Extreme Makeover, Classroom Edition

I have a boring classroom. There! I said it! I don’t have fancy things on the walls or living room furniture or a teepee for kids to read in. I have desks and chairs. I justify it because I don’t want kids to be distracted. Kids and teachers have information flying at them all the time from all directions. Why should it fly at us from the walls of the classroom, too? But, during our Learning Spaces Exploration, I realized our classroom isn’t conveying the message I want for my students or myself. So it’s time to make some changes for everyone. I need to go from regular teacher to hacker-teacher (Edutopia, 2019) in order to break our classroom down and think about how each piece contributes to the whole.

What is our current classroom saying about the learning that happens there?

The groups of desks in our room currently show collaboration and student interaction. This is a great message to my kids. This aspect will stay the same to ensure my students are effective communicators. 

However, there are some not-so-great messages coming across from our layout. Our back room is closed-off from the classroom. Not only is it used for small group work, but it’s where kids go when they’re not making such good choices and need to cool down. If, as an adult, someone sent me to a “back room” I would feel isolated and punished. This is not the message I’m trying to send when I send kids back there. Another area of our classroom I’m not proud of is the front lesson area. I teach mini-lessons here. They’re quick, but intense, as they carry a ton of information and require a lot of focus from the kids. But the area they sit in is small and squished, especially as they get bigger throughout the year. They sit in rows facing the me most of the time. This is good for when they’re receiving direct instruction from me. But they also need to collaborate by turning and talking in quick spurts. They’re learning so much here, they should at least be comfortable and be able to collaborate easily. If I give kids the option not to come to the front, they don’t. No wonder they hate it! It’s tiny and uncomfortable and they’re sitting in rows like they’re back in a weird kindergarten. They don’t learn as much as I expect them to from the mini lesson. These are just some of the physical aspects of the many changes I anticipate happening in our classroom this year to better the learning here.

What kind of culture do we want for teaching and learning?

Emotionally, I want students to feel known, supported, and loved in our classroom. Academically, I want them to feel empowered, motivated, and in charge of their learning. Socially, I want the kids to feel connected to each other and have good relationships. If kids know each other and their teachers well, they’re less likely to fall through the cracks (Education Week, 2013). All these areas should compliment each other in our classroom environment. The physical layout of my classroom needs to reflect that.

How Can I Change our Classroom to Reflect Teaching and Student Learning?

Think Tank

The first thing I’m planning on changing is the back room. From Education Week I was inspired to rename it the Think Tank (2013). I think this will encourage students to use it as a reflective area instead of an isolated area. This way, when they get in there for a small group the environment makes them want to put their most powerful and motivated thinking hats on. Also, if they need to cool off or talk to me individually about their day is going or if something is bothering them, they can use this space to reflect and/or discuss their thoughts with me. This helps the space not feel like a punishment, but an empowerment. 

Fab Vocab

I also want to add a fab vocab wall. This is something my students have struggled with in the past. In order to have an effect on the learning goals in our classroom, I’d like it to be a focus of the physical classroom as well. 

Student Work

Another specific modification I want to add to our room is to include student work as an option for reading material. This gives kids a sense of purpose in their work and motivates them to write pieces their peers want to read (Scholastic, 2013).

Posted Expectations

I would like to post the expectations of the room more clearly. I’ve always posted the social contract we make together and this works well. I will continue to discuss what the students expect out of the room and hold each other accountable for those specific things. But I would also like to have bigger ideas for simply being a good person around the classroom. 

21st century learner

I want innovative thinking to be a focus in our classroom of future leaders. Before, in the industrial age of schooling, teachers had the knowledge and students lined up to receive it. Hence the layout of rows and direct instruction from the front of the room. Now, everyone has information (Ignite (Macdonald), 2011). 

The job of the teacher is to support and facilitate the learning and materials. Therefore, I want our classroom to that. I don’t want the board to be considered the front of the room. I want it to be difficult for someone to come in and identify the “front” of the room or even find the teacher quickly. I want there to be a meeting space, and for students to have a zone where they keep their things and to think of as a home base. However, I would like to make use of all parts of our rooms for learning (Piner-Olivet Union School District, 2015).This allows the classroom the be flexible to the use of the learners in it which I think would give gives a positive attitude taking charge of their education.

