Having a “Can Do” Attitude…

Image result for can do quotes

I have had the unique experience of transitioning from Middle School as an instructional coach to Elementary as an Assistant Principal.

If you put a kindergarten parent side by side with a parent of an entering middle schooler, I am sure their fears and concerns would be very similar.

One thing I think educators and parents have in common is we often rescue our children when rescuing them only inhibits their potential.

When I was at my district’s convocation, George Couros reminded us of the importance of the learner’s struggle and the learner working through the “problem.” He showed us a video where a boy had created a “marble maze” with several dynamic and intricate pieces. The boy hypothesized that it would take him at least 100 attempts to make the maze successful. On his 4th attempt he achieved success. The setting of his goal, working through the challenges and momentary failures, and then being successful on his 4th try was amazing. Why, because he persevered and never thought “I can’t do” only that “I can do.”

I wonder, if we had seen this kiddos plan and intervened as his educator or as his parent, would we have limited him unintentionally in an effort to shield him from “failure?” Yet, without any input or intervening this child was successful and celebrated, that while his first three attempts were not a successful attempt, his fourth was, and was way sooner than his projected one hundred attempts before he reached success.

I have come to see how I as a parent, educator and coach can either encourage growth and a “can do” attitude or limit it (even if my intentions are to protect the learner). This past weekend, just before our district began our new school year, I learned of how Target took a new approach to their Back to School advertising campaign. They believed in the “can do” of children ranging in ages 8-17 and let those children develop, design and ultimately launch a series of seven commercial.

Here’s what happened when coroporate Target went from a corporate advertising team to a advertising dream team of students:

http://www.today.com/video/meet-the-team-of-kids-behind-target-s-new-back-to-school-ads-747775555841?cid=eml_onsite

My favorite part of this is that they felt that the adults “listenened” and “learned something from us.”

Going forward in this school year, how can we change the moments when we say “I don’t think our students/children can” to opportunities where we say “I know  you can!”?

I challenge anyone reading this to stop the next time  you catch yourself thinking my child/student can’t and re-think… how can I provide the opportunity so my child/student CAN? It will be a great adventure and in the process our children/student will know that we listened and we learned something from them.

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Genius Hour Comes Full Circle…

As this year came to a close it marked four years ago I closed the end of a school year as a classroom teacher. It was four years ago that I stepped out and tried Genius Hour in my classroom and it was four years ago that I began to put together my story to share with others in my region of Texas and later the state of Texas the message of Genius Hour.

About mid-February of this year requests for proposals to present for Summer professional developments in my region and state started to hit my inbox. I had pursued and presented for the last three years on the topic of Genius Hour. Personally, my life as a mom and event coordinator had become exponentially busier. I had not gained a lot of traction where I had the most direct influence to implement Genius Hour. I felt like, while I whole-heartedly embrace Genius Hour, I did not have the same relevant message to share with audiences when it came to the implementation of Genius Hour.

As I was making the decision to “stand down” from presenting, a teacher in my district on another middle school campus reached out to me. Amy Nolan, an 8th Grade Speech and Communications teacher, contacted me to tell me her story with Genius Hour. Evidently she had attended two of my sessions over the past three years and had taken the leap to implement this past year. She was full of enthusiasm and full of individual student success stories. Crazy thing… she said it was all due to me. What?!?!? How could this be?

Funny how sometimes when you decide you might be done with something, events and circumstances say otherwise. Shortly after Amy shared her story with me I received an invite from a neighboring district to present on Genius Hour and within the same week an invitation to present to pre-service teachers at Texas Women’s University. I knew I had to accept, however, not as a sole presenter, but as a co-presenter with Amy. My message with her current experiences and successes brought relevance and fresh experience to the table.

As Amy and I planned, Amy realized there was yet another educator that was impacted by the Genius Hour message shared by me. This was yet another Speech and Communications teacher at an additional middle school campus in our district, Tambra Goode. Through Amy sharing with Tambra the information from one of the presentations of mine Amy attended, Tambra ran with the idea of Genius Hour. From the information shared via a PLC came the Truett Wilson Middle School “Project Change The World.” Of course, she too needed to be part of the story.

