What If, In schools...

The "WHAT IF?" question is such a powerful thinking tool. We are all trying to improve in some way, whether it is the sports teams we follow, our personal life, or our profession. As an educator, we are always trying to determine what changes we can make within our schools and classrooms to make the learning experience relevant, meaningful and exciting for our students.

After taking part in Week 3 of #IMMOOC and reading The Innovator's Mindset, "What If" questions have come to the forefront of my mind. There isn't just one topic that I am focusing on, but more about what I would answer when it comes to my classroom and my teaching. Here are a few things that are on my mind.

What If in Schools: 
* We allowed students to create the school of their dreams?
* We gave students a VOICE where they record, share and tell their story to the public?
* We changed how our students learn on a daily basis!?
* We had the resources to redesign our learning spaces to create an unreal classroom experience?
* We gave up control and created a REAL student-centered learning environment!?
* We allowed students to follow their passions and not have to be tied down to a curriculum that doesn't interest them!!!!

What keeps you up at night? What makes you think? What are your "What If" questions?
I'd love if you would share them with me in the comments section or through social media.


Learning vs. School

When we think about school, we usually think that students come to school ready to learn. We imagine that students walk through the doors, sit in class and learn what is being taught. I think that today, schools are no longer set up to help students learn, school is set up to feed and deliver information to students. This information may not be important, interesting or make an impact on our students lives, but for some reason they HAVE to learn it.

Today, amazingly enough, our students DON'T NEED SCHOOL TO LEARN! There are so many different, MORE EXCITING ways for students to learn where they are able to find something that is personal to them and can help them reach their personal goals. I reflect on my classroom often and it hits me every day - my students just don't have a passion to learn about early American History! This has to change! I need to find their passions and find ways for them to bring their passions into our daily learning.

After studying and agonizing this image, my charge for this post hit me. As educators, we need to step up and create a school or classroom environment that allows for personal, individualized blended learning! This is more important now than ever before. When we allow for our students to come to an environment where they can LEARN something that they are passionate about, we will change how our students view school and we can bring their passions into the classroom.


Risk does not equal Danger it equals Reward.

After another week of #IMMOOC, again I find myself inspired by the chat, blogs of other educators, the dialogue throughout social media and of course the book that started it all! It has been outstanding to see so many educators share their passions, fears, questions and ideas about what Innovation is and how they plan to bring this thoughts into their classrooms and schools. 

I decided to use the "8 Characteristics of the Innovator's Mindset" as my reflection for Week 2, with my major area of focus on taking RISKS!! I chose this because I feel like this topic is something that we all want to do, but so many of us are filled some type of fear when it comes to taking a risk. I wrote a post 2 years ago about Leaving Your Comfort Zone, where I discuss the different ways I had taken risks at that time. When I reread that post I remember how afraid I was to take those risks and try new things, but I do not plan to stop anytime soon. 

As defined, Risk Taking means: To be willing to take risky action in the hope of a desired result. In our classrooms it is important for us to be able to take risks. As educators we should be taking risks with the content that we teach, the lessons that we deliver to our students but most importantly, we should be modeling the risks that we take so that our students follow our lead. In our classrooms and schools, we are their role models, we are the ones that have to show students what taking risks lead to and what the benefit will be when we do take specific risks. By teaching our students how to take risks, we will see them open up more, try new things and build a new trust with other educators. 

In my classroom this year, my students took a risk by embracing technology in their learning. Our 8th graders have gone 1:1 with the use of Chromebooks and while this doesn't seem like something that is so tough for students today, my students, had never really used much technology prior to this year. My 8th graders did not took a risk by trying new things such as Google Classroom, GSuite and other tech tools, but they took a risk by becoming more creative, opening their minds to new ways of learning and working collaboratively with their classmates. My students don't think anything of this, but when I look at how they are changing their learning and trying new things, I am proud of their achievements. It is my hope that this one small change in their learning has opened up a newfound love of learning and something that they will take with them as they move throughout High School and College. 
" Risk does not equal danger, Risk equals reward!"  

Do Something AMAZING!

"Change is an opportunity to do something amazing." 

For many people change is an extremely scary word however, the idea of change is something that has always been fascinating to me. Change is something that allows us to reflect on our practice, improve our actions and make us become something that we never thought we could become. I am excited by change and try to bring that excitement to my classroom each and every day. 

In our schools and classrooms, change may not be something that many educators are willing to embrace, but as connected educators it is our duty to show others how much change can improve us. We must be able to push others so that they break out of our their comfort zones and embrace new ideas. We are the teachers, leaders and change agents that must show the power of opening new doors for our colleagues and most importantly our students. 

Our students come to school and not only do they need to learn, but they need to be entertained. We need to be able to turn the ordinary into something extraordinary and give our students something that they never expected. We can incorporate all the technology tools and websites into our lessons, and if our students are not excited or walking away wanting to learn more, we are not doing what we need to do to bring about positive change. We have to continue to ask ourselves two things every day; First, what do we expect of ourselves as educators? Second, if we had the ability would we want to be part of our classroom?  With these questions in mind, we can change our classrooms for the better and create an amazing experience for our students. 

