Category Archives: Innovation

21 Things Every 21st Century Educator Should Try This Year (2018 Version)

In 2014 I wrote what would be my most popular blog post ever. Little did I know what impact (both positive and negative) this post would have in the educational world. Part of the popularity of the post was due to the Sean Junkins created infographic that accompanied the post. For the most part, people tended to look at the infographic and pass judgement on whether or not these were things that teachers “should” do in the classroom without reading the blog at all. All that to say –¬†Congratulations! If you are reading this post it means that you have taken the time to click on a link before just looking at the infographic.

Seeing that the world and education has changed (especially in the areas of technology, privacy, etc), I thought it might be a good time to rewrite the post before the start of the 2018 school year. Before I do that, a few disclaimers:

  1. I know that this is an ambitious list. We need ambition to move the needle in public education.
  2. While I love my friends in other countries, I’m not as familiar with their laws, so for the purpose of this post, put on your U.S. hat.
  3. Yes, technology costs money. Money that we are sorely lacking in public education. That said, I’ve tried to differentiate some items on this list require little to no money, just a growth mindset.
  4. The purpose of this list is not to shame teachers into trying EVERYTHING on the list. My hope is that it will generate one or two ideas for a teacher to try this year.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on to my 2018 version of “21 Things That Every Educator Should Try in the 21st Century”. A handful of these are carry overs from the 2014, but the majority are not. Many of the updates come from trends I’ve seen not only in education but also in the workplace like these Top 10 Skills Needed for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (from the World Economic Forum). Oh, and of course, check out the accompanying infographic as well…just be sure to read the full post before passing judgement. ūüôā

1. Post a question of the week on your class blog

One of the best ways to engage student (and family) interaction with your classroom is to have a class blog. ¬†While these are becoming more common, I like the trend of having a weekly student ‚Äúguest author‚ÄĚ write up the ideas and learning objectives discussed in class. ¬†This is also a good place to discuss appropriate commenting behavior on blogs and websites.

2. Have a class twitter or Instagram account to¬†post about the day’s learning

Just like a blog only smaller.¬† One of my Ed Techs (Ashley Pampe) actually created a “Social Media” team on her elementary campus. She vets and reviews all their images and blog entries before posting, but it’s an effective way for students to learn appropriate posting behaviors before they dive into the middle school world of social media. Ask parents to follow the account so they can also get a little insight into the happenings of the school day.

3. Create an infographic to help review and understand information

Infographics have become a part of everyday society. People are looking for information quickly and visually. Creating an infographic to review content is a powerful way to help those students that are visual learners. Taking this one step further – have students create an infographic as a way to convey their information on a subject. There are many free online tools out there to help with this but my favorite is Keynote (now with built in icons – it’s what I used to make the infographic for this post)

4. Debate a topic virtually and face to face

Lately the internet and social media have become a stomping ground for people to share their opinions, often in ways that they wouldn’t in a face to face conversation. We need to have students understand this medium as well as how to have an educated argument in person. Creating an environment where cordial discourse is encouraged and modeled, will help our youth as they enter what appears to be an increasingly tumultuous online future.

5. Go paperless for a week

Let me define paperless here as “no worksheets”.¬† I do thinking taking notes in a journal or Sketch-noting are valuable for learning, but for this I’m thinking more of the daily minutia. The idea behind this challenge is see if you can figure out ways to make things more digital. ¬†Maybe instead of a newsletter you print and send home, you write a blog or send a MailChimp? ¬†Or instead of asking kids to write and peer-edit each other‚Äôs papers, you ask them to share a Google doc? ¬† If your students don‚Äôt have devices, then challenge yourself to try this personally for a month…it’s much harder than you think.

6. Have a ‚ÄúNo Tech Day‚ÄĚ to reflect on our use of technology

Technology and devices have become engrained in much of what we do on a daily basis. The notifications, alerts, constant connection can do some harm if not properly balanced. For this challenge, have a day without technology. Then, have your students reflect on the experience the following day. What areas did they find a struggle? What did they notice about their daily routine?

7. Bring Artificial Intelligence (AI) into the Classroom

Many teachers already do this with the use of Apple’s Siri or Amazon’s Alexa. These “digital assistants” are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to A.I. and are becoming more prevalent in the homes around our country. Some questions to ask your students might include – What impact will these devices have when it comes to future learning? How might hey help us in the future?

8. Fly a Drone (and discuss it’s impact on society)

Not all of us have access to drones, so flying one in your classroom or outside on the school grounds may not be feasible (or legal in some cases). However, there are several examples out there now showing us how drones can help us and how they can hurt us. One thing is for certain, these are not going away anytime soon. With that said, a question for students is, what impact do drones have on our privacy rights and what legislation exists out there today around drones?

9. Facetime with an expert

With so many resources and experts available, it only makes sense to bring in someone from ‚Äúthe real world‚ÄĚ. This not only creates interest in the topic, it adds an air of authenticity. ¬†Use Google Hangouts, Facetime, Zoom or Skype to reach out to a content expert to share their thoughts around a particular subject or topic. If you can, record it and post it to your class site or embed it on your blog to generate¬†discussion at home.

10. Produce a class Audio podcast

Have students create a podcast highlighting classroom activities, projects or students.  To get it to the web quickly, post it to Soundcloud or use a tool like SoundTrap.  For the more advanced user, use a podcasting site like Podbean.com and actually get the podcast posted to iTunes.  That way mom and dad can listen to the weekly recap while going on their evening walk or driving to work.

11.  Take a Virtual Field Trip

Want to check out Machu Picchu? Maybe visit Mars? Why not take your class on a virtual field trip? The increase in ways to see virtual worlds via tools like Google cardboard and Nearpod VR, have helped bring this access to schools without the high-end cost usually associated with VR.

12. Create a classroom full of student entrepreneurs

What better ways to encourage teamwork, collaboration and global thinking that to introduce students to entrepreneurism to solve real-world problems? This past year, one of our middle schools did just that by wiping away the bell schedule and spending time with student teams identifying issues with the school and proposals for how to fix them. Expanding this to local, state or national level help introduce students to the design thinking and project-based learning to solve actual issues.

13. Design and deliver a presentation

This may seem like something every teacher can already do, so I’ll say that this challenge is more about working with students on the art and science of an effective presenting. Being able to communicate a point or idea effectively is becoming more and more of a lost art. The “3-legged” stool approach to balancing a presentation (content, slide design, delivery) can be an invaluable skill for all students going forward in life. While I prefer the use of Keynote, there are many effect tools out there that students can access to create and present from. One word of advice…take it easy on the bullet points.

14. Identify fake news and internet bots

With the current political climate and the increasing use of bots to sway public opinion, we need to help students identify what is real and what is not online. This goes far beyond “fake news”.¬† It can be something as simple as understanding the angle of a post based on its title to identifying real people versus robots on twitter. The good news (or bad news) is that there seems to be an example of this happening every day in real time.

15. Establish a space for student voice

Student voice (and choice…coming up later) is something that classrooms of the 20th century really struggled with. A teacher may ask for feedback or an answer to a classroom, calling on those with the courage to raise their hands. What if some truly incredible ideas were out there but students were too shy to share? Using tools like FlipGrid (free for educators now), you can ask for each student to give feedback to a question or even submit an online poetry slam around a scientific fact.

16. Practice mindfulness in your classroom

There is a lot of hype around mindfulness in schools, some of which is true some of which is not (see #14).¬† While the impact of mindfulness on test scores may still be open to debate, there is value taking a pause and reflecting on the now. Technology can hinder some of that, but short of banning all tech (see #6), we need discover life balance in this new “instant-on” world. Give your students 1-2 minutes to stop, breathe, reflect, and simply “be present” every day. You may find it helps their learning as well as behavior on those dreaded rainy days or test-taking days.

17. Utilize robotics to tell a story

The fourth industrial revolution will definitely feature more and more robots in our world. Use of robotics in the classroom is currently relegated to specialized elective classes or maybe a Friday afternoon of free time in a maker space (see #19). The common misconception around these tools are that they are too pricey and one-dimensional for regular classroom use. By using low-cost robotic technology systems like Trashbots, schools can now have a wide array of materials for building robots and better yet, using them in a variety of subjects other than math and science. Why not program your robot to re-enact a moment in history? Or maybe have it tell a story?

18. Augment reality in an old textbook

As witness by the Walmart raiding of Merge Cubes, Augmented Reality (AR) is becoming a new way to engage learners. However, buying a bunch of these may not be possible for every teacher. Luckily, on the back shelves of classrooms and libraries exist rows and rows of old textbooks, some of which are still in regular use. By using an augmented reality tool like HP Reveal (formerly Aurasma), you can breathe fresh life into those old textbook pages. Take a graph and make it interactive or hover over an image to reveal a more in-depth video on the subject. While AR may seem like “flashy” technology, coupling its use with existing materials can be a cost-effective way to increase engagement and deeper learning.

19. Build a maker-space for hands-on learning

A maker space is not a new thing. It used to be called “shop class” when I was in school. However, unlike its 20th century relative, maker spaces today can be built into the classroom environment. They allow room for exploration, design, and iteration. And here’s the best part for schools struggling with funding – they can be almost free and require little to no technology. A trip to the local hardware store can yield some donated materials as a trip up to the attic to dig out those old childhood legos. Much like practicing mindfulness (#16), having hands-on learning activities can increase retention and help encourage creativity.

20. Become an activist for a worthy cause.

If the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge can teach us anything, it’s that sometimes a little creativity is all you need to awareness to a cause. Whether it’s helping a country in need or finding a cure for a disease, our new connected society can be a powerful thing when galvanized for good. Participating in a global project (see #12) gives students perspective on their own lives while helping others with their life challenges.

21. Let your students drive the learning

While you could do all of these challenges by yourself, the real power comes in letting students own a piece of it.  They have the curiosity and the digital acumen, it’s the teacher’s job to give them instructional focus and empowerment.  We live in wonderfully connected times.  Despite all of technology’s perceived misgivings and the apocalyptic fears that we are losing ourselves as a society, why not use some of this power for good?

Just know that as a teacher in the 21st century you ultimately hold the key to unleash this creative beast.  So try something on the list this year that may force you a bit out of your comfort zone because there is no better way to learn than trying.

Just be sure to share your successes and struggles when you are finished as learning in isolation helps no one.

 

 

EVERYONE Who Reads This Blog Becomes Smarter, Study Shows

In what is being hailed as “game-changing” research out of the University of Michigan-Cheybogan¬†(Cheboygan Daily Tribune post here), EVERYONE who reads this blog post will become smarter. This claim was first made about 15 minutes before the post was published, when the author sent a draft form of the post to several colleagues and his older sister.¬† Their response was almost unanimous, in that they all were “significantly” smarter as a result of reading it.

The top 5 reasons for this “increase” in intelligence from the test group were the following:

  1. The use of a declarative statement in the title of the article.

  2. The use of ALL-CAPS in the title.

  3. The phrase “Study Shows” in the title.

  4. The over abundance of “quotes” around “words” spread strategically throughout the article.

  5. The use of a link to research placed very cleverly in the first sentence.

Despite the amazing claim that reading this post will increase intelligence, it has not been met with full approval by those in the scientific and educational community. One particularly well-known scholar from Maine (for the sake of anonymity, we’ll refer to him as Randy) stated that the article was “full of malarky” and that the scientific research was easily debunked. While this questioning of the research may seem like a rookie move, the author of this blog quickly took to social media to garner support for the claim. Quickly, the scientific community stepped up to the plate backing the claim that EVERYONE who reads this blog does, in fact, become smarter as witness by the following tweet from famed scientist Doctor Emmett Brown:

The author of this blog realizes this is a lot to digest in this era of “fake news” and “alternate facts” but it turns out the research bears out some significant findings that can not be refuted:

  1. Out of the 33 Cheybogan residents that read this blog on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis, they saw a significant increase of .2 in overall I.Q. scores. Besides this growth in I.Q. score, 85% mentioned a 3.6 pound average weight gain which researchers think could be due to the increase in brain size.

  2. As mentioned with the test subjects, this particular post uses the phrase “Study Shows” which instantly removes any ability from someone to refute the claims to the post. It turns out that there is a psychological reason for this. When using the phrase “Study Shows” or “According to Research” with lab rats, their immediate response was that of obedience and docility. When examined in slow motion with fancy camera technology, researchers can even see the rats shrug their tiny, hairy shoulders almost as if to say “well, we can’t refute that.”

  3. It’s on the internet and someone wrote it.

  4. It contains a tweet from someone in the scientific community.

  5. There is a link to research. And if you don’t believe that link, here’s another link.

  6. There are at least ten uses of “quotes” (now 11) within the article itself.

  7. Evidence of an anonymous person refuting the facts that is then quickly debunked.

  8. The use of bulleted or numbered lists to prove a point.

What does all this mean for humanity going forward? Where will this blog be placed in the annals of human record? It’s too early to know…after the all…the blog was only posted a few minutes ago (depending on when you are reading this part).¬† That said, if you have made it this far, you might be feeling the first strains of your new found cranial weight.¬† Due to this, the author has consulted with his attorney and would like to issue the following warning followed by a 5 minute break:

 

[5 minutes later]

If you’ve made it this far in the post, congratulations! You are in the minority. Many people who see blogs like this don’t take the time to read them all the way through before reposting them on their social media feeds. An even smaller minority will¬† take the time to research the claims being made or even the click on the links within the article.