Ashes Matches Sparks Flames blog picToday, all three of us shared our stories with another group of educators in a neighboring district. I love how my presentation has evolved to include an even better way for students to begin the process of discovering their passions via Amy Nolan’s design called “Ashes, Matches, Sparks and Flames.”

We are still fine tuning the pieces of our presentation together, but now my story has come full circle. What I have shared is now being implemented and shared with those that I inspired and then inspired others. I am renewed and inspired once again as I first was with this message of Genius Hour. I am reminded again of how important it is for our students to learn from a place of passion, to learn with a desire to serve others with their learning, and confidently share their passions through uniquely and creatively designed processes and products. As Derek Sivers states, “Everybody’s ideas may seem obvious to them… but what is obvious to me may seem amazing to someone else. We should just put it out and let the world decide.”

I am once again renewed in my message of Genius Hour and it is all thanks to Amy Nolan and Tambra Goode taking the time to let me know that the message I shared impacted them and the many students they taught and will teach.

I wonder how many who have impacted me along the way needed to hear the difference they made in my life and as a result impacted the lives of my students? I am making my list right now. Make someone’s day and let them know. Let’s be part of bringing it full circle.

(To know more about Genius Hour, please visit my Google Site: Genius Hour by Kirsten Wilson)

When Control Sinks Your Ship…

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Co-authored by Middle School Tech Club Sponsors Susan Fitzgerald, Library Media Specialist and Kirsten Wilson, Instructional Technology Coach
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In days gone by, the teacher was the sage on the stage –  the expert in the room.  Today educators are working with a population of post-modern learners with needs and learning styles that are very different from their industrial-age parents and grandparents.  Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until  2003, according to Google CEO, Eric Schmidt.[3]
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With that in mind, it is unrealistic nor good instructional practice to presume the teacher remain the expert and captain of the ship.  For motivation, passion and creativity to be fostered in students, we have to stop being the tyrannical Captain and become the endearing Love Boat Captain Merril Stubing.
When we started this voyage, the intention of the Tech Club was to foster student engagement with the district’s implementation  of ePortfolios through Google Sites.  What happened then was much like the legend of Blackbeard, in that our well-intentioned Tech Club was “hi-jacked” and the resources were pillaged for their treasure by a group of Pirate Coders.
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These Pirate Coders, a group of 7th graders, took our Tech Club premise and revamped the course.  They needed a place to congregate, collaborate and create.  Perhaps they saw something in us that we weren’t even aware was in us… but somehow they knew we were up for a mutiny on the Bounty.  They wanted to overhaul the Tech Club for the purpose of learning coding and programming and we seized the opportunity for the challenge.
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The realization that there was a treasure to be discovered was during the HourofCode.org event in early December.  It was at this point that our students began presenting self-written code that created things such as browsers, calculators with square root function, and operating systems.
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As facilitators we shared the message of coding, created an online course to help access resources and allow for collaborative discussion forums.  Every time we met they collaborated, learned, and coached one another.  Soon we knew their message and passion-driven work needed to be shared beyond our school.  Our districts technology showcase TechnoExpo was the perfect forum to share the Pirate Coders’ treasure chest of learning. To a standing-room only audience, the Tech Club presented their message of passion about coding, goals and big ideas.  They were even solicited for their autographs… our Pirate Coders were legendary.
Pirate Coders (Tech Club members)  took the helm from there.  They were ready for their next voyage… they were headed into the winds with full sails. Together the Pirate Coders knew, to achieve their goals, they would have to organize their resources.  A constitution and bylaws was written, an executive council was elected, they collaborated through their Google accounts, and a platform for sharing lesson plans on coding (including languages like batch, c++, dos, and java script),  was developed.
Who knew letting these Pirate Coders take over our ship would have taken us to this place.  We haven’t reached our destination but we are so glad we changed from the traditional educational route.  We are here to keep them in safe waters, but not keep them from taking an exciting new course.  They set the course with their coordinates.  We are here to help maintain the ship… but they are here to navigate the ship.  For that we are glad… had we not seen the beauty in the horizon, we might had never left the port.
All photographs compliments of Sue Fitzgerald and Kirsten Wilson.

