Monday, November 24, 2014

That Sounds Like Fun

Generating ideas for 20% Time projects is always tricky. Many times kids just grab onto the first idea they come up with and don't put much thought into how they will sustain it all year long. That's why we have put a lot of time into idea generation this year. We want the kids to work through the first impulse ideas and move on to something they can really sink their teeth into. Most kids have been really successful in coming up with ideas and all of them are based on their natural curiosity and interests. Jimmy was having trouble coming up with an idea and, when asked, he said, "I'm having anxiety about it."

"If you didn't have to come to school, what would you do all day?" I asked.

"Lay on the couch and sleep," he replied.

"That gets old after a while. What would you do after a few days of that?" I asked.

"Play hockey with my friend," Jimmy said.

"I know you're into sports. Is hockey the sport you're into the most?" I pressed.

"No, football. Well, and baseball. Football first, then baseball," he said.

"So if your project could deal with some aspect of football and baseball, you'd be into that?" I asked.

Jimmy went on to talk about Fantasy Football, how he spends hours pouring over players and stats to assemble his team. He pulled out his phone and read off his roster to me. It was pretty impressive. I asked if he was thinking of doing anything like that. He said that he'd love to be a General Manager of an NFL team. I introduced him to the old Street and Smith magazines (the sports yearbooks), explained the concepts of those magazines to him, and asked if he's like to do something like that. The concept of those magazines is to write analyses of each NFL team, critiquing the offense, defense and special teams of each team, predicting finishes for the year and suggesting personnel moves. He said, "That doesn't sound like work. That sounds like fun." What Jimmy, and most kids, don't understand, is that the most rewarding work always seems like fun. Those of us who find themselves in the most rewarding jobs always think of them as "fun" and not drudgery.

For his project, Jimmy will put together, based on his evaluation of each NFL and National League baseball team, a "magazine" site analyzing each team's strengths, weaknesses and personnel needs. I am eager to see how he approaches this project and carries it out. He is excited about it, and I am excited to see what he does with it. - Don

Monday, November 17, 2014

Podcast: Blogging and Pitch Day

In this episode, we talk about blogging, Pitch Day, and the power of the student voice. Listeners can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Search iTunes for Harmonized Learning in the podcast section and click "subscribe". You can also follow us on Twitter @melissahellwig4 and @dayankee

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Learning Goes On and On

Last year, Steve's 20% Time project was to develop a line of fishing lures. He had a lot of successes and failures along the way and his learning was amazing. He blogged the entire story at Later, he created a web store so that he could sell his lures online. That site is up and running here

Earlier in the day, Steve's eighth grade science teacher, Patrick Dempsy, sent a message to me with a picture attached. The picture depicted a mold of a new lure that Steve created and printed on the school's 3D printer. The learning with these kids never ends.  - Don

Building the Blogs

After editing blog posts, it was time to post them on the student 20% Time blogs for all the world to see. Kids were hustling all period to make their final edits and upload. When they were done uploading the post, they busied themselves by critiquing the design elements of the blog itself, deciding which gadgets they needed and wanted, and getting some peer feedback on their blog design.

"What if we don't even have our idea yet?" a student asked.

"You still have to blog. You have to tell the story of the decision-making process. What ideas do you have? Are they good? Plausible? Do you feel passionate about an idea?" I asked.

And so, whether or not each student had an idea for their 20% Time project, they still all blogged their journey to come up with an idea about which they feel passionate. "You can change the title of your blog later once you have your idea but people want to read about the thinking that went into arriving at that decision," I told the class.

The kids worked. Some kids struggled, both with their idea and the technology. After all, Blogger is a new tool for them. All in all, it was a busy day. - Don

Saturday, November 8, 2014

We Have Missed the Point

It is Saturday night and as I am sitting watching a movie with my kiddos, a thought for a blog post came to me.  So here I go.....

I know I am luckier than most in my job situation.  Though I didn't choose to go into education right away in college; I declared pretty early on in my college career.  I have always known that I wanted to make a difference in the lives of others and knew in education I could do that.  Now at first, I thought it was going to be like the movies, "Dangerous Minds" or "The Ron Clark Story" and I was going to go into a school and inspire kids unlike anyone else before me.  I, obviously, had my rose-colored glasses on, thinking I was going to change the life of every student I would come to teach.  I still have the desire but I realize that even if I only make a difference in just one of my students' lives, my career was successful.  I love my job, every minute of it, and don't regret becoming a teacher at any moment, but I do not agree with the current school structure, educational process, etc. 

My current philosophy is way outside the box for a lot of people (I am definitely thankful for my partner in crime, Don Eckert) but I feel like I have to speak out even if I am constantly feel like we are constantly being disagreed with, looked down upon or dismissed about the way we teach in our classrooms.  How are we meeting the learning goals?  How do we relate 20% Time to the standards?  Can you really give up one day a week to something that is not curricular?  How do you convince your principal this is worth doing? What, you don't give the district assessments? In Don's infamous words to any of these questions, "You are missing the point". That's what I feel like is happening in education, "We have missed the point."  We aren't thinking about what is best for kids. We might think we are, but we have missed the point.  The educational system as we know it, is not preparing our current students for a world in which they are growing up.  We are not equipping them with the skill sets they need to be successful.  The skill set has changed for kids even from 10 - 15 years ago. We have to look at what our students need in order to thrive as adults and grow into educated, motivated, life-long learners.  I just don't believe this is happening within schools because, you guessed it, they have "missed the point".  This is not to say there are not some teachers who are doing awesome, amazing things but I would argue that most are struggling with letting go of a traditional style they have always known and used. 

So, because of this (I am happy to sit down and talk more philosophy!) I feel so passionate about problem-based learning and 20% Time.  I love seeing my students grow, problem solve, and get excited when they finally realize that after all of their hard work, they got the answer right.  I love seeing the intrinsic motivators that get students excited about their learning.  Do they struggle with this type of teaching?  Absolutely. Do they get frustrated and annoyed with the process? Yep.  But they understand that when you are growing as a learner, sometimes it hurts, even hurts to think because that means we are working our brains.  The passion and excitement I get to see when they feel successful, lets me know everyday that I chose the right profession and the right teaching method.  My passion continues to grow from year to year, as I continually change lesson plans, projects and even whole units because I know that I can just make them better.  I feel that in my 9th year, I have finally hit my stride and sometimes always regret that my first five years of teaching were so blah, dare I say, awful!  Now that is probably harsh, but I was finding my way, doing everything by thebook. Now I know the way I am teaching is what is best for students even if I am currently in the minority.  I believe that the skills I am teaching will set my students up for continual success as they travel the path of their educational journey.  We want to ignite the intrinsic spark for learning within each of our students and help build their drive for knowledge, and to do this, we have to quit "missing the point".  -Melissa 

Friday, November 7, 2014

Podcast: Harmonized Learning 25

In this episode, Don and Melissa talk about blogging and the challenges of getting the kids to tell the story behind their 20% Time project.  Listeners can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes. Search iTunes for Harmonized Learning in the podcast section and click "subscribe". You can also follow us on Twitter @melissahellwig4 and @dayankee

It's Bloggerific!

One of the responsibilities of 20% Time for the kids is to keep a blog. The students need to tell the story of their 20% Time project, from the genesis of their ideas to the completion of their projects. Today we worked on blogging about the initial journey. Do the kids have ideas? How did they come up with those ideas? Are they still deciding on an idea? Researching in order to finalize an idea? These are some of the questions that we are asking the kids to write about. 

One thing that we stress to the kids about the blogs is that each entry should help tell a story. Readers want the narrative about the project, from the idea generation to the student TED Talk experience. We stress to kids that not only do readers want the "what" about the project, but also the "why" about the project. Many of the kids are on the right track. Hopefully we will see some great blogs again this year.