#InstagramInspiration

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I have a love – dislike relationship with March.

I love that March is my birthday month. I dislike the length of it.

March is a long month for educators. Teachers are losing steam. The students are restless. Administrators are uptight with standardized testing season around the corner. Some call it the “March of the Winter Dull Drums”, others seem to think spring break fever has hit. It’s during this time that I need something fresh, some sort of inspiration for my lessons. I never thought Instagram would provide a new perspective and creative outlet for Language Arts.

I’ve had an Instagram account for a few years now. I must admit, I’m not a faithful Instagram user. Twitter, Pinterest or Facebook are my “go-tos” for educational inspiration. On Instagram, I usually post pics of my children, our holidays, a classroom activity and a few selfies. I never really thought about using Instagram as a tool to teach or include in my lessons. But that all changed.

Last March I began exploring Instagram a bit more. I was looking for educational materials, images of projects, new classroom activities and ideas, anything that could cure the monotony of March. I was hoping to find some interesting photos to use as a “write a caption for this” warm up activity, but what I found was something phenomenally better. I found #poetry #poetryofig, #haikus and #poetryofinstagram. I found simple quotes, unique statements, and meaningful poems, in a nicely presented package. Of course, I had to sift through MANY romantic, unrequited love poems and poetry with an overabundance of swear words; but eventually I was able to pull out quite a few that I could use as a discussion prompt, a simple close-reading activity and an introduction on unique ways to begin a story.
 The first post I used focused on homework. I chose this simply because I thought my learners could relate to it. Homework is a hot topic now-a-days. Everyone has something to say about it; how meaningful it should be, how much to give or not give. I am a teacher who does not give homework or believes in it. I’ve always felt if the teaching is spot on, no homework is necessary. Some of my students have experienced it from previous years or schools and had a lot to say about it. After reading this to them, hands shot up. Each had a story to tell and many were eager to share their opinion. This Instagram post led to a strong discussion and many opinion pieces about homework and alternatives to homework on our blog site.

 After the success of our first Instagram activity, I thought I would have my learners decipher new vocabulary terms using context clues. I came across this post and thought I would focus on the word “dwindling”. To my surprise, my learners shifted the focus to the actual meaning of this piece. “What is the author trying to say? What is the problem with his friends? Real friends don’t leave you. Why does she feel she needs to please them?” They began questioning the author’s word choice, and interpreting what his problem might be. Many questions popped up in our chat about the author and the title of this piece. When I explained to them that there was no title, they decided to dig even deeper. So, I placed them into smaller groups. Each group member contributed a question about the piece to explore and discuss further. They also gave the piece a title. Not only did they complete their assignment, but many added on to this statement with one group designing a canva poster for it. They also edited the piece by capitalizing the “m” in my and the “i”.

Most recently, I began following storydj  (@DaveJones) on Instagram. His writing is powerful and filled with many different shades of meaning. Many of my learners are not excited to write. So, my personal teaching goal this year was to focus on the joys of writing, build their writing stamina and to motivate them to write. My learners loved this next activity and it sparked more writing and creativity than I could have imagined. My learners enjoy a great challenge and the Seven Word Short Story provided just that.

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It did take them some time to come up with a seven word short story. Many struggled and asked for “just one or two extra words” others asked for it to be shorter. All wanted to continue writing about their short story. So, I had them partnered up and I provided them with their partner’s seven word short story and asked them to add just one more suspenseful sentence…any limit of words. Here are some of their story starting writing pieces:

“I can’t believe it was happening again. My hands were sweaty and my heart was beating out of my chest.”

“It started out like a normal day. But what happened next took me by complete shock and surprise.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know?” I was too afraid to answer my mom because I knew I would be grounded for life.

As I reflect, I realize what a useful teaching tool Instagram can be. My learners look forward to our #InstagramInspiration writing activities and I now follow many wonderful “unknown” writers. My next step is to reach out to them and invite them into our virtual live lesson room. My learners are inspired by their work and have even asked for a class Instagram account to share their poetry. I’m still thinking about this, but I’m open to the idea. I’m glad and grateful my learners are feeling more confident in their writing skills and wanting to share their work with the world.

Some teachers find their inspiration while walking through a museum, talking to another colleague or reading a book. Some, like myself, are inspired by their learners, nature and now, writers on Instagram. Many educators view the month of March with dread. Others might try to take a different approach. It is a long month, but it can be filled with wonderful possibilities. Many great things can come out of those long months, the choice is yours to find them.

Innovation Is A Hot Mess

 

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Every September this working mom feels like a hot mess. Unfortunately, the start of the school year is always busy for our family. I have three very adorable, very active kids. I teach all day and I drive home to do the after school activity shuffle. Each day, my home gets messier and messier.

One day, I was home in our office thinking about innovation in my virtual classroom.  I have read George Couros‘ book, The Innovator’s Mindset, a few times. It’s phenomenal and I can not encourage teachers enough to get the book, read it, and share your thoughts. I have also signed up for his online course that mirrors the ideas in the book. My next few blog posts will reflect how I will be incorporating my innovation sessions (Creativation) into my virtual lessons. Yes, I  have a plan…I think!

For those of you who may not know, I am a cyber teacher. I teach learners online and throughout the year invite them to our family learning center.  I feel I innovate everyday as a cyber educator. I work with some amazing teachers, true innovators and educational pioneers; they are finding ways to enhance learning in a non-traditional school…everyday. No, there are no “how to teach the online learner” books out there, nothing to help us (Dave Burgess, you listening?). We focus on pedagogy and best practices just like every teacher out there, but we do it online. I feel we are at the fore-front of providing rich, thought provoking, innovative lessons to all learners regardless of where they live (inner city, rural, suburbia) in the state of Pennsylvania.

As I look around our messy home office, strewn with back to school calendars, sport forms and paper work, the questions begin to swirl around in my head…

What conditions are ideal for creative innovation?

How important is the working environment to innovation?

Are there ready made barriers in classrooms or cyber rooms that could discourage students and impede innovation?

All of my learners are home schooled and each of their home environments’ are different. Some live in more urban areas, in small apartments, others may live in homes or on rural farms. Will one environment provide a better platform for creative innovation than another?

When I think about my gifted and talented class and our innovation sessions, I don’t worry so much about the actual virtual room environment. We see each other via webcams, they talk and interact with one another.Our relationships are strong. We have breakout rooms that provide a small group setting for collaboration and individual work. I know many learners feel comfortable, eager to participate in our lessons and hungry to learn. However, I know some will have difficulty with risk taking. I know many will struggle with multiple solutions. “Is this right?” they will ask. Most gifted and talented learners struggle with growth mindset. Some learners will have a hard time with the amount of freedom to innovate. I am anticipating some sort of issue with generating ideas and being open to others ideas. I have not thought about their physical working environment and it’s possible impact in regards to innovativeness.

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This quote speaks to me and makes me wonder. Could the environment we’re in, lead to more innovative ideas?  I’ve never been a fan of having an extremely messy desk or house, but I’m starting to think I might need to leave it messy more often. It may be time to test this theory. What conditions will you have in place for your learners to innovate?  Will you be changing your physical working environment for learners during your innovation sessions? How? Why?