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)

“Like a TECH BOSS”

This phrase appeared in our district Tuesday night Twitter chat #nisdnov8.  One of our district’s proactive, tech-savvy administrators @yolanda_wallace signed off saying:

Yolanda Tweet

 

I love walking into a classroom and seeing students engaged and creating relevant product guided by specific learning goals. However, I know many teachers this time of year fall prey or are tempted to slip, allowing knowledge level content games or overuse of “content videos” to fill the instructional time. Often the previous situation is practiced instead of using technology in the last few weeks to revisit skills or objectives that warrant review through student product at the redefinition (SAMR) level to ensure carry over to the next year.

This is a time of year that can be a slippery slope of mediocrity and countdowns to the end of the year.  I don’t intend to be harsh, as I enjoy the unstructured pool time that a summer offers.  However, there is precious instructional time to be mined.  Many schools, such as our district campuses, have access to devices (4:1 on elementary campuses and 1:1 on secondary campuses).  Now is the time to take risks, try new platforms, experiment with practices… it is a time to be brave.

I love the perks of an educator’s profession where we have time to enjoy the sun, don’t have to wake every day Monday through Friday to an alarm (except for my administrator friends and those of us facilitating professional learning courses), and can read uninterrupted our favorite novel.  However, there is still so much precious time for work to be done.  I honestly miss the school time with students during the summer. Seeing those “aha” moments and the exhilaration of crafting meaningful instruction that reaps a great yield is something that feeds my soul.

When I see count-down posts on Twitter or Facebook it saddens me.  I don’t think it is intended to send a negative message… after all, it is just a statement of how much we love summer.  However, to a parent, community member or student, it makes a statement that school is over, there is no value in the learning that could happen in the next few weeks, and downgrades our profession to a lesser profession. Instead of being recognized as the respected professional educators have worked so hard to elevate and be respected on the same level as a lawyer, doctor or engineer, our caution-less posts become a detriment.

We are educational engineers.  We design learning… ALL SCHOOL YEAR LONG.  Do as my fellow colleague @yolanda_wallace challenged and “own these last few weeks like a TECH BOSS!” Seize the opportunity, take the risks, and be the boss… send students the message that learning continues to happen for all.  In fact, I challenge you to present learning in such a way that it ignites your student’s passion for learning and sends them home for the summer on fire to continue the learning all summer long.

When being connected is more than a PLN…

My one year anniversary as an active participant on Twitter just passed.  In that time I have become a regular participant in several Twitter chats, began the very blog I am writing this post for, read “Teach Like a Pirate” and did my first online book chat, attended my first #edcampHOME, launched Genius Hour in my own classroom, encouraged others to embrace the idea of Genius Hour, entered into a new position as an Instructional Technology Coach and wrote my first educational magazine article (see my previous post- Genius Hour- From Another Perspective).

While I give oodles of credit to the impact of being connected through the formats of Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Google Hangouts…. Twitter having the greatest influence; the whirlwind of growth stems from much more than just being connected through Social Media.  Being virtually connected is an exercise in vain if the learning/knowledge gained isn’t carried back into the live learning environment of classrooms and colleagues.

It amazes me that when the senses are heightened with learning and growth how every contact, conversation and connection lends itself to strengthening and affirming that process. The articles that are shared with me, conversations of collaboration, current events, books, a sermon, and/or reflection, without intention, will present a common thread or threads of truth about this process of learning, teaching and connectedness.

My church’s recent sermon series is one such example of how being aware of our personal learning and the affirmation of the process comes from a multitude of formats.

The series was called: The Red Zone (it’s Texas and it’s Super Bowl season)

While the implications of this lesson were an inspiration and challenged me, I immediately saw the application of the five key words (Connect, Grow, Honor, Serve, and Share) in the realm of the professional educator.