Student Teachers

One last idea from this exploration that I will incorporate this year in our classroom is the idea of student teachers. Sometimes I get overwhelmed and complain to myself about how I wish there were twenty of me in the classroom. I’ve realized that there can be. Kids master things in different ways in different amounts of time. They have such unique skills and approaches. Another struggle I tend to have as a teacher is addressing things in ways familiar to kids. Who is a master at this? A kid! If they’ve mastered something, who better to assist a peer who is struggling? I want to elect student teachers for many different topics in the room, from math content to tech programs, to apps to organizing book bins. Everyone can be an expert, or teacher, with something.

I can’t wait to get a fresh perspective – on the look and the learning!


District, P. U. (2015, October 22). Reimagining Learning Spaces: Admin Perspectives. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lu6daJ3e7fY&index=10&list=PLvzOwE5lWqhQ8D0m_371INljdki3RcVRb

Edutopia. Remake Your Class (Trailer). (2013, March 14). Retrieved from https://youtu.be/jXjEcnaYAmc

Ignite. (2011, May 08). Space to Learn by Bobbi Macdonald. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rqSkuIkwQ98&list=PLvzOwE5lWqhQ8D0m_371INljdki3RcVRb&index=9

ISD, E. (2014, January 29). Flexible Learning Environments. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O_x4OLsfReQ&list=PLvzOwE5lWqhQ8D0m_371INljdki3RcVRb&index=2

Scholastic. (2013, September 23). How to Organize Your Classroom, from Instructor Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XdmI4K5wJu4&list=PLvzOwE5lWqhQ8D0m_371INljdki3RcVRb&index=4

TesolClass. (2013, November 03). Classroom Seating Arrangements. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5kOh1VYCsRs&list=PLvzOwE5lWqhQ8D0m_371INljdki3RcVRb&index=6

Week, E. (2013, January 09). Building a Positive School Climate - Quality Counts 2013: Code of Conduct. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YNs6aFIpoTY&list=PLvzOwE5lWqhQ8D0m_371INljdki3RcVRb&index=3

What does Growth mean?

Before reading this blog post, please click this link to read my book Watch Me Grow on Book Creator. Then, with your interpretation in mind, continue to the rest of the post!

Please share your interpretations, comments or questions in the comments. Disclaimer: they are all correct in their own way.

When I began reflecting on this summer as my first year in MAET, I thought about all the growth I’ve made as an educator and as a learner. I thought about all the ideas I’ve grown and been able to reflect on and share with others. I’ve thought about all the ideas I’ve gathered from others to contribute to my ideas and help them grow. The idea of starting with something, like an idea, nurturing it and protecting it. It’s yours to share if you want to.

This led me to the metaphor of a growing plant. My interpretation of it is as follows, but changes each time I read and think further.

Someone has an idea that they’re caring for and growing. They’re building their time and effort into it and they’re loyal to it. Others may come along with ideas that seem to be finished products, and that may discourage someone who’s thinking from scratch. But if you continue to develop your original passion and stay true to it, it will bloom into something unique and special. Not only does it turn into something beautiful, but it plants the idea for others to grow from it as well, to always continue growing and improving. Learning is this way as well. The more you push yourself to grow, the more useful and purposeful your ideas will be, to yourself and those that learn from you.

A Wicked Problem

Kelsey Krieger

Authentic learning is not happening in many schools. So, real learning, usable real-life learning is not happening. What’s the deal? Huge problem! But what makes it so wicked? How come there is not quick solution? Let’s ditch standardized testing and make all learning authentic!

This is problematic for the engagement and motivation of our students now, and citizens of the future. Teachers are teaching to the test for various reasons, not trained on how to teach authentically, and If we teach to the test all year long, what skills are we teaching students that apply their future?

In this presentation I demonstrate why this is such a wicked problem, what solutions could be posed, and how these have their problems. The presentation includes links to helpful articles if you care to learn more.


Just Crayons? Just Chromebooks? Just Creativity?