[2] “Clipart – Teacher Lämpel – Open Clip Art Library.” 9 Mar. 2014 <http://openclipart.org/detail/10362/teacher-l%C3%A4mpel-by-stefanvonhalenbach-10362>
[3] “Eric Schmidt: Every 2 Days We Create As Much Information As We ...” 2010. 7 Mar. 2014 <http://techcrunch.com/2010/08/04/schmidt-data/>
[4] “The Love Boat – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” 2004. 9 Mar. 2014 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Love_Boat>
[5] “Blackbeard – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” 2004. 9 Mar. 2014 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blackbeard>
[7] “TechnoExpo.” 2013. 9 Mar. 2014 <http://technoexpo.nisdtx.org/>

This post is also cross posted at Tech Super Coders Blog.

Delivering a Message… the Power of Video

I have been participating in the #blogamonth challenge since January 1, 2014.  I needed a “push” to keep me blogging, or so I thought.  Then I realized, through the #blogamonth website I had more material to work from than I ever thought “worthy.” Which brings me to my first “video” that I share with teachers, administrators, parents, students and, frankly, anyone.

Obvious to You, Amazing to Others by Derek Sivers 1

I most often use this video when helping students brainstorm ideas for Genius Hour, but what I am finding that this video is powerful at encouraging teachers and administrators to take risks and collaborate more transparently, move from lurker to participant on Social Media when utilized for professional development.  I believe it may even be a catalyst for “closet bloggers” who have blog posts and even private blog sites but never make them public.

The second video was shared with me two years ago by my very progressive and forward thinking principal Michael Griffin (now Executive Director of Elementary Education in my district).  This completely changed the way teachers on my campus and my grade level team approached instruction.  Interesting enough, this same video was shared with my newly formed Instructional Technology Team at the inception of the 2013-14 year to help guide our focus as we moved forward to re-define instructional technology, first for our district, and secondly globally.

Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action 2

Finally, I would not be who I say I am if I did not include this final video.  Often the best videos are the ones that our own students create.  The video I am sharing is a math tutorial video created by a student on one of the campuses I support.  The crafting of the video, the variety of technology utilized and the level of engagement it demands of it’s audience makes it exceptional conceptually and technologically.  I use this as a way to share with teachers what students can do when they are given the freedom of choice and the content is evaluated rather than tool focused.

“Expert Math Project” by a 7th Grade Math Student

As a reflection, videos I select serve the purpose of learning to inspire, question and challenge.  If a video does not create a sense of urgency to be better, do better and create a passion for learning then it shouldn’t be shown; but in turn creates an opportunity for new, more dynamic videos to be created by us or, even more likely, our students.

How are you using the Power of Video to deliver your message, or even more, how are your students taking the learning goals presented to them to showcase their learning in a way so powerful others can learn as well?

1 “Obvious to you. Amazing to others. – by Derek Sivers – YouTube.” 2011. 2 Mar. 2014 <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xcmI5SSQLmE>

2 “Simon Sinek: How great leaders inspire action | Video on TED.com.” 2010. 3 Mar. 2014 <http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action.html>

Genius Hour- from another perspective

I just recently was published in TechEdge Magazine through TCEA on the topic of Genius Hour. It was a huge honor and happened all because of connections both professionally through the TCEA network and through my wonderful #geniushour PLN.
The biggest factor in Genius Hour being a success was transparency, collaboration and continually keeping it student focused. Initially when the article went “live” a week and a half ago I was embarrassed by my colleagues congratulations. This whole journey and my passion to share has been driven by the lights that were brightened in my student’s eyes when they discovered learning from the most meaningful place… their passions. This wasn’t about my success or my teaching, this was about them. So it feels wrong to know that I published this article on the experience of their re-awakening to learning.
My solace is in knowing that the message cannot stop with me and knowing that in my new role as an Instructional Facilitator I can be an ambassador and guide for those teachers wanting to launch their own Genius Hour.
I have benefited from those that have gone before me because of their transparency, encouragement and humility. In the Genius Hour inner circle it isn’t about accolades or selfish gain. They all see the greater purpose… students being truly passionate learners and active positive contributors to their world.
So I share the link to my article, not for bragging rights but to provide yet another layer in the message of the calling to bring passionate learning opportunities to all classrooms and beyond.

Image of Tech Edge Article

Genius Hour, TechEdge Magazine, TCEA, February 2014, by Kirsten Wilson

I hope you enjoy it and it encourages you in your own journey or inspires you to take this journey of passionate learning called Genius Hour with your students. If Genius Hour goes viral the world will never be the same!

