Think back to a memorable and positive learning experience you had in school. Chances are...it was interesting, engaging and fun. These are the 3 adjectives that I have consistently observed in classrooms where teachers are making the biggest difference in kids' lives. It's how I define Eventful Learning and it has everything to do with the success our schools will have, yet nothing to do with a MEAP score. In fact, I'd also bet that the events that helped you become a lifelong learner were considered a bit crazy at the time. An adult somewhere took a chance to do something or create something that stood out. Detroit-area educator Joe Vercellino embodies these traits, and it was an honor to produce the latest episode of the #MichED Podcast telling his story. My reflection:
If teaching and learning is going to stick, it has to get students' attention and be meaningful to them. A young and energetic K-8 music teacher, Joe Vercellino
calls on his diverse background, a 'roll with the flow' attitude and a flair for entertaining to build relationships with his students. He also leverages stickiness by creating a classroom experience that will not only get them to pay attention, but that will spread. "I want the kids to go home and say this is what my music class was like today
". That's why classroom events
fill up his YouTube channel. Joe is crazy enough to have his class go viral.
Think all the hype and show doesn't pay off for actual learning? Think again. Here's your data:
Student: "I wasn't really interested in music...after taking his class, it was fun to me and I like to do it a lot."
Is that not what we want to happen in every classroom? "Now I'm really interested in _____". Creating an experience that elicits interest
is what leads to curiosity and a desire to improve. And it's that level of engagement that allows teachers to help students push through the difficulties that accompany growth. Joe isn't shy to admit that it's not always butterflies and rainbows. He's learning to be a better teacher; to balance all the demands and curve balls that get thrown at him. But when it comes down to designing his lessons, fun
"I find myself the most frustrated when I'm not having fun teaching what I'm supposed to be teaching...If I can't find a fun way to teach [my content] I'm going to hold off until I can curve it to connect with this generation of kids...with this class."
In the end, of course, it's not actually the YouTube views or the downloads on iTunes that really matter to Joe. Working in an urban setting, students who come to music class with Mr. Vercellino may not have had enough to eat the night before. They are likely from poverty. So he is relentlessly pursuing ways to make a positive difference in his students' lives, and his modern methods are making it memorable for his students. In and out of the classroom, Joe creates eventful learning through music that is relevant and mentorship that is meaningful.
"I think back to my middle school experience, and I would have killed to recorded an album, to produce music professionally...and that drives me to give them the experience I would have loved to have had".
Bringing together boys from different grade levels, Vercellino works before and after school with the Beasts of the Beat
group to produce and perform hip-hop. Instead of ignoring or shunning the culture they have been raised in, Joe helps them to understand the power of their words and the life lessons that accompany the process. The group's recent song, Bully
, tackles the commonly discussed adolescent issue in a way which you typically wouldn't hear. It's raw and real, and I'd guess many teachers would not be comfortable with it. But listen to the voices of Joe and his students below and tell me that's not exactly the type of energized, entrepreneurial spirit we want in our classrooms today. Joe is one of the crazy ones who believes he can change the world...and I, for one, am crazy enough to believe he just might. But it's not the size of his students' audience
that makes me think that — it's the size of their teacher's heart.
Update: Watch this local news feature on Joe & Beasts of the Beat!
Last week my boss, Shannon Degan, fired off a quick query to a few folks... it simply said "What are your thoughts on digital badges?" While pondering how I was going to reply, a timely tweet and a slew of thoughts made my response a bit long. So, instead of keeping it locked in the email thread... Image by Steven Johnson, Flickr CC I have been curious about badges as they relate to motivating students or teachers but never really bought in to the concept that they would be worth the time and effort. First of all, I personally am not motivated by a digital badge. So when I think about using them for PD my first thought is "what teachers are going to really care enough to be motivated by a badge?" and my 2nd thought is "where are they going to put them (short of creating a whole system like they have done at NHMS)?" Such a low % of teachers even have a web space (blog, website, etc) that acts as a portfolio where they could display them, OR you'd have to get everyone on board somewhere to facilitate distribution (ie Edmodo or ClassBadges).
That being said... perhaps there are even deeper reasons to question the concept, other than practical and logistical concerns. See this post
from Jackie Gerstein, Ed. D., which does a brilliant job of framing the discussion as it relates to rewards, motivation and gamification.
Let me be clear, I am all for creating a more FUN learning or professional development experience and do believe gamification of some sort could play in to that. But for me, it's more about creating an interesting and engaging experience than it is about dangling a carrot or sticker to increase motivation. Perhaps as a part of a broader blended learning platform (maybe the Ninja Program
is an example) where badges are an auxiliary, could they be effective for the part of the population that DOES appreciate the small token of recognition.
