Leveraging Data to Support Students

Recently, George Couros wrote a blog post titled “From Data Driven to Evidence-Driven.” George brought up several superb points, one including this, “If we are going to change the way we teach, we need to also change how we assess, not just what we assess.” I agree with this thought process- As we become more innovative, we also need to let that innovation flow into everything we do as teachers: Teaching, learning, collaborating AND assessing.

I similarly read another post on Evidence Based Practice from the Data Science Association that I found especially informational. Within this post, Walker says that the three reasons why Data and Evidence Based Practices are not effectively used are due to ineffective talent, processes, and technology. Though Walker was referring to how these reasons were applied in the business world, I find it fascinating to figure out how we can cross over approaches.

We all believe as educators that being student focused is our first and most important compass. What we do day-to-day should be all about students, not the data. However, I do think that data often has a bad reputation in the educational sphere. I venture to say the problem is not with the data, the issue is HOW we use data ineffectively. We lack vision on where we are going with the data, which leads us often unequipped to analyze the abundant information headed our way. I believe there is a place for both data and evidence-based practices to have a happy marriage in education. Although, in this post, I will stay focused on leveraging data, some of the principles can apply to evidence practice as well.

Leveraging Data to Support Students

  • Vision

    If you do not have a vision or purpose for why you are using data, then it is usually done in a trivial and lackluster fashion. If this occurs, change your path and ask yourself: “What are we trying to achieve?” and “Why are we interested in data?” 

  • Value

    If data does not truly help teachers teach and students learn, then no one will ever find value in it, and rightfully so. To find value, begin viewing data as an asset, rather than the “end all, be all.” Whenever data is the main word mentioned in meetings or in e-mails, students and staff will be immediately disengaged. No one gets inspired by data alone, but data is informational when used properly.

    As a Mentor Teacher and Technology Integrationist, I used Google Forms to track my day-to-day plans with teachers. With the data, I was always able to view in pie graph form and in charts how often I met with each teacher and team in the building, future plans we had for instruction, which subjects and standards we integrated technology with the most, and reflections on the lessons. All of this curated information was easy to insert and view, which allowed me to take action to meet with teachers in a timely and meaningful manner.

  • Target

    Sometimes when data is collected, it feels like you are tracking anything and everything there is to track, which can be enormously ineffective. The best kind of data is purposeful and targeted for optimal results. Similarly, think of your intentions as you collaborate with students and staff: Through the data, do you hope to make small instructional changes or to have huge radical changes? Your answer can guide your plan.

  • Data Management

    Once you have the foundations covered, it is crucial to have conversations with your staff and students to determine how often data will be collected and maintained. Be proactive and clear. Teachers want to feel prepared to plan and teach adequately with the data they receive, rather than always wondering when the “data is due.” Make the data management and maintenance process as streamlined as possible.

    Also, will students track goals and progress? Students love to see their own personal successes and to share them with you, others, and their family. I always loved embedding goal setting into everything I did with my middle school students. After inviting students in on the journey with me, they would keep me in check. If I went a day without talking about goal setting, they would say, “Ms. Welty, you forgot to talk about goal setting today!” Moreover, they always created such fun and creative ideas to track and visualize goals and visions for the classroom.

  • Data Infrastructure

    This subject is almost never talked about, but it is essential. Teachers and principals spend so much time working with improper technologies, infrastructures, and operating models that make data analysis time consuming and frustrating. Once the data is collected, the technology should do as much of the work as possible to sort, organize, and tell the story.

    I hope we can begin spending more time on reflecting, planning and determining how to develop better instruction for our kids, and less time dealing with faulty systems and processes.

    But, with fields like Data Science booming, there is a lot that will continue to change for data in the future. The skill-set needed in this area, and in big data, is in HUGE demand. Over the next couple of years, I am eager to see how developments in this area can directly benefit school systems.

    What does your infrastructure look like at your school and what programs or tools do you use to track data and progress?


Image Credit- LinkedIn

In the digital age we live in, we need to stay focused on our people first, while still keeping an eye to how data will change and how platforms will integrate better with technology over time. With collaborative apps like Google Apps for Education and student reflection video services like Recap, I see a bright future where data is not always a number and students have more agency.

As Carly Fiorina says, “The goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight.” By focusing on insight gained rather than data or information alone, we can take the action that will help our students soar to new dimensions.