It’s Not Just an “Hour of Code”

by Sue Fitzgerald, Library/Media Specialist and Kirsten Wilson, Instructional Technology Coach

The “Hour of Code” has proven to be a very exciting adventure for students that has just begun. The development and launch of this event was driven by students’ passion for coding and educators’ efforts to provide the opportunity. It was collaboration in its purest form for everyone involved.

How it Happened

There were several factors that came into play that brought this event to fruition. Here are some of the major factors that made “Hour of Code” a reality:

  1. Our district began an initiative to host student ePortfolios on Google sites.

  2. Two forward-thinking future-minded student library aides took the leadership role in hosting “Technology Club” during 7th and 8th grades lunches to help answer questions on the ePortfolios.

  3. A group of coders took full advantage of attending the “Technology Club”.

  4. The student aides and the librarian quickly realized the “Technology Club” was about to advance into the world of coding.

  5. The librarian informed the Instructional Technology (IT) Coach and principal of the enthusiasm of these students who wanted to code.

  6. The IT Coach found the opportunity for our students to participate in the “Hour of Code.” Not only did our IT Coach offer this opportunity to our school but spread the word through Twitter PLNs and our district to have many other schools join the campaign.

  7. Students eagerly came by the library to sign up for the event after the news spread via our coders.

  8. During our “Hour of Code” event our IT Coach  collaborated with another IT coach in the district to Skype with a sister Middle School campus also participating during the “Hour of Code” and share as we worked through Java coding tutorial offered through code.org.

Reflection

As the adults in this process, we knew very little about coding . We did recognize the  amazing opportunity this would be for our students by choosing to take on this challenge.  We also saw how important it is for educators to take risks when facilitating students’ pursuit of their passions and facilitate the process for student-led passion-based learning.

At the conclusion of “Hour of Code”our students reflected with enthusiasm and determination that this must continue.  The Technology Club decided they wanted to continue to meet at lunch at least once per week with hopes to meet twice when possible.  They also decided they wanted to try and collaborate on a group project that could be presented during our district TechnoExpo event.  Additionally, they reflected upon the JavaScript coding done during “Hour of Code” compared to students previous coding experience.  They preferred another coding format referred to  by the group as “Batch.”  Students left the “Hour of Code” with plans to take initiative to collaborate and together create some type of product.  As facilitators we hope to encourage these students to take on leadership roles in teaching others in our school to code.

Comments we have received –

L.A. Teacher – “I am so excited my student is involved with this group.  For the first time during DEAR he had a book out and was reading.  It was a book on coding!”

Student participant in “Hour of Code”- “This gave me such a sense of accomplishment!”

Student participant in “Hour of Code”- “I have already talked to my teacher and plan to work ahead in his class so I can come for both lunch sessions as we continue to meet.”

Instructional Technology Assistant Director- “By providing ‘The Hour of Code’ you have just provided a social platform for these students that gives them a place to not only pursue their passion but a place for those that are like-minded to meet.  Their lives will be forever changed.”

Librarian – “I just wanted to thank you for sending this out!! I’ve got 73 kids signed up!”

Thinking about what it means to be future-ready…

Thinking about what it means to be future-ready...

Recently I was asked to answer questions for a colleague regarding technology and curriculum. At the same time I was participating in a chat where a participant Tweeted, “I don’t know what the future is so I only prepare my students for today.”
While I know it is true that we cannot know the future, that comment troubled me. We cannot predict the future, but we must plan for it. We plan our finances for a rainy day. We organize our lives to complete tasks, prepare for future events, even plan for dinner guests with the future in mind.

We do face in the moment and deal with today, but we are constantly cognizant of the future. As educators, parents and individual learners we know that the knowledge and experiences we gain today provide the building blocks for tomorrow. We once learned how to program our phones for speed dial which the basics of that helped us to now know how to add contacts in our smart phones. If we don’t offer experiences with technology today we are keeping the experiences from students that will provide the foundation for the technology of the future.

The following questions and answers are a more in-depth answer to the importance, role and vision for why we, as educators, parents and learners, must prepare our students to be future-ready.

What is the school vision for technology?

