Monday, March 25, 2013

Modeling Creativity: A Battle Cry

Here's a thought:
When teachers teach writing, they write too. They model the thinking and strategies they know good writers use.
When teachers want kids to silent read, they do too. They model what it means to be a joyful reader, falling into the "zone" with a good book.
When something's worth doing, we model the behaviour so our kids can see that it's important.

So why don't we show students what it means to be creative? Why do we assume students know what effective brainstorming looks like? Why don't we show students what it means to not close early and to keep ideating even if you've had a pretty good idea already? Why don't we put ourselves out there and take risks in front of students? We need to.

We need to keep ongoing lists of great ideas, as we ask our students to. And you know what? Our lists should include things we want to do outside of school, too. We need to keep an inventory of tools in our toolboxes - strategies and techniques we can use when asked to complete a task - as we ask our students to. We need to work through problems that we don't know the answers to, in front of our students.

When we do this, we will not only know what we are asking our students to do, but we further our own creative development too. And how could that be a bad thing?

So Take up your arms, teachers, and create!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

20% Time in Ms. Quinn's Room

20% Time, also known as Genius Hour, comes from Google, where employees use 20% of their work week to devote to projects that they self-instigate. Many of Google's most important innovations have come from 20% Time, like Gmail.

So awhile ago, Daniel Pink wrote a piece about how more businesses should use the 20% time to encourage innovation and creativity. And education people sat up and took notice.

Good teachers know that when you get kids to find their passions and sparks and learn about them, the potential of the learning is incredible. So 20% Time works like this:

If students learn about something they want to learn about and if teachers provide scaffolding of skills needed for students to be self-directed, then students will create something they are proud of that shows significant growth in learning.

A student teaches herself to play piano, using Internet tutorials and the Garage Band app on an iPad.
My school board is piloting a new middle school curriculum called Career and Technology Foundations, which will become a provincial curriculum in 2014. CTF gives students exposure to different strands that make up the Career and Technology Studies courses in high school, allowing them to make good choices about what they might want to take in high school and beyond. More than this, though, CTF lets students personalize their learning to suit them. It focuses on four skills: design, create, appraise, and articulate.

I saw this as a perfect fit for 20% Time. Students need to use all these skills in 20% time. They need to decide on a topic, figure out how to learn about it, and take it through experimenting and prototyping to find out if it works, refine and adjust, and then produce a piece of work.

There will definitely be a series of posts focusing on what 20% Time looks like in my classroom. Next up? Idea-generation: how to help students figure out what they want to learn.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Marshmallow Challenge: A lesson in innovation, creativity, and collaboration

I teach an option class called Innovation & Technology. In this class, my students design games using Scratch, a visual-based programming tool.

The new term just started last week, and I wanted to begin with some fun, engaging activities that would help students define what makes a good game, and what it means to be innovative and creative.

We started with The Marshmallow Challenge. Participants of the Marshmallow Challenge have eighteen minutes to design and build the tallest structure they can. They have twenty spaghetti noodles, one yard of masking tape, and one yard of string to build the tallest freestanding structure they can. And then, they have one marshmallow that MUST be placed at the top of the structure.

The lessons of this simple activity are actually very complex. Teams have to collaborate very quickly. The more the participants prototype and design ahead of time, the more successful they will be. And if teams take the weight of the marshmallow into account as they are building their structure, rather than placing it on top at the end and watching their structure collapse under the weight, they will also be much more successful. Successful teams use the constraints and parameters to their advantage. Tom Wujec explains:

Here's a photo of my students building a structure.

The tallest structure in my class was 26 inches. The shortest one was a marshmallow with one-inch legs.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Power of Conversation in Student Learning

It took me eight years of teaching to come to the realization of how important conversation is in student progress and assessment.

It sounds sort of stupid to say this. But maybe I'm not alone. So that's why I'm writing this post.

Structured, purposeful conversation can reveal so much about where the student is and where she needs to go next.

We did an inquiry project asking the students to find their own answer to the question, "How can Calgary be considered a modern Renaissance city?" Students chose a field to focus on, like an art, medicine, science, or architecture, to name a few. Built into the project was a series of checklists, that were steps students needed to take to fully understand their topic and be ready to answer the question. But here's the key: the students needed to have the checklist checked by me.

When students felt they were ready, they called me over and I checked their work. Actually, no, I didn't check their work, we had a conversation about their work. If students were not at a point where they truly demonstrated an understanding of that particular checklist, I gave them feedback and we talked about some ideas of what they could do next to ensure a more complete understanding.

And it was beautiful.

I understood, more than any other time in my entire eight-year-career, what the students understood and had learned, and what they hadn't. Maybe this comes with professional confidence - I trust my own judgement rather than having to rely on a rubric to do it for me.

The next step for me is to figure out how to better document those conversations in a way that makes it easy to come back to. I've tried video before but I find I never go back to them.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Booh Yaah: A Game to Understand How Cultures Interact

This simple dice game teaches students what happens when cultures interact. This game will help students better understand the idea of cultural icebergs, and conversation after the game will help students understand how important it is to stop and think before making judgements about other people.

If you play it with your kids, leave me a comment to let me know how it goes!