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Twitter Tips for Educators

Two years ago, I did not even know that educators used Twitter to better themselves or to help students; This was not on my radar. Teachers at my school were not using it either, so as far I knew, it was not a resource geared for teachers. When I envisioned Twitter, I assumed it was for celebrities and their millions of fans.

I will never forget when I attended a conference led by the lovely Julie Smith.  She said, “Educators are the fastest growing group on Twitter.” I was absolutely shocked by this. Furthermore, I did not want to miss out any longer, so in that moment I decided to join Twitter. This monumental decision I made was the single best thing I have ever done for my students learning and my own personal growth.

Whether you already have a highly collaborative team at your school, or you feel like a silo, Twitter can help you become deeply networked and supported while you gain new perspectives that you never knew you needed.

While you continue reading this post, remember this: You do not have to jump in and do every single tip I mention right off the gate. Just like any other learning adventure you decide to board, do so at your own pace in your own timing. As long as you are learning, you cannot go wrong.

Twitter Tips for Educators:

1. Keep your Twitter handle simple.

A twitter handle is how people identify you. You can use your first and last name, just your last name, your title: Mr./Mrs./Ms. with your last name, or something creative if you feel compelled. Nevertheless, do not over complicate it. Besides, you can always change it later if you want, so do not feel “locked in” to whatever you choose.

2.  Add a professional photo of you as soon as possible

Change the default and gray Twitter picture so people can see you are a real person.

You do not have to hire a photographer- My Twitter photo was actually taken with an iPhone. Yet, when I say “professional”, I am referring to choosing an appropriate and positive picture that displays you as the respected professional that you are. A headshot photo with a smile is always friendly and inviting. Feel free to add your own burst of personality as well.

3. Add a bio that lets others know who you are

A bio solidifies who you are and helps others in similar positions with common interests connect with you. Include your job title, passions, and interests.

4. Tweet and Retweet (RT) thoughtfully

When you send an idea or tweet out, it will show your profile picture and Twitter handle next to the tweet

When you RT, it will repost someone else’s tweet to your profile. RT ideas, blog posts, photos, and videos that resonate with you. Be respectful and always remain professional; Recognize that your followers and the global community can view and find anything that you post or RT to your profile.

Replies also give you the opportunity to respond back to ignite a conversation with others.

5. Follow other educators and leaders and follow back those who follow you

I love this well-written graphic created by @sylviaduckworth
You cannot grow a meaningful network or Professional Learning Network (PLN) if you do not follow other people. Plus, following others shows that you want to grow as well. When educators and leaders follow you, follow back those who you know you can learn and connect with. But, be sure to check out their profiles and tweets

When educators and leaders follow you, follow back those who you know you can learn and connect with. But, be sure to check out their profiles and tweets BEFORE you follow back. Stay far away and never follow back spam accounts who post inappropriate content and be careful of people who pose as educators, but are not.

Important Note: Do not worry about the number of followers you have. Just be you and authentic- That is what counts.

6. Report and block spam accounts

When you see an inappropriate account, report them. You can also block accounts when necessary going to Settings > Block Accounts.

Keep in mind: When you follow an educator and they follow you back, or vice versa, then both individuals can direct message one another. This is another reason why it is so important to check profiles and tweets before following others. You can also always unfollow people as well to eliminate their ability to direct message you, if necessary.

7. Check with your school district about social media policies for teachers and students

Through meeting other educators across the nation, some educators say that their districts require all school Twitter accounts to be public, while some say that they are required it to keep the accounts private. Additionally, some educators say that their district does not have social media policies for Twitter and/or other social media outlets.

Not every district is the sameMake sure that before you begin a professional Twitter or classroom Twitter, that you always verify with your school district to gain the proper information on policies.

For the past couple of years, I have collaborated with my school district on developing clear social media policies and presenting those policies to our staff and families across the district to keep them in-the-know and to propel connected education. Once you gain the proper information and approval, share that information with others, too.

Lastly, do not follow students or communicate with students via the private direct messenger. But, some districts allow teachers and students to publicly tweet one another, where everyone can see, with school related questions. With this said, do not assume your district policies. Read them and then double check with your building principal; Student safety is always paramount.

With this said, do not assume your district policies. Read them and then double check with your building principal; Student safety is always paramount.