Connect- To be effective we must connect through Social Media, in our Professional Learning Communities (PLCs), and with our professional associations. We can no longer be an island on our own.  We need each other, we need the knowledge; our students deserve a well-connected educator.

Grow- We must have a growth-mindset.  Learning is vast and inexhaustible.  At every turn new learning/knowledge is being created.  What was once a hard and fast rule has more than one way to get to the same solution.  We must be divergent in our thinking, flexible in our learning and adaptive in our approach.  There is nothing static in the instruction provided to our students. Why should we think our own professional learning would be static?

Honor- As we connect and grow it can be messy.  Honor the process.  Reflect often and celebrate the successes as well as the learning that resulted in the midst of adventurous risks that didn’t turn out as planned.  Honoring the risks, the learning both in the instruction and the reflection are essential.  Often this piece is overlooked. If educators don’t take time to honor and reflect on their practice nor give their students the opportunity to honor the process of learning, the significance of the growth that may have occurred is lost.  Honor gives learning significance; it provides a marker point.

Serve- Servant leadership has been given a substantial amount of attention in recent years.  How one serves as an educator is an individual choice, but this profession, as a calling and serves a greater purpose.  We serve to develop life-long learners, and grow future leaders.  Our presence and partnership with stakeholders impact community.  We understand our outreach, to be effective in the classroom, must go beyond the classroom.

Share- To be truly effective as an educator we have relied on the collaboration and mentor-ship of others. We in turn share our humble craft. Transparency is key as we share relevant strategies, effective interventions and innovative ideas.  To support one another we must be a willing, available and essential resource.

This job, that is a calling, brings its own set of challenges, celebrations, and surprises.  The beauty of a calling is that it is connected to every aspect of who you are, to the core.  While most who are educators agree this is a job like no other, I believe it is our connectedness that makes our individual way in which we approach the craft perfection. It’s not an easy craft, but when it is our passion intertwined with all aspects of life, the difficulties pale in comparison to the joy of the journey.

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

Content, Collaboration and Curation… Part 2

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A Curation Epiphany

As I reflect upon the last week and the start of school in the district I am privileged to be a part of, it struck me how curating has become a method of improving not only my practice but supporting other educators in theirs.  In a day and time when there is more accessible knowledge, content and practices out there it makes me wonder. Can a teacher remain effective, relevant and current in his/her practice without being connected? Even more, can a community, organization, company, etc. remain current, relevant and plan for the future without being connected? I cannot answer for others, but I know for myself, my own children, the teachers I coach and the students on the campuses that I impact, being globally competent is paramount.

To that end I address the idea of content, collaboration and curation again.  I addressed this in an earlier post “Content, Collaboration and Curation.”

First, since I last posted I have realized that there are levels of curation.  Secondly, curating ultimately is meant to facilitate learning and collaboration. Finally, if you do it well, people in your circles of influence and PLNs will bring information to you to add to the curations you have created.

In regards to levels of curation it is much like Blooms. There is knowledge level curation- it is done for remembering and understanding (the “Learner Level”). Another level is applying and analyzing- it is curated for use or been used and is a proven tool for using whether it be your tool or a tool you have discovered from your global connections via Social Media, blogs or simple internet searches (the “Facilitator Level”).  Finally, there are curations that go to the level of evaluation and creation… these are the curations that become invaluable tools to others.  It takes the most work, but the result is most thorough and the resource it provides to others can be invaluable (the “Designer Level”).

The “Learner” Level:

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On the “Learner” level… remembering and understanding, curation would be in the way of Twitter.

It is how I and all those new to a concept learn.  When I first began curating this was the level at which I curated.  I “retweeted”, emailed links for continued contemplation or bookmarked sites.  It brought me knowledge and I shared the knowledge.  It is a great way to step into curating.  Honestly, its a great place to stay.  I still curate this way; especially when I am collaborating with those that are not yet fully involved in the connectedness of social media as a means for global competency.

If you are still not connected through Twitter and want to ignite and infuse your professional development with passion refer to the earlier post in my blog “From Creeping to Curating” where I include a link of a great step by step process to Twitter from @bcurrie5 ‘s blog “Connect Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself”.

The “Facilitator” Level:

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On the “Facilitator” level of curation.. the curator begins to analyze and apply the content they have curated.  This often is where a person will truly digest the content. Often many resources about a particular topic, idea or concept will be collected and organized.  Often this content comes from PLN (Professional Learning Network) chats.  I participate in multiple chats and follow a couple of dozen hashtags (#), participate in professional networks through LinkedIn, follow amazing educators on Pinterest, and keep my eyes open for great content. Also, by reputation for my curating many in my circle of influence share content with me that I then curate. Once I latch on to the content I go through a process with information I want to assimilate for myself and/or others.  In my position as an Instructional Technology Coach I take the coaching part very seriously.  For that reason I curate not just for my personal professional development, but for my teachers, students, administrators and parents.  I take the content and analyze where it should be curated and who it should be curated for. Then I determine the best place for the content so that I can access to share and/or those that follow me can note it and utilize it.  I also try, when appropriate, to learn how I can apply what I curate so I can share with others.

At first, this may seem tedious, but over time it becomes almost automatic.  Typically over the course of an hour chat I will end up curating half a dozen ideas, links, and/or blogs into either my Flipboard, Pinterest account or ScoopIt pages.  I will have also shared with that same PLN chat content from those curations that apply to that chat.  I haven’t done this long.. maybe six months, but it is so automatic now that I may be out getting groceries, waiting in line to check out, looking at my feed, and see a great link that has been tweeted. In a matter of seconds, after reviewing the content, I will curate the link and retweet with comments on how to apply so that others can add to their learning.

The “Designer” Level:

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The “designer” level of curation is probably the most involved form of curation.  It is where you take content that you understand, apply and analyze and then evaluate and create a method of sharing the content where it has become uniquely your own content.  There are multiple methods for this to be done.  It is where you truly digest the content, assimilate it, evaluate it and then create a way to deliver the content after it has been through your filters, experiences and processes.  In many ways you are the designer.

The “designer” level is probably the most satisfying because it reflects most deeply the designers philosophies and beliefs. It carries with it a certain kind of personal stamp of approval and is purposefully crafted to collaborate and help others.  The “designer” level of curation most reflects the tenets of the mindset of #geniushour and #passionbasedlearning .

At the “designer” level I use the method of blogging.  There are several different sites out there that offer free blog accounts.  I use WordPress my 8 year old son uses Blogger (http://minecraftcreeperlovers.blogspot.com/).  To create online experiences that curate content I also, for focused educational purposes such as webquest experiences or lesson experiences, use my district’s Moodle that allows limited guest access and password access for teachers and students.   Additionally, you can create/build a website.  My 10 year old daughter created a website through www.wix.com to curate kid friendly information about Greek Mythology (website: http://embug101.wix.com/myth).

Final Thoughts:

As I continue to collect content through curation and collaborate with others the depth with which I understand curating grows.  I urge those of you that read this to start at the “Learner” level with Twitter like I did. Then start curating at the “Facilitator” level.  The “Designer” level may never be your course… that is definitely ok.  However, I do encourage all who are growing and learning as connected educators and becoming globally competent to curate in some way.

Whatever level you choose to curate, Learner, Facilitator or Designer, the key is to continue a spirit of open Collaboration.  In this world of immediate access and available content make every effort to honor the source of your curation, inspiration and/or springboard for design.  Those that do curate at a “Designer” level and in many cases are the first in their field of expertise to find a new “method” put hours into the development and design.  What a gift to learn from their genius and be gifted the time we don’t have to spend figuring it out on our own.  Protect the integrity of open collaboration and of course, share your curations!

All comments welcome.  Please let me know your thoughts and how you are curating and collaborating!