Bring Excitement into Testing Season!

MAP testing time is upon us.

This testing window can be a stressful time for students and teachers alike. But, the worries can compile for students who are taking the test for the first time. Going into MAP testing, it is essential that we continue to keep our students front and center.

Adults tend to worry about the logistics and scheduling of testing, while kids want to know questions like, “When can I get a drink of water or when can we take a restroom break during the test?” These questions are incredibly valid. Students basic needs are always important, throughout the year and during MAP testing.

If we take the time to ask students what they want to know, while answering their inquiries in an enjoyable way, we can find a recipe for success where the knowledge can be communicated and understood.

Recently, staff members asked if I could create a MAP Test Q & A where students could ask and answer questions about the MAP in hopes of giving more information about the MAP, especially for our 3rd-grade students who have not yet had practice or experience with the MAP.

I wanted us to embed fun elements, music, a green screen background, and most importantly kids leading the way with production; By empowering our kids in this venture, we show that their opinions and expertise matter. For example, our students came up with the idea of adding bloopers and dance moves to the end of this video to add more personality and excitement; I believe this thought really added some fun and joy to the video. We even asked high schoolers from our district their thoughts about the MAP to gain further insight.

Students who were featured in the video are already creating buzz about how awesome they think it is. Students keep asking, “When is everyone else going to see the video?” We cannot wait for our student population to view the video this month!

During testing periods and beyond, let us bring the same enthusiasm and energy that we bring to our schools throughout the school year!

Click on video below to watch:

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7 Ways to Let Students LEAD!

 

Of all my passions, nothing holds more meaning to me than empowering students to LEAD! When we allow students to lead, we are more likely to empower them not only in their day-to-day learning but in their LIFE. And in my opinion, that is one of the greatest things, if not THE greatest thing, we can do for the kids we serve.

On this same note, although I could write a post that included 100 ways to let students lead, I wanted to synthesize as much information as I could in 7 easy to remember examples, that are also some of my favorite launchpads for learning:

1.  Start student-led class discussions

What I have found from experience is that student-led class discussions are not an “activity,” it is an experience and a meaningful one at that. Too often, we structure our classrooms so we are the sage on the stage and the sole person who can take and answer questions. Rather than building upon students curiosity, we inadvertently and accidently squash them. I must note that there are important and worthwhile moments for teachers to deliver content and field questions in this manner, but it does not have to be the only way.

Helping students lead discussions is a life-long skill that is crucial to build even at the youngest of ages because it proves to be even more important as the years go on. Rather than being terrified that students will argue with one another or will not know what to do during a student-led discussion, think of it as a learning opportunity that will pay dividends in their future. Show them the way and watch them soar. You will run into obstacles at first with this approach, but stay persistent to see student engagement and overall love for learning rise. This article by

This article by Education Week on student-led discussions, with strategies on how to get started, was written two years ago and still rings true today.

 

2.  Choose student tech experts to teach students & teachers new ways to integrate technology

Whether you start a Student Tech before/after school program, or you choose a few students in your class to be “tech experts,” students LOVE teaching other students new ways to integrate technology into the classroom. It never ceases to amaze me how much students know about technology. I often ask my students to teach me what they are doing and how they are using technology outside of school. We then spin the conversation to determine how we can integrate that technology in a meaningful way for their learning at school, too.

 

3.  Ask students their input on how we can improve school and put that input into ACTION!

Students have so many ideas on how to improve the school culture and day-to-day procedures, but we often forget to ask. Whether you ask them about how to better your lessons or how to improve student behavior during unstructured times, students often are untapped resources. Not only that, but they desperately want to help!

I will never forget, when I asked my former sixth-grade students on how we could improve our classroom climate to help all learners feel apart of our team. They immediately came up with the idea of “Leader Jobs.” Although having leader jobs is not new in the classroom, they wanted to put their own spin on it and to CREATE the jobs that would exist in the classroom, rather than me creating them. Having said that, through this experience, I allowed them to lead and saw students who were more ecstatic to come to school than ever before because they had a PURPOSE. Students designed jobs like “Twitter Expert, Instagram Leader, Inspirational Leader,” and more.

Moral of the story: Ask for their input and then make valiant efforts to do something about their feedback. If we only ask and forget to do, we will lose the trust of our kids.

 

4.  Have students create individualized learning playlists that differentiate learning

Several months ago, I heard this idea of creating individualized learning playlists for kids. Before I even researched how other educators have used this practice, I decided to give it a try myself with a few students first; I wanted the creation process with my students to be as organic as possible.

After students have tried these playlists for a couple of months, I have learned an abundant amount from my students about what they like, what does work, and what has not been beneficial for their learning process. I have a post in the works on this topic, but I wanted to share that I have found HUGE student participation and leadership through students being able to learn and create their way at their own pace.