My work with digital portfolios
seems to also be related to this topic in some ways....and I wonder if resumes of the future
will be a mix of traditional, portfolio and badging of some sort? As a means of communicating accomplishments, I appreciate the VISUAL nature of badges, but as a way to increase motivation for learning, I am skeptical.
What examples have I missed? What research is being done? Are you finding that students (or teachers) enjoy earning digital badges?
How should classrooms be physically arranged? What changes can teachers make with limited resources? What will classrooms of the future look like? How much does design really matter? These are a few questions on my mind as I've been fortunate to participate in an ongoing conversation about designing learning spaces (for both students and adults) with several of you. Some themes have emerged among the observations, complaints and celebrations that I'd like to frame here.
While there has been a lot of talk about getting teachers out of the front of the room over the last several years, it's almost inevitable that when I walk into a school I still see traditional desk arrangements in a majority of classrooms. I know part of this is that teachers are extremely limited by overcrowded classrooms & outdated furniture. But so what? If you look at a classroom space as a blank slate and keep in mind 3 simple guidelines, I believe educators can significantly improve the experience for students. And if you know me at all, you know I believe that the classroom experience drastically impacts what types of learners our students become.
Left: It's been my privilege to support the classrooms at Warner Elementary (Western Schools) over the past year...and one thing I always notice are the unique places that seem to feel just right for working. Right: Students in Rebecca Wildman's classroom (Boyne City) utilize popular "floor chairs" for a class discussion.
When I was interviewing students from Derk Oosting
's class for the #MichED Podcast on Designing Learning Spaces
, one observation from a 3rd grade girl caught my attention- "you get a better feel" she said. Teachers from all over the world are creating spaces that are more conducive to learning
because of their feel. This has less to do with 'cute' and more to do with balance and vibrance. Don't we naturally seek out comfort and a pleasant energy...a good vibe...in the places we choose to spend our time? Why wouldn't schools try to play to this (almost) basic need? It doesn't take much- small changes in lighting, color, acoustics or adding in variety of seating can go a long ways for establishing the desired feel. There's no single way to do this
, but I think we should ask ourselves what feel our students want, not just what reflects the teacher's preferences. Better yet- ask the students and let them lead the way.
This may look like a half empty classroom. It's not. It's actually a full 3rd grade with about 25 students in Jennifer Omo's classroom
at Mattawan Later Elementary. But where are the students? And where is the teacher?! If you look closely you will see the result of students being empowered to "choose the tools and the space that works best" for their learning (some are out of the shot in all sorts of impromptu nooks). A moment that I was fortunate enough to witness last spring, the students overwhelmingly did not choose the desks...and their teacher was not afraid to get down on the floor with them to guide their learning!
When your space facilitates meaningful activities on demand
, your design has Function. Another big F in this category is Flexibility. When we expect collaboration or focus in a variety of group sizes...does your furniture arrangement allow for the breakout areas needed? Are the tools readily accessible? When I look to makeover a space
, I tend to lean towards a minimalist perspective in order to eliminate barriers. After all, it's the people who will fill the room that should be the priority.
Former 4th graders using a low writing area
Ben Tomlinson's HS students at work (Mattawan)
You know those moments. It's when you look up and realize your classroom is abuzz with busy brains....students are engrossed in meaningful tasks and are having fun. Stealing a term from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
, I refer to these moments as Flow. It's not an accident. It's a result of instructional design, pedagogy and yes...classroom design. Good design is "99% invisible
" and when your classroom is in a state of Flow...the furniture, paint, background music, technology...they all just melt away to reveal why we were all brought here to begin with. It takes thought to plan and predict how your room can become host to such Eventful Learning. And it takes time and energy to execute the necessary changes. But not an unmanageable amount of any of those currencies if you make it a priority. And money? Sure, you can spend a lot
to get there...but you don't have to
. So why do so many classrooms today still feel so much like School and not at all like the Engagement Studios or Innovation Headquarters they could be?
Don't just take my word for it! Listen to the podcast below with several educators chiming in about their experiences with feel, function and flow. (Subscribe to the #MichED Podcast to catch all the student and teacher voices!)
