Reaching Beyond Classroom Walls

There are many ways to extend learning beyond the four walls of our classrooms.  Here are a few ideas.

When we break through the boundary of the four walls of our classroom, we extend the learning beyond what one teacher and one building can achieve.  There are many easy ways to reach out and connect with others outside your classroom.  Here are my favorites:

Mystery Skype:  This program started in 2010.  Hundreds of schools have connected across the world using Mystery Skype.  In a Mystery Skype students will ask yes and no questions based on location and try to guess where the other class is located.  In our school, we’ve done this several different ways.  On Dot Day our students created “dots” that reflected where we live.  We showed our dots to the class we were connecting with.  We limited our questions to 5 and then paused our visit.  This gave students time to digest, reflect and consider further questions on location.  We connected again to finish our visit.

Mystery Hangout:  There are many ways to connect using Google Hangout.  There is a G+ community dedicated to connecting classrooms.  I suggest the teachers connect in advance of the visit to tailor the questions and focus of the visit for their classrooms.  Then, have some fun and watch the learning happen!

Google Expeditions:  Talk about instant engagement and smashing classroom walls, this has it all!  Students can explore the world without leaving their classroom.  The implications for learning that this tool has is endless.  I can only suggest getting ahold of a set of Google Expeditions and trying it out!  Students can explore everything from the moon and the galaxy to the bottom of the ocean and everything in between!  Please note:  The noise level in your classroom will rise.  It is the pure joy of learning in action!  Enjoy it!

Now you can create your OWN Google Expeditions.  This is new and in beta, but I can’t wait to see where this will take our learning!!!

Remember to lead with learning, but don’t limit yourself to your building.  Smash down those classroom walls and have some fun in the process!


Making Thinking Visible

My favorites on this topic:

Matt Miller at Ditch That Textbook

Visible Thinking by Project Zero

Making Learning Visible:  Doodling Helps Memories Stick, Mindshift

Sketchnotes, infographics, annotating, mind maps and anchor charts are amazing ways to make thinking visible.  In education we focus on ways to reach every learner, visible thinking is a great place to start.  Some students don’t have the ability to focus through a long lecture.  Turn that into a positive, have the student annotate information or sketch and doodle notes.  Doing this requires the student to listen with a focus.

You don’t have to be an artist to sketch or doodle.  This type of learning often turns students away when they feel they are not creative or artistic.  Start small, have students practice in many different forms before turning them loose with sketchnotes!  A great place to learn is with Google’s Auto Draw.  Auto Draw allows you to draw, with a mouse or touch screen, anything you want and Google will guess what you are drawing.  This allows students to create in a safe place to refine their craft!  The other great place to practice, Google’s Quick, Draw!  Google suggests an image and the person drawing has 20 seconds to draw while artificial intelligence tries to guess!

My favorite tool for visible thinking in schools is Google Drawing.  The application of this program are endless.  Jump in and try it out!

Another awesome use of visible thinking is using your voice.  Thinking about thinking and talking about thinking is so important for students.  Taking the time to reflect on what they are doing will solidify learning and embed a practice in students that they can transfer to other areas of learning.

Allowing students to have the choice to draw what they hear and see affords them another avenue to capture learning.  Building this practice into your classroom creates a culture of thinking and makes it a daily habit.  In the end, you will have students who take the time to do this on their own, without prompting.

Continue to wonder, lead with learning and make thinking visible for your students!


Transforming Student Learning Through Empowerment

Empowerment ~ Collaboration ~ Innovation ~ Impact

These buzzwords in education keep flying at us, we hear them from multiple sources.  What do they mean and where do you begin to implement them into an already busy school day?

Creating a student-centered classroom where students are empowered to take control of their own learning can be very intimidating for a teacher.  We were trained to teach, to follow the chapter, give assignments, administer tests, assign grades, and repeat.  However, today’s students demand more!

“If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed, the vision pulls you.”  ~Steve Jobs

There are two small and powerful ways to start.  Our district has empowered teachers with Project Based Learning.  PBL, when done well, empowers students to solve authentic problems through collaboration and critical thinking to arrive at a learning goal.  The role of the teacher is to create learning opportunities based on content standards and concepts, further the inquiry through questioning and provide inspiration, not answers.  The teacher is the guide allowing the student to take charge of the process of learning.  The teacher assists students in finding the best audience to share their learning.

PBL is step one, but is there more?

Once PBL is embedded into the culture of your classroom the next step is to empower students with the ability to choose their own learning.  Commonly called, Genius Hour or Passion Projects, this is the highest form of student-empowered learning.  Students are given time during the school day to follow something they are passionate about.  They are given permission to be innovative and create something new.  The student owns the process from beginning to end.  They choose the topic, they choose the path, they choose the product.  It’s all up to them, the learning, the struggle, the failure, the success!  The best part, as the teacher, you get to experience this amazing journey with your students.  You get to support them, encourage them, fail with them, celebrate with them, and in the end reflect with them.

If you are looking for something different, something more, give it a try!  Why wait?  If you’d like help getting started, moving forward, or revamping what you are already doing, contact me.  I would love to have a conversation with you!

Questions for further discussion:

How do you build a community of learners in your classroom?

What ways have you created opportunities for student-empowered learning?

What are some challenges you face when moving students from engagement to empowerment?

How can student-centered learning spaces aid in student-centered learning?

Being innovative is a mindset, not a skillset, how do you model this shift in mindset for your classroom?

How can being reflective help us to be innovative?