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Friday, June 7, 2013

Get your students to WRECK their LEARNING using SMASH Book and Wreck This Journal mentality.

The reality of the typical school experience for our kids is hands-off, with sterile curricula, worksheets, books, and tests that encourage passive learning and judgment by others rather than active learning, creating, and problem-solving within THEIR world and community. The kids have adapted to it and are comfortable in it....because that's just the WAY IT IS. It's time to Wreck that.

I started the SMASHbook last year by showing my 6th graders the video below. (I smash the two words together, by the way.) They were mesmerized by it, seriously. They LOVED IT and embraced the Smashbook idea. We spent time in class with TONS of supplies out like hot glue guns (oh how 6th graders love those things) and just every little thing I could find.



I did not use the SMASHbooks consistently last year. Wish I had. 2012-13 was a year of new use and exploration of IdeaPaint Tables and iPads and the start of Workshop Model. Consistent use of the SMASHbook fell by the wayside.

Found Keri Smith and her many interactive and fun books thanks to Twitter, of course, and +Brain Pickings. Keri's books encourage learners to take control of their world by manipulating it in off-the-wall ways. Watch the video below of a girl's experience with her Wreck this Journal. (Here is an earlier blogpost inspired by Keri Smith.)


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This plays perfectly into the Workshop Model idea of kids marking the text and being intentional about their learning.


How can I blast kids out of a PASSIVE learning MODE into an ACTIVE one to where they are interacting readily and feverishly with ideas and patterns they see in text, video, the outdoors, the world?
  • Active Journaling/writing is the KEY but kids must learn HOW to BE active learners, investigators, thinkers, and writers.
  • I'll use the spirit of the Smash Book and Keri's Wreck this Journal to KICK-OFF their active Science and SS Journal experiences. They'll do crazy things to their journals; perhaps I'll make a list of 'ideas' and choices/options for them to do in their journals to get MESSY and GET USED TO physically and then MENTALLY interacting with their world. THIS IS VITAL. If I can get them into this mode full-bore from the 1st week of school, I'll have them out of their institutionalized learning shells and ready to run and grow...and experience the magic of self-directed learning and thinking. Add the community experience of an entire classroom or team or school on the same type of journey and there is more magic, growth, and enjoyment. We'll work in rigor and ways of thinking/analyzing as the year goes on.
    •  If I had the money to purchase the Wreck this Journal books for all my kids this year I would do it. It would be a great activity to do with a big chunk of time, perhaps as an entire grade level or team. I envision free time, lots of supplies out for use, snacks, and time to launch into their Wreck this Journal book with all their creativity and zeal and enthusiasm. Then we'd share in small groups, large groups, and class. iMovie to showcase. Hmmm, I shall talk to my art and music teachers as well for inspiration and invite them into the fun.
  • Once the kids have the Wreck this Journal mentality in place for jumping into the world around them, we'll delve into ways of thinking/manipulating/organizing thoughts. 
    • I'll encourage the same thing on the IPADS. With the class set of iPads, what tools can kids use to approach iPad journaling with the same interactive rules? I welcome feedback, suggestions, tips from the peanut gallery. :)

*The idea of INTERACTING physically and mentally with your world is the heart of real learning. Learning is personal and that's where I'm intentionally taking the kids next year, all year through active SMASHbook journals. My wish is they take this mentality with them into the rest of their days... 



Thursday, June 6, 2013

Workshop model in my 6th grade classroom (video)

I'm currently reading So What Do They Really Know by Cris Tovani. It is a signed copy, I might add. :) As a member of a district cohort that is spending next year piloting this model in my classroom and working closely with Cris Tovani and Sam Bennett, I jumped into Workshop model this Spring. I liked it. A lot. It is a subtle shift and a powerful one. Can't wait to blog about my experiences, struggles, and successes throughout next year and dialogue/share/learn with brilliant educators like YOU, who are reading this now. :) 

The lesson you see in the video below was on the 5 Kingdoms of living organisms. (I started with 5 kingdoms instead of 6 kingdoms for introduction purposes.)
  • I found an article that was written in an easy to understand format WITH pictures and 'hooks.'  5 Kingdoms text
    • The kids had positive feedback to give me after the lesson.
    • Several asked if we could do more of this...this reading, writing, thinking. LOL 
    • Several reported they had no idea there were even 5 Kingdoms and almost none of them knew what algae was. They liked the word, 'fungi!' They were TALKING about what they read the next day without being asked.

Here's what happened in class prior to this video footage/activity. 

photo creditTaylor Dawn Fortune via photopin cc
  • I did a mini-lesson in which I modeled how to annotate, or interact with the text.
  • The kids were encouraged to write questions, comments, ahas, and notes and also to circle and underline parts they thought were important. I gave no specific guidelines for the number of annotations or other specifications. INTERACT was key. No right or wrong way to do it. 
  • I encouraged them to TALK BACK to the text and WRITE all over the page in the margins, rather than simply PULL information FROM IT for notes as we typically did in class. WORK IT!
  • I modeled aloud and on paper annotating on the first two pages (under the doc cam); they watched and worked along with me. After they saw how I  annotated/talked back to the text, they dug in and got down to the business of interacting and learning. They were engaged in a highly personal affair. 

  • I told the kids that talking/discussing ideas with others had no place during this portion of the lesson. I explained why. I wanted their focus to be on developing and recording their own thoughts, questions, musings about the text. If they were talking to others, then they weren't talking JUST TO THE TEXT! Be polite and give the text your full attention, just like you would a friend. :) Discussion is coming, I told them. Discussion is super-important as well and you will have the chance to talk and listen with others.



