Let’s Change Genuis Hour to Fight the Resistance Hour

I’m currently reading “Linchpin” by Seth Godin which is about being indispensable to an organization and I’m having many thoughts about Genius Hour or 20 Time.  I’m wondering if we should change the name of Genius Hour, because we aren’t really focused on being a Genius or finding our Genius, but rather fighting the powers that cause us to squelch our creativity and produce.

According to Godin, Steven Pressfield, in his book “The War of Art” coined the term “Resistance” for that entity which inhibits our ability to free our creativity, our great ideas, our insights, our generosity, and our connections.  Over the years I’ve done the Genius Hour/20 Time project, I’ve found my biggest contribution (and also hurdle) was teaching students to fight the resistance, many times showing up as fear and anxiety, and producing.

Schools teach us to follow the rules.  Society tells us that if we go to our job every day, follow the rules, and do what we’re told, we won’t be fired.  And, not being fired seems to be the American dream these days.  Words like “being mature” or “being responsible” seem to be synonymous with cowering in fear.  In fear of the Resistance.

But, Elizabeth Gilbert talks about “doing your job” in a different way in her Ted Talk on creativity.

She asserts that many masterful artists, poets, and writers see creativity as outside of themselves.  We should all learn to see creativity not as something we have, but as something we accept. Something that we can all attain and develop a collaborative relationship with.  However, we must show up and do our part of the collaboration.  We must continue to write, or dance, or create art.  If we do our part, creativity will do it’s part.

In his book, Godin stated, “Fear of living without a map is the main reason people are so insistent that we tell them what to do.”  Truer words have never been spoken.  And, the reason is obvious as he goes on to say, “If it’s someone else’s map, it’s not your fault if it doesn’t work out.”  I see this in so many students during Genius Hour.  That fear of not being successful, that fear of someone may laugh at them, that fear of being uncomfortable.  All those fears prevent students from finding that collaborative relationship with creativity and genius.

So, let’s rename Genius Hour to Fight the Resistance Hour.  Because that is truly what we need to be teaching our students.

Our first foray into 3d Printing: The Design Project

Like many schools, we got 2 3d Printers this school year.  So, after a couple weeks of testing them, we turned the students loose on them.  I worked with our 7th grade Science teacher to develop the first project we wanted to do.

The Design Project

We decided to have the student design their own 3d models and go through the problem-solving process for printing these models.  But first we had to have them understand how the 3d printer worked and what was possible, probable, and unlikely.

Thingiverse Templates

The first part of the project, we had them go to thingiverse.com and work in groups to find templates that tested different types of printing.  One group was tasked with finding hollow spheres while another had to find a solid cube and so forth.  Each group chose a template model and then sent it to me to be printed.

After these were printed, the class analyzed their printed products and we had a discussion on what worked and what didn’t work.  We also talked about why some shapes worked better than others.  Thinking in 3d is a skill not many kids have had to do.  They discovered concepts like printing top heavy items need filler for stability, or that printing items that are “suspended” in space needed supports to be printed.

Once the students typed their reflection and turned it in, they were ready to move to the design process.

Identifying a Need

The students were tasked with identifying a need in their life and designing a product that fills that need.  We held a group brainstorm session and work students through the process of finding a problem and then concepting ideas to solve the problem.   Once students had time to do this on their own, they had to submit a paragraph write up of their idea and the need it would meet.


We introduced Tinkercad to the students and let them run wild with it.  Many were surprised at first that they were designing from scratch.  No templates could be used at this point.  Once the students got familiar with the tools, they began building their models to be printed.

picture 2014-09-25 at 10.57.02 AM
Tinkercad interface for student project

The students needed to make sure the measurements were correct.  The default setting is in millimeters so students quickly realized if they designed it just by eyeballing it on screen, it would turn out much smaller than they expected.  All part of problem solving!

Once they thought they were ready to print, the science teacher or I would discuss with them potential pitfalls they might consider.  Considering the amount of time it takes to print, we only gave them one chance to print their final product.  We made sure they understood, they weren’t graded on the final product they printed, but rather the process they went though to get there.