Referencing Rethinking Technology by Punya Mishra & The Deep-Play* Research Group, Michigan State University

This article really resonated with me because I’m always thinking about what tomorrow could bring. When I see things that seem outdated or systems that need improving, I always find myself thinking about what they may look like in the future when they’re revolutionized by new technology. When something seems ineffective, I like to envision what it may look like in the next ten years. I’ve always thought like this subconsciously. Now, teaching, I’ve found myself envisioning this more within my practice as well! I want to be always striving for what’s more in my classroom. A great way to do this is by continually working with better and better technology.

The future of teaching definitely involves lots of technology. The problem is, sometimes it’s thought of as separate from content we teach. Tech should be more like an enhancement, as I can connect from the TPACK model. Students can also use technology as a creative outlet, allowing them to think differently in the scope of the future.

When I think about how things will look or how norms will change, it doesn’t seem personal. I think about the engineers and architects, the policy makers and administration. Someone will think of something innovative to change the way we do that, or make it more efficient. But why not personally? I want to be able to envision the future of education and make the moves of which I’m I’m capable in my own classroom. I would like to bring my classroom into the 21st century. I am excited and capable of enhancing my practice with these aspects of technology and innovation right now instead of waiting for someone else to change the way we teach in the future.

Keeping our minds on the future as teachers is so vital, our kids aren’t going to be working in the present society with this technology. They’re working in the future. So how exactly do we prepare them for the future, when we only have today’s technology available to us? It’s all about the mindset, baby! And thinking about always improving. So how can I do this now? Today?

“Technology” by Sephko is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 

Not only can I model always thinking ahead, but I can put my students through this with me, as I teach them! In the article Rethinking Technology, it says, “the field of education has been chrono-centric in its view of technology” (Mishra & The Deep Play, p. 5). In teaching, this means teachers have the mindset that the best tech we’ll ever get is the tech we have today. This is the opposite mentality I want my students to have in order for them to grow up successfully. If we use a program or an app in our classroom, I always want them to be thinking about how it could be better or another tool would help us learn more effectively. In order to teach them this well, I, as a teacher, need to be willing to expose them to and try new technology with them. 

This doesn’t mean I should introduce them to a new app each day and ask them their opinions about it. This means I have to keep TPACK in mind as I teach my students to the best of my ability. First and foremost, I always want to keep in mind the content and the pedagogy that matches it the best. Then comes the technology part that is best for that situation. While my students are learning from these tools, I’d like them to contemplate how it could improve. I also want to have my own mindset of what tech tool would be even better to help the students with the content and learning method. This way, together, we’re both always trying to be inventive.

Later in the article the authors say, “the interaction between knowing a technology, knowing about pedagogy, and understanding a subject matter that makes for effective teaching with technology” (p.14). This describes how knowing all the parts of a TPACK(ed) lesson well can prove to be beneficial to the students.

I want to be able to encourage my students to be thinkers of tomorrow. I can think of this as innovative, but I can also think of it as creative. The article states, “creative thought processes are considered increasingly necessary as criteria for accomplishment in the progressively complex and interdependent 21st century.” This was super interesting to me because I never thought of technology as a creative outlet. This is a great mentality to have going forward with my students – creativity takes on the 21st century! Yet another example of an opportunity to think towards the future. Encouraging students to be creative through technology will set them up for future success. What’s better than a bunch of innovative thinkers leaving your classroom at the end of the year to go change the world?

Mishra, P. (2012). Rethinking Technology & Creativity in the 21st Century: Crayons are the Future. TechTrends,56(5), 13-16. doi:10.1007/s11528-012-0594-0

TPACK.ORG. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://tpack.org

Beautiful Questioners

With reference to A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger

Warren Berger has such a wonderful way of forcing me to rethink things I once thought I knew well. First, it was the value in a question. Now? Everything else. In chapter two, she discusses the purpose of school in the past versus the purpose of them today. This was absolutely baffling to me. The purpose of school of the past industrialized civilizations were geared toward cranking out workers that would following directions quickly and quietly. Jobs with that in the description were the norm at the time. However, today’s job market requires creative and complex thinkers. So, she poses the question of why our school system seems to have a similar style now than in the past if the job market differs so greatly. Warren discusses this by continuing to encourage questioning.