What changes have you made in your classroom to turn it into a space that promotes engaged learning? Did the students have a say in how your classroom is designed? As always, I welcome your thoughts and encourage you to share pictures of interesting learning spaces...that's what I'll be doing over on Flickr
Student projects at BCS
If you haven't yet, I'd encourage you to take 8 minutes to go watch Scott McLeod's TEDxDesMoines talk: Extracurricular Empowerment
Making "the extracurricular more curricular" has natural connections with Genius Hour
& other strategies currently being shared & discussed as educational innovations. Obviously having the world as a platform can be a powerful thing that most schools don't allow/encourage students to capitalize on (for learning, making a difference, passion, profit or otherwise). But what I've been wondering about (since reading this post from Sean Junkins) is the "except when they don't" factor. While showing examples of kids reaching a global stage is inspiring, does it undermine the strategy of encouraging kids to take a risk because of what is perhaps more likely to happen with student projects... that they DON'T get all that much attention? That students DON'T find a way to make a big difference?
A common issue I am hearing with teachers embarking on Genius Hour is that some students don't really know what they are passionate about. Certainly there is more value to passion-based endeavors for kids (in and out of school) than to get a big spotlight. The process of becoming engaged in a challenge, owning the growth, 21st Century skills...the list goes on. But how do we inspire the kids who will take a passion & run with it; while not leaving behind those who haven't really found their spark yet? If one student wants to raise a million dollars for a charity...awesome... but if another just wants to dive into posting videos of yo-yo tricks for his friends to see, isn't that also a good place to start? (I saw some of this while visiting a Thinkering Studio
I'm totally with Scott, that this is what school should look more like. I have also shown and shared
many of the same types of examples of What Is Now Possible
. But should this message also come with an asterisk? How do we frame the potential to "Change the World" while managing expectations and emphasizing the value of the process
? Or is it OK if kids expect that they can reach a huge audience and let the realities play out as they will?
As a self-proclaimed Dream Big Educator
, I'm attracted like a magnet to projects that give students a voice
. But my current thinking is that we need to celebrate platforms of any size....because for many (most?) kids, it's not going to be the audience of 4 million that impacts their life...it's going to be the process of building that platform and reaching 4 or 40 people. It's the small dream that leads to bigger ones down the road. It's the small spark that might smolder but will flare up when the wind is just right.
The message of Extracurricular Empowerment is an important one...and I hope teachers and Ed leaders from all over will take it to heart. As I continue to ponder the implications of audience expectation, I'll still be fighting for schools in Michigan & beyond to 'empower & get out of the way!"
Also recommended: Stop Telling Kids to Change the World
This post was entirely composed on Storify using my Twitter feed. If you are having trouble viewing the embedded content below, see sfy.co/fPhv
Sharing a journal writing A student reads her story out loud
Getting students excited about writing
has always been the clear WHY behind my work with the Write About This iPad app
. Having students improve
their writing, however, is a bit more implicitly implied. Just like any other skill or topic, if students are interested, engaged and having fun...then lots of learning can take place. The more opportunities to express themselves and explore various forms of text will result in more moments of growth, reflection and improvement. But there was a big piece of the puzzle missing with Write About This. A piece that had significantly changed the way I set up writing lessons with 4th graders.
The moment when I knew I needed to get more into tech tools in my classroom was one I vividly remember. It was my first year teaching, and a group of students begged to stay in during recess to finish their VoiceThread project. Check that. It wasn't a VoiceThread project... it was a writing
project. 4th grade boys were asking to stay in from recess to make their writing better!?!? I knew I was on to something. So as I watched them huddle around a terribly slow classroom computer to read out loud the drafts of their stories, I could see that this basic technology was a powerful tool in the writing process.
Since those early years of having access to multimedia websites (and later apps), I've seen time and time again that during "verbal preparation for sharing" students find mistakes and make the work even better! Reading writing out loud forces them to analyze word choice, sentence fluency and other aspects that make up good writing. It makes them listen to their work from the perspective of the audience helps students realize if their piece has grown into what they imagined it would.
Recording student voice is also a powerful way to share and celebrate their work
. It allows for a wide audience to listen to a student-created poem, journal or story. Maybe those audio witnesses are grandparents in another town or maybe they're a global peer from a classroom on another continent. No matter who they choose to share with, having that authentic audience is a definite motivator for better writing.
Clearly I had plenty of reasons to want to leverage audio features in our app. So giving kids the ability to record the writing they created is now something we proudly offer in the newest update to Write About This! After reading their work and approving the playback, students simply save the recording (as a movie file paired with their text and the image) to the camera roll. Audio recording is also available when making
a custom prompt, allowing teachers to further customize their lessons or for students to CREATE unique response opportunities based on the photos they capture.
