles to complete a given mission and find the key to escape.
And now I notice that when I log onto Twitter, I see that in the world of education, escaping is at the center of countless conversations! In school buildings everywhere, teams of students are working together to solve complex problems in order to “Escape their Classrooms.” Even better, platforms like Breakout Edu provide teachers with amazing ideas and options for gamifying their classrooms that are literally ready-to use. (Be sure to check out the Breakout Edu Sandbox options for digital games HERE!)
And while these pre-made games are fun and challenging, many of the teachers I talk to really want to create games that are tailored specifically to their needs and subject-areas. Most have an overall game idea in mind, but when it comes to creating the clues, they are at a loss. So here is the challenge: How can teachers create breakout clues that are relevant to what students are learning in their classrooms and connect these clues to the different types of locks? So, I think I may have locked into something: a list of ideas for creating clues and challenges that can work in any subject area, with any unit, and most importantly...with any lock:
SIMPLE NUMBER LOTS
Do you have any other ideas for creating clues that can work in a classroom escape game? Please tweet me @JenFischer18 and I will include them in this post!
It’s the beginning of a new unit and you created a Google Form to collect information about what the students already know about a topic. You step back and take a look at your masterpiece, and realize that this Form is just too good not to share. You add your department friends as collaborators to the Form (because sharing is caring!), shoot them a quick email, and ask them to make a copy before distributing the link. Feeling proud, you share the link to the form with your students and watch as they jump on to give you the information you need. This is going to revolutionize your instruction!
At the end of the day, you go to the Form results excited to look at the fruits of your labor. You stare at the page completely dumbfounded. Names of students who are not in your class taunt you from the page. Your spreadsheet is a complete and total mess. How did this happen? Your friends were supposed to make a copy before distributing the link! Surely they didn’t post your link to their own Classrooms... Oh, no...
Sound familiar? Wouldn’t it be great if there was an easy way to send a form to a friend and force him to make his own copy to avoid the dreaded spreadsheet highjack? With this simple hack, you can feel safe to share with friends and keep your results private and meaningful. Click HERE for the complete tutorial.
Jennifer Fischer is an instructional coach, ed-tech nerd, and technology trainer who strives to help next JEN-ERATION educators transform learning for all students.