8. Hashtags are used to join communities, conversations, or to solidify a point

You can use a hashtag day-to-day to connect with a community or to add the hashtag onto your tweet where it is applicable.

Many educators use Twitter Chats to conversate with other educators and leaders in subjects or topics that are important to them. Some join the chats just to read and gain content information, while others join in and send tweets back and forth. Do what you feel comfortable with and ease your way into the chats over time.

There is a Twitter chat for almost every topic and interest, while new Twitter Chats are always popping up. Twitter chats are usually once a week at the same time that lasts between 30 minutes to an hour. But different chat variations are also out there like “slow chats.” During slow chats, usually, one question is posted throughout the week for people to respond to at their own pace.

You can also start your own hashtag for your school or classroom to unite your school community AND to share awesome learning with families and staff! I have done this and seen such astounding results! Search other hashtags on Twitter before you start your own hashtag to assure others are not already using it.

My top 3 favorite hashtags that I love to look at are #TLAP (Teach Like a Pirate), #tcrwp (Teachers College Reading and Writing Project), and #InnovatorsMindset.

  • The Official Twitter Chat List is HERE, too. Search for keywords on the website by clicking “Ctrl+F” (PC) or “Command+F” (MAC) to quickly decipher chats that would interest you.
  • Check-out the full educational Twitter Chat Schedule HERE to find what day and time the chats occur. Don’t forget to choose your time zone on the left-hand side once you are at the website.
  • Use Tweetdeck or HootSuite to organize your chats and hashtags (I prefer Tweetdeck).

9. Build lasting connections that will last a lifetime

My favorite part about Twitter is not the “tweeting” itself, but the lasting friendships that I have built over these past two years with other educators and leaders. It takes time to build kinships, but it is the most valuable piece. Get to know other educators and leaders that can help push you to new levels and see things differently.

Nothing can substitute a good role model, and with Twitter your role model can live anywhere in the world! Having others that you can build bonds with and ask questions back and forth, at any time of the day, is priceless.

10. See every contact as a way to help students

A Google Hangout on Climate and Weather with our Missouri students and a classroom in California
Every person I have “met” on Twitter has made me a better educator for the colleagues and students I serve. Having the opportunity to help connect students and staff on a GLOBAL scale is always my goal. When other educators share what they are doing, it ultimately helps my students. ALL the students in the world are OUR students. What helps one, may help all.

Moreover, Twitter is often the springboard for other ventures. Just this year alone, we helped connect our students in our school to other children’s authors, teachers, students, classrooms across the world, and field experts in areas like STEM through outlets like Google Hangouts and KidBlog. Some experts have even traveled in person to our school!


I often present about being a connected educator, and due to the phenomenal powers of Twitter, I am able to see the growth these educators make over time as they become connected. It is compelling beyond words. One educator even told me that,“Being connected saved her career.” I have found that Twitter is less about the tool and MORE about the power it has to change our lives and the lives of our students.

I wish you the best of luck while you continue to venture into Twitter. Whether you are new or a veteran to Twitter; We are all in this together.

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Understanding the Challenges of Others

Image Credit: abettermedaybyday.com

Each day when we interact with people, we are encountering diverse individuals like us who have a multitude of blessings and struggles they are trying to overcome in their lives.

Despite the exact situation, one thing is clear- Every single person has a story. We know and remember this when trauma arises; But, with the complexities of daily life, having the opportunities to pause and reconsider this fact may feel few and far between.

Discover Others

Nevertheless, one of my favorite discoveries in life is taking the time to DISCOVER other people. Human beings are fascinating- Each person is a book with a novel story that is unmatched by anyone else.

Except, have you ever noticed how often we book our schedules with unnecessary items, but we still constantly feel this urge to be busy? What if we “booked” more time to get to know one another more as human beings and less as students or colleagues?  
I believe that we can build powerful ties that will strengthen us as individuals and teammates if we spend more time being present in each moment.

Inspiration

During the last few days of school, students Kindergarten through 5th grade placed letters in my mailbox. As I was reading through the notes and drying my watering eyes, one card especially hit me like a ton of bricks:

“Dear Ms. Welty, Thank you for understanding the challenges of others and wanting to do something about it.”

This student described me and my demeanor better in one sentence than I ever could have. It is a profound reminder of how closely students look up to us.

Having said that, this student was correct- If we want to build stronger teams, we must understand the challenges others face and DO something about it.