Berger says, “To create good workers, education systems put a premium on compliancy and rote memorization” (p. 48). This reminds me of when I was in a conservative private school. By second grade, I was extremely talented at sitting quietly in my desk and completing work without asking questions or collaborating. Being talented at this looked great on my report cards, and got me good reviews at parent-teacher conferences. But, did it prepare me to think outside the box and push the limits of my thinking? Probably not. So, how do we change schools to adapt to the “entrepreneurial” (Berger, 2016, p. 48) society in which we are beginning to live?

Berger goes back to the question of the purpose of schools: “Why are we sending kids to schools in the first place?” (p.48). She follows this up with an answer: “To prepare students to be productive citizens in the twenty-first century.” (p.49). So what does this entail? This is a complex thought! What kinds of skills does a student need to be a productive citizen? It probes many questions about the time in which we’re living. All to figure out what our schools could do to ensure students were well-prepared during their schooling. Who knew teachers would have to predict the future?

This broad idea boils down to the fact that jobs these days need so much more complex skills than memorizing lists, being able to do rote or tedious tasks, and following directions carefully. They require thinking outside the box, at the risk of being cliche. If someone isn’t willing to question things or take a risk, they just won’t be as successful as someone who is. The successful people we hear about on the news or who are founding a new interesting company are those who took a step back, asked a question, and weren’t afraid of going against the status quo to search for the answer. Did they learn this in a standard schooling situation? Ideally, they could.

She asks the powerful question, “What if our schools could train students to be better lifelong learners and better adapters to change, by enabling them to be better questioners? How might we create such a school?” (p. 49).

This question leads me to my own question, How can I implement this idea, today, right now, in my classroom? (Or at least once the fall comes) Building a classroom environment where questioning rules the day would be a dream. I am constantly thinking of ways to structure my classroom on preparation for 21st century learners. Through some risky ideas and helpful technology, I am making my way toward this idea. However, there is room for improvement towards ensuring my students leave my 4th grade room as more powerful questioners.

Explicitly teaching students how to question is the initial vital step. The first way I plan to do this is experimenting with the Why, What If, How method by which Berger lives. Teaching students this method of questioning will not only teach them a scaffolded, concrete way of beginning to question, but it allows them to feel comfortable when asking questions. If they’re following a method given by their teacher, students who aren’t usually willing to take a risk might be more willing to take it here. “My teacher taught me how to do this, so I can ask questions this way.” For my students, this gives them a little window into deeper questioning I hope to have them doing as the year progresses and their comfort and confidence within questioning strengthens. 

Specifically, I plan on using this approach during my Weather research project. In the past, I’ve grouped students according to ability. But now, I think it would be helpful to have students ask all kinds of questions about weather and group them with students that have similar interests to them. In the future, they will be on teams with other workers who have similar skills, jobs, and interests to them. Why not start working on teams like these and collaborating with these kinds of people in 4th grade? Instead of providing them with subtopics on the weather, I would love to have them brainstorm what they want to accomplish during their research as a group. This way they can practice challenging themselves, thinking creatively, and not just being a receptacle of information following what I instructed them to do. 

The fall can’t come soon enough when I get to meet my future beautiful questioners and world changers!

Berger, W. (2016). A more beautiful question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York: Bloomsbury.

Mad(lib) for Maker

Kelsey Krieger

Mad(lib) for Maker

Here is this lesson according to the TPACK model

Mad(lib) for the Introduction

Why is grammar instruction so dry?

What if we combined technology, like coding, and grammar or literacy instruction?

How do we have students learn the parts of speech by coding?

The goal for this lesson is for students to learn how to correctly apply the parts of speech through a coding exploration and their own inquiry. 

They will be creating MadLibs using the Scratch program.

They will learn the parts of speech through this activity because it allows them to explore the context of specific kinds of words within a sentence. They have to understand what part of the sentence the types of speech are. They have to understand the characteristics of them in order to place them in the correct place in a sequence for the sentence to make sense. 

Refer to the below figure to understand how this lesson refers to TPACK. In the sweet spot, you’ll see technology supporting the inquiry of parts of speech.

This audience can be broad depending on what students need as far as parts of speech. Students could have a learning objective of any type of speech found in a mad lib. For the focus of the prototype, I have students intending to learn nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Some other examples of objectives could be plural and singular nouns, verbs versus adverbs, adverbs versus adjectives, people, places or things, prepositions, pronouns, conjunctions and interjections, and many more! Students will learn characteristics of parts of speech in a more purposeful way than underlining and labeling them in a sentence on the board. This is an engaging way for them to learn about literacy! It includes the added bonus of working with coding as well since students will also need to be literate in this in the future. 