The vision for technology is embedded in our districts vision statement.
Our vision statement says: To be the the best and most sought after school-district where every student is future ready:
-Ready for college.
-Ready for the global work place.
-Ready for personal success.

While it is not directly stated concerning technology the initiatives including our superintendent’s 1 of only four initiatives for every student to have and continuously build a digital portfolio of exemplary work and the school board’s decision to use a large amount of funds to purchase devices for a 1:1 ration in secondary as well as laptops, tablets/iPads in every teacher’s possession to ensure integrated instruction of content and technology supports that our overall vision is deeply rooted in technology.

If technology were removed, what learning would be impossible/impaired?

Technology is deeply rooted in everything in the classroom. From teacher documentation, strategic planning and parent communication to creating engaging lessons that reach all learners. Technology is in everyone’s lives. Students need to use it as it presently exists as it provides the building blocks for the technology that has yet to be invented. Technology also allows for differentiation for each learner in the classroom in a way traditional methods, without the assistance of technology, would be virtually impossible. The diverse needs of learners these days along with the amount of content and expectation for teachers to uniquely meet each student’s needs in personal and definable ways would not be possible without the assistance of technology. Furthermore students are able to use several levels of blooms when they create with technology as they not only have to evaluate the best method to deliver the evidence of their understanding, but they have to evaluate the audience it is being delivered to, as well as, create an original product that a paper/pencil activity sheet does not provide the structure for this deeper level of design. Lack of technology would stunt the ability to adequately prepare students to be future-ready as well as impair them as problem-solvers and creative designers as traditional methods are more limiting compared to the possibilities offered with technology.

How do you support professional development?

Professional development from my perspective is self-directed with the development of Professional Learning Networks (PLNs), MOOCs and online courses. The Instructional Technology department within our district is moving to Professional Development courses that are accessible from our Moodle structured online course framework called Netschool. Many of our face to face courses are built in Netschool so that teachers can continually refer back to the content. Additionally, we are utilizing the online courses to create “cohort” like courses where it is moderated by facilitators, requires quality product submissions applicable to classroom needs/instructional design and fosters collaboration through forums. Furthermore, our district provides two district led chats. One is led by mid-administration for current discussions regarding community, curriculum and initiatives that move us closer to the goals within our district vision. The other chat is promoted and facilitated by our Instructional Technology department but is led each week by guest moderators that are most often teachers. The discussions in this chat revolve around instruction and how technology is or can be integrated. Discussions range from student blogging to parent communication.

What is the best “advice” you would give for moving technology/learning forward in a way that will make more impact for all students?

The best advice is to commit to doing one thing at a time every few weeks and learn to implement it with purpose. Be sure that your use of technology or the product students are creating is with purpose and meaningful to the content. It shouldn’t be a “bells and whistles” piece but a seamless part of the entire process of learning.

The other piece of advice is be willing to “fail” or struggle with your students when it comes to using technology. Allow them to see you problem solve challenges and involve them in the process of finding solutions when, at first the technology does not work as intended. We as instructional engineers design learning with the intent that there is no bumps in the road, but the beauty of bumps in the road is that they are seeing “real world” happen before them. If we are going to push our kids to be problem solvers and find solutions to everyday challenges we must be willing to be transparent and show our “struggle” to solve everyday challenges with technology. It is one of the most authentic lessons you can provide a child. It teaches the lessons of grit and perseverance that lessons without the opportunity to create with technology do not provide.

In the book “Crucial Conversations” by Patterson, Grenny, McMillan and Switzer it talks about decision making with today’s generation. While it was talking about a move to action with decision making it did say,”Today’s generation of employees (and children, for that matter) expects to be involved in more decisions than their grandparents ever faced. That’s where the empowerment movement came from. Younger people don’t see themselves as a pair of hands seeking direction. They want to think. They want to decide. They’re willing to take on more responsibility.” That reminded me of how critical it is that we have devices in our students’ hands allowing them to think, decide, create and take on more responsibility. When we neglect to do that we neglect to speak to their inner driving force… we remove the ability to allow them to be empowered.

Kirsten Wilson, MEd
Instructional Technology Specialist
Follow me on Twitter @teachkiwi

“To love a creative life, we must lose our fear of being wrong.” -Joseph Chilton Pearce