I feel that Voice features were the missing piece that makes Write About This a complete creation platform. Start with an inspiring visual...respond in writing...celebrate with voice! See these updates in action in the video below
and let us know how your students are using the app this year!
Early last winter I sat in a small conference room with Dan Spencer and Kim Powell to throw out our thoughts about how to create an event in Jackson that could harness the experience & expertise from the Connected Educator Series. We wanted participants to connect with others through rich conversations about big EDU ideas, classroom strategies/stories, tools, and resources. We needed them to learn about innovative ideas that are working. And we hoped they would leave with the connections, resources and inspiration to take the next steps.
The EdCamp "unconference" model was something that offered opportunity for participant-driven discussions and the connections between people. But being completely UN, especially when few local teachers had experienced it before, didn't seem like it would get us all the way to to where we wanted to be. So we decided to mash-up the Learn by Doing approach to PD with a traditional ed tech conference and also bring in the UN. The Connected Educator Un/Conference was born. We brought in expert teachers from the CES video series to facilitate the Learn by Doing sessions around specific topics and then structured the rest of the day to include "Idea Buffets" using the traditional impromptu EdCamp session board. Sprinkle in some Team Trivia, lots of prizes and great food and it was a Saturday to remember! You can see all the details on schedule, sessions, presenters, etc over on the website.
In a 90 second nutshell, this is what the day looked like:
What do you notice in the video?
What I saw & heard as I wandered (OK, scrambled) around making sure all was going as planned were lots of interesting discussions... tons of important questions being asked... plenty of tips, tricks and tools being shared and an overall energy about educating kids in meaningful ways. This is a testament to the nearly 100 educators who gave up their spring Saturday to learn and become better. This was an awesome event because of the people who came and the passion they shared. Here are some of their thoughts:
"I came away with more than one idea to take back to my classroom."Andy Losik & I pose for Kim's photo
"Best part of the day was picking sessions I need to be a better teacher."
"I am inspired by my Michigan colleagues every time I get to be amongst them."
"I liked the informal Idea Buffets...the quick pace of the day was great!"
We had a ton of positive feedback and also some great advice on how to make it better. Generally, the UN part of the day was what people enjoyed most. This is good news for future Unconferences in the Jackson area....and I hope more teacher-driven PD will spread to the local districts.
I genuinely had FUN helping to pull this event together and still have to pinch myself that I get to do things like this for "work". It was the type of PD event I myself would like to attend, and I do think the hybrid approach to a conference structure can work in a lot of places.
So what's next for the Un/Con? Well.. we've already had discussions with folks who'd like to do something like this in other areas in Michigan. And I sure hope we get to do it again next year in Jackson!
We had no idea what to expect when we released Write About This
into the wild. Would kids enjoy it? Who would download it? How would it be used? Did we make any big mistakes? We are past 90 days since going live, and it has been super fun to take a look at some of the answers to these questions.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, the images below are priceless to me. Since the app does not collect any user data, our only glimpse into who has Write About This and how it's being used comes from direct feedback or online posts. I can't express enough how grateful I am to friends, colleagues, members of my PLN and teachers/parents previously unknown for providing us with feedback and celebrations. Michigan teachers (who I consider both friends and colleagues) have offered their support and shared student work. I owe them so much! Other teachers on Twitter have taken the time to mention @WriteAboutThis
and we have discovered the app being used with children as young as 4 and all the way up to Middle School. When I hear about their excitement for the writing process, I can't even express how happy it makes me!
1st grader enjoys writing about his family
4th Grade poetry using a custom prompt
It's crazy to see that more than 5,000 people have installed the Free version of Write About This from all over the world. We purposely created it as something that would provide value while also showcasing the full functionality. But it's not the numbers that carry the real emotion behind this effort. It's the story of teachers like Rebecca Wildman having students email her picture-inspired writing over the weekend
. It's the story of Jon Samuelson working with his young daughter
to write at home almost daily. It's the ideas that have been sparked and the words that have been written.
So what's next? Well, we want to keep getting better. We've released 2 updates because of feedback we've received from users and are continuously listening to suggestions for features and improvements. We're also exploring options for another app.
No matter where Write About This ends up going, the time, energy and risk has been totally worth it. The only regret that I have is that I don't get to use it with my own students. I hope you don't mind if I 'adopt' your young writers! Maybe they will be able to show me the next way to increase their engagement and make learning fun...
As always, I welcome your thoughts!