Students are constructing a MadLib, but instead of focusing on just completing the mad lib, they will be focusing on getting the parts to make sense. This is the difference in this project between constructionism and constructivism. The focus isn’t on just finishing the code (constructionism) but instead ensuring the elements are correct along the way (constructivism). 

This instruction of this reflects TPACK because the goal isn’t just to teach the technology piece, yet it includes it as a big part to support the content. It uses the pedagogical approach of inquiry and partner work to support students in the technology as well as the content. Finally, the content works well with the Scratch technology tool because it’s engaging and another example of literacy as coding. Also, the students are getting a real life application of parts of speech through this inquiry process. In real life, things don’t make sense if they’re not used in the correct context – just like these MadLibs! 


  • Students will need some experience on Scratch before this lesson in order to focus on grammar instruction instead of troubleshooting the code.
  • It helps if students can base this mad lib from something already written. They could even go through beforehand and underline the words they want to replace with blanks in their mad lib.
  • If you don’t want or can’t have students working with partners: It may be beneficial to have examples of the parts of speech you’re intending for them to learn available while they’re working through their product. For example, have a bucket of pieces of paper with nouns on them and they have to pick a noun when it says to supply a noun. That way, they won’t just fill in whatever word they think makes sense in the story and it follows the part of speech’s rules. Disclaimer: this version doesn’t allow kids to be as creative!


Mad(lib) for Reflecting

We should see evidence in your post that you are applying course concepts, including TPACK and concepts from How People Learn and other readings. It should also be clear that you engaged in the Design Thinking Process, and incorporated the ideas of remixing and repurposing.

My plan has evolved a lot since the blueprints. I began this process with little to no coding experience or knowledge of what students have done with coding in other classes. I began by simply Googling and happened upon programs like Python, intended for programming. With feedback, I was able to reign it in and remember that the focus of my lesson was for fourth graders, not necessarily computer programmers (yet!). Next I had to spend some time associating myself with the Scratch program. It looks simple on the outside, but took a lot of tinkering to get the hang of. It was helpful to look at other examples and synthesize ideas until I came upon something I liked for the MadLib. It came to my mind that I thought about students using this same process, analyzing different examples of others before creating their own. However, if students are somewhat experienced with the Slack program beforehand, this won’t be necessary. I came to this realization because, after looking at so many, I found myself using the copies as a crutch. I wasn’t able to feel as innovative when I was basing my findings off another work. When I started from scratch (Ha!) I felt more empowered in my work and able to feel like I was the creator here. 

You could change this lesson to adapt to any type of speech, or even writing concept! Some helpful adaptations are found in my lesson plan link (also below):


  • Students will need some experience on Scratch before this lesson in order to focus on grammar instruction instead of troubleshooting the code.
  • It helps if students can base this mad lib from something already written. They could even go through beforehand and underline the words they want to replace with blanks in their mad lib.
  • If you don’t want or can’t have students working with partners: It may be beneficial to have examples of the parts of speech you’re intending for them to learn available while they’re working through their product. For example, have a bucket of pieces of paper with nouns on them and they have to pick a noun when it says to supply a noun. That way, they won’t just fill in whatever word they think makes sense in the story and it follows the part of speech’s rules. Disclaimer: this version doesn’t allow kids to be as creative!

Next, students could push themselves to write a more complex story and incorporate more parts of speech. I may change this in the future depending on how I see my students interpreting it. If I find they spend too much time only focusing on troubleshooting the program, I would scaffold more steps here before the inquiry portion. 

How People Learn – This related to the text How People Learn because it discusses how students should be exposed to innovative tasks at early ages. They’re expected to think innovatively as adults, so they should start learning as soon as possible. Coding is one of those skills where it does nothing but benefit the student if they learn it as early as possible. 

According to the Design Thinking Process, one should empathize and define the task first. In this, I thought about what I wanted students to learn while they were creating something. Then the process moves to ideate. I contemplated what I could do, as a teacher, to support students in their learning of grammar content with a technology tool. Next in the process is design. I designed a task where students would be combining learning the content, using the tool, with my support through inquiry. Prototype and test are the last two steps. In these steps, I tested and failed and tested again, just as my students will, to practice the content in order to make something.