We use Repetier-Host for final slicing and printing

We’re in the final stages of the process, so I’ll be seeing more of their products soon.  I’ve printed a phone charging stand (pictured below).  Students are creating hair tie holders, pencil holders, a spork for camping, a multi-page bookmark, and more.  I plan to post more pictures as they become available.

The first student-created project on our 3d Printer

Once this project is finished, I need to come up with some scaled down projects for the younger grades, but we’d like them to practice similar skills.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on the project or answer your questions about 3d printing in comments below.

Practice Blogging with Google Classroom

I was having a conversation with our 8th grade ELA teacher about blogging.  She knew what blogs were, but weren’t familiar with any blogging platforms.  As we talked about how students needed practice writing and responding to blog posts before they’re turned loose on a public blog, the teacher said, “couldn’t we use Classroom for that?”

Now, using the comment stream in Classroom, she posts questions and has the students post responses to her and to each other.  It has turned out to be a great tool to practice blogging while in the safe confines of your own classroom space.

Answering a College Student’s Flipped Classroom Questions

First years teachers are bad.  The research shows that, but even without research, we know that from experience.  I was a horrible teacher in my first year.  I know that now, but I sure didn’t know that then.  We all develop and grow as teachers and, hopefully, continue to develop and grow.

I mention this because I received an email yesterday from a former student.  This was a student I had in my first 2 years of teaching and she is now in college studying Education. This student was always a very hard worker.  She was also very kind and considerate.  She regularly took the time to help me by cleaning the classroom, filing papers (this was before Google Drive), and other odd jobs. She even pretended to learn something from me now and again. She was one of the reasons I was able to keep my sanity in that stressful first year.  I’m sure she never realized it, but that kindness she showed me throughout that first year is why she stills holds a special place with me.

To the email….Since she is in Education, she had an assignment in which she needed to research the Flipped Classroom and she had some questions for me. If I can make her entry into the profession and provide some solace when she goes into her first year of teaching, I won’t hesitate to help her in any way that I can.  Since my blog is a reflective practice for me, I decided to answer her questions via blog post.  So, here they are:

1. Flipped classroom is a rather new way to teach in the classroom, how did you come across flipped classrooms?

While the term flipped classroom is relatively new, reverse instruction has been around for much longer than that.  Since I’ve flipped for several years now, I don’t remember the exact moment I came across the flipped classroom. What I do remember is that it was in roughly December and I was doing an internet search for something and came across the video by TechSmith (Camtasia) about Aaron Sams.
I saw this video and thought the idea sounded interesting.  However, since I was an English teacher and was using the Writers Workshop model at the time and didn’t immediately see the benefit to me.  I shared it with a colleague that taught Math and then put it on the back burner. The term kept crossing my path in various social media interactions and I came back to it over the next couple months and did more research.  In the summer of 2011, I attended the Flipped Classroom Conference in Woodland Park, Colorado, still not 100% convinced I wanted to flip.  I met Jon Bergmann and Aaron Sams, as well as many other Flipped Classroom gurus at that conference and soon realized how valuable flipping my class could be.
2. How effective did you find using a flipped classroom approach?
Quite honestly, the approach saved my career.  When I decided to flip, I was very stagnant and wasn’t enjoying teaching.  This student-centered, personalized approach made teaching much more rewarding for me.
But, me aside, was it effective for the students?  While my students continued to score relatively the same on standardized test scores as they had previously, their engagement was improved, their ability to explore topics more deeply was enhanced, and the overall culture of the classroom changed to one of inquiry, learning, collaboration, and community.
So, while other teachers have reported great gains in test scores, I did not. However, my students gained many untestable intangibles and I could not go back to the traditional model after that.
3. Do you think a flipped classroom benefited  the students, or was it better for the teacher?
In my case, as mentioned above, it benefited both. Obviously, the students are the most important and if they weren’t benefiting, I wouldn’t have continued. But, the majority of students loved the flipped classroom and the quality of work they were turning in was significantly improved.  While initially, the flipped classroom is more work for the teacher, the results are worth it.  As the teacher iterates their classroom, the approach becomes extremely student-centered and the technology we have now allows for very personalized instruction.  So, both the teacher and students benefit.
4. Where there any obstacles that you faced in using flipped classrooms?
I chuckle when I hear this question.  The obstacles seemed daunting at first, but looking back where minor bumps in the road. Many of the obstacles you face with any classroom were still present in the flipped classroom.  If a student struggles to do homework in a traditional model, they will still struggle to do homework in a flipped model.  It doesn’t immediately solve that problem.  You still have a certain amount of reluctant learners in any group of students. The flipped classroom, however, allows you the time to have private, individualized conversations with each of those student and begin working on the solution to that problem.
Obstacles inherent to the Flipped Classroom approach were more technical in nature. I had to make sure all students had adequate access to devices and the internet.  If they did not, I had to work with them to find a way to make the content available to them.
Students who were good at “playing school” at first resisted the Flipped Classroom.  However, they quickly adapted and many enjoyed it within a few weeks.
Time was on obstacle at first.  My students were consuming information faster than I could produce it.  I was running out of content and it seemed like I was always making videos.  Once I found a balance and also learned to pace students by using inquiry activities, time was never an issue.
On a very positive note, the initial obstacles forced me to question some of my beliefs and practices about teaching. Why, how, and when to assign and assess homework came to the forefront on my reflections.  The work of Ramsey Musallam greatly influenced the directions I took (and still take) at that point in my journey.  I really became a sponge of knowledge and teaching pedagogy and the time I freed by flipping my class provided me the opportunity to explore and iterate all kinds of new and innovative ideas in my classroom.  All because of the decision to flip!
5. What advice would you give a future teacher about using flipped classroom?
That’s a good question. I would say explore it deeply and learn what it truly offers you as a teacher.  It is a tool.  You don’t have to flip 100% of your content or class.  Only what fits in your instructional practices.
Once you successfully flip, you’ll realize the flipped classroom is not about the videos you create, but more about the activities you do in class with your face-to-face time.  That being said, the use of video as an instructional medium is only going to become more prevalent.  Learning to produce quality instructional videos would be very beneficial for any future teacher.
Flipped teachers are some of the most reflective teachers I’ve met.  The movement has been a grassroots movement built by teachers searching for better ways for students to learn. Even if you ultimately don’t decide to flip any of your content, adding flipped teachers to your PLN will help you grow as a teacher.
There’s also a very untapped market, if you will, in the flipped models.  Research shows that currently only about 3% of teachers actually flip.  That will only continue to increase.  When I started flipped English, there were very few ELA flippers I could find.  That allowed me the opportunity to be an explorer, a navigator, and an inventor.  I was able to write a book on Flipping English in order to help others.  Teachers entering the market willing to take on those challenges will be highly sought after by good principals.  My job title now is Director of Innovative Teaching.  I get to help other teachers concept and implement innovative teaching ideas. When I watched that Aaron Sams video some 4 years ago and began my flipped journey, I never imagined this is where it would take me.  If that interests you as a future teacher, get on board now!
Readers: feel free to share your answers to these questions in the comments or privately via email.  I want to help my former student have a rewarding career as an educator. Helping her build her PLN would be a great start!

The Joys of Gamifying Staff Professional Development

3D GameLab is awesome.  I can’t express that enough.

This summer, I learned of the work some teachers were doing in gamification in a flipped classroom.  That’s when I learned about 3D Game Lab.

From their website, 3D GameLab is “a gamified learning management and content creation platform where teachers design, play, and share quests and badges to create personalized learning for their students.”

I recently moved out of the classroom and into an administrative role providing professional development for my staff.  I was so disappointed that I couldn’t try 3D GameLab in my own classroom. In talking with Tom Driscoll, he suggested I use it for staff PD.  Genius!

I convinced my principal to get my school a subscription and began making quests.  I was frustrated at first because the interface of 3D GameLab requires you as the user to complete certain quests in order to open up all the tools available to you.  However, in the process, I was learning a lot about how to gamify a classroom and that will ultimately lead to a more successful implementation.

After completing the necessary quests myself, I began creating quests.  Most of my quests at this point have been introductions to the basics of certain tech tools.  My school serious underuses Google Apps for Education, so I made several quests on using different GAFE products.

picture 2014-08-26 at 9.06.19 AM
Here’s a screen shot of a few of the quests I made available to my teachers.

I introduced it last week at our staff meeting as well as emailed out instructions to sign up and join the class.  It isn’t required participation, but encouraged.  After the introduction, I waited with bated breath that afternoon to see who signed up.  It was no one.