Try This!

It’s the little things over time that become the compilation of the BIG things that matter. Try adding these little actions into your daily routine:

  • Add More Deep Conversations into your Day 

Instead of always asking questions like, “How are you?” or “How is your day?,” Ask more probing questions that show you are sincere and you want to get to know that person better. Remember this: Authentic questions deliver authentic answers.

  • Take the Time to Listen

It sounds obvious, but it is the most vital skill to learn. Sometimes we ask people exceptional questions, but then through our body language, we show we do not care about their response. Do this: Take the time to let others express themselves without thinking about your personal distractions, like tasks you need to complete. We may think we are great at multitasking, but people can usually tell when we are truly listening or not.

  • Follow-up 

Once a colleague or student has shared something going on in their lives, follow-up with them about it and ask about it again. It always is refreshing to be around others that think of you and take the time to check-in.

  • Take Initiative 

In every school, there are staff members, families, and students who are facing severe family illnesses and other crises. Whether you can help with an act of service or simply be the listening ear, take an active approach to be there for others. Many we encounter each day will never ask for our help but need support. When we take the initiative to offer comfort, we show we are a faithful crew.

  • Do Not Let Stress Take your Best

With all of this said, we too encounter our own personal hurdles that we face outside of school as well. Everyone has bad days and we each deal with stressors differently. Yet, be mindful to ensure that over time your stress does not take the best out of you and others.

Sense of Caring

In closing, this quote by Anthony J D’Angelo is everything, “Without a sense of caring, there can be no sense of community.” I have found that nothing is more valuable than time spent loving one another and understanding each other; It is the heart of what we do as educators. When we care about each other like family, we build community.

There are no shortcuts, just love.

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STEM Team Project: Build a Straw Mobile

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and STEM is taking off in schools! STEM is imperative to learn and understand because it blends through countless facets of our lives. Additionally, technology is continuously expanding around us and STEM opportunities in school allows students to have hands-on experience with cutting edge problem solving, inventing, and creating that is beneficial to the learning process while being FUN!

A few weeks ago I came across an awesome hands-on activity through PBS Kids that I shared with another teacher in my school, Jordan Noice. Jordan and I loved the activity so much that we decided to work on the lesson together in her 2nd grade classroom. The activity in this post is inspired by PBS, but I also walk-through other ideas and planning resources that we created through collaboration.

*This lesson worked brilliantly for second grade, but I also believe that this lesson can be formatted and used for a multitude of grade levels.


Overall Lesson Synopsis

Materials

For each prototype we gave student group:

  • 3 straws
  • 4 lifesavers
  • 1 piece of paper
  • 2 paper clips
  • 40 centimeters of tape
  • Glue
  • Scissors

*Students thought carefully about how they would use each material on the list, because once they cut, glue, or taped a material, they would not get a replacement until the next prototype was created. But, students could of course think outside of the box to establish ideas to reuse materials.


Logistics

  • Place 3 to 4 students in each group, for the best collaboration possible
  • Each group will get one set of materials for each prototype they create
    • To make things even more interesting, you could also have student reuse the same materials for each prototype

Lesson Walk-through

*Goal: To build a straw mobile that can move the furthest by only blowing air

We broke the activity into 2 days or “stages” as we called it:

Day 1: Plan, Draw, and Build up to 3 Different Prototypes with Team (1 hour)

Here is our planning sheet we created for students. feel free to make a copy:

During this time period, students were able to draw and label their prototypes. Students found it beneficial to draw BEFORE they built because they said it “helped them think things through.” Student teams quickly sketched 3 different prototypes before they started building. Once they were ready to build, they focused on the prototype that they believed would be the most successful. If their prototype did not work out as planned, they looked at their other 2 drawings and prototype options to revise or start over.

Students also tested their mobile as they built it to see what mobile would go the farthest. Some students blew into a straw that they attached to their mobile to make it move, while others used part of a straw that was unattached to blow air onto their mobile.

Day 2: Test Prototypes, Rebuild Prototype, Test again & Reflect (1 hour)

Students then traveled to the hallway with their prototypes for an official testing round. Each group was allowed to blow air to their mobile car 10 times to see the distance that it would travel. Students quickly learned by seeing their mobile and other teams in action what worked and what did not. After our testing round, students went back to the classroom and to the drawing board with numerous ideas to try.