In order for this blog post to become true, you must promise to do this with any articles that make their way on your feed or inbox from now on.¬† Watch for the warning signs: declarative statements in the title, small sample sizes in research, broken links, etc. If you do this, we can’t guarantee you’ll be smarter, but it will hopefully stop the spread of posts meant to play on our fear and anxiety or posts that pressure us into reading them in the hopes of “getting smarter” (look, another quote).

Happy surfing and stay vigilant!

 

Editor’s note: Don’t believe everything you read on the internet, no matter how true you want it to be.

The Marriage Between IT & Curriculum

Relationships are always a work in progress. Kayne and Kim. Will and Jada. Beyonce and Jay-Z. Carl and Renee. The list goes on and on.  Some couples make it, others end in divorce. While every couple has its own unique circumstances and situation, there are some common tips to make their marriage more successful.

Over the last few years, more and more, I feel like a marriage counselor when it comes to the couple known as “IT & Curriculum.” This relationship is a tricky one, because there is no way to opt out. While my district has what I would call a very healthy relationship between the two, it wasn’t always that way. And when I go out and speak with other districts, there seems to be some common problems that arise between curriculum and IT.

Last week at #TLTechLive event in Boston, I had the honor of being the opening keynote to address this topic head on. And while I won’t recap the entire presentation, I found some interesting insights over the course of our one hour “counseling session” that I thought I would share here.

Presenting the vows of Ed Tech

The Vows

Like any marriage, there need to be a set of agreed upon vows or standards. During my session last week, I donned some preacher robes (actually a graduation gown) to deliver the vows between IT and Curriculum. Here’s an abbreviated version:

“Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate this thing called….Learning.

Curriculum – Do you solemnly swear to check interoperability standards before purchasing an application?

IT – Do you solemnly swear to being open to new ideas, as long as it furthers the learning of our kids?

….in sickness and health, through printer errors and slow wifi, until death or the end of public education do us part….may I have the ringtone?”

As I recited the vows on stage, I realized that wedding vows sound an awful lot like Acceptable Use Policies.

Patient #1 – Dealing with Insecurity

With all the new applications or online textbooks being purchased almost daily it seems, our schools have many points of vulnerability when it comes to data. The IT side of the relationship wants to be open to these new programs and applications, but also is concerned about security and data privacy.

While there is no magic bullet answer to this relationship issue, many districts and states are moving toward a standard agreement when it comes to the use of student data. In fact, in Massachusetts, there is a Student Privacy Alliance which connects districts across the state to leverage the collective power in getting companies to agree to their student data privacy agreement.

With all the recent news with the Zuckerberg testimony to Congress and the subsequent avalanche of companies changing their terms of service when it comes to user data, this issue in the relationship between IT and Curriculum could soon be going away, allowing the happy couple to finally go on the honeymoon they’ve always wanted.

On stage with one of my ‘patients’ @MatthewXJoseph

Patient #2 – Spicing things up…in the classroom

If you’ve ever been a teacher and attended some state-wide or national ed tech conference, there is almost always some app or tool that you learn about that you want to try. However, when you get back home, IT says “no” before you even attempt to pilot it with your students.

The truth is, there is more than just IT that needs to vet new tools. I’ve seen many an app out there that is really just students mindlessly tapping on screens and not vetting in any type of research. In our district we have a workflow for requesting new apps for students (the app store isn’t on their iPads) as well as our League of Innovators – a group of early adopters that are willing to try and test new software or hardware. What mechanisms does your district have in place for trying new applications or tools? Is there a process for piloting new ideas?

These questions can sting an unstable relationship as it gives IT the impression that you are happy with what they are offering and your eye is starting to wander. However, a stable relationship has an open dialogue and a process for getting new ideas, if effective, into the hands of students.

Patient #3 – Feeling out of sync

After the honeymoon phase, typically a couple decides to purchase their first house. In the case of IT & Curriculum that could be in the form of a Learning Management System (LMS) or perhaps a large online textbook adoption. This new purchase has many needs and requires the attention of both sides of the relationship.

For IT, there is nothing more frustrating than finding out that Curriculum has purchased a new adoption that either doesn’t work on the district’s existing devices OR requires a lot of heavy lifting to get student data into the system. The good news is, there are more and more platforms moving to a Single-Sign On (SSO) approach and with the One Roster standard from IMS Global becoming more widely adopted, the issues of data uploads via .csv files may soon go away.

Patient #4 –¬†Worried about our kids

@SimplySuzy – final patient of the day

At some point in a relationship, kids enter the picture. With IT & Curriculum, they are there on day one. The focus of both ‘parents’ in this marriage should ultimately be the students. Many times, districts purchase expensive software or applications in the hopes of enhancing student learning.¬† But how do we know if that’s actually happening? How do we measure the effectiveness of the programs we are using?

For me, it means pulling up usage statistics of over 40 applications or online resources. This process can take more than a week and the data comes in a variety of formats which is rarely longitudinal in terms of usage. Again, the good news here is that there are now tools in development to help with this efficacy of use and ultimately, learning. One company I’ve been advising with over the past year that does this very thing is CatchOn. Their motto is simple – “Simplify the evaluation of Ed Tech usage.”

Once you have the data you need at the touch of your finger, the next challenge becomes those hard conversations in the relationship around budget. Maybe curriculum is spending too much or IT is too much of a penny-pincher, whatever the case, once you have the usage data you can make better decisions for your “family” around whether to cut a program or keep it and provide more professional learning around it.

How do we save this marriage?

Through all of the issues between this couple, the keys to an effective relationship sound eerily similar to that of an actual marriage:

  1. Better communication
  2. Empathy and understanding of both sides
  3. Being open to new ideas
  4. Working together, not separate

And ultimately…we need to stay together…for the kids.

Editor’s note: Looking to learn more? Check out my book Mobile Learning Mindset: The IT Professional’s Guide to Implementation which includes an entire chapter dedicated to the marriage between IT and Curriculum.

Trashbots: How Some Students Are Helping Educate the World in Robotics

Trashbot Co-founders Sidharth and Rohit Srinivasan with Paul Austin

I am lucky enough to work with amazing students every day in my district. That said, every now and then, some of them really stand out as change-makers in the world. This post is about a pair of brothers and their inspiration approach to educating the world in the realm of robotics using a low-cost way that “up-cycles” existing everyday materials to build their creations. Please enjoy and share the information below so we can help these guys make their dream come true!

I first met Rohit and his brother Sidharth a couple of years ago after they won the Student Start-up Competition at SXSWedu. They are both Westlake High School students and, for the past several years, taken their love of robotics and combined it with an altruistic desire to help educate youth all over the world in a low-cost way. My first impression was that these boys seem wise well beyond their years and I had to keep reminding myself I was speaking to teenagers, not adults.

For more information about their company, I asked co-founder Rohit Srinivasan to give me an overview on his company’s philosophy and mission:

Trashbots is a low-cost robotics kit with an artistic twist. Our vision has developed from multiple years of teaching STEM in the US,  Mexico, Congo and India where its founders have taught 1000+ students ranging from 1st grade to 12th grade. We observed kids need better problem-solving and creativity skills. STEM kits have been seen as a solution, but have limited impact because they require major infrastructure, and are expensive.

