"If students leave school less curious than when they started, we have failed them."
-- George Couros
The Innovator's Mindset
Isn't there so much truth to those words? Curiosity is what develops life long learners, which is our exact goal as educators. We want students to always be asking, "Why?" and "How?" We want our students to question everything and have skills and strategies to get to the bottom of the answer.
My question is: How does technology help us to do that?
The pressure to use technology for innovation in our classrooms is real. To some educators, that's empowering and motivating, but to others it's overwhelming and stressful. So what guides our instruction? What is "it" that drives our use of technology in the classroom?
For me -- it's content and pedagogy. Education buzz words, I know.
Break it down this way:
Content = topics, themes, beliefs, behaviors, concepts, and facts, often grouped within each subject or learning area. In other words, the SUBSTANCE of your teaching.
Pedagogy = your actions, strategies, methods, and practices of teaching. In other words: your CRAFT of teaching.
Let's combine our substance with our craft--our meat with our potatoes. Technology is the gravy on top. We use it to improve our learning experiences and make them even better. To make learning a more memorable and lasting experience, therefore promoting transfer.
This mindset shift has made me reevaluate my purpose of tech, and how I'm using it as a TOOL to enhance and transform my students' learning experiences. This is something I'm constantly pushing myself to do better in. Using tech for the sake of tech is not purposeful and is not best practice. Simple as that. I have quite a few great projects I do with my students where Chromebooks or iPads are not involved and guess what? It's a fantastic learning experience that is done best tech-less! However, technology can most certainly enhance what we do with our students and can be so empowering.
1. Flipgrid to Replace Reading Logs
I have a whole blogpost on this HERE, so check it out for the details. Essentially, I found that reading logs WERE. NOT. WORKING. Parents hated them, students hated them, I hated them. Students faked their logs, and they truly weren't an accurate depiction of my kids' reading lives. I wanted to make reading social and interactive just like it is in MY adult reading life. Enter: FLIPGRID. Students created book reviews and recommendation videos to share with their peers. The only requirement was they included all the necessary content and posted once a week. It's changed my reading workshop in the BEST way.
2. QR Codes to Assist in Research
Research isn't easy with littles. You don't let them loose on Google Search and hope for the best. I've found that while we're still teaching how to find reliable sources, students do need quite a bit additional support here. My Science and Social Studies isn't always a "separate" time of day as it's worked into my Reading and Writing block, so research is often a part of it. QR codes have saved my research!! Here's my most recent example: Students were learning about the rainforest, and had a research journal prompt on protecting the rainforests. I simply put a QR code (using this QR code generator) on the prompt that students glue into their notebook, they scan, explore the research, and write! Take a look below.
3. Global Studies Exploration Site to Enhance Social Studies
I know provided students with experience to expand their worldview is so important, but finding time for social studies in second grade is TOUGH. I absolutely love social studies (especially geography), but setting aside time is not easy. Enter: GLOBAL STUDIES! I've created a website using Google Sites where we study a new country each month. We look into their food, geography/landscape, culture, language, currency, wildlife, and more. On each page is a new country's content, with videos, articles, virtual jigsaw puzzles (of landmarks) and matching games, as well as book collections on EPIC! When students complete the activities/readings/videos, they add a fact or two to our class' private Google Doc where we share what we've learned with each other. It's been an incredible way to incorporate my own diverse students' backgrounds into our classroom, too. Take a look at it HERE!
Dive into your content. WHAT are you teaching? Take a look at that substance I mentioned earlier and then reflect on your pedagogy. You know, your craft. The HOW. Put them together and use trial and error to decide what tech tool is going to enhance those two things. Technology is not a one size fits all. What works well with one class or group of students may not be the best fit with another. The beauty of technology is that most of the time, tweaking it to fit the needs of your students isn't tough.
Leave me a comment with an example of how you have used content + pedagogy to drive your tech use in the classroom!