Remixing – Well, with Everything is a Remix (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJPERZDfyWc) in mind, this project was a remix of a remix of a remix. MadLibs have been around, coding has been around, and parts of speech have always been taught. Even using these three together has been done before. However, the stories students make will be original to them. They’re remixes for the purpose of learning!

Repurposing – Coding is used so widely. I’m going to talk about Scratch specifically. Even Scratch is so widely used. Block coding can be used to move a cat around a screen, but it can also be used to power a micro-computer. I like this tool because of this. It’s a low floor-high ceiling situation. Yes, it can be frustrating to some kids at first and that’s important to embrace. However, exposing students and supporting them with this program can allow them to get super creative! I anticipate students going above and beyond and putting their personal twist on all aspects of this usage. 


The National Research Council. 2000. How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/9853

Wait, Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Is this smart tool actually making us dumber?

In this blog, I will be referring to ideas by Nicholas Carr, his book The Shallows, and his piece Is Google Making Us Stupid?

This interview with Nicholas Carr was super interesting to me. I related to many parts of it. In turn, I questioned a lot about my own learning style. Which made me question what I’m modeling for my students……

I admit that reading a good ol’ fashioned book has gotten more difficult for me lately. And typing a whole blog post in one sitting without checking my phone, watching a video, or Googling 32 questions in the middle is a challenge. Not only do I find myself having a difficult time focusing on one topic, but I have trouble with the mental capacity to think deeply about something. 

I pride myself on my ability to multitask. I love having multiple tabs open, working on multiple projects at a time, and being able to think about many concepts in one sitting. It’s the efficiency that makes me crave this constant activity. It makes me feel productive and purposeful. But if I’m doing all that, am I really doing any of it well?

This interview forced me to think about that. When I have dozens of tabs open on my browser, I’m thinking about which ones I can eliminate fastest – which ones are the easiest to read where I’ll get the most “bang for my buck” reading them. Will I be super focused on the scholarly article? Or the quick list with a bunch of new other tabs that I could open? If I’m skimming for keywords, will I gather the most crucial information to get a full understanding? I’m thinking no.

But, my ability to concentrate on things hasn’t always been like this. I used to love to read and was able to a lot more than compared to today. I blame it on being busier, working full-time and all… But when I watch this interview and think about this mindset, I’m forced to admit otherwise. I could spend hours on my laptop reading Buzzfeed articles. I could learn new information from them, like which dessert I am according to my zodiac sign and where I should go on my next vacation according to my favorite Disney princess. So why can’t I spend the same amount of time sitting down, reading an actual book, reading actual content?

I want to say my brain muscles have gotten lazy. In the interview, Carr talks about the plasticity of the brain. The brain can change with training. I thought about how your body changes when you train different parts of it regularly in the gym. If you’re training it super intensely in one area and letting the other area go, the brain will get uneven, just like your body could get a little top-heavy. It won’t be able to perform functions as well if it’s weaker in that area (brains shouldn’t skip leg-day either).So I won’t say my brain is lazy, but it is definitely weaker in some areas compared to others. This seems to be because of the type of content I’m reading, and the content I’m willing to expose myself to. I’m accustomed to reading short pieces of information where I can skim a bunch of information at a surface level. I’m training this part of my brain. I’m not training the part that thinks deeply, annotates, and poses questions about what I’m reading. I’m not training the part of my brain that concentrates and thinks profoundly. Therefore, this part is getting weaker.

Well, I sure don’t want to think of my brain as weak, or deteriorating. I preach lifelong learner, I can’t let myself go, brain-wise. This makes me want to practice deeper thinking regularly to strengthen this part of my brain again. I want to give myself opportunities to think deeply and concentrate on complex content. Now, to get my do-not-disturb hat on!