There is a scene in The Incredibles, where a kid on a bike watches "Mr. Incredible" every day. Mr. Incredible asks "Well, what are you waiting for?", and the little guy replies "I don't know, something AMAZING I guess!". Each and every day, I think about that interaction between these characters as my students come through my door. I want their experiences in my class to be amazing, and for me the only way for that to happen is to continue to change, learn new methods and allow them to explore. I reflect on my practice often and I think about when I first started teaching, if I never made the change from year 1 to today, I would not have found the things that I am so passionate about today.  


Formative Assessment Tools That Work!

Formative Assessment That Works!
A Post by AJ and Jamie Bianco 

In a time where our students are constantly being assessed, teachers and students often times avoid the new “A” word at all costs. It takes up valuable class time and often the results come too late to provide intervention to students in need. However, Formative Assessment is valuable, does provide timely feedback and is fun and easy for students and teachers.

What is Formative Assessment?
Formative Assessment is one of those “buzzwords” in education that cannot be ignored. When used as a tool, Formative Assessment provides teachers with valuable feedback and allows the teacher to assess the understanding of their students before the final test. These tools gives students the opportunity to show what they know before it’s too late to receive intervention. As teachers, it drives us to do better for our students and, if used correctly, will help our students have fun in class while still effectively learning the content that is being delivered. It has the ability to turn a mundane classroom into a class full of intrigue, excitement, and of course a little competition.

Why is Formative Assessment important?
While we constantly throw this term around, many people are still not exactly sure what Formative Assessment is and how we should use it in our classrooms. Formative Assessment should take place during the learning process so that teachers are able to monitor their students’ learning, and to provide feedback that will not only improve how they teach, but also how their students learn. When used correctly, teachers are able to work with their students so that they can take time to answer questions, review content that is hard to understand or to add new concepts on top of what was previously learned.

Educators have to understand that Formative Assessment focuses on our students’ at various points throughout the learning process, and because of this, the results often times should not be graded. By using Formative Assessment tools, we are allowing students the opportunity to show what they know, and have the confidence to say they don’t understand before the consequences of a final grade or project. When we show our students that we are interested in what they know early on, we give them the power to ask for help and place value on their effort throughout the learning process. Summative Assessments are to be used at the end of topics, chapters, or units, when teachers want an overall view of how well their students understand something as a whole.

High-Tech vs Low-Tech
While we always are looking for the newest and greatest tech available to use in our classrooms, we have to remember that not every school has the technology available to students on a daily basis. In addition, the technology based Formative Assessment tools often take time to setup and Formative Assessment can, and often should be a quick tool. It is because of this that we have included some incredible and easy-to-use non-tech tools, which are just as effective as any technology you can use.

Our Favorite Tools
Poll Everywhere - A great tool where you can set up different questions for students or participants to answer about a topic. This is an excellent way to start or end class. Participants can text in their responses or enter their answers via a user specific website, which is through Poll Everywhere. The results show up on the screen in real time and students get excited when they see their responses pop up on the screen.

Readiness Cups - This is a great low-tech tool to use with any age group. As students are working in groups, using Readiness Cups allows teachers to see how students are progressing through the given activity. All that is needed for this to be incorporated in your classroom is three different colored solo cups. The three cups will help you identify whether students are working well, have a question or are struggling.

Google Forms - We love Google Forms! Creating a form is easy and it can be used in so many different ways. Teachers can create surveys, exit cards, short answer responses or multiple choice questions. Using Google Forms helps teachers gather specific information about what their students know and where they need improvement.

Doodle It - Have students take a few minutes to draw what they know about the topic that you are learning about. Students can get specific, in depth or can be very basic. By having your students “doodle” what they know, they are able to open their minds and enhance their creativity.  

Kahoot! - This high-tech tool is a favorite among many teachers. By using Kahoot, students are able to compete against each other to show what they know. Students will answer the questions, and the quicker they answer, the more points that they receive. Teachers can create their own questions, or feel free to dip into the public Kahoots that are available.

Heads-Down, Eyes Closed - One of the fastest tools and most honest! Students put their heads down and close their eyes. The teacher asks students, “If I were to give you a quiz right now, how would you do? One finger = A, two fingers = B, etc. This FA tool asks students to evaluate themselves without the pressure of other students seeing their responses.

Think-Pair-Share - An oldie but goodie. Students have the chance to think about a question that is asked, turn to a partner or partners, and share what they are thinking. This is great for collaboration and allows students to listen to different points of view about different ideas. Teachers can use this to start their classes or after a concept has been learned, to check understanding and give students time to hold a small group discussion.

In Closing
Not all Formative Assessment tools work for all teachers, students or subjects, but each of these tools mentioned can become a valuable part of your teacher toolbox. They can add variety to your typical day and assist you in making informed decisions about what to do next. They are the “diamond in the assessment rough” and should be used to help benefit teachers and students alike. So now, thumbs up, thumbs down - Are you ready to make Formative Assessments fun?