Flexible Seating in the Elementary Classroom: Engaging ALL Learners + Creating a Space for Creating and Collaborating
I've always loved designing spaces. My husband and I are currently in our second full-demo and remodel mode of our home (channeling our inner chip + joanna gaines). We're tearing out and redoing every bathroom, bedroom, living room, kitchen, dining area.. you name it. Why? Because we love to invest our time in creating a space for our family and friends to feel at home in. We spend so much time here and want it to show our personality and style, while also being an inviting space to rest + commune with our people.
Why don't we treat our classrooms that way? Teachers spend 45+ hours in that space per week, and our students are spending 8 hours per day there as well. Don't we want that space to reflect our classroom family? Don't we want that space to be vibrant, cozy, + comfortable? Of course!! Let's talk about how we can make that happen.
Most people's first reaction to Flexible Seating is.. "It's too expensive and I don't have funding." Let me stop you right there! It doesn't have to be! Flexible seating does NOT mean colorful expensive yoga balls and expensive Lakeshore seating everywhere. It means offering students CHOICE of where and how they learn. & that looks different in every classroom.
So first off: WHY flexible seating? What's the point? What's the fuss all about? I created a #SketchNote awhile back to highlight my WHY. All taken from research done by Kayla Delzer (see end of blogpost for more info).
Where do you get the money?
So many options here! First and foremost, I would recommend using DonorsChoose. That's where I got my start. My $500+ project was FULLY FUNDED in five hours. FIVE HOURS. I'm not kidding here people! I shared it on all my social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) before school one morning and by lunch time I had an email from DonorsChoose letting me know my project was funded. I could've cried. You would be shocked at how willing people are to give and donate to classrooms that are truly wanting to serve and engage kids.
I've also scoured garage sales and craigslist and have been amazed at how many people are ready to simply give away fun kids seating that they don't need anymore. I got two cozy lime green saucer chairs in brand new condition for $4 each last summer!
Another tool is using Amazon Wish Lists! I have a tab on my classroom's website where I have a wish list linked via Amazon of items I want for our classroom. I always share it out with families at the start of the year, around the winter holidays, beginning of 2nd semester, and right around Teacher Appreciation Week. So often I have busy, working families who cannot donate time to volunteer in our school, and are happy to give financially. Almost every time I remind families of that wish list, I get a few small donations.
Also, apply for grants! There are so many out there, you only have to look.
Take some time to contact your PTO/PTA. Often they have funds they're looking to spend on ways to improve your school and teachers don't take the time to show off what they're doing in their classrooms (or would like to do!).
How is it not chaos? How do you decide who sits where? What are the "rules"?
I always start the year with telling students, "With a fun and flexible learning environment comes twice as much responsibility and higher expectations. If something gets broken, it will not be replaced."
If I've learned anything about kids, it's that they will meet you where you set the bar. If you set the bar low and assume they can't handle anything, that will indeed be the result you'll find. If you set it high AND hold them accountable, you'll see they can arise to the occasion.
So. My students enter the classroom and sit directly on the carpet every morning. We have our morning meeting, and end with kids being called by carpet color rows (groups of 4-6) to choose their morning spots. The spots they choose are the spots they work at up until lunchtime. If for some reason they discover quickly they cannot handle where they're at, they are welcome to ask me if they can move. After lunchtime, we regroup at the carpet and students choose their afternoon spots group-by-group. It works well for my classroom but you'll have to find a system that works well for yours.
We also make Flexible Seating Norms together. I say "Norms" and not "Rules" because students need to help decide what our environment needs to look like. This year ours are:
> Choose a working spot that helps you do your second grade BEST. (we also make a chart together about what this looks/sounds like)
> Respect those working around you and take care of our community supplies.
> Mrs. Knapp has the right to move anyone at anytime if they are not doing their second grade best in their chosen spot.
> If we can't handle a spot and use it irresponsibly, we will lose the privilege of working there long-term.
We make these together as a class, and visit them regularly to see if we need to add or change any norms.
Where do you keep all their STUFF?
Ahh.. the most commonly asked question (and was mine too!). Kids collect a lot of things. Supplies, books, folders, notebooks, headphones, etc. And unless you really don't care about messiness, it can get ugly quickly if students don't have an organized way to keep their things. I'm incredibly OCD when it comes to organization in the classroom and its how our learning space thrives. I'm a firm believer that learning is messy and chaotic most days, but there needs to be "organized chaos" if you catch my drift!