Right away, I love the way he his tackling a problem that isn’t unique to just schools in the U.S., but around the world. Here’s how he’s doing that in an affordable way:

To tackle this problem, we founded Trashbots. The company‚Äôs platform we have created is distinctive ‚Äď first, it maximizes creativity by allowing kids to use commonly found materials such as popsicle sticks and straws. Second, it‚Äôs less than $100 and one-tenth the total cost of ownership of alternatives because it also requires minimal infrastructure ‚Äď no active electricity or Internet, just a Bluetooth-compatible device. Third it is scalable ‚Äď the same platform can serve curriculum needs of kids from K through 12th grade by facilitating from basic building through mechatronics, 3D-printing exploration and programming with Python / Javascript.

A student in Peru program’s her first Trashbot.

Did I mention these are students? They have been doing this for many years on a volunteer basis mainly using their vacation time to travel to India and help teach kids in orphanages learn how to create and program robots.¬† And by the looks of things, they are just getting started…

Since its founding, Trashbots has spent the last 18 months developing the platform and seen strong validation from students, teachers and education administrators. We have taught 1000+ kids across Peru (at the invitation of Education Ministry), Indian orphanages, Mexican colonias, and in schools in the US in urban and rural settings.  We have conducted teacher workshops at TCEA, ISTE, and SXSWedu. Solely from word-of-mouth marketing we have pre-orders for 750 kits from 60 schools in 5 continents. In recognition of this traction, we were honored to be selected as a top 10 2017 Edtech startup by the Global Edtech Startup Association, named one of top 15 innovators reshaping Texas by Texas Monthly, and featured in the Statesman, Austin Inno and Silicon Hills News.

Over the last couple of years, we’ve seen a lot of student ideas and pitches in our student entrepreneur course at Westlake. This is different. These young men came up with this on their own several years ago and have been growing with a grass-roots style of marketing and engaging leaders from all over the world.¬† Their company is driven by three tenets:

 

  • Build differentiated products in terms of affordability and ability to enhance problem solving and creativity
  • Be community minded by embracing openness and enable makers to submit creative designs on our website and open CAD designs of key building blocks for self-serve and printing by our users.
  • Support all 1.3 billion kids, particularly in¬†under-provided¬†communities to have better access to our platform. We intend to donate kits and enable our more fortunate users to sponsor kits for students in such communities.

As they are tackling this global challenge in non-traditional ways, it’s appropriate that they are securing funding via crowd-sourcing. They are kicking off a campaign on Indiegogo to officially capture the interest in their platform.

Here’s where you come in. The way crowd-sourcing works, the more people they can get “interested” via email, the more likely they will get featured on Indiegogo and get funding. Do me a favor and sign-up (for free) to support these kids and their very impactful dream of providing all students with access to learning robotics and coding.

Please visit their Indiegogo pre-launch page at https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/trashbots-low-cost-stem-with-an-artistic-twist/coming_soon or their website at www.trashbots.org.  And if you could, share this article with other educators and colleagues that you know would support the great work they are doing (and tweet them at @trashbotsorg!)

From the minds of youth….comes our future. Show them some love my fellow educators!

When Smart Homes Attack

Editor’s note: The following is a recreation of actual events that happened on January 16, 2018 in Austin, TX. No one was harmed as a result of the events, save for some emotional scarring.

This past weekend, I decided to install a new wireless router. While this seems like a fairly mundane task of the 21st century family, what follows is an actual account of the events that transpired as a result of this.

First, some back story.

The last time I changed our home wireless router was 2012. I remember it well. It was a much more peaceful time then. Wireless connectivity was really only needed for my laptop and phone on occasion to save on data. We frolicked in the fields, played video games and watched cable television.

As what happened next will prove, present times are not so innocent and simple.

10:06AM –¬†I started the morning by unplugging my gerbil-wheel-powered first-gen Netgear router that I bought at Radio Shack.

10:07AM – I began¬†to look through the manual for my new, fancier, ultra-strong bandwidth system that’s all but guaranteed to make your skin tingle when you walk by it (It’s called something like the RoBoWiFi 3000 or the like).

10:19AM –¬†A cold chill began to fill our home as I fumbled through the various cables and plugs under my desk.

10:22AM –¬†The chattering teeth of my family alerted me to a major problem.¬†You see, we use a Nest thermostat to control our house temperature. Without wifi, it had gone off-line and in “away” mode thus shutting off our heater during the coldest day in Austin since 1884. Suddenly, I knew the pressure was one to get this new router set up.

10:27AM –¬†I went to turn on the lamp near my desk to get some better light and nothing happened. Last year, I had installed a Twist speaker bulb that was controlled by my phone through our wireless. It turns out I didn’t set it into an off-line mode, essentially, making the bulb useless.

10:31AM –¬†I hear a tremendous shriek from our living room. We had cut cable a couple of months ago, which has been great, but also meant that any type of TV watching experience was now reliant on a combination of Chromecast, FireStick, AppleTV and aluminum foil antenna.¬† My kids plans for snow-day of watching every episode of “Dragon’s Edge” was now interrupted.

10:33AM РShortly after scrambling for something to distract them under their heavy blankets, I mindlessly hand them their iPad. One problem, their favorite Animal Jam app required network access. This was getting serious.

10:35AM –¬†“Alexa, add firewood to the shopping list.”

10:35:08 AM –¬†Alexa’s response, “Sorry, I can’t connect to the network right now and are therefor a useless black monolith sitting on your kitchen counter.”

10:37AM (or so I thought) –¬†I checked my watch to see how long we had been without Wifi.¬† As chilly breath became visible out of my mouth, I realized my Smart watch no longer had connectivity.

The world was ending in the Hooker household in little less than an hour.

I saw my life flashing before my eyes but realized it was only the flashing amber light of the new router attempting to connect. Years later, when they become adults, I imagine my kids will be telling their families how hard life was for them. They’ll tell them about the time their father nearly killed them when he pulled the wifi during a snow storm. The struggle was real.

Back to reality.

10:55AM –¬†I got the wifi back online and quickly connected all our mobile devices, laptops, Nest, security systems, Alexa, light bulbs and even our Crockpot. (Yes, our Crockpot has wifi, don’t judge!)¬† The whole scene played out like that scene in Jurassic Park where Samuel Jackson was frantically trying to get systems back online. (see side bar)

Reflection

This whole experience made me reflect at how quickly we have slow-boiled ourselves into a world where we rely on constant connection. My family owns a¬† lake cabin and have recently been debating whether or not to put wireless access there. Currently it’s equipped with all the essentials of life: An Atari, board games, a campfire, and woods. Life seems different there.

Not better or worse…just different.