Students then spent additional time brainstorming and rebuilding their prototypes so it could be retested again as a class.

 

After building and testing their final prototype, we gained even more insight to what the mobile needed to move faster; Students shared these findings with the class:

  • “The lighter the mobile is, the faster it moved.”
  • “We did better when we did not use as much tape and paper.”
  • “Ms. Welty’s mobile was shaped like an airplane and that helped it cut through air.”
  • “The straw was the engine, so it worked when the straw saw the air on both sides.”
  • “Most of the mobiles moved faster without the lifesaver wheels.”

The beautiful thing about this project is that students were engaged, empowered, and their wheels were constantly turning with ideas. I overheard one student calling himself an “inventor” because he found out that his mind was full of awesome ideas that he could put into action. We could have created more prototypes and students would have loved the opportunity of innovating once more.

Whether it is this lesson, or another STEM activity, give students opportunities like these to learn by DOING. Allowing students to be in the drivers seat of their own learning is powerful beyond words. Moreover, as an educator, it is a beautiful thing to see the creativity and spark that is born from students working together to create solutions.

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Be Their Diehard Fan

A fan is someone who is enthusiastically devoted to their sports team, musical artist, author, or an entertainer. The best trait about a diehard fan is that no matter what happens, even during the weak points, in the end, that fan always give their team their full support, with the knowledge that it will all eventually fall into place. Some of us call this unwavering faith.

I believe that the best educators and leaders apply these same foundations to their classrooms. Great teachers are not fair-weather fans, and they are DIEHARD fans for their students. Great educators also believe that student behaviors, academic levels, or backgrounds will NEVER stop them from loving or fighting for their students just as hard. After all, when our students show signs of distress is usually the moment they need our cheers in the fan section the most.

While working alongside students and showing that I will never give up on them, students taught me more about life, resilience, strength, and love than I could have ever imagined. I am better because of their strength.


Isn’t it a beautiful thing that while we dedicate ourselves to become their fans, that they become our number one supporters, too?


Whether students have positive or negative behavior stats or have winning or losing records in school- Be their diehard fan. Even our most supported students need us in their fan section more than ever. You will have no greater of a fan than your students if you become their diehard fan FIRST.

A thoughtful card I received from a student.

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How to Strengthen Relationships with Students

Building relationships with our students and colleagues are THE most important work that we do as educators and leaders.  Taking the time and energy to strengthen relationships with kids will help them grow to be better individuals and learners. Moreover, human connection is THE essential piece in LIFE, not just the field of education.

But, my caveat is this: Do not try to “manage” kids, but instead INVEST in them. When you invest in students and their interests, talents, and skill sets, your return on the investment will always be greater and more rewarding. Whether you are a kid or an adult, everyone wants to feel genuinely cared about.  Therefore, you can never go wrong by devoting your spirit to those you serve.

Throughout the years of working with kids, here are some of the most meaningful pieces that I believe are crucial to enhancing the relationships that you create:

  • Be present

  • Greet and welcome every single student

  • Listen and value their different perspectives

  • Get to know more about their family, hobbies, and passions

  • Look at every student interaction with a non-judgemental lens

  • Let students start over with a fresh slate when mistakes happen

  • Never, ever give up on them

  • Show that you want to learn from them, too

  • Bring the strengths of every single student to the forefront

  • Empower students to lead and make a difference

  • Be true to you; It inspires kids to be true to themselves

  • Be fun; Never take yourself too seriously

Image result for rita pierson quotes
Image Credit: TED/PBS

Significant mention: When thinking of strengthening relationships with students, the above quote from the beloved Rita Pierson is the beacon of what we should all strive for. Even if you have already seen the TED Talk 1,000,000 times like me, share it with someone else to ignite the spark within them as well (Or watch it below!)

Whether you are reading this during your last few weeks of school, or next October, or in August of 2049- Relationships will always be paramount. Everything changes in life, but relationships are our constant. The year, the month, the season does not matter. What matters is that we never give up on our students and always find time to strengthen the connections we already have to help them become who they were destined to be.

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Podcast Featuring Students-Why EVERY Student Should Have Makerspace Learning Opportunities

A group of 5th graders and I have been working closely on diving into Makerspace type learning and thinking. Students have explored the concept of thinking differently in a variety of ways.

Background

But, before we jump into how we learned and our podcast, it is important to discuss the meaning behind our reasoning. Although the new and shiny Makerspace gadgets are pretty cool, what is more important is the thinking behind it. You can have all the robots and gadgets that Amazon has to offer, but if the focus is misguided and focused solely on the tool, we can hinder the growth of our students. But, when done with intention, Makerspace type learning allows for students to be curious inventors and creators, rather than being static and rote problem solvers.

In the blog, Curiosity Commons, there is a fantastic post that highlights the benefits of Makerspaces called, “Makerspaces: The Benefits.”  One of my favorite quotes within this post is:


“Maker education fosters curiosity, tinkering, and iterative learning, which in turn leads to better thinking through better questioning.  I believe firmly that this learning environment fosters enthusiasm for learning, student confidence, and natural collaboration. Ultimately the outcome of maker education and educational makerspaces leads to determination, independent and creative problem solving, and an authentic preparation for real world by simulating real-world challenges.”


Needless to say, Makerspace learning is incredible, and our kids agree!

The Podcast

While working with the 5th-grade students, we glanced over at our new Snowball Ice Microphone and we thought to ourselves, “Wouldn’t it be neat if we shared our learning of Makerspaces with the world?” After we had this initial thought, students started saying things like, “Every student should get a chance to learn like this. Let’s create a podcast about Makerspaces and send it out to as many teachers and students as we can” and “I hope our podcast can make another kids life better!”

Here is our Snowball Ice Microphone- The quality is pretty sharp for $49.

Remarkably enough, within a couple of minutes, we plugged the microphone in and started recording the podcast on the spot. Students asked if I could host and they could give the insight! So, here is our organic podcast that we created in 10 minutes with zero editing, just pure excitement for learning and sharing; Click the orange “play” button below to listen.

Highlights from the Podcast

Students discussed the power of Makerspaces and how it helps with:

  • problem-solving “real” problems that can change the world

  • creating new things

  • the “important kind” of teamwork

Our 5th graders also discussed the power of using YouTube to foster learning, so I challenge you to ask this question in your classroom:

I was in awe by the way our students eloquently stated their thoughts with such a candid and authentic approach. I love seeking out opportunities to hear their perspectives to help me learn and grow. As one of our students said during the recording:


“When we work in groups we are just solving problems, like math problems. Whoever solves it then solves it, and that’s it! It’s over. But, with Makerspace learning you just can’t do everything on your own, you have to work together.” 


Beautifully stated and powerful. Give Makerspace learning a try and even share this podcast with your students or teachers. If you are looking for Makerspace resources, give this website MakerEd a try.

Also, our students would LOVE some positive feedback or questions about the podcast. Please comment below!

Here is the Chibi Lights LED Circuitboard our students created and referenced during the podcast

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Are We Fostering or Suppressing Lifelong Learning?

Lifelong learning is a crucial process that is unarguably paramount for any human being to survive and thrive. Each day, we learn new things about the world around us.

Yet, lifelong learning is more than acquiring new information over your lifetime. The important piece of the puzzle is having the desire to actively seek out new ideas while being able to transfer and apply these concepts to a variety of contexts and dimensions.

When we think of lifelong learning, we need to do everything in our power to ensure we avoid:

  • Trying to forcefully manufacture lifelong learners
  • Over structuring learning in a way that makes it unrewarding for kids
  • Spoon feeding every learning experience students have

Although we have good intentions with the learning for our students, we sometimes get stuck in a pattern of doing things the same way we have always done it; Therefore, we can inadvertently suppress the passion for learning.

Nevertheless, we can rewire our thinking to give lifelong learning the definition it deserves so we can foster and inspire environments to be the spark for new ideas, new passions, new interests, and new discoveries. But, these discoveries are not made to be information banks. Imagine the problems that can be solved, the ideas that could be created, and the connections that could be built if students saw first-hand the beauty of learning and the power it has on changing the world.

Discovering new learning has power. Just imagine the problems that can be solved, the ideas that could be created, and the connections that could be built if students saw first-hand the beauty of learning and the capability it has on changing the world.

Lifelong learning in its true form is:


ongoing

voluntary

self-motivated


Now, let us embed students as THE focal point and take a moment to visualize your school day tomorrow. Ask yourself:

  • Are learning opportunities ongoing for students?

In other words, do the learning opportunities expand in breadth and depth over time while giving students multiple opportunities to apply and connect learning?

  • Are students voluntary members in how they learn?

In other words, do students have a choice in their learning? and Do they want to be apart of the process?

  • Are students self-motivated and empowered to learn? 

In other words, are students trusted partners and included in their learning conversations, while given the power to help guide how they learn each day?

Based on the answers to these questions, make small tweaks to your approach day-by-day to include these elements and watch the progress that occurs. While you organize and create your content and curriculum, keep these questions at the center of what you and your school does.

Remember this:

We can develop the best curriculum, but if we undervalue the inquisitiveness of our kids, we miss the mark.

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Unleashing Your Limitless Potential

Image Credit- Tamara McCleary

What are some of your OUT of this WORLD dreams and aspirations? Which dream is so big and crazy that you even doubt its possibilities?

Name that goal: _______________________.

We are often told to dream big and to reach for the stars, but on the same token we are later advised to be “realistic.” Being logical is important in many instances, but what is actually needed more in this world are people who are OBSESSED with their dreams and passions. People who have dreams that seem unfeasible to the average person. People who can visualize their goal to see the picture of success within their minds. Then, ultimately people who do whatever it takes to make their dreams a reality each and every day.

We need people who are not trying to be realistic. We need people who are trying to change the WORLD for the better; And when you are trying to change the world, you do not do ordinary things. Instead you commit to…


Reach for aspirations that are limitless.

Welcome failure.

Never stop soaking in knowledge.

Continually adjust and adapt.


Do not welcome or invite the crab-in-a-bucket mentality into your thought process. If you have not heard of this theory, let me explain: Sailors notice that while traveling across the blue seas and capturing crabs, that one crab in a bucket can claw his way out of the bucket successfully with determination. But, once the sailors start adding more crabs into the bucket, the other crabs start fighting and clawing relentlessly to ensure that one crab does not escape.

As the Chinese proverb says in the image above, “The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.”

When we minimize the potential of others, we diminish the leaders and possibilities that “could be.” But, the worst case of all is when we also crush the potential within ourselves. It starts with us. When we shut down our possibilities and start believing that it “can’t be done,” we belittle our true GREATNESS.

Now, remember the goal you named earlier in this post. Unleash that dream and limitless potential within; These dreams are your calling. Be unstoppable and welcome dreams that are illogical, for this is the only way we can change the world.

Then, through your motivation, modeling, encouragement, you can help give that same gift to others which is the greatest gift of all.

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The Power of Student Learning Playlists

Student learning playlists are a unique way to personalize learning for students. Many educators are taking various versions of this approach to differentiate learning for their students.

I first heard about learning playlists through reading articles and posts about Alt School.

On Alt School’s website, they describe their playlists with the following explanation,

“Playlist is a set of tools that enables educators to manage what each child does to meet his or her personalized learning goals, and functions as a customized workspace for students to cultivate agency by managing their own work. Educators create, sequence, and remix curriculum units to curate Playlists where students can view assignments, communicate with their teacher, and submit work generated on- and off-line. Education teams provide feedback and assessments that update students’ Portrait in real time. Playlist allows educators to help students accelerate in any areas where they are already advanced, and work on areas that require more attention and development.”

Immediately after reading about this, I loved the idea but wanted to take our own spin on it based on our students’ needs and the separate set of technology resources we had.

Hence, to get started with learning playlists, I knew I wanted to try this with a few students in a small group first. I thought that this would give me more information on what worked and what did not work before I implemented the design with an entire class.

Brainstorming

The lovely Ms. Montgomery, who teaches 4th grade at my school, is always such a risk-taker; She is willing to try anything and everything to help her students succeed. Before starting the learning playlists, Ms. Montgomery and I first met to look at student data and achievement. Through this, we decided to begin learning playlists with a few students who needed more challenging learning activities.

Before moving any further, we met with the students to ask their input. Although Ms. Montgomery and I initially steered the students to goals that would most benefit them, our students decided to create a brainstorming list of goals they wanted to work on. After looking through their previous work, and thinking about the area in which they needed the most guidance and extension, this particular student chose to focus on “main idea and details” and highlighted her choice.

What I love about the brainstorming doc is that students can continue to go back and add thoughts or goals to work on at another opportunity. See a student-created sample below via Google Docs:

The Playlists

Here is a sample playlist:

 

First, I started learning playlists with two students who had two different learning goals. We met weekly face-to-face for one hour, but in between these sessions, students can ask me questions on a classroom I created through Recap.

Let me break down the organization of my playlist format:

  • At the top, students type their name next to “Learning Playlist”
  • Goal: Students write in the goal/target they decided upon with the teacher.
  • Track: Tracks are learning activities that can be online or offline. Some are videos, creations, games, podcasts, hands-on activities, and more. If the activity is online, hyperlink it.
  • Track Info: This gives directions on what to do or more information about the activity as a whole. Students also can hyperlink things they have created that display the track into this box as they go.
  • My Thoughts/What I Learned: Gives students a place to reflect, pose thoughts, or ask questions.
  • Track Completed: Students place a “Y” if they have completed the track; Students have said this helps them remember where they are at. Students can type an “N” if they have not completed the track yet, or some leave the box blank to show that it is not yet concluded.
  • How Will I Show What I Know: Before students go through the playlists, they think and jot down a cumulative project idea to start after their learning playlist tracks are complete. Students can review and modify their idea for this project as their learn more about their target. For example, you can see in the picture above that this student initially chose to do a 5 paragraph essay. But once they had more skill in the area, they decided they still wanted to produce a 5 paragraph essay, but to take it a step further, they would also create a podcast to show their learning in a way they have not attempted before.
  • Add your own track: Gives students a chance to start finding sources and researching potential activities that transcend learning.

Gradual Release of Learning

When we began the learning playlists, we as teachers created and culminated all of the track ideas for the students. Although I think it is important for the teacher to guide, oversee, and to embed expert curriculum resources, I realized that there is HUGE value in students also being partners in the process.

Therefore, as I continued to use these playlists with students, I would show them how I created videos to make content resources and how I vetted tracks online and offline that were worthy of their learning. Although there were bumps along the way, it lends itself to excellent teachable moments on research, creation, valid and worthwhile sources, and more. Furthermore, students WANTED to lead their own learning which is a craft that is invaluable.

In addition, time management is a skill that improves for students as they determine, through trial and error, how to pace themselves to finish tracks and complete goals without a teacher “timing” them.

Important Notes and Adjustments

  • Start individualized learning playlists in student small groups first.
  • Create Google Calendar schedules & share with your students so they know when the face-to-face meeting times are. Again, during these meetings, you will discuss learning playlists progress, provide guidance, and students will share what they have created. Feel free to alter meeting times and scheduling based on your student needs.
  • Have students begin with one goal/playlist at a time until they become familiar with the concept.
  • The tabs at the bottom of Google Sheets allow you to organize all of the different playlists in ONE sheet! Students can name the tabs based on their learning goal to keep it organized.
  • Playlists can be fitted to a mixture of grade levels, learning standards, curricular areas, and student needs. Playlists can be a supplementary resource to help bridge learning gaps, or it can be a device to extend learning to a new dimension!
  • Hold onto student playlists examples. Many of these playlists can be customized and shared with other students who need an extra boost in similar target areas.
  • Student-Created Adjustments:
    • Once a student completes their first playlist, that particular student will then show another student how to determine a learning target and how-to-begin a learning playlist of their own.
    • Students can display their learning in a variety of ways, even if it is not addressed on the learning playlists. When students think of a new way to show their learning, they can add a new track to a different row in Google Sheets. If the project is not online, they can quickly describe what their project is in the box. If the project is online, students can hyperlink their creations and ideas.
    • Students share their work with friends and family using the sharing settings of their Google Sheets.
    • Students have now started creating playlists on skills like “collaboration” to help themselves grow in non-curricular areas and to team with multiple students on one playlist.

Closing Thoughts

Ms. Montgomery just e-mailed me today to share how much her students continue to be empowered by our learning partnerships and playlists. Students talk about their learning playlists constantly; They are overjoyed to help lead their learning! Most of all, they have a blast creating and thinking outside of the box. On Friday, students even asked if they could skip recess to work on their playlists!

As you try learning playlists, feel free to take what will work with your students and modify or supplement anything that your specific students need.

Additional Resources

  • Make a copy of my learning playlist template on Google Sheets here.
  • Education Week shows how Nathan Hale Middle School uses algorithms to provide personalized learning for each of their students.
  • Jennifer Gonzalez of Cult of Pedagogy discusses how she has used learning playlists here.

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