Since I’m new to this school, I wasn’t sure what to expect for participation numbers.  The staff seemed eager to learn, but I didn’t know how much effort they would put in.

The whole next day went by and again no on joined.  About 9:30 that evening, I got on my computer and I had an email.  There was a quest that needed to be approved.  I logged into 3D GameLab and I had 2 teachers that had completed 4 quests each.  That was about an hour worth of work both had been doing.  As I approved their quests, I noticed they were still completing other quests.  Shortly after 10, they have completed 6 quests.  Neither had any idea that the other one was on as well.

I sent out an email the next day applauding the teachers and telling the staff all the different badges those 2 teachers had earned.  Other staff members began to log on and check out the site.  One teacher told me, “You sure know how to motivate people to do something.”

More teachers began to join and out do each other on the leader board.  One teacher signed in for the first time on Friday afternoon and completed 5 quests.  I repeat, ON A FRIDAY AFTERNOON.  Over the weekend, she went on to complete all 13 quests I had made available  and was asking me this morning for more quests.  She said when she got to 3 quests left she just figured she’d go ahead and complete them all.

So far, I’ve been very pleased with the motivation of my staff to complete the quests.  That is inherent in the gamified system, which is exactly why I wanted to try it out.  So far, it has worked better than planned.  A teacher that told me herself she was very anti-technology use because of her fears logged on and briefly was the point leader.  She said she liked being able to work at her pace and not feel pressured to catch up to others.

Would you prefer gamified PD?

How to create an online computer lab (or other) sign up sheet for your school

Many teachers are tired of the outdated clipboard model of signing up for lab time or computer/iPad cart use. My school is no different.  Teachers on the third floor didn’t want to walk to the bottom floor just to see if the computer lab or traveling cart was available when they needed it.  They wanted a simple way to check availability and sign up.  Being a Google Apps school, I began researching ways to use Google Calendar and maybe a Google Form.  I found some ways to use scripts with Forms, but the scripts didn’t work with the recent Sheets update.  I decided it was time to search for a third-party app or site that could help.  That is when I discovered youcanbook.me.

Using this free service, I could create an online sign up sheet that allowed my staff to select available times.  Once they booked the block of time they wanted, the event would be placed on a Google Calendar and an email sent to them to confirm booking.

picture 2014-08-20 at 9.49.38 AM

I then embedded the Google Calendar onto our school website so teachers could easily see what times were booked.  If the time they wanted wasn’t booked, they clicked the youcanbook.me link and began scheduling.

This could be used for parent teacher conferences, adminstrator observations, and many other scheduling uses that schools encounter.  There is a paid option with youcanbook.me that has more options, but so far, I’ve found everything I need under the free version.

What do you think? Could your school use an automated system like this to make scheduling easier?

What Disney’s MagicBands could mean for schools

While planning an upcoming trip to Orlando, I decided to pre-purchase some Disney World passes and visit the park.  As I was researching the various options, I discovered the Disney was now doing ticketing and other features on a product they call a MagicBand.

From the Disney website, the description reads:

Tap into the magic with your MagicBand on your wrist. This colorful wristband is actually an all-in-one device that effortlessly connects you to all the vacation choices you made with My Disney Experience.

The wrist bands use Radio Frequency (RF) technology to transmit your location and can be used for park admission, hotel room access, ride “reservations”, and more. From Disney’s perspective, they can monitor guest movements around the property and adjust staffing, traffic flow, etc for a better experience for their guest.  From a guest perspective, you can carry less around and have a more personalized vacation experience.

Being interested in wearable technology, I immediately began thinking of how these could be used in schools. Putting “Big Brother” privacy issues aside, schools could use technology like this to:

  • monitor transportation needs (busing) and make them more efficient
  • have an automated system to notify parents when a student has arrived at or left school
  • automatically take attendance when the student walks in the door
  • link the bracelet to a student funds account for lunch or bookstore purchases
  • monitor foot traffic flow throughout the school day to determine problem areas
  • Create a check out system for devices or other school supplied property

What are your thoughts?  Is this a technology we could see making its way into schools soon?


My Observations on Flipping and Google Glass

%d bloggers like this: