Saturday, December 3, 2016

How did my CLASSROOM get to be so LOUD?

It is LOUD in here,  and I LOVE it!

What have I done?! The inspiration of the many authors, bloggers, keynote speakers, and tweeters have helped me transform the learning experience for my students. What have I done? Who helped me get there? and How do I explain to others why this change is the direction we want for our students as opposed to some of the traditional methods that have remained the same over time?

What have I done?...
... can be explained when I give you a snap shot of what is currently occurring in my classroom. In this Eastern Hemisphere Geography unit, the students need to formulate a broad understanding of the location of countries and capital cities using latitude and longitude. They need to identify major physical characteristics, describe their formation, compare and contrast natural resources, and describe limitations climate and landforms have on a people's way of life.

We began to achieve these objectives by analyzing different types of special feature maps. At this point of the year, students know they have to become curious about what they are looking at and determining what they want to know. They have learned that finding ranks about the features is a good place to start. What is the highest point? What is the longest river? Which leads them to ask: Where does that river begin, where does it end, and why? Why is that highest peak not in a major mountain chain and how did it get there?

Empowering the students to be curious and ask the questions for their learning experience seems to be more exciting than reading a few pages in a chapter and answering review questions found at the end. Students then compose a list of physical features that need to be explored further. Groups prepare a Tour of Africa and present the important facts of their chosen land features.

Using Peardeck we review what we discovered and those that learned the information can show what they know and those that may have missed it will learn from them.

Discovery Education gave me the idea to give the students 5 pictures of different places in Africa along with 5 different coordinates of places. Students analyze each using resources they discover will give them the information they need to know. Then they develop their skills on matching which picture would correspond to which coordinate. Here is a reaction of one group discovering that their detective work was successful.

More activities continue along the way, including video and journal reflections on how they are developing their unique 21st Century skills, especially collaboration. One students needs to work on asking for help, one to share with others their ideas, one to work on taking more of a leadership role, one to work on accepting that working with others, hearing what they have to say, and compromising can lead them to greater ends.

These mentioned activities and more leads to the ultimate goal of groups as research committees collaboratively preparing a presentation for a commercial realtor on where a company should place its factory and why. They have to think about resources, including human, and if they are there for mere profit or humanitarian aid.

No book used once.  No teacher lecture and notes. No video to watch. No map worksheet to label and color. No chapter 14 section 2 reading and review at the end. No  multiple choice test.

Who has inspired me?...
... begins with Todd Whitaker. I asked him a question related to his book, The 10 Minute Inservice: 40 Quick Training Sessions that Build Teacher Effectiveness. He told me to join Twitter and I would get my answers. Linda Ashida was the first to respond with the perfect answer on teachers observing teachers for professional growth and it all snowballed from there. In his book, What Great Teachers Do Differently: 17 Things that Matter Most, Whitaker states that teachers are the variable for change and improvement. Teachers must stop saying that failure of students to succeed has been their own choice.

Matt Miller influenced me to Ditch That Textbook and by following his blogs and Tweets I now have a bag full of tools necessary to move away from traditional teaching. He also inspired me to summarize what I read using sketchnotes to form new understandings which would help me apply this new knowledge.

George Couros has inspired me to blog after reading one of his from The Principal of Change entitled, "I Don't Have Time For That".   It helps me make meanings of what I am learning and to be accountable for my plans of moving forward. He has helped me develop the skills for innovation in his book, Innovator's Mindset : Empower Learning, Unleash Talent, and Lead a Culture of Creativity. If I can model these skills, then so can my students. He reminds me to stay focused on the purpose for students and reflect on how I can be innovative to do something new and better to "develop learners as leaders who will create a better present and future creating a better world."

Paul Solarz has made an impact in helping me gain a student led classroom where they take pride in their learning in his book, Learn Like a Pirate: Empower Your Students to Collaborate, Lead, and Succeed. We have worked on developing a place we want to come everyday which includes team building, reflecting and growing on 21st century skills. I have let go of much of what I have done before and you will hear kids answering each other's questions. "I have a Q(uestin).... We have an A(nswer)". Students place suggestions they discovered which will help others be successful on a "Tip Board". Those that are struggling will go to this board for answers. Students recap at the end of the hour to ensure they are on track and remind each other what they need to do for the next day.

The Twitter world has helped me lay the foundation which is needed to make the students perform in this innovative classroom. The foundation of care and trust needs to be present first and foremost. I cannot forget my very inspiring friend, Dr. Scott Fech with his wise words including, "Love first, learn much, laugh often, then teach". "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care" is perfectly stated by Theodore Roosevelt.  Sean Gaillard has influenced me to mock his #CelebrateMonday in our #ThankfulMondays using Buncee. We mimic Renee White's #TootlingTuesday and Beth Houf's "High Five Friday". We take pride in our school as we get involved in things outside our classroom.

How do I explain that what happens in our room is the direction we want to go?...
.... has not occurred yet as this transformation is new, but I am predicting that first question will come soon and I want to be ready which is why I am writing this blog. It is not uncommon for students to leave for family trips and want multiple days of "worksheets" ahead of time. Many parents who support their children at home want to know which "pages in the book" to go over in preparing for a "test". Parents call wondering if their child can have extra worksheets at home to "enhance" their learning, or ask why there aren't more grades (since we do not do daily worksheets or reviews). Why are they working in groups? Why am I not following IEP by not doing preferential seating by the teacher, giving notes on my lectures, or chunking their multiple choice tests? and Why is it so loud in your room?

I am adding personalization to this answer, but Paul Solarz has a great basis using the letters of PIRATE. "Pirates don't give up when the wind blows them off course; they adjust their sails and continue toward their destination".

P = Peer Collaboration. We learn through collaboration because we are a whole using each others unique strengths. We are learning new skills to grow on our weaknesses being encouraged by others and are responsible for each other in the end. Isn't this our ultimate goal in making a difference in the world?

I = Improvement Focus. Students in my class reflect on goals of specific skills; not on how to reach an A. Isn't our goal to have "incremental improvement" which is personalized? Do we want to improve our knowledge of locating countries or knowing how to find the resources that will help us find that answer? My students are reflecting on how they want to grow in their unique "weakness". If we encourage differentiation and to be life long learners, why do we want all students to achieve the same end of an "A" and then say they are done.

R = Responsibility. In the collaborative work the students are being empowered to have choice and voice. They are also taking on a leadership role, being problem finders and solvers, and in the end becoming more self-sufficient. Isn't independent life long learners the mark we want to achieve once they leave our room?

A = Active Learning. How do we learn and grow best? The research has been long supported that 90% of what we teach is what we remember. Who should be the "we" in that sentence? The popular phrase rings true, "Teachers should no longer be the sage on stage, but the guides on the side".

T = Twenty First Century Skills. What is ultimately more important for students, knowing the specific content or achieving 21st century skills to know how to apply it independently? To be successful in their career it will be those skills that will make the biggest difference; skills to discover, reflect and refine for continuous quality improvement.

E = Empowerment. Do we grow best doing status quo or when an obstacle is placed before us? Our best growth has occurred when we became uncomfortable and an opportunity pushed us past our status quo level. Students being empowered to take control of their learning experiences will give them the opportunities for continual growth.

I would appreciate your thoughts and suggestions. I am new to this transforming, innovative learning experience. I am looking for tips on how to answer those parent, teacher, administrator questions, such as: Why is your room so loud?


  1. Great post Valerie! I'm SO glad to read about your successes! Any student would be lucky to be in your classroom! :)

  2. I enjoyed reading your post! You do have some lucky students!

  3. Great post, Valerie. I truly enjoyed reading it. I've noticed the noise level in my classroom rise over the past few years as well. I was a bit nervous because many think the classroom needs to be quiet. However, when I facilitate their learning and walk about the room from group to group, the students are engaged and talking about the task. Thank you for reassuring me that the classroom can be full of noise of engagement.