Today I came across a short story by Ray Bradbury called The Veldt.¬† He wrote this story in 1950 and essentially outlines a future world where our homes are uber-automated with virtual walls, virtual smells and experiences that feed off of our thoughts. Our bathtubs bathe us, our toothbrushes work automatically, and we don’t have to life a finger to fold laundry. (cue the Laundry-folding robot from last week’s CES event). I won’t give away the ending, but let’s just say, life takes an unexpected turn for this family. (here’s the cheesy 80’s video version for those of you non-readers)

In a curious turn of events, I remembered one of my favorite Deadmau5 songs is called “The Veldt” and discovered the video is essentially a shout out to this Ray Bradbury short story. After you read the story, watch the video below.

I would love you to leave your comments below and hear your thoughts on what this all means for us as parents, as humans, and as a society.¬† I don’t see this future getting any slower for us, but I think an awareness of the pros and cons of automaticity should happen as we connect more appliances to our homes.

Hold on to your butts!

 

 

Bold Predictions Sure to Go Wrong in 2018

Tim Ferriss, the renowned and often maligned podcaster and author, doesn’t make resolutions for the new year. Instead, he likes to reflect on the year that has been and look at what events in his life brings him joy and what events do not. Using that data, he then makes sure to schedule more of what brings him joy in the year to come. Not all of us have that freedom, but I do like the intent behind his reasoning in doing so.

For me, I too don’t make resolutions, I make predictions. Predictions that are not always that likely to come true, but may not be that far-fetched when it comes to technology and our classrooms. Consumerism and pop-culture certainly play a huge role in the creation of this list. For instance, the Netflix series Black Mirror¬†and the book Ready Player One definitely had some influence on this year’s list as both propose alternate, but possible futures.

As Tim does, it’s always good to go back and reflect before moving forward. If you would like to go back and look at the previous 5 years worth of predictions, look here. While I try and stick to education and technology’s influence on learning, I do sometimes stray to the world of pop-culture, politics, and everyday life.

And with that, I present this year’s bold predictions sure to go wrong in 2018:

AR will help us “see” students’ level of engagement

A few years back, the Melon Band was looking for funding on Kickstarter and I wondered what the possibilities would be for kids in school.¬† The premise- you can actually see what your focus looks like via an app on your smartphone. Now extrapolate that technology out a few years and add a level of augmented reality. I predict there will be a future where the teacher can hold up their phone or a tablet and instantly see what the level of student engagement is in their class.¬† I bet with some upgrades, you could even change your voice to the Charlie Brown teacher voice, “Wah wah wah wahhhhh” and watch their engagement tank.

Digital badging will replace college degrees

In a future world where you need to be adaptable in an unpredictable work force, being badged as an expert in several different areas could be highly marketable. Rather than spending 4 years working on one field of study, why not spend a few weeks or months getting credentialed as an HTML5 coder or a social media guru? The other benefit (besides saving more than a trillion dollars in student loan debt), would be that current employees could use badging to continue to grow, learn and improve on their craft as well as other topics they are passionate about. The flexibility and targeted focus of micro-credentials could help a company improve in areas where they have weaknesses not by hiring more people, but by improving their existing work force.

A school will fully implement AI to help with learning disabilities

Sugata Mitra had the idea of putting a “computer in the wall” to help kids teach themselves through student agency back in 2005. While this concept showed that kids with proper motivation can learn just about anything, there were still some holes to fill. With artificial intelligence and enough data points, we could get to a future where schools and classrooms can immediately learn a student’s behaviors and preferences that help them learn. The role of the teacher would be more of a project manager and instructional designer for each student in their class as they use the data to create experiences that help their students expand their future ready skills both as an individual and as a member of team.

“4D” technology will help kids truly experience history

My friend and colleague Tim Yenca (@mryenca) just returned from a trip to Disney World and recounted his experience with the Pandora ride there. The ride involves the use of virtual reality goggles and physical experiences (such as the feel of the beast you are riding actually breathing on your legs) to immerse the player into the world. With improving VR technologies and high-end resolution, it’s only a matter of time before that experience is combined with some of haptic suit (via Ready Player One) to have your students truly experience an event in history. Imagine, being in the theater when President Lincoln was assassinated? Or being on the ground when the troops stormed the beaches at Normandy? That’s the kind of experience that you can’t get from reading a textbook.

A Presidential pardon will happen via Twitter

Really? Is this that hard to envision in today’s political climate?

This year #EdTechPoetrySlam becomes a thing

My attempt at #EdTechPoetry

Shout out to Lisa Johnson (@techchef4u) for getting this idea started at the last iPadpalooza when we took 12 speakers from around the country and threw them on stage for 3 minutes without anything (no props!) except their words and microphone. I’ll admit this isn’t that bold of a prediction as I know there will be a version of this at Tech & Learning Live in Chicago (May 11) and also a soon-to-be announced exclusive after hours event during this year’s ISTE. Stay tuned for more details on that….

 

A ride-sharing app for parents will be invented

I have to give credit for this to my own local group of amazing community parents who brought up the need for this at a recent tech talk. Our students have tons of after school activities that they attend. You see a parent pick up their own kid to take them to the same place you are going with your kid after school. Rather than having parents play chauffeur to their kids and never have time to run other errands, why not coordinate all of that in an Uber-meets-NextDoor type app? This app would allow parents in a community to coordinate driving kids to similar activities thus cutting back on traffic and helping connect people with similar interests. Of course, the old fashioned way to do this would be just to go talk to another parent about this, but who does that these days?

Oprah will run for President

Just making sure you were still paying attention, but she did deliver a powerful Golden Globes speech!

Drones in education could be a thing

While the rules and regulations around drones seem to be ever-changing and all over the map, the role of these devices in our future is certainly going to be disruptive. Knowing that these devices will play a part, what do we need to teach kids about it? How can we use this technology to give us a different view on learning? This is more than a lesson on how to build a drone for sure. The sky’s the limit….(get it?)

“The Learning Festival” aka LearnFest launches with some unexpected twists

This past year was the last of our iPadpalooza event. The rebranding of this event into “LearnFest” has been a long time coming and this year will only feature a smaller prototype version of the event (LearnFest launches to the public in June of 2019).¬† That said, there are a couple of ideas we’ll be trying that I can promise you have NEVER been done at a conference or learning event. Keep alert for special invites to this year’s event by following the @TheLearnFest twitter account or this blog.

My new children’s book gets a publisher and is actually published!

This is less a prediction and more of a call for help.¬† Maybe I should launch it on Kickstarter….

A Boba Fett movie will be announced

Just making sure you read until the end. It’s been rumored but this is the year it becomes official! ūüôā

Happy 2018 everybody!

A Look Back: Bold Predictions for 2017

This marks the 5th year I’ve laid out a series of bold predictions around education and technology. Some years I’ve hit it out of the park (like in 2015 when I predicted Pearson would lose it’s massive testing contract in Texas) and others I’ve totally flubbed (like in 2013 when I said a non-Apple tablet would lead in educational sales).

Going back over the 30+ predictions I’ve made, I would say that about half of them have now come true. So while I may not be a Carnac the Magnificent, I’d say I’m just a step above Miss Cleo.

Let’s take a look back at this year’s predictions and see how close they came to becoming a reality.

Prediction: A Dual-Language school will open with coding as the second language

Outcome: Nailed it! (sort of)

More and more coding is getting integrating into the curriculum and not just become a thing to do on Fridays or for one hour in December. That said, we are still a long ways away from it truly being thought of as a second language. The state of Texas did pass a law this year that¬† counts coding as a foreign language credit, but only if a student has attempted and been unsuccessful in a traditional foreign language course. (See item 74.12.(b)(5)(B)(iv) buried deep in the TEA rules). However, some schools have now started to embrace coding as a second language and some schools (like Willmore Elementary in California) have started their own “Coding Immersion” programs in elementary.

Prediction: The POTUS will use SnapChat to give the State of the Union

Outcome: Wrong social media platform

I may have been stretching it but if you think back, I wrote this post prior to Trump taking office. Little did I know how he would utilize social media (Twitter specifically) to press forward not only his agenda but also some crazy tweets early in the morning to insult random people in the press. Thinking back at this first year in his presidency, I don’t know how far-fetched it would be for him to tweet out the next #sotu rather than deliver it. And who thought this was a good idea?

Prediction: The Learning “Movement” will take center stage at this year’s iPadpalooza

Outcome: Almost

We did take a stab at some “walk n’ talk” sessions and of course with the APPMazing Race, had people running all over the place. However, with this year being the LAST year of iPadpalooza, I will say that in the future the movement will shift more towards “learning” as we prepare to launch the next iteration of the Learning Festival formerly known as iPadpalooza. (stay tuned to http://theLearningFestival.com for more news coming in 2018)

Prediction: Someone will invent a PokemonGO type app for education

Outcome: Not quite

Much like the PokemonGO movement, this idea had legs early, but hen fizzled out. However, as you may see with a later prediction, this could be a possibility in our future.

Prediction: Data actually gets sexy

Outcome: Maybe not sexy, but mildly attractive?

There have been a slew of companies trying to make headway in this arena around Ed Tech tools lately.¬† The one I mentioned in this piece last year (CatchOn) has grown leaps and bounds and is now receiving almost a Terabyte of data from over 10 Billion data points. All that data is taking us from this exploratory phase of Ed Tech towards a more robust and meaningful approach to how we use learning technology and applications in our school. I’m excited for the future, even if it’s not sexy…yet.

Prediction: Mixed Reality makes it’s way into the mainstream classroom

Outcome: Still a ways off

My excitement for mixing virtual and augmented worlds in our classrooms may still be way off base, but I think the concept still makes some sense. We have static classrooms with dynamic devices, why not have kids explore Mars while walking across the hall or visit Egyptian tombs while drawing hieroglyphics in Art class? The possibilities are endless.

Prediction: VR-Enhanced Movies!

Outcome: It’s here…just not mainstream yet

A couple of months after I made this prediction I was made aware of the documentary “Clouds Over Sidra“.¬† This film was created for the United Nations with the intention of making government officials “feel” what it was like to be a 12-year old girl growing up in a Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. The responses from U.N. Officials were overwhelming, not only from the story but from the immersion into Sidra’s world via Virtual Reality. While this has all sorts of real-world applications, like the documentary, I’m curious to how this could affect education for the better. And more importantly, how long until George Lucas re-releases Star Wars in VR? I can’t wait to be sitting inside the Millennium Falcon next to Han and Chewy.

Prediction: The Classroom becomes “Smart” with Frank

Outcome: “I’m sorry, I didn’t get that.”

In this prediction I joked about a future classroom where much of the “low-hanging fruit” were taken care of by a digital teaching assistant called Frank. Much like Alexa and Google Home, Frank can respond to questions but also control various aspects of the classroom (imagine automated attendance!?). With the Internet of Things (I.O.T.) still in the early stages of consumer use, we likely wouldn’t see this in our classrooms for a few more years. In the meantime, we’ll have to settle for using our fingers to type out important internet searches like “When was the battle of 1812?”

Prediction: I finally publish my first children’s book…and this time I mean it!

Outcome: In progress

For the last couple of years, I’ve ended with this threat…er….prediction. It took me a couple of years of motivation, but I finally found both the story and the medium with which I want to create my first children’s book. (Check out my “7 Strange Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do in Keynote” post for a hint)¬† While I haven’t published the book yet, it’s about half-way finished and should be ready for release in the Spring of 2018. Stay tuned for more details on that and if anyone knows of a good children’s book publisher…send them my way.

So that wraps up another year of bold predictions. I have to say that this past year was my best year so far, but I don’t want to start patting myself on the back quite yet. Now it’s time for me to go into my private bunker and strategize what will make 2018 list. Flying school buses? Self-tying tennis shoes? Tune in to find out.

Until then, see you on the other side.

 

 

 

7 Strange Things You Didn’t Know You Could Do In Keynote

I use Keynote for MacOS for pretty much everything these days. I’ve even starting teaching some “Keynote Master Class” courses for teachers and coaches in my district and at other events that I’m a part of.¬† Even in rooms with the most polished Keynote users, I always show them something they didn’t know they could do with it.

Here are a few things I bet you didn’t know you could do with Keynote:

1. Make your own icons

With the latest iOS11 update there is now a bevy of new icons available. All of these icons can be manipulated, edited, color formatted, and broken apart. However, there may be times when the icon you are looking for is not in Keynote. Did you know you could create your own?

Here’s how.¬† Let’s say you are wanting to make a cloud icon different than the one in the shapes kit. Simply make a bunch of overlapping circles, select all of them, then click on “Arrange” and “Unite” to create a solid icon that you can now change into multiple colors. This is different than “Group” as it binds all the assets together into one solid shape. You can also use tricks like “subtract” to create voids or spaces in your shapes (like when creating an iPad icon).

Once you’ve finished creating your new icon, two-finger click (right-click) on the object and choose “Save to My Shapes”.¬† You’ll be prompted to give it a name and from now on, this icon will appear on your “My shapes” list in Keynote.

2. Create a Choose-your-own-Adventure story

Do you remember HyperStudio stacks? How about those old Choose-Your-Own-Adventure stories? With slide hyperlinking in Keynote you can recreate this same feel by making text or images “hyper-linkable”. Two-finger click (right-click) on an object to “Add link” then select Slide as the link destination. Select the slide that you want the image to link to.¬† The good news is, you can re-arrange slides and the links will remain intact.

 

3. Make powerful Infographics

Keynote comes with multiple export options including images and PDFs.¬† You can also change the size and shape of your keynote slide in the “Document” menu of your presentation. Besides the standard and widescreen options, you can create a “Custom slide size.”¬† One note, do this BEFORE you create your slides or infographic as it will alter the images and text on your slide if you do it after the fact.

Now that Keynote comes pre-built with icons and you can create your own (point #1), you can design, group, and arrange items on a longer slide that is visually appealing. Since Keynote has pre-built guides, it will do the spacing for you and lock them into place when they are evenly distributed.

Once you are done creating your infographic, export it as either an image or a PDF to share with others in device agnostic formats.

Side note: I also use Keynote to create custom banners for Google Forms, since you can change the slide size to something wide (Like 940 x 360) and export it as an image. (I even made the featured image for this blog post in Keynote)

4. Create a Color Pop effect with black & white images

I love seeing black & white images where a part of the color of the image stands out. In the past, if I wanted to make this “Color Pop” effect, I had to import the image into Photoshop, remove the color, create a layer, lasso the object, add back the color, etc.¬† Now, since I can change the slides into any custom size and import as an image (see #3 above), that means I can do the same thing with an image that I alter.

Here’s what you do:

  1. Add the color image you want to alter to your slide.
  2. Customize your toolbar (go to View->Customize toolbar…) and add the “Adjust Image” tool and the “Instant Alpha” tool to your tool bar.
  3. Select the image. Copy/paste it on top of itself.
  4. Select the image and click on the Adjust tool.
  5. Turn the saturation all the way down (-100)
  6. Using the Alpha tool, carefully remove part of the black and white image (click and drag in small amounts) to reveal the color image behind the black and white image.
  7. For bonus, add a text box that matches the color with a quote or saying (use the eye drop tool on the color palette to match colors)
  8. File -> Export to…Images

Here’s a finished example:

5. Design art for a Children’s book

Every year I try and predict certain educational or technology innovations. I also use this post to “blackmail” myself into trying something different and expanding my skill set. This year, I said I would create a children’s book and after months of struggle, I found inspiration in a strange place….Keynote.¬† Since you can create and edit your own icons (#1 on this list), and Keynote comes with a freehand drawing tool, I can now create icons and characters for the book and design all the art on custom-sized Keynote slides (#3 on this list).

I don’t want to give away the final design as it’s still in draft mode, but because I’m creating this entire book in Keynote, that means I can also “read” it to kids in full-screen mode (via Keynote) once it’s published. I’ll even add animations to it…

6. Create a GameShow Spinner (as seen on Jimmy Fallon)

I absolutely LOVE the random celebrity generator that Jimmy Fallon uses on his show to get celebrities to do impersonations of others or singing random songs. (Here’s a good example of Ariana Grande remixing songs with other artist’s voices.)¬† As I watched this bit, I wondered…could I recreate that random wheel spinner in Keynote?

It turns out the answer is yes. It takes a lot of steps so rather than list it out, I created a little video of how I did it:

 

7. Recreate the Stranger Things opening title animation

This was admittedly just for fun until my friend from down under (Jonathan Nalder @jnxyz) approached me to create a workshop on thinking creatively or “Stranger Thinking”.¬† I decided to see if I could use Keynote to re-create the iconic opening credits from the hit Netflix show Stranger Things.

Using the Magic Move transition and the soundtrack to the show, I was able to recreate my own version of the opening sequence. Here’s how:

  1. First I created the “ending” slide, or where I wanted the words to end up when they finished moving. For this particular animation, I broke apart the words into different parts and changed the shadow to red with some blur to give it a semi-neon effect.
  2. I found a found that matched the show opening (Benguit font) to create my word and made some transparent rectangles with red borders to create the moving shapes coming into focus.
  3. After I finished the ending slide, I duplicated it. On the first slide, I moved all the objects off the slide canvas into various areas in the grey area around the slide so it starts out blank.
  4. I then added the Magic Move transition and set the duration to 10 seconds.
  5. I added the Stranger Things audio file to the slide deck soundtrack. (choosing Document->Audio)
  6. I recorded the slideshow (Play-> Record Slideshow)
  7. I exported the file as a Quicktime movie.

Here’s the final result:

Now that I’ve started unlocking the potential of Keynote, I know I’m going to find more uses for it in the future. I also am working on making the above instructions into instructional videos on my YouTube channel for HookerTechTV. One person to follow that has really expanding the uses of Keynote is Katie Morrow (@KatieMorrow). She recently released a “Coding in Keynote” project and has even used Keynote to create 3D Hologram images.

10 Demands For Professional Learning – A Ransom Letter

Dear administrators, 

Listen carefully! We are a group of individuals that represent a large faction of educators. While we respect the way you have run the training methods of your organization in the past, it is time for a change. As such, we are holding your teachers’ learning hostage. Their learning is safe and unharmed at this time, however, if you would like to release their learning, you must meet our list of demands when it comes to how you provide training for adults. Failure to meet these demands will result in the wide-spread lack of professional growth and lack of improvement in pedagogical practice by your staff.¬†

 

 

 

It doesn’t hurt to spend a little energy and effort promoting professional learning and getting teachers excited for it. Come up with a theme and make it feel like an exclusive “members-only” type event. While some of them may come because they “have to”, it helps start the training off with excitement and energy. One example would be to send out a video or graphic that highlights the training in a fun way. Here’s one that takes a “Point Break” theme to make learning about High Quality Assessments just a tad more exciting:

 

 

 

Building on the buzz and excitement from your promotion, take some time to create an atmosphere for your training event. This can be as simple as having some appropriately-themed music to adding some simple decorations around the tables. When someone walks into your room, they should be excited about being there, not dreading it. Know that many educators are entering your room with the expectation that this will just be another 6 hours of “sit n’ get”, which is why it’s important to create that exciting first impression when they walk in. Have fun activity for them that involves more than just making a name card like “tweet what your first job ever was” or “find a picture of what super hero best represents you”. This will give you as the trainer an opportunity to connect with the attendees as well as give you some material that you can use later.

 

 

 

Research shows that hunger affects the brain and cognitive development. While we know funding is always tight and food is the first thing to get cut, this is a list of demands. If you want your staff to learn, make sure they are not hungry. This doesn’t mean you have to provide a 5-course meal, it can be as simple as a basket of chocolate or some protein-heavy snack mix. Having protein in your diet not only creates better avenues for neurotransmitters to help with learning and retention, it increases happiness according to this study.

 

 

 

And this doesn’t mean have 10 minutes set aside for walking around and adding notes to those giant sticky chart papers on the walls. Take a moment and put yourself in the shoes of the attendee. Would you attend your own professional learning? “Fun” can sometimes be a negative word when it comes to learning and it shouldn’t be. Making learning fun, even for adults, will not only increase engagement in the learning, it will keep them coming back for more.

 

 

 

Having periods of movements or “brain breaks” throughout your training not only provide some much needed breaks from what is being input into the brain, research shows that movement facilitates brain plasticity (essentially the science of having the brain learn something new). Doing a brief improv activity or having your attendees move and stretch increases oxygen flow to the brain as well as this plasticity. A side-effect of doing a group improv activity is that it creates an environment of trust and risk-taking as well as collegiality between staff that might not normally be working along side one another.

 

 

 

How many times have we heard that adults shouldn’t lecture children all day? Do we think that what’s best with pedagogy wouldn’t also apply to what’s best with andragogy? Who’s doing the work and talking during professional learning? If it’s more the instructor than then the attendees, you need to rethink how you are engaging your adult learners. When outlining your day for professional learning, ¬†try and employ somewhat of a “chunk n’ chew” method to the day. Break the day up into 20-30 minute segments that involving both introduction of a new skill, but also time for attendees to try it out and discuss ideas for application.

 

 

 

Taking into account the demands for engagement, movement, and making things more student-led, you must create opportunities for staff to collaborate on an idea or solve a problem. Providing time for collaboration in your professional learning allows opportunities for staff to discuss best practices around a topic or share strategies around a particular pedagogical problem.

Taking time for collaborative conversation at a recent training

 

 

 

Learning new things and skills takes a lot of cognitive ability. Having a training where all you do is show a series of new tools or tricks can be overwhelming to the brain and makes it nearly impossible to internalize all of it. As mentioned in demand #6, creating “chunk n’ chew” learning opportunities throughout the training will give staff an opportunity to try out the new skill as well as plan for application. Taking time to plan for application of the skill when it is learned, has a greater chance to translate into actual practice in the classroom.

 

 

 

We try to differentiate for learners in our classrooms, why not do the same for staff? Every single person comes into a training session with a different set of prior skills, knowledge, and preferred learning methods. When planning your professional learning, you need to allow opportunities for both the struggling learners and the high-flyers to be successful. This can be as simple as sharing your outline for the day ahead of time on Google docs or a website so that some can go at their own pace, while others can revisit a newly learned strategy.

 

 

 

Our final demand is that you provide some time for staff to reflect on what they have learned. ¬† When planning the professional learning experience for your staff, make sure there is time to reflect throughout the day. This doesn’t mean just spend the last 5 minutes reflecting on something they learned that day, but rather actual pockets of time throughout the day where they can reflect in the medium of their choosing. After all,¬†educational reformer John Dewey once said, “We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”

We feel our list of demands are not unreasonable. Please secure these demands prior to your next professional learning event or your teachers’ learning will suffer the consequences.¬†

Sincerely,

The E.B.P.L. (Educators for Better Professional Learning)

Creating Time for Your Inner-Genius

I had a major problem in my last year as a first grade teacher. I had been teaching for several years and the students were so far ahead with two months to go that I had to figure out what to do with them. The year before, I decided to give them a head start on second grade curriculum thinking they would lose some during the summer break. I discovered that this was a major no-no and akin to taking a teacher’s personal parking space. Following a pretty good tongue-lashing by the second grade teachers, I was entering April with a choice, do I do it again? ¬†Or do I figure out something else to do for our final 2 months together?

One thing that always bothered me as a teacher was the curriculum. The school I was teaching at and the team I was teaching with would rarely stray from it. The Teacher’s Edition was like a Holy Bible for a newer teacher as it provided the scope, sequence and pacing of delivery of content. There was one MAJOR problem with this….it didn’t take into account the kids. I was forcing them to learn math through fake story problems involving trains moving in opposite directions and learn history of whatever the textbook or standard dictated and never any more than that.

So with almost all the first grade content covered and a couple months of school left, I decided to consult the most important people in the school about what to do with the time….the students. I asked them what they wanted to learn about for the remainder of our time together. I had hoped for maybe one or two ideas but instead I got 22 different ideas for 22 different kids. It makes sense when you think about it. They each are unique and have different passions, so why wouldn’t they come up with things they are interested in? ¬†The choices ranged from tornadoes to the actress Rachel Weisz (yes, a little boy named Sean was obsessed with her).

After gathering their list of ideas I presented them with a challenge – tie in all the core areas of curriculum – writing, science, reading, math and social studies into their passion and present a final project the represents all of these areas. While the school day was still fairly structured with centers and finishing up the final pieces of first grade curriculum, I started giving them an hour or more each day to work on their “passion project”.

I didn’t know it at the time, but this is exactly the way companies like Google work with their 20% time. It’s also the basis behind the concept of “Genius hour” in schools. Spend the majority of your time working on the “work” but then carve out pockets of time to explore your passions and inner genius. I’ve also heard it referred to as “Interest-based Learning.” ¬†Whatever you want to call it, I stumbled into it my last year of teaching and immediately had regret. Not regret for doing it, but regret for not doing it sooner.

The content of our COWs – Apple’s iBook

The classroom bubbled with energy whenever the students had time to work on their projects. With only 4 computers in the room (do you remember Compaq computers?), they had limited research time and time to create. I ended up locating the one COW (Computers on Wheels) at the time which was full of a dozen pearl-white Apple iBooks (image left). I told the rest of the school that¬†I would be the computer “farmer” in charge of the COW until the end of the year as my kids were using it heavily to wrap up their projects.

The amount of creativity energy flowing out of room 52 that year was breath-taking.¬†During the last week of school, each of the students presented their passion project. I invited their parents in to see the final outcomes. Mary’s project on horses involved a history of horse migration to North America, an original poem on horses, and even math story problems on horses (“If two horses leave a barn at the same time heading in opposite directions…”). ¬†Every student rose to the challenge and while it was hard for some to tie in the core content areas (Rachel Weisz was particularly challenging), they each accomplished the goals on the rubric.

So how do we make the time in schools for students to follow their inner-genius or passion? Some schools create Genius Hour time one day a week or one class period a week. Others, like one of our elementary campuses, creates something called “Enrichment Clusters” (based on the work of Joseph Renzulli) where not only do the students get to explore their passions, but the teachers get to teach their passions as well. Courses range from coding to yoga to golf in these clusters where students learn and ultimately present their project at the end of a 9-week time period.

As the students in my class wrapped up their projects that year, I felt extremely rewarded for making the choice I had for our time together those final weeks.They had the time to explore their inner-genius and had rewarded me by showing their learning. Thusly, I wanted to reward them for taking on this idea with such fervor. I tried to find some sort of trinket or object for each of them associated with their project. The boy¬†who’s passion was Harry Potter got a stuff-three headed dog named Fluffy. The girl who was passionate about surfing got a charm bracelet full of different surf boards.

Oh, and in case you are wondering what happened with the student who created the Rachel Weisz project, I decided to reach out to the actress’ handlers¬†but didn’t get a response. I ended up asking Sean to present on the last day just in case she decided to send a note or something. On the last day of school, his reward arrived:

It’s amazing what students can accomplish if you give them some voice and some choice. As a teacher, we need to figure out how to make this time for our students. We all have an inner-genius, we just need the time to explore it.