Team Teach Reflection

Planning a Team Teach based on the article, In Defense of Play by Alison Gopnik, was an interesting endeavor. Being a teacher, I often find myself focused on short term goals: finishing a unit, completing a project, turning in a worksheet, etc… The broad context that Gopnik gives for play is challenging to reenact initially. Especially during the lesson planning portion of this project, I struggled to think of something I could provide my students with that fit this definition, yet was something I told them to do. I thought about ‘play’ in my classroom, which led me to our initial idea of index card towers. Receiving feedback that this didn’t really get the message across we were trying to communicate presented us with a new challenge. I think that challenged us to admit we had to think deeper and brainstorm more about the actual content presented in the article. This led us to a more effective lesson plan that conveyed more of what we wanted with our students. I’d never used Socrative before, which was an interesting new tool to learn that I look forward to utilizing in my classroom. I enjoyed seeing various students’ responses presented to the class. 

With all the previous work done, teaching the lesson went well in my opinion. It was helpful that we had the students read the article beforehand, otherwise we wouldn’t have all been on the same page about this particular author’s definition of play. If I were to teach it again, I think I would’ve read through the Socrative answers before discussing them or allowed reading time for the students to do that as well. With the longer answers, the screen looked a little overwhelming and was difficult to think through. We had the big ideas we wanted to make sure we touched on during the lesson all over (sticky notes, Google Doc, hands….) so that we would make sure those were communicated. I think this was a big struggle in the initial lesson that we altered. I think our quick visual we made during the lesson was simple enough, but effective. Not only did it help keep us on track with repeating ourselves and reiterating, but it helped narrow down what play really was through our discussion.

Another thing I would adjust for next time would be to do more research before about what other experts of play say. It’s a subject that can be so abstract with subjective definitions. I think it would have been helpful in discussion if I could speak informedly about other researchers of play. 

All in all, I believe the lesson went well. It felt good to be a teacher again for a moment!


Questioning Questionable Questions

“Computers are useless – they only give you answers.” ~ Picasso

I recently referred to computers as my favorite school supply to a colleague. I love technology! What I can do with my computer is endless. A highlighter? Not so much.

The ability to ask questions leads me to endless inquiry. As a teacher, I ask questions all day long. Do I ask the right questions? I’m not sure. Inspired by A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger, my perspective of questions and answers is changing. I’ve learned from experts that real learning comes when your thinking changes from before the content to after. If you’re thinking in the same way you were thinking before you learned something new, you didn’t really learn it. It must change the way you live and think to be effectively learned. From the beginning of reading the first chapter of this book to the end, my thinking has already changed. I think I’m with Picasso now.

All my teaching practices revolve around the desire to prepare my students for the real world – the world that they will be entering in the future. The lifestyle of people in the past, with its fixed path and predictability, of learning exclusively in school to get a job (then being done learning) has been replaced. Warren discusses today’s professionals in her text. She quotes Seth Godin saying successful people are, “… questioning the status quo, questioning marketing or political claims, and most of all, questioning what’s next.” (A More Beautiful Question, 2016, p. 25) This idea of constant inquiry is so critical to teach students if they’re going to be successful later on.

We hear so often that today’s students will all have jobs that don’t exist yet. Instead of that being discouraging to what a teacher is practicing currently in their classroom, I think it should be encouraging for teachers to instill innovative thinking into their students. If we teach students to be questioners, instead of the answerers of the past, we will teach them more to be successful in the future than if we taught them to memorize every single date in the history book.

If we want to teach kids effective inquiry, it would be helpful to model that as a teacher first, as is true with all teaching practices. However, with this practice it may be helpful to look the opposite way in the classroom. Warren Berger says, “We must become, in a word, neotenous… To do so, we must rediscover the tool that kids use so well in those early years: the question.” (Berger, 2016, p. 24) Could it be possible that this is another opportunity I get to learn from my students? I think so. Kids do this subconsciously and beautifully. Every curious “why?” can translate into a lesson for the teacher. No matter what age of your audience, there is always something to learn from someone else. With my young students, why not adopt their mentality of questioning everything? They’re models for me in this sense.

Once we get this questioning mindset down, it’s time for action. “Often the worst thing you can do with a question is to try to answer it too quickly” (Berger, 2016, p. 34) The best questions can’t be answered by Google. Can it support the thinking work? Definitely. But if they can answer it, your question can go deeper. So, a computer? Not the answer to the question. The ability to generate a good question requires a deeper type of thinking. Berger discusses this mass amount of information we receive constantly because of the current access to technology when he says, “The more we’re deluged with information, with facts, views, appeals, offers, and choices, then the more we must be able to sift and sort and decode and make sense of it all through rigorous inquiry.” (Warren, 2016, p. 26) The real mental work here is this. If students are aware and participating in this mental work, they are on their way to being innovative thinkers. Once they learn to be an innovative thinker, teachers are on their way to preparing them for the real world. 