Doing a Lightning Talk at the 2013 MACUL Conference was one of the most challenging things I have ever done. It made me synthesize several years of experiences and thousands of links, articles, videos, books and podcasts into a message that hopefully resonated with attendees. (Many of the most important influences for these beliefs are linked in the transcript below the video.) It forced me to be vulnerable and put my passion out there. This is the lens that I look through when I help teachers use technology for teaching and learning. It's my WHY for what I do.
Is your classroom a place where learning Events happen?
Today I'm wondering how we get kids to want to PAY for school? Sound crazy? Well, let’s quickly think about how your experiences at MACUL can show us 3 rules for making learning an Event that students will never forget.
To start, why do you hand over your currencies of money, time and energy to be here? 1st off you are interested in this stuff. 2nd, you are engaged by the format. And last, MACUL is fun.
You are able to find resources, ask questions, connect with others, choose how and where you want to learn, and share your ideas..all in a vibrant environment.
So what about your students… would they pay up to be there for your events? They’d pay money to go to the movies.. for a concert or a video game. They’d give up their time for a birthday party or trip to Cedar Point.
Can the classroom compare with such chosen interests, with passion and fun? I believe it can if we focused on providing experiences that helped them to catch fire instead of going down a checklist of things that make them want to fall asleep. Schools require a huge payment of time from kids….. 13 years, 7 hours a day is taxed right off the top. To maximize that investment we need to burst those bubbles. If you don’t want them to forget, make learning an event.
In order for students to pay up from their Energy accounts we have to put major deposits into the “this is totally cool” fund. It works like compounding interest. Teachers are great at finding these hooks, but are told that the 'wow' factor holds less value then the '80% Proficiency' factor.
The memorable events in my learning journey don’t back that up and I believe we have to find a balance. We spend a disproportionate amount of resources on Proving that we are doing our jobs instead of IMproving the experiences kids have in school.
We actually don’t need huge things like a conference…because events can be any size. Just like a day in your classroom, MACUL is actually made up of 1000s of small events that engage the mind.. Events are conversations. Events are feelings. Events are moments.
Some of you might be skeptical about the word because of how much planning goes into a big event or because you think it is "one & done".…but by definition, an Event is simply something that happens that is of importance. We look forward to events, we document events, and we reflect on events…big or small. Picture an event you are looking forward to… will you talk to others about it? Will you take pictures? Will it be fun? Shouldn’t learning be fun enough to put on instagram?
Why do you think so many of the people in this room are posting or tweeting about their learning with Ed Tech? And even more will go back to share at staff meetings and in the teacher’s lounge? The lightbulb moments are memorable.. the energy stirs up reflection & a desire to share.
The same is true of our students… just take a look at their willingness to share in social spaces . … forget the hashtag #springbreak… Meaningful learning experiences are being transformed by new media.. they allow the events to live on and even can start a movement.
We should learn from what environments our kids naturally hang out in, what they’re willing to give their time, energy and money towards. Pay attention to their interests and ask yourself.. Would they pay .99 cents to download your lesson?
I think they would if we did a better job of keeping their focus on learning by more intrigue andless force. Put on a show and let them do the same. Not a monologue but a collaborative performance where students contribute by blogging or making movies or building stuff…. Contributors are engaged…they have a stake in the learning process. Now it won’t always be easy or clean….but conflict and struggle lead to meaningful events, too. Think about how pleasant your sub plans were for today… that was part of this event…and it was worth it, right?
My darkest days as a teacher were when I knew what I was doing was not interesting. My best days were like this one, where we Skyped with an author and Adrian jumped up on the spot and asked him “What was your inspiration”?
Every classroom activity should start with us asking “Will they be interested?” “Will they be engaged?” and “Will they have fun?” Anything less is not worth it, and they won’t ‘pay up’. If you don’t want them to forget, make learning an event.
Your students will remember how you made them feel, the opportunities you gave them, the challenges you helped them through and the expectations you set for them. Technology as a toolcan help us to do all these things AND meet all the high standards that have been set for you and for them.
You’ve seen that and felt here at MACUL with events big and small. Experiences that are going to change the way you teach. Now, I leave you with a challenge to go create events in your classroom that will change the way your students contribute to this world, pursue their dreams and learn for a lifetime. THAT will be school worth paying for.
WOW! This was an epic fight to the finish as Ask 3 uses a final frenzy of voting to close the gap...only falling by 5 votes. Great work to both teams and their fans who showed up big time on this final day.
Everyone is a winner if we helped get some conversations about educational apps going and hopefully raised the bar in the field of FREE tools for teachers!