Friday, March 18, 2016

6 Free Classroom Innovations

As the Director of EdTech for my district, I hear teachers ask me for technology all the time.  If they only had this then they would be able to teach better, incorporate that, or be innovative.  I don't have the budget to accommodate everything, Plain and Simple.

I was told at the beginning of my career that free is not only a necessary thing, but invaluable.  Can teachers innovate in education with free?  The answer is yes, with creativity.  If this is the most important resource that we have, we need to ensure that teachers are not only trying to inspire creativity (one of the Common Core's 4C's), but that they are modelling it.

Innovations are Free:
1. Rearrange your room.  Your room arrangement supports learning in different ways. Before you get a bunch of technology, get out of the rows.  I have seen classrooms with students in rows, with and without technology and I would call neither innovative.  Get your students in groups, divide them up by interest, something.  By innovating the way that your students are sitting in the classroom you can shift the way that you interact with them...For Free.

2. Theme your classroom.  There are schools becoming academies with a focus and a school-wide shift in instructional focus.  So you may not have that kind of power to move the entire school, but who is to stop you from having your students act as product designers, fashionistas, entrepreneurs, create a student-generated weekly class newspaper for parents, etc.  The idea is that your curriculum is connected through a single thread. Through this thread, students are required to design, write, create, promote, research, and present.  Effectively hitting the standards through a class-wide focus.

3. Close the Textbook.  There a bunch of online resources that you can have students learn from.  This may take some technology, but you could do this in the computer lab or have a computer station somewhere in your building (definitely doesn't need a 1:1 environment).  Or use the social capital of the school and take advantage of the Funds of Knowledge of your community.

4. Change your focus.  Stop being a giver of knowledge and be a guide to understanding.  We are teachers because we believe that students can learn.  At the heart of everything, if we do not hold this belief, then we have made an unwise career choice (euphemism). To change our focus, we need to change how we think that students learn.  Create experiences and challenges that guide students to an understanding, not a piece of knowledge.  Focus on the process of design and creation.  Connecting to data collection, tally the number of questions versus answers-to-questions you give on a daily basis.  If you give info, then you are telling.  If you ask questions, then you are making the students research, read, summarize, and report findings (learning).

5. Collect Data to help personalize student learning.  I am often amazed by the number of people who cannot answer the question, “How do you know your students learned that?”  If students are not learning, then you are not teaching.  One requires the other.  Teaching without learning is just talking.  If you are not collecting data (online formative assessment, exit tickets, self assessment journals, etc.) then you cannot accurately state that your students are learning, or have learned the topics covered.  Does it need to be digital with pretty graphs? No.  It needs to be something that you can look at quickly before the students leave the classroom or before they come the next day to class.  If it is not data you can view quickly, then by the time you look at it, it is no longer relevant or accurate.

6. Teach as little as possible to let the students learn as much as possible. It is ok if you are not the end-all and be-all of everything knowledge.  With the internet, this is more of an unrealistic and unnecessary goal. If you can learn it from a google search, on-demand, then why memorize it. Students need to learn how to find and what to do with the information. The innovation comes with time spent in class. How much time are you in front of your class lecturing?  If the answer is a lot, then the class focus is on you and gaining facts of your limited knowledge.  Give them a task, not a fact. Spend more time with students solving problems in groups and spend your time going around and asking/answering questions.  You do not have to tell something for it to be learned, and if you are good at not telling them things, they will often learn something that you didn't know. That's OK.  I love the definition of learning. “gain or acquire knowledge of or skill in (something) by study, experience, or being taught.” How do students learn in your classroom?  Do they study, gain experience, or are they taught?

From top to bottom, in a school district, the focus should not be on the device as a prerequisite for innovation.  The device is an amplifier for innovation.  Truly innovative people are very good at 4 things: Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, and Creativity.  Oddly enough, these are the same four things that the Common Core says are vital in instruction.  Go figure.  If we want to ensure our students are college and career ready, then maybe we should model college and career readiness.  We talk about great instruction as being modelling, showing, discovery, and celebration.  What better way to model, show, and inspire discovery than to be creative with your innovation.  Not only will this work, but your professionalism will be celebrated.

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