Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Genius Time

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When I instituted Genius Time in my English 9 classes, I wasn't sure what to expect. I just liked the idea of kids learning for the sake of learning. I embraced the idea that kids would have choice, that they would decide where the learning led.

When we started back in March, I said very little about the project. I told them I wanted them to decide what they wanted to learn about.

"Can we work in groups?" they asked.

"Of course."

"You're not going to tell us what to do?"


"You don't care what we learn about?"

"Just that it interests you. I want it to be something you really, really want to learn about. I don't want you to pick something just because you think it will be easy."

So every Friday, after our 10 minute reading time (sacred time, never give up), they move on to their learning. Most of worked very hard. Of course, some have wasted time, some are doing what they think is the bare minimum to get by. Some changed topics several times. I expected that. They are, after all, 14 years old. I stuck with it and I believed in them. I didn't ask them to write reports or fill in time sheets. I just tried to talk to each group, each week to see where they were.

We will begin presenting our learning on Friday. So the recent questions from students have been of the "What should I put in my presentation?" variety.

I don't tell them.

I look them in the eye and ask, "What have you learned? Show me that."

Some get it. Some don't. But I'm still not telling them how to do it. And I'm sure I'll have a few Powerpoints because they can't think of anything else to do.


I have two girls who put a lyric dance together because they want to convince their dance teacher to let them do it next year. They are learning more than dancing (even though one of them posted on Facebook "Not much English going on here."). They are learning to think about how to convince someone to listen to their ideas.

I have a group that wanted to learn about movie making. So they read about it, wrote a script, and began filming.

One group of boys learned about the effects of teen drinking. They are making a movie also.

There's a boy who read and learned about Ouija boards. Then made his own.

Another boy had a grandfather who was a POW in WWII and was kept in a concentration camp. He's been reading about the camp and doing interviews with his grandfather (to me this is priceless).

And one of my "slacker" freshmen boys began researching aeronautical engineering. He went on to look at colleges that offer degrees in it and also the military. He is developing a plan of action for himself, although I don't think that's what he will tell the class about (doesn't want to give up that slacker image).

Other individuals or groups have studied types of cancer, schizophrenia, fixing bikes, running cross country and how to train for it, and ghosts. Things they wanted to learn about, presented in ways they want to use, with people they want to work with.

And you want to know what I've learned?

  • to sit back and let kids figure out their problem
  • to look students in the eye and wait for their answer
  • the power of questions as answers
  • that kids will take their learning seriously if it's what they want to learn about

I don't know how it will turn out. I won't grade it. I'm just going to sit back and enjoy.

Because I will know that we've all learned something.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday Favorites

This is quickly becoming my favorite thing to write each week. I'm always on the lookout for my favorite things.

This week there were many things that brought me JOY.

1. Twitter chats. I have participated in #iaedchat (Iowa Ed Chat) on Sunday nights at 8:00pm for awhile now. It's run by three principals from my state, but is full of teachers and administrators from across the Iowa who care about education in Iowa. It is also full of smart, funny people from around the world. You never know who will pop in.  Each week I am inspired to be a better teacher and person than I was the week before.

In the last couple of weeks, I found other chats. On Thursday nights a new chat sprung up--#mnchat (Minnesota chat). And since I'm only about 15 miles from the Minnesota border, I joined them too! And then, Wednesday night, I finally figured out what #tlap was--Teach Like a Pirate!

Teach Like a Pirate is a book by Dave Burgess. I haven't read the book yet (although it should be here Tuesday). But, wow, this is a group of creative people. I will definitely be back at this chat. I was so inspired after this chat AND found more resources for our plans for a May term at our high school. This book is definitely on my summer professional reading pile.

2. Unexpected Gifts. A retiring teacher popped in my room this week and gave me a present. She knows my love of the Wizard of Oz and witches. Best thing is--it's a magnet!

3. My Georgia O'Keeffe: Our amazing @Artteach13 had her students recreate famous paintings on the ceiling tiles in some classrooms. Mine is a Georgia O'Keeffe painting of red poppies (another Wizard of Oz/Wicked Witch connection). There is also a quote by O'Keefe that I just love:

"To create one's world in any of the arts takes courage."

There you are--this week's Friday Favorites. What were your favorites this week?

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Mind Flip

June 5th. Last day. And as hard as I am working to stay in the present, to give my current students my best until the very last day, once in awhile, my mind wanders into next year and imagines how things could be.

So I've got a notebook that goes everywhere with me where I can jot down those ideas that appear to me at odd times (like 3:00am). It helps. I write them down in as much detail as I can and then get back to what I'm supposed to be doing.

For example, next year we will be a 1 to 1 school district. Every student, yes even the kindergartners, will have access to a device. K-5 will have ipads and 6-12 will have 11 inch MacBook Airs. This is a HUGE commitment by our district and I want to use them effectively, not just a toy in the classroom.