Every student in my classroom has a Learning Partner (LP). Their LP is who they share a cubby with. I have black plastic crates that I purchased at Walmart for $1.50 during a back to school sale, and purchased 13 (enough for 26 students). I flipped the cubbies on their side so it's more of an enclosed shelf, and students keep their pencil box, headphones, notebooks, and folders in their cubby.
At the start of the year we organize them super neatly, and I snap a photo of their organized cubby. I tape it on the inside as a reminder of what it should look like at the end of each day. Once they prove to me that they can keep it consistently neat and organized, I take the photo away as a sign of that LP pair showing me independence in their organization. They get so excited when they don't need the photo anymore! Occasionally the "cubby fairy" will visit in the middle of day while they're out at specials. Essentially, that's me dropping a note in their cubby that reads, "Your cubby is so nice and neat, come see Mrs Knapp after school for a special treat!" and they get a piece of candy at the end of the day. I usually do this when the majority of the class has gotten lazy with organization and neatness. You'd be shocked at how fast they all become magically clean after the cubby fairy visits. :)
I will say this is one area where I've tweaked with each year. Last year my students did so well with community supplies. They didn't even need their pencil boxes because they shared pencils, crayons, colored pencils, highlighters, markers, gluesticks, and stickynotes wonderfully so I sent them home. We hardly lost or broke things, and they did a great job making sure every work area was cleaned and picked up at the end of each day. This year's group is a different story in this area. We were consistently having broken pencils (like--snapped in half on purpose), missing gluesticks, and supplies generally missing or damaged. We we're having a Come to Jesus meeting about every few days about this and I was getting irritated (as were they).
SO.. what did we do? I met them where they were at. I assumed they were ready for independence in this area and they weren't (yet). I decided to bring out the pencil boxes and organize each one with: 3 pencils, 1 bag of crayons, 1 bag of colored pencils, 2 gluesticks, 1 pack of stickynotes, 1 expo marker, 1 highlighter, and 1 eraser. I used these pencil box labels and personalized them for each kiddo and hot glued them on each pencil box so we would know whose is whose. This method of organization has worked seamlessly for this group this year. They can pick up their box and take it wherever they choose to sit with them!
What about kids who cannot handle Flexible Seating? How do you handle that?
In my three years of using a flexible seating environment, I've had only two children who really could not handle making their own choice. There were many other factors at play, as their nature was very destructive in a way where it was a safety concern for them and the children around them. We had an accommodation for them that would've carried over into a classroom that didn't have the same environment. This was totally doable for the kids and I. Remember, flexible seating is about student choice, not throwing a kid in a work area that seems "extra fun". It's about engaging our learners and giving them what they need. If what they need is a traditional desk and chair, then by all means give the child a desk and chair.
What flexible seating options do you have in your classroom?
This is constantly changing! Right now, I have a couch (which I scored for free from another teacher who was moving to smaller classroom + didn't have room), I have two bean bags, I have two saucer chairs, I have floor mats, I have a standing table (simply raised the legs as high as they could go!), I have two floor tables (simply took the legs off the bottom), I have six yoga balls, I have two wobble stools, I have some IKEA stools, I have scoop chairs, and I have regular desk chairs with foot kick bands.
Here are some links to some awesome resources:
>Nugget (I DREAM of having one of these in my classroom!!)
>Kids Yoga Mats
>Yoga/Stability Balls (this is the brand I have--LOVE them. The little legs help so they don't roll all over!)
>Floor Carpet Mats (these are expensive--try out a home improvement store to get carpet samples instead!)
How do you teach kids to LOVE reading independently while simultaneously keeping them accountable for their work time while also simultaneously making sure they're comprehending what they're reading? Whew.
First Step: Ditch the Reading Logs. Yep, you read that right.
