We’ve all felt it at some point or another - that feeling of excitement when a new project is starting, feeling inspired to try something new and that passion for teaching just can’t quite be contained.
As we begin a new semester, it’s hard not to feel such things. You come back from the holiday break re-energized and ready to go and you jump right back into things with extra gusto. Personally, jump feels like too light of a term here as I have fully submerged myself.
Currently, I am working on a full write up with two colleagues on our Battle 4 Chatz project we did the first semester where we created a game with 7 levels plus a boss level for our space and shape mathematics unit. Using the idea of gamification, we increased student engagement and productivity in a fun way for our Year 5 students. It's sometimes really rewarding to look back on what you've accomplished as a team and then be able to set new targets moving forward. We look forward to sharing our findings and resources once we finish in the coming weeks!
My students are currently driving the inquiry in the classroom with their personal projects and summative marketplace with a recipe book. In just two weeks, I can't wait to see how it all comes together.
In my next unit of inquiry just 2 weeks away, I plan on having my students lead the learning completely by creating their own online courses in groups. This will involve creating all the content in their course through research and then writing or finding creative ways of displaying their findings, creating the assessment tools and developing the layout of their online course. After they have created a course, they will switch courses with another group and beta test the online course while reflecting and providing feedback throughout the entire process. It is amazing me that when the plan is for the students to develop the unit, assessments and fully execute their plan, that it is actually making me plan more than I have for any other unit. I am nervous and eager to see how this goes and look forward to sharing our progress along the way.
I’ve got a few different things I would like to ‘apply’ to in the next month or so as well. With conferences, programmes and even considering masters in about a year’s time, there are lots of different options to consider. Sometimes it is hard to find the balance between all of these things and be patient knowing not all of them to have to happen in the next few months. Each application deserves the attention to detail and time and hopefully, something comes about from some of them. Unknowing the outcome makes the process nerve-wracking but always worth it. Even when you don’t get accepted to something, there’s usually something you can take away from the process.
This year has the potential to be great. It’s just getting started and these are just a few things that have me buzzing right now. I can’t wait to look back this time next year and be in awe of it all.
Most days I come to work with a plan of what’s to come. Yet somehow it never happens - in the best way possible. So many days my students railroad my plans with THEIRS - and it is quite frankly what I love most.
Take today for example. I sat down in my classroom around 11am with my students all ready to share our summative assessment task for our How We Organise Ourselves unit about Food Systems. Simply put, the task was to create a recipe using procedural writing for a cookbook and provide a detailed rationale for the meal and choices of ingredients based on what they know. They were to demonstrate their knowledge as a consumer and document the reasoning behind their choices. We had thought they could then make and share their recipes one day in class. A good idea that has simply inspired the 'want to get started NOW', when I hadn’t planned on it until early-mid next week.
I had only got out that we were going to create recipes when the ideas came spewing from their mouths. Of cours,e they wanted to invite their parents first and foremost. Ever since we first invited our parents to our end of unit celebration for our first unit, my students have found sharing their work with their parents to be one of their top priorities forthe following units. Many teachers struggle to build that connection to home but when students are proud of their hard work they want to share it with an audience that is meaningful - who better than their parents.
My class also likes to create an atmosphere and experience for their parents when they share their work. Then they decided they wanted to make food stalls where they would offer samples to their guests. The idea of a market was a highly popular idea. Each booth could have a name and a display of some sort about their meal. They want to create a class menu for their parents with a map of the food market so parents could easily decide what they wanted to try and where they could find it. At the booths, the displays could display videos of how to cooking shows or commercials, animations or other ways of demonstrating their understanding.
One of my favourite ideas was the idea of connecting it to our new math unit about data handling. We had ONLY started the unit the period before and already they were thinking that they could have parents complete a survey to show their rating of the dish on a 1-5 scale for overall appeal, I had a student even asking me how we could use technology to create graphs so when the survey was being done it could be updated in real time.Once they gathered their data, after the market they could graph their individual data and then compare their findings with the other dishes in the class to see how their dishes rated compared to others. There was also talk about using a survey to help them decide which dish they wanted to create to begin with. If they surveyed the type of dish people liked or the flavours that were most popular or the cuisine people liked most first, then they could use that data in deciding which meal they wanted to prepare for the market. I was surprised and amazed to hear these students creating their own transdisciplinary experiences and wanting to use math in a meaningful real life context.
One thing I have learned is to let them go with it because as a class, they just build upon each others’ ideas ata rapid pace. It’s definitely part of their learning during our design thinking studies in our inventions unit and they’ve just taken off with it. It was hard to not adding my own ideas, but making it all about them is what it NEEDS to be.
I can’t even count the number of times this happens any more whether it’s redesigning our class website, creating and leading their own lessons, planning an assembly and parent classroom experience, taking a small homework assignment and turning it into a full exhibition or changing any other lesson, assignment or summative task on the fly. They make it their own and they make it better than anything I would have planned on my own. They take their learning into their own hands and they make me a better teacher. But at the end of the day, they teach me more than I teach them and that, I can’t be more thankful for.
It’s true. There is no one I am harder on than myself. So often I complete something or accomplish a goal and only look at what’s still left to be done instead of celebrating what I have done before moving on. It’s something that, when you think about it, is not very ‘teacher’-y of me at all. Where’s the oreo feedback in my own practice? By that I mean, the good, the area of growth and another good comment. I’m always giving my students praise for their work and then guiding them where to go next, and even better than that, usually having the students self-identity their ‘glows’ (great things they are doing) and grows (areas of potential growth for the future).
I am constantly asking my students to reflect. What did you do well? How do you know? Why are you proud of this? What makes this a ‘good’ piece of work in your mind? How can this help you moving forward? Of course, we also have the opposite side to all of that - what do you need to work on, etc. We foster the ability for students to see the good in themselves and others but do we do this in our own practice?
Why does this not happen with teachers?
Why is it so hard for teachers to celebrate their own growth? Is it simply because we are always looking for ways to improve that we are almost blinded by our successes? Is it because we don’t want to ‘waste’ time on a plateau of praise when we could be jet-setting upwards with growth?
Even when we plan with other teachers, often the first thing we think about when we are reflecting on the unit or the part we spend the most time on is how to improve what we did, what didn’t work and how will we change it for next time. The very idea of ‘wow - great unit because of x, y, and z’ is often glossed over in order to get right to the growth section.
I love my Friday afternoon with my kids when we do our Positive Post time where we write notes and deliver them to people in our class and around the school who have positively impacted us or our class. I always try to send one to at least 1 staff member to help celebrate the positivity they’ve spread to me.
This past year I’ve slowly been trying to do a better job at the idea of personal self-reflection with the good things happening in my own teaching and professional life. Twitter, blogging and even presenting have helped with this but it still is something I struggle with. It’s easy for me to see it in others and what they do, but with myself, I sometimes have only one speed moving forward and don’t always look back.
What result would it have in our own teaching practice if we spent more time reflecting on our ‘glows’ - individually and collectively as a staff community? How would this change the culture of the school?
The old saying goes ‘stop and smell the roses’ - so maybe it’s time for us all to start planting more gardens in our own backyards.