Friday, February 27, 2015

Planning and Drafting

One of the things that Melissa and I notice is that the kids possess many talents that would remain hidden if we had not taken on 20% Time. Had we not begun this process, we would never know what computer geniuses Eli, Jacob, Evan and a few others are. We would not know the compassion of some of our kids like Quin, Cecily and Claire. We would not see the logic and inventiveness of Owen, Will and Christian. And we would not see the dreams of kids like Ethan, Yensen, Aireiona and Fiona. We certainly would not know what amazing artists Sam and Paul are unless we had allowed them the freedom to produce these drafts and plans. Wow!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Podcast: 3D Printer and 20% Time Progress

In this episode, we talk about our new 3D printer, the checkpoint activities for 20% Time projects, our PD presentations and preliminary planning for student TED Talks. 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

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Tough Pill to Swallow

Just as I began questioning if my new way to teach math (no textbooks, problem-based learning) was working, a student gave me a Christmas card with the following written in it:

This made my day!  Maybe my year! "Yes, I am SO happy you no longer HATE math!" I thought. To have a 7th grader write this to me, made me think realize that what I was doing was working.

This past summer, I got a chance to rewrite the math curriculum using only online resources, math videos that I created and current resources that I had.  I decided that I could create a better curriculum than the current math book we were using.  I was hopeful and fearful about what other teachers, parents and especially my students would think.  I like to think that I use a blended practice of current math practices and problem based learning.  This type of learning can be hard for students because they are used to the "kill and drill" method, not really having to think and maybe even failing a few times before they come to the correct answer.  Students were frustrated and mad, would shut down at times but I kept pushing.......I knew that this type of learning was better for understanding and retention.  I actually heard out of the mouths of some of my students......wait for it.............."This type of math was fun!" *GASP!* Yes, they really said it.

Robert Kaplinsky has great ideas about how to run a problem-based classroom and is a great resource to use.  He uses the element of surprise as the hook and kids love to see if they can get the right answer.  I was lucky enough to see him speak in person and I will tell you as, a math teacher, if you have the chance, you MUST go!  He really gets you motivated.

I am not saying that every student loves it or feels the same way as the one above but this is the motivation I needed to keep pushing my students and myself to try something new.  How can I ask my students to try something new if I am not willing?  How can any of us?  I need to be learning side by side with my students, showing them what lifelong learning looks like.  I can't be afraid to try new things or fail or be worried what people might say.  If these are the lessons I am trying to teach my students in middle school, I need to take and live my own advice.  It's a tough pill to swallow sometimes but I have to hand it to a student to bring it to my attention.


Friday, February 6, 2015

Podcast: Idea Showcase and EdCampSTL

In this episode, we talk about the Idea Showcase, our new 3D Printer and EdCampSTL. 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

Matching Tool To Task

Last week we wrote a grant on for a 3D Printer. Within a couple of days, our students' families funded the grant so that we can use the printer to further the kids' learning. We have several students who are creating amazing projects who can use a 3D printer to advance their learning. This is the way things should be. The learning should drive the use of technology.

Too often we get technology and then try to find ways to use it. That is backwards. The way it should be is that the acquisition of technology should be a natural extension of the learning that is taking place. When we do things in that order, we are assured that the technology is relevant to the kids and their learning. As the school year evolves, we move in different directions depending on the interests and talents of our kids. Each group is different. In order to honor these differences, we plan our program according to the group of kids that we have. To that end, our technology needs vary from year to year. This year, one of our needs has been a 3D printer. We are ecstatic that we were able to get our grant funded and are eager to get the kids creating.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Idea Showcase Reflections

Today we opened up our 20% Time projects for public comment. In the school cafeteria, for two hours, students, teachers, parents and administrators came in to see the project ideas. We call this the Idea Showcase, a chance for kids to talk about their project ideas with an authentic audience and answer questions about the projects that they may not have thought about before. Over a hundred spectators browsed the projects over the two hour block of time.

The kids really rose to the occasion. Many were not ready when they woke up this morning, but worked hard to polish their presentations and materials in time to be effective advocates for their project ideas. Watching the kids interact with the adult visitors was especially interesting. Kids often have difficulty talking to adults about their work, but today the kids seemed to be engaged and verbose about their ideas. They were really able to enter into discussions about learning, and what they hoped to accomplish, on a deeper level than many would expect.

The projects represent a vast array of ideas. These are the ideas that the kids really wanted to pursue. A conversation with one parent went something like this:

"When you guys first started this, I wasn't sure what you were doing. There didn't seem to be much direction for the kids," the parent said.

"That's true. We encourage but try not to steer at the beginning. The kids have to come up with their own idea," I replied.

"Well, we ran into some real roadblocks during the last few months. I figured that those were things she (her daughter) would have to deal with. She solved the problems but she wasn't really sure how to at first," mom said.

"Yes, that's exactly it! It has to be real-life learning. We don't know the solutions to a lot of the problems we face and we have to figure them out as best we can," I said.

"Well, looking around at the projects, I get it now. This is amazing. All of these project were the kids' ideas," she said.

"Yep, they are. It's different from the way we normally think of school. If I give a kid a paper to fill out with answers that I know are supposed to be there, then that is MY work, not the kids' work. But here, all of these ideas, this clearly is the kids' work," I said.

"That is so true. I look around and I'm surprised by what these kids are doing," she replied.

"We are surprised every year when we start 20% Time," I said.

The level of thinking and problem-solving that these kids demonstrated so far is astonishing. Several have tweaked or changed their project idea because they really hadn't thought through their idea before and realized that they were not passionate about it. For those kids, they learned that the search is one of the most important parts of the project.

The Idea Showcase was validating for the kids and it's validating for us as teachers. What the visitors shared was that the kids were in command of their own learning and seemed excited to be pursuing learning about which they are passionate. The kids got to have positive interactions with adults who were both inquisitive and complementary. They came out of the showcase more confident and assured that their projects were worthwhile and valued. We, as teachers, again saw that kids can really do great things when we get out of their way.

Photos from the Idea Showcase