In this day in age, the pace of innovation and change is rampant in all aspects of our world. This is obvious to us living here each day. So, yes. My goal is to prepare kids for the real world. In order to do this, I can’t teach answerers. I must teach my students to be constant questioners. “Each ‘answer’ they arrive at brings a new wave of “questions” (Berger, 2016, p. 38)

Berger, W. (2016). A more beautiful question: The power of inquiry to spark breakthrough ideas. New York: Bloomsbury.

How do people learn?

Many things have influenced the ideas and processes we have about learning as educators and researchers today. Based on the text, How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School by Brown, Cocking, Donovan, and Pellegrino we can study the following topics more in depth: research increasing understanding, higher expectations for learners, ability to transfer, norms as a factor, and changing lifestyles of the current day influencing the type of learning needed. For the purpose of this blog, I will go into the first three topics more in-depth, with a focus on the first chapter of the text. 

“Today, the world is in the midst of an extraordinary outpouring of scientific work on the mind and brain, on the processes of thinking and learning, on the neural processes that occur during thought and learning, and on the development of competence.” (Brown, Cocking, Donovan, Pellegrino, 2000, p.1)

Learning about learning! Thinking about learning and the process of learning seems super important to me as a teacher and is something I haven’t considered as an isolated research topic before now. I’ve heard about metacognition, but never considered teaching it explicitly. Metacognition is an important process to acknowledge for purposeful and successful learning. It is important to understand learning as a unique process and something that can be evaluated. When these authors describe the innovation of today’s resources on studying metacognition, it seems prevalent to teach. This development in research can show teachers how to think about learning more effectively, and also how to teach students to think about their own learning more effectively. This idea of self-assessing learning or metacognition is vital for all learners to see themselves as valuable and I would love to see the results in my own classroom, with this process being taught individually.

Students learn deeply and effectively when they believe they are capable of accomplishment. In this day in age, technology and evolving research is beginning to tell us just how much we as humans are really capable of. The text discusses this incentive when it says, “Developmental researchers have shown that young children understand a great deal about basic principles of biology and physical causality, about number, narrative, and personal intent, and that these capabilities make it possible to create innovative curricula that introduce important concepts for advanced reasoning at early ages.” (Brown et al., 2000, p. 4) Having high expectations for students of all ages is something that will instill in them a drive to do more than is expected, and possibly more than they have done before. This text discusses manageable difficulties.  This goes back to our class discussion of a productive struggle. This is that sweet spot where authentic learning and problem-solving takes place. It’s motivating, engaging, and worth it in the end. This lets students really tap in to what they already know and build from here. 

Learning something new isn’t effective unless it connects or organizes itself to align with something they already know. Using what the learner already knows as a basis to build on is vital in the learning process. Without a base of some kind, the new information won’t be solid or able to build upon. Preconceptions and misconceptions are the basis on which teachers need to build. The text explains this saying, “A logical extension of the view that new knowledge must be constructed from existing knowledge is that teachers need to pay attention to the incomplete understandings, the false beliefs, and the naive renditions of concepts that learners bring with them to a given subject.” (Brown et al., 2000, p.10) Starting from some idea of dividing, whether correct or not, is much better than starting with nothing at all. Allowing my students to think and collaborate through a mistake during a number talk (instead of ignoring it and starting over from my version of scratch) not only gives them a sense of pride in their learning, but allows for transfer between their understandings. They thought differently beforehand, and now think in a new way because of productive learning. 

Educational technology can be a wonderful tool and support for these concepts surrounding learning. As teachers with technology, we must consider which tool to use to support teaching metacognition, exposing students to technology of which supports them with what they’re capable, collaboration through misconceptions, and tools that allow them to see the importance of the learning to their personal lives. Using technology can open doors that before hindered our ability to provide students with these opportunities. 

Bransford, J. D., Cocking, R. R., Brown, A. L., & Pellegrino, J. W. (2000). How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School. Expanded Edition.
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