Until this next post on this is created, check out Jennifer Gonzalez’s blog post on this subject.

 

5.  Try a student-led edcamp

This has to be one of my favorite student-led ideas I have tried this year. Read my blog post here on how to get one started!

 

6.  Embed Genius Hour, Project Based Learning and Makerspaces to gain more hands-on approaches to learning

When students are able to learn LIVE through trying, they are leading their learning. Here are a few experts and resources on these topics to get these ideas started in your classroom or school:

  • Genius Hour
    • Check out Don Wettrick: Author of Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level – He is a guru on all things Genius Hour.
    • Genius Hour Twitter Chat:  chat = 1st Thurs of each month at 6 pm PST/9 pm EST
    • One of the most passionate educators I know who uses Genius Hour in her classroom is Jen Schneider– Connect with her on Twitter; She loves to share ideas and resources.
  • Project Based Learning (PBL)
    • Check out Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy, authors of Hacking Project Based Learning: I can honestly say that this book was such a worthwhile read and broke down the thinking and action behind project-based learning, in addition to giving meaningful ways to embed it within your class.
  • Makerspaces
    • You cannot say “Makerspaces” without mentioning the queen of Makerspaces, Laura Fleming. Follow her on Twitter, if you do not already, and check out her book and website on Makerspace learning here.

7. Empower students to show their learning with new and innovative approaches.

Do not be the keeper of all the knowledge, be the caretaker of student talent. Ask students to show their learning in ways that you have not even thought of- Allow them to be the designers, too.

Kara’s Tweetable: When we help students live outside the box in their thinking, they will also gain outside of the box success with their learning as a result.

Take risks with your kids- You will learn abundantly more than you would have ever before if you simply played it safe.

 

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Are We Spoon Feeding or Empowering?

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As educators, we all start our journey because we love kids and want to help them.

What is interesting, though, is that over time, we learn strategies and develop unconscious habits to “help” students, when in reality we are unconsciously enabling students rather than empowering. Sometimes over helping even becomes instinctual. But even with the best intentions, our over “help” can often resemble spoon feeding.

Empowering students has always been a passion of mine. I am always engrossed in finding ways to stretch brains and mindsets, including my own, in new and different directions. This past week, the phenomenal 4th-grade teachers at my school, @clarkesclass @teammontgomery @msrittsclass, and I have been working on approaches to help students in this area and we have been brainstorming ideas to challenge thinking.

Therefore, this week I worked with 4th graders on a Digital Scavenger Hunt I created that closely resembles a Digital Breakout Edu format. Yet in my scavenger hunt; students had to think critically to think outside of the box, troubleshoot, and to create and solve technical problems they have never encountered before. Each step built on the action before it, and it required deep thinking and trial-and-error to reach the destination. Just like many Breakout Boxes do, I gave each student the ability to use two tips to ask for help along the way.

During this Digital Scavenger Hunts with the classes, numerous students were astonishingly focused on the tasks and determined to reach the destination at all costs! But, there were also many who looked at step 1 and immediately said: “This is too hard, I give up,” or “I quit.” This also occurred once students ran out of tips. Even though it was hard for us to not over help at times; When these moments occurred, it was the perfect opportunities to discuss with students the idea of “YET” and growth mindset. In other words, it is okay to be honest about frustrations when challenges arise, but we have to work hard to train our brains to think: “I may not get it YET, but I will if I keep trying and am patient.” We also discussed the idea of progress; We may not reach our desired destination now, but if we make growth, we should be proud of each stride we made.

Although discussing growth mindset and learning how our brains work helps jump start crucial conversations, what we often miss is to truly challenge students and to help them apply what they learned about growth mindset in real-life scenarios.

Some students revealed to us after the Digital Scavenger Hunt that they wanted to give up many times during this challenge because it was too hard, but they started thinking positive and then realized “Hey, I can do this!” When you empower students to lead with a growth mindset, once they do overcome challenges, their reactions are priceless. There is nothing that can replace a student proud of his or her accomplishments from exerting true grit.

The 4th-grade teachers and I are currently planning mini-challenges that we will embed throughout the school year called Mindset ManiaThank you, @clarkesclass for the clever wording! These challenges will include anything from STEM to collaborative projects and they are designed to positively develop growth and innovators mindsets. I am looking forward to watching students grow as we embed thought processes like this into everything we do.

After all, nothing is sweeter than seeing a student proud of his or her accomplishments while endlessly persevering and learning new ideas along the way. If we aim to empower students today, the impact will last a lifetime.

Growth Mindset
This picture from today displays the joy that occurs when students reach their goals and realize “I CAN do this!”
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