I walked around and conferred, or talked with them after I recorded with my iPhone. I looked at their annotations and then talked with them to find out what they 'got' or didn't 'get.' There were a couple times I jumped in for Catch and Release. This helped me plan for the next day.

The kids honestly enjoyed this lesson. They had TIME to read, write, think, question, and wonder on their own terms and they could write WHAT THEY THOUGHT on the paper. They were curious and actually quite surprised at some of the things they read. It impacted them because they were able to make it their own. It belonged to them. It was personal. I followed this up the next day with guided annotated notes that included specific questions to help them pull out key comparisons between kingdoms followed by debriefing/discussion between the kids and in class.

Who was doing the work and the learning?

This took the kids longer than I thought it would. Reading, marking up a text that contains complex or new ideas, and then making sense of it for yourself cannot be done in one hour. It was well worth the days we spent on it.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

NMMS teachers and students wave goodbye after a wonderful year together!

The last day of school is always a bittersweet day. Bonds you formed all year come to end but summer brings new beginnings and fun times!

It took longer than normal to get our 1000 kids on the buses in the midst of smiling, hugging, crying, and good-byeing. Once they were there we did THE WAVE, our annual tradition, as the buses drove away. Happy feelings on both sides of the street. :)




I used video from my iPhone to create this iMovie trailer. Took 15 minutes to make. 
Exported it to Dropbox and then uploaded it to Youtube. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

THIS is my Curriculum!

how to be an explorer of the world by keri
        how to be an explorer of the world, a photo by keri on Flickr.
From the book How to Be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith (as described by Brainpickings!)

THIS IS IT! THIS is my overarching CURRICULUM for my 6th graders. Be an Explorer of the World--wherever you are in the world at any given moment.

If I can help kids see and approach their wide world DAILY through this lens of discovery, observation, questioning, pattern-seeking and curiosity...I will have done the job I believe in my heart to be an educator's highest calling.

Kids become emboldened and enlightened when they get the chance to experience this type of learning and it changes kids at their core for the rest of their lives. They become lifelong learners... and lifelong learners change the world!

The detailed, lengthy and often void-of-life curriculum/standards that educators get handed each school year are uninspiring and too detailed; they are lacking in the spirit of the things shared above that are CENTRAL to inspired learning and living!

Every August it's the same story. "Here! This is what you'll teach for the year. Oh yes, and there's a test over all of it and you better make sure the kids' scores are high. A lot is riding on the scores. Your scores will be printed and compared to those of other teachers."



The system dictates our focus as educators from the get-go! Our #1 focus is about information and tests; it's not about the kids and the best ways for them to learn or ways to give them choice and say and opportunities. It's not about teachers free to collaborate and create connected, thematic, AWESOME unit plans for the kids. This is not the fault of the educators or schools, it is driven from the high-stakes tests and curriculum/standards. You get my drift? This routine will start again this August here in the US.

I've always been struck by how LIFELESS the curriculum/standards are and how we educators have no hand in crafting them! So many pages and so many numbers and letters and all in fine print! I would make them simpler, broader, and have them include more about the WORLD outside the school doors--community knowledge. Thus, each community/area/region would have differences in their curriculum. Kids should be able to walk outside the school doors and talk about things that surround them; problem-solve and take action as needed. Could they do that now?! No, because they're rarely outside and they're not given time to explore, discover, and look for patterns when they are outside. This takes time and the curriculum and tests rob us of that time...they rob the KIDS of that joyous time.

The HIGH-STAKES tests in place, and largely accepted and not avidly discussed/debated/acted on by teachers, are the PROBLEM. A high stakes test tied to any curriculum necessitates teacher (and thus student) energies are focused at whatever is on the test. Instead of thinking and learning outside the box, lid open, guided by broad curriculum AND student interests, the tests keep the kids inside the box focused on the long list of things, working toward right answers. Kids are doing what they're told instead of thinking of questions and seeking patterns, answers, and expressing and creating.

When all is said and done, if your district funding or ranking, or your own pay is determined by student scores on a long and mysterious high-stakes test written by people somewhere else in the world making lots of money off the kids, by the way, then the TEST will be what's RUNNING the SHOW.

What RUNS our schools? The high-stakes tests and curriculum/standards do. Period. That needs to be flipped on its head! Kids' well-being, learning, and opportunities for leadership and choice should rule. That should be the pulse we're all running off of, not the pulse of the test.

The high-stakes tests are responsible for something else I see as a problem: keeping the status quo of often boring classes offered at the high school level; classes that are not chosen by kids (were they asked what classes they'd LIKE to TAKE?) and often not tied to real world jobs/disciplines. If I could craft my own set of classes for kids to take at high school, there would be MUCH MORE CHOICE, a much wider variety of classes, including classes that tie closely to jobs/disciplines. Kids know so very little about what they want to BE when they grow up. Big part of the reason is they waste time in classes that are not anything they're interested in and are not aligned with THEIR learning goals for the real world of jobs and beyond. What they really want to say....GIVE ME AWESOME things to learn, GIVE ME CHOICE, GIVE ME TOOLS and TIME, GIVE ME A SAY IN MY OWN LEARNING AND MY OWN DAY.

WHO says we need high stakes testing? I'm being honest and frank here. Why can we NOT throw high-stakes testing out the window? The only question that needs to guide this discussion is this: WHAT IS BEST FOR KIDS? I want to dialogue about this. What would educators say if we could vote on this one issue? I say it's time to chuck it out the window. Give us curriculum/standards to light the way, but give us a say in what those should be and how they should be written and don't tie them to high-stakes tests for goodness sake!

You cannot 'test' being an Explorer of the World. That is what kids need to have a chance to be...