In creative writing, we use computers every day now, but next year I have a few ideas since students will always have their computer. I want them to have digital portfolios and blogs. I've been thinking about this for awhile now. I love Blogger, but am not sure I want to use it for a portfolio. Weebly is a free website creator that also has a blog feature. I'm leaning in that direction right now. It seems like it might be more versatile for what I envision. Students could blog a few times a week. They could share published pieces on their site. We could create writing idea pages, mechanics help pages. They could even have a draft page if they wanted.

But, I'm just not sure. Anyone out there have digital portfolios? What do you use?

Friday, May 17, 2013

Friday Favorites

Ahhh. Friday. I can feel the weekend, it's lurking somewhere in the shadows....
In the meantime, here are my favorites from the week.

1. My seniors. (Yep. They're mine and no one else's.)
Wednesday was the last day for seniors in our district. They will graduate on Sunday and some I will probably never see again. But others will remain as one of "my kids". They'll stop to visit and fill me in on their college lives. They'll friend me on Facebook and keep in touch that way. For them, there will always be a bond.

2. Former students. I've had several visits from students in the last couple of weeks. Home from college, they stop in to visit and realize that they don't really fit in high school anymore. They come home to look for friends and some of those don't fit either. They're growing up and don't even realize it.

I've also heard from a couple of former students who graduated from college this year. It doesn't seem possible that they are now "grown-ups" with real lives. They'll be starting "real" jobs. To me, many of them are still those little seventh graders I tried to reach, or those stupid sophomore boys I love so much.

Wow. Just. Wow.

3. Great ideas at 3:00am (not the time so much, but love the idea)
My eyes popped open. The clock said 3:00. And the idea for how I want Creative Writing digital portfolios to be next year just popped into my head. It made so much sense to me. Why was this such a struggle to come up with during the day?  My genius time project today will be to sketch out what I came up with so I don't forget it all before August!

4. Yoplait Light Blackberry Yogurt. 
It's become my favorite after supper snack--or with a breakfast bar in the morning--or just because I want one.  The raspberry one is pretty awesome too!

That's all for this week. Tell me about your favorites!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Friday Favorites

This week's Friday Favorites:

1) Books in a series:  Right now I am reading UnWholly by Neal Shusterman and it reminds be how much I love a good book series. It's like coming home to family. There isn't that awkward "getting to know you phase". You can just dive right in because you know the characters and the plot.

Learning a lyric dance

2) Making students think: My freshmen are beginning to put together their genius time projects. Some want to stick with the tried and true PowerPoints or some other tried and true method to show their learning. I'm trying to get them to think outside the box. It's hard. And they would much rather have me tell them what to do. But, slowly, they will think...

3) My school "children". We are a little family in my high school. But it started with Roomie. She's called me Mom for years. But then last year, a "rumor" started that Bossman was my son...and therefore, Roomie's brother. And this year, through Twitter exchanges, I gained two more children, ArtTeach and Annoying Lil Bro.  It's silly, but it makes me laugh and helps make some long days move a little faster. Today they brought me my Mother's Day gift--a "family" photo.

It sits proudly on my desk.

Well, that's it for this week. What were your favorite things this week?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Sounds of Silence

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Quiet conversations:
"Did you hear about those women who were rescued? I can't believe someone would do that. Keep them prisoner for so long."

"Hey, Mark, my battery lasted six years longer than it was supposed to.

"When we jumped it, we had to leave it on a long time."

"Mrs. Day, what about the mini-assignments? We never did those, and they are on our portfolio sheet."

"Now that, that took a long time."

Kids typing, birds chirping, noses sniffling.

These are the quiet sounds I am listening to this morning. So unusual for this class, which is normally loud and crazy and a great way to start the day.

I miss the energy they exude....

But they are being "productive."

Friday, May 3, 2013

Friday Favorites

I am flat out stealing this idea from Ruth. On Monday she wrote a post called "Pretend It's Friday" and she wrote about four favorite things. I love that idea. For one thing, Friday is my favorite school day and maybe my second favorite day. And so, Friday Favorites is born...

My Favorites:

1. Friday. I love Fridays. Always have. The end of week, the beginning of the weekend. Fridays in my classroom are always a little freer than, say, a Monday.  Most people are in a good mood. Really. What's not to like about a Friday?

2. Genius Time:  This semester I have been giving my freshmen genius time on Friday. They are able to read and learn about anything they want. Some of them have stayed with the same topic the whole time. Others have changed their minds and began learning about something else. Now they are starting to think about how they will show their learning to the rest of the class. I have a few sticking with the tried and true powerpoint. Quite a few want to make a movie. I don't care this first time how they share with us. I'm just glad they are excited about something!

3. The Big Bang Theory: Every Thursday night will find my husband and I in front of the TV watching The Big Bang Theory. It makes me laugh out loud every time. It also reminds me of several groups of students who are their own BBT. I often ask these kids which character they are. They always know who they are and which of their group is the Sheldon.

3/17 I'm So Lucky

  I'm so lucky to have a birthday on St. Patrick's Day☘️ Everyone likes to celebrate my birthday (even if they don't like green ...