Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Beyond the Boundaries

I am so blessed.

It is really difficult to express how lucky I have been in my first three years of teaching to have the opportunities to do many of the things I've done. Whether it be site visits, conferences, or license to try some crazy ideas, I've been well-supported by my district, administrators, and fellow teachers.

Students involved in a crazy idea....I think

In addition to the incredible support, I've also been pushed and pulled to become a better teacher. Opportunities have abounded for me to change up my style, pitch in on committees and projects, and teach at three different levels.  I know many other teachers also have had these opportunities, but I honestly look back at my first three years and see these as a blessing.

Today, I was lucky enough to share an experience with two colleagues (who, unfortunately, due to time constraints, I rarely, if ever, see).  This involved us heading down to Milwaukee to check out the happenings at the University School. Thanks to Twitter, I had connected with Michael Matera (@mrmatera) and Adam Moreno (@USMDrama), among others from that school. Eventually those relationships grew, and we discussed site visits. I decided I was done discussing - I wanted to see, in person, the innovation happening at this great school.

Pictured:  Innovation (Noisy, Active and Fun Learning!)

This was a huge step for me. I really don't consider myself that social, and struggle with initiating contact. But I felt strongly convicted to make this happen. Twitter broke down that barrier, and honestly, I believe it has changed me to be more assertive and put myself out there more (not to say I still have a long way to go, because I do!).

The day was awesome. We got a private presentation from gamification guru Michael Matera right off the bat. What a great privilege to be able to chat about his techniques, and why they work, and what the reasoning was, and where his thought process was to introduce it. In a large group presentation, like something we'd see at one of the many conferences Michael has/will be presenting at, we would never have that opportunity.  I am definitely looking forward to:  including more status in my gamification, including more story-line based challenges that weave into my curriculum, and MORE SIDEQUESTS!.

Then, Adam Moreno spoke with us about a few really exciting things that I'm ready to incorporate yesterday. The first were Keys to Purpose-Driven Learning. Essentially, these were employability skills that we've been talking about in my 8th grade class each time I've taught it. Well, they ASSESS students on these as one of their main assessment pieces. They take the focus so off of grades and content, and focus on the character traits that truly matter. I know I'm going to be trying very hard to implement more of that type of assessment coming up. I'm certainly convinced at the merits by what Adam and Michael had to say about it.

Adam also spoke about performance-based assessments - which means giving a great performance when presenting in class. This was a great reminder to me that presentations in class are really important, but also need to be treated with high expectations. There is nothing our students could possibly do in life that won't involve interacting with other humans.  Therefore, strong presentation skills, regardless of whether you consider yourself an introvert or extrovert is HUGELY important.

After this, we observed gamification in action.  Michael had a rumble going, which is basically a kind of mini review game. I loved watching the kids mix it up within the content area. So cool. They even got to play with blocks and legos to make their creations. Nothing cooler than serious play.

See - blocks and Legos. I wasn't joking!

After that, we recorded a podcast. You can listen to that here. In that, I learned more about one of the 6th grade science teachers and how she gamifies. She definitely is much stronger on the storyline, and would be where I'd like to put my energy. The challenge is figuring out how I make a great storyline that my partner teacher would also be willing to go along with. 

They fed us (how awesome is that?!?!?) and then we split up a bit. My colleague Brent got to enjoy some one on one with an 8th grade math teacher who has flipped his class, and noted it to be very beneficial. I was so excited for Brent to have this experience. I'm glad he and Melissa got a lot out of it.

I decided to go and check out the House of Tech in person. I had watched them present on WEMTA14, so I was really excited that I would already be in the building to witness what they are doing. They are SO impressive. Visit them sometime. It'll drive you crazy what their students are capable of. Now, we could probably hem and haw all day about demographic differences, private vs. public school, cash flow, etc, but in the end I know this to be true:  we have some really gifted students in a variety of areas, especially technology, who would LOVE to get experience, could offload a ton of tasks, and create new opportunities for us. We need to jump on this bandwagon. I'm glad to know Nikki Lucyk and the House of Tech team, and am comforted knowing they are in my corner as we pursue implementing something similar to that in our school.

Finally, we wrapped up talking maker spaces with Tom Mussoline (@tmussoline) and seeing his vision. The maker space/culture, as well as the student tech team, or definitely the next big fish on my list. Obviously I want to put a lot of passion and time and energy into my classes, but I also serve the higher purpose of creating a more positive school environment, and creating more relevant, engaging, and awesome experiences for students. House of Tech and Makerspace could make this happen for us!

All in all, this was an amazing day. Meeting members of my professional learning network is always excited, and it really makes me near emotional when they treat me like I'm an old friend. It is great to have such professional and personal connections beyond my boundaries, so that I am continually challenged and pushed to be better, to do better, and never lose focus on who matters most - the kids.

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