Is “pre-flecting” a word? Like something you do before you do something that would necessitate reflection? Teachers do this all the time, right? Am I losing it, or should this be a thing?
As part of our district’s Digital Conversion and Blended Learning Initiative, I have been privy to many a workshop and Skype (excuse me, Zoom) session with the wonderful Marcia Kish. In addition, my connections with the #PersonalizedPD and Teach Like a Pirate (#tlap) movements on Twitter had me doing some hard thinking about why students should do any learning they aren’t interested in. I’m fortunate enough that I teach a course that is about 75% interesting on it’s own, but I often wondered how to convert that last 25% into something really engage my students into making InfoTech class personal.
I’ve been intrigued by idea of Genius Hour for a few years now, but I know what happens when you make things “too” open ended for middle schoolers. Chaos. I’m totally comfortable with chaos (See: picture), but I wasn’t totally sold on how it could work in a class.
In one of our Skype sessions with Marcia Kish she mentioned choice boards as an option for early finishers to keep them engaged. That, combined with this beauty I found on The SuperHERO Teacher’s TPT store and Instagram, gave me a monster of an idea.
Instead of opening up the Wild Wild West of “Computer Lab Free Time” in the lab, I dreamed up 12 different activities that students could really become engaged in as they finished their other class work. My dream is that everyone would complete at least one “project” that would inspire them in some way. Each of these “projects” give a touch of guidance but are still open- ended enough that they could be applied to any variety of interests.
I’m temporarily calling this “Choice Time.” (The name needs a little work still!) I have begun introducing this to my classes, and I’m encouraged by what they are starting to think of!
These are the “Rules” which were presented:
1.Pick something you are passionate about
2.Do something you’re proud of
3.You can accomplish the task any way you want
4.If it’s not working for you- start something new!
5.There’s no prize for doing the most or the least- so work for the prize of your pride!
I posted all of the activities in our Schoology Course as well as on the wall in my classroom.
Choice wall ready to go!
Closeup of a few of the challenges
I built assignments in Schoology where students could submit “artifacts” of their choosing, and it’s my hope that I will build a blog/website to highlight some of these as they start to come in!
I’m excited about the buzz I’m hearing from the kids and others- and I hope to bring you a positive update in a few weeks! Like any new idea, it’s going to take a lot of tweaking and putting procedures in place before I’d consider myself any sort of expert!
If you’re looking for the file I did post it in my TPT store, and my plan is to grow the file as it grows in my classroom! The kids have already given me a few good ideas of things to add! (And I am really hoping my PLN can help me collaborate on a few too!)
Has anyone done any sort of Genius Hour/Choice time in their classes? Does anyone have any advice for me?
If you’re a fellow Middle School teacher like me, you might not have the opportunity to go to graduation in your district. And why would you? The kids might not remember you, you only had them for 50 minutes a day, you were with them at probably some of their worst years- heck you won’t even recognize them.
A colleague and I started a tradition of going to our high schools’ graduation as our official wrap up to the school year. There’s not many that go from the middle school- lots from the elementary schools! I love seeing them clutching framed class pictures with tears in their eyes like proud mamas. “Look at how little they were!” they’d tell me.
This year was very special to me. I remembered this class as a crew that I genuinely enjoyed, but that challenged me a lot. One boy that particularly challenged me as an eighth grader came back to visit me a few weeks ago. He was notorius for typical eighth grade boy shenanigans that actually led me to officially forget who else was in that class as they graduated. When I saw him Friday in his cap and gown he said to me, “You made it!” My eyes filled with tears as I thought, “No, YOU made it!” I insisted on this selfie so that I have a daily reminder that when faced with a difficult student, continue to try to connect with them and never lower your expectations. It will be worth it.
Another defining moment came during a musical performance by two more of my former students.
A post shared by Spencerport Schools (@spencerport_central_schools) on Jun 23, 2017 at 5:07pm PDT
These two always were very musically inclined and they used to sing ALL. THE. TIME. in school. So much that there were days that I would groan, “Will they EVER just shut up?!” Watching them so in their element, the passion radiating from each of them in that moment, rocked me to the core. Who was I to ever suggest that they squash that one piece of themselves that made their souls literally sing?
How often do we run into situations when our students have a passion and we force them to shut that piece of themselves off to fit our mold and expectation of being “educated” in our content? How could I have incorporated that passion of theirs (or anyone else’s for that matter) more into my course to excite them and further grow them as future musical heroes?
The terms “genius hour” and “passion projects” are big buzzwords in education these days, and it doesn’t take a degree in education to know that allowing students to pursue what they love is a great way to engage them in the educational process. So why do we insist that kids put that piece of their heart away so we can stuff them in rows and pump information in them that really, doesn’t matter to them at this point?
Science, for example, is not a topic that speaks to a lot of 6th graders, but I was amazed at hearing them use words like “ratio” and “consistency” appropriately while making pounds of slime over the course of this year. Some would tinker with the base recipe, trying to find a new way to change the texture, smell, or color. Isn’t that just another version of the scientific process? Isn’t that applying growth mindset to develop grit? Others created Instagram accounts for their slime recipes to share their creations, quickly amassing hundreds of followers. How’s that for “Global Communication?”
And we all wanted to ban the stuff.
My final brag on graduation came the next day when this photo was shared with me. These two boys were also in one of my 8th grade Spanish classes. The boy on the left is a graduate of our inter-district Social Skills class for students on the Autism Spectrum who took Spanish to fulfill his graduation requirement as well as to have an opportunity to integrate in the general education population. The boy on the right is your classic All-American, well-liked, varsity athlete kind of guy. This is what he posted on Instagram the day after graduation:
Long story short, if I couldn’t do this job, I don’t know what I’d ever do with myself. I’m fully refreshed and ready for September. Who’s with me?
To the Class of 2017- thank you for teaching me more than I likely taught you. I learned about patience, humor, passion and compassion. Go on and do great things because I know you have it in you!
Hello! I’m Liz! Before I hit that “Publish” button on a few posts I have waiting in the wings, I thought I best take a moment to properly introduce myself if we’re just meeting!
I teach Sixth Grade Information Technology and am a Technology Integration Specialist (or whatever the cool kids call it these days) at a suburban district in Upstate NY. We are currently a 1:1 laptop district using Office 365 and Schoology (I feel in the EdTech circles you’re not fully introduced until you add your device and LMS, no?).
As part of my “coaching” gig, I work with teachers to help plan purposeful tech integration as well as push into their classes to co-teach. I also teach workshops to our K-12 staff, which is something I never thought I’d love, but I do. My flexible workday schedule allows me the time to do all the awesome “extra” stuff like researching, creating materials, blogging, and TPT-ing that I never had the time to do when I was full time in the classroom.
I decided to start this blog with the intention of further connecting with other teachers in my field. Even though I learn so much from my colleagues and the PLNs I’ve formed on social media, I still feel like there’s not much out there for my Upper Elementary/Middle School peeps. I would love to hear from you with ideas, questions, and suggestions as we move forward so we can build own own little pocket (and after all, aren’t the Middle School people the fun ones anyways?)