Monday, August 26, 2013

This is Why You Need a PLN

A Professional Learning Network is your personal network of people and organizations that push you and support you to be a better teacher. I have a great PLN on Twitter, but I also have an amazing, supportive, creative group of women that I text with almost daily. I met these six women in my grad studies last year in our cohort for Educating for Creativity. What's amazing about them is that they constantly push my thinking to make my teaching as creative and effective as possible.

A PLN can include people you know in real life as well as networked educators. Your PLN could include your colleague across the hall, or your colleague across the world. All help build a network to make you a better teacher.

Here's what happened to make me write this post. After reading Teach Like a Pirate this summer, and pondering NoTosh's Googleable vs. Non-Googleable questions, I took a critical look at my grade 7 Social Studies curriculum. I sorted it into Googleable and Non-Googleable outcomes (Alberta grade 7 Social Studies teachers, if you'd like this document, please find it here). I discovered that except for the Skills and Attitudes, as well as the Front Matter of the curriculum, most of the specific outcomes for the curriculum were Googleable outcomes. For instance, "Who were the key figures in the French exploration and settlement of North America?" or "What was the role of Chief Tecumseh in the War of 1812?" So I was presented with the problem of how to ensure this curriculum was addressed, without spending too much time and effort on outcomes whose answer could be found by a quick Google search.

So, I also read Role Reversal this summer, and author Mark Barnes writes about how he has his students do a year-long writing project where they write a diary from the perspective of a person sometime in the past. I took his idea of historical fiction and went through my curriculum and pulled out all those outcomes that would otherwise involve very low-level thinking skills, and drafted an assignment.

This is what I came up with:

Then I shared it with my group of creativity ladies and asked for feedback. Trina responded.  She had a couple of items of constructive criticism for me. She noted that if she were not a confident writer, she might be completely scared by the subtitle "a year long writing project." She also said that there were a LOT of choices for topics, which may be overwhelming to kids. Both very good points.

So I revamped it. I changed the layout. I taught myself to use Adobe Illustrator to make a more visual arrangement. And I changed the way the topics were presented. I grouped them based on interest. I think the result is much more accessible and way more fun.

I still need to play with the Illustrator file a bit. I think some of the words are hard to read - I love that font, but I might have to change it. But here it is for now.

I'm excited about this project because:
1. Students will be immersed in writing ALL year long.
2. Students will get to delve deeply into a time period from Canadian history that interests them (hopefully).
3. In all the peer editing, students will get to learn about each others' topics (AKA: students will teach each other about these very specific outcomes from the curriculum).
4. The level of thinking required to write historical fiction is much MUCH higher on Bloom's taxonomy than finding out how Chief Tecumseh was involved in the War of 1812.

So. Moral of the story: I'm probably preaching to the choir here since the majority of the audience of this blog comes from Twitter, I think, but! If you don't have a PLN, get one! Build one! Use one! You'll be a better teacher because of it!

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Uncommons

Ideas come together when you make connections. To make connections, you need stimulus. Here's how it worked for me this time: I read Dave Burgess's brilliant book, Teach Like a Pirate. I was struck by this quote:
Provide an uncommon experience for your students and they will reward you with an uncommon effort and attitude.
Then I skimmed a link someone posted on Twitter (I forget who, otherwise I'd credit) unrelated to education. It was about business, actually, and the gist of it was for businesses to pinpoint exactly what it is that makes them different.

Then I read this brilliant list called 101 Teaching Tips, Secrets, and Ideas for 2013 from TeachThought, and clicked on a link in it to The Importance of Branding Your Classroom.

That's when this happened:
Photo credit.

These three pieces of inspiration were unconnected, yet my brain was able to take them and use them as inspiration for a good idea.

Here it is:

My classroom will not be called "Ms. Quinn's classroom" or "Room 7-134." It will be called,

The Uncommons will be a place where uncommonness is valued, where being different is not only accepted but celebrated. We will celebrate how each of us is different and encourage it with the motto "Be Uncommon," and we will look at how important figures in history have been uncommon. I have been trying to come up with some great ideas on how to make pre- and post-Confederation Canadian history intriguing, relevant, and fun for 11 year olds. And I think this lens of "the uncommon" might work. Who stand out as Canada's Uncommon?

Not only this, but the experience they will have in my classroom will be like anything they've ever experienced in school before. I will be fun, creative, and engaging. They will love to be there. This is not your common desks in rows kind of classroom.

I want to get that banner printed on foam core and posted above my classroom door so each student will be reminded of our mission every time they enter the room.