Nothing takes the joy out of reading like the dreaded reading logs. You know the ones. The ones where students have to write down the title, author, date, and how many pages they read that day of that book. Why do we do this? Do teachers actually look at them and get accurate information from them? Plus, when was the last time as an adult that I filled one out to track my reading? Personally, I use GoodReads to do that. It's digital, it's fast, it's visual, and I'm not recording every single detail. That takes the joy out of it all!
So what to use in place of that? How do we know students are completing the books they read? How do we know they're understanding them? Many schools use Accelerated Reader (including mine) and it works well for a lot of kids. Not all, but many are motivated by it. I don't mind it, but it's not my end-all-be-all for reading comprehension.
This year I started using Flipgrid during my workshop time and it's taken off with my students. For their own privacy I'm not going to share our class's personal grid, but I'll explain and give details as to why and how I use it during this time of my day.
During our workshop time, students always read to self at some point. I thought instead of reading logs, which no one except the student/teacher/parent sees, why not make sharing what we're reading more social? Why not provide a platform to students to recommend and review books? Now, THAT we do continuously as adults!
Create and share a Grid! Use flipgrid.com to create a free account. Create a topic within that Grid. Ours is titled "2K Reads" but you could use Reviews, Recommendations, Book Talks, etc. in your title. You'll be provided with a Grid Code after it's set up. This is will be how students will access your grid topic. Share it out with students in a variety of ways: share the code, provide the link, embed the grid topic on a website or LMS.
MODEL what it looks like! Have a few example videos of you and other teachers sharing book reviews/recommendations on the Grid. Here's what my students are required to share:
ALSO, model how to REACT to videos. This emoji reaction guide by Sean Fahey is stellar for teaching students what they mean and when to select them.
Let your students start sharing!! Reading is social and students should be given a platform to share what they're reading and why they love it. 75% of the books I read are recommended by bloggers I follow, podcasts I listen to, friends I love, + librarians I've connected with. Chances are, that reluctant reader is reluctant because he hasn't found the right books that interest him yet.
Here are some other ways to go past only using Flipgrid for Readers Workshop reflection + accountability:
There is no one correct way to teach vocabulary, but nearly all educators can agree that vocabulary should be taught in context. This is something I'm passionate about, as I do not believe vocabulary should be taught in isolation. Teaching a child what the word "forlorn" means, but never reading, applying, or using the word in context is quite terrible instruction. I will be the first to say that I'm consistently trying new things with vocabulary and I'm always trying to switch up how we talk about, practice, and use vocabulary in the classroom. Some strategies work great with some classes, while not great with others.
Before a read aloud, I'll front load a list of words to students. I'll tell them to keep an eye and ear out for those words in the text while we read, and when we stumble upon one to hold up a sign language "V" so we know to pause and analyze its context. I'll model working through using context clues, sentence structure, and picture cues to help me identify what the word could mean, then students try modeling for their classmates for the last few words in the text. It is SO IMPORTANT to model for young readers what it looks like to stumble through a word's meaning! We even do this as adults. I can't tell you how often I quickly google search a definition of a word while I'm reading.
During our literacy center time, students will work through their vocabulary journals. Vocabulary journals come in all sorts. Some teachers use graphic organizers, which can be effective, but if they are not switched up often can lose their effectiveness and just become monotonous. Some teachers have students copy definitions into a notebook and draw a picture to go with, which again, will lose its effectiveness quickly. I've tried so many strategies for reinforcing vocabulary that have NOT worked. Enter: Google Slides!!
My students have started using these this year and get so excited about creating in them. I've now made my vocabulary journals digital. Students are essentially creating a digital scrapbook page for each word on a slide. Every slide has a word, its definition, synonyms and antonyms, photos, and sentences. They are free to add color, change fonts, add backgrounds, and play around to make them look nice. I have them use a new file of slides each quarter to stay organized (and it helps me assess because I know which pieces of work belong in what time period). The beginning of the year we do these together during guided reading time so I can establish an expectation for them, and teach them how to utilize the tools and safely search for photos. Eventually, they're ready to do them independently. Here's an example:
What I love most about doing my Vocabulary Journals digitally, is how much practice they get with Google Apps! They're focused on content while learning how to navigate Google Slides little by little. My second graders come to me with little to no experience using Google Apps, so I do A LOT of front loading first, and often second, quarter. I love seeing how independent they become in this area by third and fourth quarter. Their confidence grows as they see what they're able to create. I love it!
