Category Archives: innovative teaching

Learning to Change – Changing to Learn


I came across this video on kylepace that was created by COSN.  I was blown away by the video because I think it says everything about education today and in the future that has been swirling around in my head.  These are the things that resonated with me most from the video:

  • the kids are having a much more stimulating, enriching environment outside of schools than they are inside of schools
  • students are big communicators and content developers, yet all of the tools they use to do that are banned in schools
  • it’s about relationship, it’s about community, productivity, access
  • they live in the “nearly now” where they can reflect, retract, and research
  • the student is at the center and school is just one of the places that they learn
  • we’ve got a classroom system, where we could have a community system
  • we have to develop a narrative that sustains 21st century learning

Schools and teachers are going to have to seriously consider these factors when developing new curricula as well as daily lessons.  We need to take advantage that they are so connected to and use it in a meaningful, collaborative, and creative way.

The power of emotions & writing: what I was not prepared for…


I continued with my activities to prepare my 8th graders to write their “This I Believe” personal statement.  The first day was spent identifying and defining values along with ranking those values to what was most important to them.

The second day was what I was not prepared for in doing this assignment with my students.  I asked students to freewrite about the following questions:

  • When did you first realize your family loves you?
  • When did you learn that it is better to tell the truth?
  • Who was the first person to make you feel invincible?
  • When did you realize you could be anything you want to be?
  • When did you learn that life isn’t always fair?
  • Who taught you that sometimes things don’t work out the way you want them to?
  • When did you learn that you can’t always get what you want?
  • How did you learn about the Tooth Fairy, or other characters?
  • Has anyone ever tested your faith?
  • Have you ever done something that you regret?  What did you learn from that moment?

I read the questions, that I got from the This I Believe curriculum, and when I was finished, the room was silent.  Dead silent.  Then, a few hands went up.  The question that struck me most was, “What if you just realized someone loves you?  Can it be recent or does it have to be from when you were a little kid?”  With that, I answered by telling them a story about my gram.  I always knew that she loved me, but I could remember a specific time when I was a young adult that I truly realized that she loved me.  I got teary just telling the story….but what happened next, I was completely unprepared for…

I told the students to answer the questions as best they could on a separate  piece of paper, and that they could skip around.  Some students sat at the table, some sat on the floor, and others asked to go in the hallway.  Once they started writing, I heard sniffling, people getting up for tissues, and some outright sobbing.  I was amazed at the power that a question could stir up such emotion.  These kids were writing like I’ve never seen…totally focused and engaged.  I was overwhelmed by emotion myself as I saw my students “go there” emotionally…and that they were doing it through writing.  It dawned on me that they felt safe and secure enough in my class to be that emotionally open.  This is what I was completely unprepared for.  I never imagined that a little writing exercise  could be so powerful to them, and to me, but…I will remember to never underestimate the power of words and the emotional connection that we have to them.

What will education look like in 20 years?


This morning, I came across a poll from Edutopia that asked:  What will online learning look like in 20 years? My answer was that it would be prevalent, continuing to grow, and will be growing in popularity.  This seemed to be the most popular answer.  As I pondered this, I asked myself what education would look like in 20 years.  Twenty years ago, I was entering college.  We had word processors, not laptops, and presentations were still done with colorful posters that were painstakingly made.  I can’t remember when I got my first email address, but I can remember my first home computer in 1997!  That wasn’t that long ago…or was it?

I’ve been teaching for 15 years…and I wondered how much education has changed during that time.  There have been a lot of changes using technology.  I would have to say that incorporating new technologies into my classroom is what keeps me current and what keeps my students engaged.  I am a risk taker and enjoy the challenge of change, but I know that is not the general consensus with teachers across the board.  So, there have been a lot of things that haven’t changed in education in the past 20 years.  Without support, interest, and differentiated instruction for TEACHERS, a lot of “new technology” is “old teaching” with some bells and whistles.

So when I ask myself what education will be like in the next 20 years, I imagine it to be a little more advanced with some more bells and whistles with some trailblazing teachers that embrace it, some that go with the flow and try to keep up, and some that are “old school”.  I do know a few things:  education is slow to change….slow is fast in education…and innovation & technology are useless unless the teachers are supported and encouraged to try it and use it.

I’ll still be teaching in 20 years…I’ll only be 57.  I look forward to the future of education and am excited to see what it brings…whatever that may be!  Where will you be in 20 years and what will education look like for you?

This I Believe: Out of the mouths of babes


I am beginning a project with my 8th graders based on NPR’s This I Believe.  My students are writing about what they believe in 350-500 words.  I plan on having them podcast their pieces as well as create an “ipod” ad of themselves that is hosted on our wiki as the final project.

As I introduced the project, some of the students were struggling to define values and choose what five values are the most important to them…certainly a daunting task for 8th graders!  I found this amazing podcast on the website that was written by a kindergarten student.

When Tarak McLain’s kindergarten group celebrated their 100th day of class, some kids brought 100 nuts or cotton balls. Tarak brought a list of 100 things he believes. Now a first-grader, Tarak shares his top beliefs about God, life, nature and war.

Click here to listen to his “This I Believe” podcast.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress of my own students’ pieces!

My Life 24/7 Contest: Incorporating Character Ed in the Curriculum


I was trained in Character Counts about 5 years ago.  Since then, I have used their materials and website resources to build the advisory program.  In the past year, they have created a new teen-focused spin off of character counts called mylife 24/7.  Currently, they are running a contest that includes ethics, decision making, and character education into any curriculum via blogging or video.  The class needs to come up with a video that has an ethical dimension.  Some suggestions are:

  • random acts of kindness
  • taking care
  • acting up and taking a stand against injustice

The complete instructions and lesson plan can be found here.  Submissions are due February 1st, so there is just about enough time to do this with a small group of kids…I plan on doing this with my advisory this week!

21st century learners: a vision of students today

There has been a trend on youtube where students are visually representing how they learn and how they want to learn.  Below are three powerful videos that depict what 21st century learners need in the classroom. It is vital that we realize that we are preparing students for a world that we can’t even imagine right now. We need to embrace how they learn and take advantage of the technology that they are so connected to.

Higher Education

K-12 Education

I need my teacher to learn

6 word memoirs…what’s yours?


Legend has it that Hemingway was challenged to write a memoir in only 6 words.  I challenged my 8th graders to do the same.  The video below shows a short collection of our memoirs.  You can go here to see the entire project.

The original website can be located here.

I also used many excerpts from this book as examples:

(note:  some of the memoirs are not appropriate for reading in class)

Flickrpoet: Digital Storytelling Gets Poetic


I’ve been using digital storytelling with my students via photostory, but this takes digital storytelling to another level.  Flickrpoet allows you to enter a sentence, a poem,  lyrics, etc. into the text box, which, in turn, will create a visual representation of your work in pictures pulled from Flickr.  Imagine the possibilities for students!

TKAMB21: To Kill A Mockingbird Meets the 21st Century

cover copy

So how to you take a classic book and make it relevant to kids today?  You include facebook, twitter, and im into the project.  My 8th graders ate this project up!  If you want to see if your students truly have a grasp of character development, have them write tweets as that character.  Check out my students’ TKAMB21 projects here!  This project idea can be used for social studies as well…imagine creating a facebook page for a historical character! Click here to see the original instructions.

2011 Update:

Since we’ve moved to a Google Platform, I formatted the assignment for Google Docs and used a Google Site to showcase their work. Templates for Google can be found here.

Also, I just read two books that are not appropriate for students, but a total riot for adults that explore this type of writing: