Excitement for Learning.

It’s always exciting and fun to think about what our kids might become and create one day. I have this thought frequently while visiting a range of classes from kindergarten through eighth grade.

The human potential is fascinating. Fostering that excitement to learn and create is what teaching is about.

Here are some strategies that I’ve noted from my classroom visits:

Encouraging new learning, off-topic tangents, and risk-taking.

Modeling curiosity. Staying engaged in student’s work, questions, and creations. Be genuinely curious. Showing excitement to learn alongside your students.

Demonstrating enthusiasm for your content and the skills you teach. Help students see the value and connection to life outside of school.

Are you fostering that excitement to learn in your classroom?


Allowing students to lead.

When we let kids ask their own questions, solve their own problems, research and discover in ways that best suit them, we are creating the space for students to lead themselves. To explore, discover, and develop a love for learning.

Letting kids discover and allowing them to lead is difficult and ambiguous work.

The teachers and the students who are going to the edges of the unknown, creating space for students to become self-directed learners are leading us. They’re creating a culture of learning that is so important.

Flow state.

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The other day I was fortunate to surf some beautiful, fun waves right up the road from my home here in NJ.  Picture four foot, clean, steep, and fast breaking waves.  An offshore wind, holding the wave face open for a surfer to sneak a little tube (or cover up by the wave face).  I felt like I couldn’t stop surfing. My friends left after awhile. It just continued to stay fun.  Time slipped by.  I ended up surfing for four hours.  My brain wanted to keep going, but I had to go in for food, water, and to warm up. 

I had another experience recently where time literally slipped by.  Email and notifications were off.  I planned to work on a presentation for an hour.  Time slipped by.  I was in the flow.  Creating, writing, making.

Over an hour later, the phone rang. I had snapped out of it.  It was my scheduled call with a vendor for one of our programs. I quickly refocused my attention to the conversation and later continued on with my workday – never getting back to a flow state that day.

I thought of all of this the other day after a discussion with some educators.

How do we create the space for kids to get into a flow state?

To simply get into that state of productive work where time seems to slip away.  A space where they continue learning, reading, practicing, and making for an extended period of time, with little to no interruption. Owning their learning.

I don’t have an answer, this just a riff.

Assignment: 20% Time Reflection

How did we promote reflection when students completed their projects?

We gave students the following prompt and asked them the following questions:

Strive to write a 3-5 paragraph essay explaining the process, your accomplishments, some setbacks, and the final result. Most importantly, tell us what you’ve learned: about the world, about a specific topic, and about yourself!

How did I do?

What did I learn?

What impact can this experience have on others?

How can we make 20% Time better and increase opportunities for students across the district?

20% Time “Sunk Costs”

Students have finished up their 20% Time projects and their presentations this past week.

Their work has been interesting, inspiring, challenging, creative, and most importantly self-directed!

Recently, I’ve been learning about a concept called sunk costs.  I’ll be sharing more about this in future posts, but for now, just consider it a cost, whether it be time or money, that we’ll never get back.  

Did every student produce a finished/completed project, solution, prototype, work of art that can be brought to market, change the world, or make a giant impact on their community?  No.

But, the metacognition, project management, communication, critical thinking, analytical, and reflective skills gained are so important.  20% Time Projects aren’t so much about finishing. Rather, these projects are about starting – starting something without a map and making something of their own fruition.

The students dug-deep on their final blog posts too, the metacognition was evident. Students wrote about how they see themselves as learners, and their personal strengths and weaknesses (at this time demonstrating growth mindset).  Plus, they wrote about how they will apply this knowledge in other academic areas.

A few Fridays of work focused on projects that students enjoyed and that some will eventually complete more thoroughly on their own time over the next few months have a value that only time and persistence with self-directed learning will deliver on.

Sunk costs?  Nominal, if you ask me.

 

Questions and Commitments

Ms. DiDonato’s class is officially one month along with 20% Time.  There have been a few pivots with project ideas, but no drastic changes from the student’s project proposals.

There have been many questions, ranging from “Now what?” to “Should I learn Python or Scratch?” to “Can I prototype this again with cardboard since styrofoam didn’t work?”

The consistency has been a commitment to research, production, writing, and sharing.

Every other week, students report out progress via their blog.  The “non-blogging” weeks students must read and comment on three classmates blog posts.  The commenting has been productive.  Students are sharing not only words of encouragement, but thoughtful suggestions, strategies, or ideas.  At the very least, these are exercises in digital citizenship, collaboration, communication, writing, and creativity.

This might not work . . .

This might not work …

And that’s okay.  For our students, this is an exercise in learning how to learn, reflect, and produce.  For us, we’re learning how to inspire and work with the uncertainty, in addition to learning new things alongside the students.

Last week we met with students and discussed their 20% Time proposals.  Some of the proposals that students shared last week were:

“Creating a Masterpiece: Making a Movie Through the Eyes of a Beginner” in which the student is learning how to write a script and digitally film a sci-fi movie.

“Project Plan and Accomplish” in which the student is learning how to plan an event for a charity.

“A Writer’s Journey 2018” where the student is making an attempt at writing a novel.

“Positive Poems for You” – his short poem sums up his goal:

“As I make use of my 20% time,

To create a verse and perhaps a rhyme,

I hope to influence you in a small way,

To make a difference in this world today.”

“Alyssa’s Easy Steps to Learn the Piano.”  You guessed it, she’ll be creating videos that teach others how to play the piano.

There are so many more projects like students learning to code and create video games using Scratch, others who are inventing and prototyping solutions to problems they see, another who is researching personality and success, others that are documenting travel in unique ways, and the list goes on.

We are really excited about these student-generated projects!  

To get students started with finding their interests and passions, we borrowed A.J. Juliani’s and John Spencer’s “Interest Finding Charts”.  We also showed them an interest chart that I completed.  But, I also showed them how to combine interests and passions. For example, I combined my interests in the environment, the ocean, surfing, and photography and created a photography blog.  My hope was to help them see an example of how I combined many of my interests to learn more about digital photography, editing, blogging, and being in nature or environments that I enjoy.

Here are some resources that we have used so far:

20% Time Project Tracking Template detailed Google Sheet

Interest Finding Chart (elementary)

Interesting Finding Chart

Interest Finding Chart with reduced topics

Blogger for student weekly blog posts and discussions (We’re a Google District, so it just makes sense).

Here’s info on publishing student blogs. Right now our student blogs are only visible to students in our school district.

This might not work, but so far,  I think it will.