Please reach out if you have any questions on how I create the template and share it out with my students. I'm happy to share. Vocabulary is so important for growing comprehension in readers, and it's not an area of teaching to take lightly or pass over if you're short on time. Always make room to model and instruct learning vocabulary!
For more information on the importance of vocabulary instruction, see this article HERE and this study HERE.
“If we are going to help our students thrive, we have to move past “the way we have always done it,” and create better learning experiences for our students than we had ourselves. This does not mean replacing everything we do, but we must being willing to look with fresh eyes at what we do and ask, “Is there a better way?” We would expect the same mindset from our students, and, as educators, that question is the first step on the path to a better future for education.”
Isn't this the epitome of it all? Isn't THIS why we seek to innovate, to do better for our students? I had some amazing teachers growing up. In fact, my 2nd grade teacher, who has now retired after giving so much to the profession, is who inspired me to go into education. I wanted to make a difference in kids' lives just like she did in mine. Looking at the incredible veteran teachers in this profession, I'm in awe at how much so many have adapted throughout the years. I think there are practices that have been in education a long time and work well. I do not think technology is always the answer to improving something. Is it often the answer? Possibly. But does technology equal innovation? Not necessarily.
As I'm working through my design process, an unexpected turn took place. I thought I was going to go in the direction of math. I knew my students struggled with the concept of regrouping. This was a common theme I noticed year after year, so I thought as the "expert" of my classroom I would determine my lead for my redesign project. I decided to get some student feedback before diving into this one content area for my redesign, although I already had my mind set on what I would base it on. I chose to use Google Forms to collect feedback on what my students struggled with, what they loved about school, what areas they wanted more of, and how I could help them better.
My lead was off. Isn't this why student feedback is SO important? Here I thought regrouping would be my topic of interest, not realizing a bigger struggle was our current writing unit: Poetry. Oh, the irony in this one..
Growing up I loved to write. Really, I did. But. I hated poetry. Loathed it, actually. But I loved to write. I could empathize with my students on this one. The pressure to be creative + witty, the social vulnerability of sharing personal work. It's too much for some kids and it brings so many anxiety for some (myself included).
I decided to dive into this area. I organized my thoughts by putting them together in Google Slides. I looked into the actual challenges I'm addressing, existing approaches, and design principles. Take a peek! I'm excited to see where this (re)design takes my students + I.
The idea of HyperDocs came from the work and creation of Lisa Highfill, Kelly Hilton, and Sarah Landis. They are a interactive "document" using Google Apps supporting blending learning, which contains tasks for students to complete, such as answering questions, reading/viewing links, watching/creating videos, viewing/creating infographics, photos, additional challenges, and more. The options of HyperDocs are truly limitless and so easy to differentiate for your learners.
After hearing about and researching Hyperdocs for the first time I thought, "Wow! These are so great and I have so many ideas as to how I can implement!" Then I remembered I taught Primary in a grade level that was not yet 1:1 and my students are not fully literate with Google Apps or our Chromebooks yet. I knew I wanted to use these in my classroom, but I also knew I had to be realistic and start small. Providing my 7 and 8 year old students with an in depth HyperDoc with tools they've never used before wouldn't be effective.
I stepped back and thought about what tools have I seen used in HyperDocs that would be appropriate for my learners to use that would be effective.
A few I noticed instantly were:
Google Docs, Drawings, Slides
I decided to start with a few of these tools and teach my students how to use them effectively one by one before tossing them all into an unfamiliar HyperDoc that they haven't ever navigated.
Here are a few HyperDocs snapshotted from hyperdocs.co.
I chose to simplify the look of my HyperDocs for my 2nd graders and used Google Drawings to design them. I didn't want them "too wordy" as I knew many kids would skip right over content if there was too much. We've just finished a review of Money, and my students went through this HyperDoc independently by clicking the pictures to take them to their tasks. I love that I can use HyperDocs during Math Workshop because while I'm working/conferencing with small groups, students are fully engaged in a learning task where they're kept accountable.
Here's what students' money HyperDoc included:
1.) Warm Up: Students got onto Front Row Ed to warm up their brains with a math fact grid.
2.) Jam Out: Students watched and sang along to Blazer Fresh's song, "Getcha Money Right" (Go Noodle).
3.) Sort Coins: Students used Peter Pig's Money Counter website to sort coins, identify amounts, and compare amounts in an interactive way.
4.) Chat: Using Today's Meet, students answered the posed question, "Why is it important to save money?" They talked back and forth with one another on the topic.
5.) Listen: Students listened to a read aloud on YouTube of the story, "The Penny Pot".
6.) Play: Students played a counting money game on abcya!
I'm planning to set up some HyperDocs that are designed and organized by the Triple E Framework (Extend, Enhance, Engage). This will help me to make sure I'm adding more of a variety in my HyperDocs and not sticking in "extend" or "enhance" only.
I really want to push myself to create more HyperDocs that include a creation factor, such as creating a Google Slides presentation about what they've learned. Please leave a comment with other ideas below!
Tips for using HyperDocs with Littles:
> Teach them how to open/close/move between tabs. This deserves a whole minilesson so there's no "Where did the HyperDoc go?!"
> Take it one tech tool at a time. Don't put more than one (maybe two) brand new tools (to your littles) in a HyperDoc at once. You want the focus to be on the content, not navigating the tool.
> Be okay with failure!! Your first HyperDoc with littles will take far longer than you think--but that means they're learning! Learning to navigate a new digital platform always takes time, and that's okay.
> Be creative. There isn't one right format, layout, or order of design in a HyperDoc.
> Let students work at their own pace! The whole point of a HyperDoc is that it differentiates naturally for your students. If they don't understand something, they can go back and redo a portion of the lesson on their own.
Read more about how educators transform their classrooms using HyperDocs:
> How HyperDocs Can Transform Your Teaching | Jennifer Gonzalez (Cult of Pedagogy)
> See this padlet for a massive amount of HyperDoc ideas educators are constantly sharing
> A fantastic educator to follow who does amazing things with Google Apps + Littles: Christine Pinto
As I reflect on my view of the Constructivism Theory, I thought about what it meant to me. Learning is supposed to be hands on, exploratory, and foster creativity. It's more about the journey of the learning process than it is about the destination. Did you problem solve? Did you collaborate and communicate well? Did you take a leap and try something new? What did you do when you came to a problem or got stuck? I immediately made the correlation to a road trip. Here are my thoughts:
Journey, Not the Destination
A road trip is usually planned because you want the experience. Would it be easier to book a flight and not think about all the logistics of traveling by car? Sure. Is it as satisfying when you get there? No way! On a road trip, some choose the take the interstate and get there as fast as possible. I relate these travelers to students who already have quite a bit of background knowledge on the topic. Some road trippers choose to take the scenic routes and go off the beaten path. It takes them longer to reach their destination, but the memories of the trip are far more meaningful than if they would've rushed past the scenic routes by interstate. These learners take longer to understand the concept being taught. They have to go down one road, then another, then another, before it "clicks".
Bumps in the Road
Flat tire? Fender bender? Out of gas? Got lost? We all have those hiccups in learning. Do we give up and feel helpless? When students hit these "bumps" in their learning, they have to be able to problem solve. They have to be able to effectively communicate and know what to do when they're stuck. Different situations call for different things. If you get a flat tire in the middle of nowhere, you might result to YouTube to teach you how to change it, or flag someone down to help. In learning, you might get stuck and need to result to resources (books, online sources, videos) or contact an expert (friend in class, teacher, online). When students problem solve themselves without someone telling them the answer, they've learned powerful lifelong skills that benefit them long term.
When you pull off the side of a road to stop and take in the view, it can be very memorable and leave you in awe. In our learning we need to be intentional about taking time to pause to reflect on how far we've come as learners.