Monday, August 25, 2014

Don't Box Them In

Don't Box Them In!

Welcome to a new school year! Summer is over and it's time to get back to what we do as educators. This week I welcomed my second class into Academy EDU. The challenge was to do something different and capture their attention from day one. So, I started by making balloon animals with them because it's much more interesting than hashing out the syllabus and classroom rules. Over the summer Dr. Privott of Morehead State University led our cohort through this activity.  It was a great ice breaker and can be used to discuss the importance of communication, individualization, and failure. Numerous balloons popped in the process, but students were able to start over if needed. Watching and modeling became more important than listening to a fixed set of instructions. I encouraged students to talk with one another and help each other out. At the end we reflected on the importance of being a team and offering support to one another. We also discussed that failing at something new is better than not trying at all.  We then went over the syllabus for the course. I handed every student a blank sheet of paper. Many confused looks came my way. The standard comment of, "Hey.....mines blank" was uttered a few times. I then gave them a list of instructions to fold the paper in half, tear the corner off, fold it in half again, tear another corner off, rotate to the left 3 times, and place a hole in the middle. Then they opened up their syllabus and compared it to their classmates. What do know....they all received the same instructions but no two were the same. That's my goal this year. I am not going to "box" my students in with a heavy list of what-to-do's or make everyone do the exact same work. This year the name of the game is "personalized experience".  Just like their snowflake style syllabus my hope is that each student experiences something unique and impactful on their life. As teachers, it's important to realize that some of the best lessons we deliver are not academic in nature. As a matter fact when I asked my class to recall their favorite teacher and how they influenced their life. Many stated that it was not the academics that counted, but the personal life lessons learned that meant the most. I'm not sure how this year will unfold, but I do know I am stepping more out of my comfort zone to #IMPACT my students.
One way is through our building challenge of flipping the Genius Hour. We are implementing the 10-80-10 rule. The first 10% of a class is your time to be on stage as the teacher. The next 80% is purely driven by student engagement and practice. The last 10% is wrapping it up, spend time reflecting and discussing the next step. The leadership team got the idea from John Maxwell's blog about his 10-80-10 Principle. Maxwell uses this management principle for team projects where he only involves himself in the first and last 10% of a project. The middle 80% is carried out by the team because he wants them to feel ownership. Yes, you are still there to guide and assist but it truly becomes their baby. We then incorporated Gagne's 9 Events of Instruction (another takeaway from Dr. Curry at Morehead State this summer). This model really fits our idea of students truly experiencing personalized learning, self-discovery, and practice in the classroom. Again, we are not abandoning the teacher in this process. It takes a lot of behind the scenes prep-work to run your class this way and you get to interact at a more one-on-one level with students during the 80% time. This may sound like differentiated instruction, but I have to agree with Dr. Justin Tarte's recent post about 6 things we need to stop saying in education. In his post he recommends that instead of saying differentiated "we start saying 'personalized or customized learning.' Similar to teaching, differentiated instruction is very teacher-centered whereas 'personalized & customized learning' is more focused on the students." This sounds very constructive in nature and it is. We need to step away from the "one size fits all" mentality and start making education about the student. I don't care what test you give or how you measure your rigor in the classroom all I ask is that you create a culture where students feel safe to step out on a limb and are not afraid to fail. Don't box them in! Let them let get creative and in the end you may be surprised that they exceed your expectations. I leave you with this quote from Jon Gordon this morning on what customers want.I think this is what we want as teachers and what our students want from us:

If you have any fun....exciting....engaging activities for back to school leave them in the comment section for others to read.