Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Our Surprise Thanksgiving Feast

Every year, Melissa and I plan a huge surprise Thanksgiving breakfast buffet for the kids on the day before our break. We enlist the help of the kids' parents with a TOP SECRET e-mail at the beginning of November. Parents sign up for items they'll contribute and some make a commitment to come to school and help set up the event. There is a lot of coordination and planning in the few weeks before our feast but most of it is done through e-mail.

On the morning of our Thanksgiving feast, Melissa comes up with an excuse to be absent for the first couple of hours of classes. We get a substitute in her room while she is down in the library organizing parents, cooking and setting up the buffet. Soon, the smell of bacon wafts through the building. Kids are busily working like any other day, unbeknownst to the setup in the library. At the end of second hour, Melissa texts me that everything is ready. It's time for the big guns! Our principal, in a ruse, comes to our team and talks to them sternly about the improper use of cellphones and devices. She notes some statistics that make it clear that the kids are in trouble. She then tells them that we are going to do some emergency digital citizenship lessons in the library so everyone should line up to walk down to the LMC.

When the doors open and the kids wander in, they see many of their parents and tables of food, all prepared for them. They have no earthly clue what is happening. Even after the adults yell "Surprise!" the kids are befuddled. The looks on their faces are priceless. It is awesome! "Are we still in trouble?" "What's going on?" "Are our parents here to punish us about the cell phones?" the kids ask. When we make it clear to them that this is a holiday buffet and that the cell phone issue was just a way to get them to the library without them guessing the truth, they relax, start to laugh, and begin their celebration. "Wow! We really thought we were in trouble!" they say during conversation.

The parents are incredible. They pitch in and help make this an event that the kids will never forget. Year after year, we try our best to keep this event a secret and year after year, we succeed. This success is especially surprising because last year's team is in the eighth grade in our building. They keep mum, I think, because they want our current team to experience the surprise that they got to experience. Even the few kids whose siblings we had years before, keep quiet so that everyone else will be surprised. That is the climate of our team. We look out for each other, we take care of each other, we promote the accomplishments of each other and we always help each other. For that, we are so thankful.

Monday, November 23, 2015

EdCamp Harmony 2.0

Our first student edcamp was such a hit that we decided to do another one. Our kids are learning so many new things every week and edcamp provides a great platform to share that learning. Since our last edcamp, we have gotten a few new technology tools, kids have used new apps for their projects and all have polished skills that they wanted to share. What a great day of learning.

We used the same format as before. We scheduled three 25-minute sessions within the first two periods of our schedule. We were able to use five classrooms for our edcamp and things seemed to go off without a hitch. One thing that kids learned today is that because something is interesting to the presenters does not mean it will be interesting to other kiddos. We did have a few sessions that were unattended. We also think that a tweak for next time might be to shorten the sessions from 25 minutes to 20 minutes. We are always tweaking things to make for a better learning experience for the kids. All in all, today was another great student-led learning experience.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Podcast: IETC, EdCampSIL and Blogs

In this episode, we talk about IETC, EdCampSIL, blogging, idea generation, our upcoming Pitch Day and the ever-approaching EdCampSTL. You can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and you can always follow us on Twitter, @dayankee and @melissahellwig4.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

EdCampSIL Collaborations

Yesterday, Melissa and I attended Edcamp Southern Illinois, EdCampSIL, in Belleville, IL. It was a small but passionate edcamp full of educators who wanted to collaborate, share and improve their practices. We presented a session on our 20% Time program and also attended a session on Genius Hour put on by another teacher. The conversations were rewarding and interesting. We know that by sharing our work, we also learn about others' work and the avenues for collaboration open up. Such was the case yesterday at EdCampSIL.

We met several teachers who were particularly interested in implementing or growing their own 20% Time programs but just needed a push from their PLN to help them find direction. One teacher, Nickie Pelch (@npelch), teaches at a small high school in Ste. Genevieve, MO. She is psyched about starting her own program and yesterday she took the plunge into blogging! It had been something that she'd wanted to do for a while and she thought that if she was going to require a reflective piece from her students during 20% Time, she should model that reflective piece herself. Her blog is here. While talking some more, we told her that we are doing a long-term PD program in our district for teachers who want to implement 20% Time programs in their classes. After a bit of brainstorming about ways she could be included, we decided that she could Google Hangout in from her school. This coming Wednesday, when we all gather for our first PD session, we will be including Nickie Pelch and anyone else who wants to GHO in. If you'd like to attend, please e-mail either Melissa or myself and we'll make it happen. Our contact information is under the Contact page at the top of this page. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Podcast: School for Today and Blogs!

In this episode, we talk about new ideas for the podcast, kids coming up with their project ideas, the School for Today initiative and student blogging. Subscribe to our podcast on iTunes and follow us on Twitter @dayankee and @melissahellwig4